Custom Designed

Baltimore Magazine (2002)

Before blacksmith Chris Gavin can turn his intricate designs into reality, he needs the right tools- which means making them himself. "All of this is hand forged over an anvil," explains Gavin, gesturing at his chisels and stamping dies. "You don't go to your local supply store and buy such and such to do this job. You have to make the tools to make the right marks."

Formally trained at Maryland Institute College of Art, the globe-trotting 38-year old Scotsman's works at his Mandala Creations in Metal studio (located in the Clipper Industrial Park), where he hammers, shapes, and bends gracefully sturdy, artfully clever items. Though most ends up in private collections, you can see his work at corporate headquarters (like the Rouse Company), on the web (, and even glimpse one of his pieces ( a private home's ornate lily/lotus balcony) in the 2900 block of St. Paul Street.

Though rough-hewn functionality is the cornerstone of his work- Gavin creates beds, tables, railings, fireplace screens- each piece has a hand-stamped flavor that can only be imparted by labor-intensive techniques (he even crafts his own rivets and bolts). "I can maintain the integrity of the steel without having to cover it up with paint," he says, "because the beauty of my work is in the natural look of the metal."

An avid mountain climber, Gavin travels widely- from Nepal to Peru to Bali- for up to a year straight, immersing himself in the local cultures. Then, perhaps unconsciously, he drops those influences back into his Hampden gas forge. Gavin's sense of the natural world- the sinuous bend of rivers, tree limbs, and roots- gives his work its texture and form. Skeletally, a given table may be constructed of steel, but it is often livened up with copper plating, or capped with bronze or brass appointments.

"Travel exposes you to different cultures, and people, and landscapes, and traditions, architecture, plant forms, and so on. It all inspires me. Now, how immediate that inspiration is, I don't know, but that's the beauty of this type of work," he muses.

"Inspiration has the potential to manifest itself at any given time."