We had the good fortune of connecting with Heather McLarty and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Heather, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Since college I have known I would take many risks in my life and especially in my career. For that reason (and many others) i made the conscious choice to not have children. I wanted to be able to take those risks without endangering others. It meant I could make choices on what I loved to do instead of what I needed to settle for in order to survive. Doing what I love has made me more successful, whether that was building props for theaters or making things for real people. I do asses risk when I make decisions but I understand that there can come a point where there is incomplete information and you have to jump off that cliff. With each risk there is an education. Although I may make mistakes, so far none have been fatal.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As an artist blacksmith I don’t feel the pressure of much competition. I use ancient hand forging techniques along with more modern metalworking ones to achieve aesthetic and functional goals in my pieces. It is a very labor intensive occupation. I work almost entirely on commission. My clients are the best! Together with them I design and build works from metal that are site specific. I have designed and made works as small as napkin rings and hair pins to an award wall that is 25′ high by 10′ tall, gates onto the athletic field at Occidental College, and all sizes in between. From pedestrian gates and railings to garden fountains, silver spoons to pure sculpture. Each piece is different but all have a through-line of taking metal from a hard industrial form and giving it life.
The magic happens by using heat (about 2200 degrees) and hammering on an anvil. It is an exhilarating experience. After studying theater at UCSD I started out as a prop builder for large regional theaters throughout the western states. During that time I learned even more about history of periods and styles in architecture. I learned to work with many different designers and other craftspeople in different shop situations. I learned a lot of creative problem solving on the job using many different materials. Once I transitioned to my own artistic metalworking business I have been able to bring those skills to bear.
It has also been a joy to experience so much support from the blacksmithing community. Unlike many other crafts and trades, blacksmiths are not just willing but enthusiastic to share skills, information, tools and support with others. Because of that generosity of spirit I have continued to pass that on to others especially through my work with Adam’s Forge, a non-profit artist blacksmithing school in Los Angeles. The most important support has been from my husband who was willing for me to give up my theater income and take the wild leap at starting my own business.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m going to answer in a pre or post COVID way. Of course it would depend on that person’s interests but here are a few of my favorite spots: Craft Contemporary Museum and LACMA across the street. Freehand Gallery and the Center for Craft in America. They are now physically connected. There are always objects of beauty and interest there. Huntington Gardens, Museum and Library. Especially the gardens. Disney Hall and its garden. Attend a concert get something to eat the nearby Grand Central Market. Farmers’ Market at 3rd & Fairfax The Museum of Jurassic Technology. It defies description. Walking up N Figueroa in my neighborhood of Highland Park. So many fun spots to eat and drink! Also on York Blvd nearby. Native plants at Theodore Payne in Sunland the South Pasadena Farmers’ Market on Thursday evening for great produce and a quick meal Any chance to go to MorYork Gallery. It is astonishing. The Maloof House and Gardens.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First of all, my husband has been incredibly supportive! together we have foregone my regular income while I aimed for more creative and less secure outlets for my energies. From the time I found the national organization, ABANA (Artist Blacksmith Assoc. of North America) and the CBA (Calif. Blacksmith Assoc.) so many experienced blacksmiths have shared so much generosity with me. They have given me information, inspiration, time, encouragement, tools and materials that have been invaluable. I hope that I may pass some of that on to others. The volunteers and staff at Adam’s Forge have helped me make that possible.
Martha Benedict Marc Campos for Occidental College