These stories tend to focus on special individuals or couples who have something in particular to say, or represent something specific worth documenting. They certainly aren’t always big names, or popular figures, but can be quiet and unimposing personalities as well—with a story to tell.
Tuscany would not exist without iron.
Hand-wrought iron, that most elemental art form—forging endlessly creative objects from the earth’s ore, grew as civilizations needed a multitude of durable tools for agriculture, domestic chores, waging wars and simply making life more beautiful. Florence was one of the great European cities where the craft of blacksmithing made its mark on the world, growing into powerful guilds of artisans wielding an iron hand at both the anvil and the body politic.
When we first came to Italy, we were drawn to the innovative use of iron in every aspect of life. The built environment is intricately laced with the art of unseen hands—practical solutions to everyday problems. The craft completely surrounds life with nearly indestructible objects in hues from black to gray, to rusted and worn. Our imaginations were captured by the endless subtle signatures from the rhythmic taps and blows of the hammer, a tireless trail of style, strength and determination. Each blacksmith coerced and cajoled the stubborn ore into the shape of their dreams. Every visible piece of iron is a testament to the will of man over material. We too, longed to immerse ourselves in the artistry of everyday forms that characterized the ancient Tuscan culture.
As we assembled our little studio in the Tuscan Hills, we took special care to bring as much iron to the forefront as possible. For us, we could hardly get enough of the soulful stuff. Wherever the artistry of iron could be applied . . . it was. Looking back, we’re amazed at how many different places it appears, assuming its humble functional role. However, there isn’t a day that goes by without sincere appreciation for the craft. For example: a palm glides effortlessly down a smooth iron stair rail; the hand-forged latch on the door gets a quick release; an iron window grille frames the rolling hills; wrought tools are easily grasped to stoke the warming fire; there’s a familiar straight handle that opens the cantina; a decorative iron chair by the front door offers an inviting stop to tighten a shoelace; a graceful iron and glass canopy at the front entrance protects us from a sudden downpour; and daily, we enjoy an ancient fire-front shield which hangs as artwork over our Tuscan fireplace.
Countless moments of contact with the works of the artisans grace our lives each day. The Tuscan experience would not be complete without them. The very soul of this place moves within those nearly invisible, habitual iron-ore-encounters. With each simple touch or glance, we’re instantly connected to the unnamed craftsmen who helped build this magical place. Their presence is felt around us in unassuming ways, surrounding our routines like strong hands support a child. We are honored to be among those who have shared this experience—a secure form of life that’s truly “ironclad.”
Following are some images from around our house, both ancient hand-wrought and cast objects from the blacksmith’s forge. Also included are some contemporary forms inspired from the ancient craft that still carry the energy of the original art forward. We hope you enjoy them. Maybe one will inspire you to add some trusty iron into your own environment, as a reminder of the sturdy handmade world that was forged so many years ago.