Forget the glass ceiling! These female smiths are breaking down the metal walls of their industry.

By Caroline Biggs
August 14, 2019
Credit: Francois Dillinger

Metalsmithing—or simply "smithing"—is one of the oldest craft traditions in the world. Using methods such as hammering (forging), smelting, founding, and filing, smiths regularly employ centuries-old techniques to create their one-of-a-kind metal works. Though metalsmithing is often viewed as a boy's club, female smiths have been making waves—and extraordinary metal works—in the industry just as long as their male counterparts have. To prove our point, we spoke to three esteemed women metalsmiths across the country to share their inspirations, creative processes, and the obstacles they face in a male-dominated field. Here's what they had to say.

Gabrielle Shelton

Brooklyn-based architectural metalworker Gabrielle Shelton, pictured above, has been welding since she was just ten years old. "I first learned to weld in my uncles shop in Santa Barbara when I was a young girl," she recalls. "I have been drawn to metal for as long as I can remember. Nearly 20 years ago, she founded Shelton Studios, where she creates staircases, lighting, and ladders for artists and tastemakers including Richard Serra and Inez and Vinoodh

More recently, Shelton has branched out into an assortment of home goods, releasing a line of hardware and fixtures she's handcrafted from steel, copper, and brass. She's also just finished designing and completing metal work for Five Leaves LA, a restaurant in Los Angeles. "Metal working requires razor sharp focus for both safety and accuracy, which consequently has a deep meditative quality," she says. "Bending hot steel, machining bronze, drilling, welding and grinding—there are so many repetitive techniques to get lost in while somehow staying completely present." 

Credit: Ross Tuttle

Darcy Miro

Darcy Miro has been working with metal for over 30 years. "I took my first jewelry class in high school at age 14; welded for the first time at 18; and had my first solo show at 23," she says. Known for her delicate, textile-like metal creations—many of which are wearable—her body of work includes everything from sculptural light installations for design studio Diller Scofidio and Renfro, to large relief wall panels installed in the Ritz Carlton at Waikiki Beach, and metal vases designed exclusively for architect Peter Marino

Miro typically spends her days hammering, drilling, soldering, and fine-tuning metal pieces ranging from decorative candleholders and mirrors to jewelry. "The main obstacle I've faced as a female metalsmith is that some men assume I'm less strong as a woman," she says, "or they're overly impressed which can be equally insulting. The assumption seems to be that the burns on my arm are from cooking lasagna and not from working with hot metal." 

Credit: Katie Lobel

Melissa Easton

As a self-taught industrial designer, Melissa Easton has been designing home furnishings and tablewares for the majority of her professional life. Eleven years ago, she began focusing her efforts on transforming her meticulously handmade wax carvings into one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. "In many ways, I don’t consider myself a jeweler or metalsmith as much as I do a wax carver," she says. "It's such a slow meditative process that's not about muscle or speed and requires restraint."

In 2009, Easton launched Melissa Easton Jewelry where she handcrafts heirloom-inspired rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets cast in metal—particularly solid 10-karat yellow gold—from her studio in the Catskills of New York. "I hand-apply a worn patina (with steel brushes and abrasives) to every piece of jewelry I make," she says. "I want each piece to look and feel as though you've had them in your family for decades, if not generations."


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