Michael McCarthy flattened a red-hot piece of iron against an anvil with a hammer he made himself.
On Tuesday morning, the smoky air of his little workshop in Ames rang with the sharp taps of the hammer on the anvil. “This is going to be a juju man,” he said. “I picked the design up last time I was in West Africa.”
That juju man, a simple little good-luck charm, will most likely be sold in a gallery in Sharon Springs. That’s how most art is shown — in pretty, spacious places. Art lovers can walk through a gallery and view a product but, according to members of the recently established The Arts Factory of Montgomery County, galleries can’t display the full life of the work.
“People don’t often get to see where the art is actually made,” said St. Johnsville artist Robert Smith.
As part of The Arts Factory, Smith helped organize tours of 10 local artists’ workshops and studios for Saturday. McCarthy is one of those artists.
In his studio, he described the various stages of his work.
Artists’ Studios Tour
WHEN: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22
HOW MUCH: $10, tickets available at the Fort Plain Free Library, the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library in St. Johnsville and the Canajoharie Library
MORE INFO: Visit The Arts Factory of Montgomery County page on Facebook
• Joanne C. Resch, a watercolorist in Fort Plain
• MaryAnn Nellis, a potter in Canajoharie
• Robert E. Smith, a fortepiano maker, restorer and furniture maker in St. Johnsville
• Terry Potoczny, a Minden photographer
• Jan Skidmore, a multimedia artist in Fort Plain
• Chris Duncan, a sculptor in Canajoharie
• Alice Smith Duncan, a gilder and frame restorer in Canajoharie
• Matthew Hopkins, a painter in Ames
• Michael McCarthy, a blacksmith in Ames
• Jasmine Crowe, a potter in Sprout Brook
“That out there is an iron forge,” he said while pointing to a rusty steel contraption in his backyard. “I mine my own iron in the Adirondacks and smelt it out there.”
From the furnace comes a porous blob of bloom iron that McCarthy can eventually turn into anything from knives to barn door hinges to one of his juju men.
While he is primarily an artist, much of his work is as much about function as form. He’ll make furniture and period iron products to order. One of his more recent orders was for a set of cast pewter spoons, still piled on his workbench.
“I really don’t make the distinction between art and work,” he said. “It’s all the same techniques. I draw as much inspiration from a hinge as a sculpture.”
McCarthy’s studio, along with the nine others, including Smith’s vintage piano workshop, will be open for public tours from 1 to 5 p.m. next Saturday.
It’s the culmination of Art Week as declared by The Arts Factory.
Several area restaurants, including the Elephant Bistro in Canajoharie and The Table in Fort Plain, will offer special menu items in honor of Art Week from Sunday through the tour date.
“There’s not really a whole lot going on,” Smith said. “It’s our first year.”
It might be a sparse week of art events, but considering The Arts Factory isn’t yet a year old, it’s a pretty good effort.
Smith said until a few years ago, he was part of the Tri-County Arts Council, which covered Montgomery, Fulton and Schoharie counties.
On their own
“They have since gone out of existence,” he said, “and the time came for us to start our own council.” The Arts Factory is still in the process of gaining official nonprofit status.
“This county has a rich art scene,” Smith said, “and the artists are well-known in their circles, but not to the general public. We wanted to bring them in.”
Since this is the first year, Smith has no idea how many people will take the tour. They printed 150 tour tickets, available for $10 at three area libraries.
“We hope to make this an annual thing,” he said. “I think it will really take off next year.”
For a full schedule of tours along with directions to each studio, visit The Arts Factory on Facebook at www.facebook.com.