From Norfolk to Rapid City America for young man of steel
14:36 05 July 2012
© Archant Norfolk 2012
The art of the blacksmith may be an ancient one, but it is a Norfolk teenager who is finding adventure calling after dedicating his skills to metal.
Now 14-year-old Alec Steele is getting set to jet off to America to demonstrate his skills in front of the world’s best.
Norwich School pupil Alec divides his time between his home in Harford Manor Close, off Ipswich Road, Norwich, and his forge at his second home in Burnham Market.
The self-taught boy blacksmith built a following on the internet where he wrote on blacksmith forums and posted pictures of his work.
Soon an expert in the craft came calling – and now Alec is being whisked off to America to showcase his talent at the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America (ABANA) conference in Rapid City, South Dakota.
The expert is Brian Brazeal, from Mississippi, whose website tutorial videos taught Alec his first techniques. He is now taking Alex and two American youngsters to demonstrate at the conference – the first time teenagers have shown their skills before these experienced adults.
Before Alec revealed his age on the internet forums, the American had assumed the work he was looking at was by an adult.
“When he found out the work was by a 14-year-old he was gobsmacked,” said Alec’s mother, Cecile Bidet, who is a furniture restorer and artist.
“He is only a kid, but he is very mature in his learning.
“But he is not a prodigy – he is a natural and came to forging very early. It is unusual for a young person to have such a hobby and passion at an early age, and he has put in the time to learn the techniques.”
Alec started forging aged 11, and began building his own brick forge in his garden after seeing a live performance of metal moulding.
He scoured the web, absorbing everything he could about the traditional trade.
But Alec is anything but traditional in his approach. He says of his appreciation of the art: “There is that irony of being able to create abstract forms. To make steel – which they make buildings out of – into plasticine, and move it how you want.”
In America, Alec will tour various states doing demonstrations with American blacksmiths and farriers, including a masterclass for young and old in Montana.
Alec said: “What is not to be excited about? I get to see the changing landscape of America as we travel through the states, and I get to demonstrate, in front of other blacksmiths, the techniques we have been taught.
“It is a lot about showing that anybody can do it. I am five foot two, very small, and I am swinging a hammer that adults find difficult.”
He makes his own tools and sells his metal sculptures to local businesses, at craft fairs or to private commissioning customers, all this while juggling school life, an interest in cricket and hockey and a passion for music.
“It is unusual for someone my age to be doing this, but I have always enjoyed having lots of hobbies. I have a passion for wanting to get better at things.
“It is normal for me – for the last three years this is just how my life has gone.”
Alec’s American journey can be followed online at www.facebook.com/YoungSmiths2012