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Metal Arts Gift Show: ‘Crazy people who light things on fire and hit them with big hammers’

The Dec. 10 show at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center features 30 artists who make everything from jewelry to Viking armor.

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Blacksmiths xxx (left) and xxx will be among the 30 metal artists participating Saturday in the Metal Work Gift Show. Photo courtesy: ArtsAlive
Gary Johnson (left) and Dean Moxley, volunteer blacksmiths at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center, will demonstrate their forge skills Saturday during the Metal Arts Gift Show. Photo courtesy: ArtsAlive

It speaks to the vitality of Yamhill County’s creatives that even now, in the final, freezing days of 2022, a new event explodes onto the scene.

That event is a sprawling exhibition of metal art, both the finished product and, in some instances, demonstrations of the ancient and not-so-ancient techniques used to forge it.

The first Metal Arts Gift Show will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center, just southwest of McMinnville along Highway 18, with the requisite lineup of food carts (McMinnville has, you should know, some amazing food carts) and live, Grateful Dead-inspired music by Salem’s The Dead Band from 5 to 7 p.m.   

It’s an art fair with a strong educational component. That’s not surprising when you learn that the woman who has spent a year quietly, almost single-handedly cobbling it together is a retired middle school teacher.

Maggie Fromme Bowman of McMinnville has spent years honing her skills as a silversmith, which she uses to make jewelry. She is the organizer of this weekend's metal arts show at the Yamhill County Heritage Center in McMinnville. Photo courtesy: Maggie Fromme Bowman
Maggie Fromme Bowman of McMinnville has spent years honing her skills as a silversmith, which she uses to make jewelry. She is the organizer of this weekend’s metal arts show at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center in McMinnville. Photo courtesy: Maggie Fromme Bowman

A silversmith who specializes in jewelry, Maggie Fromme Bowman says she wants to see families with kids, particularly middle- and high-school aged. On more than one occasion, she’s seen young people so dazzled by the primeval alchemy of metal work that they go on to find fulfillment doing it themselves.

“I’m a silversmith,” she said, “but I didn’t want it to just be a jewelry-palooza, you know? I want families there, I want guys there, I want middle-schoolers there. This isn’t a typical craft fair.”

Given the hands-on, apprenticeship nature of learning how to smith metal, she said, it’s more important that working artists leave behind future artists who can carry on these traditions than it is to leave behind an individual piece of art.

Bowman invited 10 artists who make jewelry, but there will be 20 more who make everything from Viking armor and weapons to signs and yard art. Her kind of people, in other words: “Crazy people who light things on fire and hit them with big hammers.”

Bowman grew up near Grants Pass on an 80-acre farm in the Applegate Valley. “My stepdad worked with wood, and we had lots of machinery, and I wanted to know how to do this stuff, so I learned how to weld in FFA when I was 14. I was one of two girls in the class, and then I grew up and promptly forgot about it.”

It wasn’t until decades later, well into a teaching career, that Bowman enrolled in a silversmithing class, and that creative spark she’d discovered as a teen roared back to life. She’s been at it ever since.

Ugo Serrano is one of 30 artists participating in the Metal Arts Gift Show. Here, he is working on a project with friends in Switzerland, a helmet with stylized hair. "Our rendition of Mordred from 'Excalibur.'" he says. Photo by: Soline Anthore Baptiste
Ugo Serrano, one of 30 artists participating in the Metal Arts Gift Show, works on a project with friends in Switzerland. The helmet with stylized hair is “our rendition of Mordred from ‘Excalibur,'” he says. Photo by: Soline Anthore Baptiste

Virtually all of the artists featured in Saturday’s show participated in this year’s Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County, but Bowman cast as wide a net as she could and found artists who had previously been unknown to her.

The project, she says, was borne out of the isolation of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“The last two years changed everybody,” she said, reflecting on her own experience. “Some people thrived. I had all my basic needs met, but I’m a social person, and I really missed my people. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to get all my metal people together in one spot?”

Saturday’s show will feature blacksmiths, coppersmiths, silversmiths, bronze sculptors, and artists from Newberg’s Anvil Academy. There will also be a demonstration of using CAD design for metal art projects.

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Oh, if you have a knife that needs sharpening? Bring it, she says. Someone there will be able to help you with that.

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The Yamhill Valley Heritage Center is ADA accessible and located at 11275 S.W. Durham Lane just south of McMinnville along Highway 18. Cost is $5 or a donation of five cans of food for YCAP, the local Oregon Food Bank affiliate. For more information, call 503-472-2842.

David Bates is an award-winning Oregon journalist with more than 20 years as a newspaper editor and reporter in the Willamette Valley, covering virtually every topic imaginable and with a strong background in arts/culture journalism. He has lived in Yamhill County since 1996 and is currently a freelance writer whose clients have included the McMinnville News-RegisterOregon Wine Press, and Indulge, a food-oriented publication. He has a B.S. degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and a long history of involvement in the theater arts, acting and on occasion directing for Gallery Players of Oregon and other theaters in Oregon.

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