by arlene winkler
though I’ve never set foot in a blacksmith shop, I suspect that
this one, with its light and high ceilings is probably not typical
of the genre. As a survivor of the construction wars, I am unimpressed
with the omnipresent black grime that is apparently part and parcel
of metal work. What gets my attention is the clear presence of control
and order. There are neatly hung drawings, work in progress and well-maintained
tools designed for lifting, holding, grinding and hammering heavy
stuff. In addition, there are two welding machines; the old one Tekla
has used for years and the Miller, a newer, better machine: a gift
from her husband Dan that at this point is a still-to-be-acquired
taste. In the interim, she has named it “Thanks & Gratitude.”
one wall, there are bins of scrap and cutoffs, neatly arranged by
size and gauge.
is discarded,” she explains cheerfully, “Especially cutoffs.
When the Albert Paley sculpture was installed in front of the Federal
Building, Dan and I were so exited. The minute we saw it, we could
see how he used the cutoffs—with some of them, I could see where
in the body of the sculpture they had come from.”
breadth of her knowledge is only one of the reasons I wanted to interview
Tekla, the other is the two sides of her skill. She is one of the
few artists I know of who practices both art and craft and knows the
difference. Now, watching her heft the heavy cuttings, I feel compelled
to ask if there are many women in her field.
too many,” she responds, “But I got an early start. My
grandfather was a metal worker, and between the ages of 5 to10 I used
to play in his workshop with scraps of sheet metal. It never seemed
to bother anybody. When I got to college I studied sculpture and took
classes at Winthrop. Since I was married to a mechanic then, I used
his welder to do stick welding with the found materials and scraps
I made into models and brought into class. When I first met Dan, he
was shoeing horses. I was amazed the first time I saw him pour. .
. I was so excited I married him!”
points to a massive black hammering machine, “When he taught
me to forge he showed me how to use the hammer. But he’s much
stronger than I am, and it took me forever. I had to start taking
classes from women to gain some finesse. I learned a new way to lift,
how to stand, how to hold a hammer. My first teacher was a shaman
and a blacksmith from Georgia. The next one was Roberta Elliott at
the Campbell Folk School. I was able to do this on scholarship from
the Artists Blacksmiths of America. The one thing I didn’t anticipate
was that it would be so difficult, so socially unacceptable to be
a woman who worked in metal. I had such anger then.
I nod. I know about that Anger.
would come into our shop and say they wanted to “talk to the
man who makes all the metal stuff.” And it just infuriated me.
At first I made a joke of it. I would put on a pair of Groucho Marx
glasses, and say, “May I help you?” Now, I don’t
have to use them. It’s wonderful when you can examine the old
anger your heart is so full of. Now that I have a clear picture, I
can release it. I know it’s nobody’s fault.”
that how you changed from Theresa to Tekla?”
laughs. “I needed a name because I was signing my work Howachin,
the same as Dan and people assumed all the work was his. So my father-in-law
gave me a Ukrainian name. Even so, at my first show in Black Mountain,
I still had my married name on all my cards and flyers. When the gallery
owner asked me why, it was like an epiphany. I finally realized, “I
can be anybody I want to be!”
that’s how you manage between craft and art?
the craft side, when someone comes into the shop and has a specific
need—like a table or a light fixture—I feel like a gift
has just walked in the door. That person has vision and needs me to
co-create in that vision. The wonderful thing with these projects,
because they’re always one of a kind, is that there is so much
learning in the process. It takes me to the next level.
“It’s wonderful to work with someone else. They don’t
even have to be able to draw. If they have the words, I can draw it.
And with the feedback they give me, the drawing gets more and more
accurate—until we arrive at what they really want. It’s
can see she means it, but as one who deals on a daily basis with people
who want me to guess what they want, “enjoyable” is not
the word I would use to describe the experience.
it’s more fun when you’re creating, and you know that
it’s a gift, that it will help the harmony of the family and
raise the level of vibrations.”
“And I suppose you do that?” I grumble. “Raise the
you’ve truly asked for help and applied your sacred geometry
you are creating something that will raise the vibration level.
geometry? As in the square root of two, and the golden mean? ”
She smiles. “I also studied bio-geometry—for design.”
I know about bio-geometry is that it got a lot of play in the ‘80s
when there was a hot trend for pyramids. “It deals with the
energy of shapes that bring balance into energy fields,” she
explains. “These forms produce a type of penetrating carrier-wave
(and lest I think it’s a bit fanciful) that was discovered by
two scientists; Chaumery and De Belizal.
I studied at the Vesica Institute, “ she continues, pointing
out an eye shaped opening in several of her art pieces. I recognize
the Vesica pisces, created by the perfect intersection of two circles.
You can see it in all her work, both craft and sculpture.
and I collaborate on craft, and we worked together with Tucker Cook
on Shopping Daze, the urban trail sculpture in front of Malaprops
Book Store. But the fine art pieces are my own. “
spiritual/scientific pursuits are present in all her work. Brigid’s
Fire for instance, is an ancient goddess form surrounded by flames,
with circles representing the chakra system. Brigid was a traditional
patroness of healing, poetry, and smith craft.
series of shield wall sculptures are works on feminine survival in
patriarchal world. Shield for Athena is a gift for the modern Athena,
a warrior in a rebar-reinforced paternal world. She is presented with
tools for empowering the sacred feminine which include embellishment
of ancient symbology. Four circles represent our Mother’s four
moons and thirteen incised marks symbolize its thirteen cycles in
Worlds Intersticed is a continuation of a shield like form, with a
more three dimensional image. It represents a blending of the physical
with the spiritual, the swirling Earth with spears of ancient wisdom
piercing its core giving way to a brighter unknown. This sculpture
is illustrated in The Contemporary Blacksmith by Dona Meilach.
Reversals” was inspired by her studies with Lisa Sarasohn, The
Belly Queen, who developed a program of daily exercises derived from
Kripalu yoga, tai chi and other ancient healing arts. The name refers
to the beginning, a place where anything is possible, where we are
the creators of that which will be. The negative space represents
the feminine form, flanked by two fetal shapes with a continual circle
feeding the embryos. The center twisted rod is the kundalini rising.
personal favorite is a piece she calls Brother Sun. Made of forged
mild steel, it stands solid on the Earth and celebrates light in our
world and existence on this planet. The top part of the sculpture
resembles sun rays emanating from a sun-like shape with a void in
the center, once again suggesting concentrated energy.
am frankly amazed by the apparent contradictions in this amazing woman.
“All my life I have been an air person, “ she explains.
“I fly airplanes, I love being airborne. Metal helps ground
me to the earth. When I can bring all this to the things I create
and actually sell it to make a living, I can be happy.
Tekla and her husband Dan are co-owners of Black Mountain Iron Works,
120 Broadway, Black Mountain, North Carolina 28711.
the recipient of numerous grants, fellowships and awards and her work
has been exhibited throughout the area, including:
Area Arts Council, The North Carolina Arboretum, City of Hickory Invitational
Exhibits,Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
Outdoor Tri-State Sculptors Exhibit, Crossing the Line, and Blue Spiral
Gallery of Art.
is a freelance financial writer, who is passionate about art. A
former ad agency president and enthusiastic participant of life
on the New York fast track, she moved to Asheville in 2002 with
her sculptor husband, Robert Winkler. A mother of three, a grandmother
of four, and the author of three screenplays, she is dealing with
her culture shock by writing for WNC Woman.