Resident Artisan Sean Ahern Talks Modern-Day Blacksmiths

Modern-day blacksmith continues a Charleston tradition.

 

When the wire fence at 89 Brigade Street opens, a lumbering hound aptly named Copper leads the way inside a small metal building. Various machines, typical of those found in most metal shops, are set across the concrete floor of this busy workroom. But a more curious eye soon discovers the bits and pieces of masterworks-in-the-making that are scattered about the tables and workspaces. Anything but “typical” comes out of this metal shop.

Sean Ahern, the owner of Ahern’s Anvil, admits that his journey from Charleston and back again took an unexpected turn. “I went to art school at the Atlanta College of Art, intending to be a painter,” says the affable Ahern. “I took a three-dimensional course that got me interested in stone carving. One piece I carved needed a base, so my professor suggested I have one of the seniors majoring in foundry teach me to weld. I thought, ‘I can do this.’”

Ahern’s focus shifted from painting to the sculptural/three-dimensional side of the arts, and his interest in metals — particularly bronze and iron — grew.

As he evolved from painter to artisan, his inspiration remained the same: the natural shapes and organic movement of his surroundings, which he incorporated into his work.

“After I graduated, I became an apprentice in Atlanta, where we did high-end blacksmithing work and public sculptures,” continues Ahern, who earned his degree in foundry. “After two years there, I went to France to study at École des Beaux-Arts in Saint-Étienne, France, where I learned even more blacksmithing skills.”

Ahern spent more than a year in France before the beauty of the Charleston Lowcountry beckoned him home. In 2002, he opened Ahern’s Anvil, where he has perfected his ability to pull works of art from hunks of metal, including bronze, steel, copper, aluminum and stainless steel. Working with a small crew, the shop crafts custom pieces — everything from fountains and light fixtures to gates, stairwells, and furniture and accessories for both commercial and residential customers. “I do most of the design work… probably 95 percent of it.”

After a dozen years in the business, Ahern’s work can be found in homes and businesses across the region. Traditional wrought iron gates, fences and railings accent the exteriors of a number of antebellum homes and historic public buildings in downtown Charleston. His exterior work on the surrounding islands — particularly Kiawah Island — as well as the furniture and accessories he crafts for interiors allows Ahern’s modern flair and passion for decorative details to flourish.

Whether he’s working on a traditional piece or a custom-designed modern piece, Ahern believes it’s all part of the job of a modern-day blacksmith. “Whenever we can, we always try to bring art into it. That’s what I love most about this business.”