David Secrest & Iron



The Metal Museum's annual "Master Metalsmith" series began in 1983 as a way to highlight the most influential metal artists working today. Each exhibit is a retrospective of the chosen honoree's career, spanning decades and highlighting innovations to the metal arts field. Our 2017 Master Metalsmith is David Secrest, a sculptor and blacksmith from Montana. David is well-known for his benches, and tabletop and outdoor sculptures. His work in metal is primarily composed of iron, though it is found in three types: wrought iron, steel and cast iron.

(Image: David Secrest in his studio.

Photo courtesy of Houston Cofield.)

Wrought iron is the type of iron that was used for most of history. Gates, grilles and railings forged prior to the 19th century would have been made with wrought iron. Wrought iron is composed of iron mixed with siliceous slag and very little or no carbon. When heated in a forge, it becomes malleable like clay and can be bent, stretched or shaped until cold. In David Secrest's work, he often etches the wrought iron with an acid, causing the underlying grain of the metal to become exposed, as seen in the piece "Dish I."


(Image: David Secrest. "Dish I". 1982. Wrought Iron, steel. Courtesy of the Artist.

Photo courtesy of Houston Cofield.)

Steel did not become readily used until improvements in technology during the


mid-nineteenth century allowed it to be produced in large quantities. Steel is composed of iron with a small amount of carbon. When heated in a forge, steel becomes malleable and can be bent, stretched and shaped like wrought iron. Today, steel has replaced wrought iron in most instances because it can be produced in larger quantities and more cheaply than wrought iron. In addition to being used by blacksmiths like David Secrest, it has numerous commercial uses. Though wrought iron and steel have different compositions, they can be forge welded together, as David does in numerous sculptures throughout the exhibit.

(Image: David Secrest. "Untitled." 2015. Steel, wrought iron.

Courtesy of the Artist. Photo courtesy of Houston Cofield.)

Cast iron is composed of iron with carbon and silicon. Because it has a higher carbon content than wrought iron or steel, it is not malleable when hot or cold. Cast iron is melted in a furnace until it reaches a liquid state, poured into a pre-made mold and allowed to cool and harden. David creates his cast sculptures by creating a sand mold with a wood pattern. After a special foundry sand is packed around the wood pattern, the pattern is removed and cast iron poured into the hollow cavity, then allowed to cool and harden. Several of the cast iron pieces included in the exhibit are displayed alongside the wood patterns used to create the casting. David often paints and finishes these wood patterns and sees them as art objects themselves.


(Image: David Secrest. "Strut #257". 1997. Cast iron (wood pattern). Courtesy of the Artist.

Photo courtesy of Houston Cofield.)

To learn more about David Secrest's process and use of materials, you can purchase the exhibit catalog for "Master Metalsmith: David Secrest" with essay by Jeffrey Funk from our Museum Store or through the website here. To learn more about the Master Metalsmith series and to see a list of past honorees, visit the link here.

"Master Metalsmith: David Secrest" will be on display in the Museum's Gasparrini Galleries through December 31, 2017.


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