"Metal has permanence. It is by its very nature hard, strong - to be able to work it like clay when it's hot is magic. Forging material in its plastic state still has the greatest fascination for me." - L. Brent Kington (1)
This month we're highlighting the father of the blacksmithing revival, L. Brent Kington (1934-2013). Born in Topeka, Kansas, Kington is widely recognized as a pioneer in the resurgence of blacksmithing as an art form. He attended the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, and graduated with his BFA in 1957. Afterwards, he studied at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI, where he received his MFA in 1961. Shortly after graduating with his master's, Kington began teaching metalsmithing at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC), Carbondale, IL. Over the course of the next thirty-five years, Kington served as professor, head of the metalsmithing program, and director of SIUC's School of Art and Design. During his tenure at SIUC, he created the only MFA program in blacksmithing in the United States. Upon his retirement in 1997, he was named professor emeritus.
Known as the "father of American blacksmithing," Kington organized a pivotal blacksmithing workshop in 1970 at SIUC. The workshop demonstrator was Alex Bealer, author of The Art of Blacksmithing. Although Kington organized the workshop for his students, over 60 people attended, bringing together both educators and craftspeople from all over the country. According to Kris A. Patzlaff, "This conference is considered seminal in bringing blacksmithing and iron into the arena as a viable material and process for contemporary expression. A number of conferences followed at different venues, with greater attendance, leading to the formation of ABANA, the Artist-Blacksmiths Association of America" (2). In 1976, Kington organized another blacksmithing conference at SIUC, bringing 490 attendees from across the U.S, Italy, England, and Canada.
Throughout his career, Kington earned many awards, including the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of North American Goldsmiths, the 2009 Outstanding Artist Educator Award by Penland School of Crafts, the Gold Metal from the American Craft Council in 2000, the American Craft Council Trustee Emeriti in 1994, and the Lifetime Member Award in 1983 by the Artist–Blacksmiths Association of North America. Kington was also the Metal Museum's 1984 Master Metalsmith, the 2nd metalsmith to receive the award.
To learn more about Kington, watch the above video made by WSIU InFocus. It goes into great detail about Kington's life, education, and the evolution of his work. At the video's 18:18 mark, Kington talks about "Untitled," 1971, one of two pieces of his work the Metal Museum acquired in early 2019. This piece is one of his earliest kinetic sculptures, and in the video, Kington mentions what inspired the piece and describes the processes he used to make it.
The Museum also purchased one of Kington's "Icarus" sculptures this year. According to Kington, "I used the title Icarus because of it's a name, a word that is a symbol for man flying. Of course, I'm not really referring to the fact that he disobeys his father and gets too close to the sun and does the stupid teenage typical trip and melts his wings and falls to his death. I'm referring to the persistence of tribal early man and his persistent dream of flight. … I'm referring to that and referring to a lot of cultures and times and places with the work. And, of course, it is very, very important to me that they were kinetic and that it looked like flight, or that they could take on motion.” (3)
With the addition of these pieces, the Metal Museum has representative examples of almost all of Kington's major bodies of work. Below is a selection of work the Museum owns by this master of metalsmithing. To see even more, click the link here. Also, it's not widely known that Kington made jewelry, in addition to toys and sculpture, for friends and family (see the bracelet below). To learn more about his jewelry, read Exhibition Manager Nan Cook's blog about With Love, From Brent, an exhibition held at the Metal Museum in 2017.
To learn more about these pieces and our other newest acquisitions, come to my "Keeping up with the Collections" talk this Sunday, July 28th at 2:00pm.
1. Metalsmith Magazine (Spring 1982).