Sparks fly as blacksmith ′Apprentices′ help with community garden artwork

Graeme Hopper, Kathryn Forte and Mike Ciaraldi


Two white collar workers swapped Powerpoint presentations for power-hammer pounding as they spent an afternoon as blacksmith apprentices.

Caption (l-r): Graeme Hopper, Kathryn Forte and Mike Ciaraldi.

Mike Ciaraldi, of Northumbrian Water, and Kathryn Forte, of Home Group, were put through mini apprenticeships by artist and blacksmith, Graeme Hopper, who is working on a sculpture for the organisations.

When Graeme was commissioned to create the artwork for a community garden in Gateshead, he challenged the duo to take up the tools and both were only too eager to test their abilities at the anvil.

It was quite the introduction to the ancient art of smithing for Mike, a civil engineer, and Kathryn, a neighbourhood co-ordinator, as they worked hot metal rods into “fronds” for the sculpture, which Graeme describes as an “emerging water creature”, which will next month take pride of place in Deckham’s Chelsea Gardens.

“What they lacked in skill, they made up for in enthusiasm,” said Graeme, whose workshop is near his home in Hunwick, County Durham. “The fronds they made will take pride of place as part of the sculpture, which will brighten up this formerly derelict patch of land.

“I love it when people come along and get involved in the work they have commissioned. It’s great to see the thrill everyone gets out of working the metal, reshaping it, hammering it, creating something new – Kathryn and Mike know that they have invested time and effort to create something unique that will be there for years to come.”

The sculpture was inspired by schoolchildren from Deckham’s Carrhill Primary School, where Graeme and Kathryn spent an afternoon working through ideas with the kids.

Mike said: “It is exciting to be able to play a small part in creating something that will stand proud for generations, not for one minute did I think I’d play such a hands-on role.

“The Chelsea Gardens project is transforming a patch of waste land into a valuable community asset. While I’m not an artist, if my tiny addition to this fantastic sculpture helps play a part in brightening someone’s day then I’ll be delighted.”
The apprentices learned how to use a plasma cutter, operate the power hammer, make use of the grinder and shaper and drive the fly press.

Kathryn added: “I can’t wait to see the faces of the kids from Carrhill Primary School and those of the local residents who played such an important role in seeing this project to fruition, when this sculpture is completed and unveiled.

“After spending the day as an apprentice blacksmith, I think I have a future at the forge. To take this raw material and turn it into something attractive was wonderful and bashing away with a hammer incredibly cathartic. I hope Graeme has a spare apron because I might come back!”

Renown for his unique sculptures, Graeme was commissioned to create artwork for the garden, on land owned by Home Group.

The project is designed to give something back to the community, as a thank you for their patience and support during a programme of improvements to improve drainage in their area. Northumbrian Water hopes the project will not only provide people with an attractive area they can enjoy and be proud of, but that it will also raise awareness of how surface water is managed in the natural environment in all weather conditions.

A blacksmith by trade, Graeme came to his art via light and heavy industry as well as teaching. He specialises in functional and sculptural ironwork of all sizes for interior and exterior locations. His flair and talent have led to appearances on both the BBC Small Town Gardens and Do it Yourself programmes.

“We are a couple of weeks away from completion, but I’m really pleased with the way the sculpture has taken shape,” added Graeme. “I hope the children can spot the parts of their designs that I have used for inspiration and maybe even give this enormous bug a name when it is settled in its new home.”

For more information on Northumbrian Water and its community projects visit

For more information please contact Paul White on 0191-3015325 or Bryn Littleton on 0191-5623134 or at

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