Meet James DeMartis, local artist, blacksmith and metalworker. He specializes in custom metal furniture, architectural elements and sculpture, as well as metal antique repair, restoration and reproduction. When visiting DeMartis’s studio in the Springs section of East Hampton, it is easy to get swept up in his love for the art form of metal-work. The stove is fired up to full capacity with the coal roasting red hot to 2,500 degrees, and DeMartis wields a wealth of information and historical relevance about his craft. He speaks with the passion of someone who truly enjoys what he does. He even personally hand picks the actual coal he uses (a specific soft West Virginia variety) from an upstate farm. DeMartis begins by explaining all the necessary tools one needs to work with metal, and illustrates the importance of four key tools—anvil, hammer, coal and metal (material). DeMartis works at the forge with these tools to create each unique work of art. He is one part blacksmith, another part metalworker and all parts artist. As he diligently mapped out a plan to blend different skills and trades together, and all while injecting creativity into an Old World guild, he has blazed a unique trail in his field. His talent has allowed him opportunities to work on many interesting and eclectic projects. He even recently designed a historically relevant blacksmith cave for Julie Taymor’s movie The Tempest.
DeMartis had some inspirational mentors along the way, who helped create a prosperous path for his career. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Westchester County, he and his two siblings were instilled with an appreciation for art from their artistic and creative parents. DeMartis watched his father pursue the career of a painter and admits there were challenges in choosing this lifestyle, but admires his father for following his passion. As I look around his studio, his father’s ethereal paintings frame the space and his influence is clearly evident. DeMartis knew he wanted to tap into his inherited artistic abilities. After signing up for a welding class while attending C.W. Post at Long Island University, he was immediately smitten with metal. He quickly learned many skills to mastering the manipulation of metal. He talks about how wonderfully compliant metal is as an art medium and how it allows very detailed work to be created. As he gives me a tour of his studio I marvel at his collection of vintage and antique hand tools hung neatly on the wall. Throughout the space there is a cornucopia of power saws and modern equipment as well, and many projects in flux.
DeMartis feels grateful for his experience at C.W. Post, and shortly after graduating he was offered a job at the famous NOVA art center in Water Mill. This unique facility offered him a great opportunity to hone his craft. It brought him out to the East End of Long Island and it has been a love affair with the area ever since. After NOVA, James spent seven important years apprenticing under local blacksmith John Battle. It was here that he learned the intricate skills of blacksmith work, which have added a tremendous amount to his skill set. Simultaneously, he worked for a Riverhead sheet metal shop. These three experiences created a perfect combination for DeMartis, giving him a wealth of knowledge and tools to work with.
Eventually DeMartis found his way to the artistic enclave of Springs. He marvels at how easily and steadily the work came and almost all through word of mouth. He appreciates the Springs area because there are many other like-minded artists close by. “There is much to tap into here in the Hamptons. I am inspired by the landscape, the history, the people and the local artists,” says DeMartis.
When he first started his business, he was busy with lots of restoration work out East and in Manhattan, but little by little he started taking on commissioned art projects and large-scale work. Just to show you how varied his work can be, right now he is working on a zinc sink and countertop, reproducing an antique iron coffee table, a commissioned outdoor art sculpture and a myriad of other landscape projects. He enjoys the collaborative process of working on commissioned pieces with clients because they both learn along the way and inspire each other.
I ask him to name some important mentors that have influenced his work and he chooses three friends. Sculptor Dennis Leary inspires him with his persistent explanation of his craft and tireless discipline. Another mentor is talented jeweler John Iversen who possesses incredible craftsmanship, and demonstrates a tremendous work ethic. DeMartis reflects back upon the many years he apprenticed with blacksmith John Battle and appreciates the intricate skills he learned from him.
DeMartis is excited for the future of metalwork. He points out to me the history of metal- work is rich and long. During the Industrial Revolution, many of the metal guilds were instrumental in moving the revolution along, and ironically putting themselves out of business. This craft was temporarily stilted. DeMartis notes that in the hands of modern artists who are leading the charge, the metalwork industry has a bright future. This Old World guild is surging forward and with a deliberate emphasis on the handwork and education. It is an exciting time for this art form.
You can meet James DeMartis in person and view his work this summer. He will be available periodically at both the Bridgehampton Historical Society and the Parsons Forge in Springs demonstrating the art of blacksmith. DeMartis feels this is one of the most rewarding aspects to his job and enjoys educating the public. He will also submit pieces of his metal sculpture to be included in an art show that Arlene Bujese will curate at the end of the summer. [/expand]