Battle Hill Forge in Millerton, N.Y., seems a mess of metal on a warm spring day. But inside the forge, which recently moved from Falls Village to a former car repair garage hard by the Webatuck Creek in the center of this quiet and quaint town, genius is at work.
Israel Fitch, 42, better known as “Izzy,” a partner in the forge with longtime buddy Willie Blass, is working alongside metalworker John Rooney as they complete a ton and a half metal sculpture that will be used as a room divider by New York-based painter and designer John-Paul Philippe. The massive work, which sits in large pieces that will be joined when delivered to the buyer, came about through, as Mr. Fitch explains, “an organic process.” He explained, “We really had no set plans or drawings for the piece and we change and adapt to the client’s wishes as we go along.” Such a piece can take months to complete.
Quite notably, Battle Hill Forge also recently designed, crafted and installed intricate and unique metal fencing for New York City’s The Cloisters. The fence blended perfectly among The Cloisters museum and gardens, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is dedicated to the art and architecture of medieval Europe.
“We used few thousand feet of steel to make 73 feet of fencing that is 18 inches tall,” said Mr. Fitch, as he took a break from his work. “The “waddle” type of fencing is actually thin steel rods that are intertwined to create a strong, flowing effect that not only protects the gardens but serves to enhance their beauty.
“That was an exciting job,” said Mr. Fitch. “They were very pleased with the final product and it is a thrill to know that your work is part of such a famous museum.”
The forge has designed and created works for a number of architects, designers and horticulturists, who integrate the works into their home, landscape and garden designs.
In addition to Mr. Fitch, Mr. Blass and Mr. Rooney, Ben Harmon also works at the forge, which first opened some 10 years ago in Falls Village. Mr. Fitch, who now lives in Millerton, N.Y., was born and raised in Sharon, while the other three men involved in the business all live in Connecticut.
“We liked being in Falls Village,” said Mr. Fitch. “It was just a matter of having more room here to work and grow.”
The forge produces sculptures and products that range from the esoteric, such as a 10-foot green globe tower made of steel with an oxidized rust finish and a hand blown green glass globe atop, to the macabre, like a steel scarecrow that reportedly stole the show at last autumn’s Falls Village Children’s Theater scarecrow contest. It’s enough to send any modern day Ichabod Crane scampering under the sheets of his bed.
Mr. Fitch began dabbling in metal when he was just a child, collecting small chunks of it and making little objects. “I think the first thing I sold was to my grandmother when I was nine years old. It was a small metal boat that I made.”
After attending the The Community School in Maine, he worked at various jobs that included one as a sawyer in a sawmill, along with doing landscaping. He continued to dabble at metallurgy and metalworking, and eventually he and his friend, Mr. Blass, also hooked on metal, decided it was time to give a storefront operation a whirl. They initially specialized in making medieval-type swords and knives and blades and continue making handmade, custom kitchen knives. The forge slowly expanded to the point where it makes custom pieces that range from park benches and spiral stands to belt buckles and chain-mail.
Some of the forge’s work approaches high art. An expansive steel sculpture presides over the jewelry counter at the new Barney’s Chicago store and was designed by Mr. Phillipe. An abstract sculpture executed in steel and hand-blown glass orbs accents a fireplace in Fred’s Restaurant inside Barney’s Chicago, again designed by Mr. Phillipe.
“When we get a commission, we really don’t have any pre-determined designs,” said Mr. Fitch. “We work with the customer to design the piece and can change the sculpture to meet the client’s desires.”
Each sculpture demands hours of painstaking work that includes cutting, welding, riveting and sometimes even hammering metal by hand to get the perfect finish shape. A professional firm usually ships the end results, although smaller pieces can be delivered by the forge employees or taken from the site by the client.
Some of the most interesting and functional pieces the forge creates are for the garden. There are, of course, fencing, shepherd’s crooks made of four feet of solid half-inch round stock, individually hand-forged, custom fencing that is made of wrought iron and steel, tripod tuteurs, simple three-legged structures that can hold garden plants, and quadripod tuteurs, four-legged structures for plants that can be used with planters. There are also some really cool steel pumpkins that can accent or serve as the centerpiece of a garden.
“We work in steel, bronze, brass and copper,” Mr. Fitch said. “One of the most difficult things we have to do is figure out a price for the organic jobs that don’t have blueprints or set measurements.”
Battle Hill Forge will be attending several upcoming events, such as at the Watch City Festival in Watham, Mass., and the Trade Secrets Annual Gardening Event at Elaine LaRoche’s LionRock Farm in Sharon this month Later in the year, don’t miss the Battle Hill Forge Scarecrow Show, which will delight individuals of all ages.
“We also like to do outreach with the community and have school trips stop by to learn about metalworking and what we are doing here,” said Mr. Fitch. He added that the partners have ambitious plans for their new location.
“We had to do so much work to clean up this site to make it presentable but we have only just begun. We want to create a beautiful garden setting where we can display our sculptures in a natural way. We are fixing up a wall that borders a sidewalk to make the area more attractive and to bring people in to see what is here. We want to be a positive part of the community and a place where people think of going to relax and look at our work. Of course, we would be happy if they purchased while here.”
For more information, visit www.battlehillforge.com.