PETER HAPPNY BLACKSMITH
The Man, The Smith, The Legend
Peter Happny Blacksmith has been in business for forty nine years, working in many different architectural styles including colonial, art nouveau, gothic revival, arts and crafts, art deco, and contemporary iron work. He also designs and executes sculptures for specific jobs and locations. Peter has taught and demonstrated for blacksmithing groups in the United States and abroad. His work is published in multiple books about wrought iron sculpture. He continues his work in Portsmouth, trying to make ironwork more meaningful to the twenty-first century.
Biography & Artist Statement
In 1971 while studying at the University of New Hampshire I was enrolled in a course on Early American Architecture. I answered a few questions incorrectly on the final exam that was related to early Portsmouth architecture. Convinced my professor was wrong, I visited the Wentworth Gardner House in Portsmouth in order to prove my point. After seeing the house and realizing my professor was indeed correct, I decided maybe I should find a job and learn a few more things. I stopped into Strawbery Banke, a local historical museum site, to inquire about a boatbuilding job. Turns out they needed a blacksmith instead. I may have misrepresented my knowledge of blacksmithing, but I convinced them, found a smith to learn from as I caught the bug and ended up running the blacksmith shop there for the next seven years before purchasing the building I now work in. Over thirty years later, I was installing a railing in front of the Wentworth Gardner House. I drilled multiple holes into granite for two days with equipment that seemed to have been around as long as when I had first visited Portsmouth. While sweating in the summer heat and drilling too many holes, I had an epiphany. If I had not ever visited the Wentworth Gardner House I would not have had to drill so many holes. Moreover, I would not have pursued a career in blacksmithing. At this point I have been in the blacksmithing business for forty nine years and counting. I find one of the advantages of being self-taught is that it takes less time to figure out how I solved the problems the last time I produced a similar piece.
Peter Happny’s work captures movement and balance through forging hot metal. He works in many genres from functional to sculptural and historical (colonial balonial) to avant-garde. HIs challenge is to give life to material not attuned to graceful, pleasing three dimensional shapes. The only limit is his imagination.
Fifty years of earning a living as a blacksmith continue to challenge Happny to improve his skills, taking risks for the art of it while still managing to pay the bills. His work takes on many forms from small to large—taking a single line and developing a three dimensional shape that appears pleasing in all dimensions or applying a light relief to a flat sheet, giving it a personality that shines. Balance and cantilever also draws the viewer in.
Happny has taught and demonstrated across the US and in Europe focusing on contemporary things one can do through forging steel. His work appears in many ornamental ironwork books. He draws inspiration from nature and architecture. He possesses a vivid imagination and is known for his ability to work in many different styles, always experimenting and finding a way to make it his own.
A visit to his forge by the railroad tracks in Portsmouth, NH is an experience. You may just find a practical solution to that railing you want made or an heirloom that needs fixing. One thing is certain, you will come away with a joke that will either make you laugh or groan.
“Over the years, doing public stuff, you have to ask yourself, ‘How many drunk teenagers can you put on it at once?’ That is my test for enduring public art."