From the Forge: A Legacy of Art and Inspiration

Richard Prazen, a blacksmith and metal sculptor in South Jordan, Utah, has honed this skill with more than 55 years in the welding and manufacturing industry. In his hands, pieces of metal come to life as soaring eagles and giant spiders.

AWS Publications | February 25, 2021 | Processes
Welding Digest ►  From the Forge: A Legacy of Art and Inspiration

Richard Prazen, a blacksmith and metal sculptor in South Jordan, Utah, has honed this skill with more than 55 years in the welding and manufacturing industry. In his hands, pieces of metal come to life as soaring eagles and giant spiders.

He taps into the different realms of fantasy, crafting dragons (Fig. 1) and steampunk ships. His creativity even extends into the home with custom-made furniture and ironwork. 

Fig 1 IMG_0029Fig. 1 — A large dragon sculpture commissioned for FantasyCon. It is made out of steel with copper and brass accents. 

 

The gift of creation not only manifests in Prazen’s art work, but also in the skills he passes on to his students. For the past 15 years, he’s taught a metal sculpture class at Salt Lake Community College. Whether it’s by his hands or his students’, Prazen has forged a legacy of metal art across Utah. 

 

From Industry to Imagination 

 

Prazen got his start working with metal in his family’s business, Pioneer Welding and Manufacturing. The company performed maintenance, manufacturing, structural, and repair jobs across the United States and in South America. 

“I watched my father, Frank Prazen, and my brothers, John and Gary Prazen, as they performed all kinds of fabrication and repair,” said Prazen. “They were inventors and innovators. My older brothers were also very gifted artists and metal workers, so I was destined to continue with that legacy of work.” 

While Prazen worked in the family business, he moonlighted as an artist, creating metal sculptures of Spanish galleons and animals. Eventually, Prazen closed the business and moved his shop home to focus on his artwork.  

These days, much of his time is spent creating commissioned metal sculptures and custom wrought iron work for homes. 

A recent noteworthy project was Prazen’s triathlon-inspired sculpture for the IRONMAN 70.3 North American Championship in St. George — Fig. 2. The sculpture includes stainless steel two-dimensional figures of a runner, biker, and swimmer on each side of a block, with the fourth side reserved for sponsors and announcements. Each athlete is layered over a mountain range cut in the top of a steel plate that was sandblasted and rusted — Fig. 3. Fig. 2 IMG_1794Fig. 2 — The IRONMAN sculpture in progress. Each side represents a different race in the triathlon. Pictured is the swimmer. 

 

Fig. 3 IMG_1814Fig. 3 — Prazen applying a ferric nitrate solution to the surface of the sand-blasted steel mountain range to start the natural rusting process. 

 

The Prazen Process 

 

Prazen spares no detail in his work. Upon crafting his first eagle sculpture, the artist borrowed lab specimens from the University of Utah and documented the shapes and number of feathers. He carefully studied the bird of prey’s anatomy in books, taking six months to complete the piece — Fig. 4. Fig. 4 IMG_1212Fig. 4 — The eagle is Prazen’s favorite sculpture to create. 

 

At the start of a project, Prazen doesn’t always know how he’s going to craft the look he wants, but experimentation is part of the fun. For example, he had to get creative in manipulating metal so that it looked like fur for an 8-ft version of the orangutan King Louie from the Jungle Book.   

“What I did was develop a way of cutting sheet metal almost like scales,” Prazen described. “But they were like shaggy cut pieces that would go on [the sculpture]. So it looked like a shaggy fur coat.” 

Because Prazen often works with steel as a base metal, the process he uses the most is gas metal arc welding. But he uses welding for more than joining metals; it’s also a way to play with colors. 

“In my experience, I learned how to join aluminum with steel,” Prazen said. “But I also learned how to weld brass, bronze, copper, stainless, and combine all of those metals and use them for coloring processes. Because I like the the idea of using natural metal color to give me contrasts and effects like buckskin, for instance, or hair or facial tones. I use rust and gun blue and . . . patina to color.” 

 

Passing On the Craft 

 

When Prazen isn’t making art, he’s teaching others how to do it. He oversees the metal art program for Salt Lake Community College, where students’ imaginations can run wild with metal as their vessel for expression. 

Prazen’s recommendation to anyone interested in getting started with metal art is to take a class. From his experience, students enjoy having the chance to work with their hands and create something they never thought they could do. This is first evident when Prazen instructs the students to make a blacksmith rose. 

“You would not believe how that just boosts their energy and self esteem,” Prazen shared. “They will sit there and stare at that rose and think, ‘I can't believe I made that.’” 

That boost of confidence is Prazen’s favorite part of the class too. 

“[I enjoy] the satisfaction of giving them an opportunity to build their self esteem and to realize that they can do things that are beautiful and that are meaningful.” 

To learn more about Prazen’s work, visit his website Reflections from the Forge (prazen.com). 

 

This article was written by Alexandra Quiñones (associate editor of the Welding Journal) for the American Welding Society.