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Battle Hill Forge: Alternative Metalworkers with Indie Spirit

Rural Intelligence StyleIn a funky barn-red building hard by Route 7 in Falls Village, CT, Willy Blass, Israel “Izzy” Fitch, and Jeffrey Vanam turn metal into poetry. Over the past five years, they have handcrafted everything from custom andirons and chandeliers to garden gates and nature-inspired jewelry.  Once a local secret favored by the northwestern Connecticut gentry (Bunny Williams’ kitchen-and-cutting garden is filled with their peony supports and tomato towers), their Battle Hill Forge now has online shops at Etsy and ArtFire and even won New York’s Central Park scarecrow contest. “Although these guys would rather be creating medieval metalwork, they truly are gifted at garden structures as well—from whimsical to classic, from architectural to zodiac, from arches to zombies,” says landscape gardener Deb Munson, who has commissioned a gazebo and other garden ornaments for her clients. Says Jane Garmey, the author of Private Gardens of Connecticut: “Izzy Fitch and his band of merry men, Jeffery Vanam and William Blass, have adroitly managed to upset all preconceptions of a traditional smithy.  From sophisticated ‘wattle’ garden fencing to fanciful tuteurs,  their workshop is a far out and welcome addition.”

Their business was born of their passion to create objects with their hands. “When I got together with Jeff and Willy, they were doing amazing things with chain mail and knives,” says Fitch. Rural Intelligence StyleThey realized there was a limited market for Goth paraphernalia in the Berkshires, Hudson Valley and Litchfield Hills, but they sensed there was an untapped market for custom garden ornaments, hardware, fences, and outdoor furniture.

“We’ve grown by trial and error,” says Vanam.

“We’re trying to get out of the trial phase,” quips Fitch.

“It’s the Einstein strategy,” says Blass, dryly.

It may not be rocket science, but these guys have developed an artisanal approach to design that allows them to marry whimsy and practicality in items such as hand-forged Octopus Squid Tentacle coat hooks ($40) and Fiddlehead garden stakes ($22). Their current commissions include a giant weathervane shaped like a vintage ice skate for the legendary figure skater and television commentator Dick Button and the railings for the front steps of the Falls Village Inn. “As a collector of outdoor bronze sculpture, I find their pieces fit naturally into the landscape and ages well,” says Chris Morley of Falls Village. “I call it art for your garden.”
Rural Intelligence Style“We like collaborating with clients,” says Vanam. “They appreciate having things made by people they know.” But the guys get even more pleasure when they let their imaginations run wild and people come in and buy things like their Magic Cinderella Pumpkin ($1,300) or globe glass tower ($4,173). They see themselves as a band of craftsmen battling against mediocrity and cheap imports. “We’re an alternative to the disposable economy,” says Vanam. “People want things that last.” Or, as Blass puts it, “We make the antiques of the future.”

Battle Hill Forge
50 US Route 7, Falls Village, CT; 860.824.7767

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 03/22/11 at 01:06 PM • Permalink