blacksmithing grant

Nathan Bush (center) and James Wolfe (right) work with William Rogers (left) learning to forge hot steel as part of their apprenticeship.

A trio of Western North Carolina artists are the recipients of a North Carolina Arts Council grant.

The statewide Apprenticeship Grant is offered once a year with only one artist team receiving the award. The grant allows for a master artist to work yearlong as a mentor to selected apprentices.

The team consists of William Rogers, James Wolfe and Nathan Bush.

Master craftsman Rogers maintains a studio in Cullowhee, where he makes custom metalwork and teaches. He developed the blacksmithing studio for the Jackson County Green Energy Park, adapting a gas forge to burn methane recovered from a former landfill site. Over the past decade, supported by grants from the N.C. Arts Council and Cherokee Preservation Foundation, he was artist-in-residence at several schools where he and students built collaborative sculptures that remain at the school. 

Rogers teams up with two younger smiths for this grant.

Wolfe is from the Big Cove area of the Qualla Boundary. An artist all of his life, Wolfe has mastered several media, including pottery, basketry, carving and metalworking. He is best known for his figurative sculptures complete with miniature weapons. After working at the Oconaluftee Indian Village as a historic interpreter for more than a decade, he set out on his own as a full time professional artist.

From Graham County’s Snowbird community, Bush has demonstrated the art of hammered copper at the Oconaluftee Indian Village since 2015. He began working at the Village as a gardener and moved on to become the program coordinator where he supervises the craft workers. He is an expert on medicinal plants, something he learned from his mother and grandmother as he was growing up.

In 2018, the trio created and installed an Eternal Flame sculpture for the Stecoah Cultural Arts Center. The 7-foot-tall freestanding sculpture was designed and fabricated by Rogers who incorporated original designs in copper by Bush and Wolfe. The team is currently working on a sculpture of Grandfather Buzzard for the new wing of the Cherokee Hospital.

The current grant from the N.C. Arts Council is providing the trio with time to work together and hone their blacksmithing skills. The grant supports a mentor artist and apprentices. A mentor artist is a tradition bearer committed to the perpetuation of a traditional art form. An apprentice is a dedicated student who has been chosen by a mentor artist for a sustained period of study in the mentor’s art form. Throughout the apprenticeship, the mentors and apprentices document and publicly present their work together within their communities.

The goal of this grant and past projects is not only to produce new and exciting art works, but also to revitalize and sustain a tradition.