Form going beyond function: andirons forged from train rails
Slogging about in a delicate drizzle at a swap meet in south Seattle, I feared that I had stumbled upon the legendary place where tube socks and car parts came to die. Wandering the sad wet drive-in parking lot where blue plastic tarps protected doubtful treasures, I speculated that no item offered for sale had any physical property that would preclude it from being unmarred and unaltered in a landfill several centuries from now—rain had no power with this inventory.
Those who frequent yard sales, swap meets and dubious estate sales, know there is no shame in driving hours only to leave in seconds; there’s always the chance of striking chachka gold. As I made a beeline for my pickup and the nearest espresso stand, a pair of curious objects caught my eye after catching my boot. Rusty and proud, the artful duo possessed a quiet dignity and simple elegance that belied the origins of their fanciful reincarnation; they were train rails cut and forged into andirons — hammered treble clefs for the working man.
For one ten dollar bill and a couple of short-lived arm curls, the andirons were mine. The walk to my truck made me a true believer that their inherent heft was well suited to bear the weight of a 20-ton locomotive. I brought them home to my urban cottage, a wood frame box too pragmatic for the pretensions of a craftsman hearth. An exposed brick wall marked the carbon trace of a stovepipe’s circle. These andirons would have to wait for a house outfitted with a fireplace. For weeks, before being tucked away under a window seat, they sat on my table, admired, adored and cherished as art forged in the everyday.
In an age where patience is measured in seconds and sound bites, I marvel at a forgotten era when scarcity, determination, skill and need could produce something so beautiful and yet so functional. What it would take to forge a solid train rail in to a swan neck keeper of the flame escapes me.
Close to twenty years later in a farmhouse blessed with two fireplaces and two bulldogs, the andirons have come to rest in a well-charred hearth–loved no less then the day I found them. When I build a fire, I often think of and thank the unknown hands and soul that fashioned a tool so fine and artful that it not only fulfilled its intended use by warming my house, but found additional favor in warming my heart.
Boz and Gracie, though avid art enthusiasts, have a greater appreciation for the andirons’ function.