John Rais thinks fluently in steel. He can translate and transform the structures and objects he sees into wondrous works of metal. He loves this special language that many blacksmiths acquire as they create, bend, and piece together metal into functioning artwork.
Rais’ passion for ironsmithing began when he was a student at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He originally planned to study industrial design, but his first welding class maneuvered him toward a career in blacksmithing. Since then he’s designed and forged elegant works of art manifested in fire screens, vessels, furniture and railings.
He recently completed an iron railing project commissioned by the Yale Art Gallery, part of a multi-million dollar renovation and expansion of the gallery. Rais will be giving a lecture on “Iron in Architecture; The Yale Art Galleries Staircase Project” at 1 p.m. April 19 at CraftBoston Spring, which will be held at the Seaport World Trade Center April 19-21.Working with Elise Kenney, an archival expert at Yale, Rais delved into letters from 1928 about the original staircase forged by the Samuel Yellin studio. Yellin was a master blacksmith, known for his artistry in ironwork and his superb design. The staircase remained incomplete due to funding issues, but the architect left behind suggestions of how the work should have proceeded. With doodles in the margins of the letters and some sketches on the back of others, Kenney and Rais pieced together what the ironwork should have looked like.
Rais then spent a year sketching, drafting, and creating prototypes of panels that would adorn the 92 spaces of railing, spanning three floors of the Museum. Using two motifs, the inverted dogwood and quatrefoil, Rais forged unique iron panels of patterned filigree and vines that would fit the existing balustrades. He chiseled 30-40 types of designs that were similar to Yellin’s work, “to maintain the visual continuum.”
Every panel had a similar thread but each had to be unique. Rais explains. “I wanted to create something that kept people looking so that each time they see the rail, they see something different.”
Rais also has a collection of natural disasters, in which he brings extreme weather into the home. This is "Morning Storm."
CraftBoston will donate $1 from the sale of each ticket April 19-21 to One Fund,
This program aired on April 15, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.