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Central Kentucky couple create art through the blacksmith craft

It can be a very loud place.

Maynard Studios a few miles from Lawrenceburg are six-thousand square feet full of worktables, stacks of steel, anvils, a machine shop, and heavy blacksmith equipment like two-century old power hammers.

51-year-old Matt Maynard uses a hoist to hold a steel rod that is nearly four feet long. The end of the rod is red hot, about 2000 degrees. Matt guides the steel tip under one of the power hammers, and it slams into the hot end so he can shape it.

24 years ago Matt moved to Anderson County to open a blacksmith shop, and what began as a hobby turned into an internationally acclaimed business.

“We are very much a boutique operation; we don't do a lot of mass-produced things. Everything is we don't do the same thing twice; we may take a design and use it as a springboard to go to a different version of that, but we'll never do. It's not like we have a catalog, you can say, oh, I want design b. It's not like that. We like to meet each client. Preferably in the space where the commission is going to be we do a lot of exterior staircases, railings, balusters.”

Matt’s wife Karine is the other half of their collaboration. She has a background in fine art training from the University of Kentucky.

“So as artists blacksmiths, we take it into an architectural level. And as fabrication shops. They'll also do architectural ironwork, but we mix we merge the blacksmithing. With the fabrication we do take it to a whole another level.”

The Maynard’s blacksmith art can be found in homes and businesses across the county, and even in Europe. Their work has also been featured in galleries and museums like the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. and the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art in Lexington. The couple lectured overseas on their nontraditional blacksmithing.

“We actually lectured at Hereford College in England, right before COVID. And getting to meet the second, third-year blacksmiths. They're all graduating and wanting to to do that. That was a really neat experience. They had questions and it just wound up being the highlight of the whole trip, it was really neat to meet all those students.”

One estimate counts about 500 blacksmiths in the United States, but Karine says there are very few incorporating art and architecture in their work. “There's not many of us. Certainly, less than a dozen that like to do three story elliptical staircases and drive them across the United States or have shops with, you know, full time employees and 5000 or 6000 square feet.”

The Maynards have several employees who help with various projects like their work at Maker's Mark Distillery in Marion County. They designed and crafted two gates for the gardens at the distillery.

The five-by-six-foot gates feature intricate pieces of steel that tell a story. One gate depicts Springtime with the corn just coming up, an oak tree with dozens of tiny leaves, daffodils blooming along with rain coming down. All of it is steel.

Frank Krockenberger, Senior Manager of Visitor Experience at Makers Mark Distillery, says the Maynards turned a gate into a piece of art.

“We have about 130,000 people that pass through those gates every single year. And as they pass through, we want everything to be very purposeful, and driven by what our mission is here. And for people to touch and feel and understand and see these things and kind of, you know, let that detail be a little bit of a mystery, is really exciting for us.”

After customers discuss their project with the Maynards and agree to a ballpark price, the couple travel to where the finished piece will be located. They come up with a composite sketch and make precise measurements.

Matt says, “Yeah, you don't want to get to San Francisco and find out it doesn't fit. So yeah, careful measurement. Careful measurement is really, is really key.” Most projects take several months to complete back in Maynard’s Studio, but that can change due to the uniqueness of each piece. “When you think about some of the jobs, these jobs may take 14 weeks, 16 weeks to create? When you have three to five people working for 16 weeks, that's a lot of labor, and it just adds up just by the nature of it. So yeah, it's important to kind of keep your finger on, where are these costs? And how are they doing because it could get to where you are, and it costs more than you quoted to make it.”

In the end, Karine Maynard says it’s hard work that gives them great satisfaction.

“I love that we are taking raw materials, sticks of steel, and making something incredibly heavy that looks light as a feather. And I love that I think our work speaks like paintings do on a wall. They have a purpose and a function. And just the beauty of what can be done with the materials.”

The Maynards have an open house at their Anderson County studio on the first Saturday of November.

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Sam is a veteran broadcast journalist who is best known for his 34-year career as a News Anchor at WKYT-TV in Lexington. Sam retired from the CBS affiliate in 2021.
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