Christopher Thomson Exhibit in Burris Hall

Christopher Thomson

Courtesy photo by David Fenton

Las Vegas, N.M. — New Mexico Highlands University presents the Christopher Thomson art exhibit Forged Sculpture — Steel and Bronze from Jan. 7 — Jan. 29 in Burris Hall Gallery, with an artist reception and gallery talk Jan. 24 from 4 — 6 p.m.

The gallery is at 903 National Ave.

Christopher Thomson is an acclaimed iron artist and master craftsman whose award-winning forged pieces have been featured in galleries from New York City to Los Angeles.

His work has been showcased in magazines such as Architectural Digest and in books like The Contemporary Blacksmith. Home & Garden Television has featured Thomson in its Modern Masters series.

In 1985, Thomson and his wife, Susan Livermore, founded Christopher Thomson Ironworks in Ribera, N.M. at the base of Rowe Mesa in San Miguel County. His forge studio and gallery are in nearby San Jose.

“I forge in white hot iron and bronze,” Thomson said. “I pull long pieces of dripping hot steel from the fire and hammer them to shape under large power hammers in the moments before they cool or the next piece overheats.

“The inspiration flows from and is inextricably linked to the forging process, and the way hot metal moves. Sensibilities discovered in flute improvisations, nature interactions, kayak meditations, or happy accidents from previous pieces also enter the mix,” Thomson said.

Other influences include solitary time spent in the deserts and canyons of the Southwest, where Thomson said the light, vastness and geologic time expand his ideas of organic beauty and form.

Thomson’s forged sculpture art in the Highlands University exhibit include pieces such as a series of free-standing vertical organic shapes, a series of wall sculptures, and chinlone woven balls inspired by the indigenous national sport of Burma.

“Christopher’s work is expressive and well designed, with impeccable craftsmanship,” said Highlands fine arts professor David Lobdell. “We’re always looking for an exceptional show to kick off the semester, and we asked Christopher to mount a show for us. I want our students to be inspired by an artist of his caliber.”

Thomson’s artistic connection with Highlands dates back eight years to when he built a cupolette furnace that was tested at Iron Tribe, a biennial iron art event Lobdell established that has an international reputation.

Thomson is a leader in SWABA — South West Artist-Blacksmith Association — and hosts a biennial blacksmith conference at his studio. One year, Lobdell’s iron art students participated.

“David and his students presented a spectacular nighttime performance iron pour at the conference. The students also created some nice iron art pieces that were truly inspiring. For me, it’s a wonderful interaction with Highlands,” Thomson said.

In his own college student days, Thomson studied engineering and pottery at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Later, he trained as a classical flautist at Cabrillo College in California. His flute improvisations continue to influence his art.

“I play the flute while the forge is heating up to help me enter the creative realm, which is especially important when improvising abstract pieces. Music forges a middle path between emotions too subtle to capture in words and their final expression in metal,” Thomson said.

His engineering background also finds a way into Thomson’s art.

“I’m always thinking mathematically and about the interplay of logarithmic spirals blacksmiths use all the time that are found in science and nature,” Thomson said.

Thomson was a potter for 10 years, studying with renowned potter and author Marguerite Wildenhain in Guerneville, Calif.

“In many ways, shaping hot metal or clay is similar. They’re both plastic, malleable materials, with more immediacy in blacksmithing. I love giving sculpture a function in a form such as a garden entry gate. This harkens back to my training as a potter, where objects to be used are also meant to inspire and uplift,” Thomson said.  

His functional pieces include iron gates, railings, chandeliers, furniture and more.

As a teenager, Thomson was introduced to blacksmithing at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, where legendary blacksmith and iron artist Francis Whitaker taught a class.

“Francis Whitaker inspired me long before I even thought about becoming a blacksmith,” Thomson said. “In my 39-year partnership with Susan, she has helped me steer my aesthetic direction in blacksmithing and also manages the business side of my iron art.”