Metalwork art and historical exhibit opens in Phoenixville

Phoenixville residents Jocelyn Kolb and Alec DeWitt perusing archives. "It pulls history in with art," said DeWitt of the exhibit. Photo by Virginia Lindak
A work by Alicia Mann in the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area's exhibit, "Blasting Heavy Metal!" Photo by Virginia Lindak

On August’s First Friday, the Historical Society of Phoenixville celebrated opening night of its new art exhibit, “Blasting Heavy Metal!” The evening was a special fusion of honoring the legacy of the Phoenix Iron Company with the future, by featuring local blacksmith artists.

Members of the community enjoyed perusing several unique iron and metal sculptures created by two local artists, Ian Coleman and Alicia Mann, as well as viewing a multitude of rare artifacts from the old iron company. Old tools, photographs and iron objects, crafted at the forge, were among objects on display.

Open each First Friday in addition to its usual schedule, the Phoenixville Historical Society is run entirely by volunteers and hosts rotating art exhibits a few times each year.

Museum chairman Anni Weden said the evening was a way to look back at the history of Phoenixville’s past and the Iron Company and bridge it with the future.

“We want to keep young people, and young families, too, interested in history. We want them to come in and see what we have here, and get interested in history,” said Weden. “We’re connecting the past and the future together. It’s almost like a story of the past of Phoenixville and the future of Phoenixville.

“It’s two fold event; it’s an event that features local Phoenixville artists and the metal art that they’ve created. They work in a forge, and it connects with the past in that we’re having rare photographs and artifacts from the Phoenix Iron Company on display also.”

Continued Weden, “At the same time, we’re showing what is happening in the forge today. So we’re linking it by the exhibit, [with] these young, hip artists and the Iron Company. It’s a great event because it includes everybody. It will enthrall a younger crowd because it’s got really cool metal sculptures and right in the same exhibit is historical Phoenix Iron Company photos and artifacts. The connection is made.”

Weden noted that she hopes to make the museum a community destination by offering interesting and historical exhibits, and keeping them relevant in the technology era.

“People are becoming really disconnected with their past because everything is moving so quickly into the future, so we want to use the tools that we have here at the society as a community organization, to help people connect the past with the future,” remarked Weden. “We want to keep history alive and current. These artists are making history by what they’re doing. So here it is, all together.”

Coleman, a blacksmith, and Mann, who is a metalsmith, were on hand throughout the night to showcase their works and answer questions about their pieces. Both artists work professionally at Heritage Metalworks in Downingtown, and enjoy creating iron and metal art in their spare time at their home forge which Coleman built.

Coleman said he has been working with metal for 10 years and finds inspiration for his work by reading history books.

“I read a lot of alternate history books, which gets into religious cults that have followed political organizations, and then I play a lot with metal. I end up making weird symbols and references to a lot of that in my work as I do it,” Coleman said. “I love Medieval artwork, the Gothic period, the Renaissance [and] a good portion of the Baroque era of art.”

Mann enjoys working with themes of exploited tradition, which can be seen in her work, with her use of wood or glass along with metal. The artists also make many of their own tools, which are similar to tools that were used years ago in the Iron Works.

“I think it’s great to tie in the history with the Iron Company, with the Forge and Steel Company,” Mann said. “We’re still doing that. Our tools look very similar to the tools they were using back then. I think it’s important to be able to know that you can still do this type of work. The craftsmanship is still there.”