Western North Carolina Woman

profile: tekla
by arlene winkler

Even though I’ve never set foot in a blacksmith shop, I suspect that this one, with its light and high ceilings is probably not typical of the genre. As a survivor of the construction wars, I am unimpressed with the omnipresent black grime that is apparently part and parcel of metal work. What gets my attention is the clear presence of control and order. There are neatly hung drawings, work in progress and well-maintained tools designed for lifting, holding, grinding and hammering heavy stuff. In addition, there are two welding machines; the old one Tekla has used for years and the Miller, a newer, better machine: a gift from her husband Dan that at this point is a still-to-be-acquired taste. In the interim, she has named it “Thanks & Gratitude.”

Along one wall, there are bins of scrap and cutoffs, neatly arranged by size and gauge.

“Nothing is discarded,” she explains cheerfully, “Especially cutoffs. When the Albert Paley sculpture was installed in front of the Federal Building, Dan and I were so exited. The minute we saw it, we could see how he used the cutoffs—with some of them, I could see where in the body of the sculpture they had come from.”

The breadth of her knowledge is only one of the reasons I wanted to interview Tekla, the other is the two sides of her skill. She is one of the few artists I know of who practices both art and craft and knows the difference. Now, watching her heft the heavy cuttings, I feel compelled to ask if there are many women in her field.

“Not too many,” she responds, “But I got an early start. My grandfather was a metal worker, and between the ages of 5 to10 I used to play in his workshop with scraps of sheet metal. It never seemed to bother anybody. When I got to college I studied sculpture and took classes at Winthrop. Since I was married to a mechanic then, I used his welder to do stick welding with the found materials and scraps I made into models and brought into class. When I first met Dan, he was shoeing horses. I was amazed the first time I saw him pour. . . I was so excited I married him!”

She points to a massive black hammering machine, “When he taught me to forge he showed me how to use the hammer. But he’s much stronger than I am, and it took me forever. I had to start taking classes from women to gain some finesse. I learned a new way to lift, how to stand, how to hold a hammer. My first teacher was a shaman and a blacksmith from Georgia. The next one was Roberta Elliott at the Campbell Folk School. I was able to do this on scholarship from the Artists Blacksmiths of America. The one thing I didn’t anticipate was that it would be so difficult, so socially unacceptable to be a woman who worked in metal. I had such anger then.
I nod. I know about that Anger.

“People would come into our shop and say they wanted to “talk to the man who makes all the metal stuff.” And it just infuriated me. At first I made a joke of it. I would put on a pair of Groucho Marx glasses, and say, “May I help you?” Now, I don’t have to use them. It’s wonderful when you can examine the old anger your heart is so full of. Now that I have a clear picture, I can release it. I know it’s nobody’s fault.”

“Is that how you changed from Theresa to Tekla?”

She laughs. “I needed a name because I was signing my work Howachin, the same as Dan and people assumed all the work was his. So my father-in-law gave me a Ukrainian name. Even so, at my first show in Black Mountain, I still had my married name on all my cards and flyers. When the gallery owner asked me why, it was like an epiphany. I finally realized, “I can be anybody I want to be!”

And that’s how you manage between craft and art?

“On the craft side, when someone comes into the shop and has a specific need—like a table or a light fixture—I feel like a gift has just walked in the door. That person has vision and needs me to co-create in that vision. The wonderful thing with these projects, because they’re always one of a kind, is that there is so much learning in the process. It takes me to the next level.
“It’s wonderful to work with someone else. They don’t even have to be able to draw. If they have the words, I can draw it. And with the feedback they give me, the drawing gets more and more accurate—until we arrive at what they really want. It’s very enjoyable.”

I can see she means it, but as one who deals on a daily basis with people who want me to guess what they want, “enjoyable” is not the word I would use to describe the experience.

“But it’s more fun when you’re creating, and you know that it’s a gift, that it will help the harmony of the family and raise the level of vibrations.”
“And I suppose you do that?” I grumble. “Raise the vibrations?”

“If you’ve truly asked for help and applied your sacred geometry you are creating something that will raise the vibration level.

“Sacred geometry? As in the square root of two, and the golden mean? ”
She smiles. “I also studied bio-geometry—for design.”

All I know about bio-geometry is that it got a lot of play in the ‘80s when there was a hot trend for pyramids. “It deals with the energy of shapes that bring balance into energy fields,” she explains. “These forms produce a type of penetrating carrier-wave (and lest I think it’s a bit fanciful) that was discovered by two scientists; Chaumery and De Belizal.

“And I studied at the Vesica Institute, “ she continues, pointing out an eye shaped opening in several of her art pieces. I recognize the Vesica pisces, created by the perfect intersection of two circles. You can see it in all her work, both craft and sculpture.

“Dan and I collaborate on craft, and we worked together with Tucker Cook on Shopping Daze, the urban trail sculpture in front of Malaprops Book Store. But the fine art pieces are my own. “

Her spiritual/scientific pursuits are present in all her work. Brigid’s Fire for instance, is an ancient goddess form surrounded by flames, with circles representing the chakra system. Brigid was a traditional patroness of healing, poetry, and smith craft.

A series of shield wall sculptures are works on feminine survival in patriarchal world. Shield for Athena is a gift for the modern Athena, a warrior in a rebar-reinforced paternal world. She is presented with tools for empowering the sacred feminine which include embellishment of ancient symbology. Four circles represent our Mother’s four moons and thirteen incised marks symbolize its thirteen cycles in a year.

Two Worlds Intersticed is a continuation of a shield like form, with a more three dimensional image. It represents a blending of the physical with the spiritual, the swirling Earth with spears of ancient wisdom piercing its core giving way to a brighter unknown. This sculpture is illustrated in The Contemporary Blacksmith by Dona Meilach.

“Reversing Reversals” was inspired by her studies with Lisa Sarasohn, The Belly Queen, who developed a program of daily exercises derived from Kripalu yoga, tai chi and other ancient healing arts. The name refers to the beginning, a place where anything is possible, where we are the creators of that which will be. The negative space represents the feminine form, flanked by two fetal shapes with a continual circle feeding the embryos. The center twisted rod is the kundalini rising.

My personal favorite is a piece she calls Brother Sun. Made of forged mild steel, it stands solid on the Earth and celebrates light in our world and existence on this planet. The top part of the sculpture resembles sun rays emanating from a sun-like shape with a void in the center, once again suggesting concentrated energy.

I am frankly amazed by the apparent contradictions in this amazing woman.
“All my life I have been an air person, “ she explains. “I fly airplanes, I love being airborne. Metal helps ground me to the earth. When I can bring all this to the things I create and actually sell it to make a living, I can be happy.
Tekla and her husband Dan are co-owners of Black Mountain Iron Works, 120 Broadway, Black Mountain, North Carolina 28711.

[ teklasculptor@earthlink.net;
Blackmountainiron.com ]

She is the recipient of numerous grants, fellowships and awards and her work has been exhibited throughout the area, including:

Asheville Area Arts Council, The North Carolina Arboretum, City of Hickory Invitational Exhibits,Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Outdoor Tri-State Sculptors Exhibit, Crossing the Line, and Blue Spiral Gallery of Art.


Arlene Winkler is a freelance financial writer, who is passionate about art. A former ad agency president and enthusiastic participant of life on the New York fast track, she moved to Asheville in 2002 with her sculptor husband, Robert Winkler. A mother of three, a grandmother of four, and the author of three screenplays, she is dealing with her culture shock by writing for WNC Woman.

Western North Carolina Woman Magazine
is a publication of INFINITE CIRCLES, INC.

PO BOX 1332 • MARS HILL NC 28754 • 828-689-2988

Celebrating the Spirit of Place in Western North Carolina