Silvo Jelenc Art of Blacksmithing

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Kropa is a town with a centuries-long tradition of iron forging, evolving from nail forging to the 20th century ornamental iron works. As a child, artist blacksmith Silvo Jelenc used to spend hours on end watching blacksmiths at work. He started to learn the craft towards the end of primary school, during which time he had spent several school holidays at his uncle Joža Bertoncelj’s smithy. Bertoncelj was one of the first and most important artist blacksmiths in Slovenia, renowned for his original and masterful pieces of wrought iron art.

“The repetitive patterns, all that welding and sanding, that’s not what I call forging. If it doesn’t involve fire, or if you don’t make it from one piece, it just doesn’t mean the same to me.”

Having completed primary school, Silvo wanted to join the Uko Kropa iron forging workshop, but they were not taking apprentices as their smithy was already full. Two and a half years later they took him on as an apprentice. He learned from other blacksmiths as they worked. Work was plenty, as there was huge demand for their products. They made one-of-a-kind, small-scale production pieces for Dom shop in Ljubljana, which offered homeware and similar. Although he has been retired for 15 years now, he continues to forge iron in his workshop.

Silvo Jelenc still forges iron the old-fashioned way, with his hands and no machines. He works with fire and makes mainly one-of-a-kind pieces. He forges his products to designs made by Milan Žaberl, Jože Bertoncelj’s student at the school of artistic iron forging that once stood in Kropa and which was the only school of its kind in Slovenia. Bertoncelj ran demonstrations and practical training. Cooperation between blacksmiths and designers is common in artistic iron forging. Like every blacksmith, Silvo forged his own tools. When making fences and similar he starts by forging individual elements and then assembles them together. When it comes to pieces made from a single piece of iron he starts at the widest part of the object and proceeds slowly, thinning, shaping and cutting. “Hammer blows have to be slightly visible in the forging process when you’re making a sculpture like this.”

He makes predominantly bespoke items. He has made quite a few replicas of museum exhibits and regularly works also with the Kropa Iron Forging Museum, where he occasionally demonstrates nail forging for museum visitors. His favourite jobs are various sculptures, candlesticks, chandeliers and similar. While he does make the occasional railing or mesh it is not something he enjoys, “the repetitive patterns, all that welding and sanding, that’s not what I call forging. If it doesn’t involve fire, or if you don’t make it from one piece, it just doesn’t mean the same to me.”