John Haley III, a rising star among American metalsmiths, started his professional life as an artist with a vision. Like Roy Neary, the Richard Dreyfus character in the 1977 movie Close Encounters, Haley was obsessed with a pointy shape that recurred in his dreams and his work. Throughout the late 1980s and early ‘90s, as he drew and painted, produced video art and made collages using photocopied images, the mysterious anvil-like form haunted him. Meanwhile, with a father who was a rocket scientist, Haley’s mind often wandered to space travel. In fact in 1991, during a serious manic episode, he came to believe that he was from the planet Saturn.
Between jobs in 1993, Haley returned to his hometown (Evergreen, Colorado). He answered an ad placed in the local newspaper by a blacksmith in need of an apprentice. It was when he arrived for the interview that a large anvil brought his vision and future into sharp focus. It was the shape he’d been dreaming of; his destiny was clear. He signed on immediately even though the rate of pay was a rock bottom $4.00 per hour. For three years he learned the rudiments of steel-smithing and then set out to develop artistry on his own.
Haley says that he always favored spirals, arabesques, and organic shapes in his work. He continued the theme with his forged steel pieces, discovering as his tastes matured that Parisian fin de siècle designer Hector Guimard had set the bar high in the organically-shaped-metal arena nine decades earlier. Although Guimard became his professional idol, Haley’s work is clearly his own. Wrought steel rather than cast iron, it is more densely composed, more textural, and a great deal more jagged in profile than Guimard’s gentle forms. In addition, because most of Guimard’s work was designed for architectural commissions and cast in a foundry, it was precisely planned and employed repetitive motifs. Haley’s work, by contrast, is spontaneous and one of a kind. Although he draws general plans for his larger pieces, he takes advantage of serendipitous events, allowing for differences even in the two halves of a single, more or less symmetrical piece.