Homegirl London pays homage to Bex Simon. When I popped along to the ‘Home’ trade exhibition at Earls Court in January I got chatting to an amazing female blacksmith who was just so inspiring and interesting that I wanted to write a feature about her. Bex has launched a range of cast iron kitchen accessories under the brand name of BexSimon Collections which includes – a pestle and mortar, cookbook stand, kitchen roll holder, mug tree, spoon rest and trivet. Her fascination for blacksmithing started when she attended a forging and welding demonstration and instantly recognised that blacksmithing was something she just had to explore. She then went on to gain a Degree in 3D Design from the Surrey Institute working in metal and then achieved a National Certificate and Diploma in Blacksmithing from Hereford College of Technology. Her potential has been recognised and she’s been awarded 2 bursaries from the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths and the Prince’s Trust. She began trading as an artist blacksmith in 1999 and has since gone on to create her blacksmith inspired kitchenware collection. I caught up with Bex to find out more about her and blacksmithing …
Q: How did you get into blacksmithing?
A: Not being the academic type I was always good at drawing, designing and building things. I used to work in clay but being an impatient person, the building process was too long for me. I visited a demo in a forge with someone hammering hot metal over the anvil and welding things together and it was love at first sight!
Q: What do you love about blacksmithing?
A: I love the energy involved in working with metal, the fire (I’m a Leo, a fire sign) the sparks, the fact that it’s dangerous but I hate getting dirty … I seem to be all about contrast. I love metal and how you form it with heat. The fact you have this very hard, strong, cold medium and when you apply heat to it, its moves like plasticine into the most beautiful organic flowing shapes.
Bex Simon at work
Q: Tell me more about the art of blacksmithing.
A: There are loads of artist/blacksmiths about these days. Sir Richard Quinnell was a key figure in the revival of blacksmithing in the United Kingdom and was responsible for the foundation of the British Artist Blacksmiths Association (BABA), which was formed at an inaugural ‘forge-in’ at Rowhurst Forge in 1978 and now has about 700 members worldwide and growing. When I started out there was only a handful of professional female artist/blacksmiths. Annie Chub was the first British female blacksmith in the 1920s. Now there are quite a few of us ladies doing it. Within the industry, women are pretty well accepted but dealing with some suppliers can be tricky. I have a fair few stories to tell of people trying to take advantage because of my gender. This is changing but I still get the jaw drop … ‘you’re not’ look, I guess it is because I am quite small and quite girly and hate getting dirt under my nails!
Q: How would you describe your design style?
A: I would describe my style as organic and Art Nouveau-inspired and a bit Gaudi-esque … I love his work and if there was one person I could meet and have a pint and a chat with, it would be him.
Bex Simon’s bespoke commissions
Bex Simon’s blacksmith art
Q: What inspired you to set up your own business?
A: I would never have thought of myself as having my own business when I was younger but when I was working for others I felt bored. I needed the experience, so at the time it was necessary and I learnt so much from the ones who took me on but I wanted to create my own things, have scary challenges and tackle them. I had this vision and drive about having my own big workshop, with crane tracks in the roof and massive power hammers building huge amazing pieces of functional metal art, with a team of people like myself, wanting to learn and build and play with fire and metal. Up until last year, I was in a shared workshop, for about 8 years, in Hackney. It was a disused tram depot. Now we have a workshop on a farm in Surrey overlooking a lake … quite a contrast. Being a lady blacksmith I have a pink Anvil which is our logo. I have an industrial power hammer called Cynthia, plasma cutter, welder, forge, touches, grinders, cut off saw, etc. but no cranes in the roof yet!
Q: How and why did you branch out into kitchen accessories?
A: I have been working as an Artist / Blacksmith since 1999 building public and private commissions of functional metal art, exhibiting at shows like RHS Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows. Unfortunately, the recession really affected my blacksmithing business as the pieces are very expensive luxuries. I had always thought having a lower cost product range would be an excellent way to help the business, allowing people to buy my work without the massive investment of a bespoke commission. I had tried a number of times to get a product off the ground in the past with little success. When an application came through the British Artist Blacksmith Association about a TV program called High Street Dreams going to be aired on BBC1, I jumped at the chance. It was all about taking a product from kitchen table to retail. In the program, I designed and developed the Pestle and Mortar. I chose sand casting for the production of our products because it is a very old traditional way of casting iron plus every piece has its own marking because the sand sets differently in each casting, giving a more handmade quality like my blacksmithing work. This was the start of BexSimon Collections, It was very stressful and hard work but I’m so pleased we did it and we now have a 7 piece range of cast iron kitchen accessories in the traditional cast iron matt black and a beautiful cream all inspired by my love of Art Nouveau. We’re bringing a new contemporary look to cast iron.
Q: What’s new for 2013?
A: 2013 is going to be a very exciting year for us. All the hard work we did last year after launching the range in February has all come together and we are about to sign a distribution deal. Also, our Kitchen Roll Holder has been shortlisted for the Housewares Conference and Innovation Awards – Best Kitchenware Innovation! Plus we have launched our range in hot pink which went down very well at the Home Exhibition in London. With my Blacksmithing work, we have been working on some very exciting designs for big property developments plus some lovely pieces of public art as well as the smaller commission for private clients.
To find out more about Bex and view her fabulous range of cookware products check out her website Bex Simon. You can follower her on Facebook at Bex Simon Artist Blacksmith and on twitter at Bex Simon Artist or join her newsletter. Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Bex Simon, special thanks to Bex.
Cast Iron Pestle and Mortar, Small £35 / Large £90
Cast Iron Cook Book Stand, £75
Cast Iron Spoon Rest, £35
Cast Iron Trivet, £35
Cast Iron Mug Tree, £55
Cast Iron Kitchen Roll Holder, £60