SALMON — Blacksmith Hayden Ramey plans to transform the world, one sculpture or piece of functional metal art at a time.
At just 24, Ramey is the owner of his own business, has sold pieces of his metal artwork in this country and in far-flung places such as Australia, and has more commissions pending than he can complete in the near future.
Ramey, a Salmon High School graduate whose family home and restaurant — the Broken Arrow — sits roughly 40 miles north of Salmon, has a work ethic that was honed during his years performing every menial and high-level task at the family’s eatery.
As a child, Ramey learned to weld from his father and found the process fascinating. In his teens, he followed an urge to create objects of art and successfully traded sculptures of skiers to the operators of Lost Trail Ski Area, where the objects were given as medals to the winners of various competitions and where Ramey, in exchange, received season passes.
The artist’s reluctance to follow in the steps of those who have gone before and instead create his own path through life has led to surprising rewards and a clear sense of direction that is unusual in one so young.
Ramey’s early efforts at fashioning sculptures culminated in a Native American headdress that he created, which entailed untold hours of work, from sheet metal. The design and the almost palpable presence of the outsized headdress, from aluminum and with copper accents, is enough to persuade even the most amateur art enthusiast that Ramey is gifted in both imagination and skill.
Every piece was cut and textured by hand and he used a welder to join pieces together. He fired the metal at different temperatures to pull out color.
“It has its own life,” Ramey said of the headdress, which now hangs on a wall in the family restaurant. “I use hand tools and try to be ingenious with my resources.
“For example, when it comes to getting some of the contours and depth out of the metal, I tend to use wood. I might build a contour into a stump, then take the metal while it’s hot and form it to that contour. Instead of using a die, I make my own die out of the wood.”
Ramey is modest about his talent but he does concede that he is fortunate, in that he is following his passion, or bliss, and that happens to coincide nicely with making a living. His work, which includes dreamcatchers hammered from metal in a kind of melding of inspiration and material, drives him forward to the next destination: yet another piece of art representing a collaboration between the artist and his medium.
“I have a strong personality,” he said. “In order to make metal look appealing you have to beat it up. When you take raw metal and subject it to hammering, it begins to have character and shape. It’s like writing a song: you take little pieces and, by the time you assemble it all, it has its own soul.
“Metal will tell you how to work it, but you have to understand what it wants from you. When I face metal and it is looking back at me, I realize we have to find a happy medium. I want it to do what I want it to do, but there is a lot of back and forth, questioning of each other and testing of each other; it’s not an easy task.”
Just minutes of discussion with Ramey makes it clear his aim is one that might be described as spiritual: the revealing of the shape and the essence that is behind the seen object.
“Metal gives me a run for my money every time,” he said. “I’m not just a master of the trade, it’s mastery of your mind, your spirit, your soul. When I’m working with metal, it’s a relationship I’m having. Metal embodies the thoughts in my mind.”
Ramey’s journey is reminiscent of the quest of the hero in stories of yore. The hero sets out on a path and it is the encounters en route that make up the bulk of the tale. The encounters are forms of metamorphosis, as much for the people or animals or objects encountered as for the hero himself.
So it will perhaps be unsurprising to learn Ramey came upon his first forge while walking in a field. The forge, in disuse and subjected to the elements, led to Ramey’s meeting with a blacksmith in Montana with whom Ramey would ultimately apprentice. The shop where he worked produced items for home interiors, including lighting fixtures, and it was there that Ramey learned the practical skills needed to take his own work to another level.
At present, Ramey is applying his craftsmanship to a handrail on a staircase in an upscale home, where he also will fashion a custom chandelier and light fixtures. The vehicle he uses for his business serves as a client’s first clue that he is dealing with a craftsman who is an individualist. The truck is quite literally the marriage of two trucks — one a 1958 Chevy pickup and the other a 1981 Chevy pickup — that Ramey found at a wrecking yard and which he combined to give each new life.
“I’m not only interested in repurposing materials that have been used once or more than once, but I’m also interested in creating an extension of myself that is a tool for my trade; it’s a form of identity,” he said.
It is perhaps this awareness of himself and his desire to express it that separates Ramey from the crowd and which continues to give rise to work that possesses a kind of vitality.
The bulk of Ramey’s commissions come from word of mouth. But his artworks also are on display — and he can be contacted — on his Instagram page by searching for his name, mr_ramco_.