Look anywhere these days and you’re never far from an artisan product; our morning coffee, the chocolate bar for lunch, all purportedly ‘hand-crafted’ to the highest possible degree.
A brief search on the internet defines an artisan product or the artisan producer as ‘a skilled craft worker who makes or creates things by hand that may be functional or strictly decorative. Artisans practice a craft and may through experience and aptitude reach the expressive levels of an artist.’ Now as much as I am impressed by a leaf shape on my coffee, or a well packaged gift set, can these items really be defined as reaching ‘the expressive levels of an artist’? In my opinion – that’s rather a large ask…
But this did get me to thinking; can cast iron be seen as an artisan product? I had a meeting with a large automated foundry recently and they told me that they were ‘in the business of making castings’. As much as I was impressed by their substantial investments in a difficult period for UK manufacturing, I had to think that their claim wasn’t exactly true; they had invested heavily in buying machines to produce castings – operators are more technicians than skilled foundry workers. But a hand-made casting – well that’s something entirely different indeed.
Our traditional greensand moulders hand make all of our architectural products with no machinery in the process, no automation and little more than a row of greensand, a shovel, a trowel and 8 generations of experience. All cast iron products (in our architectural range at least) are made from 100% recycled and sustainable materials – we turn old, scrap castings into new ones.
It takes around 7-10 years for a greensand moulder to be time-served in Ballantines and only a small percentage of those who try have the artistic and the functional flexibility to be able to make anything thrown at them – many have tried and failed – myself unfortunately included. This is a highly skilled trade, carried out by highly skilled people and the end results can be absolutely stunning.
The traditional craft of making castings in this manner has been unchanged since Victorian times; unlike many fads that come and go cast iron has stood the test of time, the test of new metallurgical products and the vast shifts in architectural diversity over the last 200 years. I’m not quite sure that a pumpkin spiced, double frappuccino latte made with soya milk will have quite the same staying power…
It is a delight to still be able to produce handmade castings to the highest quality – and for this reason I can safely say, albeit with a hint of bias, that cast iron really is the ultimate, long-term artisan product.