Artist profile - Chris Brammall, Ulverston

Blacksmith Chris Brammall with the owl close to completion

Blacksmith Chris Brammall with the owl close to completion - Credit: Archant

Chris Brammall combines his love of art with his skill as a blacksmith to create stunning sculptural works

Firebird! Fabricator John Hartley adds a wax patination to this life size tawny owl created from ove

Firebird! Fabricator John Hartley adds a wax patination to this life size tawny owl created from over 300 separate bronze pieces over 150 hours. - Credit: Archant

The owl is regarded as a symbol of wisdom and there was certainly plenty of that in evidence when Chris Brammall decided to combine his love of art with the ancient skill of the blacksmith. The result is that the 44-year-old is now one of the leading architectural and sculptural metalworkers in Great Britain.

Chris, who was born in the heart of Beatrix Potter country at Far Sawrey near Hawkshead, originally aimed to become a furniture designer but, after studying for his A-levels at Carlisle, he became fired up by a course in blacksmithing at Hereford College of Art and Design and thought: ‘Why not?’

It turned out to be a fortuitous decision as Chris discovered a natural affinity for the ancient art. Forging hot metal into a malleable form, then manipulating the material into something permanent became an addiction from which he has not yet recovered. And he probably never will.

As a result of the considerable skill and work ethic, his Ulverston firm, Chris Brammall Limited, has a burgeoning reputation as a top company in its field creating anything from large-scale piece of sculpture for public spaces to the delicate burnished owl in my pictures.

Soon after completing the blacksmithing course Chris moved rapidly to set up his own business in an old barn on the Graythwaite Estate near Hawkshead.

The order books began to fill rapidly as the portfolio grew from small home accessories to far larger sculptures and in 2003, to accommodate the order book, Chris quite literally built his own 750 square metre studio and workshop in Ulverston. It was hectic, balancing ongoing projects at Bark Barn in Graythwaite while self-building the new premises which would become the state of the art metalworks it is today.

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‘That was a crazy time,’ recalled Chris. ‘We were either completing orders at the old barn or pouring the foundations in Ulverston – sometimes we did both in the same day!’ The workshop includes a large purpose-built spray booth for paint finishing work and the premises is fully sectioned into ferrous and non-ferrous work areas. A substantial outside yard allows for even the largest of projects to be tackled.

One of the first major pieces to be built at the new workshop was the unique bandstand and performance area for The Glebe at Bowness-on-Windermere. Designed by Chris, the piece measures 9x7 metres and is fabricated in cor-ten steel, a group of alloys which were developed to eliminate the need for painting. Also known as ‘weathering steel’, its rust-like appearance means it is a popular medium for artisan blacksmiths.

Despite the pressure of running a high turnover company, Chris remains at the heart of the business and instils the same addictive passion in any new member of the team.

He’s equally happy working at the drawing board designing new projects and in the workshop with hammer in hand creating art from the white hot metal. ‘We may have a turnover in excess of £1 million now but, to me, it’s not about profit,’ he says. ‘It’s all about art, quality and the attention to minute detail which has become a signature with works by our company.’

The range of projects delivered over the last 23 years is particularly impressive and uses a wide variety of techniques, materials and finishes, including mild and stainless steel. They also use bronze, copper, stone, timber, glass and lighting.

From small scale private commissions to extensive public initiatives and specialist fabrication installations, all are managed in-house by Chris’s workforce. The tradesmen and team responsible for fabricating and building the pieces are also responsible for fitting.

No job is really too small – from gates and railings at private residence right through to large sculptural pieces in the heart of a city centre. And Chris is passionate about delivering a first-class service and that means understanding the client and their project from the outset as well as maintaining that relationship throughout delivery and installation. Clients are welcome at the workshop to see the fabrication process.

One major public project was the Churchill War Rooms in London. Built to resemble a fortified bunker, the entrance of this popular tourist attraction looks like it would withstand a severe pounding. Another of the latest projects is a sculpture of the iconic Spitfire as it soars into the sky over Banbury in Oxfordshire.

Chris is also happy to work with projects which are the brainchild of other artists, architects and engineers.

Over the years he has developed a significant depth of knowledge and experience with regard to art initiatives and he regularly provides a consultancy service to enable clients to develop strategies and concepts while being able to provide the know-how to turn dreams into reality.

When I visited Chris he was adding the finishing touches to a beautiful life-size tawny owl which will grace the entrance to a private home near Windermere. ‘This is another labour of love,’ he said. ‘I have poured hours and hours of work into the owl. It has to be just right.’