In 1993, Robert Aucoin designed and twisted five feet of metal into a flowing sculpture, The Ribbon Candleholder, it was a gift for his wife Lisa and the launch of their company – Iron Art. It is the couple’s shared passion for design details and converting basic materials (metal, leather and wood) into artwork.
An artist for a lifetime
I started in the arts very young with doodles and cartoons. In public school, one of my teachers asked me to draw political cartoons for the local newspaper.
Robert Aucoin took graphic design and fine art studies at Durham College in Oshawa. His artistic learning did not end in college. He has completed an extensive list of programs and workshops ranging from etching to business communications.
Where did your work start?
After studying graphic design, I worked freelancing as a portrait artist. Then I secured a role in a company that collaborated with Queen’s University to design, fabricate and weld all-terrain wheelchairs.
With this newly discovered passion for metal creations, I started Iron Art (in 1993) designing and hand forging functional furniture, tables, chandeliers and creating one-of-a-kind pieces. Next year will be 25 years that Iron Art is in business.
Most of what I do is custom. Therefore, almost everything I design requires a sketch or a working drawing before any welding. I can never say I’m a welder, or designer, or portrait artist. I get to do everything I love all the time, then move on to the next exciting project.
Can you share some of your commissions for clients and corporations?
When Roots opened their Home Stores in Toronto & SoHo, New York, I was asked to create their prototype lamps for the openings.
The Woven Deck Chair (below) sits on the end of our dock.
Is there one project that stands out for you?
The spiral staircase was one project that was particularly challenging, only because I’d never done one before. I’m always looking forward to the next new challenge!
How did you get into producing smaller items for fashion and home decor?
When my teenage kids were finding it hard to find unique belt buckles, I went into the studio to design and hand forged stainless steel belt buckles for them. Some belt buckles bronze or stainless steel accents, some are etched with custom designs, others are personalised with monograms. Smaller items such as belt buckles, pendants and cuffs are much easier to take to show and ship worldwide.
At the time, I thought it was a unique idea to use an item that others may have discarded. Lisa and I try to use reuse as much of our dropped metal as well as our leather scraps to create new and up-cycled items such as napkin rings, pendants and more.
What other projects have you done with smaller fashion items?
Commissions have included, the Canadian and American 29ers Sailing Championship and the North American 29ers Sailing Championship belt buckles. The winners were thrilled that they could wear their medals (belt buckles) instead of a trophy on a shelf.
Recently, I was given a small piece of copper off the roof of the Canadian Parliament Building. I was commissioned to make leaves (from the copper) for Canada East Short Track Speed Skating Championships (photo below).
Do you have a preferred metal?
I like working with stainless steel because it’s a clean metal. However, as an artist, every medium I work with is my favourite at the time that I am working with it.
What tools do you use for your work?
Typically, the anvil, hammer and welder are my go-to tools. I make lots of jigs and fixtures for one-of-a-kind pieces and will often have to make a tool for a particular job.
Tell us about the local arts community?
We are members of the Kingston Arts Council collaborating with many artisans and designers in the Kingston area for years. Lisa works in close collaboration with the Kingston Public Market Board (Photography). We love being participating artisans at the Kingston Public Market, in the summer. It is a chance to meet tourists from all over the world as well as Kingstonians.