From the outside, it doesn’t look like much: a forge nestled inconspicuously on the ground floor by the second tower of a historic Olneyville mill building in the shadow of the crowd-drawing Big Top Flea Market. But inside, the metalworking studio is alive with industrial clatter. “On a typical day, the forge is on and metal stock is on its way to a yellow heat,” explains Harry Cassell, lead blacksmith, before she describes the process of bending metal on an anvil or power hammer (affectionately dubbed “Eloise”) that goes into the group effort of fulfilling all kinds of orders, in high demand lately, at the shop.
“When I started, my shop was a 150-square-foot lean-to on the side of an old grist mill in Boone, North Carolina,” says owner and founder Carley Ferrara over an early-morning breakfast in the 5,000-square-foot Atlantic Mills space that now houses Iron Mountain Forge & Furniture. “I was the lead welder at a company for a while, as I was trying to start Iron Mountain Forge,” Ferrara explains. “I was doing forging at my shop, I was doing welding at that shop, so I kind of got into everything.”
And by “everything”, she actually means all things furniture: Before an “aha” moment that secured her future in metalwork, Ferrara worked as a cabinetmaker, specializing in wood. While the forge took seed in North Carolina after finishing her masters in furniture at RISD, it wasn’t long before she found herself back in Rhode Island where, rather than shipping out nationwide from a rural homebase, here most of her clientele is local.
Now she employs three other craftspeople – Harry Cassell, Charlie Corley, and Kailey Robinson – and resident artist Margot Day operates her glass blowing business in the studio, too. The crew has tackled a range of projects, from hundreds of 4x6-foot windows for a restoration project to all the metalwork, down to the retaining walls, that goes into a Patsy Cline Memorial Garden Amphitheater opening in Virginia. Home furnishings like custom railings and range hoods are also pretty standard requests, but each team member has their passion projects, too.
Cassell’s recent favorite was a six-foot rose arbor. “It had a sturdy main structure with long tapered metal vines curled around and was dotted with ornate copper roses,” she describes. “The arbor was installed in a lush garden and seeing the metal ornamentation next to its natural counterparts was wholly satisfying.” Robinson, an apprentice at the shop who dabbles in a bit of everything – from the small jewelry pieces sold on Etsy to bigger welding projects under the guidance of lead fabricator Corley – also lists the rose arbor among her favorites. “I was tasked with creating all the roses out of copper sheet metal,” Robinson says. “My skill with copper has grown more and more while working at IMF, which I’m so grateful for.”
While different meandering paths brought the team to the forge, one strand in their stories seems consistent: When each started working in metal, they knew it was their calling. Corley recalls their journey to welding, which began with jewelry-making. “I started an internship with a woman who ran a theater set building shop. I would make jewelry in the corner of the shop… then she started pulling me off my table and showing me how to use a tape measure, then a chop saw, then a welder. I fell in love and have been fabricating ever since,” Corley explains. “I’ve had my own shop, worked at Electric Boat, built movie sets and now I’m at Iron Mountain Forge. It’s a rare shop and an easy place to work where I don’t have to tone down my queerness.”
“My big goal for this was to have everybody working in their different specialty, but then everyone can also cross over when they need to,” Ferrara says as she gives the lay of the land, pointing out each station and the works in progress that cycle through the forge in a given week – and it’s clear that this balance has been struck. “You don’t need much, honestly, as blacksmiths, you really just need fire, an anvil, a hammer, and a welder... and then, knowing what you’re doing.”