Bypassing the Gatekeepers: Artesano Iron Works

If we were to attempt to mimic mother nature and arbitrarily select a quartet of materials as the four elements of design, wood would certainly top the list and glass might be a close runner-up. But having witnessed the hand-forged products of muscle and fire courtesy of Philadelphia’s Artesano Ironworks, I’d lobby for this ferrous metal to come in at position number 3.

Custom Gate. Manufactured by Artesano Iron Works.

“Wrought” iron–as opposed to “cast” iron or “mild” steel–is subject to a dual-heating process that expels carbon and other impurities. The result is a “tough, malleable, ductile, and fibrous material with a ‘grain’ resembling wood, which is visible when it is etched or bent to the point of failure” (via Wikipedia). Thus, the material can be forged into the impressive array of hand-crafted gates, doors, fences, balconies, and handrails on display at Artesano.


Unique in the trade because they design their own products, in addition to manufacturing iron work for designers and architects, Artesano is known in Philly and elsewhere for their artistic inroads on an artisan’s craft. Though they characterize their products as “utilitarian elements for architectural and decorative purposes,” their work hearkens back to an earlier age, an age, perhaps, when the distinction between “artistic” and “useful” did not exist.

Artesano’s designs run the gamut: from the historic restorations in the Colombian cities of Manizales and Kabiros–evoking the portentous elegance of early Spanish Gothic–to railings, doors and balconies in greater Philly that evince the decorative flourish of Rococo. Artesano also has many pieces firmly grounded in the intricacies of nature: a gate in the form of a sprawling oak, the branches and leaves curling away from the trunk with a deceiving naturalism reminiscent of the dark mise-en-scene of Hansel and Gretel; a portico’s entryway that might be modeled after a Pre-Raphaelite painting, alive, as it is, with such a profusion of writhing flora.

These imaginative creations should give some sense of how the artistic impulse of Artesano’s craftsmen exceeds the mere “utilitarian.” But if you need more convincing, there’s also the Artesano Gallery. A 10,000+ sq. ft. loft-style event space flanked by the hand-forged iron “paintings” of artist Ricardo Cabrera that’s been lauded as the “newest and trendiest venue in town,” the Gallery is a must-see if you’re ever in Philadelphia and/or you’re intrigued by the vaunted classicism and tantalizing contemporaneity being forged deep in the belly of Artesano Iron Works.

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