Carbondale blacksmith’s work to adorn Vail’s new Arrabelle | AspenTimes.com

Carbondale blacksmith’s work to adorn Vail’s new Arrabelle

Gregor Conroy
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Resident blacksmith Franz Froelicher of Carbondale gazes at one of the iron chandeliers that is to hang in Lionshead Village in Vail. (Trina Ortega/Valley Journal)

CARBONDALE ” Who could have guessed that an inquisitive, young blacksmith working on a ranch 20 years ago for $6 an hour could have turned a molehill into a mountain?

That is, a mountain of metal.

A quick step into blacksmith Franz Froelicher’s Blue Heron Forge in Carbondale and stereotypical images of medieval blacksmiths pounding swords in dark dungeons quickly evaporate.

Having studied under world-renowned mastersmith and Carbondale luminary Francis Whitaker at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Froelicher forged his own path, creating unique, hand-smithed chandeliers among other items.

“Blacksmiths are supported well here,” Froelicher said. “We have a lot of really good local artists and a lot of our work goes up and down the valley.”

Froelicher was recently commissioned to do a large project for the Arrabelle in Vail’s Lionshead Village. His work is part of a $1 million obligation by Vail Resorts to provide public arts. Vail visitors and residents will find Arrabelle’s covered archway to be graced with two massive chandeliers crafted by Froelicher and his fellow artists ” a $90,000 project.

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The $250 million Arrabelle is a hotel-condo-retail complex at the center of Lionshead.

“We were just lucky to have been considered for the project,” Froelicher said.

Froelicher’s chandeliers are only one facet of his greater blacksmithing prowess. Many homes and commercial buildings in the Aspen area have been adorned with Froelicher’s exquisite, handcrafted railings. The Isis Theater in Aspen features a staircase adorned with Froelicher’s unique railing design.

Froelicher even crafted 16 dungeon-esque lighting sconces for designer Ralph Lauren’s home.

In roughly 20 years of metalsmithing, Froelicher concedes the craft has come a long way.

Though he doesn’t have the time to dedicate to teaching, Froelicher has supported the ancient art by donating grants through the Francis Whitaker Foundation so that young apprentices, as Froelicher once was himself, have an opportunity to pursue their smithing practice. Between $6,000 and $10,000 has already been donated, but Froelicher said he looks forward to giving more.

“It’s amazing to see what has happened in the last 20 years with smithing,” Froelicher said. “People are usually amazed by our gallery based on their knowledge of smithing.”

Froelicher’s gallery at Blue Heron Forge contains his classic chandelier designs and railings, as well as various intricately designed art pieces that have been hand-forged or crafted through a “repousse” technique, which involves manipulating a flat metal sheet at a cold stage to obtain precise detail. Froelicher said he often draws inspiration from the natural world. That’s evident in many of his chandeliers, which display delicately detailed leaves and various outdoor elements.

Working with micah from the East Coast and metal from all over Colorado, Froelicher experiments with different alloys and what he can do with them.

Smithing, he points out, is highly forgiving in that metal is easily reusable ” it can be reheated and reformed into something else entirely.

“In some sense, it’s not just art, it’s got this huge utilitarian element with it as well,” Froelicher said. “If you don’t like something, you can reheat it and change it.”