Fire puts El Jebel blacksmith’s dream on hold

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times
Scott Condon/scondon@aspentimes.

Master blacksmith Vaughn Shafer had a dream go up in smoke this month. He’s just glad his house didn’t go up in flames.

Shafer was selected to show his work at ArtPrize 2013 in Grand Rapids, Mich. The popular and growing event is a great way for artists to display their work and reap financial rewards. The grand prize for the People’s Choice Award comes with $200,000.

Shafer and his wife, Lori, were ready to launch plans to raise $5,000 by Sept. 6 to travel to ArtPrize. They planned to host a party near Vaughn’s El Jebel workshop, where he would demonstrate “old school” blacksmithing techniques and share his inspiration for his eye-catching work.

The plan went awry because of the Red Canyon Fire southeast of Glenwood Springs. The fire erupted Aug. 12 and eventually scorched about 400 acres. The Shafers live on Lookout Mountain, and Vaughn was the only resident of the rural area to defy advice to evacuate. He was determined to do what he could to protect his property.

The wildfire came within one-quarter of a mile of his house. Federal firefighting crews, assisted by local fire departments, used three single-engine air tankers, two helicopters and 20 fire engines to finally douse the flames and snuff the threat by Aug. 16.

Vaughn lost a week of work. He said he couldn’t justify spending another three weeks traveling to and attending ArtPrize, so the Shafers abandoned their plans to show their stuff this year. They hope to be selected again for another year.

It’s disappointing, Shafer said Thursday, but at least he and his wife are safe, and they still have a home.

Their biggest disappointment is not getting to show off Vaughn’s artistic interpretation of an adult tyrannosaurus skull. Shafer worked with a client who had a full-scale mold of the dinosaur skull.

“I thought, ‘That would look good in metal,’’’ Shafer said.

He and two other blacksmiths, Frank and Frankie Ramerize, used 16-gauge mild steel left over from other jobs to create the piece over 2½ months. The skull is just over 5 feet long. It is 42 inches tall and 32 inches wide. The open jaws display teeth up to 6 inches long. The bottom jaw is open, creating a space that kids naturally love to stand in, making it appear they’ve been gobbled by the granddaddy of dinosaurs. It weighs 268 pounds.

The skull was one of the pieces Shafer planned to display at ArtPrize. Another eye-catcher that was headed to the show was a custom sabertoothed-tiger chopper motorcycle. Shafer was confident he would at least be in contention for the People’s Choice Award at ArtPrize.

The Shafers displayed the dinosaur skull in Aspen’s Fourth of July parade to the delight of the crowd.

“I think I’ve been given a gift with metal,” Shafer said.

The skull is for sale for $30,000.