Jason Dench, Manawatu, is an artisan who uses many different techniques to shape metal. He’s just about ready to call himself a sculptor. He’s definitely entering a piece into the first NZ Rural Sculpture Awards next April.
Sixteen years ago his father (David Dench) found him a blacksmith’s forge while searching for vintage International Harvester machinery, and from that point on Jason started down the path of learning blacksmithing and related trades.
It’s been quite a journey for the then young motor mechanic, searching for people who would teach him the skills and basics of metalworking. “I asked lots of people to help me learn. These trades and skills are widespread in Britain, Europe and America, but New Zealand is a small country with limited resources available in this field. Some people just saw me as potential competition, but I was just keen to learn and always have been.”
“I managed to seek out a couple of farriers who showed me enough to get started, and from there I am pretty well self-taught.”
Two years ago after a trip to the Taranaki, Jason discovered that his great, great-grandfather, and his grandfather were both blacksmiths, so it’s definitely in his blood. “I have always been drawn to fire and the life within it, now I know why that is.”
The idea that his work might have a wider audience began when he made friends a few gifts that turned out beautifully. He was encouraged.
“I love that I can make stuff that other people love”. His first solo exhibition was held just recently in October 2017. “I think of people as caretakers of my work. It’s not just a transaction for me – it’s a whole lot more than that. I enjoy attracting creative people into my life.”
He’s no stranger to exhibiting because his work has been in provincial art galleries for more than six years. It started when he bought a coal shovel from Woodville artist Nick White. Encouraged by White, he took his work to Atmosphere Gallery. Other gallery owners saw the work and soon his work was in Lush at Raumati Beach, Taylor Jensen in Palmerston North, Moko at Hotwater Beach and Consignment in Feilding.
Recently he’s created his own website. Why move onto the internet?
“Galleries want you to provide pieces they have a ready market for and you can end up making for them and not so much for your own self-expression.“
“I enjoy co-creating - taking an idea that someone comes to me with and working it into reality. It’s about the relationships I forge in this business of art that is the most rewarding.”
Jason’s love of metal and old machinery began on the family farm and continued when he and his brother went to work for the Tokomaru Steam Museum as youngsters. This love of metal continues today. He collects old blacksmithing equipment which he uses regularly.”My oldest piece to date is an Alldays and Onions forge built in 1873 which came over from England about 10 years ago with a blacksmith who moved to New Zealand to live.”
His advice to other men and women tinkering in their sheds making stuff who might want to make something of what they make?
“Just move towards it, don’t give up. Do what you can do to learn and to express yourself. Seek out what you need to develop and grow yourself.”