Exhibition Title: #150mmchallenge

Curated and Produced by Delyth Done; Project Concept Ambrose Burne; Hereford College of Arts, UK, toured in the USA by ABANA.

An exhibition of forged metalwork created in a challenge that ‘went viral’ on the Internet is traveling from the UK for a tour of the United States in Spring 2021, in a partnership between Hereford College of Arts, UK and ABANA – Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America.

The #150mmchallenge is a celebration of process, material and ingenuity that will include a curated collection of 150 metal objects, selected from over 400 pieces created by amateur and professional blacksmiths from around the world.

The #150mmchallenge has its origins in the charming, historic cathedral city of Hereford, UK. With around 55,000 inhabitants, it is surrounded by the green rolling hills and hedgerows of traditional English agricultural land and the distant Welsh Mountains. It’s a fitting setting for the blacksmithing capital of the UK and is home to the country’s only Artist Blacksmithing degree course at Hereford College of Arts (HCA), where the #150mmchallenge was first conceived. Art college tutor Ambrose Burne gave his students, a ‘warm-up’ challenge to create something interesting out of a small rectangular piece of steel, 150mm x 20mm x 20mm. They each had three weeks to make something out of the piece, without adding anything else, and they posted photos of their completed work onto Instagram, using the hashtag #150mmchallenge.

Ambitious UK-Born Metalwork Tour Travels to the USA 2Work by Peter Ghequiere. Photo credit: Oliver Cameron Swann

The HCA artist blacksmithing students are well known, having won prizes internationally under their team name of the Hereford Anvils. The challenge attracted attention online and it quickly ‘went viral’ – catching the interest of blacksmiths around the world. It was so successful that blacksmiths mailed their objects to Hereford to be exhibited there in 2019, in a show featuring 240 metal objects from 19 countries, all inspired by the original #150mmchallenge and curated and produced by HCA’s Artist Blacksmithing Course Leader Delyth Done, who planned the exhibition as part of a festival of blacksmithing called Ferrous. Delyth says, “I constantly encourage the blacksmithing students to follow their passions in the craft and to have clear intentions in what they do, and this shows in the work that they produce. The variety and innovation in the #150mmchallenge work is inspiring and I am very excited to be able to share it with audiences in the US. After our original UK Ferrous blacksmithing festival, we continued to encourage new #150mmchallenge work in a second callout and I’ve been able to select the 150 US exhibition pieces from over 400 submissions.”

HCA’s Principal, Abigail Appleton, is proud of the students and the way they have connected with an international community of artists and makers, “I am thrilled about this major US tour for the #150mmchallenge exhibition. Hereford College of Arts is proud to be rooted in place (our exceptionally beautiful, rural city and county in England) but also connected to the wider world. At a time when so many people across the globe need to limit travel and social contact, it feels particularly special to share this exhibition internationally. I hope visitors to the exhibition throughout this ambitious tour will be intrigued, excited and inspired.”

Leigh Morell, President of ABANA, explains why they wanted to bring the work to the US. “By bringing this to venues across the United States, ABANA is providing opportunities for the public to see first-hand the #150mmchallenge’s myriad of forms coaxed from a uniform piece of steel,” says Morrell. “This exhibit speaks to the endless creativity and skill of modern-day artisans who use traditional blacksmithing techniques to manipulate steel to magnificent effect.”

Ambitious UK-Born Metalwork Tour Travels to the USA 4Work by Arttu Halkosaair. Photo credit: Oliver Cameron Swann

It’s hard to believe that all of the pieces in the display started life as the same 150mm long rectangle of metal. From playful models of animals to useable tools and abstract sculptures, there’s a mind-boggling variation in form and content, which is a fantastic illustration of how far the limits of one material can be tested. The UK exhibition particularly impressed Master Craftsman Richard Quinnell MBE MA CWCB and Pauline Quinnell, founders of the Quinnell School of Blacksmithing, who described it as, “One of the best exhibitions of contemporary ironwork we have seen in over 45 years of attending and curating such exhibitions internationally – especially in its appeal to the lay public through its variety, ingenuity, and unusually didactic quality: the repetitive transformation of a simple standard bar of this humble metal – iron – into a wild miscellany of imaginative, complex and beautiful – even startling – forms, with infinite possibilities.”

The makers who took part in the challenge have been enthusiastic in their praise for the project, Canadian blacksmith Jake James explains, “The #150mmchallenge has proved to be one of the most interesting exhibitions of forging in recent memory. To have grown from an exercise handed out to students of HCA into a showpiece for creative workmanship in hot steel from around the globe. For me, it perfectly encapsulates the freedom with which we blacksmiths are able to articulate ourselves in this most fascinating medium… limited only by the constraints of our own imaginations.”

Maxwell Anderson, a HCA @herefordanvils alumni now working in Canada, adds, “#150mmchallenge is testament that blacksmithing is alive and well in 2020. Showcasing the creativity, technical processes and the thriving community I’m proud to be part of.”

Ambitious UK-Born Metalwork Tour Travels to the USA 3Work by Aaron Michael O’Brien Photo credit: Oliver Cameron Swann

Meanwhile, Benjamin and Monica Kjellman-Chapin from Norway have found that the project offered then a sense of support during the lockdown of 2020, “Partaking in the #150mmchallenge offered not only an opportunity to step into the joyful space of creating simply for the sake of creating—a luxury one cannot always afford oneself—but also a space of connectedness with our fellow makers, so important anytime but perhaps especially now when we find our movements curtailed by the realties of COVID. Many thanks to the Hereford folks for enabling this respite for us, and to the blacksmiths around the world for responding so eloquently, so brilliantly, to that little bit of square bar. We are eagerly looking forward to the next challenge!”

The show will be touring to the Appalachian Center for Craft, Smithville and the Metal Museum, Memphis, both Tennessee; then to Johnstown, Pennsylvania; South Dakota School of Mines, APEX Gallery – Rapid City, South Dakota; American College of Building Arts – Charleston, South Carolina and will end the US tour at the prestigious four-day ABANA Conference in Dallas, Texas.

The Metal Museum’s Executive Director, Carissa Hussong says, “The Metal Museum is delighted to host this international exhibition celebrating the creativity and variety of forged ironwork. The #150mmchallenge truly highlights how blacksmiths can take the same material and produce an infinite number of possibilities.”

USA Exhibition Dates for the #150mm Challenge 2021 – 2022

  • Jan 8 – Mar 12, 2021 Appalachian Center for Craft – Smithville, Tennessee
  • Mar 28 – Jul 4, 2021 Metal Museum – Memphis, Tennessee
  • Late Jul – Sep 2021 Venue TBC, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
  • Oct – Dec 2021 South Dakota School of Mines, APEX Gallery – Rapid City, South Dakota
  • Jan – Mar 2022 American College of Building Arts – Charleston, South Carolina
  • April 2022 4-day ABANA Conference – Dallas, Texas