WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTOS | HELL CREEK FORGE
Growing up, James Roth loved to spend time on his grandfather’s farm, and he found the farrier to be the most interesting person there. He watched as this seemingly giant man played with fire, manipulated steel, and shoed the horses. As Roth puts it, the farrier was as close to a god as it gets for a young boy.
After college, Roth went to work in corporate America and soon realized it was not the place for him. With a little soul searching, he remembered how much he loved seeing that farrier at work. He decided to research blacksmithing and soon decided that it was what he wanted to do. The rest is history.
While studying blacksmithing, Roth learned that one of the most talented artists in the field, Scott Lankton, lives in Ann Arbor. This seemed serendipitous to Roth until he learned that Lankton was not looking to hire anyone. So Roth decided to show up at Lankton’s studio every day to work – and learn – for free. He knew that his passion, drive, and work ethic would prove his place in blacksmithing. After a few months, Lankton realized that Roth was a great asset and hired him. They worked together for many years, traveling around the country and creating amazing works of art for large estates, corporations, government entities, and more.
Around 2007, Roth decided he’d had enough work travel and wanted to stay closer to home. Hell Creek Forge was born.
Roth adheres to the techniques of a true blacksmith. If he needs a decorative leaf or an acorn, a bunch of grapes or a tree branch, or even nuts and bolts, he creates every piece from raw steel. He has even crafted most of his own tools.
To Roth, each project has a life and personality of its own. He has forged countless custom handrails and gates, incorporating cattails, fish, flowers, and other unique designs, resulting in a work of art suited exactly to the client’s taste and style.
There are a variety of techniques Roth uses to finish his work. When we spoke, he was working on large letters for a gate that will be finished with real gold leaf. Each letter is 24 inches tall by 14 inches wide. They will first be sandblasted and painted, then Roth will apply remarkably thin sheets of gold leaf to the finished metal. He could have used gold paint, but he knows this technique will last 20 to 30 years out in the elements. “You just can’t get any paint to look this special; that’s all there is to it.”
Another memorable project is a sculpture Roth created for Brighton’s Hyne Alley art district. The sculpture consists of a large cedar tree that was debarked, sealed, and then topped with a large piece of artistic ironwork that makes it look like a giant lamppost. Many say it looks as if it belongs in a Tim Burton movie.
Roth is proud that word-of-mouth praise for his artistic talent has helped him create a thriving business. He is continually booked out three to four months with custom work. As Roth puts it, “I greet every day with the plan to create the very best work I can.”
Hell Creek Forge
11686 Patterson Lake Drive
Pinckney, MI 48169
(734) 878-2453 l HellCreekForge.com