At Home in the Adirondacks 2017
Blacksmith Dan King forges works of art for camp or castle
by Elizabeth Folwell
Tupper Lake Junction’s Wheel Inn had a reputation—dive bar, strip joint, a place where patrons went at it hammer and tongs on many nights. For the past 10 years master craftsman Dan King has owned the former hotel and watering hole. As a blacksmith, he’s at it with real hammer and tongs, forging decorative and functional pieces in iron and bronze. Just inside the door on Main Street, past the mailbox embellished with twining vines, there’s a thistle-design fire screen reminiscent of William Morris patterns, and in the backyard studio graceful bronze leaves are spread across a table.
King grew up in Virginia, moved to Florida, studied theater design in college, married his wife, Jennifer, had daughters Kelsey and Alamanda and worked as a scenic artist and set builder for Little Mermaid on Ice, Jungle Book on Ice and other shows. “I was a minion,” he said. “I made a lot of foam rocks.”
For several years he was on the crew at Children’s Television Workshop, creator of Sesame Street. He painted characters and chalets at Sesame Place, in Philadelphia. At Twiddlebug Land, part of the theme park where visitors are reduced to the size of bugs and everything else is oversized, he was head painter. “Then I left.”
His 25-year career in metalwork started with an ice-cream-shop table he made for a company that designed convention displays. “They wanted street lights and café tables, like a Parisian scene,” he explained. “I bent a hoop, hammered legs, added a glass top. I wasn’t really taught how to weld, so I just learned on the job. The main welder at the company showed me how to turn the welder on and strike a bead but everything else I learned on my own.
“For the first few years as a blacksmith,” he said, “I was making candlesticks and occasional tables. I made a bed frame from salvaged pieces from an auto-parts company. I was using a lot of salvaged materials.” That creative scavenging helped him get fuel for his forge—he would trade beer with the guys working at a power plant for a load of coal.
His career took a significant turn when he began working in St. Petersburg, Florida, with Alex Klahm, whom King described as one of the foremost architectural metalworkers in the country. “We did a three-story continuous staircase…. We did a wine cellar and kitchen hardware for the CEO of Disney. Working with Alex was so great and I learned bronze from him.”
But bartered materials and occasional large commissions weren’t enough to keep the Kings in Florida. “We chose [the Adirondacks] because of the wonderful climate. My family and I decided to live where there are seasons, mountains and lakes. This is also a preferable climate for working with a 2,000-degree forge.”
King, who is 48 and could play Thor in a Viking movie, got his first taste of the Adirondacks 33 years ago. “One week of my life was all I knew of the area,” he said. But what a week. At summer camp on Upper Saranac Lake, he climbed Ampersand Mountain, swam, canoed and dreamed of returning. “I knew I could get used to this beautiful landscape.”
Here, his skills—and clientele—grew. He created more and more complex custom pieces. When asked about a favorite project he didn’t hesitate: “I did a beautiful set of railings for folks on Raquette Flow. It’s an allegory of past, present and future. There are water lily flowers going through an octagonal staircase.”
His work isn’t all in secluded private estates. For the Golden Arrow resort, in Lake Placid, he made several chandeliers—including one that is 10 feet high, eight feet wide and weighs 650 pounds. At Lake Placid Lodge there are 15 Dan King fire screens, all different designs. Saranac Lake’s new restaurant Fiddlehead Bistro prominently features hardware and a sculpture from his forge.
“I enjoy making natural forms from industrial materials,” he said. He has five forges that use either coal or gas; heating and shaping the hot metal is just one part of the process. He sketches intricate details of the overall work; a coat of arms complete with knight’s helmet for a massive installation near Glens Falls was in progress this summer, along with hundreds of two-inch-long leaves that will adorn an iron-and-bronze grate set over carved teak doors. He’s working on bronze peacocks inspired by a Tiffany window, too. Understandably, many of his projects take up to three months.
One place you won’t find King is on the Internet. “I don’t have a website or do social media. For me, it’s strictly word of mouth.”
Find Dan King (813-362-8760) at 36 Main Street, in Tupper Lake.
A version of this article originally appeared in the At Home in the Adirondacks 2017 issue of Adirondack Life. Subscribe now to receive eight issues per year.