If you overheat bronze, it can fall apart under the hammer. It needs to stay between 850 and 1250 degrees Fahrenheit, and hitting that sweet spot takes Terry Chambers’ full concentration. He also works with stainless steel and, if that gets too hot, the chrome cooks out of it, The chrome gives it the shine and the strength, according to Chambers.
Just heating the metals Chambers works with is an art form, a calculated practice he’s honed and perfected over more than 20 years. Through Chambers’ business, Custom Iron Designs, he designs and crafts metal art that serves as railings and chandeliers in homes and also adorns public spaces, like his 80-foot-long stainless steel sculpture depicting an aerial view of the Snake River at Jackson Hole Airport.
Chambers, who is a fourth-generation Jackson Hole resident, has always been an artist, drawing as a child and then graduating to oil and acrylic painting.
But Chambers’ father didn’t want him to become a starving artist and encouraged him to find a different career. Unsure of what to do, Chambers worked construction one summer and met a welder who introduced him to the trade.
The work came naturally to Chambers. He had a steady hand, good coordination, and a sharp eye. Soon, he was traveling the West as a pipeline welder. He liked his job, but he also forged belt buckles and sculptures on the side as a creative outlet. He even created public art pieces along the way, including an abstract Earth and mountain range for Rock Springs, Wyoming, as part of its city-wide beautification project.
But in 1993, Chambers was ready to go home. He returned to Jackson and opened a metal shop, but was again unsure of what to do. Then one day it dawned on him. He could combine his artistic side with his metalworking.
“I discovered I could do functional art,” he says. “I could still do art like an owl sculpture, but then create the owl and put it on a fireplace door.”
Chambers began to custom forge hand railings, chandeliers, and fireplace doors.
His work employs a mix of classic blacksmithing skills, utilizing forges and hammers, along with modern technology like plasma cutters that cut through steel quickly and with precision.
He now works entirely in metals. Some of his works are lighter than they appear—meaning they might weigh only 500 pounds. At 63, Chambers stays in shape for the physically intense work by swimming, biking, and even training to climb the Grand Teton last summer.
The high-end nature of his work has allowed him to explore his own capabilities. Each piece he creates is one-of-a-kind. It provides an outlet for his creativity and creates a piece that meets a client’s needs, while being unusual and beautiful.