Štefan Pintar is an artist blacksmith. He learned iron forging at the UKO Kropa iron forging workshop, and tried his hand at the traditional art of ornamental blacksmithing under the guidance of two, now late master blacksmiths from Kropa, Jože Dobre and Adam Kržišnik. Twenty years ago, Štefan started his own blacksmithing workshop in Lesce, where he still works as a self-employed craftsman. His preferred work is creating one-of-a-kind wrought iron pieces, but the majority of his work consists of fencing and balustrades.
Occasionally works with the Iron Forging Museum in Kropa. He is a member of the domestic arts and crafts section at the Chamber of Craft and Small Business of Slovenia.
Not the kind of guy to sit down all day, he got a job at the nearby successor of Kropa’s iron forging tradition, the UKO Kropa workshop, immediately upon finishing primary school in the second half of the 1980s. He caught the iron forging bug from his neighbour and some of his peers that had also joined the workshop. He remained in UKO Kropa’s employ for ten years and learned the blacksmithing craft through work. He did not enjoy the routine work as much as he loved creating bespoke wrought iron pieces, so he tried his hand at decorative blacksmithing and gradually developed his skills after his eight-hour daily grind at the plant. He began acquiring tools and worked “twenty-hour shifts”, simply because he found so much joy in forging his own projects over a fire. He learned from the late master blacksmith Joža Dobre for six months and later from blacksmith Adam Kržišnik, but he owes the bulk of his knowledge to his own experiments and enthusiasm.
After this hybrid period he felt it was time to go independent: “Then one day I simply decided to open my own workshop, and it’s been my bread and butter ever since.” Twenty years ago he set up a big workshop in the industrial zone in Lesce, Gorenjska, where he still works – forges his projects. When he is swamped with orders he turns to local blacksmiths for help with certain processes. He does not yet have a successor or an apprentice, even though he’s had some enquiries. Time is his main concern and he is usually behind on work, so he is up at 5 am and comes home twelve hours later. He sees himself as “one of a dying breed” and doesn’t see new trends in architecture embracing the art of blacksmithing again any time soon. For his part, he will continue to work with various clients and show his work at exhibitions. Štefan is also a member of the domestic arts and crafts section at the Chamber of Craft and Small Business of Slovenia.
He buys the material in construction stores by the meter or kilo. He always makes bespoke articles, such as the Ljubljana dragon that resembles the sculpture on the Dragon Bridge spanning the Ljubljanica, over a fire that he builds from scratch every morning, with wood. He shapes his pieces by cutting, engraving, wrapping, and bending them with various tools – blacksmith chisels, a cutter, a punch, and a sledgehammer on an anvil. All fused parts are first drilled and riveted. Once a piece gets its final shape, he sands it so that that it is clean before he applies colour, shading certain parts with a copper or silver patina to give it the appearance of aged iron. When a piece is intended for the outdoors it receives a hot dip galvanized coating before it is coloured. Fences are given the same treatment – they are made using a faster process and are therefore more affordable. He cuts iron rods and hammers them using a power hammer (“norec” or “madman”), aligns them, and then forges the ornamental elements (various spirals). To assemble the fence he welds and grinds the joints before fastening them with ties. Now and then he speeds the process up by preparing semi-finished pieces first. He hangs on to residual materials (such as rod scraps), because they can always be used for details.
Other than decorative figurines and elements he also makes various fixtures and equipment: staircase and balcony railings, window grills and grates (“gavtre”), wells, mailboxes, chandeliers, candelabras, and similar. All of his pieces are made to order, for he knows that different people come with different preferences. This way, his pieces quickly reach their destination without being kept in storage. Most of his commissions are for fences, which he tailors to his clients’ wishes, but with his signature style, like any true master craftsman. Occasionally he gets to restore derelict or damaged wrought iron pieces. Although he is aware that preservation is a value worth maintaining, he still occasionally finds it unreasonable to restore items that would be much more affordably and quickly made anew. Seven years ago, he added sanding to his main activity, both to avoid the monotony that occasionally accompanies his developed craft, and to secure an additional source of income.
Written by Tajda Jerkič