Jeff Crane: He Builds Horses, Doesn’t He?
On his rural American farm, artist Jeff Crane creates distinctive pieces of art out of scraps of metal.
It has been said that beauty can be found in anything, and that may never have been truer than on the farm near Charlotte, N.C., of Jeff Crane, who forges and who is also a farrier and an artist. Crane is one of those characters who is a rare blend of both rural storyteller and sophisticated artist — country mouse meets city mouse, if you will.
Crane’s original career was that of a certified farrier, a craftsperson who trims and shoes horses’ hooves, then places shoes on those hooves. Crane also made the shoes as a forger, a person who makes or shapes a metal object by heating it in a fire or furnace and then beating or hammering it.
Crane has had a successful 30-year career as a farrier and forger, visiting farms and ranches nearby with a steady group of clients, but he is also one of those people with vast and varied interests. But perhaps more than that, as a true artist, he is an observer and a builder. What most of us dismiss as junk immediately catches Crane’s creative eye.
“I’ve always had a welder in my shop, and I’d made little doodads for people here and there,” he recalls in a recent interview. “And my wife and I have a huge interest in vintage farm items, and we started to find good farm scrap metal. I love repurposing things. I started welding and making candlestick holders and boot racks and funny-looking sculptures.”
His farm began to take on the appearance of an eclectic collection of just about everything you could find about a farm, from metal wagon-wheel rims and plow discs to horseshoes collected and welded together into spheres, and gears and chains. To most of us, these rusted, ratty pieces were junk. But when left with Crane’s skill and imagination, they all became pieces of art. Rusted and ratty became a desired collectible.
Given his intimate knowledge of horses, one day Crane decided to build a horse, and during that process, he also started building whatever people wanted. He started on his horse in March 2019.
“That horse sat looking like a motorcycle frame, wearing horseshoes,” says Crane. “I welded on it for quite a while, but then I got stuck. Like when you’re painting or writing a book, you get blocked. After Christmas I committed to working on it, but then I wondered, ‘How would I know when it’s done?’ I didn’t have any clue,” he says. “Then, late one night, I was sitting in my chair, and the horse was looking at me, and I was looking at it, and I said, ‘Dang, it’s done.’”
The horse was looking at me, and I was looking at it, and I said, ‘Dang, it’s done’
Crane’s greatest satisfaction comes when his clients find something in his raw materials that means something personally to them. “I’ve been to their homes for 30 years shoeing horses, and now I’m putting something in their yards. It can be humbling and overwhelming at the same time.”
Be it priceless antiques in Italy, or rusted metal in North Carolina, art and artists can take many different forms, and beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
Interview by Cassandra Giammarco