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Blacksmith work on display at Waterfront

Burton creates art pieces as well as more functional pieces, like these fire tools. Photo courtesy of Dale Burton.1 / 4
Dale Burton works on an iron gate at his home near Two Harbors Monday morning. The blacksmith has some of his work on display at Waterfront Gallery in Two Harbors through April. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky.2 / 4
Considered one of his signature designs, Burton crafts these unique candle holders from Lake Superior stones and iron. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky3 / 4
In addition to more elaborate artsy pieces, Burton also creates more simple pieces like this basic mirror. Photo courtesy of Dale Burton.4 / 4

Dale Burton wears many hats at his job – he’s a salesman, an architect and a tradesman. Through the month of April at Waterfront Gallery, he will also be an artist.

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Burton owns Burton Forge and Gallery in Two Harbors, a blacksmith and metalworking shop where he creates everything from mirrors to tools to candleholders. A selection of his work will be on display at a Two Harbors gallery through April.

Twenty years ago, Burton was living in Nashville and playing music for a living. When he picked up a blacksmithing book, he put music on the backburner to teach himself how to heat, hammer and shape metal. Some of the techniques he uses have been practiced for millennia.

“The music life was kind of getting old,” he said. “I bought a book on blacksmithing. I had a little coal forge and bought an anvil. The book basically teaches you some little techniques.”

The rest is history. Burton moved back to Two Harbors and began as a full-time, self-employed blacksmith, continuing to learn his craft and developing his own way of doing things. Technology has advanced far beyond that first book Burton bought, but he still uses some of the same techniques.

“There are all kind of machines that can do the same thing, but they’re not hand-hammered,” Burton said. “I can appreciate the technology that’s available, but hand-hammering gives it a more unique look.”

Burton’s one-of-a-kind pieces are in high demand. His gallery is open during the summer months along Scenic Highway 61, where tourists and locals stop and browse. But sales from the showroom are only 20 percent of his business – Burton estimates that 80 percent of his income comes from custom orders. He after the 2007-08 financial crisis, people were still spending money on his work but they wanted something unique.

“When the recession hit, sales dropped off at the gallery,” Burton said. “People weren’t coming in and dropping money on the spot. At the same time, custom orders increased. People still wanted pieces but they want exactly what they want.”

This week, Burton was working on a large gate for a home on Highway 61. For custom orders, the process always starts with a sit-down. Burton goes over design ideas to find out what the customer has in mind.

“The pieces range from modern to art nouveau to French art deco … whatever the customer wants,” he said.

Sometimes, customers contact Burton with an out-of-the-box project, like when a neighbor asked him to make a braking system for an early 1900s reproduction Romany wagon.

“It’s always interesting when people say, ‘I don’t know if you can do this, but …’” he said. He added that he’s never turned down a project.

When he gets a break from custom orders, he is working on pieces to stock his gallery or display at various art shows, like the Waterfront Gallery exhibition. One of his signature pieces is a candle holder made with a Lake Superior rock and a metal leaf.

“I enjoy making leaves still. It sounds strange; I’ve made thousands of them. But each one is going to be different and it’s not something I really have to think hard about,” he said.

The show will also feature a table and wine rack, a mirror and a number of smaller pieces available for purchase. This is Burton’s second show at Waterfront Gallery.

As for the future, Burton said he hopes to just keep hammering iron.

“You just keep working on what you do,” Burton said. “I see myself out here pounding.”

Go see it What: Dale Burton exhibit

Where: Waterfront Gallery, 632 First Ave., Two Harbors

When: Through April 5. The gallery is open Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
(218) 834-2141