CHATTANOOGA. Builder/blacksmith Conrad Tengler can look at a 20-foot length of raw blunt steel and envision an intricate art bicycle frame, or an elaborate chandelier. Someone can sketch a trellis or gate on paper, and slide it across a table and Conrad’s energies begin going beyond utility to the imagination. The result is a gateway that is one-of-a-kind; the result is a sculpture that beckons those walking by.
This artist’s process is a string of verbs and muscle: cut, forge, weld, tapper, twist, and hammer. However, the result is a refined sculpture that erases all that heat and effort for the viewer who will discover something sleek and seemingly inevitable. Such is the workflow of any true artist.
Conrad’s studio, Black Sheep Forge, will move later this year to a new Lookout Valley facility the artist is designing. The new studio will be just minutes from downtown Chattanooga and a two-mile bike ride from the artist’s home. The new studio footprint will allow him to more easily collaborate with other artists, such as acclaimed woodworker and sculptor Andrew Nigh, founder of Winter Sun Studio. The two have rented adjacent studios at Artifact for many years, while completing largescale commercial projects and smaller fine furniture designs. The investment in a new studio shows the commitment Conrad has to Tennessee, and affirms the embrace of the design community regarding his work.
While the tools and furnaces Conrad uses are comparable to any you might find at an 18th century blacksmith’s livery stable and shop, the objects he creates offer an artist’s refinement.
Before he tasks the classic anvil and cross-pin hammer, Conrad brings a formal study of fine art sculpture and illustration to the project. His father, Terry Tengler, was an architect and painter of landscapes and portraits, so Conrad grew up in a home where expression as an artist was a way of being in the world, and also a livelihood.
Conrad’s signature work is often described as organic, with elements that one might associate with a root system, tree branches, or a tendril of a vine. “I don’t like straight lines,” he said. “I prefer the lines found in natural elements that are never static and show movement.”
This ability to think like an artist and implement ideas, has led many other artists and designers to seek out Conrad’s work. For example, in Nashville, he created the iron platform and showcase for Cessna Decosimo’s sculpture of General Francis Nash on his horse. The city is named for Nash. This work figures prominently in Daniel Lindley’s 5th and Taylor restaurant in Germantown.
“Cessna and I work differently, which is why it is great to collaborate.” Where Cessna will meet to think through a project in great detail at the onset, Conrad said he often prefers to take a more hands-on exploratory effort allowing iron to sharpen iron. For this builder/blacksmith, one movement or element helps shapes the next. Again, the process of the artist may go unseen, but is essential.
For more than ten years, Conrad has worked exclusively with Revival—‘a purveyor of antiquities, home furnishings, luxuries, and the most uncommon goods’—Chattanooga’s premier design group, located at Warehouse Row. This close relationship is a testament to the trust the Revival design team has in Conrad’s ability to please their clients and exceed their expectations. Custom chandeliers, accent tables, shelving, fireplace surrounds and tool sets, and other artful décor bears that organic, custom Conrad Tengler style. Professional trust allows him leeway to be creative, to create that one-of-a-kind embellishment that grounds a room or courtyard. Creating a conversation piece is an art, and Conrad Tengler is a master.
See examples of Conrad Tengler’s custom furnishings in our Nashville Interiors MARKET story, ‘Conrad Tengler Artifacts.’
Conrad Tengler, Black Sheep Forge: email@example.com; 509-637-0736
Appalachian Area Chapter of Blacksmiths (AACB): aacblacksmiths.org
Southeastern Blacksmith Association (SBA) Conference: sbaconference.com
Andrew Nigh: fine wood furniture; WinterSunStudio.com
Photography by Billy Weeks