Design/life: Gunvor Anhoj, Contemporary blacksmith

Gunvor Anhøj

"We mainly create sculptural work and one-off commissions, each piece is typically very labour-intensivence," says Gunvor Anhøj.

What’s your background?

I am Danish, but studied design crafts/blacksmithing at the Hereford College of Art and Design in 2001.

This is also where I met my husband Michael Calnan, an Irish blacksmith graduate from the same year. Together, we set up the company Calnan & Anhøj. We moved to Ireland in 2009.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

Our studio is based on the grounds of Russborough House, Co Wicklow. We live on the grounds, so after sending the kids off to school, the day starts with a walk to the forge.

Once at the forge, I start out lighting up the coke hearth. It takes about half an hour to get ready, so that’s a good time to sketch or plan the day’s work. 

As we mainly create sculptural work and one-off commissions, each piece is typically very labour-intensive.

An egg in a nest made of bronze feathers, set on Kilkenny limestone. 100cm (approx 39in) high. Nest I was purchased by the OPW for the Irish state collection last year, but you can commission a similar nest €3,100. Pictures: Eamonn O’Mahony

Tell us about a recent project or design/ favourite project or design you have worked on?

Last year, we were approached by the New York City Saint Patrick Day Foundation to create a sculpture to be presented annually at the parade gala dinner. 

It was based on an existing sculpture of mine, of a swan. We refined the design and included the addition of 22-carat gold leaf.

The recipients of The Saint Patrick 2016 included those who played a significant role in the Irish peace process — parade grand marshal Senator George J Mitchell, as chairman of the peace negotiations, which led to the Good Friday Agreement; Congressman Bruce Morrison; Niall O’Dowd; Brian O’Dwyer; Charles (‘Chuck’) Feeney; Christopher Hyland; William J Flynn; and John Fitzsimons.

It was fantastic to watch Senator George Mitchell receive the award. We got a hand-written thank-you note from him in the post later which is much treasured.

Swan sculpture ‘The Saint Patrick’ by Calnan & Anhoj. Forged bronze. Picture: Richard Johnston.

What’s your design style?

I like to compose a piece using as few components as possible and try to assemble them in a way that suggests a playful creation. A lot of intent goes into capturing a style which appears accidental or playful.

What/Who inspires your work?

I get my inspiration randomly and find it easiest to design when I’m not supposed to be creative — being a passenger in a car, for example. Having lived half of my life in Scandinavia, I’m sure my aesthetics are influenced by Danish design.

One of a series of hares which can be ordered in heights from 70-100 cm. in forged bronze or forged steel for interior use, or Cor-Ten steel for exterior use. €3,000 - €6,000. Pictures: Eamonn O’Mahony

What’s your most treasured possession?

I have my grandfather’s vintage Bézard compass and I have always loved it as his name ‘H Christensen’ is embossed into it. 

He was a pioneer and a business man on the west coast of Denmark where he had an engineering company. I loved to visit it as a kid with all its machines and smells of metals.

I have brought this compass with me on some of my unusual journeys — when I walked from one end of Denmark to the other, and also when I travelled on my old Enfield motorbike to attend blacksmithing college in England.

Big Fish II, forged from Cor-Ten steel with a rust finish for exterior use. Set on a wooden plinth, its height (including plinth) is approximately 1.8m (5.9ft). €3,900. Pictures: Eamonn O’Mahony

Who would be your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

My favourite artist is Beverly Pepper, a pioneer for women in the arts back in the 1960s and regarded among America’s greatest living sculptors. 

She exhibited alongside Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and David Smith, all accredited artists that have long passed away. 

Beverly, however, is still going strong and making sculpture at the age of 94.

What would be a dream project for you to work on?

I would love to create large-scale sculptures for an urban sculpture park somewhere in the world. 


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