Ashlee Donaldson has fond memories of childhood holidays spent travelling around the UK in her family’s campervan and visiting events for blacksmiths. ‘We’d all pile into the van and my dad would spend the day in the forge with the other blacksmiths. I remember him dragging me in to help and we’d compete to make pieces. That was how summers were spent,’ she says.
Despite her creativity, Ashlee never pictured herself working as a blacksmith in her family’s forge in rural Northumberland. ‘I’d always been in and out of the workshop making little bits as a hobby, but it was never something I saw myself doing as a career,’ she says. That changed when Ashlee went to university in Newcastle upon Tyne to study fashion marketing. ‘I experienced a total U-turn. As part of my studies, I spent a year working for a jewellery company and decided to create a few samples with my dad in the forge. I began to think, “Actually, I can do this.” Graduation day came and I realised that I could either try and get a job or give the forge a go. It was risky but I knew that if I didn’t try at that point, I might never come back to blacksmithing.’
That was five years ago, and Ashlee now works alongside her dad, Stephen Lunn, while also building up her own portfolio and attending craft fairs. ‘My dad and I work really well together because we are both quite laid-back. The workshop is based in a small village and everyone knows us,’ she says. Every piece of work they create is unique. ‘I begin each day in the forge by starting the fire and then hammering the metal. We design all of our own pieces, which the client chooses and then we draw it out to scale. It’s all hand-forged. A recent project producing an archway, for example, took 10 weeks to complete.’
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