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Two Badasses Forged in Fire: Sparks Fly with Celebrated Woman Blacksmith Elizabeth Brim & Anthony Bourdain


I had the extreme honor to host Elizabeth Brim, Blacksmith, for my recent Ladies Who Lunch Conversations.   Elizabeth is an extraordinary woman with a notable, artful career forging feminine imagery in her ironwork. I first met Elizabeth at a Balvenie whiskey event celebrating the art of the craft as chosen by their brand curator, Anthony Bourdain.  

Elizabeth and her art impressed me so much I just knew we’d circle back together at some point.  She and her art are truly unforgettable.  

And so is her ubiquitous strand of pearls that she wears even while forging. Why the feminine fashion in a world of Y (chromosomes)?

It’s no surprise then that when scheduling innovative and exciting guests, I had that “aha” moment and reached back to my networking correspondence. I was intrigued how one chose to become an artist of what I thought was a rather obscure, ancient craft.  And then, three weeks after our Conversation, I learned blacksmithing is “trending!” 

Imagine my surprise to see this feature article in the New York Times the other day, not long after our videocast Conversation.  While I invite you to check out the Times’ story, I can assure you that we’re so on point in bringing you Elizabeth’s personal narrative arc and art!  

Her personal journey is a profile in courage and talent.

You can listen and see Elizabeth in our Ladies Who Lunch Conversation explain her path to becoming a woman Blacksmith; (a mere 20% of professional blacksmiths are female); what talent and skills are needed; her challenges and rewards ~ and how she balances the art of her craft with her very active social life. 

If you don’t know a “Smithy” from a “Forge” I don’t hesitate to suggest that you’ll find the Conversation to be a really fun, interesting one ~ where we all learn about this ancient art begun in the Iron Age, by & large to make weapons, and what we can look for in today’s crafting, including works of art  using the latest technology.

When Elizabeth and I spoke, it was like we had just talked a few weeks ago; it was like good girlfriends catching up after a summer recess.

Elizabeth is an authentic, dedicated artist.  

She came about her craft by serendipity, hard work, forbearance, and incredible talent.  I wanted to know and share with my Ladies audience how she chose to be a blacksmith ~ or did it choose her?

How has her art changed over the years?  How did she come to create art with iron and forge such feminine objects as steel heels:


Ballerina costumes


Pretty Aprons 

What inspires her then and now?   

Elizabeth wrote that “With a unique juxtaposition of the feminine and the ferrous, she transforms the frilly dresses, fairy tales, and gender expectations of her childhood into remarkable works of social commentary.” 

A native of Columbus, Georgia, she graduated with an MFA in printmaking before studying and working with a variety of materials at the Penland School. She claims that it was quite unexpected that she fell in love with iron.

Because no one can tell her story like she can, Elizabeth also shared this deeper dive into her journey: 

Studying at Penland I moved through clay to jewelry, finally finding blacksmithing when I went to the shop to make a tool. Soon I was learning traditional techniques to make my signature feminine sculptures from steel. 

My upbringing informs the imagery. I celebrate but also poke fun at the “Proper Southern Lady” I was meant to be. When my original pair of Steel Heels were awarded first place at a regional blacksmithing conference I became determined to perfect my skills deserving respect from traditional ironworkers.

In 2010 I received the Alex Bealer award, the most significant, prestigious award presented by the Artist Blacksmiths Association of North America. It honors “someone who has preserved and promoted the art of blacksmithing over an extended period of time.” Of the forty-two recipients, I was the second woman awarded. 

Loyalty to Penland Iron is ongoing. I was Studio Coordinator for 6 years. During the time we planned and built the new studio, I built my own next to the house I own. I am proud of what I have accomplished as a single woman.

I first came to Penland in the Spring of 1980 fully convinced and absolutely comfortable with the tradition and fact that I needed a man to support me and take care of me. My boyfriend had paid my tuition, Which, at the time, was $1,500 dollars for the eight week course.

We got married the next year. But I had fallen in love with Penland and became addicted to everything about it. The mountains, immersive learning and most of all the interesting creative and fun new people I met. So I kept coming back as much as possible, and, as most of you know, found my way to blacksmithing from printmaking , ceramics and metals classes. 

In the Spring of 1985 I was asked if I could stay at Penland all Summer to fill in for a Core Student who was leaving early. My core job was working in the kitchen. I could take classes without paying for them. That summer I took my first Blacksmithing class. I doubt if I would have ever justified spending money on a class just on a whim and because it would be fun. But I really took to it and continued getting opportunities as a Studio Assistant in Iron thanks to Marvin Jensen. 

By 1994 I had bought a house in Downtown Penland thinking it would just be my “ Fun Penland PlayHouse “ . I could bring my dog and invite friends to stay there when they visited. It needed a lot of work and had termites so it was cheap. It had to be owner-financed because of the termites. 

It was a gift and sign from the universe. When my confidence in being taken care of by a husband was dashed. I moved here. I got a job working in the Penland  Kitchen and rented rooms to three other artists who wanted to be close to the School. 

I still remember the feeling of pride I got when I paid my first electric bill with money I had made. My monthly mortgage payments were $ 277.14. I saved up money and had the termites killed. 

In 1995 I was asked to become the Studio Coordinator of the Penland Iron studio. I made less money than working in the kitchen but I was able to use the studio. I made and sold the steel sculptures I had so much fun creating. 

My father still thought that I was going to starve because I was divorced. But when I bought myself a used 4-wheel drive pick up truck  with money I made selling my first pair of high heeled shoes and an Apron sculpture he relaxed a bit.

Elizabeth continues to practice her craft.  She was also a venerated instructor at the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina, not far from where she lives.  

Elizabeth noted that the Penland School gave her the confidence and courage to become the artist, teacher and person she is today. 

“I have always said I need to be very good to deserve the opportunities I have been given,” said Elizabeth.  

Thank you so much, Elizabeth.  You are truly inspiring. 

And the thousands who watched our Conversation agree…

The Balvenie Event and Meeting Anthony Bourdain and Elizabeth

Besides my Garden Glamour blog, I had a job as the Food and Drink editor for the Examiner (while working at BBG!).  And looking back at the story I filed for the event, I thought it would be a fitting homage to Mr. Bourdain and Elizabeth to share some of that news feature.  It too is a timeless story… I am delighted to re-read it as a love story… 

I am certain you will enjoy reading it. 

Here is the story I filed that captures the spirit of Mr. Bourdain and Elizabeth’s craft:

“This is a love story.  A kind of food and drink love triangle involving a distilled spirit, a celebrated TV host and chef, and the romance of artisanal craftspeople. Before you think this Examiner has indulged in a wee too many drams of whiskey, read the story of passion and dedication and commitment.  

There’s no denying it.  Love is what threads through the narrative.

Fittingly, it was back right before Valentine’s Day last year when Balvenie, the branded single malt whisky,  announced it had wooed Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (or on YouTube subscription) – as Curator of Rare Craft Collection The collaboration continues through May 2016. Longer than many a relationship, no?!  (We all now know that regrettably, Mr. Bourdain died in 2018)

“It looked like a partnership made for each other as viewed at the Balvenie Rare Craft Collection NYC elegantly-produced event, held to premiere the skilled artisans and their artful creations as selected by Mr. Bourdain. 

The staging of the New York City pop-up location was completely outfitted for the occasion, including tasting stations, of course, and the re-creations of the five artists’ studios or workshops. The artists were all keen to greet the guests and demonstrate their craft.  They did, however, look humble and overwhelmed… New York does that to folks. 

The unmistakable Mr. Bourdain was, not surprisingly, in the thick of it; looking for all the world to be happy to talk about the Collection, his process of selecting the featured artists, and his sincere respect for those who dedicate themselves to producing the very best, hand-crafted arts.  

“In a one-on-one interview, the very eloquent Mr. Bourdain explained the process surrounding the selection of the featured artists; how over the course of the year he was introduced to some, others he already knew and was eager to have the opportunity to celebrate their talent. 

He noted he has a profound appreciation for the artists’ idealism and the undeniable romance they have with what they do and make (see, there’s that love element of mystery and excitement.) 

He offered a few examples.  “Elizabeth Brim, the lady blacksmith artist, did everything you’re not supposed to do,” he said with gusto and pride.  

“And yet, here she is, doing what she does – because of her passion.” 

These are my photos of Elizabeth from the event ~ capturing her passion for her blacksmith art. And how Balvenie recreated her workshop ~ a delightful visual discovery.


Their art is magical,” Bourdain said – referencing all the Balvenie selected artisans.   

“They break the mold,” Bourdain added.  

“The branded – yet sincere link between the Balvenie Collection and the artists is to underscore and help reinforce the bespoke sustainability and craft-man/woman-ship of the single malt whiskey.  Bourdain has worked with Balvenie to produce some top tier videos of his drink exploration in the William Grant & sons Scottish distillery.  Makes for fun – and educational viewing.

Here is the link to Anthony Bourdain’s video with Elizabeth while she crafts iron flowers. 

And here Elizabeth reveals why she wears those pearls 🙂

“It should be noted that Balvenie executes staggeringly flawless, elegantly-staged events.  From the detailed homage bios and social media contacts for the chosen artists featured in the Collection, to the accessible opportunity to taste the product and to learn from the Balvenie executives and their Brand Ambassador: Mr. Bourdain. “


I now cherish the photo of Mr. Bourdain and me from the event when I interviewed him. I have to add that at that time I hadn’t ever seen his show and thought he was just a little snobby from what I’d been told.  Nothing could’ve been further from the truth.  Mr. Bourdain was kind, smart, patient and utterly charming to me.  I was smitten.  I started to watch all his travel and food shows.  

I will end this story with a salute to the art of the craft.  And the artists who not only shine a light on their work as Mr. Bourdain did but also to the artists who inspire us.  

Here’s a video memory of the event:  You’ll see Elizabeth here proudly showcasing her iron art. And Martha Stewart and Anthony Bourdain…

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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

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