Words and Photographs Sam Walton
Leszek Sikon recognised he needed to set himself on a new path. He was working for a big British retailer, having worked up through the ranks more than seven years, and he was feeling burnt out – it was time to seek out a more meaningful future for himself.
It was while searching for engineering courses that he stumbled across blacksmithing at Hereford college. ‘The engineering courses were heavy on theory and CAD work, and I’d had enough of desk work,’ he explains. ‘I wanted to use my hands. I visited the open day at Hereford College, they put me in front of the anvil and said, ‘Make something!’ That’s what Leszek was after, he applied, was accepted and started four months later after quitting his job.
The blacksmithing degree at Hereford is one of only a handful of degree courses in the world. Leszek had found a course respected the world over and run by active blacksmiths. Four years of studying, with an initial year of BTEC leading to his degree gave Leszek the confidence and skills to take the business forward.
Now based in Brundish, rural Suffolk, having moved from London to have access to a forge, Leszek is a busy man, with a regular flow of traditional blacksmithing commissions. He Joined two other blacksmiths in Brundish, which works well as they can share the costs and support each other’s projects when required.
It is for his knife making that Leszek first came to our attention, having applied for the inaugural Craeftiga prize in 2018. His work caught the eye of our judges and as a result was showcased during the London Design Festival.
Knives are certainly the showpieces of his work, the work that has gathered many an admiring eye and for some lucky enough to own them a piece as beautiful as it is useful.
Having his work displayed at LDF 2018 brought it to the attention of Hugo MacDonald who was in the process of curating a new show, which in itself was inspired by the William Morris quote: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ Leszek formed part of the inaugural biannale alongside many established names in the design and craft world including Max Lamb, Faye Toogood and Anthony Burrill.
Alongside the commissions and knife making. Leszek also runs workshops, providing a social aspect to what can otherwise be lonely work, and not the most conducive environment for a chat with the sound of the furnaces, hammering and grinding. Leszek enjoys the mix of characters who turn up in Brundish, from bus drivers to bankers and, as he says, ‘loads of IT guys, which is quite interesting’. One suspects that same burnout that Leszek felt has increased the interest in his workshops.
Over two days at the forge his workshop students will be taken through every step of the process. Leszek talks about the enjoyment he gets from teaching people these skills, making the mistakes that not so long ago he was making himself.
For his own ambitions and challenges we can expect to see more tools, with hand-forged chisels and axes on the horizon.