Jim Garrett was born into a world of metals. Raised in western Pennsylvania, Jim’s father worked in a Pittsburgh area steel mill manufacturing seamless steel pipe. Jim’s first memory of metalworking is at age five, straightening three-pound cans of bent nails for his father, who was building the family home. Surrounding the Garrett home were several hundred acres of oak forests that in time attracted residential development. Jim and his father would wander, studying the construction methods and design solutions in the developing structures.
Jim’s curiosity for design and construction eventually led him to Syracuse University where he entered the Fine Art Program. Initially Jim considered graphic design, but the program of Personal Research encouraged a more interdisciplinary approach to the arts, and Jim ultimately found his passion for working with materials as well as designing. He was strongly influenced by two professors, Jerry Malinowski, an industrial designer with experience at Ford and Panasonic and Lee DuSell who had designed much of the hardware in the World Trade Center and numerous other Yamasaki buildings.
By the time he graduated from Syracuse in 1975 with a degree in Art, Jim knew he wanted to pursue a career in metals. His timing was fortunate, given a resurgence of blacksmithing that was developing in southern Illinois and spreading throughout the country. Out of school, Jim followed in his father’s footsteps and took a job in Pennsylvania’s steel industry, building heat-treating furnaces and foundations for massive forging equipment, a job that provided him valuable experience and a real involvement in working metal on an epic scale. In 1977, Jim moved to Vermont and established himself as a blacksmith, but soon found that contemporary blacksmithing there was stagnant and there was little work beyond crafting Colonial reproductions. Around this time a friend of Jim’s had moved to Seattle, and was reporting a great environment for his other passion, climbing. Jim kept in touch, and by 1978 decided that Seattle held more promise than Vermont. Once in the Northwest, Jim found a blacksmith community in its infancy but with energy to grow. Jim became a founding member and President of the Northwest Blacksmith Association, which later became affiliated with the Artist-Blacksmiths Association of North America. The NWBA now has over 500 members.
In Seattle Jim went to work for Enclume (meaning “anvil” in French) a decorative arts forging company, but stayed only one year before opening up his own studio, Marteau (meaning “hammer” in French). Later Jim settled on Garrett Metals for his business name, which it remains today. The architectural demand for blacksmithing in the late 1970’s did not go much further than “railings with spear points and circles” Jim observes, but by 1979 the creative possibilities opened up and things began to come his way. Jim’s first major commissions were the gates on Post Alley at Market Place North, and adjoining gates at Market Court and Market Tower, as well as many commissions from Bumgardner Architects in Seattle. In the mid 1980’s the Seattle high tech industry exploded and Jim found his work in demand. He was doing mostly commercial work, but he was also beginning to take on high-end residential work as well, most notably estates in the San Juan Islands. By the late 1980’s, Jim’s work had appeared in many magazines including Fine Homebuilding, Architectural Record, Progressive Architecture and Pacific Magazine. In the early 1990’s Jim was hired by Sellen Construction to provide metal finishes for the Bill Gates home, which developed into a commission to forge much of the metal hardware on the house both inside and out. He also did work on the Paul Allen residence as well. In 1995 Myer Coval saw Jim’s work in Fine Homebuilding Magazine and approached him to fabricate two sets of fireplace doors for his Living Room and Library. Jim found the creative freedom refreshing, being given complete control of designing and building the doors. As a consummate craftsman, Jim appreciated Myer’s dedication to quality and his practice of giving the craftsman room to challenge himself. This was quite a contrast to the construction industry in general, too often consumed with tracking paperwork, deflecting responsibility and settling for appearances rather than integrity of craft.
After the Gates, Allen and Coval projects were complete in 1998, Jim sought to purchase an industrial building that would allow him to work at whatever scale he desired. After searching throughout western Washington, Jim found a perfect site in Port Townsend. Two years after relocating there, Jim’s wife Sharon, a nationally recognized jeweler, passed away. Jim continued on, developing his studio and establishing himself in his new community. He soon found himself in politics, an innocent journey that began with his desire to plant lupines at the end of his road. Before Jim could assess the commitment he was making he found himself Vice President of the Jefferson County Economic Development Council, and began to give significant time and effort trying to promote job creation in the local community. His efforts culminated in the creation of a course at Peninsula College that attempted to introduce local residents to employment opportunities, but the experience left him disillusioned with politics.
In 2006, fellow blacksmith and friend of thirty years, Russell Jaqua, passed away leaving a thriving anvil manufacturing business near Jim’s Studio in Port Townsend. Nimba Anvils produced the finest blacksmith’s anvil in the United States, with sales world-wide. Jim helped Russell’s wife manage the business after Russell passed away, but after one year she sold the business to Jim and his brother Lester, who continue the high standard of quality begun by Russell in 1993. Sales of Nimba anvils have steadily increased under Jim’s great attention to every detail of the manufacturing process. Despite Jim’s personal losses and transitions, he remains focused on what brings him joy, the pursuit of excellence in his craft and his relationships to the blacksmith community. Jim anticipates soon having time to pursue his sculpture, and there is no doubt his future work will embody the same degree of passion, commitment and consummate craftsmanship for which he is so well known.