Accomplished blacksmith’s art to adorn Vail’s Arrabelle |

Accomplished blacksmith’s art to adorn Vail’s Arrabelle

Gregor Conroy
Vail CO, Colorado
Resident "mastersmith" Franz Froelicher of Carbondale gazes at one of the iron chandeliers that is to hang in the Lions Head Village in Vail. (Trina Ortega/Valley Journal photo)

Carbondale, COLORADO ” Who could have guessed that an inquisitive, young blacksmith working on a ranch 20 years ago for $6 an hour could have turned a molehill into a mountain?

That is, a mountain of metal.

A quick step into blacksmith Franz Froelicher’s Blue Heron Forgein Carbondale and stereotypical images of medieval blacksmiths pounding swords in dark dungeons becomes easily squelched.

Having studied under world-renowned mastersmith and Carbondale luminary Francis Whitaker at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Froelicher was able to take what he learned and run, going on to create his unique, hand-forged chandeliers along with myriad other items.

“Blacksmiths are supported well here,” Froelicher said, while mentioning that his works often vary from traditional, to organic and to nuevo. “We have a lot of really good local artists and a lot of our work goes up and down the valley.”

Froelicher was recently commissioned to do a large project for the Arrabelle at Vail in Lionshead. The project is part of a $1 million obligation from Vail Resorts for a public arts project. Sometime this week, Vail visitors and residents can expect Arrabelle’s covered archway to be graced with two massive chandeliers crafted by Froelicher and his fellow artists.

“We were just lucky to have been considered for the project,” Froelicher said, while mentioning that each of the $90,000 chandeliers are just about finished. “We’re ready to hang them, but we’re not sure if they’re ready for us.”

Froelicher’s chandeliers are only a facet of his greater blacksmithing prowess. Many homes and commercial buildings in the Aspen area have been adorned with Froelicher’s exquisite handcrafted railings. The Isis Theater in Aspen features a staircase adorned with Froelicher’s unique railing design.

Froelicher even crafted 16 dungeon-esque lighting sconces for designer Ralph Lauren’s home.

While having been metalsmithing for roughly 20 years and having been working on his own for the past 17, Froelicher says that he has certainly seen the craft come a long way.

Though he doesn’t have the time to dedicate to teaching, Froelicher has supporting the ancient art by donating grants through the Francis Whitaker Foundation so that young apprentices, as Froelicher once was himself, can have a more formidable opportunity to pursue their smithing practice. Between $6,000 and $10,000 has already been donated, but Froelicher said he looks forward to growing that in the future.

“It’s amazing to see what has happened in the last 20 years with smithing,” Froelicher said. “People are usually amazed by our gallery based on their knowledge of smithing.”

Froelicher’s gallery at Blue Heron Forge contains his classic chandelier designs and railings, as well as various intricately designed art pieces that have been hand-forged or crafted through a “repousse” technique, which involves manipulating a flat metal sheet at a cold stage to obtain precise detail. Froelicher said that he often draws inspiration from the natural world. That’s evident in many of his chandeliers, which display delicately detailed leaves and various outdoor elements.

Working with micah that comes all the way from the East Coast, and with metal from all over the state, Froelicher’s collection of various resources allows him to experiment with different alloys and explore where he can go with his latest creations. Froelicher points out that a neat facet of smithing is the fact that metal is highly reusable and can be reheated and reformed into something else entirely.

“In some sense, it’s not just art, it’s got this huge utilitarian element with it as well,” Froelicher said. “If you don’t like something, you can reheat it and change it.”

While his latest projects may be currently cooling, Froelicher shows no signs of doing the same. Just like his metal, Froelicher appears to be heating up and is continuing to produce his world-class designs while taking on new grandiose projects. And soon, Vail’s Village will get to share in some of Froelicher’s originality that the Roaring Fork Valley has been enjoying for so many years.

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