Forging beautiful art
by Easton Bowring
Growing up in Tucson, AZ, Scott Mitchell found his passion for art. Starting at a young age, he turned this love into a successful career based in San Juan County.
With growing creativity, Mitchell is now one of only a few artists in the United States with the ability and creativity to create one of the most historically ancient forms of art.
After learning how to weld at a trade school, Mitchell was hired to build window guards and doors. This was his first real experience with metal work, but he soon found a special connection with the way it worked.
With hopes to have more creative freedom, Mitchell began building junkyard art and doing occasional blacksmith work on the side. With each hour spent in the shop, his work improved and his craftsmanship caught the attention of friends and neighbors.
Mitchell began taking classes from a community college. While learning the ins and outs of creating successful art, he spent as many hours as possible working in the shop as an artist blacksmith.
As his portfolio grew, Mitchell began entering his work into local galleries. After realizing there was a demand for his pieces, he expanded to art galleries across the western states.
While focusing on local sales, Mitchell temporarily partnered with a nationwide company to distribute his work across the entire United States.
Before he knew it, Mitchell’s hobby had turned into a career.
While living in Tucson, Mitchell was an avid cyclist. While training for a race, an unexpected bicycle accident sent him to the hospital and out of work. During recovery, he decided to take a long bike ride from Salt Lake City, UT back to Tucson, AZ.
After riding through Monticello and San Juan County, he instantly fell in love with the local culture and natural beauty.
“Upon returning to Tucson, I told my parents and friends that I would move here someday,” said Mitchell. “Over the years, I traveled to San Juan County many times to hike and take in the solitude.”
After meeting his wife, Carol Van Steeter, at an Arizona café, the two decided that southern Utah would be the ideal settling place after their marriage.
With the help of a few Monticello locals, the newly-wed couple quickly found some land on the the outskirts of town, and in 1995, settled in.
Mitchell has been following his dreams and pursuing art ever since.
It was not long before Mitchell was set up in his new shop outside Monticello, continuing to build a name for himself.
Mitchell’s most popular work is his creation of metal snakes. Each one displays their own characteristics and designs.
They are crafted out of steel, copper, and titanium. Some are painted, while others are beautifully sculpted with a design of their own.
When asked how many snakes he has created, Mitchell responded with a little laugh, “It’s a hard guess, many thousands.”
Mitchell’s latest work has been with the historically ancient form of art, damascene inlay.
Damascene inlay is a very intense process where softer metals are tapped into a harder base metal. This form of art originated in prehistoric Greece and was later used in early civilizations in both Japanese and Spanish culture. However, the most common form of this technique is found in Spain.
Mitchell first started experimenting with inlay many years ago. Two of those pieces were publicly recognized in The Contemporary Blacksmith book by Donna Meilach in 2000. This book featured 200 artists from 16 countries, and included Mitchell’s famous work.
Damascene inlay originally began as accent pieces for Mitchell, but he recently decided to make jewelry work his main focus.
Michell is now one of only a few artists in the United States with the ability to create damascene inlay artwork, and has recently created stunning jewelry.
Mitchell prefers tapping gold, copper, or silver into a steel base. This often leaves very rich colors on a beautiful background.
In order to make a successful inlay, the steel base level is set up by using a sharp chisel to tap ridges into the metal. This process is done in all four directions, until roughly 1,600 ridges are placed into a square inch piece of steel.
“A lot can go wrong. It’s tricky.” Mitchell said. “I used to do a lot more of it a long time ago but have recently decided to start doing it again.”
Often, the metal can be too thick, dirty or will not harden correctly. With this artwork, there are many different things that can ruin the production.
Through trial and error, Mitchell is getting that much closer to mastering his technique.
Gold is very expensive, and it takes delicate handwork in order to minimize the amount the gold flaking off. Mitchell says copper is the hardest to work with, but also leaves a most desirable look.
“I often have the feeling that I’m just getting started,” Mitchell said. “The key to a fulfilling life is to keep learning, keep growing, and enjoy what you do.”
Mitchell’s damascene inlay artwork comes in stunning earrings and bolos that range in prices from $40 and up.
Mitchell’s most recent artwork, damascene inlay, is available for purchased at the Peace Tree Juice Café and Jackalope Trading Company in Monticello and at the Cow Canyon Trading Post in Bluff. Other forms of his artwork can be bought at the Bluff Fort.
The creation of this beautiful metal art all takes place at the end of a nondescript dirt road near Monticello.