Local artist forges a passion for metal work
WHEELING – Jeff Forster has seen the face of Jesus many times. His latest sighting was in a chunk of meteorite.
Forster of Wheeling is a crafter of metal who recently took simple metals and a piece of a meteorite and fashioned the face of Jesus to adorn a unique, hand-forged metal cross.
Not bad for a man who battled childhood learning issues and was kicked out of a Catholic grade school because he jumbled his spelling words and had a difficult time verbally expressing his thoughts.
After receiving the help he needed in a public school setting in Niagra Falls, Forster grew to embrace his artistic talents and learned that it’s OK to express himself in “form but not in words.” He said he can relate to others with similar issues.
“It’s like when you’re asked to read something, and because you don’t make the connection, you can’t speak what’s on your mind, or when you do, there’s a panic because you don’t have the tools to make it happen,” Forster said.
“I celebrate being different rather than feeling less than a human. I am so happy that I see and do things differently.”
Today, Forster operates AMF Artistic Metals, decorative ironworks and metal restoration business in Wheeling. Many of his breathtaking metal creations can be found throughout the Ohio Valley, in fencework, railings, gates and religious works of art, including his latest crucifix that he finished just hours before he took it to the Celtic Celebration held recently in Wheeling.
“I was walking up the steps to the festival when a man stopped me and said he wanted to buy the cross for his mother. People see my work and they make a connection. When someone asks me to create something for them, I listen to them and connect my work to their lives.”
He related how a local couple asked him to make some railings for their home. He heard the wife talking about their first child who was born on Valentine’s Day and other significant happenings on that date. From that he got the idea to do hearts, flames and roses to the delight of his customers.
Another family had a lovely metal gate embellished with a bird at the front of their property. Twice the gate was hit by drivers on Bethany Pike. Forster took the gate and refashioned it into a sculpture that now sits in the family’s backyard. However the new piece includes an angel’s wing.
“They told me they had two boys and one of them saved his brother from choking by using the Heimlich, and so I gave the bird an angel wing. It’s a connection,” Forster said.
He made 13-foot tall gates for yet another homeowner. They are the heaviest wrought iron gates made in the state, he said. “Everything was forged … went into the fire,” Forster said. He does not use mixes or castings, but trusts his God-given abilities to create.
“I can look at something and, without measuring, I can do several complicated spirals, line them up and they are within a fraction in size of each other,” he said.
In 1991, Forster took part in an artists’ tour across Europe that was specifically for blacksmiths. He said he was in awe of the work he witnessed including visiting the metalsmiths that restored the Statue of Liberty.
With fresh inspiration, Forster returned to his workshop in Wheeling. Some of his other works can be found inside the entryway to the Angelus Center at St. Michael’s Parish in Wheeling. A striking metal crucifix with metal leaves and vines greets visitors. There has been some discussion as to whether the piece is a cross or a crucifix. A crucifix, by definition, must include a representation of Jesus’ body, referred to in English as the corpus. A cross is unadorned.
Parish Coordinator Wendy Hinerman said the way the cross is designed there is something that represents the face of Jesus, which brings to mind a crucifix, not just a cross.
Other churches, includes Our Lady of Lebanon and St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church, both in Center Wheeling. He also has taught blacksmithing classes at Belmont Technical College and enjoys seeing the art continue.
Forster can be reached by calling 304-975-0027.