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Meet the Makers: David Snoo Wilson

We talk to Bristol based bell caster, QEST Scholar and John Smedley
Ambassador, David Snoo Wilson about the beautiful alchemy of melting metal

words by Will HALBERT

How would you describe your craft?
Bell casting specifically. Art casting more generally.

What is your favourite part about what you do? 
Aside from making the highest quality objects, I get a huge amount of satisfaction out of teaching, especially when you facilitate people making things well. To play the role of the alchemist and to help their ideas come to life, it’s one of the best things you could ever possible to in my eyes.

How did you begin your career? 
I fell into it by accident, really. As is often the case with most people’s vocations, I suspect. They tend to find you.

How long have you been doing it?
I’ve been casting metal generally for about 12 years now. I’ve been casting bells since 2011, and then really specialising in it for the last five years or so.

What other craftsmen stand out to you most and why? 
Ford Hallam, immediately springs to mind. He’s a very skilled metal worker. He is also the only non-native artist to have been adopted into Japan’s ancient decorative metalworking tradition, which says it all really.

Did anything in particular inspire you to start your craft?
It all came about by accident really. I discovered my love for it all while teaching. I was inspired by the look in the student’s eyes as they witnessed the sight of molten bronze for the first time. It leaves quite an impression.

What is the hardest part about what you do?
It’s hard to choose between the  long hours, the low pay, and the self doubt. But they come with the territory, and the rewards of the craft far outweigh the challenges.

Where did you learn the skills required for your role? 

I’m self taught for the most part. Though sculptor, film-maker, and composer Marcus Vergette had a huge influence on my work. I’d recommend that anyone interested in the art of bell casting should check his work out.

How would you describe a typical day in your role? 
That’s the beauty of being a craftsman: I do so many different and diverse things in a single day, and very few of them are typical.

What are the biggest challenges you face in what you do?
Securing work flow is always a challenge. Working for yourself is very different to the regular nine-to-five. There’s no promise of a pay-check at the end of the month. That said, the pouring of the metal into a mould is probably the most exciting and trepidatious part of what I do. You’ve dedicated a lot of time, effort and emotion into a piece, and in many ways you’re still waiting for it to be born.

How have you stayed passionate and inspired by your craft?
It helps to push yourself out of your comfort zone, by constantly striving for better and by trying to push technologies not typically associated with my craft. Bell bronze has been assumed best for bell casting over the last three centuries, for example. But there are so many more alloys to try. And variables in the casting process, too, from fuel type to cooling rate. Gathering this knowledge and experimenting is an exciting prospect indeed.

‘To play the role of the alchemist and to help their ideas come to life, it’s one of the best things you could possibly do in my eyes.’

Do you have any plans to expand on what it is that you do?
Many, but that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Like I said, it’s all about pushing yourself beyond your comfort zones.

What are the main projects you are working on now?
I’m currently working on a miniature harmonic canon, which is pretty exciting.

How would your customers describe your craft?
‘Niche’, I’d imagine.

What are the accomplishments within your work in craftsmanship that you are most proud of?
Give me ten years and I’ll have a better answer for that.

How would you describe your work in three words?
Niche castings galore.

How does working with QEST support you and your craft?
QEST have been a huge help. They are particularly good at promoting what you do, which is important. Sometimes you can get so wrapped up in the cask at hand that actually getting the word out slips by the wayside a little.

How would you describe John Smedley? 
Long term excellence in the wool trade.

Do you have a favourite John Smedley piece, if so what? 
The Crowford crew neck jumper is a winner for me. A chunky knit with a sumptuous feel and a solid fit. Can’t go wrong, really.