//PICTURED ABOVE: Faced with all-male opponents and under the scrutiny of both the judges and the camera, Kelly Potter ’07 attempts to recreate a historical weapon as she stars as a two-time contestant on the History Channel’s blacksmith show “Forged in Fire.”
With furrowed brows, blacksmith Kelly Potter ‘07 focuses on the task before her. Beside her, sparks fly and fires blaze, while judges watch her every move from afar. The timer stops, and Potter presents a traditional Nepalese knife of her own making.
Welcome to season two of “Forged in Fire,” a blacksmith reality television series where the first woman contestant in the history of the show is a Hockaday alumna.
Almost 10 years before the show aired on the History channel, Potter graduated from Hockaday with no intention of becoming a blacksmith. But according to Ceramics Teacher Kevin Brady, who was Potter’s mentor at Hockaday, she always had a talent in the arts.
“She just had a very refreshing approach on how to approach the material and the clay,” Brady said.
Brady recalled that Potter made a series of ceramics plates that modeled a flower’s wilting process, and that her style of art began to influence the other girls in her ceramics class. Potter’s love of design also influenced her decision to intern at a tattoo parlor during her senior year.
When Potter began to think about the next steps of her life, she chose to attend architecture school.
“I thought that architecture would be a way to be creative but still make a living,” Potter said, “but I really wasn’t into architecture at all.”
Deciding that architecture wasn’t the best path for herself, Potter began to explore jewelry-making as a possible career. Something soon sparked her interest, but instead of gems, it was steel. During one of Potter’s jewelry classes in Dallas, a blacksmith walked into the studio and offered a blacksmithing class.
Potter initially scoffed at the offer, considering blacksmithing as a pointless skill. Nonetheless, she decided to give it a try, as the hammering skills involved in blacksmithing might help her with jewelry-making. At first, Potter found blacksmithing difficult and useless.
“He would make nails and things and I thought to myself, ‘I can go to Home Depot and get this, and it doesn’t take forever,’” Potter said.
Eventually, Potter’s instructor referred her to a blacksmith in Grapevine, Texas who worked as an architectural blacksmith. Watching the creation of custom lamps, gates, stairs and more, Potter finally understood how her newfound skills could contribute to her career.
After a year of working in the new shop, Potter’s skills grew significantly. She also met other blacksmiths and learned how to weld. Then, Potter began her career as an architectural blacksmith. She now works in Smith Design and Manufacturing, a shop in Gunter, Texas.
As an architectural blacksmith, Potter works mostly for clients who request custom-made architectural metalwork. Although architecture school did not influence her career choice, Potter was pleased with how her path of self-discovery came full circle with her job.
“It’s kind of interesting how it all came together because now I work with architects all the time,” Potter said.
The projects that Potter works on run the gamut from custom lanterns to toilet flushers. She is constantly presented with new challenges that require creativity and skill.
“People would ask for really weird things that you wouldn’t think that you would make,” Potter said. “I’ve made custom dryer vents, and I’ve had to find out how to make a child gate.”
As she became more accomplished in her career, Potter began to reach out to others in the blacksmithing community. In 2015, she filled out a form to be featured on blacksmith Victoria Patti’s BlacksmitHER Radio, a podcast that highlights the stories of individual blacksmiths and aims to serve as a resource for the community. Patti works for the 23rd Avenue Sculpture Studio in Denver, Colorado. She started her path as an industrial mechanic but fell in love with blacksmithing. She is also a commission artist, and her metalworks have been featured in several public parks.
Although BlacksmitHER Radio interviews both male and female blacksmiths today, the project started as a platform and resource for female blacksmiths. According to Patti, blacksmithing is stereotypically and historically a man’s job. With her experience as an industrial mechanic, Patti has been working in a male-dominated field for more than 25 years.
“Some guys are a little harder to work with than others. Others are more open-minded, more willing to teach, and listen and learn from you,” Patti said. “As a woman working in a male-dominated world, both sides have to learn where the line is drawn.”
Potter agrees that there are specific challenges that she faces as a female blacksmith. In her perspective, the judgment she receives due to her gender is motivation for her to perform even better.
“Knowing that I am a female in a job where there aren’t many females around, I try to leave no room for anyone to criticize me or what I do,” Potter said. “It can be stressful at times, but when you also enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not that big of a deal.”
Upon hearing about Potter’s career, Brady was proud of her former student for breaking the glass ceiling as a blacksmith. He remarked that blacksmiths are stereotypically “old cowboy-types making horseshoes,” and Potter’s achievements in her field distinguishes her as a “very unique individual.”
As Potter’s career advanced, she applied to be on the cast of “Forged in Fire,” a bladesmithing show in which contestants attempt to recreate famous historical weapons. While Potter’s job doesn’t involve making knives, she was equipped with the skills that are required in order to make weapons.
Only in its second season when Potter applied, “Forged in Fire” had never featured a female blacksmith on the show before. Potter was excited about the challenge.
“Even though I really don’t care about blades or swords or anything like that, I said, ‘Well, I’ll apply because there hasn’t been a girl on this show,’” Potter said.
When Potter received the news that she was to be on the show, she was initially nervous due to her lack of experience in bladesmithing. On the show, Potter performed well but was ultimately eliminated. However, she received great support for her outstanding skill and honest attitude, and she returned to the show again in season three’s “Fan Favorites” episode.
The news of Potter’s achievements on “Forged in Fire” has spread to Patti, whose online profile of Potter on BlacksmitHER Radio began to receive comments from fans of the show.
“It was great to have her as a representation on the show. There are women who do this, and it’s good that the show allowed that,” Patti said.
Potter has come a long way since she graduated from Hockaday. Looking back, she often almost forgets that she comes from an environment that didn’t involve making many “hands-on” creations.
“At Hockaday, we seek such intangible goals or seek to excel in academics or sports, but it’s cool to feel like you can also make things or create things,” Potter said. “I think there’s something to be said about being able to make something with your hands, and just feel like you can accomplish something.”
Story by Michelle Chen
Photo provided by Kelly Potter