A Hudson Success: David DeSantis, Blacksmith Extraordinaire
Photos courtesy of David DeSantis.
By Jamie Larson
The metal work of David DeSantis is astonishing in quality, variety of style and application. That’s why we were dismayed to see his Hudson, New York gallery close earlier this summer. Thankfully, DeSantis is still happy to work in and around the little city he says changed his life.
“It was extremely sad to close the gallery. I love, love Hudson,” said DeSantis from his home in Sylvan Lake, New York. “It’s crazy how things evolve. When you tell people about Hudson it sounds like such a strange place but I’ve never been to any place where I was happier. I plan on coming back soon, maybe not with a full gallery of my own, but I want to have a presence there.”
The reason DeSantis closed his shop, he said, is it brought him so much work that he didn’t have time to run the storefront. It was through the gallery that he met some of his biggest and most well-known clients, including the likes of men’s designer John Varvatos, architect/interior designer Michael Davis and architect Michael Bird. He also created a breathtaking bench for Olana, which was auctioned off for more than $17,000 to support the historic site. His appeal here and everywhere is obvious — he seems to be able to do absolutely anything with metal whether it’s modern, medieval, art deco, sculptural or anything in between.
“I studied it all but it’s always my customers that push me in new directions,” DeSantis said. “As a craftsman you have to remove yourself and love what your clients love.”
Another aspect that sets DeSantis apart is that when he’s reproducing a historic style in his workshop he’ll only use tools that were available during that period in order to add to the authenticity. Sometimes that means using coal to power his furnace.
David DeSantis, Amy Creedon and Ryan DeSantis with their brilliant bench for Olana.
“A client will ask for a specific style and for me it’s all about testing my own ability. If they want me to replicate a specific work I call it, ‘concurring the artist.’ I reproduce their style but with my flair. For instance, I do a ‘refined (Alberto) Giacometti.’”
DeSantis is currently working on a massive railing for a private home — part of the reason he doesn’t have time for the gallery right now. The huge piece, which wraps around a four-story indoor tree in a private Adirondack home, tells the story of nature in forged steel and bronze, and is codifying his personal artistic vision. Its completion will launch the next chapter of his career, “David DeSantis the artist.”
The first chapter in his life with metal began with a job as a welder for a structural steel company. Then, in 1996, he was hit by a drunk driver and spent a year and seven months in a body brace. It was devastating: his young family had to rely on public assistance and he was unable to do just about anything except read about art and architecture.
“I made up my mind,” DeSantis said. “I told my wife (Jeanne) ‘if I ever work again I want to be a blacksmith.’”
When he recovered he bought some tools and went about teaching himself the craft. In 1998 he opened his first shop and hired Amy Creedon, a metal sculptor, when she was fresh out of college. The combination of his experience and her traditional education and artistry made for an immediately successful partnership.
“She taught me a lot,” DeSantis said. “I love the mind and eye of a woman. I trust her instincts.”
They worked on some major private homes in the South and with furniture designer Gordon Plummer. DeSantis’ business grew quickly through word of mouth.
“I’m really focused on quality,” he said. “I always want to do better and ask myself, ‘how do I get to the next level?”’
Eventually, he came back to New York and worked with the top builders in the Lake Placid area including Campion Platt. He was extremely busy until 2008, when the recession hit.
“By the end of 2009 I ran out of work and had to lay everyone off, including Amy,” he recalled. “I sat in the shop in tears. I felt sorry for myself for a week and then I said, ‘Okay, what can I build?’”
So he built a table and sold it to a former client for $10,000. For the next few years he supported his family by making one piece of furniture at a time. He was able to build the company back up and he rehired Creedon. On a delivery to New York City in 2012, a client introduced him to the art and design scene in Hudson.
“I fell madly in love with Hudson,” he said, noting that at the time he was still really just getting by. “I knew that if I could just open a gallery in Hudson we’d be so much further ahead.”
It was an expensive risk, in 2014, but it paid off the first year. Designers and architects shopping on Warren Street immediately saw how fantastic and versatile DeSantis’ work was. That’s how he met Varvatos, who now relies on DeSantis when he needs metal work in any of his shops or his own private home.
By 2017 there was just so much work coming in that it was time to close the gallery. In only three years in Hudson, DeSantis went from living project to project, to being one of the most sought-after blacksmiths in the nation. Despite his success (including a recent feature on HGTV) DeSantis speaks humbly about his abilities and graciously about his clients.
“What I’m working on now is all my own design and that is really meaningful,” he said. “I’m also training my son now, as well, which is rewarding. I feel like my life is very complete.”