Forging His Way to the Top

Metal artist John Rais

If Charles Rennie Mackintosh were working today, he would no doubt champion the fluid, abstract-organic motifs of metal artist John Rais. Calling Rais a blacksmith or metalworker is like dubbing a Ferrari the family car. Working in his coach-house studio in northern New Jersey, Rais transforms 22-foot-long iron bars into sensual forms. Once heated and hammered, the iron loses its heaviness and solidity, becoming graceful and delicate.

At 27, Rais has already achieved substantial recognition.

"His work is fabulous and his execution flawless," says architect Michael Willoughby. "Rais' proportions and design sense are appropriate for each space. It's almost as if he is playing with metals, bringing a lightness one doesn't usually associate with steel, titanium, white bronze, and pewter."

Rais says fire screens are a functional and artistic form that galvanizes his imagination. "The great challenge with fire screens is to incorporate two distinct styles: hard-edged flatness with soft, round curves," he says. For a couple with a lake house, Rais created three fire screens, each festooned with a different metal insect, which acts as the latch to open the screen: a praying mantis (land), a water strider (water), and a dragonfly (air). Tools like hoes and spades are another inspirational source for his vessels, plant stands, and mailboxes.

Be prepared for a long wait, since Rais usually has several projects going at the same time. $6,000-$10,000 for a fire screen, $20,000 for a chandelier. 28 Kuhn Road, Layton, NJ 07851; 973-948-2559;