For Russian expat and local artisan Katerina Ouchakova, the journey leading her towards an unusual career in the art of blacksmithing was anything but an accident.
"It was pretty much just logical," says the vivacious redhead and co-owner of Curves of Time, an iron works business based out of the Ottawa Valley township of Winchester Springs. "My parents were artists and designers, and I grew up in that atmosphere. I went to the same school (in Russia) where they went, and I just never even considered anything else."
A move to Canada in 1997 only cemented her love for wrought iron - a substance that encompasses functionality, versatility and beauty all in one. "It's strong, solid and heavy; that's what attracts me to it," Katerina says, adding she oversees all of the company's designs along with master blacksmith Cory Walters. The pair established Curves of Time in 2002, but the Ottawa area's only producer of handcrafted iron creations - from wine cellar doors to ornamental railings to garden decor - are undergoing an evolution. "(Iron) goes from something lifeless to something with a shape, with life - it's absolutely amazing," Katerina says. "Cory gets a square and puts it into the forge, and he hammers it different ways and it becomes a flower, or a snail, or a dragon. It's fascinating. I don't know any other substance that can be manipulated this way. It can pretty much be directed to be whatever you want."
The pair's newest blacksmithing incarnation, Evolution Iron, is launching in the coming weeks, explains Katerina, adding the name Curves of Time denotes the business's initial journey, while Evolution Iron indicates its progression from that point. The new company will concentrate more so on the artistic and creative, she continues, and will also branch out into all things interior design, calling on her background from Russia.
The duo also want to promote a focus on the organic in their designs, she explains, highlighting a recent project creating wrought-iron gates for an upcoming summer show - one is adorned with hand-forged sunflowers; another with marine life like crabs and fish.
The price tag on one of their hand-crafted pieces can range from a couple hundred dollars to thousands, says Katerina, adding that construction time ranges anywhere from four to six weeks, depending heavily on size and complexity.
The largest project Katerina says the business has undertaken was a 12-by-8-feet free-standing, wrought-iron tree detailed down to life-like birds and their nests, commissioned for a private residence. As for the most memorable, she recounts a story about a candleholder fashioned out of Nelson studs, which are heavy, large bolts. "It was not big, but so beautiful," Katerina explains, adding it was the transformation from beginning to end that was so striking. "It wasn't huge or very complex, but it really touched me."
Beyond ensuring that business continues to boom, preserving and promoting the ancient art of blacksmithing is vital, especially in a time when knowledge of the art - and all its unique qualities - is waning, she says. "It's becoming extinct - you really don't see it anymore," Katerina adds with a sigh. "People don't know what wrought iron is. It's sad to hear that sometimes they call a Canadian Tire fence wrought iron."
Eager to ensure Curves of Time plays a direct role in that preservation movement, she hopes to potentially organize local blacksmithing sessions sometime in the future. "It's a dying art, and it's sad to see it gone," Katerina explains. "Everything is touched by the blacksmith (during the process). It's not just fabricated, it's touched with love. It's absolutely unique - every curve, every inch of it. There's nothing that repeats itself ... and it's for a lifetime - it's going to last forever."