Today, handmade items such as tableware and utensils are a rare luxury. But there are craftsmen trying to keep alive the art of creating metal objects by hand, also known as smithing. Ben Caldwell of Nashville, Tennessee, is an example of such an artist.
Using mostly copper and sterling silver, Ben produces beautiful, handmade flatware, ladles, coffee scoops, bowls, and wall hangings that have developed a devoted following. “There are times where you need a special gift,” says Ben, “and that’s when people come to me. I provide the special thing at that birthday, anniversary, or wedding. To be incorporated into people’s lives as the person who created this special present is just really cool.”
Ben got his start in metalsmithing in 1998 when his father, a noted collector of silver and author of a book on Tennessee silver, was contacted by silversmith Terry Talley. Terry had been diagnosed with terminal lymphoma and wanted to train someone in the art of silversmithing before he died. Knowing Ben was an artist, Terry thought he might be interested. Ben immediately quit his job at Gibson building guitars and went to apprentice with Terry full-time.
In 1999, Ben & Lael Inc. was established, and Ben started selling his ladles to the public. “I expanded my pieces out from there,” says Ben, “studying older designs such as traditional English and old American silver as well as Tiffany silver. I wanted to get inspiration from a time where things actually were handmade and appreciated for being so.” Ben finds inspiration in nature, easily interpreting leaves or flowers into a bowl or serving spoon. He also likes to incorporate antlers into his work, an addition that pays homage to his teacher. “[Terry] used to make handles out of many different things,” says Ben, “but I specifically remember finding his use of antlers to be the most interesting. So, I took his idea and I came up with my own interpretation of that.” Ben shares that antlers always make nice handles, but they are also great as a base for centerpiece-sized bowls.