Spotlight: Dietrich Hoecht, Metalsmith
Educated as an engineer, Dietrich Hoecht was drawn to creative problem solving. That proved to be a firm foundation for his current work as a blacksmith and jewelry artist, creating unique pieces of metal art inspired by nature’s forms.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
Growing up there was barely a sprinkling of exposure to art. My parents had no sensitivity towards it, but we four children took piano lessons. Playing the piano was supposed to be good for expanding your intellectual horizon. It was supposed to be good for you.
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Another “recommended” activity was the student subscription to productions of the city’s theater in Augsburg, Germany. Operas and operettas, some quite well done. But, I took a turn to technical education – mechanical engineering.
Having arrived in the US, I met a charming Dutch lady who was an apprenticed potter and established her business in the US. After we married she worked hard on producing and selling, and we later engaged with fellow artists of the Buford, GA, arts colony. We co-founded the Gwinnett Council for the Arts, and we became friends with sculptor Steffen Thomas of Atlanta, among others. So, art became infused in our activities and social life. Ornamental and architectural blacksmithing had always intrigued me, so that’s what became my focus at the point of retirement from engineering.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I don’t think everyone has that spark in them. even though “non-artistic” creativity might be evident in other ways. Some folks are inherently passive and had never enough realization of what could be missing in their lives. For them art is something painters do, and it would not enrich their life if a portrait or landscape hung on the wall. Take the path of author Rick Bragg. While growing up piss-poor in Appalachia, he had his creative fire burning inside all along.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
When problem solving in engineering, designing a structure or mechanism, you have to loosen your mind and find work-arounds and be creative. As one example, pursuit of my six patents required both discipline and imagination.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your style, what would they say?
Unorthodox, always different. I once had a client mumbling something like ‘genius’.
How long have you been metalsmithing? How did you select it as your avenue for creative expression?
Fortunately, at the time I picked engineering as profession the academic prerequisites were at least two years of industry practical experience. So I picked an apprenticeship as a mechanic. This gave me the hands-on confidence for the blacksmithing and jewelry tasks later in life.
What is the one thing you wish someone had told you about metalsmithing before you started?
No such wish or regret or encouragement. For me it was just one intuitive and fulfilling journey from early metal exposure to today’s artistic creations.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? How does your environment influence your creativity?
Oh, there are three types of external drivers. One is surrounding myself with art and the friendship with other artists. Then there is mother nature. We live in a lovely cove on the side of a mountain. So leaves, flowers, pine knots, birds, landscapes and natural shapes have become the themes in jewelry and with blacksmithing motifs. Thirdly, I read and become inspired. Found a book on Gustav Klimt, which gave me sensory overload, and discovered the fashion genius of Alexander McQueen. That topic had previously eluded my attention. Today I still mourn McQueen’s demise.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce?
I learned early on how to sketch. Sometimes I keep in my head a discovery I want to tackle later on and try.
Do you focus on one piece from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
Even though I am good at time division between daily tasks, I like to take on one project at a time. Except when I run against a puzzling obstacle or a frustration wall, I put things aside and let them ferment.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I use everything all the time, and the more the merrier. Sometimes junk tools and materials become treasures.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I keep recipes for patina and record work sequences, and I collect motifs and I sketch. Quite often I use my 4 x 4 foot welding table and soapstone markers for checking proportions, layouts and assessing aesthetics.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? What kind?
Background music is drowned by hammering and machinery noise. So it is loud rock, raw country music and penetrating voices that are piped into the studio via Pandora.
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
All I make is one-of-a-kind. I don’t want to tackle tiny things like setting gems. Very frustrating. For large pieces I make full-scale layouts. Sometimes I have to pick an assembly method that allows man-handling the heaviness in pieces. I once made an iron sofa bed and wanted to use large vines for the outer railings. I picked some fresh ones – one inch diameter – out of the forest, so they are readily bendable. Well, my assumption was wrong about the ease of bending. I did not want to build a steam heating box, so lots of my wife’s and my muscle power had to be exerted.
If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose?
Clearly art nouveau.
Who are your biggest influences?
My wife is my artistic consultant. Truly, we check with each other, and that helps gelling the final designs and this weeds out odd things.
Which of your creative accomplishments gave you the most satisfaction, and why?
Whenever someone tries on an expressive necklace and poses in front of the mirror with a big smile and nods approvingly and pulls out a credit card – that is satisfaction.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Layout is fun, head scratching over problems is challenging and finally there is deep satisfaction with a finished creation.
Where can people see your work?
My website dietrichhoecht.com also leads to the Etsy store of bigbangforge. I sell via two galleries: Aurum Studios and Soque Artworks. I also show at occasional local shows, like the Painted Fern Festival and the Hambidge Fall Festival. Or come by the house.
Interview posted August, 2019.
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