Nature inspires blacksmith and artist Jonny’s Guard Dog Gates

These Guard Dog gates are spectacular
These Guard Dog gates are spectacular

With nature as his inspiration, Jonny Kerr has earned a legion of fans with his exceptional pieces of art.

Having excelled in wood carving and subsequently stone carving, this talented artist has now produced exciting pieces forged from iron.

Jonny Kerr working in the forge

Jonny Kerr working in the forge

In recent years the Lurgan man’s ‘Sundial’ carved from stone and strategically placed at Oxford Island has attracted thousands of visitors.

However over the past ten years Jonny has been blacksmithing and has created some amazing pieces of art - including a stunning pair of Guard Dog Gates.

Jonny said: “My Guard Dog Gates, installed in October 2018, are the culmination of over two years of work.

“I designed them in early 2016 to fit the entry-way between our neighbours’ house and our own, in Glenholme Park, Taghnevan.

Another magnificent sculpture by Jonny Kerr

Another magnificent sculpture by Jonny Kerr

“There had been some episodes of anti-social behaviour in the entry, and my neighbour and I wished to prevent this. Thinking about the design, I wanted something that symbolised security and protection, and also represented something my neighbours and I had in common.

“So I thought of my dear old Alsatian, Clint, who used to guard our house when I was a kid.

“Our neighbours were very fond of him, and used to help feed him, so I thought guard dogs would be the perfect theme.

“I drew the gates in a Celtic style, with the elongated, elegant dogs’ bodies and sinuous lines of the tails also reflecting some of the style of Art Nouveau.

This sculpture is called Master McGrath falls into the frozen River Alt

This sculpture is called Master McGrath falls into the frozen River Alt

Jonny works as Arts Assistant for Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council, based at Moneypenny’s Blacksmith Workshop, in the beautiful, historic location of Moneypenny’s Lock, on the Newry Canal outside Portadown.

He reminisced: “When work had finished for the day, I would start work on my gates after hours.

“Most of the gates are hand forged in the traditional manner, heating the steel in the forge then shaping it on the anvil, as it has been done for thousands of years.

“The decorative finials (end pieces on the vertical bars), drop bolts, and most of the dogs’ swirling, interlaced bodies are forged this way. For the heads and lower legs, I used more modern techniques such as plasma cutting and grinding to shape the steel.

“Then I joined everything together with the MiG welder. To accentuate the eyes, and the dog collars, I added some brass. One of the last details I added was the traditional latch, which is decorated with two matching hand-forged Celtic trisceles representing the dogs’ hearts.”

Jonny first started blacksmithing at Tannaghmore Gardens Animal Farm and then at Moneypenny’s since 2014.

“As a member of Moneypenny’s Blacksmith Workshop, I have had the great privilege of learning from two of the best artist-blacksmiths in the country, Steve Murphy and Aaron Leach.

“You can see some of the workshop’s work at Tannaghmore Animal Farm, where we made the entrance gates. We also made the sculptures within the Master McGrath Maze at Tannaghmore.

“My piece in the maze – ‘Master McGrath Falling into the Frozen River’ is in a similar style to the ‘Guard Dog Gates’.”

Jonny has always had an interest in sculpture since his Art College days in the late 1990s.

“I started off carving wood, then, inspired by seeing the Brancusi Museum in Paris, started to carve in stone. In 2012 - 2014 I carved the ‘Human Sundial’ at Oxford Island.

“My lifelong love of Nature has always inspired my work. Long walks in the country supply both materials and subject matter for my work, which features owls, herons, bulls, cats, dogs etc.

“The joy I find in Nature, and in immersing myself in materials from granite and marble to oak and ash, all the way to steel, copper and brass, I try to communicate to the viewer, and to students,” he said.

“In recent years, as well as blacksmithing, I have also been teaching Stone Carving in local centres, particularly letter carving.

“If you are interested in trying blacksmithing, you can contact Moneypenny’s Blacksmith Workshop on Facebook, or call 02838 311680.

“If you would like to try letter carving in stone, look out for upcoming classes at community centres near you.”

If you want to see the gates being made, you can see the whole process on YouTube just search for ‘Stomp Box Jonny/guard dog gates’.