Chelsea Gaddy began metalsmithing seven years ago and started her custom fabrication business Force/Collide in 2013. Her distinct flair for clean lines and crystalline geometries has surged in popularity, particularly her custom-designed tables and chairs, and smaller objects like her evolving editions of Deca planters, as seen in the above photo. She also makes custom pieces like the sizzling turquoise patio railing recently installed at Belltown rock ‘n’ roll bar Neon Boots.
These days Gaddy spends seven days a week in a cavernous, unheated workshop in SoDo cutting large sheets of bronze or steel, making sparks fly. Prior to working with metal, she bartended at Capitol Hill’s colorful and circus-inspired Unicorn.
“I kind of stumbled into it randomly at first,” Gaddy says of metalwork, as she sets up to demonstrate some welding work. “I started taking classes at Pratt on my nights off from bartending—just for fun. The first was a forging class, and at the very end, we did a little bit of welding. It really clicked for me and I wanted to do more. So I took every single class I could on welding, using my extra time and flexible schedule to dig into it.”
Gaddy got her artistic start in photography and holds a degree in that medium from the University of Washington. “To some extent, I was drawn to formalism at that time,” she says. “I always loved mid-century furniture. I always wanted to get out of the two-dimensional world and start extrapolating shapes into real time and space. As I began working with metal, It was amazing to me to be able to realize these ideas that were in my head. It was like magic!”
Gaddy’s work involves both fabrication and welding. “I feel like my predilection is based on a combination of stylistic and technical needs,” she says. “Forging is more like hammering hot metal, or blacksmithing to make knives. I think with fabrication using welding I feel like I can attain more of the clean lines and accuracy that I’m going for, whereas a lot of other forging retains an organic feel. Metal is a tricky, complicated material. It will do what it wants to do.”
In addition to furniture and accessories, Gaddy does architectural work, graphics, railings and other made-to-order objects. “As a full-time, seven-days-a-week thing, you need to be good at both the craft and at running a business—two very different things,” she says. “I’m still dialing in what I need to do to make things work.”
Force/Collide is growing and Gaddy recently took on her first part-time employee, another female metalworker. “As an employer, it’s a big responsibility—and a little bit scary!” she says. “In this position you have the power to chose who you work with. In this industry, of course, you’re somewhat limited by availability and skill sets, but I’ll always do anything I can to get women or POC in the door because traditionally metalworking has not been available to those. It’s an uphill battle for sure. There’s been a gap in teaching opportunities for a lot of people and that’s what drives me to be available for teaching on the job. I prefer to invest in the future of artists and colleagues, particularly female, who are interested in the work I’m doing.”