There is something about Ray Bowen that brings to mind the blacksmiths of old. He often goes only by the name “Ray the Blacksmith,” the way you imagine a metalsmith in an ancient Glaswegian village would do. His workshop is organized, yet rustic with its exposed brick walls, wood beams, metal roof and the big black stove in the corner, belching out blistering, orange flames. An unyielding anvil resides in the middle of the floor and, if you’ve only seen an anvil in Roadrunner cartoons falling on the Coyote’s head, you’ll discover it is much more immense than you’d thought it would be. Not at all something you’d want falling on your head. Ray Bowen stands above it and he actually looks like he could crush the thing. His mighty arm slams a hammer down on a plank of glowing iron. Sparks fly up, then rain down like a New Year’s Day parade. They bounce off his heavy canvas kilt like bullets off of Superman’s chest. It all looks like random destruction, but, in the end, the smoky metal, fire, sweat and energy will be transformed into an elegant piece of art that will outlast, by centuries, both you and me. But maybe not Ray.
“I didn’t choose to be a blacksmith,” Ray says. “It chose me. I’m a fifth-generation blacksmith with roots in Islay. Didn’t even know that until I went to France to study the art. My uncle Rodger told me.”
In 1990, Ray moved to Atlanta, Georgia to enroll at Emory University Law School. After doing private investigation work for a few years, he started playing in a band and gigging regularly around town. One of the band members turned out to be a welder who had studied in France, and that eventually piqued Ray’s interest in blacksmithing. “I could just do it,” Ray says. Soon his love of metal was less about music and more about, well, actual metal. The best part about it according to Ray? “I solve problems and then I get to hit hot metal with a hammer. Heat it. Beat it. Paint it. Put it up.”
Around the year 2000, Ray began wearing kilts regularly and has done so every day since. “I grew up in Scotland County, North Carolina. We were ‘The Fighting Scots.’ I always wanted a kilt. No idea why, just to be different I guess. Now I rarely don’t wear a kilt. I think I own maybe two pairs of pants and I only wear those when I have to work under my truck. I wear a kilt everyday. Period. I have about 25 of them.”
When questioned about his favorite kilt, Ray will immediately say, “My ‘Howie.’ Howie Nicholsby is a kilt-maker in Scotland, 21st Century Kilts. I traded him a store sign for my Ancient Hunting Donald Tartan. Also, I wear a lot of Utilikilts. The canvas is easy to clean and mostly fireproof. I do prefer the traditional wools, though.”
Whether in his Scottish tartans or American canvas kilts, Ray specializes as a blacksmith in classical French style. He says the work he is most proud of is the work he did with his mentor and former head of the French Blacksmith Guild, Jacques Brunet. “From the biggest gate to the smallest fire poker.”
These days you’ll find Ray Bowen in his Atlanta-based Invictus Forge studio heating, beating, painting and putting up garden gates, chandeliers, fireplace pieces, tables, sculptures and custom-designed and crafted specialty objects. The ideas are only limited to a client’s imagination. Well, that and Ray Bowen’s iron-bending, metal-twisting, kilt-wearing, anvil-pounding, super-human strength.
INVICTUS FORGE 1174 Zonolite Place Atlanta, GA 30329