Local blacksmith competes on “Ellen’s Design Challenge”

Side Rocker

Local blacksmith and furniture artist Carley Eiseberg appears in competition with five other artists on the upcoming “Ellen’s Design Challenge.” Catch her in action on HGTV on Mondays at 9 p.m. to track her progress. Recently I sat down with Eisenberg to learn more about her, her art and her experience on television:

Sworn to secrecy about the outcome of the show, Eisenberg makes mainly functional pieces of art, even though one may not think them functional on first viewing, like a couch made of leather and steel that may not look comfortable, but really is. Many of her art pieces appear sculptural, but have uses, too. For instance, at this time of year, she “is swamped with fireplace gratings and fireplace tools, coat hooks, stuff like that,” Eiseneberg notes.

Eisenberg is originally from South Florida but spent many childhood years enjoying the mountains around Boone at Camp Broadstone. But when it came time to choose a place to live, Eisenberg knew where she wanted to be. “I swore when I was 13 years old,” Eisneberg recalls, “that I was gonna move back. Then I graduated from Miami of Ohio . . . I guess was a grownup, so I moved back. It seemed like a peaceful place.”

Eisenberg began her career in furniture with woodworking at the age of 19 when she took a course as an interior design major. She quickly fell in love with the required furniture course, and “[hasn’t] left the woodshop since then.” After graduating from Miami, Eisenberg continued her graduate studies at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), one of the best schools for furniture in the country, exploring new materials and eventually earning an MFA in furniture. There, a friend introduced her to steel. “From the first thing I made, I was in love with it, and I never turned back,” Eisenberg says.

Interestingly, Eisenberg didn’t seek out “Ellen’s Design Challenge.” Rather, they sought her out. “Really at first I thought it was a scam because I heard from this random company called Mystic Arts Productions (who did all the recruiting) that wanted personal information … so I called one of my cousins who works in the business and he said they were legit. So I went through the process. They interviewed me twice, and then four months later they called to tell me I was on the show,” recalls Eisenberg. “Then I got a call that said, ‘You’re going to L.A. in two weeks.’ And then they flew us out.”

Alice in Wonderland Clock
Alice in Wonderland Clock

Having spent an indeterminate time in Los Angeles – telling us how long might give away details of the outcome – Eisenberg had a fantastic experience: The show provided contestants “pretty much everything [they] needed” to complete their designs, and while Eisenberg worked mainly with metal, the others used “a plethora of materials.” But working in a new environment, with new tools in a workshop with a foreign layout was a challenge for Eisenberg. “Working in a shop that wasn’t mine … in my shop I know exactly where everything is, I have my forge which I‘m used to. And then you get out there and things are in different places, there are different brands. It took some getting used to, getting settled down with what they had. At home I have a routine where I can pull something out of the forge without even looking and keep working, but there it was completely different,” says Eisneberg.

Those challenges, however, helped Eisenberg think outside of the box, building things differently and approaching designs with alterations to make things fit. Included in the experience was a “build team,” where each contestant was assigned a big name HGTV carpenter, but since Eisenberg mainly worked with steel, not wood, help came mainly in the form of “brute strength” and allowed Eisenberg to maintain more vision and control over her final products. And although the program is billed as a reality show, it doesn’t actually reflect the reality of a blacksmith’s normal life. “It’s not every day that I get this challenge that says, ‘You’ve got 24 hours to make this.’ That’s not actually reality. But it was much more open than I expected it to be. They let us build our designs the way we wanted to. They gave us restraints and stipulations; they made it challenging to push and see what we are capable of, what we could do,” says Eisenberg.

Currently, Eisenberg is doing a lot of custom stuff where people come to her with an idea or a sketch and they’ll evolve its design together. “Basically for the last four months, everything’s been custom orders, and I haven’t had a complaint yet! Mainly I get, ‘It’s a lot better than I thought it would be,’ which is awesome. I’m a little OCD, which helps. I usually end up putting in little details that you may not know are there but contribute to the overall design like little rivets that make a piece stronger. My goal is to get to the point where I make the furniture I want to make and people want it, and all of my pieces are based off of fairy tales,” Eisenberg notes. Her graduate work at RISD riffed on “Little Red Riding Hood,” and she’s currently working thematically with Alice in Wonderland.

The “Ellen’s Design Challenge” viewing party kicks off Monday, Jan. 26, at 7:30 p.m. at Asheville Brewing Co., 675 Merrimon Ave. Join the artist for complimentary beer and pizza and to watch Eisenberg compete. “Ellen’s Design Challenge” premieres at 9 p.m. on HGTV.

“I’m not fancy. The party is just to have fun and watch me make a fool of myself. And if there are people who are interested in my work, it’s a great time to meet me, have a beer, talk about pieces and see what I’m all about,” Eisenberg explains. Want to see more of what she’s all about? Check out her work at carleyeisenberg.com.


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