Hoffman has a change of art

March 08, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

click on image to see enlargement

Dawn Hoffman

LEITERSBURG - Dawn Kiilani Hoffmann was set to be a French horn player. Then she realized she'd have to live in a big city.

"I'm a country kid," she said.

So Hoffmann switched gears and became a metalsmith, a vocation that allows her work from her home on a sprawling 18-acre property off of Little Antietam Road.

The 41-year-old artist is one of 26 women featured in "Images and Expressions: Maryland Women in the Arts," an annual publication produced by the Maryland Department of Education and the Maryland Commission for Women.


When the commission selected art as this year's theme, N. Sharon Leatherman said she had no trouble thinking of a nominee.

"Her name just popped into my mind immediately," said Leatherman, Washington County's representative to the commission.

Hoffmann produces handmade silverware, jewelry and sculptures from a converted chicken coop. In 1993, she was one of the youngest artists selected to produce a piece for the White House Collection of American Crafts.

For that project, she said she worked around the clock for about three weeks to produce a silver punch bowl and serving ladle.

Country and crafts

Dawn HoffmanGrowing up in Wisconsin, Hoffmann had exposures to rural living and metalworking that foreshadowed her current lifestyle.

Her great-grandfather founded a sheet metal shop and her father and two uncles also were good with their hands.

So experimenting with metal was natural when she was in high school, Hoffmann said.

"I just started playing with it when I was a kid," she said.

But Hoffmann said her true love was music. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison on a performance music scholarship.

Members of the chamber orchestra - her specialty was the French horn - got paid for gigs.

It was at college that Hoffmann discovered metalworking was more than a hobby. She said she took classes in metalworking and learned from a professor who did not mind if his students were not art majors.

After years of tinkering, Hoffmann said she finally learned the fundamentals.

"I figured I'd learn how to do it the real way," she said.

Hoffmann managed to combine her two loves; she hand-built a French horn over three semesters.

That project led to a career in Washington County. Walter Lawson, a French horn manufacturer from the Boonsboro area, gave a clinic at Hoffmann's school, and she said she jumped at the chance to work with him.

Beginning in 1979, Hoffmann said she worked for about four years at Lawson Brass Instruments Inc. producing small parts for French horns.

Lawson said Hoffmann is an accomplished musician, who played for a time at the Maryland Orchestra, before it became the Maryland Symphony Orchestra. But he said her greatest work is her metalworking.

"She's a highly skilled craftsman," he said. "She was very skilled with metal. You can tell. She had a feel for it."

Painstaking labor

Hoffman's metal workMetalsmithing is a labor-intensive craft. Hoffmann pointed to a silver box she is working on.

It began as a smooth sheet of metal. When she is finished hammering away, it will be an ornate 4-by-3-by-5-inch sterling silver box.

To finish, though, Hoffmann said will have to work about three, 40-hour weeks.

As a result, Hoffmann's work does not come cheap. She priced the punch bowl she made for the White House collection at $12,500 and the ladle at $600.

Much of Hoffmann's work is for her personal use. All of the silverware in her house is hand-made, as is most of other metal.

Hoffmann and her husband built their one-room house themselves. With little knowledge or experience in house-building, she said they checked books out at the library.

They designed the house, dug the foundation by hand and built it over 4 1/2 years.

"It's just another thing to make. We know how we want to live better than some contractor," she said.

Their next project is an art studio, so Hoffmann won't have to work in the chicken coop. After that, she said they plan to build a larger house.

The publication in which she is featured comes out yearly to highlight Women's History Month, which is March. It is sent to schools and libraries throughout the state.

Hoffmann said she is attracted to her work by its variety.

"It's really neat to see something that's just a bar and you can make so many different things," she said.

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