Northern Michigan University 1997 alumnus Sam Laturi describes his craft of blacksmithing as “a spiritual journey, combining the four ancient elements to make objects of art and function.” The Iron River native is in his 25th year of shaping steel, and said he enjoys the fact his work will continue to exist long after he is gone.
“A hundred years from now, a father could pass a fireplace set on to his son and there's my touchmark,” Laturi wrote on his website. “A couple could be passing a gate as they walk down a sidewalk; there's my signature—my legacy.”
Being a blacksmith was not remotely on Laturi's mind when he entered college. In fact, he did not pursue an art and design field at all.
“I was going for the business management degree because I was going to take over the family business, a retirement home,” Laturi said during a phone interview from his home base in Mequon, Wis. “I think it was the second semester of my junior year when my mother left a message on my answering machine. She said, ‘Great news! We sold the nursing home!' That wasn't great news for me.”
Laturi decided to stick with the business management program. While looking for electives to fill out his required credits, he saw a blacksmithing class taught by NMU Professor Dale Wedig.
“I've always loved medieval things, and I like 1980s high-fantasy movies,” he said. “I would even travel to Bristol, Wisconsin, to visit the renaissance festival down there. So, I took blacksmithing. I fell in love with it on day one with the very first class. From that point on, I'd be outside the door waiting to get in when the custodian unlocked it in the morning, and then more than a few times he had to kick me out.”
After Laturi graduated and moved to Wisconsin, he continued to study and practice his craft as he could while working other jobs. Through a chance meeting with a former administrator at Camp Timber-lee in East Troy, he was introduced to Greg Meeker, the camp's resident blacksmith for more than 40 years.
Laturi became Meeker's apprentice for several years and also volunteered for the camp. He taught classes and gave demonstrations to more than 3,000 campers, from inner-city Chicago youth to Daisy and Cub Scouts. He particularly remembers one story involving a fifth-grade boy.
“He had question after question to ask about blacksmithing,” Laturi recalled. “When his teacher finally convinced the boy to leave, he ran out of the smithy with his arms waving in the air yelling, ‘I so want to be a blacksmith when I grow up! I so want to be a blacksmith!' I looked over to his mentor and said, ‘Got one.'”
Laturi also began creating custom pieces for friends and family and selling small pieces online. As sales increased and requests for quotes came in with greater and greater volume, he knew it was time to make his blacksmith business official.
In August of 2011, Laturi began doing business as StormCloak Forge. The name originated from his days as an NMU student. He would throw a cloak over his coat during bitterly cold winter storms. His friends started calling it his stormcloak and the nickname stuck.
Laturi and his wife lovingly restored a stone and mortar building in Mequon originally built in 1844 by Ephraim Woodworth to serve as the StormCloak smithy. He makes various hand-crafted products. Home goods range from fireplace accessories and birdbaths to bottle openers and door handles. There are also metal art pieces such as roses and dice, along with jewelry pendants and pins. Laturi does custom-made projects for clients who want something specific.
While his business is rooted in crafting art and functional items, Laturi also teaches those interested in blacksmithing.
“I think it is our duty to share knowledge and skills in this life with anyone we can," Laturi said. "If someone thinks they may have a passion for blacksmithing or even just a passing fancy, I am here for them.”
When he's not in his smithy, Laturi is often at the Milwaukee Maker Space, where he enjoys practicing his craft and giving advice to new blacksmiths. He also made an appearance at Midwest Fire Fest, an art festival celebrating everything made with fire and heat, such as blacksmithing, pottery and glassblowing.
Find more information on StormCloak Forge, as well as Laturi's portfolio and the classes he offers, here.