© Helmut Hillencamp

published in ANVIL Magazine, September, 1997

That common bond of fire and iron between farriers and blacksmith is exemplified in this issue of ANVIL Magazine. Putting together the cover story was a project in our offices similar to the actual project itself. The expertise of many was called upon to accomplish the end result. I hope our efforts will give justice to the incredible work of artist/blacksmith Helmut Hillenkamp and his fellow artisans.

Photographer credit goes to Fausto Cardoso, who was also the architect who did the rock and brick work. Arien Koorn translated the two articles that accompany the photographs from Cathedral a supplement to El Mercurio, the newspaper of Cuenca, Ecuador (May 11, 1997).

The following is a description of the project as written by Helmut:


My girlfriend, Christy Hengst, and I just came back from seven months in Cuenca, Ecuador, where we built a monument to the unknown blacksmith, in the middle of the traditional Barrio de las Herrerias, the blacksmith area. Local architect, Fausto Cardoso, did the rock and brick work; Christy covered the base, a miniature volcano, with thousands of high-fire tiles she made, together with other local artists; and I built the figure of the blacksmith coming out of the crater, involving local blacksmiths, as well.

During celebration nights, the figure can be set on fire by injecting liquid butane gas up the hollow lightning rod and into the bottom of the figure. The city is planning a yearly "Day of the Blacksmith," which will be an occasion to make the volcano erupt that way at night.

Construction of the figure is based on an anatomic concept. First, the bones were forged, and later they were covered with the layers of muscles. It is about twice life size, and from mild steel and rebar.

Inauguration was on Friday night, May 9th, with a big party. Lots of people showed up for this event, as it was broadcast on the radio that "a volcano will erupt tonight in Cuenca." All day Friday we had been preparing the sculpture for its debut: taking down the wooden fence that had been up around it for two months, cleaning the tiles and bricks with acid to remove residue of cement, installing electric lights for illumination. The fire department came with two truckloads of water to forcefully spray and clean the whole sculpture. The figure was wrapped in white cloth, and fireworks (made by a master pyrotechnic in his seventies) were attached to all parts of it. And then, typical of our experience of Ecuador, things did not go quite as planned. Before we could begin with the speeches by the mayor, etc., and in the midst of trying to convince the string orchestra to stay - even though there were no seats for them - it began to rain. In a flurry of activity, the fireworks (which were supposed to be for the end) were lit, the cloth successfully burned off, and we started the "eruption." liquid butane gas was injected into the gas pipe that doubled up as a lightning rod, spraying out from an orifice in the bottom of the figure and catching fire. Blue and yellow flames came out from the cracks in the muscles, even from the eyes, and soon the iron blacksmith turned into a gigantic torch. The crowd was excited. just as the rain stopped and the last flames died down, leaving the figure glowing dull red, we heard music coming down the "Calle de las Herrerias" - a kind of guerilla group, singing, with drums and tambourines, and people on stilts. They arrived and "invaded" the volcano, dancing and jumping around its slopes, with lyrics written for the occasion. And then followed the official speeches, with Christy (representative of the artistas) passing the sculpture on to the president of Arqandina (the architectural foundation which had sponsored the project), who passed it on to the mayor of Cuenca, who passed it on to a blacksmith of the Herrerias.

Created on November 20, 2023
32P4+W32, Las Herrerías, Cuenca, Ecuador
Hunted by Al B. Fein.

Marker details

Camera usedApple iPhone 12 Pro
Marker typeartwork