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click to enlarge Goodyear's elegant, fanciful products are crafted from sturdy, solid metal stock. - PHOTO COURTESY RALPH GOODYEAR
  Wrought and cast iron is everywhere in New Orleans, appearing on balconies and fences from Uptown to the Bywater. But for metal artist Ralph Goodyear of Ralph Goodyear Limited (2050 Magazine St., 525-1570), ubiquity doesn't necessarily breed quality.

  "I'd like to say New Orleans is known for its ironwork, but it's not. It's terrible ironwork. However, there's a lot of it," he says. "In New Orleans, for too long ironwork has really suffered in its design and quality of fabrication. Our goal is to have the ironwork of New Orleans rival that of Brussels and Paris because we are a major international city, and we need to look that way."

  The Lafayette-based artist displays his iron gates, lighting, furnishings and more — "everything from sculpture to cocktail tables," Goodyear says — in his first stand-alone gallery on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District, which he opened in October. Most of his business comes from custom jobs, so Goodyear says the gallery allows him to "show what is possible" to potential customers.

  Goodyear's work channels that of his great-great-grandfather, a French metal artisan who moved to New Orleans in 1806. Following his ancestor's footsteps, Goodyear started working for jewelry company Stellar Settings at age 15. "That's where I started working with metals," he says. "If you think about a ring, it's just a little metal sculpture that you put on your finger."

  Now Goodyear is in the business of making "big jewelry," as he says. His gallery is filled with iron gates, screens, lanterns, glass-topped coffee tables and decor showcasing Goodyear's trademark metal flourishes that resemble twirling music notes on a staff. He works in a variety of styles, including art deco, art nouveau and in the style of centuries-old French and Italian design, which Goodyear prides himself on replicating accurately.

  "I am personally all about creating things of beauty that are only seen in history books and in museums and making them available again for people to enjoy," he says. "And they're not kind of, sort of, maybe like they were — it's exactly how they were. And you can have it today."

click to enlarge Goodyear's ironworks include "everything from sculpture to coffee tables," he says. - PHOTO COURTESY RALPH GOODYEAR
  Goodyear and his staff make all of their works in his shop in Abbeville, La. Goodyear draws all the designs, and he and his staff fabricate them using everything from hammers and anvils to the latest technology. Many of the finished products, with their swirly metal flourishes, appear delicate, but Goodyear uses a heavy, long-lasting solid metal stock as opposed to hollow tubing.

  The company also places a high priority on environmental responsibility. Goodyear estimates 90 percent of the company's waste material is recycled, and they use only water-based paints and finishes on products.

  "That's a really important thing to me, because I've always felt you can't make something of great beauty by destroying something else," Goodyear says.

  Since many of Goodyear's clients discover his services through friends who own his products, Goodyear strives to create one-of-a-kind, high quality products so satisfied clients will continue to spread the word. "That's my advertisement: make them happy," he says. Goodyear ensures word-of-mouth advertising by refusing to duplicate a design in two homes within close proximity to each other.

  "The gates you buy, your neighbor is not going to have the same gates. I'm not going to do that," he says. "Because that's not fun for me."

  Goodyear tries to keep his metal products and the contemporary art works by other artists featured in his gallery (including Bryan Reso) relatively affordable in order to share his products — and his passion — with as many people as possible.

  "These are things we're not going to pull people's teeth to have; we want people to have them. When you get to a point of success in what you're doing you can say, 'You know what? I'm not starving to death.' I don't need to be terribly expensive, and I really get a lot of enjoyment out of people enjoying what we make," Goodyear says. "If I were a bazillionaire, I'd still be doing this."

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