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Rustic Chic:

Jeff Bridgers
Art Show at Crow Hill
9 S. Front Street
4/24, 7 p.m. • FREE

IRON OF THE DOGWOOD: Exceptional metalsmith James Bridgers made the ironwork Dogwood tree as part of Crow Hill’s latest decor update. Courtesy photo

Crow Hill made its mark on downtown Wilmington’s culinary beat after opening last year to rave reviews. In its first year alone, it took Best New Restaurant in encore’s 2011 Reader’s Poll, likely because of its commitment to the locavore movement. The folks here do things differently—and often—as they change their menu according to what’s in season, getting all their products from local farms. While the food is something to indulge upon with careful, attentive satisfaction, it’s not the only reason Crow Hill has caught the eye of so many.

Located at 9 S. Front Street (the old home of Caffé Phoenix), Crow Hill has made a statement with its interior—and exterior—artwork. Hand-forged metal work decorates the restaurant, giving it a rustic, organic feel. And it’s all done by the hands of local welder Jeff Bridgers.

Bridgers began to study welding at the ripe age of 18. After graduating, he fell into work with Terex Cranes for two years, but he knew that he wanted to pursue his real dream: to be a metal artist.

“Going into school, I knew what I would like to do with metal, but I also had to pay my dues until my dreams became my reality,” Bridgers says. “Blacksmithing came to mind since it’s [rarer], and I like the look of products that are obviously hand-forged. I finally found my niche in the craft.”

Noted for its farm utensil beer-draft handles, a unique feature behind the bar, Crow Hill’s interior combines rustic chic with sexy swagger. Ironwork is featured at every inch of the building: The wooden sign hosting the restaurant’s name dangles from a curly-cued piece of iron, and the door handles have been molded into tree branches. Inside, the space is a gallery and upscale eatery.

“I made shovel and pitchfork wall sculptures, some bathroom signs and fixtures, and a stand to hold up a thousand-pound oven in the kitchen,” Bridgers explains. “Shortly after [Crow Hill’s] opening, I installed a banister on the second story made from an old elevator door.”

Many unique touches have been added to the restaurant since, matching nicely with the grey-beige walls and dark woodwork. The newest addition to the restaurant is the Dogwood tree sculpture, stealing the gaze of many after stepping through the doors.

“The Dogwood tree was based off of the natural elements that I previously installed for Crow Hill when they opened for business,” Bridgers explains. “Now, a year later I was asked to come up with another installation, and it just happened to be when the Dogwood trees were blooming.”

The tree stands tall, with two branches snaking down the outside of the upstairs balcony seating area. Forged Dogwood flowers are welded to the branches, a different plan from its original blueprint. Bridgers’ first wanted to hammer out leaves, but then one of his friends informed him on how to forge Dogwood flowers. “The flowers definitely have a bigger impact,” he says.

Bridgers’ latest installation grew out of the owners’ need for curtain rods. “The first idea was something to match the tree door pulls I made a year ago,” the artist explains. “The whole idea had to be functional, so I finally decided to make a raw steel curtain rod with a life-size tree above it to draw the eye upward. Maybe I went overboard with a whole tree, but I felt like making another natural piece.”

With the Dogwood being a permanent installation and the main focus downstairs, Crow Hill is transforming the second floor of the building into a temporary gallery for more of Bridgers’ work, as well as a few other local artists. “I have never been good at being in the spotlight, so I asked some friends of mine to hang some paintings and prints in the banquet room along with my other work,” Bridgers says.

Joining the gallery will be artists Scott Ehrhart and Gaeten Lowrie, displaying their acrylic and oil on canvas paintings, and Brian Reed, a designer/production artist who will be showing his screen prints. Bridgers will exhibit a few of his furniture pieces.

“The best thing about what I do is I feel like I’m stepping away from modern society,” Bridgers says. “I feel human again every time I’m in the shop. There is a fire, anvil and a hammer to beat the hell out of metal. What else could anyone ask for?”

The show opens April 24 at 7 p.m. Whether planning to dine at Crow Hill or not, the gallery is open to the public and will be showing the art work for two weeks. On the opening night, Derek and Anna of Crow Hill will also be hosting their Industry night, featuring music from Unholy Tongues.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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