Gary Noffke

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Gary Lee Noffke
Born August 27, 1943
Decatur, Illinois
Nationality American
Known for metalsmithing
Movement studio craft movement in jewelry and hollowware

Gary Lee Noffke (born August 27, 1943) is an American artist and metalsmith. Known for versatility and originality, he is a blacksmith, coppersmith, silversmith, goldsmith, and toolmaker. He has produced gold and silver hollowware, cutlery, jewelry, and forged steelware. Noffke is noted for his technical versatility, his pioneering research into hot forging, the introduction of new alloys, and his ability to both build on and challenge traditional techniques. He has been called the metalsmith's metalsmith, a pacesetter, and a maverick.[1][2] He is also an educator who has mentored an entire generation of metalsmiths. He has received numerous awards and honors. He has exhibited internationally, and his work is represented in collections around the world.[3][4]

Noffke along with Barbara Mann designed the original artwork for the Delta Prize for Global Understanding[5]

Noffke taught for many years at the University of Georgia. Today he is retired from formal teaching and lives and works at his studio in Farmington, Georgia.

Early life[edit]

Gary Lee Noffke was born in Decatur, Illinois and grew up in the small town of Sullivan, Illinois. His father worked in a shoe factory.[3] His German grandfather had a small farm and was still using a mule to plow his fields. His family being poor, Noffke made his own toys out of whatever materials were at hand, scavenged from the farm, the factory, and construction sites. With just a hand saw and a pocket knife, he created birdhouses, slingshots, hinged boxes, and bows and arrows.[6] To this day he makes his own tools.[7] At the age of 12, encouraged by his mother and a neighbor who was a landscape painter, he began drawing and painting in oils. His mother was later able to help pay for his education by working at, and then becoming the owner of, a shelter care home business.[6]


Noffke enrolled at Eastern Illinois University, getting his BS in 1965 and his MS in Education 1966.[4] In 1967 he went to the University of Iowa intending to study painting, but soon found himself attracted to metalsmithing. He had already been exposed to metal in a course he took from Garret de Ruiter while at Eastern Illinois University. For a while at Iowa he studied metalwork under Raoul Delmar but soon abandoned that school and moved on to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where he studied with Brent Kington who was leading a revival of blacksmithing which lasted well into the 1970s. At Carbondale he met other up and coming metal artists such as Mary Lee Hu. He learned to forge steel[8] and was particularly impressed by a simple knife made by his mentor, Kington.[9] Noffke got his Master of Fine Arts at SIU in 1969.


While he still was studying painting, Noffke had been influenced by the abstract expressionism of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.[7] Just as these painters had attacked the canvas with swirls, drips, splashes, and smears, Noffke would attack the surface of his metal objects with obsessive and intricate detail consisting of stars, letterforms, arrows, crosses, dollar signs, eyes, and other obscure symbols.[10] These richly detailed surfaces, stamped, engraved, and carved into the metal illustrate a paradox evident in all of the artist's work. On one hand, each object presents a surface of inscrutable markings. On the other hand, each object is in the end just an ordinary bowl, spoon, knife, or some other purely utilitarian object.[11]

Noffke first taught at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, and then at California State College in Los Angeles. In 1971, he took a position at the University of Georgia at Athens where he was to remain for the next thirty years.[3]

Noffke was awarded a faculty research grant in the early 1970s from the University of Georgia to explore the cold forging of fine silver from sheet. Expert opinion said that the hot forging of fine silver was impossible; but Noffke discovered an alloy that made it easy. He discovered that by eliminating some of the copper content in sterling silver he was able to cast his own billets of 969 silver. Still later he developed a method to forge gold from cast billets.[2]

In the years 1977 to 1979 Noffke, working with the University of Georgia and several other artists, put together three annual "National Ring Shows" featuring the younger generation of metalsmiths.[12] The shows did not rely on museums but were escorted around the country by the participants themselves. The idea was so successful, that The Lamar Dodd School of Art and the Georgia Museum of Art repeated the format again in 2011.[13]

For thirty years Noffke taught at the University of Georgia and then retired from active teaching. He built his own studio—and all the tools in that studio—in the hills near Farmington, Georgia. Some of those tools along with his refrigerator from the studio were featured in his solo exhibition at Charlotte's Mint Museum in the fall of 2011.[7] Richly and elaborately decorated, it is a perfect example of the artist's usual blending of surrealistic decoration and practical utility.

Award and honors[edit]


From April to September 2011 the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina presented a major retrospective of the artist's work titled, Attitude and Alchemy: The Metalwork of Gary Lee Noffke. This was the first museum-organized project about Noffke in 20 years and featured over 120 pieces of his work, including silver and gold hollowware, flatware, jewelry, and objects forged in steel.[18][19]

A comprehensive list of exhibitions which have featured Noffke's work is shown below.

Solo Exhibitions

Professional Organizations[edit]


  • Virginia Shields, William U. Eiland, Gary Noffke, Georgia Museum of Art, Ann Orr: silversmith, goldsmith, & enamelist, Athens, Georgia, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, 1994, ISBN 0-915977-15-X
  • Deborah Landon; Gary Noffke, American masters of hollowware in the late 20th century, Athens, Ga. : Georgia Museum of Art, 1997, OCLC Number: 39535972


  1. ^ Colorado Metalsmithing Association; 2010 Conference—Metal Art: Miniature to Monumental
  2. ^ a b Mitchell, LeeAnn, Studio Visit with Garry Noffke, Metalsmith Magazine, Winter 2004
  3. ^ a b c Attitude and Alchemy: The Metalwork of Gary Lee Noffke
  4. ^ a b Wiki Smith: Gary Noffke
  5. ^ Delta Prize Recipients Awarded Original Artwork, University of Georgia, 2011
  6. ^ a b Falino, p. 14.
  7. ^ a b c Maschal, Richard, Forge follows function, Carolina Living, March 27, 2011
  8. ^ Falino, p. 15.
  9. ^ Dunas, p. 34-35.
  10. ^ Falino, p. 16.
  11. ^ Dunas, p. 34.
  12. ^ Falino, p. 18.
  13. ^ Lamar Dodd School of Art, The Ring Shows: Then & Now and Putting the Band Back Together
  14. ^ Eastern to Celebrate 50 Years of Graduate Education, April 5, 2005
  15. ^ a b American Craft Council College of Fellows
  16. ^ Gary Noffke, metal artist, American Masterpieces of Southern Craft & Traditional Art
  17. ^ Metal Museum: List of Previous Master Metalsmiths
  18. ^ Art & Artworks: Gary Lee Noffke at Mint Museum Uptown, March 11, 2011
  19. ^ 704events: The Metalwork of Gary Lee Noffke
  20. ^ The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, Soul’s Journey: Inside the Creative Process, February 2009
  21. ^ Penland Gallery Exhibitions 2008
  22. ^ The Bascom Past Exhibitions
  23. ^ Past SNAG exhibitions: The Art of Gold (2003-2006)
  24. ^ Le Van, Marthe, The Penland Book of Jewelry: Master Classes in Jewelry Techniques, New York, Lark Crafts, February 1, 2011, ISBN 1-60059-607-X
  25. ^ Objects for Use: Handmade by Design, review by Paul J. Smith, 2001
  26. ^ Yaw Gallery, International Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair (SOFA), Yaw Gallery
  27. ^ Craft Alliance: Exhibitions
  28. ^ William Traver Gallery
  29. ^ Mobilia Gallery
  30. ^ Society of Arts and Crafts
  31. ^ Rosanne Raab Associates
  32. ^ Kohler Design Center
  33. ^ Nancy Margolis Gallery
  34. ^ Silver: New Forms and Expressions: Fortunoff's Commitment to the Contemporary Metalsm, March 18, 2002
  35. ^ John Michael Kohler Arts Center
  36. ^ Louisville Art Gallery
  37. ^ The Yuma Symposium
  38. ^ The New York Times: In 2 Shows, Rooms of Whimsy
  39. ^ The Robert Else Gallery
  40. ^ Currents 80: national invitational crafts biennial, Art Barn Gallery at Middle Tennessee State University, March 2-April 4, 1980
  41. ^ Sangre de Cristo Arts Center
  42. ^ College Art Gallery (exhibition traveled nationally)
  43. ^ Worcester Center for Crafts
  44. ^ Minnesota Museum of American Art
  45. ^ Artist-Blacksmith's Association of North America (ABANA)
  • Dunas, Michael, Killing Time: The Work of Gary Noffke, Metalsmith Magazine, Fall 1987
  • Simon, Marjorie, The Art of Gold, Metalsmith Magazine, Summer 2003
  • Jeannine J. Falino, Allie Farlowe, Gary Noffke, Attitude and Alchemy: The Metalwork of Gary Lee Noffke, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2011

External links[edit]