Since 1968 Darryl Reeves, owner of Andrew’s Welding and Blacksmith, has lovingly spent his days heating wrought iron or steel and shaping the metals into incredible works of art. He’s a founding member of the New Orleans Master Crafts Guild and creates everything from wine racks to massive gates. Above all else, with his skillful restoration, he’s preserving New Orleans’ iconic ironwork.
“He’s my go-to-guy especially if it’s a restoration job,” says Robert Cangelosi, Jr., president of Koch and Wilson Architects. “He’s currently restoring all the hardware for the shutters on the Beauregard-Keyes House. He’s a true master.”
Reeves’ 5500-square-foot studio is in the heart of the 7th Ward, a block away from where his parents once ran an awning business.
“I worked for them when I was younger and we often worked in the Quarters,” he says. “People kept asking me about repairing old hinges or latches. One day I asked a woman how much she’d pay me to do a strap hinge. When she told me the price I knew I could make it and now I knew I could make money making it.”
So what started as a little side hustle quickly grew into a thriving business. Reeves has gone on to work on most of New Orleans’ architectural treasures including doing all the restoration metal work in Jackson Square, restoring a fence at the Cabildo and repairing an almost 300-year-old chimney bracket on the Old Ursuline Convent.
He considers himself a bit of a blacksmith detective because he must take the pieces apart, figure out how they worked together and then recreate it so that the piece is exactly as it was when it was forged sometimes hundreds of years ago.
Reeves is also a knowledgeable historian who can trace most of the city’s early ironwork and he can identify what nationality made it by the style be it French, Spanish or Italian. However, he says much of that work was done by enslaved people from West Africa, who often wove symbols into the designs.
These symbols communicate complex messages and complicated concepts. One of the most commonly found is the Adinkra symbol, Asase ye duru. It translates as “the earth has weight.” The image can be found on a doorway located at 710 Royal St.
“They left signs of their presence all around the city,” he says. “It was a language and you’ll find Adinkra symbols everywhere if you just look.”
He’s currently training three apprentices and laughingly says he’s training his competition as he teaches them techniques used 300 years ago when our country was being built.
It’s likely that with his efforts, he’s keeping this centuries-old creative craft alive and preserving it for many generations to come.