Corry Blanc made a new path for an old way of doing things
Words by Ashley Locke
Photos courtesy of Blanc Creatives
It’s not often that you see metal work done by hand, but the sparks still fly at Blanc Creatives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Their studio produces high-quality, handcrafted cookware and kitchen tools that you can find in homes and restaurants across the country—and it all began with Corry Blanc and his passion for making things with his hands.
When Corry was a child, his maternal grandfather had a shop where he worked on farm equipment and welded. Corry was fascinated by the sights and smells of metalworking—burning metal and dusty floors—and he would play with his Hot Wheels while watching his grandfather work. As he got older, his interest in art grew. He took ceramics and painting classes in school, thinking he might someday become a potter. “I graduated high school, and I thought I was going to be this artist and take over the world outside of high school,” said Corry. “I started working random jobs and I knew I had to make money, but I wasn’t going to college. My grandfather—my mom’s dad—told me to either go to school or get a job in a trade. I started following his footsteps a little more and got a job at a car dealership as a mechanic.”
After a few twists and turns in his career—including an apprenticeship at a hair salon—his uncle, who had a metal fabrication studio, asked Corry to work for him. “He was from New Orleans,” said Corry. “He grew up working at the docks then started doing all the cast-iron stuff you see in the French Quarter.”
Corry learned the trade and worked for his uncle for four years. “I worked for him making mass-produced welded handrails for subdivisions in the Atlanta area,” he said. “It was a lot of production work with cool jobs sprinkled in. I only liked the cool jobs sprinkled in, so after four years, I was over it.”
Like a lot of stories begin, Corry met a girl at a bar and ended up moving with her to Virginia. There, he got a job at a well-known blacksmith shop in Virginia, and it brought him back to his days making pots in his high school ceramics class. “It clicked instantly because when you’re forging metal you’re redistributing mass, and it's very similar to ceramics—you’re not losing mass, but you’re shaping it into something different.”
Corry worked there for over a year before buying tools and starting out on his own. In the beginning, Corry did high-end architectural work, but when the market crashed in 2008, he started working in restaurants. “There's a good food scene around here,” he said. On the side, he made grill turners, garden tools, and bottle openers to sell at the farmers market. Eventually he tried his hand at making a pan. Local chefs gave him feedback on his design, and he started selling them around town.
The pan was the turning point for Corry. Blanc Creatives gained recognition when they submitted it to Garden & Gun’s Made in the South Awards and won—it cemented their role in the culinary space and allowed Corry to return to metalworking full time.
Blanc Creatives has built a community of designers and craftsmen who share the company's passion for quality and craftsmanship. Charlottesville is a small town, and in the metalworking world, there are only a handful of blacksmiths. Corry and his peers knew each other and respected each other's work—and eventually found their way to working together.
Dale Morse is the blacksmithing instructor at the Virginia Institute of Blacksmithing (VIB). He used to bid on the same metalworking jobs as Corry, until he ventured off to begin the VIB. “Our shops are three miles apart,” said Corry. “I would see kids from all over come and do his one-year-long blacksmithing program.”
Now Blanc Creatives has partnered with the VIB to offer workshops and classes. The partnership allows Blanc Creatives to have access to a larger pool of skilled blacksmiths, while also providing the VIB with more opportunities to teach their craft to a new generation. At the Blanc Creatives studio, participants learn about metalworking and gain hands-on experience with forging, shaping, and finishing techniques. “It's cool being able to mentor now and give a little bit of guidance,” said Corry. “The crazy thing is the majority of my employees are in their early 20s, and it's 70 percent female right now too.”
The partnership also includes collaborations with several designers who are interested in incorporating metalwork into their products. Blanc Creatives and the VIB provide these designers with access to skilled blacksmiths and state-of-the-art equipment to help them create unique and high-quality metal pieces for their products. In return, Blanc Creatives and the VIB get exposure to new markets and customers through the designers' products.
Blanc Creatives' commitment to quality and sustainability has also played a significant role in their partnership with the VIB and designers. They use locally sourced and sustainable materials in their products and strive to minimize their environmental impact through responsible production practices. “Disposable consumerism sucks,” said Corry. “It’s relatively new. People are so disconnected with how and where things are made, so I like to try to educate people on this.”
Blanc Creatives' products are not only beautiful, but also functional. The cookware is made from carbon steel and is perfect for searing and sautéing. The kitchen tools are made from stainless steel and are designed to last a lifetime. Their products are used by some of the best chefs in the world, including Thomas Keller and Sean Brock—but Corry sees his legacy as passing down the tradition of metalwork. “I’ve always been in it, so I don’t view the interest in blacksmithing as a revival. It’s never gone away—there’s always been interest, and there always will be.”