David Ponsler was 8 years old when he started welding.
“I was pestering the men in my father’s shop. They thought if I got burned, I would go away,” says Ponsler, now 53 and a professional “artist blacksmith.”
He didn’t just start welding. He began creating.
Ponsler welded sculptures out of scrap metal and took one to second-grade show-and-tell.
“I had a crush on this girl and she never paid attention to me until I brought a sculpture,” he said.
People have been paying attention since.
Ponsler, a Jacksonville native, spent 25 years with the family business, Wonderland Products, as a metal craftsman and designer.
His father started the Westside company in 1950 and his brother continues the business.
Ponsler created Ponsler Metal and Design in 2004, specializing in metal sculpture and architectural metal creation.
Among his works, he created the archway at Stockton Park in Ortega and crafted the spiral staircases at the Kickbacks Gastropub expansion in Riverside.
Ponsler creates from wrought iron, steel, bronze, copper, stainless steel and others.
While at Wonderland, Ponsler traveled to Southwest Florida and the Bahamas to create for high-ticket homeowners.
For example, he made four $5,000 handles for a refrigerator and freezer in a $30 million home. He created railings, gates, room dividers, brackets and whatever the customers desired.
There was the elevator cage that he wanted to close not with a slam but with the soft, rich thump of the doors closing on a Mercedes-Benz.
Soon, the trades knew his name and requested his artistry.
“The secret to that success was I was immediately seen as a team player,” he says.
Ponsler worked the Naples market, as well as the Bahamas, for 10 years, commuting several times a month.
He struck out on his own 10 years ago. “I worked really hard to get there,” he says.
Along with the commercial projects are his sculptures, which he sells to collectors and has begun to display in exhibitions. He recently exhibited his work at the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach.
Ponsler says he will participate in his first art show at The Beaches Art Fest Oct. 4 at Pablo Historical Park in Jacksonville Beach.
“I’ve never done an art show,” he says. “People don’t go there to buy $7,000 pieces of artwork.”
Yet, they just might.
Ponsler also crafts pieces such as the annual awards given by the Urban Land Institute North Florida District Council.
Ponsler forges his work at his 1041 McDuff Ave. S. studio near Riverside.
Ponsler says the 1928 building was a police precinct and his studio space is the former jail.
It’s filled with the tools of the trade, including a forge and a huge forge hammer that required him to install a 3-foot-thick concrete floor to support it.
The space is filled not only with tools but with pieces of metal before they are bent to his will and sculptures that reflect his imagination.
His inspiration? “I don’t know exactly,” he says. “This all has to do with me being a blacksmith for 40 years.”
Ponsler recalls buying $6,000 worth of bronze in 2007. “I had to take a deep breath and chop it up,” he says.
He has a table full of shapes. He studies them and the composition emerges.
“There are certain shapes I like to do,” he says. “It’s like you’re capturing a moment in time.”
His work comprises flowing, intertwined shapes that exude energy.
While he names his works for exhibits, he often uses code names whose meanings are personal. Sometimes he renames them. Some pieces have no names.
The studio is not his physical home, but it is his psychic center.
He creates daily, considering his most productive time after 6 p.m. The smell and ambience of the smoke from the forge mixes with his range of music and the fresh air from outside when the large doors are opened.
Ponsler is comfortable there. He works alone.
“If I had somebody here, I couldn’t dance like no one was watching,” he said.
He also works a lot, changing the shape of metal into whatever he envisions.
“I work 12 hours a day, but thank God it’s only seven days a week,” he quips.
Music is special, too. Attending Westside schools, he was in the band. “I was the best trumpet player in the county in eighth grade,” he says.
He even aspired to play with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, but opted to stay with metal.
“Blacksmithing gets in your blood.”