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Kulm man makes iron crosses

By Jackie Hyra

Jamestown Sun, Jamestown, North Dakota, August 8, 2005

Wrough Iron Work of Jeff Malm

Jeff Malm, artist, Learned to make iron crosses after being injured in a farm accident.

For Jeff Malm, a farm accident that left him paralyzed 15 years ago closed one door but opened another to the world of art.

No longer able to farm, the Kulm, N.D., native drew on his experience welding machinery and began making art instead of tools. He displayed his traditional folk art iron crosses at Jamestown's Culture Festival last weekend.

Malm said he was always interested in the traditional German/Russian art form, even though his own ancestry was Swedish. Thanks to an apprenticeship from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, he was able to learn the folk art from Herman Kraft of South Dakota. What Malm did not know until recently was that iron crosses were also a tradition in northern Sweden. That knowledge reinforced Malms belief that iron working is in his blood. His father and grandfather were blacksmiths, a handy skill to have on the farm.

I have my great-grandfather's anvil, he said.

One of Malm's first crosses sits in a pasture near Mott, N.D., where several members of his wife's family are buried. Another is in a pastor's memorial garden in Fargo.

The largest cross Malm displayed at the Culture Festival is destined for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the North Dakota State University Libraries.

Malm said he is still learning, perfecting his craft. He is using less and less welding, putting his crosses together with clamps and rivets instead.

That is something the traditional blacksmiths used, he said. Its a traditional art, so I am trying to keep that look.

Malm looks at photos of old crosses to get ideas for his designs, but his own are all originals, and he adds a signature piece to each cross he makes a rose, formed from many iron petals.

Its really a creative thing too, he said.

Malm also made some of the tools he uses, like an instrument to twist metal rods, and others to create small scrolls and trefoils.

I like making the tools too, he said.

Malm said he feels no anger about the accident that left him paralyzed and ended his career farming.

Im very glad to be alive and thankful for the God-given talent to still be able to work, he said.

Malm sells his iron crosses on order for prices ranging from $100 to $500, depending upon the size and intricacy of the design. He said it takes him several weeks to make one because the accident left him with some weakness in his hands.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Library
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
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PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
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