The forge begins to roar, and its dancing blue flames heat two rusty railroad spikes, still cold with winter, to a molten yellow-orange that bends the air around it. The anvil sings each time the heavy hammer falls, and the spike flattens obligingly: CLING cling, CLING cling, CLING cling.
It's not often that you see someone literally forge a spiritual relationship, but Spokane artist Aleksey Borisov says that's exactly what he's doing.
In his workshop, Borisov searches for spikes stamped "H.C." for "High Carbon" — those are the ones that will stand up to the two days of forging, hammering, carving and sanding that transforms them into gleaming blades. Railroad spike knives are a popular stepping stone to bigger forging projects, but for Borisov, it's one step closer to God.
"For me, when I'm working with knives and working with art," he says, "I see how the metal gets fired up and melts down and it reminds me that I'm raw, and when God works [on] me, He creates something beautiful."
The 31-year-old has always been "a crafty guy," from early days building decorations for his father's church in Volgograd, Russia, where he was born and raised, to eventually studying carving, mosaic, metalworking and woodworking in technical college for five years.
When his family moved to Spokane 11 years ago, Borisov jumped into local ministry, serving as a youth leader for eight years at Light of the Gospel Church, a baptist church led in Russian. In the meantime, he worked "all kinds of jobs — shipping, construction, remodeling, roofing," most recently as a service technician at an apartment complex, content until one day three years ago.
"I started to get annoyed, I thought I must be doing something wrong," Borisov says. "I just got depressed. I was studying God's word and I thought, 'If I'm a servant of God, he gave me some kind of gift, but I don't have anything.' And then I realized, God created me [as] an artist."
The snow had finally thawed and the Russian Bear — as Borisov jokingly calls himself — climbed out of hibernation and set to work. He passed on his youth leadership job and enrolled in New Masters Academy, an online fine arts school, and has studied sculpting, painting and bronze making for the past two years.
"For me, it's just exhilarating," Borisov says. "To just be yourself ... that's where you're going to be happy, you don't have to please anybody."
He's made 12 knives since May, also doing projects for friends and family (and for practice), like medieval bookshelves, a Russian grill, leather keychains — any project makes him happy, since it's all a "cool example of God's work." He plans to build inventory and sell items through his Etsy shop soon, and he's in it for the long haul — he's currently waiting on his interview to become an American citizen.
After two arduous days making knives, Borisov goes to Panera Bread to celebrate and refuel. He starts to take a bite of his sandwich, stops, and excitedly places his newest knife beside his food for a short Instagram video. Within seconds, a manager arrives and informs him that Panera doesn't allow weapons inside.
"But it's art!" Borisov says at first, knowing how it looks. After a lighthearted exchange, the knife was out in the car, but Borisov smiles; the video of his lunch and knife was safely uploaded to Instagram. ♦