Wrought iron artist hammers it out in old town Bluffton

August 15, 2011 

From hanging tables and chandeliers to sculptures and gates, artist Rhonda Fantozzi has made a name for herself in the custom wrought iron business.

Fantozzi describes her work as "contemporary realism." Her creativity can often be associated with functionality as she adds an artistic feel to items such as furniture, fireplace screens and more.

This summer Fantozzi was commissioned to build eight gates for the University of South Carolina Beaufort campus' new student housing. The 200-pound gates stand 8 feet high, towering over their maker. With arched tops, screen mesh, decorative circles and two arched side panels, each of the eight gates took about two weeks to make. On campus, they sit between brickwork to give the entrance to the new living areas an old, fortress-like feel.

Fantozzi, a 1997 Savannah College of Art and Design graduate, opened her first shop on Hilton Head Island after she graduated. She moved to Bluffton a little more than six years ago.

Fantozzi's shop sits amid the colony of artists that make old town Bluffton unique. Fantozzi said she enjoys the camaraderie between artists in the area. "Everybody recommends each other."

She regularly works with other artists on pieces, integrating multiple media in her work. A wrought iron sculpture might include some stained glass from Veronica's Art and Glass, for example. She tries to work with local artists and to buy her materials locally.

"Buy local. It might cost a little more money but it's hand made and American made and it will last forever," she said.

The gates at USCB were designed by the architect of the project, but most of Fantozzi's work are her own designs. As a very hands-on person, Fantozzi said she enjoys being able to design, craft and install her work herself.

"I hand-forge all of the leaves and hooks and handles," she said. "I don't consider it work. I love what I do. I could do this all day."

Most of Fantozzi's pieces have an organic, Lowcountry-theme with whimsical reeds and iconic egrets. A pair of candlesticks she's been working on recently feature sand crabs. She said it's the sixth pair she's made for this particular customer.

"She keeps giving them away as away as gifts," Fantozzi said.

While she enjoys working with residential customers, Fantozzi said she appreciates being able to show her work in public places. She made mirror frames, wine racks and other items for Truffles restaurant in Belfair Towne Village. She crafted 15 dog beds for Southpaw Pet Resort in Hilton Head. She also created pieces for the Colleton River Clubhouse. She was asked to bid on the USCB job after she did some work for Lawton Stables.

Fantozzi said she feels a sense of satisfaction when she sees her finished work in place.

"My work will be around long after me," she said.

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