Scott continued to describe the Viper Rum statue.
“We wanted to do something to honor Mary’s work and her poetry, because that’s really what she is: a poet, even though she’s written these other books that have done real well. So we just took the concept of the viper rum, and the first thing we naturally came up with was a rum bottle or a rum glass, and a viper. And then we came up with doing a man out of the two. I drew a sketch for Noro, and he kind of misinterpreted it. What happened was he had the snake coming out of the top of the bottle, but it was curving the wrong way. So I told him to cut it off, and I stuck it back on there. Then we realized we could make that mouth actually coming out of the snake body. So that was just kind of happenstance, the way it came out. Then I did the violin. And the reason we had the snare drum and the violin is kind of a tribute to the music from my hometown area: Cajun music. Once he did the fiddle, we came up with the pipe, which is also a candleholder. And the top of the top hat also has a spot for a candle. And then, of course, you put a candle inside the bottle and it lights up the letters ‘Viper Rum.’ Now, I wanted to do it in a Civil War time period, and I wanted to do a gun, because Noro is also a gunsmith. He can make revolvers. So I wanted him to put a revolver up underneath the cape, but he insisted that Mary wouldn’t like it. So I called her, and sure enough, she didn’t like it. She didn’t want the gun. And so we ended up dropping the gun altogether.”
Scott described the cape, the drum, the flowers, the Brazilian marble. He would draw something and discuss it with Noro. Then they would modify it, until the whole piece came together.
“Noro is a super-talented artist that has never, in my opinion, really had anybody that was willing to pay to do artwork because it’s just a losing proposition. There’s no profit in it. He’s been working in production shops his whole career, pretty much. But he’s too talented to do production work, because the degree of difficulty to have it come out looking as clean as it does is just staggering. Fortunately, I’m in a position financially where I can afford to do the artwork and not have to worry about selling it. That’s the whole key, if you want to do true artist’s blacksmith work. For instance, that Viper Rum took two months. I mean, I’ve probably got $7500 in it, counting everything. And that’s not figuring anything for my time, that’s just hard cost. So compared to everything else I do, there is no profit in it. I mean, it’s a love. It has nothing to do with business, but in the time I did that Viper Rum piece I built $250,000 worth of fence.”
Noro came to the States in 1999 and showed up at Scott Fence in the spring of 2000. Before that, he had been doing blacksmith work for someone who Scott said hadn’t been deducting anything from Noro’s paycheck: an under-the-counter sort of job. In place of a résumé, Noro brought a cast-iron snake.
“The first day Noro was here,” said Scott, “I was just, like, in awe. And all of the men too. I mean, normally a new guy shows up at a company and everybody is kind of like, you know, who is the new guy? and all of that stuff. He has that snakehead that he made. George asked if he could make a cobra. He said, oh yeah, he could make a cobra. That was his first job — to make George a cobra. He made a cobra standing up with a full hood. It’s got all of the detail.”
Then he made full-sized grape leaves trailing around the frame rising up from the bed of Scott’s pickup truck. Delicately veined leaves on seemingly fragile stems clinging to the vines, and wispy tendrils winding around the metal bars — all made from forged metal. He did small jobs, like wine racks and candelabras — not cheap but with rose petals as delicate as rose petals. Then he worked on a $3000 pedestrian gate with designs of Torrey pines. Scott brought Noro a Torrey pine cone and Noro duplicated all its tiny, feathered edges. Then he took silica bronze and melted it over the galvanized-steel corner-post cap to make a moon. Then he hand-made the hinges.
“Hand-making the hinges took three days,” said Scott, “whereas I could buy the best set of manufactured hinges for only 75 bucks, you see? But it looks it when you’re done. I mean, the difference is staggering between the handmade products and mass-produced, just like anything else.”
Noro went on to do other gates for Scott, then staircase work, then specialty handrails with dolphins and pomegranates.
“The customers were really happy with it,” said Scott. “It created a lot of interest. So the guy who bought the dolphins turned around and also wanted dolphins for the backyard because he’s got an ocean view. He’s a surgeon down in Solana Beach.”
During this time, Noro made a cane for the novelist Stephen King, whose leg and hip had been smashed up when he had been hit and thrown by a van not far from his summer home in Maine. This was also a snake’s head, with a snake’s tail at the bottom and an expensive length of wood in between.
“The reason I did that for Stephen King: that was a gift,” said Scott. “We’re going to give that to him for being nice enough to mention Mary’s book in his book on writing. That was really cool. That’s a badass piece of work, man. I mean, look on the bottom of it, the hole that Noro drilled through it. He’s an incredible talent, no doubt about it.”