When we spot other Craftspeople, it inspires us to share their story. And sharpen our pencils.
Episode 9

Wesley Groot Knows How to Put Anything in the World on a Belt Buckle

Tom, Dick and Harry Creative Co. is a craft agency that is proud to tell the stories of craftspeople taking the leap to create one-of-a kind goods, services, and experiences in Chicago. We sat down with the owner and founder of Chicago’s craft metalworking studio, Wesley Groot of Cityboy Forge.

Looking at the custom work featured in the hard-working shop at Cityboy Forge, you’d never guess that blacksmith and metalworker Wesley Groot started in a much different space.

“I was a commodity trader for 21 years,” Groot says, in his signature affable tone. “So, of course the next thing I would do would be to make belt buckles.” Despite how it sounds, his career pivot was perhaps not as stark as it seems. The shift came after years of collecting antique tools and getting into woodworking. After some years, Groot saw, as he says, “the end of open outcry trading coming to the commodity industry.” He wasn’t sure what he was going to do next, but he knew he wanted to work with his hands and move from the intangible to the tangible.

Then, in 2000, destiny struck. “A friend of mine in Seattle called,” Groot remembers, “and he said, ‘I’m taking this blacksmith class that I think you’d really enjoy.’” Groot took the class, and fifteen minutes into the first session he knew, as he says, “that woodworking was my past and metalworking was my future.” From then on, Groot has been at the helm of Cityboy Forge, a craft metalworking studio in Chicago, creating metal art and, of course, custom belt buckles.

The beauty of the buckles themselves, which depict scenes from nature, flora and fauna, people, inspirational quotes, and even clients’ memories, lie in the craftsmanship and Groot’s self-taught expertise in an ancient technique called “Chasing and Repoussé,” or “C&R” for short. Chasing, is done with hammer and chisels on the front side of their piece. Repoussé, is done with a hammer and more rounded tools, on the back side of the workpiece to provide volume and raise the metal up into a low relief sculpture. The result is striking three-dimensional pieces of art on Cityboy Forge’s buckles.

For Groot, these two techniques open the world of possibilities for design. “You can make anything,” he says. “A client can say, ‘I want Mount St. Helens,’ and I can do that. The next client can say, ‘I want a 1951 fire truck.’ I could do that.” With his experience, almost any image in two dimensions can be translated into a three-dimensional living piece. “That’s why I taught myself how to do it,” he says. “Because it serves my purpose. I can help everybody—one at a time.”

Cityboy Forge’s customers know that when they come to Wesley Groot that they will be able to work in relationship with this experienced craftsman as he refines and perfects their vision for their piece. “The client I had yesterday is the inspiration for the client I'm going to get tomorrow,” Groot says. “When they say that they're really proud of giving my buckle to somebody else, that makes it that much easier to go to the next one.” His successes with individual customers have resulted in interests from social media influencers and big retailers; notably, Groot’s designs have been featured with Trunk Club, Urban Angler, and Howler Brothers.

Though he works independently, Groot is forthcoming about the importance of having a strong support system of other craftsmen and artists. And to other craftsmen interested in embarking on a career in a similar field he has some advice: “Focus on your work,” he says. “Don't focus on what other people are doing, because you don't want to make things that other people are doing…the main thing I would say to people that are trying to start out living this maker’s kind of existence is just to be really persistent.” As his path has revealed, persistence pays off.As Bungalow by Middle Brow proves: the wild magic will follow.