The blacksmith, the taxidermist and the violin-maker: These Utahns are keeping traditional professions alive

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Aaron Recksiek repairs an older vintage pocket watch at Mt. Olympus Clock with steady hands and a good magnifier. He's carrying on in the family business that started in 1958.

They work with their hands, heating and shaping metal into tools, fashioning wood into beautiful acoustic instruments, or tinkering with tiny cogs to restore an antique timepiece to working order.

Their professions might harken back to another era, but the Utahns who make their living via timeworn skills say they offer more life and energy than any office job could.

Here are their stories:

The Luthier

As the son of Peter Prier — the late founder of the Violin Making School of America in downtown Salt Lake City — it was always expected that Daniel Prier would follow the family business and passion. But though Daniel Prier fashioned his first violin at the age of 12, what he really wanted was to be a professional athlete.

But his athletic dreams fell flat, so he went to his father’s school for three years to pursue violin making. Peter Prier expected greatness, and Daniel recalls feeling pressure to be the best student in his class.

So he transferred to a school in Chicago for the final three years of his luthier education. It was there, practicing under master makers away from the family legacy, that he found a calling for the craft.

Now, he runs Peter Prier & Sons Violins (308 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City) while restoring and building instruments of his own with an eye for perfection.

Making one violin can take 350 hours; a cello, 500 hours. ”There’s so much variance and so much soul in the sound of an acoustic instrument that you can never grow tired,” Prier says. ”It’s an endless cycle.”

The Blacksmiths

Michael Miller-Imperiale and Matt Danielson started as backyard blacksmiths, but opened Wasatch Forge (3345 S. 300 West, South Salt Lake) three years ago as their hobby evolved into a profession.

Danielson says he was hesitant to become a full-time blacksmith because of the economic pressures and responsibilities associated with making it his “day job.” However, as he honed his craft and began passing his skills on as a teacher, he found a rekindled enthusiasm.

The duo respect the history of shaping metal while trying to advance the craft by training apprentice smiths — and there are plenty — who have been lured to learn by a desire to shape steel with force and fire.

”The fact that you can take dirt from the ground, burn it, and then turn it into a sword that fells kingdoms is magical,” Danielson says.

The Taxidermist

Andrea Silva’s passion for collecting and studying bones and skeletons transformed into an interest in taxidermy when she began an apprenticeship in a professional shop in West Valley City.

After her mentor closed his shop, she had a choice: find another taxidermist to train under, or open her own taxidermy business. She founded Remnant Preservations in 2015 to try her hand at preserving animals — from house pets to hunting trophies.

Silva spends 10 to 30 hands-on hours with each animal, but the entire taxidermy process can take a year from start to finish — from fleshing out and salting the carcass, to sending the animal’s hide to a tanner to mounting and finishing the trophy.

She says she’s drawn to the artistic skill that taxidermy demands — especially the finishing touch of painting an animal’s glass eyes, which “gives it life.”

The Remnant shop is now closed, but Silva says she will continue taking on projects in a smaller capacity.

The Watchmaker

Aaron Recksiek always wears two watches — one a mechanical Swiss watch, the other an electronic smartwatch — to embrace both the past and future of timekeeping.

”The fact that these things were built to withstand the passage of time, but then still be precise instruments, is amazing,” he says.

He spent his childhood working at his great-uncle’s Mt. Olympus Clock Shop (2265 E. 3900 South, Holladay), which has been open since 1958. He did maintenance projects, helped customers around the shop and gradually learned to work on clocks after graduating from high school.

Recksiek was interested in learning the more complex and formal steps of the watch repair process, but didn’t think it was his calling until the middle of attending a two-year professional program. Recksiek fell in love with the micromechanics curriculum — making specialized miniature parts for the watches, and the tools to fix them.

He spends hours each day with a magnification lens on his right eye to restore timepieces to working order. One Rolex repair can take a full day, with smaller maintenance tweaks for other watches sprinkled in.

The Sign Painters

Katy Willis and Natalie Mella help fellow craftspeople advertise their crafts. Dubbed ”The Sign Witches” (Facebook.com/signwitches), the duo design, print, transfer and hand-paint signs for businesses from restaurants to yoga studios to manufacturers.

Their customized, personal work gives each business a look that speaks to the its ethos, history or sense of fun. Clients include Caputo’s, Creative Energies Solar, Diamond Line Delivery, The Point Pilates, Rawtopia and Yoko Ramen.

”People are always going to want something that has a human touch. People are always going to want craft and art,” Willis says. “So, we’ll be here to paint their signs.”