Art, family, and craft are at the center of Athena. This family operation in Lexington, VA is run by Yates Spencer and his sons with the singular focus of creating beautiful cookware that will stay in your family’s
kitchen for generations.
From early on
Yates Spencer began his journey with metalwork at 12 years old when a local blacksmith and family friend came to the family home in rural Virginia to install a railing. The blacksmith, Lee Sauder, had to take some elements out in the yard to heat and bend them to fit, and Yates was immediately fascinated by the plasticity of the hot metal and its grace and strength when it cooled. Lee recognized his fascination and invited him to work in his shop. Yates went on to apprentice with Lee through his teenage and college years, during which time Yates developed a talent and a passion for the craft while benefiting from Lee’s inquisitive mind and constant support. Working in the blacksmith shop didn’t feel like a step back in time, even though in many ways that’s exactly what it was. For Yates, working at the forge in those early years felt like a chance to learn how to shape hot metal and explore artistic possibilities with a family friend. It’s a feeling that his sons now feel when they go into the shop and play with metal with their father.
Returning to the mountains
After college, Yates continued his journey as a blacksmith. He moved to California and spent several years working with another master blacksmith, Robert Owings, and also spent time in numerous shops across the country and in Europe to further develop his craft. He eventually felt the pull of home and returned to the mountains and streams of Virginia, where he started a family and opened his own forge.
Over the next 20 years, Yates’s work with metal flowed between sculpture, architectural work, furniture, garden art, and jewelry. While running a professional shop, he developed a unique style, one that utilizes the fluidity and strength of metal to create shapes and forms that tend to mimic the natural world.
Sculpture to skillets
In 2017, an apprentice and friend, Jack Burks, introduced Yates to carbon steel cookware. Yates fell in love with the idea of making things that people could use, look at, and cook with every day. Throughout history, blacksmiths made many of the tools for the other artisans in their community. The idea of creating beautiful pans that empowered other people to create in the kitchen felt like a perfect extension of this tradition. Focused on the idea of functionality, Yates devoted a couple years to designing and producing skillets with the right balance of weight, handles that cradle the palm, and the durability to withstand generations worth of high heat cooking.