the ringing of the clashing metals, the hiss of the smoke, the roar of the coals…
On a sticky October afternoon, I found my way to a local Fall festival where the air was alive with cabaret music, barbecue, and the thick black smoke of carbon fumes. The most unique spectacles at the fair were the men in sooty denim hammering away on antique forges. A decorative sign nearby read Blacksmiths.
Before that day, my experience with blacksmithing only went as far as the exaggerated fantasy lands of the Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, and Skyrim. Interestingly enough, however, the real deal is far more enticing: the ringing of the clashing metals, the hiss of the smoke, the roar of the coals, and the flashes of heat are enough to keep you captivated for hours. All this romance to create not a sword or shield, but a spoon, a bottle opener, or a nail.
Most of the smiths here are welders or veterans in the field who have worked for the US Navy or in Hampton Roads shipyards assembling aircraft carriers and other components and fittings. For those who retired and enjoyed the work, they turned to blacksmithing as an art, creating sculptures and tools with recycled metals.
All this romance to create not a sword or shield, but a spoon, a bottle opener, or a nail…
I met one of the smiths, Matt Sieber (Willway Forge), an enthusiastic artist who created much of the beautiful items on display. He laughed about how blacksmithing used to be dreadful work; “now it’s art!” He informed me on how there were no hardware stores in the early colonial days, so blacksmithing was the painstaking chore that had to be done in order to create basic tools.
If you could not forge yourself, you had to know someone who could. This might seem self-explanatory, but today’s mass production of nearly everything has distanced us from the true sweat and grime required to make everyday items we take for granted.
Matt was in the middle of creating a door handle, so I watched him work on an antique coal forge. The forge has a mechanical blower to feed the flames. As he worked, he also showed me a few pieces of slag, the annoying byproduct that can suck the heat out of the forge.
I took a souvenir from the experience: Matt’s first spoon. Originally I felt bad about purchasing it, but he was cool with it! It appealed to me the most because there was something spiritual about it. First spoon or not, the fact that it was human made means that it has a story and character.
Matt’s spoon beside an iron skillet of Chicken Marsala.
the fact that it was human made means that it has a story and character…
I love its pewter color, and the occasional silver shimmer. The natural nicks and dents from the hammer are quite handsome, and the hook by the handle has been swept into a delicate curl.
It is the type of tool that will age gracefully and collect stories overtime because it will never be “just a spoon I bought at the store.” Although mass production has its useful place in everyday life, we also need to remember the scrupulous foundation in which we built our existence.
Thus, hard work or not, painful chores now made easy should be remembered as art because at the end of the day, the knowledge one must know to create the end product is precious. If or when we ever reach a moment in time where the bubble of mass production bursts, we will need such knowledgeable individuals again.
Until then, keep up the good work, blacksmiths!
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