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My Israel Trip To Learn From Uri Hofi

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As I began to write this I had been back from Israel for about 2 weeks and I still cannot believe what I learned about blacksmithing as well as culture, another culture 7000 miles from home. I remember many times Uri Hofi telling me that blacksmithing is about culture, he is right. He has described traveling to the Czech Republic and how smiths have lived in family homes for hundreds of years. How many families have worked in the same smithy for generations. It is mind boggling when you think about it. They have worked in smithies that are much older than our country.

By looking at blacksmithing as a cultural experience you can begin to understand why things are done the way they are. Sometimes things are done a certain way or a tool was made a certain way out of necessity. While these tools or ways of doing things are not necessarily wrong, they may not be the most efficient way of doing things, enter Uri Hofi.

Uri Hofi is unique in that he has traveled extensively around the world to study and teach blacksmithing. He has studied and taught in the Czech Republic. He also teaches in Germany, Japan, United States, Holland, Italy and the Ukraine. These are just the ones I know of, I am sure I am missing some. It is well known that Hofi always asks can it be done better, faster more efficiently? This is sometimes a sore subject between traditional blacksmiths and what I would call progressive blacksmiths.

I remember the first time I met Uri was in North Carolina at a air hammer class. I knew the first time I attended his class I was fortunate to have found him. I am even more fortunate that he loves to teach and pass on the things that he has learned. It was at the second class I took with him in North Carolina that he invited me to Israel. I spent the next 3 years trying to get there. I finally made it.

My trip to Israel was one I will never forget. I stayed on a Kibbutz. This is best described as a small self sufficient community. Access to the community is usually restricted by a gate. When you enter the Kibbutz Ein Shemer where Uri lives you see large trees shading the road and people riding bicycles around the community. Many people residing in the kibbutz do not own a car, there is no need most of the time. You can walk around the kibbutz or ride a bicycle which is what I did. I stayed in an apartment on site and was only a 5 minute walk away from the smithy. I stayed just across the street from the community laundry mat and the cafeteria. I found the food to be very good. Many of the vegetables were grown on the Kibbutz and were very fresh.

There is a small store located on the premises where you can buy most of what you need between major grocery store trips. As a resident if you need a vehicle you simply log on to your computer and check to see if one of the many cars that the Kibbutz owns is available and reserve it. When you pick the car up at the car pool you only pay for the time you use it instead of all of the expenses incurred as the sole owner.

There are beautiful gardens planted throughout the Kibbutz by the residents as well as one for the community. I noticed the birds that resembled ours. There were their versions of the Crow and Blue Jay as well as beautiful parrots flying around.

While I was there I attended events that marked their Memorial Day, Independence Day and a Holocaust Memorial. I have to say that I feel privileged to have done this. I was treated as though I was a member of the community, it was very moving to have been a part of this. I will never forget it as long as I live.

The Kibbutz is a very beautiful place with beautiful people who truly care for each other.

The day at the forge usually started around 7:30 in the morning and ended between 5:30 and 9:30 at night. I would eat breakfast at the cafeteria as well as lunch. We would usually start the morning talking about the lessons from the day before and go over what we were to cover during the day. There were breaks during the day to drink tea and discuss the current element we were making.

Occasionally a student would stop by and ask a question or drop off some fresh fruit. Once or twice a week several students would come in at around 5:00 and we would work on a project such as producing hammers or making a humming bird out of 1.5 inch solid bar. It was a group effort but it also allowed me to meet other smiths from the area. They all valued Hofi’s advice and all of them were current or past students of his. This was another example of how blacksmithing is really about culture.

One evening a student brought a box full of meat with various side dishes from the local area. We gathered outside under a sculpture that Hofi made from the elements created by different students and we had a bar-b-que. I enjoyed this very much as it allowed me to get to know other smiths from different cultures. As I write this I just realized that one of the smiths that attended this feast was someone that I watched on Youtube recently. He won the world forging championship in Stia, Italy. He spoke in Hebrew on the video but I heard him mention Uri Hofi several times. He was there with his son and seemed to be a very nice and un-assuming man.

The talent that I observed while in Israel makes me believe that right now the center of the blacksmithing universe may be located in the middle east. I am not talking about traditional blacksmithing but progressive smithing. Blacksmithing where new methods are used to create the same end result. Where things like large rose buds, gas forges, fly presses and hydraulic presses are common place and used almost every day to produce things in one fourth the time it would take doing it the traditional way. There will always be the argument between traditional blacksmiths and progressive blacksmiths and I guess we have to agree to disagree on many things.

One thing sticks out in my mind. While teaching me how to forge leaves in one heat, complete with veins, Hofi made a statement. He said that he has forged many leaves but he his stilling learning from this little leaf. When he told me that I realized just how far I have to go. And, even though Hofi is one of the best blacksmiths in the world he is still learning from what many would say is a very basic element, a leaf. I believe this is the reason Hofi is so good. He is constantly trying to learn things, better ways of doing things. To the point that he is still analyzing his technique on the most basic of elements, a leaf. I am trying to teach myself to pay attention to every hammer blow and exactly how I am holding my hammer on every swing. By doing this I am teaching myself to be critical of everything I do.

I thought I knew Uri Hofi and his capabilities as a blacksmith until I walked into his gallery. The first time I turned on the lights and saw the displays I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. He had everything from sculptures to little hand forged handles for gates. What I observed went from one end of the blacksmithing spectrum to the other. It will take me a lot of time just to sort thru the photos of his work. One of my favorite things in the gallery were the birds forged from a solid piece of material.

Uri has become more than a friend and mentor. I consider him more of a grandfather with a funny accent. The whole time I was there he was concerned with what I wanted to learn. He knew that I had spend a lot of money and wanted to make sure I learned as much as I could in the 2 week period. Well Uri succeeded in teaching me more in 2 weeks than I could have probably learned in a year.

I am afraid that Hofi will only be appreciated in the United States after we no longer have access to his unique skill and knowledge. If you ever have the chance to learn from him do it. I can assure you that it will be an investment in your future. Along the way you will learn about another culture, one that is much older than ours.

In summary, I learned that blacksmithing is not only about heat, smoke, steel and iron, hammers and tools or doing things this was or that way, it is about life and culture. Its about interpretation, how you, the Blacksmith see things personally. What is beautiful to you may not be to another. That is why you need to know about different cultures, so you may see things as others do. Learning about other cultures is what makes blacksmithing beautiful and alive. Being able to do this will make you a better blacksmith and a more successful one. Read books on history, theory of design, and other cultures.

The purpose of this article was not to teach but to describe my trip to Israel, I hope that I have succeeded in doing so. I am going to include some photos of some of the things I saw and experienced.

To everyone in the Kibbutz, thank you for making me feel part of the community for the short time I was there. To Uri and his family, thank you for your hospitality and making me feel like I was part of the family. I am already looking forward to my next trip to Israel.

Gary Cremeens, Firebug

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Edited by firebug
rotate photo, spelling

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Thanks for sharing
I remember going to a BAM conference which was held right after one of Mr Hofi's 5 day class in MO. I was very impressed seeing all the story boards of differrent projects showing each major step in the procedure.

Will you occasionally be sharing techniques here with us?
I know I would be interested in hearing more.
Thanks

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Later when I am proficient at the techniques that Hofi teaches I will teach here in the states, ONLY after Hofi no longer comes here to teach. I am glad you liked the article.

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Thank you for telling us about your adventure.
You have actually done what I could only dream about doing.
Hofi is truly a worldwide symbol of being a teacher, entrepreneur, craftsman, and an ambassador of excellence in the craft of Blacksmithing.
When Hofi has helped me before and sent me an email, it made me feel like a VIP!
Ted Throckmorton

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Excellent story it makes me wish I could go even more.

Thank you.

Frosty

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hello there. nice story. because i am from Cyprus and Israel is right next door from us i was thinking of going for a course to Uri Hofi this summer. but unfortunately i cannot find the means to contact him. some of his previous students who own a forge that teaches the same techniques in France have told me that it is possible to go because there are still courses in Israel but haven;t provided the means to contact him. How did you reach him? can you direct me to a site or something? i would really appreciate it.. thanks in advance 

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Google Center for Metal Arts in Chester NY (he teaches there) or contact Firebug through the site. Both should have Hofi contact information.

Edited by Glenn

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Uri has an active Facebook page (he posted something two days ago) so you might look at that also.

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The sent photos have an X attached to each on my screen. No photos.

​Same here. 

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Old photos here go away.  To be fair not just here, I think that's how the internet works.  "Momma don't take my Kodachrome away..."

Nice to see Uri trending on IFI again!  

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That's an old thread (2009).  If someone posts photos on a third party site like Photoscape, etc. then deletes them or access changes, the photos are no longer available.  As posted by someone here a while back, maybe Glenn, it's best to upload your photos directly to the IFI site for retention (if that's your desire).

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Great post Gary! and congratulations on you journey of knowledge!

that is strange this thread came up in "new content"

Edited by oldgoaly
explanation

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Any thread with a current reply will move that thread to "new content" hence the "new content" as it was added to the thread. Its always good to look at the time stamp of the original thread to see how old it actually is - its easy to be searching a discover that you just replied to an old thread but didn't know it.

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That's an old thread (2009).  If someone posts photos on a third party site like Photoscape, etc. then deletes them or access changes, the photos are no longer available.  As posted by someone here a while back, maybe Glenn, it's best to upload your photos directly to the IFI site for retention (if that's your desire).

Sadly after the last update or so, it seems many picts uploaded directly here are also no longer available for whatever reason.

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