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This morning I received in my inbox, information of yet another degree in craft. This time at Crawford College of Art & Design, in Co. Cork, Ireland. It will consist of ceramics, glass and textiles. Once again blacksmiths are not at the table.


I have long thought the blacksmith industry needs to focus some attention on getting our craft into the major art colleges. On the whole, when voicing this idea I’ve been met with mockery, derision, anger, outrage and, thankfully support, at such an idea. Why are we so resistant to new ideas? Surly having small forging departments open for three or four days a month (like some other departments already) in art colleges would be good for blacksmithing. It would provide extra and much needed income for those smiths who feel happy to teach. It would also help to promote our craft in areas some have felt to be blocked off to us. It would allow students to dip their toes in the water and, if they like it, dive in. I’m sure a great many of these students would then go on to fulltime studies in forge work at collages like Hereford in the UK. It would also help to promote our craft to future administrators of the art world. A large amount of art students don’t go on to become practising artists, they become gallery administrators, curators and civil servants. In short, they become the commissioners of future art. Thus, if they aren’t exposed to the forge they are less likely to commission forge work. This is borne out by the fact that very few of us are commissioned by these sorts of institutions.


It feels as if we, as an industry, decided at some point to stop moving forward. To stop building on the monumental efforts of those who helped halt the decline of our craft in the Sixties and Seventies. Smiths I have a great deal of admiration for, without whom I know I would not be doing what I love today. These artists, most of whom are widely known by those of us working in the forge, put in place what became a great endeavour to help blacksmithing survive and move on.


Other crafts did the same, but at some point our paths differed quite significantly. We became content with, on the whole, being a craft. We set up our colleges in rural areas, held the majority of our events in out of the way places and mostly, though not exclusively, shunned the art world, its colleges and galleries.


Crafts such as ceramics at first did the same, establishing colleges in rural areas and so on. But somewhere along the line they began to court the art world, getting small ceramic departments set up in more prominent art colleges and holding events in major metropolitan areas, with exhibitions in contemporary art galleries. In short, ceramicists pushed their way to the front and became a mainstream art form as well as a traditional craft.


You don’t need to take my word for this, all of us already know of ceramics events being pushed by various groups, colleges, galleries and associations. All we have to do is look around us. How many times have you been introduced to someone as a blacksmith and been met with one of the three following remarks:
“You must be one of the last blacksmiths in the country”.
“Do you shoe horses?”
“I thought blacksmiths died out in the Victorian era”.


Ask those same people if they know of ceramics. Not only is it odds-on they know of it, they most likely collect it and know several potters.


The other effects on crafts/art forms like ceramics and glass is that, like us, fifty years ago they were a predominately male dominated industry whereas now they are relatively aligned with national averages in terms of gender employment while our industry has only about 10% of its number being female. This puts us at a huge disadvantage. Any industry that is either mostly male or mostly female from one class or group is in danger of stagnation, becoming irrelevant to whole swaths of society. If we are to move forward we have to recognise that blacksmithing has a poor record in attracting women into the craft and we must look at why women don’t find their way to holding a hammer.


This all leads to one truth in my opinion. We are not diverse enough! We have very few avenues into our craft which has left us isolated among other art forms. We are bogged down in dogmas about how blacksmiths should orientate their business, where and to whom it should be taught and where it should be exhibited and demonstrated.


I’m not saying everyone should be forced to operate in the art world or go to art collage. I, myself, left school with no qualifications and come from a metalwork background, both my father and brother being welder fabricators on the docks of Portsmouth in the UK. What I mean is, disregarding those with successful careers in the art world is counterproductive to our craft. Refusing to acknowledge that other crafts have gained huge advantages by being present in art colleges undermines our craft. Carrying on only promoting our craft in the same way as has been done over the past forty years, with the same results, is not progressing our craft.


Of course, the forge-ins we have are great fun, they are fantastic ways of sharing skills and fostering friendship. All of this is very desirable and something of an edge we have as a craft. But … yes sorry, I have to insert a ‘but’, it does not effectively promote forge work to the other 99.999.999% of the world. Not least because of the way we generally do it as a whole at the moment. The most recurring complaint I hear from other smiths is the public’s lack of awareness of our craft. It would appear to stand to reason that our combined efforts so far have not been effective. So, logic would dictate that we look to promote our craft in different ways, wouldn’t it? Shouldn’t we look at how other crafts and art forms have achieved greater results? Perhaps combined with what we already do so well, it would push blacksmithing into the limelight, and as a result smiths would find it financially much more comfortable?


I don’t know how to end this other than stating that I’m not attacking anyone for what they do. I’m not trying to rubbish people’s efforts over the past fifty years or say it was worthless. As I’ve already said I have a great deal of respect for what these smiths and their families and friends have done and sacrificed for the craft. I simply feel we have problems and we need to look afresh at how to solve them. Otherwise I fear the efforts of the past could be for nothing.

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So come off the fence then Michael, are you a blacksmith, sculptor, or an artist blacksmith?

 

What attracts your customers to you? The amount of skills used in your work, or its "wow" factor?

 

Do schools and colleges include metalworking, or art and craft based projects?

 

Is silversmithing mini blacksmithing?

 

Is Blacksmithing a recognised occupation? Not yet but with the acceptence of the National Occupational Standard, hopefully it will be soon. 

 

Art = large money making potential,  not a lot of the blacksmiths skills needed

 

Blacksmithing = job satisfaction, lots of skills required, imitation cheaper items, foreign imports for fabricators, undercutting of prices by opportunists, copying/hijacking designs by opportunists, survival if you are dedicated.

 

I survived for the last 35 years as a traditional village blacksmith (previously from an industrial smithing/foundry/engineering background, shop floor to management level)) and now in retirement will continue to promote the craft, and pass on my small arsenal of skills to others who hopefully will benefit and in turn add to them and pass them, and theirs on to others, mainly because of the difficulty I had in finding how to adapt from the industrial type of forging to the 'traditional' and the lack of artisans willing to pass on their knowledge and experience.

 

I thoroughly support you and your comments, so keep on kicking it.

 

Currently a number of us here in the UK are also trying to put together a major blacksmith international blacksmith's event for 2014, so we will need yours and others' help and support,

 

Rant over and some comments tongue in cheek, nothing personal.

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Hi John,

 

I've always considered myself a blacksmith first and a sculptor second. Over the last five years I’ve grown to feel that Artist Blacksmith is counterproductive to us as the public are confused by the term.

I would say my customers are attracted by a combination of all the things you mentioned.

I was thinking that colleges would most likely be interested in metalworking. Different colleges may differ in their needs and approaches. (I’m not saying I have all the answers here. I’m putting ideas out so we can debate and maybe improve on our craft)

Silversmithing is already reasonably well catered for as far as I’m aware. I have not given it much thought.

I know it’s not a recognized occupation in Ireland as far FAS the national occupational training body here. Weather NOS will help your guess is as good as mine.

Whether art has a lower skill level really depends on the person doing it and what they want to put into it. It doesn’t have to mean a poor skill level.

 

Please keep me posted about your event.

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On this side of the pond, very few modern blacksmiths seem to dwell on the why, just the how. We are mainly Technicians, not Artists, mostly based on the nature of the way the trade was carried out in the Americas, and the nature of the population today. We have an ill-informed populace, suspicious of education, intellectuals, and art in general. We have very few remaining examples of ironwork from the first half of the Twentieth Century, much less earlier. Where to start with bringing this to the public as an art form, when it has no visible history in the public consciousness as anything but a crude, primitive subsistence level craft performed by illiterates?

 

First, we would be seen as taking a piece of the pie from the established art community. Everyone knows that it is tough enough making it financially these days. At the community college where I work, it seems like the Art Department has made it their mission to keep the Jewelry Lab from being able to function at any level for the last ten years. Plus the Welding department Art club students (of which I am the Faculty Advisor) do not get informed of, or invited to art shows (not since we swept the Recycled Art awards a few years ago, anyway). Only Music, Theatre, Painting and Sculpture are real art, dahlings. (Of course, we do have to let the commoners have Ceramics, don'tcha know. It's like, some sort of regional folk art form performed by hillbillies, Ohmigawd.)

 

Second, we would have to establish our own professional standings and ratings. We have been notoriously hard to agree on any sort of terms, or even to get nine-tenths of the practitioners of the craft to join anything. 99% of American blacksmiths are hobbyists, more interested in personal satisfaction and practical results than notice.

 

Third, print media, living history parks and museums of every stripe are failing miserably, many going bankrupt and closing, or selling off assets to stay open. Attendance at Scottish games has fallen markedly in the last decade. Younger Americans just do not want to see real old stuff, they would rather be entertained, go to a Renaissance Festival, or a theme park. ABANA is a grey organization, with a very few young turks staying with it. Making an appeal to the younger generation will have to be a priority if we are going to survive, and this forum is one of the best ways to make that happen. That they put the majority of their funding behind  paper magazines and not the internet shows how out of touch the ABANA leadership is. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but then, I was born under a flag with 48 stars. (Look it up, young whippersnappers.  :P)

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That's the trick John, getting young people involved, I have found talking to young smiths that quite a few of them got into forging through being into renaissance festivals. Through my dealings for different groups I have come up against all of the negative attitudes you have mentioned. I have come to realise it is mostly due to the fact that not enough women have come into the forge. I don’t know about over there but most of the administration of the art and craft world here is carried out by women and they don’t like investing in areas that are male dominated. So I feel it is long overdue that we change.

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This reponse is my personal take on the situation, and is not meant to offend in any way.

Hi John,

 

I've always considered myself a blacksmith first and a sculptor second. Over the last five years I’ve grown to feel that Artist Blacksmith is counterproductive to us as the public are confused by the term.

 

In post second world war britain blacksmithing was suffering badly, so CoSIRA tried to resurrect the craft, initially by promoting a) blacksmiths and b) providing training to keep and develop the traditional skills (thus incorporating new methods/technology)

This was instigated in the late fifties and resulted in the formation of the GWICW, and we are still struggling along as the Blacksmiths Guild UK now, no funding was available and it has always been a non profit making organisation run by blacksmiths for blacksmiths, providing training and promoting the craft by supporting national shows, working along with the WCB, and presenting blacksmithing to the public at various craft shows throught the country,

This was originally set up by Frank Day (CoSIRA) and concentrated on the "Traditional"

 

In the late 70's a group of smiths, many of them who had been on guild and CoSIRA courses, and involved "Tommy" Tucker (CoSIRA) set up BABA British Artist Blacksmiths mainly as the bright new star to save blacksmithing, and the term Artist Blacksmith came to be made more aware to the public, through forge-ins and exhibitions, although up until recently not getting involved with the skills training the craft needs.

 

This then set the question are they blacksmiths? or are they artists?

 

Judging by their excellent glossy publication, it would appear they are promoting the British Artist Blacksmith as an international magazine, rather than the craft, that's fine, but it appears to me they are preaching to the converted, trying to impress other members, (and thats fine to encourage others to achieve higher planes etc) My problem is for the UK smiths who would enjoy the magazine, but cannot/will not pay the membership fee just to receive the magazine, when non UK residents get reduced rates for subscribing to the magazine.

 

From my previous post    Art = large money making potential,  not a lot of the blacksmiths skills needed

 

I will try to qualify this statement. Look at the majority of work featured in the BABA magazine and there is a great WOW factor, but not really a lot of the technical/traditional blacksmithing skills being used compared to the more traditionally understood type of work of the blacksmith.

 

In fact most of the items could be reproduced and made by a relatively inexperienced blacksmith ie distressed bars, rat tail ends, curly wurleys and twists with the occasionally tenon and pass through.

 

It was the wow factor and visual impact from the design that made the difference, call it art and it will command a higher price than the actual work skills being used would achieve in a more "recognisable/traditional" forged item.

 

I would say my customers are attracted by a combination of all the things you mentioned.

 

Exactly! the more traditional skills you have to call on the better your work will look, take for example the trees, branch welds naturally flow, use machine welding and more than likely you will have to clean them up to achieve the same effect, distressing forged in for texture as opposed to machining. and so on

 

You also have the skills to cater for the more traditional customers too. So you can diversify, but this raises many more questions, ie do I want the variety and job satisfation , or do I want to pursue the money, and maybe not be too happy doing so, Its a balance, and your choice.

 

I was thinking that colleges would most likely be interested in metalworking. Different colleges may differ in their needs and approaches. (I’m not saying I have all the answers here. I’m putting ideas out so we can debate and maybe improve on our craft)

Silversmithing is already reasonably well catered for as far as I’m aware. I have not given it much thought.

 

Most colleges are not interested in what the students need, they are there to make money to justify their existance from the courses they offer. They are a business and work on supply and demand and funding. Jewellery is always popular, and with the ladies participating too. 

 

The quality of their output is not always quantifiable and sometimes unsatisfactory or inadequate. Mostly qualifications are given out because the students have 'attended' a course, it does not mean they have understood or are competent in the subject taken.

 

If course numbers demand drops off, then that course is dropped, tutors are also not necessarily of the standard/experience that you would expect of an educational institution.

 

Often there are no follow on or advanced courses, so they are limited in the skills on offer.

 

There are a number of Colleges in the UK where the staff are doing an excellent job, but they are severely restricted by the red tape and government restraints.

 

I know it’s not a recognized occupation in Ireland as far FAS the national occupational training body here. Weather NOS will help your guess is as good as mine.

 

Hopefully the NOS will improve the situation.

 

Whether art has a lower skill level really depends on the person doing it and what they want to put into it. It doesn’t have to mean a poor skill level.

 

I agree entirely, from a personal point of view, I cannot do the "art" thing, if I had been college/art school trained  then maybe I would be able to do concepts, I have no problem with designing and making for purpose, some of the items may even be classed as art, but to just make 'art' I find extremely difficult.

 

I think it is a lot easier to conceal a poor skill level under the guise of art as opposed to a perceived blacksmith job.

 

To try and put that in context blacksmiths and farriers in the UK are seperate (Farriers have the training and job rospects well sorted) but when we do National shows side by side, the farriers (by and large) can't compete and achieve what the blacksmiths do, and vica versa (even if they were allowed to) Mutual respect from both sides.

 

Please keep me posted about your event.

 

Will try to, meanwhile we will continue with our uphill struggle to keep and advance the awareness of the craft

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Dear John,

 

When you said, "I think it is a lot easier to conceal a poor skill level under the guise of art as opposed to a perceived blacksmith job."  You said a mouthful.  I have seen some fairly low skill smiths do some very attractive things because they have the eye for "art" and I have seen some hugely talented smiths make some really ugly and awkward things.  Of the smiths and their work featured in "The Anvil's Ring" I respond positively to only about a quarter or a third of the works illustrated.  The rest, IMO, often fall into two schools of blacksmith art.  They are either of the "explosion in the spaghetti factory" school or of the "I have a big power hammer and you don't " school.

 

I am kind of saddened when I see something which took a huge amount of skill and work but the end result is pretty disappointing.

 

The discussion gets into the whole craft vs. art dispute.  A lot of folk smarter and more talented than I am have not been able to agree on that one.

 

This is, of course, just my personal take.  I am proud to call myself a craftsman but as a friend once told me, "George, you don't have enough personality problems to be an artist."  I also cannot make some of the pretentious art-talk/critic BS come out of my mouth without breaking up.  I've tried and haven't been able to do it.  I'd have to practice in front of the mirror for some time to be able to do it.

 

Good luck.  There are no easy answers.  As long as it remains fun for me that is about all that I am really concerned about.

 

Craftily but not artsy,

George M. 

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Yet another problem is a lack of demand for traditionally produced ironwork.  With today's modern industry and focus on cheap mass production, blacksmithing is a niche market.

 

I have received a grand total of one commission for my work, not including knives.  Most people can't tell the difference between machined and forged material, and as such, will almost always settle for the cheapest product.

 

To me, a well-rounded blacksmith needs to be an artist, craftsman, designer and an engineer.  Ironwork needs to be effective and aesthetically pleasing if a smith wants to attract and keep clients.  As always, blacksmithing will be a subjective term, and will mean something different to each practitioner.

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wow first off this is my first post in the forums and have been lurking around for some time trying to take in everything that this forum has to offer.

 

second, while I currently don't have much in the way of a consturctive comment I must say that during my 10yrs of  being a hobbiest blacksmith I've seen much of what is being discussed here. I also just want to say this has been thus far the best discussion I've seen on how our profession, hobbie, trade, and craft is doing.

 

thank you

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We have an identity crisis? It's twofold? blacksmith vs. blacksmith perception, blacksmiths vs. the public.

 

Can the moniker Metalsmith invoke an idea to the public lexicon of a modern blacksmith without all the expectations of the fixing of a buggy tire and looking the part? And also, without all the "personality problems" of the affected artist? 

 

Maillemaker,

 

I disagree with your first 2 paragraphs. The third one is ok. ;)

 

Your neighbor is most likely not your customer. Your neighbor shops at Walmart and Target.

Your neighbor's boss's banker doesn't, and better yet, he want's you to forge him a set of giant golf clubs to go on the wall of his den. 

 

I agree with a lot of what you said and have felt the same way but expecting the general hordes to understand what you're putting in front of them

is an exercise in futility. Therefore, they can't be held responsible for pushing your sweet forging to the side for a talking stuffed fish or rhinestone encrusted smart phone cover. Let them drone/drool on. 

 

Architects, interior designers/decorators and builders and their clients know what you're putting in front of them. They understand that this kind of work, on any scale, takes skill, time and resources so they're not uninitiated to the costs. Present your work to people that understand it and the commissions will follow. 

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George, you don't have to talk xxxx to make it as an artist, you just have to beat them at their own game. I always wait for one to start talking art babble then ask them what some of the words their using mean. Most of them don't know and then people seem to listen to what I have to say about my own work.

 

When it comes to what we call ourselves I always feel this way. If you asked any CEO of any multinational company whether they would like several thousand years of history attached to their products they would most likely sell their grannies to get it. So why are we trying to push is away? We need to educate the public as to what a blacksmith realy is. Little by little we can do it but it takes a combined effort. I’ve had some success in my own area by just pulling people up on their preconceived ideas as to what a blacksmith is. I have noticed that most of my contemporaries just go quite or hide behind the label Artist Blacksmith, which confuses the public. As far as I’m concerned I’m a blacksmith first and foremost and also a sculptor. It simple and the public seem to respect and understand it.

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Not sure why I feel like I need to defend my artistic endeavors, but for me it has never been a place to hide because I was unable to pull off a technical aspect of production.  I have found the creative process to be a detour from the lesson plan, liberating and exceedingly difficult at the same time. For me working iron is an extension of drawing, a practice that has been the basis of art since the dawn of man. A practice in which I found talent, one that was much easier for me to express myself than with any other form of communication (Probably because my personality problems had exceed the George Norm). I believe promoting the craft as an art has always been around, some have even called it magic! I also think that utilitarian forge work is much closer to death than artistic work, a great example of that swing is John Neaman. Promote it anyway you can I say, but try not to belittle anyone that has truly made an effort.

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Hi George M

 

When you said, "I think it is a lot easier to conceal a poor skill level under the guise of art as opposed to a perceived blacksmith job."  You said a mouthful. 

 

Craftily but not artsy,

George M. 

 

By poor skill level I should have said minor/limited, refering to the number of skills rather than infering the quality of the finished item

 

That then leads to another comment, A poorly made item well finished is usually preferred to a well made item poorly finished.

 

Apologetically

John B

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I have seen some real crud in some quite prominent places which I presume got there purely because the "artist" was a blacksmith.

Blacksmithing is defined by technique, and I think anyone trying to shoe-horn their artistic impulse into a category defined by technique rather than intellectual (emotional/conceptual) content is barking up the wrong tree in a fairly major way. 

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To define blacksmithing by the couple of hundred years that seem to make up "traditional" and then ignore the 100 + years that have happened since seems to me a bit odd, even odder is ignoring the 2000+ years that come before !

Technique is good and is a firm base for everything beyond technique. but that is all it is . preserve it and nurture it but do not consider it to be the be all and end all .

 As smiths technique is an easy language for us to use as we all understand it ,but it is such a small part of what makes good work and has nothing to do with how attractive work is to a customer (except on rare ocasions).

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I don't personally want to get into the 'art' debate, but some of the initial post in this thread hits home to me...

This morning I received in my inbox, information of yet another degree in craft. This time at Crawford College of Art & Design, in Co. Cork, Ireland. It will consist of ceramics, glass and textiles. Once again blacksmiths are not at the table.


I have long thought the blacksmith industry needs to focus some attention on getting our craft into the major art colleges. On the whole, when voicing this idea I’ve been met with mockery, derision, anger, outrage and, thankfully support, at such an idea. Why are we so resistant to new ideas? Surly having small forging departments open for three or four days a month (like some other departments already) in art colleges would be good for blacksmithing. It would provide extra and much needed income for those smiths who feel happy to teach. It would also help to promote our craft in areas some have felt to be blocked off to us. It would allow students to dip their toes in the water and, if they like it, dive in. I’m sure a great many of these students would then go on to fulltime studies in forge work at collages like Hereford in the UK. It would also help to promote our craft to future administrators of the art world. A large amount of art students don’t go on to become practising artists, they become gallery administrators, curators and civil servants. In short, they become the commissioners of future art. Thus, if they aren’t exposed to the forge they are less likely to commission forge work. This is borne out by the fact that very few of us are commissioned by these sorts of institutions.


It feels as if we, as an industry, decided at some point to stop moving forward. To stop building on the monumental efforts of those who helped halt the decline of our craft in the Sixties and Seventies. Smiths I have a great deal of admiration for, without whom I know I would not be doing what I love today. These artists, most of whom are widely known by those of us working in the forge, put in place what became a great endeavour to help blacksmithing survive and move on.


Other crafts did the same, but at some point our paths differed quite significantly. We became content with, on the whole, being a craft. We set up our colleges in rural areas, held the majority of our events in out of the way places and mostly, though not exclusively, shunned the art world, its colleges and galleries.


Crafts such as ceramics at first did the same, establishing colleges in rural areas and so on. But somewhere along the line they began to court the art world, getting small ceramic departments set up in more prominent art colleges and holding events in major metropolitan areas, with exhibitions in contemporary art galleries. In short, ceramicists pushed their way to the front and became a mainstream art form as well as a traditional craft.

 

The above is what I want to comment on, but first, I wanted to share the fact that I'm currently an adult student - having just gone back to college after being out of school for 15 years (a 'second career' type of thing).  My school isn't an 'arts' school per se, we do heritage conservation (or 'preservation' as the Americans prefer to call it).  Out program involves a lot of traditional craft work - masters of various trades come in to teach us hands-on courses on things like dry stone walling, masonry, stone carving, plaster, timber framing, etc.  

 

We do also have a forge program.  That said, the blacksmithing course is far more difficult, logistically, to arrange.  

 

We do not have a big enough school, or large enough student body for each of the dozen or more trades that we study to each have their own fully functioning, fully stocked workshop.  The instructors generally bring their own tools, hopefully enough so the students can easily share.  Its fairly easy for the mason or timber framer to bring a bunch of chisels, mallets, etc.  For blacksmithing, the instructor (who is about a 6 hour drive away), brings two forges, four anvils and a whole bunch of other stuff - but its really not enough for 20 students at a time.

 

The simple truth is that our equipment can be fairly large and heavy.  Its expensive new, can be difficult to find used, and we've all seen how much some people try to charge for used anvils on CL or eBay.  For a school to set up a fully functioning smithy, large enough for a 'class' of students (10, 20 or more) - is a very large investment.  If smithing is only part of a larger program, how often does the shop get used?  We also have what can be a fairly 'dirty' trade too.  I know a lot of smiths who like woodworking for example, but try to keep that in a separate area to keep it clean.  Our craft is not always well suited to sharing space with other trades.

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Wow, Dan, really? I think that Blacksmithing as a craft can encompass both technique and expression.  Woof Woof! :D

 

I don't disagree, Colleen! What I said was that I see "blacksmiths" trying to make their art conform to a "blacksmith" definition and identity. What is, to my mind, more natural and "artisitc" is the artist as a person, a human being, realizing an artistic vision by, essentially, any means necessary. 

Of course, then there is the question of taste, artisitic sensibility, even ability etc. but to my mind when I see "art" that has very prominent "blacksmithy" elements; big rivets, collars, big tenons, it looks contrived.

I should point out that I am talking about "fine art" here, rather than applied art.

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I have posed this same question but in a different view. there are artist that use welding and there lack of skill a child could have buggered 2 pieces of metal together better. In the US they do not know where to put us they call blacksmithing a craft. I have offered the skills I have to a art school. The intress is not there in volume. Today's graphic artist are working on computers. They are not willing to spend the time to learn a new physical discipline. We had a few students show up for a FABA meeting we were making a wrought iron anchor all forge welded. they had no further intress, Now through a folk school there is intress and the class was full. I guess it is just finding your space.

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Hi Neil, this is a delicate subject with me re colleges and training, so bear with me

I don't personally want to get into the 'art' debate, but some of the initial post in this thread hits home to me...

 

The above is what I want to comment on, but first, I wanted to share the fact that I'm currently an adult student - having just gone back to college after being out of school for 15 years (a 'second career' type of thing).  My school isn't an 'arts' school per se, we do heritage conservation (or 'preservation' as the Americans prefer to call it).  Out program involves a lot of traditional craft work - masters of various trades come in to teach us hands-on courses on things like dry stone walling, masonry, stone carving, plaster, timber framing, etc.  

 

Are you on a full time or part time course? And is it dedicated to blacksmithing or generalised across other skill based areas?

 

Ignoring the difference in definition of conservation, preservation and restoration, we are discussing a traditional craft and its skills.

 

We do also have a forge program.  That said, the blacksmithing course is far more difficult, logistically, to arrange.  

 

You have a programme, so you have parameters to work to skills wise. So why is it logistically difficult to arrange?

 

 

We do not have a big enough school, or large enough student body for each of the dozen or more trades that we study to each have their own fully functioning, fully stocked workshop.  The instructors generally bring their own tools, hopefully enough so the students can easily share.  Its fairly easy for the mason or timber framer to bring a bunch of chisels, mallets, etc.  For blacksmithing, the instructor (who is about a 6 hour drive away), brings two forges, four anvils and a whole bunch of other stuff - but its really not enough for 20 students at a time.

 

Are you saying there are 20 students seriously trying to study/learn blacksmithing on two forges and four anvils at one time?

 

It's just not going to successfully happen,

 

The simple truth is that our equipment can be fairly large and heavy.  Its expensive new, can be difficult to find used, and we've all seen how much some people try to charge for used anvils on CL or eBay.

 

But it does not have to be to learn the craft. Anvils don't have to be 'anvil' shaped as we know. And blacksmiths make their own tools. They don't have to have power hammers, and forge hearths can be made in house.

 

If the programme is designed right, then the students make their tools as and when they need them, and then have them for when they go out into the big wide world. They can be stored at college or home, if its a part time course.

 

 For a school to set up a fully functioning smithy, large enough for a 'class' of students (10, 20 or more) - is a very large investment.  

 

Thats because they want to supply everything for the students use.

 

How many times do we see the closed school departments tools come up for sale that have had little or no use at all.

 

Its a bit like a mechanics socket set, they purchase a set of spanners, and only use a small percentage of them, the others are there 'just in case' circumstances demand.

 

Well, a blacksmith solves the problem(s) as and when they arrive. Then the toolling/solution is made and added to the collection.

 

 

If smithing is only part of a larger program, how often does the shop get used?  We also have what can be a fairly 'dirty' trade too.  I know a lot of smiths who like woodworking for example, but try to keep that in a separate area to keep it clean.  Our craft is not always well suited to sharing space with other trades.

 

Better a smaller class in a dedicated area doing the job properly.

 

Where there is a will there is a way.

 

Although I accept colleges are tied to regulations and budget restrictions, and whilst we think our craft important, others in higher places who hold the purse strings are not of the same opinion.

 

Good luck with your second career, as a guild we have succesfully helped many people to become full time blacksmiths, some of those being second careers.

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Hi John,  this is a bit of a delicate subject for me too ... but from the perspective of a slightly frustrated student, who is appreciative of all my school does, but wants more.  I'm also sick and medicated at the moment, so the point of my post may not have been as clear as I would have liked.  The short version being, that I can understand why a school might be more inclined to tool up a shop for other trades, before considering blacksmithing.  But in any case, to answer a few of your questions:

 

Hi Neil, this is a delicate subject with me re colleges and training, so bear with me

 

Are you on a full time or part time course? And is it dedicated to blacksmithing or generalised across other skill based areas?

 

Ignoring the difference in definition of conservation, preservation and restoration, we are discussing a traditional craft and its skills.

 

 

You have a programme, so you have parameters to work to skills wise. So why is it logistically difficult to arrange?

 

 

Are you saying there are 20 students seriously trying to study/learn blacksmithing on two forges and four anvils at one time?

 

It's just not going to successfully happen,

 

 

But it does not have to be to learn the craft. Anvils don't have to be 'anvil' shaped as we know. And blacksmiths make their own tools. They don't have to have power hammers, and forge hearths can be made in house.

 

If the programme is designed right, then the students make their tools as and when they need them, and then have them for when they go out into the big wide world. They can be stored at college or home, if its a part time course.

 

 

Thats because they want to supply everything for the students use.

 

How many times do we see the closed school departments tools come up for sale that have had little or no use at all.

 

Its a bit like a mechanics socket set, they purchase a set of spanners, and only use a small percentage of them, the others are there 'just in case' circumstances demand.

 

Well, a blacksmith solves the problem(s) as and when they arrive. Then the toolling/solution is made and added to the collection.

 

 

 

Better a smaller class in a dedicated area doing the job properly.

 

Where there is a will there is a way.

 

Although I accept colleges are tied to regulations and budget restrictions, and whilst we think our craft important, others in higher places who hold the purse strings are not of the same opinion.

 

Good luck with your second career, as a guild we have succesfully helped many people to become full time blacksmiths, some of those being second careers.It is a three-year full time program, which is not dedicated to blacksmithing.  Years 1 and 2 are multi-disciplinary, and a mix of academic and hands-on.  We cover a very wide range of heritage related subjects.  Third year is a sort of 'thesis' year, where each student picks the area they want to specialize in, and appropriate internships are arranged.

 

 

Re: type of program: it is a full-time, three year program.  1st & 2nd year are multi-disciplinary, covering a wide array of heritage related topics (both academic and hands-on).  3rd year is a sort of 'thesis' year. Students choose the area they would like to specialize in, and appropriate internships are arranged.  Blacksmithing is only one component of the traditional 'craft skills' covered in 1st & 2nd years.  I'm not aware if any previous students have specialized in this in 3rd year - I may be the first to do so.

 

Re: course parameters / logistics: I don't believe there are specific parameters for this part of the course.  Our school is fairly organic in structure, and the instructors have a lot of leeway in what they teach and how.  The expected outcome, at least for this first year, is that we are exposed to blacksmithing and its basic processes.  

 

It should be noted that up until this year, the typical course size was under ten students per year.  This years intake, it doubled to twenty.  I believe the current 3rd year class is 6 people, 2nd year is 8, and our 1st year class is now 18.  In the past, the class of 6 or 8 would split into two groups.  One group would travel to the blacksmithing instructors shop (a number of hours drive away), while the other half had a different course.  That worked for a group that size.  That instructor was unsure of how to deal with such a large group; and so a different instructor stepped-up, and did his best to bring what equipment he could to our school.  We also split the group (into 9); but it was still not a great set-up, with limited equipment.

 

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with what you're saying; and have had this conversation with the school's administration.  I would like to see the forge program expanded, as would many of my class mates.  I have suggested how we may build our own forges, and had some ideas for 'improvised' anvils.  And after all, blacksmiths are the toolmakers, so with the right guidance, we should be able to make most of what we need.  The school has been receptive to my suggestions, but the wheels sometimes move slowly in these types of organizations.  Especially when it comes to spending money.

 

And we've seen enough conversations (even arguments) on sites like these, between blacksmiths, over what is the needed level of equipment.  Some of us agree that a forge only needs to be something to contain a fire while pumping extra air into it - and an anvil is something hard to resist the blows of a hammer.  Others insist on more.  If an experienced and respected smith tells my school they need a minimum of 10, 150 Lb London pattern anvils, and commercially made forges; and a student tells them they can get away with a chunk of heavy plate - its a bit of an uphill battle.

 

I'm sure in time i'll win out, and we'll get a suitable shop set-up at the school... although I'd like to see it happen sooner.

 

Last November was our first travelling road-show version (the instructor bringing stuff).  I brought some extra equipment too, and we ended up with 4 forges and anvils for 9 students.  Next month, we try again. 

 

Again, my only point was - as I'm currently watching a school go through these growing pains - I can see why others may shy away from it.

 

Cheers,

Neil

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Neil, no apologies are ever needed for a thoughtful, well mannered response. Like any complex subject woven into the tapestry of world-wide human history, blacksmithing is many things to many people.

 

As for the school getting behind the program, well, they have to see a reason. There has to be some sort of measurable return on the time, money, and space allotted to any class. I am a full-time welding instructor in one of the largest community colleges in the southeast US. Despite having millions of dollars tied up in high tech equipment, the welding area had one small cast iron anvil when I arrived on the scene, and we heated stuff with a rosebud. As one of the founders of the club, and now Faculty Advisor, I have personally supplied or obtained by donation everything else, and volunteered countless hours. We have no shortage of students interested in participating in open forging days, even though they receive no college credit for doing so.

 

But our welding student clubs have produced the official thank you gifts to the Board of Trustees every other year, and wowed 'em. We have art projects on display next to those from Fine Arts and Graphic Design. We usually set up a tent and demonstrate at campus events. With six campuses, and a full-time faculty and staff of over 1,000, the President and VP know my name, because they have seen me at work, as well as volunteering at off-campus events and projects.

 

Slowly, working with other community college instructors around the state, we are trying to take the lead and clone related classes from Art, Jewelry, and Professional Crafts into Welding, to create a statewide Ornamental Iron/Artist Blacksmith track for students. There are careers out there for those that have the trade skills, but is much harder to quantify independent craftspeople than employees in say, Nursing, or Auto Body Repair.

 

You can't start a new program with out space, equipment, and students willing to pay for the privilege. The state will subsidize up to 90% of jobs training classes like Welding, but hobbies pay full freight. That is why private schools and colleges are so expensive in comparison. The large number of hobby blacksmiths hurts us in this respect. We stopped teaching Woodworking classes a decade ago for this reason, but Framing and Construction Management classes soldier on, despite the down economy. 

 

30+ years ago, there was an official listing of job skills for Journeyman Blacksmiths that had a heavy welding component, but it languished as US companies shed jobs. ABANA is missing the boat by not setting up a framework of national professional standards for the 21st century. It would fill the gap between NOMMA and the AWS.

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