Blacksmith teaches, pursues work of 30 years

NEIGHBORS

July 20, 2000|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SEVERNA PARK'S blacksmith shop, in Kinder Farm Park, stands beneath the branches of a spreading tree much like Longfellow's village smithy of old.

But in Kinder park, the tree is not a chestnut but a historic black oak - one so imposing at 90 feet high and nearly 16 feet in circumference that it has been recognized by the Maryland Big Tree Program as the ninth largest of its species in Maryland.

Inside the shop, Terry Steel pursues the career he began almost 30 years ago when he left a technical job in satellite imaging to take up the hands-on profession of blacksmithing.

More importantly, he wanted to be his own boss.

After a stint in Maine, the 55-year-old Maryland native moved to Severna Park and opened a wrought iron workshop in Clipper Mill Industrial Park in Baltimore. But wanting to work closer to home, about 10 years ago he moved his forge and anvil into the equipment maintenance building at Kinder park.

This spring, Steel opened his park workshop to students, teaching the basic smithy techniques of hand hammer work that have been used for at least 4,000 years, he says.

The tools of the trade are usually handmade. "That's a wonderful thing when you can make your own tools," Steel says.

Inside the cinder block building that houses the smithy, he transforms glowing lengths of "mild steel" into decorative wrought-iron objects. A favorite is a long-handled meat fork fashioned after those used in Colonial times and just fine for today's outdoor cooks.

"The work is not art for art's sake, but for its usefulness," says Steel, who is exploring other designs with origins in early America, Scandinavia and the Amish in hopes of producing them for sale.

When not working on his own projects, Steel supervises his unpaid intern, Gwynneth Jarrell, a sophomore at Frostburg State University who is majoring in fine art and design with an emphasis on metal sculpture. She met Steel when she took his class at the park in the spring.

The 19-year-old Severna Park resident, dressed in protective goggles and leather apron, wields her hammer with confidence. But as a novice, she must learn to endure the heat from the forge - an incinerating 2,000 degrees - while controlling the movement of molten iron.

Bending rigid iron to your will takes time and patience.

Steel is a master designer and craftsman, and his accomplishments in this rugged art form are an inspiration to his students and customers.

One of his most admired projects is in Washington, where he crafted a pair of exterior cathedral gates for the National City Christian Church at 14th Street and Massachusetts Avenue at Thomas Circle.

The gates, a sculptural blending of wrought iron and cast bronze, are 13 feet high and 7 feet wide. Their weight was too great to transport assembled, so Steel set up his forge on the sidewalk outside the church, where he and his crew attached the bronze cresting that crowns the gates.

"I was up on a ladder putting on the final touches," Steel recalls, "when I noticed a man who had been watching me for some time. He finally stepped forward and commented on the gate. `That's so fine. Thank you for putting that in my neighborhood.'"

It was satisfying to the artisan to have touched the man on the street.

Another of Steel's beautiful projects, a contemporary panel of glass and wrought iron installed in downtown Baltimore, is not often seen by the public.

Only people having business with the Maryland Stadium Authority see the panel that decorates its headquarters at Camden Yards.

Probably Steel's largest assignment was to design and build two gates along with 350 feet of handmade fence for the Victorian mansion of novelist Stephen King in Bangor, Maine.

The gate's eerie elements include spiders and their webs, a pair of evil-looking bats, and carved goat heads for handles.

Steel is married to Candida Ewing Steel, an administrative law judge with the Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals in Baltimore.

The next installment in Steel's series of classes will be "An Introduction to Blacksmithing" from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 29 and 30 in his Kinder park workshop. Registration is required.

The cost is $100, and the proceeds are donated to the nonprofit Friends of Kinder Farm Park organization.

"I feel as if I'm giving something back by teaching at Kinder Park," Steel says.

In addition to the blacksmith shop, more working displays are planned the next two years at the park - including a working farm.

It will combine agricultural practices of the county, says ranger Bob Hicks.

Visitors will see what farming was like in the 1930s, when the Kinder family, for whom the park is named, tended nearly 1,100 acres.

For information on Steel's classes and other programs, call the park office at 410-222-6115.

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