Forging a creative living

Carroll man has made the old American craft of blacksmithing into a new career

May 13, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

After taking some blacksmithing classes about 25 years ago, Nick Vincent began forging iron in his backyard after work.

In time, says Vincent, who was working full time at the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., the forging became too much and about 16 years ago he decided that something had to go - either his job of 20 years or blacksmithing.

Vincent chose to keep forging and never looked back.

"I am my own boss, and I get to create things," the 55-year-old Uniontown man said. "I love working in front of the fire in the summer when it's 107 degrees outside. And I love working in front of the fire in the winter when it's cool outside."

Since then Vincent has made a name for himself showing his work at festivals, giving demonstrations and selling his creations through the Internet, and in shops in the United States, Japan and Europe.

On Saturday and Sunday, he will be one of three blacksmiths who will give demonstrations to more than 100 blacksmiths at the 19th Blacksmith Days to be held at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

"This event has gone from about 40 to 100 blacksmiths who show up to watch and learn," Vincent said.

Sponsored by the Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland, a nonprofit organization that preserves and promotes the craft of hand forging iron, and the Carroll County Farm Museum, the event includes forging contests, a silent auction and exhibits of items made by the blacksmiths.

Not only is the demand for classes and demonstrations growing in popularity, there has also been a resurgence of blacksmiths, said Ken Schwarz, a master blacksmith at Colonial Williamsburg who mentored Vincent.

"A growing number of people are turning to the trade to be creative," said Schwarz, a former Carroll County resident. "There is a growing number of people turning to the trade as a profession and even more people turning to it as a hobby."

Hand-forged items have a certain character and strength, he said.

"People want custom-made items you can't make with a machine," Schwarz said.

It also allows men to be boys, he said. Blacksmithing has all the things we weren't allowed to do when we were kids.

"We work with fire, we make a lot of noise, and we get dirty," Schwarz said. "It brings out the kid in us."

The other side of blacksmithing that people find appealing is being a part of history, he said.

"We get to take tough, rigid, industrial material and make things that are useful and aesthetically appealing," said Schwarz, who has worked on the restoration of Monticello and Mount Vernon in Virginia. "We get to leave our mark on architectural treasures. The hinges I made for Monticello will be on those doors for the next 150 years."

For people like Vincent, who has worked on the homes of historic figures Mary Washington and George Mason, blacksmithing afforded him a chance to be creative, Schwarz said.

"Most modern jobs don't have a component that allows us to be creative with our hands," Schwarz said. "Blacksmithing is a creative outlet."

Vincent agreed.

Forging everything from nails that he sells for 75 cents to filling orders for items that he bills at more than $100,000, Vincent said he makes a good living as a blacksmith.

"I always have things on a back log," he said. "People call me every day with orders."

He creates hinges, stocking hooks, gates, yard pieces, cabinet pulls, wineglass holders and straps for log cabin doors. His work is sold at shops in Westminster and places abroad. "Nick has identified a market for small forgings," Schwarz said. "The demand for that kind of item is great and he has a good business sense as well as a great ability to shape iron."

Most recently, Vincent has focused his work on what he calls "house jewelry," including fireplace screens.

"Nick does good, clean, high-quality work," said Mark Sperry, a journeyman blacksmith at Colonial Williamsburg, who was taught by Vincent.

Carroll County residents are probably most familiar with the wreaths he makes for the Festival of Wreaths, a fundraiser for the Carroll County Arts Council. His 2006 entry that depicted Chesapeake wildlife sold for a record $2,100.

Besides Vincent, two other blacksmiths are scheduled to forge at the event, he said. Dorothy Stiegler of Sutter Creek, Calif., will demonstrate how to make bronze flowers, and Becky Little of Nova Scotia, Canada, will demonstrate power hammer tooling and how to make mobiles, he said.

Additional demonstrators at next weekend's event include Dave Morgan (bladesmithing), Walter Van Alstine (brass casting), John Larson (Iron Kiss air hammers), Kerry Stagmer (repousse), Marvin Shipley (leather work), Teddy Gregor (carving), Bill Chestnut (Mountain Men), and Mark Haines (Tall Tales).

Blacksmith Days will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and May 20 at the Carroll County Farm Museum, 500 S. Center St., Westminster.

Two-day tickets are $40 at the gate or $30 in advance at 410-922-1246. Information: 410-386-3880 or visit www. carrollcountyfarmmuseum.org.

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