REKINDLING THE FIRES
The Story of the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association
by Boyd Holtan
Part 2: The First Year of ABA
The last issue of the ABA Newsletter described the organization of the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association in December, 1978. The year 1979 was a fantastic year for the new organization. Many friendships were formed and a lot of blacksmithing skills were learned.
George Nichols hosted the first ABA workshop at his forge near Weston, WV on Sunday, February 11, 1979. George's shop was small, but the 20 men who came in the snowy weather) packed in around the forge. Among the demonstrations-- George Nichols forged a square knot poker; Pete Minier hot collared and carved a dragon's head; Glenn Horr forge welded with the offset scarf; and Terry Arlett and Pete Minier forged a double-eyed shackle. Nice demonstrations and George provided some great tasting cake to finish the day!
The Crafts Department of the Cedar Lakes Conference Center near Ripley, West Virginia, under the leadership of Tim Pyles, Craft Director, was converting a utility building on the grounds into a teaching blacksmith shop. The Crafts Department sponsored a workshop with Dimitri Gerakaris as the instructor on March 5-9, 1979, at the center’s shop. Gerakaris at that time was the editor of The Anvil's Ring, a fledgling journal of the Artist-Blacksmiths Association of North America.
All fifteen participants were members of ABA or were when they left the workshop! All were in awe as they watched Dimitri demonstrate and explain as he went along. Dimitri's demonstrations included door latches, hinges and pintles, collars, andirons, hooks, tools, and two-tined forks. The forges were cranked up and everyone got a chance to try to make something with Dimitri giving advice and suggestions.
The next ABA activity that year was May 26-27 at Glenn Horr's shop near West Alexander, Pa. As the June newsletter reported, "Smoke billowed from the stack Friday night as the early birds arrived and pitched their four-wheel drive tents." Some bedded down in the mow of the barn. By Saturday morning, most demonstrators had acquainted themselves with Glenn's 50 lb. Meyer and the whereabouts of needed tools ("over by the swage block").
On Saturday morning, Glenn demonstrated making rattail poker ends and the use of the trip hammer for forging light stock. Pete Minier was showing how to make a froe, but alas, as the froe reached its finishing touches, the central core reached critical mass, and we experienced a meltdown! Among the other demonstrations were Glenn's many variations on twists, forging tongs, shovel blades, and tempering; Pete's ramshead, square corner bend, 14 sided finial, and bending an inside radius in angle iron; Paul Lacy's "threading the eye of the needle" poker handle, outside radius bend in angle iron, and excellent advice on what to look for in trip-hammers; Jay Hurley’s forging of anvil tools; and Boyd Holton's forging of a tin-cutters chisel.
New member Jeff Harrell made sure that many ABA members had a good breakfast in the camper on his pickup!
On July 14-15, 1979, with financial assistance of a grant of $350 from the Arts and Humanities Division of the West Virginia Department of Culture and History, ABA sponsored a demonstration workshop conducted by Bruce LePage at the Fort New Salem blacksmith shop at Salem College, West Virginia. Members each paid $10 and non-members paid $20. Bruce coil welded a five-foot length of 1" x 1/4" iron into a 15-inch pistol barrel. He also showed how to forge parts for black powder rifles. At the end of the workshop, everyone got a chance to shoot Bruce's black powder rifle, and Bruce's products were auctioned off to support the workshop. Joe Gillespie bought the pistol barrel, but we don't know if it ever became a pistol!
ABA members who attended the workshop were: Ed Small, Paul Lacy III, Glenn Horr, Pete Minier, Boyd Holtan, Bob Selvaggio, Jeff Harrell, Dan Stough, Jeff Fetty, Gene King, Bob Guthrie, Joe Gillespie, Harley Slaughter, Robert Tyree, Tom Goodson, and George Brookes. Everyone enjoyed the restored cabin setting and Bruce's fine demonstration.
Another technical assistance grant of $350 was provided by the West Virginia Department of Culture and History to assist in bringing the "Number One Smith, Francis Whitaker" to the Cedar Lakes Shop for a workshop on October 29-31, 1979. The American grand master of smithing shared some of his vast knowledge with ABA members. Among the items Francis forged and demonstrated were: a beautiful pair of scroll tongs made of high carbon steel, a pair of box end tongs, a highly decorative door hinge, hot collaring, drifting a square hole for intersecting bars, a log fork with rams head finial, a shovel blade and handle with a welded collar finial, a forge welded diamond in a baluster, and the use of the off-set scarf for forge welding. Francis inspired all who attended the workshop. His mastership of hammer and steel was unparalleled. ABA members watched again with awe as Francis did a drop-the-tongs scarf weld in one heat that defied anyone to find a seam or a trace of the weld!
As best as we can determine, the following attended the Francis Whitaker workshop: Ed Small, Bob Selvaggio, Paul Lacy III, Jay Hurley, Robert Dennis, Jeff Fetty, Glenn Horr, James Campbell, Barry Wheeler, John Cornish, and Jack Hubbard.
At the end of the first year, the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association had grown to over 60 members. Little did these members realize how fortunate they were to have had these early contacts with such outstanding and helpful smiths. That was a fantastic first year for the fledgling organization!