Forging the Past Into the Future

Knives forge in
Knives forged in “The American Hand-forged Knife.”

We have a natural human desire to discover our heritage and celebrate the ways our ancestors survived and thrived. At the Folk School, we offer many Blacksmithing classes offering a window to that past. From the Civil War, to Ancient Scotland, to Medieval times, to Colonial America – many of us are drawn to certain eras and cultures. Come to the forge and celebrate techniques, styles, and aesthetics from days gone by. Check out this list of classes that may interest the old soul smith in you:

Resident Blacksmith Paul Garrett at the anvil

Arts and Crafts Ironwork
Paul Garrett • February 2227 (A Salute to the Arts & Crafts Movement Week)

Expand your skills as a blacksmith while immersing in the timeless elegance of the Arts and Crafts style. Explore traditional and modern techniques of forging, joining, and finishing metals to create strong, simple, and functional designs based on those of Greene & Greene, Stickley, Roycroft, and others. Gain professional shop knowledge, resources, and some toolmaking skills in this intermediate to advanced class. Basic blacksmithing skills required.

Projects forged in Viking-style Ironwork.

Viking-style Ironwork
Elmer Roush • March 22-28 (Scandinavian Heritage Week)

Do you enjoy blacksmithing with a historical perspective? This class will focus on reproducing 10th-century Viking relics, including spearheads, axes, arrowheads, and locks. Drawings and tracings of original pieces will be available as guides. Knowledge of how to build and maintain a forge fire and basic blacksmithing skills are needed. Scandinavian Heritage Week honors the Folk School’s roots, inspired by “folkehøjskole” of these northern European countries. In the company of newfound friends, you will enjoy special food, music, dance, and craft traditional to the region.

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Bell, Hook & Anvil: Auction Talk with Paul Garrett

I stopped by the Oscar Cantrell Blacksmith Shop, the current shop of Resident Blacksmith, Paul Garrett. Paul and I talked about the upcoming Blacksmith & Fine Craft Auction on November 1, a special event planned for October 31st, and about Folk School life in general. Enjoy!

Come see blacksmiths in action forging items in the Clay Spencer Blacksmith Shop on October 31 at 7 p.m. Items created will be auctioned off the following day.
See blacksmiths in action forging items in the Clay Spencer Blacksmith Shop on October 31 at 7 p.m. Items created will be auctioned off the following day at the Blacksmith & Fine Craft Auction.

CP: So, the Blacksmith & Fine Craft Auction is coming up on November 1. I hear there’s going to be a new special event on Friday night. Can you talk about that?

PG: I can. Traditionally, there has been a joint meeting of the Appalachian Area Chapter of Blacksmiths (AACB) and NC ABANA at the Folk School during the auction weekend. The meeting is on Saturday morning, bright and early.

Fire place set forged at the "Hammer In" 2013
Fire place set forged at the “Hammer In” 2013

I had been trying to think of a way to expand the meeting and make it more appealing for smiths to stay over on Friday night. Last year, we tried a small invitational Friday night “Hammer In” (A “Hammer In” is where blacksmiths get together and make things collaboratively). It went really well. We made a few things for the auction, including a fireplace set, and it was encouraging enough to try it again this year.

I put the word out to members of the blacksmith chapters and we are expecting quite a few smiths on the evening of October 31st. We are opening the shop up to auction goers to come and see what’s involved in the work and to observe how the items are handcrafted. I believe it will add value and interest to the pieces if folks can see the forging process.

Tim Ryan is going to have a kettle of cooked goodness to offer up for a small cost per bowl. It’s gonna be fun! We are going to have a few set projects: a fire tools set and maybe a sculptural piece. Blacksmiths can forge smaller items too. It’ll be a good crowd.

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Pack Your Woad, Kilts, & Bagpipes


scottish_headerCome on down to Brasstown the week of August 13- September 6 for Scottish Heritage Week at the Folk School, featuring a festive week of Celtic themed classes and demonstrations. If you are of Scottish descent, or merely love the culture, come enjoy a “taste of Scotland” through fascinating history and stories, lively music & dance, and savory food.

Fancy Fibers

Weaving a Tartan

Have always wanted to learn about tartans? Consider Melissa Weaver Dunning’s intermediate Scottish Tartans—Inspiration to Weave a Scarf to take your weaving a higher level. Experienced knitters, you will want to try Fair Isle Knitting: Starting with Color with Martha Owen to learn techniques and patterns inspiring by this traditional Shetland style.

Do Celtic knot designs fascinate you? Don’t fear the knot! Learn to construct designs from patchwork in “Celtic Illusions” Wall Hanging taught by Marolyn Floyd.

Appalachian Connection

Early Scotch and Scotch-Irish settlers contributed greatly to American culture, and nowhere has their influence been more strongly felt than in the Appalachians. Learn about the musical connection in Sara Grey’s Ballads and Songs from Scotland to Appalachia and Beyond. Students will explore and sing about the migration of ballads and songs from the British Isles (primarily Scotland) to North America. Explore similarities in legends and folktales and learn techniques and devices used by traditional storytellers in Bobbie Pell’s Scottish Roots in Appalachian Traditions.

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Iron – Cold Iron – Is Master of Them All

Sing Behind the Plow lampshade by Ron Nichols
Sing Behind the Plow lampshade by Ron Nichols

Blacksmith Work Week is an annual Folk School tradition, bringing 20 professional blacksmiths/instructors from around the country together to volunteer their time for the purposes of 1) beautifying the Folk School campus with functional ironwork; 2) repairing and creating new tools and infrastructure for the Blacksmithing program; and 3) spending a week learning and exchanging in the company of peers and mentors.Work Week was started by Clay Spencer (namesake of the new blacksmith shop) in the early 1990s and is currently coordinated by Paul Garrett, resident artist blacksmith. I had the chance to visit the shop and interview some of the blacksmiths as they put finishing touches on their projects and reflected on their connection to this very special community and yearly opportunity to participate in Work Week.

Leah Dolgoy: Paul, how’s it gone this week? What were your priority projects and what’s been accomplished during Work Week?

Paul Garrett: There were many priorities this year. One was making chandeliers for upstairs. They won’t get done this year but we’ll keep working on them next year. The shop is named after Clay Spencer so I gave Clay free reign on the design and he chose something very contemporary and out of the ordinary. Other priorities included work in some of the studios. We mounted some equipment for the Jewelry studio. We built a pot rack for the cooking studio. And we finished installing the door latches I made for the main door to the new blacksmith shop. We made two treadle hammers, and two treadle torches. We fixed a lot of tools – hammers and tongs, punches and grips. We also do whatever else pops up. I really wanted to do the Keith House door so that got done this year. We etched and epoxied the bathroom floor in the shop so that housekeeping can come in and clean it more easily now. Then there are all the little things that come up. I have these little job sheets that I put out and I find that works well. People pick their jobs based on their area of interest and expertise.

LD: What does it mean to be the coordinator of this thing that everyone regards as so special?

New door hardware for the Blacksmith Shop made by Paul Garrett
New door hardware for the Blacksmith Shop made by Paul Garrett

PG: For me, it’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of Work Week. I just love having everyone here. As the coordinator, it’s up to me to make the most of it. We have 1000 hours of volunteer labor every year. My role is to keep everyone else working, and to make sure that they can get what they need to get the job done. Funny story – 13 or 14 years ago I came here as a student, and I asked Clay if I could come to Work Week. And basically he said no, because he had enough people and he didn’t really know me that well. (laughs) It wasn’t to be mean or anything. He just had his team that he needed. I understand that now that I am on the other side of it. I believe this is my 10th year as the Work Week coordinator.

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AACB Holds Hammer-In at the Folk School

Fireplace Tool Set by Paul Garrett, Susan Hutchinson, Lynda Metcalfe, Julie Clark, Andy Phillips, Clint Busbee, and Ron Nichols
Fireplace Tool Set by Paul Garrett, Susan Hutchinson, Lynda Metcalfe, Julie Clark, Andy Phillips, Clint Busbee, and Ron Nichols

On Friday night before the Blacksmith & Fine Craft Auction, blacksmiths from the Appalachian Area Chapter of Blacksmiths (AACB) met for their annual meeting at John C. Campbell Folk School.  The members worked into the wee hours of the morning together on many projects to put into the auction the following day. Some blacksmiths came together to create larger projects. Like a hotter, louder version of a quilting bee, an event like this is called a “Hammer-In”  where experienced blacksmiths come tougher to share ideas and collaborate on projects.

Seven of the blacksmiths including Folk School resident artist and instructor Paul Garrett and instructors Susan Hutchinson, Lynda Metcalfe, Julie Clark, Andy Phillips, Clint Busbee, and Ron Nichols worked together to create a Contemporary Free Form Fireplace Tool Set (seen above) which sold for $650 in the Saturday auction. Susan Hutchinson came up with the design for the tool hangers, Julie Clark created the handles, Lynda Metcalfe and Paul Garrett designed and created the stand, Clint Busbee tied the broom, and Paul Garrett created the shovel from a single piece of metal.  The overall concept for the piece was to create a contemporary free-form fireplace tool set with traditional joinery. 

The members of the AACB gather at the Blacksmith Shop at John C. Campbell Folk School
The members of the AACB gather at the Blacksmith Shop at the John C. Campbell Folk School

The members of the AACB collectively raised over $1000 with the projects they created that night. Next year, Paul hopes to expand the meeting to a larger event, where people who attend the Blacksmith & Fine Craft Auction can attend watch the projects actually being created at the Hammer-In.