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International blacksmith artists met in town

by David Meyer

FERGUS - CanIron VIII was held in Fergus over the long weekend - and it attracted a wide variety of spectators - a feat considering that was not its actual purpose.

Mick Smith, of Fergus, was one of the organizers of the event run by the Ontario Artist Blacksmith Association. He said in an interview that the group is affiliated with a North American group of blacksmith artists, which holds a special gathering every two years. Canadians starting doing a similar event in the off years, and now the Canadian association has affiliates in almost every province.

The first Canadian event was in Vancouver in 1997, and it goes all over the country. The Fergus event was the second time Ontario has been the host, and artists from Great Britain, the United States, Australia and Sweden, and from all across Canada gathered to show off their work and their techniques to fellow artists.

While some of their work is functional, it is truly art. It ranges from abstract pieces to sculpture, to knife-making, and just about every form in between.

Smith, born in Great Britain, said he got interested in blacksmith art only after he moved to Canada. He said the event, dubbed Forging Friendships, is designed to have artists help teach each other and learn different techniques.

“It’s really not for the public,” he said, noting that the focus is on practical techniques. “It would be like a medical conference” for the general public.”

Still, there were plenty of visitors at the community centre to see the displays there.

Smith noted that in North America, 10 per cent of blacksmith artists are part time, while in Great Britain, 90% of them work at the art full time.

As a thank-you to Centre Wellington for hosting the event, the artists crafted two benches made of wood and steel and presented them to Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj, who was thrilled to accept them.

“Their art is fantastic,” she said after a visit the sportsplex grounds in Fergus Saturday afternoon. She said of the benches, “That’s their gift to the town.”

Smith said he heard throughout out the weekend from visitors that they were amazed at the facilities offered in Fergus. He said many of them come from much larger cities and told him they do not have the amenities being offered in the host town.

Smith said there was talk of placing the benches in Templin Gardens, but he now believes that they will remain at the sportsplex.

One of the benches was made in advance, and the second was being completed on the grounds during the weekend.

Smith said it took two years of planning for the conference and the local tourism group and the township “couldn’t have been more helpful.”

Visitors could also see such things as a portable forge that was created for the Revolutionary War and used to repair weapons in the field.

Smith also explained that most of the work being done in blacksmithing today is with various types of steel. He and others at the site noted that there is very little “wrought iron” being used today, and the last factory that produced it closed in 1975. Today, blacksmiths and artists use different types of steel that they forge for their works.

There was a display in the community centre for people to see the kind of work that is being done.

Smith said it is amazing “the quality and craftsmanship from Ontario. Most of the work in there is from Ontario.”

Smith has been involved in blacksmith art for over 25 years, and said of his fellow artists, “It’s a very sharing community. There is always differences in how things are made.”

One of the more stunning pieces on display in the community centre was by Floradale artist Robb Martin, whose three-dimensional Crucifixion image on what appeared to be a large canvas attracted plenty of attention.

Smith noted that Martin even included drops of blood hand forged in the work.

Martin said he has always been fascinated by the Renaissance period and artists like Michelangelo and Da Vinci, and they both did crucifixion works.

He used plant leaves to form a vision of the cross and the actual sculpture reaches out several inches from the apparent backing of the portrait.

“I’ve always fancied myself as a sculptor,” he said, so he decided to try it.

He estimated that it took him up to 200 hours to complete over a nine month period.

 

August 5, 2011

 
 

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