Thursday, June 29, 2006

Defining the Artist Blacksmith (part 1)

(This is the first part of a commentary I have been working on for the Ontario Artist Blacksmith Association web site.)

A well known comment in popular culture is "You talk the Talk - but can you walk the Walk".

Terminology, what you say about what you do - and just what you mean by it, is extremely important. 'Saying what you mean and meaning what you say' is one measure of someone knowledgeable in their trade. This is even more true for any artisan involved in a traditional skill in a modern world. The blacksmith also faces the twin problems of being involved in a highly technical and mysterious process which has also been surrounded by huge public misconceptions.

We all know how retail stores and mere fabricators deliberately and knowingly misuse the technical language of the blacksmith to increase the value of their products in the eyes of the customer. Its also painful to admit that within the blacksmithing community itself there are those who have converted what were once technical terms into mere advertising copy. Unfortunately, this relatively recent trend has also been increasing in frequency. "Its just easier to tell them what they want to hear" is an explanation that is often given.

To that end, some terms should be defined, with some of the related history of their use (and misuse!) given.

There may be as many definitions of the term 'art' as there are people who are involved in the creation of it - hence 'artists'. One useful way of considering an individual object : If the function of the object is primary concern to the piece, it could be considered to be 'craft'. If the appearance been the major factor of the overall design, it could be considered to be 'art'. Needless to say, there is can be considerable overlap between the two aspects - what is useful can be beautiful and what has beauty can be functional. At its core however, the artist is most concerned with the overall design of each object, to maximize its decorative qualities beyond mere technical constraints.
Ideally, the 'artisan' will be one who blends form with function, employing skill to create distinctive objects that are interesting to the eye while at the same time being a pleasure to use and of high quality.

Quite literally 'iron worker'. 'Smith' is derived from a Germanic root - 'smyte', meaning to strike. Historically, smith has referred to those who work metals employing hammers. Iron has been known as the 'black metal' since ancient times. This is a reference to the dark grey oxide that forms on an iron surface when it is heated to incandescent temperatures. So to truly earn the description as 'blacksmith' you must work iron metals at glowing temperatures using hammers.

Hand Forged:
The forge is the fire used by a blacksmith to heat the metal. So 'forged' refers to metal which has been heated and then shaped while it is hot. (It should be noted that jewelers use 'forged' to refer to any metal that has been hammered, in their work primarily cold. As the term originally derives from the work of the blacksmith, this usage is incorrect.) 'Hand' means just that - work that is undertaken with hand tools. A modern alternative would be industrial 'drop forged' where all the hot forming work is done with mechanical tools.

(to be continued)

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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