Friday, March 07, 2008

Caught between a Grant and a Hard Place

For those who have been following my Life, the Universe and Everything, you likely have twigged into the fact that I have wangled my way into an invitation to an upcoming iron smelting symposium in Denmark. I suspect what my have happened is when my friend and occasional partner in smelting crimes Skip Williams was not able to attend, I managed to talk my way into that open slot.
The symposium itself is free, plus they are housing and feeding us. Very cool. However GETTING there is problem. I had some money stashed away against the soon to be required replacement of my truck. This time I decided to seize the day. (The days are starting to get shorter, and 'saving for a rainy day' gets stupid when your whole life is in the drizzle anyway.)

I had occasion two weeks ago to stop by and visit the new workshop of Sandra Dunn & Steve White (TwoSmiths in Kitchener). Sandra has done a bit of smithing related research travel. She told me to apply for a Grant. Now, I had looked into both Ontario Crafts Council,the Canadian Council for the Arts and the Heritage and Culture Ministry back in 2005 for the presentation at CANIRON 4. No joy.
So this time I was not expecting much. But as my long time friend Brenda Roy says : 'You don't apply, you can't get anything'. (She also has received support on occasion.)

The piece below is a good chunk of the letter I composed to request consideration for even making an application. I did contact a number of organizations to see what the response might be. The letter outlines the problem....


I have just (Feb 18) been invited to attend an international symposium in Denmark:
"Iron Smelting Seminar in Thy"
Thisted Museum / Heltborg Museum
April 29 - May 4

My involvement with historic iron smelting is an extension of my work for Parks Canada, I designed and produced the 'Norse Encampment' living history program for L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. ( I have been involved in work related to public presentation of this aspect of Canadian history since 1993, including work on a number of the major traveling exhibits across Canada and the USA to mark the millennium of Leif Ericson. On iron smelting itself, I have been working since 2001, with academic papers, workshops and public presentations in both Canada and the USA. (
I have been a professional artisan blacksmith since the mid 1980's, with a considerable body of work (

The opportunity to travel to this international symposium on historic iron smelting represents a significant event. I am the only Canadian who has been invited (and also the only North American who will be attending). The event itself bears no cost, but I remain responsible for travel to and from Denmark, plus within the country itself.

The smelting of bog ore to metallic iron was carried out by the Norse at Vinland (L'Anse aux Meadows) circa 1000 AD marks the first processing by Europeans in North America. The exact methods used represent a totally lost craft tradition, techniques abandoned before the first written descriptions, which also left minimal artifacts to archaeology. My challenge has to be to attempt to re-create the tools and processes that may have been used.

I have been working with forged metals since I was a student at OCA in the late 1970's. I established the Wareham Forge in 1992, which balances between museum related work, teaching, and original art metalworks. I also have curated a number of gallery exhibits of contemporary artists (the current project, 'Grave Goods', is in the jury process right now)

To date I have personally undertaken about 30 experimental iron smelts, and helped out with at least a dozen more. This is technically one of the single most difficult metalworking processes, and one for which there are no written descriptions, hardly any physical evidence, and certainly no living craft tradition to draw on. Serious attempts to re-create these ancient methods did not start until the late 1990's. With my start in 2001, I'm really part of the cutting edge of a new field of work entirely. Obviously you need to know how to make the metal itself before any attempt can be made to utilize it for objects!

I constantly run into this same problem: Art or Culture? My approach to this work is from the aspect of museum studies, I am attempting to re-create a process from Northern Europe during the Dark Ages (focus on 600 - 1000 AD). To date I have physically created about a half dozen metallic blooms, and have only worked two of these down to bars. From bar this metal could be then taken and used for raw material for objects, but that part really is identical to the other work I undertake as an artisan blacksmith. Certainly I do have a body of work taking modern metals and using them as the raw materials for objects with historic themes.

By the way the two aspects are sliced - ARTS wants to look at the object created only, but at least considers the artisan. This specific extensive body of work with iron smelting is about process, not product. (It has been suggested I try to spin the smelting process as 'performance art'.) CULTURE is channeled through the Institution only, and since I am an independent artisan, I do not qualify for consideration.

It turns out I am not really eligible for any of the EDUCATION related grants - as I am not enrolled as a student. I have been undertaking independent studies in this area for decades, and have amassed a considerable body of data and experience. Although I have published 4 academic papers, I hold no degrees. I have been a guest lecturer at universities ans have created and taught a college level program on the Viking Age, but again as an independent I do not have a sponsoring institution.
My hope is to find some financial support against the approximately $2000 this specific symposium and related museum research in Denmark will cost.

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

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