2008-08-09 / Top News

Metal, Friendships Forged During 24th Annual Blacksmith Convention

By Ryan Schlehuber

A close-up view of one of the eight floral stands made for Mission Church shows the intricate artwork. In the background, a blacksmith stokes a fire and prepares to heat more metal. A close-up view of one of the eight floral stands made for Mission Church shows the intricate artwork. In the background, a blacksmith stokes a fire and prepares to heat more metal. Longtime blacksmith Pat Hayes of Kalkaska was one of 20 blacksmiths participating in the 24th annual Blacksmith Convention at historic Benjamin Blacksmith Shop on Mackinac Island August 2 and 3. He has been shoeing horses since 1969 and got into artistic blacksmithing in 1992. Now devoted to the art and to the camaraderie with his peers, he has been attending the Blacksmith Convention every year since 1993.

"This is my deer camp," he said, comparing the gathering to traditional hunting camps, where good stories and good lessons are shared. "These are all my buddies.

"We're doing beautiful work and we're having lots of fun doing it."

Participants are an array of men and women with different working backgrounds, from machinists, retirees, and college students to government employees.

"What's great about it is that if you talk to six of them here about a blacksmith project, you're going to get 12 different answers, and that's a great thing," said Mr. Hayes. "We all learn from one another because this is a hand-taught tradition. This event gives the opportunity of advancing some of the guys' skills."

Blacksmith veteran Pat Hayes of Kalkaska shows off his finished forged artwork. "Metal is the most amazing medium to work with," he said. "These were made by simply twisting and untwisting the metal. What's great about this is that it's a basic operation using simple tools, and you can create the most amazing things by just using a hammer, fire, and iron." Blacksmith veteran Pat Hayes of Kalkaska shows off his finished forged artwork. "Metal is the most amazing medium to work with," he said. "These were made by simply twisting and untwisting the metal. What's great about this is that it's a basic operation using simple tools, and you can create the most amazing things by just using a hammer, fire, and iron." Each year, Mackinac State Historic Parks invites amateur and professional blacksmiths to the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop to help create metalwork for the Island that is historic, pretty, and functional. The group has created chain link fences for the blacksmith shop and the parade grounds at Fort Mackinac, door hinges, and the fish weathervane atop the Officer's Stone Quarters at the fort. Last year, the group created wrought iron fences that were installed at the Veterans Memorial in the city park on Market Street this spring.

The group completed three projects this year, making fireplace equipment for Wawashkamo Golf Club, forging bars for two windows at the Stuart House Museum, and creating an archway and floral arrangement stands for Mission Church.

Dale Thompson of Midland, one of the newest members of the group with only two years behind him, came up with the idea of forging golf ball rosettes as decorations for the golf club's fireplace log holder. Thirty-two rosettes were made in all, each one having multiple dimples made by hand.

Mr. Thompson, who is a machinist, also showed off the golf ball and tee he made with iron.

"It took about six hours to do the ball and tee," he said, "and another three to four hours putting in the dimples."

The fireplace set includes a shovel, a poker, and a fork, with handles that resembled golf club handles.

At Mission Church, eight wrought iron floral stands and an archway were created to allow wedding planners to decorate without compromising the restoration work done at the historic building.

"When you're talking about a historic site, you have to do things and create things that are accurate for that time period," said Mr. Hayes, "and that's what we have done for the Mission Church."

Window bars were made to cover two windows on the second floor of the Stuart House, once the clerk's quarters for the American Fur Company.

Mr. Hayes' love for blacksmithing is as stoked as the fires used to heat the iron.

"Metal is the most amazing medium to work with," he said. "What's great about this is that it's a basic operation using simple tools, and you can create the most amazing things by just using a hammer, fire, and iron. And it lasts forever."

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