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Ancient Blacksmithing Craft Enjoys Modern Revival

Curt Welch, a computer software engineer, is drawn to the artistic nature of blacksmithing.
Curt Welch, a computer software engineer, is drawn to the artistic nature of blacksmithing.

Hobbyists and artists drawn to lost vocation

Curt Welch and Charlie Perticari are regulars at a workshop located in a nature park near Washington.

Welch is making a rose. "This is a leaf that is going to be the end of a flower. And I am putting the veins in," he explains.

Charlie Perticari is making a letter opener. "I have sold them. I have several in use in my own home. I like to give them away to people as gifts because it is very personal."

Both men are members of the Blacksmiths' Guild of the Potomac - a non-profit organization that teaches blacksmithing skills to a new generation. Blacksmiths traditionally made horseshoes and tools, but much of their work became obsolete a century ago with the advent of new technology and mass production. However, thanks to hobbyists like Welch and Perticari, the lost craft is having a resurgence.

"I immediately became fascinated with the artistic nature of the craft and all sorts of magic of working with metal," says Welch, a computer software engineer who joined the group two years ago.

The Guild, which began 30 years ago with 20 blacksmiths, has grown to 200 members. Most are hobbyists while some are artists.

"I think we have a strong future," says Michael Briskin, an attorney who is president of the guild. "There are a lot more guilds forming around the area so we are sort of competing for members against some other guilds. But certainly it is great for blacksmithing as a whole that we have a lot more guilds."

One of those other guilds is The Mid Atlantic Smiths Association. The group recently held its 8th annual event in Cordova, Maryland. Featuring demonstrations by master blacksmiths, it drew about 150 people.

Pey Anderson, president of the Artist Blacksmiths' Association of North America (ABANA), was among them. He says ABANA has more than 4,000 members worldwide.

"The Internet, YouTube, Facebook, these social outlets are really helping fuel the organization and blacksmithing around the world and make it a lot easier for people to find the information, to get involved, to learn," says Anderson. "Thirty years ago it was very difficult to find a blacksmith."

According to Anderson, although some traditional work is still being done, blacksmithing is becoming something different from its utilitarian roots. "Now it is more of an artistic form, people doing sculptural work, architectural work, to accent homes and gardens and things like that."

Back in the Washington workshop, Charlie Perticari is finishing up his letter opener while Curt Welch puts the final touches on his rose.

"Oh yes, it comes out nicely, oh yes," says Perticari, adding there is nothing like turning a piece of plain metal into an object of beauty - and knowing he did it with