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Forgers, farriers gather to celebrate, continue heritage that helped build a nation at annual Blacksmith Days at Farm Museum

Some say this country evolved on the backs of blacksmiths who supplied and repaired tools and equipment, household goods and weapons through the Colonial era. Working at a hot brick hearth or forge, backs bent, they pumped bellows to feed the fires until metal at the end of their tongs became pliable. They banged and hammered their way into the Industrial Age.

These days, blacksmiths still work forges, creating tools, knives and unique works of art.

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Over 160 blacksmiths gathered at the Farm Museum on Saturday and Sunday for Blacksmith Days, an event hosted by the Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland.

"This is our 29th year to hold Blacksmith Days. Next year will be our big 30," said Ray Neubauer, a member of the guild's board of directors. "It's gotten bigger and bigger. What everybody thinks of as a dying art is not."

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Neubauer, of Westminster, said the guild has about 250 members

"We bring demonstrators in, either local or from out of state," he said of Blacksmith Days. "We've had them from as far as California and Nova Scotia, and we also have the Maryland Farriers Association here — a great group of people with some phenomenal smiths."

Despite the large amount of interest in Blacksmith Days shown by Neubaur and his fellow forgers, turnout by members of the general public was light. When asked if there was anyone at the event who wasn't a member of the Blacksmith Guild, Neubaur said, "The public does come by, and we had more people here yesterday, but we are always competing with other events, like the Preakness."

Neubauer said 20 years of anniversary trips to Colonial Williamsburg with his wife sparked his interest in the trade. Then he took a class at the Farm Museum in 2002 and has been coming back ever since.

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The annual Civil War weekend encampment at the Carroll County Farm Museum began Saturday with an uncommon ceremony, a eulogy given to two ranks of soldiers, some in gray and some in blue. Prayers and a cannon fire salute marked off the morning from the regularly scheduled living history engagement.

"This is a tight knit community of people, full of integrity. We get a good turnout, too. People like to watch other people play with fire," he said with a smile.

Past president of the guild, Bill Clemens, of New Columbia, Pa., represented ABANA (Artists Blacksmiths Association of North America) at the event. He said a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., got him started 18 years ago.

"It's very interesting how you can take a piece of cold, hard steel, heat it up and then manipulate it like a piece of clay," he said.

For Clemens, the items created using that clay-like steel include sundials, coat racks and jewelry, but he has a reputation for his strap hinges. He smiled when asked if he's ever been burned.

"I've been burned a few times, but not so much anymore. You learn to respect the metal," he said.

Joe Polignone, of Glenwood, Pa., hammered out a tiny horseshoe pendant. A farrier by trade, he said he has definitely felt the burn.

"I do hot shoeing, he said. "When a horse pulls you around, you can get hit by a hot shoe, but two of my worst burns were while making a horseshoe. [The first time] I didn't have the right size tongs and the shoe slipped around the anvil and actually caught me in the mouth. I've also had an anvil chip and a piece of it went into my chest. I had to have it removed. But you learn. You start to make the tools work for you."

A guild member for about four months, Polignone spoke of all they do.

"There are monthly hammer-ins every month. You bring your own project or work on a group project together," he said. "The networking is important."

Polignone stressed the importance of the trade.

"We need to understand that a lot of things we have today wouldn't exist if we didn't have a hammer and an anvil. It all started there."

Westminster resident, Albin Drzewianowski has been with the guild for 30 of the 31 years they have been in existence. He makes tools, decorative items, dragon heads and cooking utensils but said he does not make knives. He said bottle openers are in high demand now that artesian beers are popular and he makes them too, with dragon heads and horse heads on them.

"The Zen of it is that you are using earth, wind, air and fire, and from those four elements you can create hardware, art, tools, knives and more," he said.

Drzewianowski spoke of the guild's monthly meetings at the Farm Museum.

"Our facility here has eight forging stations," Drzewianowski said. "Meetings are an opportunity to use the equipment. We have a large library of books and videos members can check out, and we have a newsletter with book reviews, plans for projects and a list of events."

Drzewianowski said more and more women are joining the throng of blacksmiths. Mary Myers, of York, Pa., is one of them. She was selling raffle tickets at the event, which also hosted a live and silent auction of tools and other items.

"I've been a blacksmith for about 20 years," Myers said, noting that she learned from her husband, "but I played with the metals to learn more. What I do is different from a lot of the guys. I just started a new line of jewelry called Uniquely Mary for Uniquely You.

Myers said she likes to work in copper.

"I always thought of myself as a patron of the arts. Then I found my medium, and now I have discovered that I am an artist," Myers said.

"There's been no difference for me as woman in this trade," Myers said. "I am totally accepted, and I don't see any biases. I am one of the guys."

Blacksmith Days featured food for sale and a tent full of books from Blue Moon Press, a company that only sells books about metalworking.

Learn more about the Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland online at www.bgcmonline.org



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