Hammer away at a piece of iron until your arm feels like lead. Grasp a length of red-hot metal that could be fresh from Mount Etna. Stand at a fiery forge and shed sweat by the gallon.
Who wouldn’t want to be a blacksmith? The work can be hot, hard and heavy-handed, but for Chloe Greenwood, it’s the craft of her dreams. Greenwood, 25, is one of six blacksmiths at Jerusalem Mill Village, a living history museum in Kingsville. There, armed with hammer and tongs, she toils over a weathered anvil, shaping faceless chunks of iron or steel into everything from spoons to swords. Greenwood’s offerings can be practical (wall hooks, awls, craft knives) or artsy, like the butterfly she forged for a friend. One day, she may make decorative hair sticks for fashionable buns; the next, grilling skewers for cookout chefs.
Visitors to the mill can purchase Greenwood’s wares at the gift shop, though many buy them right from the blacksmith, fresh off the forge.
“There’s something sublime about taking an ordinary piece of metal that seems immutable and adding fire and sweat and energy to bring it to life,” she said. “Every ‘clink’ of the hammer gives you a spiritual and sensory feeling and [evokes] an ancient connection with a 4,000-year-old craft. I feel like someone in my [lineage] was a blacksmith.”
A native Texan, Greenwood had far different aspirations early on. She attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to study astrophysics, but found it too theoretical. Gnawing at her was the urge to create.
“I’d always had a penchant for working with my hands,” she said. At 15, during a scouting trip to an old-time ranch, she’d met the blacksmith and taken a whack at a glowing iron bar. One swing did it.
“I was mesmerized. My gosh, I was hooked,” she said. For several years, Greenwood worked in various machine shops before moving to California and building a blacksmith shop in the backyard.
But something else nagged at her. At 22, she said, “I answered the [sexual orientation] question that had been bugging me my entire life” and began her journey as a transgender woman.
“I finally realized who I was; it was a beautiful thing,” she said. Any solitude was muted when she joined the Society of Inclusive Blacksmiths, a worldwide guild where Greenwood met other trans women in the trade.
In 2020 she moved to Maryland and worked as a smithy at Historic Sotterley Plantation, in St. Mary’s County, before accepting a post at Jerusalem Mill. Greenwood lives in Baltimore City, where she is building a shop in her home. She hopes to share her wares on the internet, come winter.
Nowadays, she said, “everything is mass-produced, so blacksmithing is more craft than trade. But once something is obsolete, it becomes an art form. And people love the handmade — they crave the artist’s touch and things made the old way.”