© Michelle Smith-Lewis
By Anne Bujold
Many folks might not immediately see the connection between forging metal and issues of inclusivity. However, it is clear that the field, just like any ecosystem, will thrive by supporting a broad community of makers. Diversity of perspective is fertile ground for innovation, and it is through both an appreciation of history and an eye towards the future that blacksmithing can be a space of truly unlimited potential.
With this in mind, 11 smiths gathered in August 2018 at the Cascadia Center for Arts and Crafts in Oregon. The goals were a collaborative project for the on-site sculpture garden and conversation around issues of inclusivity in blacksmithing. The event brought women from across the country, ranging in age, experience, and metalworking interests. Lisa Geertsen (Firelight Forge, Seattle), Rachel David (Red Metal, New Orleans), Anne Bujold (Watertown, TN) collaborated to organize the gathering.
Attendees included Ryna Cady (WA), Monica Coyne (CA), Alice Garrett (Australia), Ann Klicka (WI), Heather McLarty (CA), Lynda Metcalfe (NC), Caitlin Morris (MD), and Leslie Tharp (FL). It was critical to include smiths from a variety of locations in order to gain perspective on the geographic differences in the blacksmithing community. All participants are skilled metal workers, each with experience ranging from five to over 30 years. Most participants have multiple components to their careers, including functional and sculptural work, and several have active teaching schedules or work with community education facilities.
© Michelle Smith-Lewis
Taking steps towards addressing the lack of diversity in blacksmithing is a valuable endeavor. Through listening to the experiences of others and working to understand their perspective, we build a community that truly supports, encourages, and educates people regardless of constructs of race, gender, sexuality, gender orientation, or physical limitations. In recognizing these issues, and learning about the nuances involved, we can begin to consider how to be agents of change.
As Geertsen asserts, “this organization is to be built on an attitude of support for those who have felt like they are on the fringe of the blacksmithing community. It is our challenge and our strength to hold an open mind to those who want to see this group grow and succeed.”
The project was divided into five teams, each headed by a driver who worked with strikers to complete components. One group took on heading each rivet, others forged tenons, drifted holes, formed the sheet metal for the seats, and curved elements using the fly press provided by Orion Forge. Everyone dug in with enthusiasm and incredible energy, including a marathon 22-hour final work day.
The product of the build, a sculptural bench, provides seating for two or three people, sitting adjacent yet looking out to different perspectives. People can sit side-by-side, but their view is not the same. We can sit on an equal plane but bring different perspectives which, when shared, open an opportunity for a more complex understanding of the world.
© Michelle Smith-Lewis
At the conclusion of our time at the CCAC, we agreed to continue this project as the Society of Inclusive Blacksmiths (SIB). The hashtag #societyofinclusiveblacksmiths is available for use by anyone who wants to participate on Instagram. We are working towards a self-published book to document the build and share our experience with the larger craft community. By showing role models that do not fit the stereotype of a blacksmith, we can help to shift the perception that this craft is only for those who fit into a certain image.
This initial gathering is not an exclusive group setting out to take on these issues alone. This requires a much broader conversation, with smiths from across the country, of all ages, races, genders, and demographics, to engage in this work. Everyone who is passionate about the blacksmithing process should have access and support, and we can build a culture that strives to make that the reality. SIBs recently produced a website and is looking forward to building this community, supporting future events, and continuing to develop a constructive dialog around these issues.
As Tharp keenly observed, “each person reading this has a lot of power to make ripples in this field. I think it’s hard to remember how influential we can be, but in so many large and small ways our actions and words all add up and lead to meaningful change. It’s kind of incredible.”
We would like to express our deepest thanks to the NWBA, the Summit Arts Center and Betsy Valin, the Oregon Cultural Trust, Pratt Fine Art Center, Franz Bakery, Michelle Smith-Lewis, Microsoft, Lois Bujold, Orion Forge/Hunter Dahlberg, Kellen Bateham, Susan Lammers, and New Seasons Market for their support in making this event possible.