Mark is a mentor in the SIBs Mentorship Program that is currently in progress. We always ask mentors and mentees if they would like to share the story of their blacksmithing journey and Mark shared the following.
I am pushing 58 years old, started forging in my mid to late 20's. I identify as straight, not that it matters in the grand scheme of things. I'm going to start my story with something other than blacksmith stuff, but it is pertinent.
When I was in my early 30's I was an avid cyclist, riding 150-200 miles a week. I was involved with a weekly group ride, near where I live, in Woodstock NY. One of the members was a flamboyant gay black man. We would chat at rest stops and such and became friendly. At that point in my life I did not understand much about people who were different than me. So, one day I asked Geoffrey if I could ask him a question. He says yes. I asked him about being gay, is it choice people make? (Before you judge, remember it was 25 years ago, things were different, and I really did not understand) He sat and thought a moment and replied "In my life I have been discriminated against, disowned by family, denied jobs and housing, been beaten and robbed for simply being who I am. Do you really think I would choose that?". That really hit me hard. Geoffrey became the best friend I have ever had in my life. He died about 5 years ago from brain cancer.
This is what led me to offer what help I can to SIB. The blacksmithing community sometimes is not the most open minded bunch of people you can find. Many are, but I wanted to try to help people realize that there are allies in metalwork.
Now for the other part. I got involved with forging through my stepfather. He was a hobbysmith, and did not have a shop for years. He finally got a shop set up and I gave it a try, and loved it. I was a hobby guy for 8-10 years, then took the plunge and did it for a living for about 18 more years. I did mostly house jewelry (railings, gates, fireplace stuff). I got pretty good. I have taught at Peters Valley Craft center around 6 times, Brookfield Craft Center maybe 8-10 times, got flown to Florida to demo for FABA. I had a very well equipped shop. Power hammer, Anyang forging press, couple tons of assorted stuff. Ended up closing shop 2-3 years ago due to the pandemic. Sold most of my big stuff, kept enough small stuff to do stuff if I feel like it.
So, that's about it for my story.