Blacksmiths' work leads them in strange directions
July 9, 2014
“By Hammer and Hand, All Arts Do Stand”—the motto of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths
Solstice Forge sits on a hill just east of Naselle. It’s a sunny peaceful spot with a garden that grows larger each year and a dog named Patches that just can’t get any bigger. If you step into the shade of the shop, your ears will begin to adjust to the older melodies playing on the radio, and your eyes will light on the tools of a trade that went out of fashion with the Industrial Age but is now making a comeback.
The darkened shop is cool and filled with soft light streaming in from the windows. David and Karen Curl are nearly finished with railings that a customer has commissioned for his home and there is no sign of heat from the forge.
A former art student, David took the long way around to find his way back to art through blacksmithing. He joined the Coast Guard and worked as a commercial fisherman before settling in and taking welding classes at Clatsop Community College. He’d met his future wife around that time and she preceded him in the industrial technology program, completing her associates degree with a 4.0 GPA.
“She was a hard act to follow,” David laughed. Karen taught classes for a while and then decided to try out her well-honed skill in the field. When David finished his classes, she got him hired at her job site.
“After that,” David said, “we hit the dusty trail and worked heavy industrial and ended up being union millwrights.”
“We had a mom and pop welding shop while we worked on the road,” Karen said. “The blacksmithing came by love of knowing people in the field.”
They took classes and met more people who shared their love of the ancient art.
“Blacksmiths were outpaced by mechanization after the industrial revolution,” David pointed out. “And they slowly faded away. In the very early 70s or maybe even the late 60s a resurgence began. There are over 5,000 of us in the US and our numbers are growing.”
“It’s the kind of work that lasts for generations,” he continued. “You have to go to a smith to get that kind of quality work: something well made, something long lasting, something you will hand down to your heirs. We’ve gotten away from that with mass production techniques.”
The two are really busy, and some of their work takes them in really interesting directions. They are in the final stages for the design of four large decorative screens that will go in a home that will be featured in Country Home magazine.
They were also invited to work on a historical project that had the archaeological world buzzing, if David’s sister, an archaeologist, is anyone to go by. She heard about the project, and then she heard her brother was involved. Then she called him to tell him what a big deal it all was.
He was working on a project for a new exhibit at the Maritime Museum in Astoria involving the cannons from the USS Shark.
“The USS Shark set sail initially in 1821,” David said. “She spent the first of her sailing life fighting slavery in the Atlantic. She was asked to sail to the Columbia River, to sound and chart the river entrance and the estuary as well as provide some assurance to some nervous people in Astoria at the time. The way I heard it is that the US was worried about conflicts with the British and they wanted a US ship to sail in and fly the flag. The USS Shark bumped bottom on the way in, and on the way out, she hit hard and broke up. All the crew made it off, but a piece of the deck with the three cannons and a windlass floated south and went aground south of Tillamook Head.”
The Maritime Museum in Astoria got two of the cannons. Some of the ironwork surrounding the base survived, but was degraded due to seawater. Thus the need for a blacksmith.
“It’s been a pleasure to forge all this,” David said. “It’s been a really cool job, the kind that blacksmiths dream of.”
Along with blacksmithing, the Curls have been hard at work organizing a brand new event in Astoria called Metal Fest. It will be on Saturday, July 19, at the Fort George Brewery from noon to 9 p.m. There will be blacksmiths, sculptors and bladesmiths from all over the northwest in attendance. There will be demonstrations, displays and all kinds of items for sale, as well as an auction. There will be live music, a barbecue and a face painter for the kids. The proceeds from the event will go to the new blacksmithing program at Clatsop Community College. On Sunday, Fort George Brewery will allow the metal artists to show their wares to coincide with the Sunday Market.
“We’re going to fill the place up with metal artists and have a lot of fun,” David said. “Fort George Brewery has been so helpful in this. And the President of the Northwest blacksmith Association is so excited about the event, he’s thinking about organizing more around the northwest.”
One can see some of David’s work at Fort George Brewery. He forged the chandelier at the top of the stairwell, a couple peace signs and the iron façade around the fireplace. He and Karen also created the mug and growler racks and all the iron in the shelving for the tasting room.
Check out their website http://www.solsticeforge.com to learn about classes and see more of their work.
If you are interested in the new blacksmithing program that David will be teaching at Clatsop Community College, you can find more information at http://www.clatsopcc.edu. There is only room for 12 students, so sign up fast.
Recently, David was interviewed on Kathleen Morgain’s program, The Bridge on KMUN. You can hear it at http://www.coastradio.org/bridge.
If you are a metal artist and you would like to participate in Metal Fest, please contact the Curls at firstname.lastname@example.org. They still have room for some demonstrators and people who would love to show and sell their wares.
Also, if you have any type of old blacksmith equipment that you would like to donate for the new blacksmithing program, the Curls would be grateful.
“We’re starting from scratch, “David said. “Once we get going we can produce our own tools, but we need to get going.”