On Saturday the 29th of March, beginning at 10:30 am, one will feel the weight of beauty at the showcase held annually for blacksmiths participating in downtown Spruce Pine’s Fire on the Mountain Festival. Held in conjunction with “Fire”, the exhibition will give visitors an opportunity to view iron arts and crafts in a gallery setting and to learn more about the nationally acclaimed smiths and their work processes. The floor will be weighted down with large forged work while smaller, intricate hand-wrought pieces will adorn pedestals, with even more on the walls. A reception recognizing the talents of these blacksmiths and open to the public will be held at the gallery on the eve of the Festival on Friday, April 25th, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.
TRAC’s history of displaying the acme of historical craftsmanship in iron remains at the top for the 2014 exhibition. This year’s recognized Master Blacksmith is Scott Lankton from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lankton, who has been a studio artist for 31 years, began falling in love with metal while working at a jewelry store in his teens. He went on to earn a BFA in jewelry and metalsmithing from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI. Later, he traveled to Germany to hone his metal working skills. Now, he focuses more on “house jewelry.” He says, “I’m making big jewelry. A railing is like a big necklace for a house.”
His teaching credentials include workshops at Penland School of Crafts, Peter’s Valley Craft Center in New Jersey, Appalachian Center for Crafts, Smithville, TN, and Tillers International, Kalamazoo, MI. He has demonstrated and lectured at national and international conferences such as, ABANA, Ferro 2000, and Ferro 2005 in Europe. This year one of his pieces will be on display at the TRAC gallery.
In Lankton’s own words, “I see two things as being vital to producing good art or craft. One is the idea or concept, and the second is the quality of the execution of that idea. Neither is enough on its own. A great design or idea is not fully expressed and communicated if the craftsmanship is poor. Likewise, superior crafting of a poor design tends to be empty and unsatisfying. We need both together; it’s simple, but not always so easy.” The pieces on display during the Blacksmith exhibition are of the highest aesthetic caliber, inviting profound artistic contemplation from viewers. Other works bring back to life the hand-made uniqueness of the utilitarian items of past centuries: candlesticks, andirons, tongs, skewers. They all have taken a concept and brought it to fruition with unparalled artistry while honoring some of the outstanding workers in iron.
Special this year is the Finial Design Contest. Starli McDowell of Spruce Pine Main Street selected twenty blacksmiths to submit a finial that will be displayed at the TRAC Spruce Pine Gallery during the Blacksmith Exhibition. Ten will be chosen to top the new Spruce Pine wayfinding signs honoring North Carolina Living Treasures; the other ten will be on display in other downtown venues. Also, the winning finials will be displayed at the North Carolina Artist Blacksmith's Association of North America (ABANA) demonstration booth during the festival.
That the exhibition and festival are held in Spruce Pine indicates this area’s importance in the revival of blacksmithing as an art and a craft. Not many remember that the Boone family built a forge for their restoration work at Colonial Williamsburg nearly a century ago. In 1937, Daniel Boone VI received the exclusive contract for restoration ironwork to be done in Colonial Williamsburg. He built a new forge in Spruce Pine, as the new base of operations. After World War II, national treasure and Boone’s apprentice, Bea Hensley, joined him, and, nearly 15 years after the restoration at Williamsburg began, he finished the job by himself. Bea purchased Boone’s shop and continued working the forge for decades to come.
As with weaving, pottery, furniture and musical instrument making, basketry, and other skills, the Toe River Valley is home to an impassioned group of artisans who preserve a historically vital way of working. TRAC and Fire on the Mountain promoters honor that living legacy.
The Annual Blacksmith Exhibition will run from March 29 through April 26, ending another Fire on the Mountain Festival in downtown Spruce Pine. For more information about the Toe River Arts Council exhibition, please call 828.682.7215, or visit the www.toeriverarts.org. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm. Please visit www.downtownsprucepine.com for FOM information.
The Toe River Arts Council is a not for profit organization promoting the arts in Mitchell and Yancey Counties, and supported by donations, memberships, local government, grants (including the North Carolina Arts Council, a state agency), and supporters who understand the benefit of art in our community.