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Ironwork goes from practical to pretty

The sounds of hammer on molten metal are unfamiliar to the modern generation.

Master blacksmith Adrian Legge of Herefordshire, England, was recently demonstrating skills and chatting about his techniques while moulding hot iron with Saskatoon’s blacksmith club members.

The visit was Legge’s last stop in a two-week visit to Saskatchewan, which included a stay at Ness Creek’s CanIron VII. CanIron is a Canadian blacksmith event that happens every two years and brings together demonstrators and artisans from across Canada to share ideas and techniques.

Legge has been a blacksmith for more than 30 years and ha taught for more than two decades. Legge runs the shop his father started in the 1940s. Legge tells students to love the way iron can be functional and sculptural, fluid and static, delicate and structural all at the same time.

“In Canada, you’re pretty much where we were at about 20 to 30 years ago … I think there’s pretty much a renaissance in blacksmithing.”

He said there is a small population of blacksmiths. It’s physically demanding, the tools are expensive and difficult to ind and a big work shed is needed.

“I think your big advantage is also your biggest disadvantage in the fact that you’ve (Canada) got no history really, at blacksmithing. What you’ve got is the received wisdom from the migrant population from Europe mostly.”

Canadian blacksmithing includes a blend of Germanic styles of ironwork and French and British/English/Irish traditions, he said.

“Mostly blacksmithing these days is esthetic, it’s decorative. The day of your blacksmiths making plow points and stuff like that is pretty much over.

“Farmers these days need more of an engineering workshop than they actually need a blacksmith shop. They need a welder. They’d probably make more use of a lathe than they would a forge.”

Legge says there’s a market for blacksmithing and it’s up to blacksmiths to educate the public about their skills.

“People won’t demand that. You’ve got to educate them,” he said.

“It’s marketing. Blacksmiths are their worst enemies. They love hitting hot metal. They couldn’t market themselves for fun.”

Legge said a blacksmith can fix anything that’s forged.

They are now working mostly in esthetic architectural structures on everything from candlesticks to fine art sculpture.

Legge can make picture frames, mirror frames, fireside furnishings, mantel shelves, shelving brackets and fittings.

“It’s a bit like you going for a handmade suit as opposed to one off the shelf. You may not buy many but when you buy it, it lasts a lifetime.”

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