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Local blacksmiths share their art

The Ocmulgee Blacksmith Guild will be holding public demonstrations at Dauset Trails Nature Center, beginning at 9:30 a.m., on Saturday, Nov. 20. Dauset Trails opened the blacksmith shop, where the demonstrations will be held, in the Barnyard area in November 2009.

It is based on the 19th-century style of the blacksmith shop at the historical Tully Smith House in Atlanta. "We decided it was the style we wanted to represent at Dauset," said Rob Thurston, of the decision made after visiting the blacksmith shop at the Tully Smith House.

After deciding to pursue the idea of building a blacksmith shop at the end of 2008, efforts were soon made to turn the idea into a reality. Dennis Tingle, of the Ocmulgee Blacksmith Guild, volunteered his time for at least a month to complete the shop.

Thurston and Tingle spoke to the members of the Jackson Butts County Council for the Arts on Thursday, Nov. 11, about the guild, which promotes blacksmithing as a high-quality and creative craft with a growing place in modern society.

Thurston spoke of how he became interested in blacksmithing. Thurston, who has become well-known for his artistic wood creations made using a chainsaw, was already welding metal to create art objects when he visited the blacksmithing demonstration at the Bluebirds and Bluegrass Festival at Dauset Trails five or six years ago.

Tingle was the one doing the demonstration of heating metal and bending it. He spoke of blacksmithing as a dying art and of promoting it.

"It was amazing to me how many things you could do. You could never learn it all in a lifetime," said Thurston. "Last year, I applied for a scholarship and just happened to win one."

The scholarship was to attend the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. The school is a village where students can become immersed in learning crafts from wood turning to creating stained glass. One of the purposes of the Ocmulgee Blacksmith Guild, according to its published literature and web site at www.ocmulgeeblacksmiths.org, is to provide opportunities for teaching and learning about specific areas of blacksmithing and promoting an exchange of creative ideas.

"It is just beautiful and all the people are awesome," Thurston said of his experience at the Folk School.

Tingle said that he had always liked working with his hands but had worked behind a desk for 30 years and still considered himself a hobbyist at blacksmithing, even though he has worked with blacksmithing for more than a decade.

The mission of the Ocmulgee Blacksmith Guild is to keep blacksmithing alive, said Tingle, the newly elected vice-president of the guild. The guild was formed in 1992 at Jarrell Plantation State Park near Juliette, but the group was never able to get a blacksmith shop built at Jarrell Plantation.

"The shop at Dauset is as nice as any shop anywhere," said Tingle. "We hope to start a program of demonstrations for schools, and we are making some items for the gift shop."

The shop at Dauset Trails Nature Center has been christened "Acorn Forge." Thurston and Tingle used their blacksmithing skills to design and fabricate a new sign for it.

There will be an auction of items made and donated members of the Ocmulgee Blacksmith Guild on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 9 a.m., to 2 p.m., in the Atrium Room of the Dauset Trails Visitor Center. Funds raised go to the guild for supporting its goals of spreading awareness of the craft and providing educational opportunities for those interested in it.

Tingle and Thurston brought examples of items which will be offered at auction to the Council for the Arts meeting. One was a large piece made Charles Ivey in which he had cut, formed, shaped, and colored each leaf in the design. There was also an almost-life-like snake created from what had once been a farrier's rasp.

"Blacksmiths were the first recyclers. There is no bad metal," said Tingle. "You are only limited your imagination."

Other items included a raised trivet and a layered Damascus steel knife. A large triangle for calling the crew to dinner or meetings and a bottle opener were examples of pieces being made for the Dauset Trails gift shop.

The guild holds meetings on the first Saturday of each month at locations throughout central and south Georgia. "You don't have to be a blacksmith to come to the meetings," Tingle emphasized. "Some just come to watch."

Thurston and Tingle encourage members of the public to come to the blacksmithing demonstration at Dauset Trails on Nov. 20. This is also a syrup-making day at Dauset Trails, when one can see the process of syrup making from squeezing the sweet juice to cooking it in a kettle. There will also be a barbecue pig pull.

On the net:

Ocmulgee Blacksmith Guild: www.ocmulgeeblacksmiths.org