Thrusting a pair of tongs into a hot forge, Wilmore’s Dave Shadwick, 62, pulled a red-hot strip of metal from the coal fire. Quickly he turned to his anvil, placed the metal down, and began to hammer as white-hot scale flew from the metal.
After a few seconds of hammering, Shadwick returned the metal to the fiery forge, and the process started all over again.
“Depending on the mass (of the piece), I’ve probably got 10 to 15 seconds of work time,” Shadwick said. “Then I’ve got to throw it back into the fire.”
Shadwick is a blacksmith, and his passion for his art burns hotter than the white-hot metal he removes from his forge.
A retired engineer with Lexmark, Shadwick first picked up the blacksmithing skill in the early 1960s.
“An agricultural teacher gave me a forge,” Shadwick said. “I dabbled around with it, but back then, blacksmithing was essentially dead.”
That was until a few years ago, when Shadwick discovered a place that would serve as his fountain of youth in a blacksmithing sense — the John C. Campbell Folk School in Murphy, N.C.
“I’ll go there once a year, and I will pick up a tip or technique from an instructor or from a fellow student,” he said. “I learn something just about every time I go.”
Armed with a new fervor for the art, Shadwick has quickly made a name for himself and become a member of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen and Kentucky Crafted.
As he moves around his soot-filled workshop behind his home on McCauley Road, Shadwick busily creates special-order door handles, all the while talking about the craft he enjoys so much.
“Blacksmithing is an ancient craft, so people have developed techniques and forgotten them, and they’ve gotten lost, so somewhere along the way, somebody figured out how to do a technique,” he said. “There’s not a right or wrong way; there’s a harder and easier way to do it, and somebody just figured out an easier way to do a technique.”
Retired since 2009, Shadwick has produced items such as door hardware, napkin holders, mirrors, toilet-paper holders, lambs, bookends and the like.
He has no preconceived blueprint; many of his wrought-iron creations come from his creativity.
“This mirror, we had one fall off the wall in the house because the string broke,” he said. “So my wife said, ‘Would you make a mirror to go back up there?’”
As he began the process, he began to visualize a basic mirror design; then his minds-eye saw acorn ornamentation around the mirror. From there, it was off to his forge.
Shadwick designs his own casts for the many different ornamentations he uses in his work.
And like many craftsmen, Shadwick sells his creations at different events, but he is picky when it comes to selecting what event to attend.
“I am selective ... (some events) have a flea-market mentality,” he said. “I do the one in Wilmore because it’s a juried event. There are some events that the jury process is if your check clears, you’re in. They don’t look at your stuff; they just want your money.”
Shadwick said he feels the reason blacksmithing isn’t real popular today is because of the effort and time it takes to be successful.
“It’s very labor intensive; it’s hot, so a lot of peopel shy away from it because of the work and heat involved with it,” Shadwick said. He added that during late June and early July’s heat wave, when temperatures soared to greater than 100 degrees for seven of 15 days his workshop easily reached 106 degrees.
“You get used to it,” he said, adding that he drank lots of fluids. But event with the hot temperatures, Shadwick said he was out in his workshop working, and he added that summertime heat was much more palatable than winter.
“I do it year round, but I’d rather do it in the summer than the winter,” he said. “A lot of people are confused by that. But when I’m at the forge, from here (lower waist) down, I’m cold, and from here (lower waist) to about here (neck area) I’m kind of warm, but my ears are cold.”
Over Labor Day weekend, Shadwick will attend an invitation-only event in Frankfort — Art in the Gardens at Liberty Hall.
“This is the first year they are having that,” he said. “So they went down the list of people who are in Kentucky Crafted and the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, and invited select people. It’s an art fair, so I’m going to take many things there to sell.”
Shadwick didn’t start selling his work until 2005, about four years before his retirement.
“As I¿was getting close to retirement, I had to figure out what I was going to do,” he quipped. “If I sit in the house and ask (his wife) Norma, ‘What are you doing cooking that?’ I’d get in trouble.”
While selling his creations gives him satisfaction, Shadwick said it’s not a second career.
“I love it, but I will make a little money off it, but I can’t make a living at it because people cannot pay what I would need to live on,” he said. “If I make some money to pay my booth fees, buy the matierals and pay for my gas, I’ll live with that.”
For more information on Shadwick and his work, visit www.podsforge.com.