August 19, 2022

Sparking imagination: Demonstrations keep blacksmith tradition alive

PENFIELD, Ill. — One of the world’s oldest professions that merge science and art is featured at a permanent display during Historic Farm Days.

The origins of blacksmithing trace back to around 1500 B.C., when the Hittites discovered the process of forging and tempering iron ore in what is now Turkey.

A process to produce wrought iron was developed in the Iron Age through reducing natural iron ore with heat.

This new substance could be used to make simple tools that proved much tougher and sharper than stone, according to Oldfield Forge History of Blacksmithing.

By the Medieval Period, blacksmithing was considered part of the set of mechanical arts and was a staple of every town, and the blacksmith’s importance to communities continued with the colonization of North America and into the Industrial Age.

Demonstrations

Larry Lustfeldt and others carry on the ancient blacksmithing tradition during demonstrations at Historic Farm Days in Penfield, Illinois, each year during the second week of July.

Lustfeldt, of nearby Gifford, has been blacksmithing for 45 years and became interested as a youngster.

“I was in a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval reenactment group. I got into that when I was about 13 years old or so,” he said.

SCA is an international living history group with the aim of studying and recreating mainly Medieval European cultures and their histories before the 17th century. Activities include reenactments.

“Basically we were hitting each other with sticks, so I started making armor and it kind of evolved into the hot work and the blacksmith part of it,” Lustfeldt said.

Lustfeldt is a member of the Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America, an organization dedicated to perpetuating the noble art of blacksmithing.

ABANA encourages and facilitates the training of blacksmiths; disseminates information about sources of material and equipment; exposes the art of blacksmithing to the public; and serves as a center of information about blacksmithing for the general public, architects, interior designers and other interested parties.

Lustfeldt is also a member of the Illinois Valley Blacksmith Association and has been giving blacksmithing demonstrations at the Penfield show for 20 years.

Lustfeldt believes it’s important to carry on the blacksmithing traditions through demonstrations.

“Blacksmithing has always been such a prevalent deed in society from thousands of years ago to present day even. It’s nice to get young people interested and spark their imagination about what it is and what is was and giving them a history lesson on the importance of blacksmithing, especially in its heyday and in ancient cultures,” he said.

Reaction from visitors to the blacksmith shop at Historic Farm Days varies.

“It ranges across the gamut from people just kind of sticking their head in to look and then walking away to people staying here for two to three hours watching and getting stuff,” Lustfeldt noted.

“I get a lot of questions, most of them are about the coal and the fuel that we use, the difference between iron and steel, the heat treatment and those sorts of things are probably the most common questions.”

Tom Doran

Tom Doran

Field Editor