I met a blacksmith

I met a blacksmith

I met a blacksmith. He was a neighbor of mine, and his forge was set up in a small hundred-year old garage at the end of a narrow two-track driveway. Alexander Govannon Chavez, owner of Govannon Ironworks, was starting the forge when I happened by for what became an amazing afternoon! He agreed to tell me about his trade provided that I stand in as his 'striker.' He hefted a squarish longish hammer into my lanky computer-nerd catch and directed me to follow his lead. 

His hand built forge was glowing and would fully roar to life when fed breath from an ancient looking air blower. There's so much distain for coal these days, and universally in the context of big electricity. Coal, though is the food for the ancient art of ironworking, and I admit I'd never seen this material close up. Scooped from a bucket of water and placed into the orange heart of fire, a pound of coal provides heat enough to work steel for an hour or more. It is crystalized fire. Steel is crystalized iron and carbon. 

Radiating heat as much as visible light, he struck the steel against the anvil. Then I would strike the same spot. Then he would strike, and I would follow. Turning the bar, striking striking striking. 

"A blacksmith gets twice as much done with an apprentice!" 

We were making a fireplace grate. His day job at a steel fabricator in Pueblo provided him dropped cuts of steel bars and plates, which were neatly tucked into rows in the rafters and wall boards. He was a skilled fabricator, but here in the forge he is an artist-mythical.

Between strikes and over the blaring of death metal from his spark-pocked ipod, he told me about the iron worker and King Solomon. The story, so it goes, takes place at the celebration following the completion of King Solomon's palace. A blacksmith is rebuked by the crowd of onlookers when he strides up and takes the seat of honor at the king's right hand. The king, hearing the words of the other trades, sides with the blacksmith. He declares that the place of honor is rightfully taken, as none of the other trades could do their work without the tools created by the blacksmith. 

Alex created all of his own tools. Save one hammer and one pair of tongs. Giant steel salad tongs. For steel. Those were the tools he used to make all the others. 

The story seems to have some old testament Hebrew roots (Isaiah, 54.16 ) as well as some cultural gusto from the gilded age. Artist Prof. C. Schussele and engraver John Sartain, Phila. created a beautiful depiction of the scene with the story beneath. Standing in the heat of the forge, striking down with the hammer, and inhaling the sweet crisp (toxic?) flavor of coal smoke, the story rings true. 

Steel working brought about an age in which we still live. The machines that make silicon for microchips for iPhones are made out of steel. They got to a steel building riding on steel rails in a train forged from steel. 

A hot spark spontaneously rocketed out of forge. It burned a hole through my jeans and my skin and I did a sort of combined jump-yelp! The blacksmith had a good laugh. 

Here's a video featuring the blacksmith that I met, created by filmmaker Tim Sparks:

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