Blacksmithing To Beat The Winter Blues
At a time when most people are looking at photos of their last summer vacation or trying to figure out where their next beach vacation will take place, Jack Appleby has found the perfect location to beat the winter doldrums.
Nestled inside his shop along West Frick Road in Waterfall, the local blacksmith has all of the tools necessary to recreate a summer getaway. From the heat emanating from his forge to the peace and solitude necessary to construct the most intricate of metalwork, Appleby’s creative sanctuary is the ideal location for blacksmith, student and patron alike.
A longtime educator of 40 years, Appleby’s origins in blacksmithing date back to his time with the Greencastle-Antrim School District. In addition to his duties that ranged from biology teacher and dean of students to high school principal and director of secondary education, Appleby’s 34 years with the Franklin County, Pa., school also found him serving in the capacity of resident blacksmith with Tayamentasachta, the school’s environmental center.
Alongside Carl Fleming, who apprenticed in Germany before immigrating to the United States, the duo performed demonstrations at the center. Appleby’s passion and creativity allowed him to work hand-in-hand with eighthgrade students and pass along his knowledge of metalsmithing to those young, budding artists. Fifteen years ago, Appleby’s drive to move forward with his art for a post-retirement trade of sorts prompted him to recreate a shop at his home in Taylor Township. Comprised of hand tools and his own forge, the shop has been the source of many works of metal art.
Primarily working in copper and mild steel, Appleby’s creations seem to be inspired by the rural landscape surrounding him as well as his background in the sciences. Leaves, flowers, snails and even white-tailed deer have served as inspiration for his pieces that serve as trivets, jewelry and trinket holders and small metal statues.
Referring to himself as an “intermediate” artist or blacksmith, Appleby says he spends his hours doing custom jobs and smaller works of art unlike pieces done by larger companies such as Mc- Connellsburg’s own Antietem Iron Works. Even though he states he doesn’t have a real specialty area such as mastersmith Dr. Bob Becker’s horsehead designs, Appleby’s works often fall back to the “critters” and nature he loves so much.
As part of his devotion to ongoing learning and training as a blacksmith, Appleby pays much respect and homage to instructors who have helped him hone his trade. Dr. Becker of Oxford, Mich., for example, was responsible for teaching Appleby the traditionalist route or foundations of blacksmithing with the use of hand tools and carving. Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, Pa., as well as Artist Blacksmith’s Association of North America have been a source of continuous training and information as well. Plus, YouTube always offers a tip or perspective on how to achieve just the right touch.
“You watch, learn, come home and try it out,” he said.
Much like his years in education, which currently includes a part-time stint as headmaster at Grace Academy in Hagerstown, Md., Appleby said his intentions have always been to be a teacher of his trade. Hoping to offer classes to one or two students on the weekends and evenings at his home, Appleby stated, “My passion has always been teaching. It’s all I know how to do.”
Pointing out that while his trade is definitely exciting, it does take time. In fact, a project could take anywhere from a day to several months for completion. Factored into that time is the process of “thinking.”
“A lot of thinking is involved. It’s more than just squishing metal,” concluded Appleby. “It’s a mental challenge. The thinking process then turns into technique and making the metal move the way you want.”
Additional information on Jack Appleby and his trade can be obtained online at www.applebybasketsandblacksmithing.com.