This weekend started off with a BAM for the approximately 150 blacksmiths who gathered inside the Swine Pavilion on the Missouri State Fairgrounds for the 23rd Annual Ozark Conference sponsored by the Blacksmiths Association of Missouri held through Sunday.
On Saturday presenters Peter Ross, of Siler City, N.C., and James Crowell, of Mountain Home, Ark., kept blacksmiths mesmerized with demonstrations of technique, hammering orange-hot metal with a tink-tink sound on their anvils.
“Even though it looks like not much is going on, we’re really excited,” said Mel Robinett, of Oak Grove. “I could hardly sleep last night thinking of this. He’s (Crowell) one of the premiere knife makers in the world, he’s won first place in every contest you can think of in knife making over the years.”
Robinett said he thinks the group “just got lucky” in having Crowell come to the conference.
“We hit him at the right time,” he added. “Last week the Bill Moran School of knife making, the school of the universe, he was teaching it last week, this was in Texarkana.”
Across the building, Conference Chair Mike McLaughlin, of Lawson, was watching Ross work making a hinge as he used his coal fired forge.
“He is what’s called master blacksmith,” McLaughlin said. “He used to work around the shop in Colonial Williamsburg, so we got him in all the way from North Carolina. He’s showing different techniques and he does a lot of colonial ironwork—hinges and tools and a real nice array of things that he makes. If you are in the blacksmithing community Peter is really well-known.”
McLaughlin said that approximately 150 blacksmiths were attending the event from Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and some from Florida.
“And some from Kansas, Oklahoma,” he added. “So all around the Mid West, we draw people in.”
BAM has held their annual conference in Sedalia, at the fairgrounds, since 2007 McLaughlin added.
“Our main mission is to promote blacksmithing,” he noted. “Teaching, learning, we love new members. We’ve actually got 535 members give or take a few. Mainly we do a lot of teaching, and trying to bring new people in, young people in. We’ve got a teaching trailer with 10 anvils over there. We have a beginning blacksmith class and today we have a hammer class. And we actually travel around the state and give classes.”
McLaughlin said that in August the BAM trailer is going to Delaware for the national conference for Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North American (ABANA).
“We’re the only ones who have it— a 10 anvil teaching station,” he said. “They call us every year to take that up there, and there’s a guy from California that comes and teaches and another guy from Washington state and another guy form Georgia, they all give classes at the national conference.”
McLaughlin said he didn’t know the percentage of professional verses hobbyist but for many blacksmiths working with the hammer and anvil is their trade.
George Rousis, of Kansas City, was attending the event. He is a full-time blacksmith/artist who makes jewelry such as wedding bands, plus sculpture and large architectural pieces. His business is called Organic Iron Concepts.
“I started out as an artist in found metal art right out of college,” Rousis said. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Rousis said he does a few shows but he mostly sells by word of mouth.
“I do rings and small items that go all over the world,” he added. “And then most of the architectural stuff is more local, I think I have a railing in Costa Rica … I did all the forged work for that. And then I have a little bit on each coast, but I would be willing to travel if that was in somebody’s budget.”
Rousis also has a website at: organicironconcepts.com.
Roger Degner and Deb Balsley, of Minnesota, with the Upper Mid West Blacksmith Association also attended the event and are the “video librarians” for the group. They’ve recorded and kept all of the workshop sessions for all the blacksmith conferences since 1988.
“There’s a 180 different titles,” Degner said. “They average 5 1/2 hours long. So I have over 1000 hours of people working. And actually, it’s semi-edited so there’s thousands and thousands of hours in order to get that much.”
Degner also said that in the Lowell Mohler Assembly Hall BAM was showcasing member’s work at the Dr. Iron’s Slackwater Gallery along with spouse events such as basket weaving, and broom making classes.
A benefit auction of the blacksmithing artwork was held Saturday night.
For more information on joining BAM or to schedule their 10 anvil teaching trailer contact them at their website: bamsite.org.