CanIRON III, the third Biennial Canadian Blacksmith Conference, was held this year in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, and was a wonderful time of learning and fellowship among blacksmiths. A great venue, superb demonstrators and exceptional hospitality combined to make this “Iron Odyssey” a truly wonderful event for those of us lucky enough to attend.
You can understand why they call Saskatchewan the “Land of Living Skies,” as the rolling farmland opens up in front of you and the sky becomes the dominant feature. One often thinks of this province as flat prairie land, but actually of its quarter-million square-mile area, one half is forest, one third is farmland and one eighth is covered in fresh water. Where the Battle River meets the mighty North Saskatchewan River lies the city of North Battleford. One of the earliest communities in the province, the first fur trading post was established here in 1785.
The city sits on a plateau above the lush river valley and is home to one of the province’s four Western Development Museums, which provided an excellent backdrop for CanIRON III. The museum is set up as a heritage farm and village that provides a social and economic history for the province with one of the highlights being a fantastic collection of preserved farm equipment. The CanIRON demonstration areas were set up on the grounds of the museum village and participants were able to wander between these and the large exhibition building that housed the dinner hall, the “Instant Gallery,” and other exhibition areas.
The Chapel Gallery, North Battleford’s public gallery, presented the CanIRON exhibit “Iron Odyssey” and was the location of the weekend’s first event — a wine and cheese reception — to welcome the CanIRON participants. Old and new acquaintances mingled in the beautiful exhibit hall and on the outdoor patio with its incredible view over the river valley.
The next morning CanIRON kicked into full gear as the nine demonstration areas filled up with activity. Demonstrators from far and wide brought their expertise to CanIRON III and with just two and a half days, it was impossible to see everything. The following is just an overview of the demonstrations presented.
Mike Boone from Colorado produced a full-sized gate over the weekend to demonstrate how to take your ideas from design to finished product using several forging techniques, and traditional joinery and assembly.
Robin Boone also presented an interesting seminar on design as it relates to forged metalwork, providing an insight into the development of an idea through its different stages to a completed design.
Shona Johnson and Pete Hill traveled from Edinburgh, Scotland, with their small son Josh to demonstrate the various techniques that they use to produce a large, elegant, freestanding Windvane sculpture. They also presented an exciting slide show of work by their company, Ratho Byres Forge, and by other British smiths. The majority of the slides were of very impressive architectural pieces that use traditional techniques to express some very nontraditional designs.
Bob Patrick of Arkansas brought many years of teaching experience with him to illustrate the fine points of forge welding and produced an ornate doorknocker during the weekend.
Dorothy Stiegler from California not only demonstrated some of her trademark floral pieces but also forged several interesting pieces out of bronze. She has also been experimenting with applications of glass enamel on her forged pieces and she shared this process with the eager participants that crowded her tent.
John and Nancy Little from East Dover, Nova Scotia, made — among other things — decorative elements that combined to make an elaborate railing as a way of illustrating their approach to modern sculptural design. An exquisite little dragon bottle opener that they produced during their demonstration was an extremely popular item.
Decorative scrolls and animal heads were the main focus of Mark Pearce from Calgary, Alberta, during the three-day event. It’s marvelous how a giant of a man like Mark can so deftly turn out a delicate little swan or graceful horse’s head.
Jim Jensen from Mont Nebo, Saskatchewan, had set up a portable foundry at his station and was demonstrating the process of casting bronze in sand molds. Along with many small pieces, Jim was casting parts for a life-size blacksmith, providing interested participants with several opportunities to watch him pour molten metal.
Bill Plant, also from Saskatchewan, was the only demonstrator whose tent, located next to the museum’s old blacksmith shop, was accessible to the general public and registrants alike. Bill provided his audience with interesting demonstrations in tool making and various other things from materials at hand.
The Ontario Artist Blacksmith Association sent four representatives to demonstrate in their tent: Murray Lowe, Duff MacDonald, John Newman and Charlie Sutton . Charlie has designed a terrific “Beginner Blacksmith Workshop,” available as a small booklet, as well as a book titled, “Under The Spreading Chestnut Tree.” Several slide shows, a presentation from Parks Canada on historic restorations and blacksmithing artifacts, plus a basket-making workshop by Mary Patrick , were among the offerings provided to participants.
The final event of the weekend was the auction, where pieces donated by registrants and pieces produced during demonstrations were sold to the highest bidders. The general public was invited to this event and the large attendance made for some lively bidding.
Aside from the excellent events offered at CanIRON, it is the fellowship with other smiths that attracts people to the conference and provides the participants with the best memories. Over 250 people attended CanIRON III and meal times in the museum hall provided excellent opportunities to meet new people or reconnect with old friends. On the whole, it seems that blacksmiths are a magnanimous bunch, willing to share techniques and ideas especially, with novices. One of the registrants, a banker/hobby smith from Vancouver, lives in an apartment; since he doesn’t have a shop, he practices what he calls “guerrilla blacksmithing,” by hauling his forge and tools out to some abandoned lot or industrial area. It is this kind of love for the craft that unites us all.
A terrific conference of this quality doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work by many people, and the organizers of this event can be very proud of the weekend they hosted. Cheerful caterers dished out generous portions of delicious food. Volunteers and museum staff were always very friendly and helpful, and the participants were left with a great impression of Saskatchewan hospitality.
While the organization and planning of CanIRON IV is now underway, it is with a touch of sadness that we said farewell to our new friends in Saskatchewan, but look forward to meeting many more in Hamilton, Ontario, in 2003. All of the terrific people and organizations involved with CanIRON III, including the organizing committee, the Saskatchewan Craft Council, the Western Development Museum and the many weekend volunteers, are to be congratulated for producing an outstanding weekend event that will be remembered fondly by all those who attended.
By Jesse Ellingson, Kootenay Blacksmiths Association
Source: Anvil’s Ring, Fall 2001, p.39 (along with photos)