SEPTEMBER NEWSLETTER, 2021
GYMPIE ROTARY “ANCIENT CRAFTS, RARE TRADES” EXPO
OCTOBER 30 – 31, 2021 – 6 weeks to go!
With it’s rich and golden history, Gympie is the perfect location for this biennial event. Hosted by the Rotary Club of Gympie, the “Ancient Crafts, Rare Trades” Expo is a tribute to the heritage trades of our past and a celebration of the artisans that keep these almost-forgotten trades alive. Come along for a weekend filled with non-stop demonstrations by over 40 diverse heritage makers, vintage displays, bushcraft shows, artisan markets and lots of good old-fashioned camaraderie.
The event will be held in conjunction with the Gympie Rotary Quilt & Craft Spectacular, one of Queensland’s largest quilting and crafing events, and the Craft Beer Open Door, the age-old art of brewing – another essential craft!
Please spread the word, October 30 – 31, 2021, in and around the Pavilion, Gympie Showgrounds!
In the previous newsletter, I invited you to Meet our Luthiers www.quiltandcraft.org/ancient-crafts-rare-trades-newsletter-july-2021/.
Now, please read on to Meet the Smiths: our blacksmiths, silversmiths and master tinsmith, who, along with over 40 makers of other heritage crafts, will gather at this year’s Expo, keen to inspire you with their passion and to pass on their knowledge.
I hope you are as fascinated with this as I am!
MEET THE SMITHS:
After the Stone Age, throughout the Bronze, Iron and Middle Ages and until the Industrial Revolution in the late-1700s, daily life was continually evolving with advances in the uses of iron, silver and tinplate. The blacksmith, silversmith and whitesmith (tinsmith) were centre stage in village life and essential to any town. The number of folks with the last name of “Smith” demonstrates the prevalence of the vocation. Other surnames such as Miller and Cooper have similar origins.
From the stars… the stuff of Kings
Nine small beads are the oldest surviving hand forged iron artefacts – they date to 3200 BC. They were made from meteoric iron, shaped by carefully hammering the material (meteorites) into thin sheets which were rolled into tubes. Meteoric iron, believed in those ancient times to have come from the heavens, is malleable, ready for use and could be wrought into weapons and tools with a hammer – the use of forging with fire (smelting) was many years into the future.
Above, from top left:- The earliest beads, the oldest surviving hand forged iron artefacts, 3200BC- A meteorite on the ground in Sudan- A lump of raw meteoric iron ore
Swords, daggers and jewellery forged from meteorites that “came from the stars” became the stuff of kings and the elite. The blade of King Tutankhamun’s expertly produced dagger is the earliest historic example. Made of meteoric iron, it was found in his tomb in 1925, along with an iron amulet and headrest, made from at least two different meteorites, suggesting that an active search was carried out for valuable iron meteorites. Almost 3000 years later, King Tut’s dagger is still rust free and almost in pristine condition. And incidentally, the incredible golden death mask is constructed of two sheets of gold that were hammered together, weighing in at over 10kg.
Above, left: The meteorite dagger found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun dates to around 1350 BC Above, right: Two x 3000 year old axes with iron blades from Chou Dynasty, China
Legends are saturated with stories of powerful weapons made from “the iron of the sky”, a “gift from the gods”, from Attila the Hun’s fabled Sword of Mars to Arthur’s Excalibur. Moghul Emperor Jahangir considered his leadership a gift from God, and tributes, in the form of precious things, as signs that he was doing his job well. So when a meteorite fell to earth in 1621 in Punjab, it was a sign from the gods. The scorched earth where the meteorite landed was excavated. A diary from the day reads “the deeper they dug, the hotter it was. Finally they reached a spot where a piece of hot iron appeared”. After it had cooled, it was taken to the Emperor as a sign, a gift from God; he ordered his smiths to forge the molten meteorite into two swords and a dagger.
Above, and left: Meteoric iron dagger of Emperor Jahangir, Mughal dynasty, 1621, India, steel blade with meteoric iron, iron hilt, and gold inlayRight: The ceremonial axe from Ugarit on the coast of northern Syria is dated to 1500 B.C., about 300 years before the invention of smelting iron.
Iron – the secret weapon
Throughout the Ages before the Iron Age, ancient artisans searched for fallen extraterrestrial meteorites to make weapons. But they weren’t thick on the ground. In the 1200s BC, the Hittites made a revolutionary discovery involving two very simple, but separate ideas: the first was the discovery that solid rock would melt; the second was the development of a process capable of producing the temperatures at which these materials would turn into liquid – smelting. The iron produced was much stronger, made better weapons, and iron ore was plentiful. The Iron Age had begun.
The Iron Age
During the 800 years of this period, huge advances were made: coinage had been introduced, wheel thrown pottery was being made, the upright loom was used in weaving, people had started to live in larger and more settled agricultural communities – and early smiths found that wood converted to charcoal produced a higher temperature fire. The use of charcoal was one of the greatest advances in blacksmithing in these times.
The fire could be further intensified with a blast of air. Bloomery furnaces rapidly replaced open charcoal fires as an effective way to forge. These furnaces or pits were made of clay and stone and were designed to be heat-resistant, air was forced into the furnace using bellows to heat up the charcoal and increase and control furnace temperatures.
Most early iron smelting processes meant the use of a bloomery or a low prolonged heat that would not melt the metal, only soften until it could be pounded with a hammer. The bloomery was replaced by a blast furnace, a further tool in the process to create workable bar iron. Even more advances in metal fabrication and manipulation have resulted in immense leaps and bounds forward – but there are still basic elemental practices that the industry owes its prosperity to. Fabricators and manufacturers should constantly strive to pay homage to these ancient techniques that have paved the way for modern metal fabrication practices and knowledge.
The Medieval Period
During the Medieval Period, blacksmithing was considered part of the set of seven mechanical arts, which also included weaving, war, navigation, agriculture, hunting and medicine. The blacksmith was essential to every town, producing not only weapons, but also nails, furniture, locks, horseshoes, and tools. However, the demand for blacksmiths ebbed away as the decades went by. As the Industrial Revolution created factory-made mass-produced ironwork, the art of blacksmithing slowly became almost obsolete.
Happily, in a modern resurgence of this ancient art, blacksmiths today are seen as artists, proudly upholding the traditions and history of blacksmithing, taking their trade into the future.
MEET OUR BLACKSMITH
Sat the event, October 30 – 31, 2021 Gympie’s Pavilion area
Come along to the “Ancient Crafts, Rare Trades” Expo, October 30 -31 at Gympie’s Pavilion, and meet over 40 heritage artisans that are keen to preserve their craft, including the following:
Meet Wayne of Cracked Anvil Forge
Artist blacksmith Wayne Schmidt, of Cracked Anvil Forge, has been blacksmithing for over 25 years. Bringing his historically accurate blacksmith equipment – his travelling forge and 100-year old bellows, hand cranks and a host of well-worn tongs, hammers and diverse array of hand tools – Wayne will create a functional blacksmith shop onsite at the event and demonstrate forging items that would fit into any period of time in our history. Faithful to traditional blacksmithing methods and techniques, Wayne will provide a glimpse into the world of the blacksmith of old.
Meet Geoff, The Gympie Woodworks Museum
A regular demonstrator at Gympie’s Woodworks Museum, Geoff gets all fired up! Bringing along his portable forge, he’ll demonstrate blacksmithing and show a range of items being produced.
Meet Jim, reproduction toymaker, 3rd generation blacksmith
Jim Walsh is a young-at-heart 85-year-old third generation blacksmith. His passion is creating perfectly detailed miniature reproductions of vintage model cars, trucks – anything with wheels – in metal. His eyes light up as shares his vast knowledge of blacksmithing, and shows his huge – huge! – collection of his hand forged metal memorabilia – mini taxis, carts, trucks, ambulances, militaria – even a bullet-riddled Bonnie & Clyde 1934 Ford Deluxe.
The oldest known piece of tooled or silversmithed silver dates to 600 BC – and many of the tools used in ancient times are still used by the silversmiths of today: tongs, hammers, blow pipes with clay nozzle, used to shape drinking and eating utensils, jewelry, armour, vases and artpieces. Meet the silversmiths from Gympie’s Gem Club and discover the addictive – and ancient – art of silversmithing. The Club’s lapidarians will also be there, cutting and polishing stone. With it’s roots in prehistory, early humans began fashioning stone tools and weapons. In time, these techniques were also used for items of personal adornment. Lapidary today encompasses four art forms: tumbling, cabbing, faceting, and carving, using stone and gem materials. Meet the lapidarists from Gympie’s Gem Club, catch their enthusiasm – a dedicated group with a wealth of knowledge to share.
The tinsmith, also known as a whitesmith, began learning his trade fashioning simple items, like cookie cutters and pill boxes, by cutting, then flattening and rolling tinplate over shaped anvils and mandrels. The joints would be soldered. He would then progress to forming buckets, milk pails, basins, jugs, candleholders, cake and pie pans before tackling more complicated pieces such as chandeliers and crooked-spout coffee pots.
He would start his apprenticeship at about 10 years old. Upon finishing his training, 6 years later, he was not yet a master – many young tinsmiths took to the road as peddlers, travelling from town to town, village to village, market to market, repairing existing tinware and also making their own styled items. These journeymen were called tinkers, becoming a master when they settled and set up shop in a town and took on apprentices.
The 14th century saw the first tinsmith to set up shop in London, located in the ancient parish of St Michaels of Crooked Lane, in Candlewick Ward. His products became known as Crooked Lane Ware, and were much in demand by the 1630s. This site was one block north of the old London Bridge, chosen for it’s easy accessibility to the waterway for importing tinplate, but a site that would prove to be fateful – the Great Plague of 1665 originated from the Parish of St Michaels of Crooked Lane, followed one year later by the Great Fire of London with Crooked Lane at it’s heart. The lane was destroyed.
It was in 1670 that the tinsmiths were recognised as a minor Guild – “The Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers”, whose purpose was to maintain high standards of workmanship and design as well as supervising the treatment of apprentices and journeymen by the master craftsmen.
By the 1850s, stamping companies were selling factory-made tinware with stamped out parts and stencilled finishes. Now, it is all computerised, and hundreds of thousands of tin cans etc can be churned out per week. Big business dominates the tinplate market. This, and a dedication to fast foods, plastic and a throw away society, has signalled the end of the handmade tinware industry.
Meet master tinsmith Rebecca
Owner of Tinkers World, with a passion for tinsmithing spanning 40 years, Rebecca Morgan is one of very few master tinsmiths throughout the world. In 2018, she received a Churchill Fellowship to study this near lost art which allowed her to travel throughout England, Wales, Ireland and Canada, researching the origins of her craft, and how to preserve it. She will be at this year’s Gympie Rotary “Ancient Crafts, Rare Trades” Expo demonstrating and sharing her knowledge in an endeavour to keep the craft, the products and the journey of tinsmithing alive. She captures the romantic charm of tinware, offering products hand made, of excellent quality and old world charm, in honour of “The Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers”.
Ancient Crafts, Rare Trades newsletters (2021):
June Update – www.quiltandcraft.org/update-june-2021/
Quilt Show newsletters (2021):
February Newlsetter – www.quiltandcraft.org/newsletter-february-2021/
March Newlsetter – www.quiltandcraft.org/newsletter-march-2021/
April/May Newlsetter – www.quiltandcraft.org/newsletter-april-may-2021/
June/July Newlsetter – www.quiltandcraft.org/newsletter-june-july-2021/