The art and craft of a blacksmith is virtually as old as time.
The skills of many of the finest of these artisans and women are on display this weekend at the Missouri State Fairgrounds as the Blacksmith Association of Missouri host its 25th annual Ozark Conference.
“We have two main reasons we have this event each year,” said BAM President Phil Cox. “It’s to educate others on our trade and to make sure that our work continues on in the future.
“Some of our members are as young as 10 and as old as 80,” Cox added. “We have people from across the United States even from other countries to share their knowledge and skills here this weekend.”
Cox said more than 130 pre-registered members were attending this weekend, adding that the association is at its largest size in more than 30 years.
“We have something here for everyone including some of the biggest names in the blacksmith industry who are giving demonstrations this weekend,” he said.
Bob Alexander, of Desoto, began blacksmithing 24 years ago when his interest in collecting tools forged his future career as a blacksmith.
“I worked as a carpenter for 23 years and along the way I picked up several hand tools,” Alexander said. “”I started to pick up some that were used by blacksmiths and I became interested in their work.
“I met someone who was willing to show me the trade and from there I was hooked,” he added. “I’ve been doing this full time for the last 15 years for my living.”
Alexander said most of his work is custom, commissioned work. Many of his customers are repeat ones or individuals who find out about Alexander by word of mouth.
Alexander has another venue to showcase his work.
“I am an instructor at the John C. Campbell Folk School,” Campbell said. “It is one of the few remaining adult folk schools in the United States.
“I’ll start a class there the week after next on the art of making flowers out of metal,” he added. “I’m very fortunate that I have the opportunity to teach seven different classes throughout the year at the school.”
Pat McCarty, of Washington, Missouri, also has ties to the Campbell Folk Art School as the instructor for the traditional chest class.
A juried member of the Best of Missouri Hands, McCarty has been working as a smith for 30 years.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years now,” McCarty said. “I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.”
“One of the reasons I love what I do is because I will try to do any job that comes through the door,” he added. “There is always an assortment of things I am asked to do and I enjoy the challenge of it.”
McCarty participates in the fall Craft Festival in Silver Dollar City, spending 10 weeks annually there.
“My wife teaches basket-weaving and is here this weekend too,” McCarthy said. “I make the metal handles that she uses with her work.
“I think one of the best things about this show is the fact that we all have different styles and different looks to our work and there is always something to learn,” he added. “I really enjoy this group of people.”
The comradery and willingness to share their knowledge with one another is one of the best aspects to both the show and the trade, according to Cox.
“A lot of the people here are self-taught,” Cox said. “For many of us we enhanced our skills by drawing on the knowledge of others.
“We have three stations of demonstrations going on throughout the weekend for people to watch and ask questions at and we have some mobile teaching stations set up so the beginners can get some instruction as well,” he added. “A lot of us do this all day every day for a living, but others do it as a hobby but we’re all willing to help each other,”
Cox said the organization hosts regular meetings every other month throughout the state and on months when no meeting is hosted the organization publishes a newsletter, which can be found at bamsite.org.
There are registration fees for many of the workshops this weekend and some are closed. Demonstrations and family programs are from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. The event concludes at 7 p.m. Saturday with the awards ceremony and auction.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484; photos by Hope Lecchi | Democrat.