For local blacksmith Don Nichols, creating an ironwork pony-sized horse with the tools of his trade is something new for him, but he’s no novice at the forge. He’s a member of the Blacksmith Association of Missouri (BAM) and has been blacksmithing at his home for the last 18 to 20 years.
“The horse is for Marvin Martin down at the Excelsior community, east of Versailles,” he said Tuesday. “There’s a Mennonite store there. Him and his boys are farriers and he furnished the horseshoes for it.”
Nichols said he worked part-time and it took him two to three weeks to create the horse.
“I’d say it’s 14-hands high,” he added. “It’s just a small horse … and everything on it is horseshoes, except for a little rod for the outline. The tail and the mane are all horseshoes that are straightened out.”
Nichols said it took five to six five-gallon buckets of horseshoes to create the horse. Martin supplied photos for him to work from.
“He had some pictures and that’s all I had to go by,” Nichols said. “I made an outline and then I worked off the outline that I had with some rods. Then, I started filling in and building up the horse.”
Nichols was getting the horse ready to transport by small trailer Tuesday. He said Martin planned to place the horse in his front yard once it arrived.
Although creating a life-sized horse was a new experience for Nichols, the piece he’s most proud of is a three-candle ironwork candelabra that sits in his family room.
“I’m as proud of that one as about any one I’ve made … I designed it and it turned out so good,” he said. “This one is completely done the old blacksmith way. There’s no electric weld on it. It’s completely done the old fashioned way.”
The piece was created with rivets, collars and forged welds.
“They either had to rivet it together, collar it together of forge weld it together,” he added.
He said he learned how to create the piece while taking a class several years ago at the John C. Cambell Folk School in North Carolina.
As for the horse, he’s still unsure if he’ll make another one.
“The horse, it’s different,” he said. “It really surprised me. It turned out pretty fair for the first one that I’ve ever done.
“It’s a lot of work,” he added laughing. “There was another boy that asked me about (making another one). I said, ‘well you have to furnish the horseshoes because horseshoes are hard to get now.’”
Nichols said horseshoe crafts are extremely popular at present, so they aren’t as easy to obtain as in the past.
“If you look on the Internet, there are gobs of people making things with horseshoes,” he added. “So, now you have to buy them or find somebody where you can get them … they are getting hard to come by.”
Blacksmithing, he said, is mainly a hobby for him, something he enjoys. In the past he’s made ironwork table bases with glass tops and also iron lamp stands. He has a lamp stand in his family room that features an intricate collection of swirling vines and flowers complete with a suspended hummingbird. The stand is topped with a Tiffany-type lamp shade.
Nichols is a member of BAM and enjoys teaching others about blacksmith skills. He said he became interested in blacksmithing while visiting a steam engine show years ago in Boonville.
“There was a blacksmith down at Boonville at the steam engine show and that’s where I basically got started and joined BAM,” he added. “We have about 600 members in the state of Missouri.”
He said each year, during the Missouri State Fair, BAM is on the grounds demonstrating blacksmithing techniques.
“They set us up in a tent on the northeast corner of the (Mathewson) Exhibition Center,” he said. “There’s blacksmiths from all over the state of Missouri that come in every day.”
For a time, blacksmithing was a dying art.
“The reason we have our club is because the blacksmith trade almost died out,” he added. “So, that’s why BAM was formed. It was made to keep the old craft from dying.”
He noted that BAM, unlike traditional old-time blacksmiths, doesn’t keep trade secrets.
“In the old days the blacksmiths they kept their secrets of how to do things,” Nichols said. “They wouldn’t explain it to everybody. They wouldn’t tell people what they did, because that was their living. But, our club was formed to where we don’t keep secrets, we share all the information.”
He added that BAM is open to anyone.
“We have lady blacksmiths,” he noted. “The ladies really do good as far as when you get into the artwork in blacksmithing. It’s open to anybody.”
Blacksmithing has “come back,” Nicholas added.
“If you look around at a lot of places, the art has come back,” he noted.
Nichols said if people are interested in contacting local blacksmiths they should visit www.BAMSite.org. For more information on Don Nichols’s ironwork art, contact him at 826-9252.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.