REKINDLING THE FIRES
The Story of the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association
by Boyd Holtan
Part 1: Organization
On a dreary November evening in 1978, six men gathered in the day room of one of the dorm cottages of the Jackson’s Mill Conference Center near Weston, WV.
Pete Minier was the demonstration blacksmith at the Fort New Salem restoration at Salem College near Clarksburg, WV.
Mac Miles was an employee of the State Cultural Center at the State Capitol in Charleston, WV. He was interested in encouraging craftsmen in the state to develop and share ideas and skills.
George Nichols, the host, was employed at Jackson’s Mill as a part-time blacksmith and maintenance person. George was a former hospital administrator who desired a different type of lifestyle and moved to the area, setting up a blacksmith shop at his home a few miles outside of Weston.
Glenn Horr was a young man from near West Alexander, a little town on the Pennsylvania-WV border east of Wheeling. Glenn had put together a little blacksmith shop on his mother’s farm and was busy learning the art of blacksmithing, skills that appeared to be dormant or becoming lost.
Jeff Fetty was a meat cutter in a grocery store in Spencer, West. Virginia. He had been making gates with his welder and angle iron and was interested in other ways to work with metal.
Boyd Holtan was a professor at WV University in mathematics teacher education. He had wondered about blacksmithing, his father had a little forge, but never saw him use it. Responding to an ad in the West Virginia State Department of Agriculture free publication, Market Bulletin, he purchased a forge, anvil, leg vise, post vise, and some tongs. He hauled these from Lewisburg to a barn near Morgantown, set up a primitive shop and started to look for books to learn about the craft.
All six of these men were interested in learning and sharing ideas about blacksmithing. Pete, Jeff, Glenn end George had recently met as they attended a workshop at the Cedar Lakes Conference Center near Ripley, WV, on February 27-March 3, 1978, taught by Daryl Meier on making Damascus Steel. Boyd had applied to go to that workshop, but was notified that it was filled and could not attend. Later that year, he attended a workshop on “Traditional Blacksmithing” at the Cedar Lakes Center, July 17-21, 1978, taught by Michael Snyder. This workshop was held outside at the conference picnic area under a very large tree.
At the Jackson’s Mill meeting, each agreed to send letters to anyone he thought might be interested and invite them to come to a meeting on December 10, 1978, at Jackson’s Mill. After the meeting, Glenn showed us some fullers and small tools that he had made.
The Sewing Center Room at the Jackson’s Mill Conference Center was filled on Sunday afternoon, December 10. There were thirty people who come to show interest in bringing blacksmithing back to life and formed the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association. The group was formed “to provide a local center of exchange for ideas and learning between novice and experienced smiths as well as to promote fellowship among members of the trade.”
They also agreed that “the organization will sponsor workshops, plan exhibitions, host out-of-state demonstrators, and publish a newsletter of important events and communications.” Dues were set at $3 00 and a steering committee was formed to plan demonstrations, workshops, and an ABA constitution. The steering committee consisted of Joe Costello–Newsletter Distribution; Pete Minier–Newsletter Editor; George Nichols-Secretary; and Boyd Holtan-Treasurer.
The group discussed possible names for the organization. It was agreed that the geographic region should not restrict membership, so the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association was chosen. The meeting ended with a slide presentation of some iron work by John Cornish and George Nichols.
Those in attendance at the December 10, I978, meeting at Jackson’s Mill were John Gamble and his son; Joe Costello and his son, Chris; William E. Slider, James M. Wills, Jeanie Wills, Edward Stutler, Boyd Holtan, Pete Minier, Ed Small, Paul B. Lacy III, John Cornish, Jay Hurley, Jozef Sendecky, James A. Brasunas, Brian K Moore, Eric Moore, Pat Schlee, Jay Hayes, George Nichols, and Mack Miles. Fourteen of these paid $3.00 dues and the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association was underway.
Possibly, this is the first article on the history of the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association. If it generates interest, other articles might be written. Some of the possible topics may be: The First Year of ABA, The Teaching Shop at Cedar Lakes, Hosting the ABANA Conference, The Doldrums, Renewals of ABA, ABA Special Trips (Chambersburg, Philadelphia, National Cathedral), Hammer-Ins and Cedar Lakes Demonstrators, Newsletters and Officers of ABA.