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Argyle blacksmith organizes national conference at fairgrounds

Argyle blacksmith organizes national conference at fairgrounds

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You reach the hilltop home of Rand and Freya Condell off Route 40 in Argyle, after the paved road turns to dirt.

A brick patio overlooks the farm fields below, and a door on the ground floor leads into Rand’s forge. Inside, it’s dark and cool, and power hammers and gas welding tanks stand on the shop floor, and bars of metal hang on the walls, along with hammers, rasps and wrenches.

Flames lick at the brick chimney in the side-draft forge, where a sturdy, bare-handed man is digging in the coals with a pair of tongs.

The forge can heat up to 2,200 degrees, but the room stays cool — “it’s very localized,” says Rand of the heat from the fire.

He unearths a chunk of steel that glows a soft red and slips it into a hole in a metal block, then hammers it down.

Condell is 72, with thinning gray hair and a trim beard. He hits the steel hard with the hammer, so little blobs of metal, glowing red, fly off.

Condell is the organizer of this year’s conference of the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America, which draws blacksmiths from around the continent and some from overseas and will be held June 3-6 at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Easton.

It’s an industry gathering, for networking and learning, but also open to the public, with a free viewing area where smiths will hold demonstrations and full- and half-day passes sold for the whole event.

The conference includes demonstrations in eight disciplines: art, tools, knife-making, power techniques, farm forging, historic, farrier and education; along with lectures, family programs, classes, nightly competitions, a gallery exhibition and a live auction at the end.

It will include a 21-forge teaching area and a 12-forge youth teaching area. Female blacksmiths will be featured, including Ellen Durkan, who runs Iron Maiden Forge in Wilmington, Delaware, where she combines art, fashion and blacksmithing to make wearable metal garments, and six from the Czech Republic, where blacksmithing is a big deal.

One of Durkan’s outfits can be seen now in an exhibit of pieces by members of the Artist Blacksmith Association that is on display in the Folklife Gallery at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls. That exhibit runs through June 1.

Condell is a longtime member of the blacksmith association who has been working for the last four years to bring the annual convention to the local area.

His academic background is in archaeology, which he has taught at the college level and applied practically while searching for dinosaur bones and ancient mammal fossils in digs in Wyoming and Nebraska.

His blacksmithing adventures began in 1971 or ‘72 while reading the “Whole Earth Catalog,” which listed the country’s only school for blacksmiths, in New Mexico. He went, leaving a wife and baby in Glens Falls, and worked seven days a week, day and night, for three months to learn the trade.

He and his wife built their place in Argyle in the late ‘70s, with help from their two young sons. Since then, he has taught, including in the state prison system and served as president of the state Public Employees Federation and president of the board of the Adirondack Folk School in Lake Luzerne.

Throughout the years, he continued with his own blacksmith work, making tools for the Folk School and fixing farm equipment for his neighbors. Scheduled for this week is making 10 forges for the June conference.

On Tuesday in his shop, he scooped the chunk of red-hot metal out of the coals and immersed it in the quench tub, where it sent out a faint roar.

The great thing about being a blacksmith is, when he needs metal hardware like a hinge or a tool like a wrench or a hammer, he doesn’t have to run out to the store, he can stick some metal in the forge and make it.

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at @trafficstatic.

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