by Stephen Keith Sagarin, Faculty Chair
In his first class, John Graney (https://www.graneymetaldesign.com/) gives each student a length of square iron stock and teaches how to round, taper, flatten, bend, and drill it to form a hook. He also teaches how to maintain a coal fire at the right temperature, and how to tell by color the temperature of the metal.
In two hours, students go from complete novices to novices who have learned a lot, taken a few steps on a path to discipline, and been shown a door through which they may glimpse mastery.
We call blacksmithing a “practical art” in our curriculum, but not because we expect that students will become blacksmiths or because we believe these skills are practical in today’s world.
Blacksmithing is practical in a metaphorical sense. It teaches care and balance and consequence–each blow of the hammer impacts the world, literally, as each human thought and action does metaphorically. Light blows don’t work and heavy blows damage the work. Rhythm guides the work, and an arhythmic approach fatigues. Cold metal won’t forge, and too-hot metal is weak and won’t hold its shape. A careless touch leads to a burn, not soon forgotten.
The more I live and teach, however, the less I believe that such work is merely metaphorical. Who is to say that the experience of working with hot metal and a hammer isn’t internalized directly, that physical, outer experience doesn’t become inner experience, literally? That the lessons of the hand and body don’t become lessons of the mind?
If this is so, the reverse is likely so, too. Lessons of the mind become lessons of the body–what we think or have thought visible in the ways we move and work.