Blacksmith lives with “intention”
Blacksmiths, once at the heart of every pioneer community in the Eastern Townships, have all but disappeared from the landscape. Even Stanstead had its own blacksmith shop years ago which, thankfully, was left to stand after the last blacksmith left. Blacksmith hammers out a pulp hook as It now provides a beautiful setting for the they were made before the Industrial Revolution.
local art gallery, Le Vieux Forgeron.
To highlight the temporary exhibit “Traditional Trades and Crafts of Stanstead County”, the Colby-Curtis Museum recently held ‘old trade’ demonstrations for the public. Vermont blacksmith James Teuscher was there with his small movable forge, hammering away on hot metal to make a pulpwood hook, demonstrating the old trade that was once so essential in rural communities as well as big cities. In an interview with the Stanstead Journal, Mr. Teuscher spoke about how he discovered blacksmithing and why he likes to demon- strate this ‘living heritage’ to the public.
Originally from Maryland, Mr. Teuscher left the south to find affordable property so he could “go back to the land”. “I also wanted to leave Maryland because, back in the sixties people were still segregated. I couldn’t deal with those rednecks.” He found that perfect spot in Walden, Vermont, fortyfour years ago, just a large woodlot and a stream. “I moved there in the early seventies with a wheelbarrow and a pup tent. I called it ‘Watergate’ because of what was going on in American politics at the time.”
Without any previous experience with horses, Mr. Teuscher bought a draft horse from a friend so he could start hauling out logs to build a home. “He was a seasoned horse so he taught me how to log a forest. It was at the time of the energy crisis so I thought I’d build a cart and drive him everywhere,” explained James about his first forging project. After building a second cart to sell, he heard about a blacksmithing course being given in the area by a famous blacksmith from England, James Horrobin. “When I took that course I realized that it was the medium for me. I had been a poet, a painter, but when I tried blacksmithing it was like an epiphany for me. James Horrobin became a major influence on my life and work and I’ve gone to England to work on projects with him,” mentioned Mr. Teuscher.
James, who not only puts on forging demonstrations but has also taught many young people how to forge, explained why he is so keen to get others interested in the trade. “Blacksmithing is a significant medium in terms of the past; this is where technology came from. It’s a very ‘hands on’ kind of skill and I like to show, especially young people, that we can actually do things with our hands. Boys and girls can both do it; the boys like to make knives and the girls make flowers. I tell my students that, if nothing else, blacksmithing will teach them patience; every time you bring the hammer down you have to pay attention. It’s very satisfying to move metal.”
Mr. Teuscher was happy to report that he has seen a revival of the trade in the Northeast Kingdom. “There is a new generation of both men and women in the trade. Especially close to Stowe, there is a market for decorative ironwork. But I also know a blacksmith up near Sutton who is very busy working in the Townships.”
Living in the area that James referred to as the ‘granite capital of the world’, (I assured him he was off by about thirty miles and a border), this blacksmith has more recently began combining granite with steel to make tables. But he is also much more than a blacksmith.
A sculptor himself, Mr. Teuscher runs a unique art gallery, the White Water Gallery, which is set up beside his Antique Auto Enclave in East Hardwick. “I thought I could get the locals interested in art if I combined it with cars somehow. We live in a car culture.” Open only one day a week, the gallery features the work of local American artists although James is hoping to attract some Canadian artists to show as well. The modest commission collected from the sale of work, combined with the freewill donations collected at the door to the gallery, is donated to the local library and to a service for seniors.
He also takes people on offroad tours in his custom-made ‘doodlebug’, takes people sailing on Lake Memphremagog in a restored wooden sailing sloop, and builds inexpensive caskets from the logs on his property when asked. That property that he moved to forty-four years ago now features seven buildings and everything runs on either solar power or hydro power.
“I am a man on a mission; I live with intention,” he concluded.
Mr. Teuscher will be putting on a blacksmithing demonstration, on September 29th, at the Peacham Fall Foliage Festival, in Vermont.
James Teuscher using a small movable forge for his demonstration at the Colby-Curtis Museum.