Recap: The 2014 ABANA Conference

Recap: The 2014 ABANA Conference

Rachel David

Rachel David (Louisiana) demonstrating finesse forging at the power hammer.

Valerie Ostenak

It begins... rain. Sheets and sheets of rain. The 2014 ABANA (Artist-Blacksmith's Association of North America) Conference, "Joinery: Come Make Connections," was officially starting the next day... and all of the smithing demonstrations were happening outside on the Delaware State Fairgrounds. The demonstration tents offered overhead cover only - great for sun protection, but not so good for staying dry. And the grassy field they were all set up on could easily become a muddy mess. It was looking rather iffy...

Twelve hundred blacksmiths ready to join together for the love of steel must have offered up a LOT of sacrifices to Thor and Hephaestos! The next four official days of the conference were graced with perfect weather.

For me and about 30 others, it all started with a pre-conference bus tour in the rain to the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Upon arrival, the group was split in two, each with a docent who was very knowledgeable and passionate about the ironwork in the cathedral. We were led down hallways, into special chapels, up and down stairs, and into crypts. We were encouraged to touch everything... and touch we did! To caress the creative and incredible craftsmanship from Yellin, Putnam, Bredlow, Schmidt, Paley, and others was almost as sacred as the hallowed halls themselves. It was awe-inspiring. For those that missed the tour, the National Cathedral lists a wrought-iron tour on their website as a regular event. It is definitely not to be missed.

From day one, the conference was jam-packed with things to see, things to do, people to meet and greet, and literally tons of items to buy from the well-stocked tailgaters and vendors. At registration, we were all given a tote bag filled with goodies, a conference T-shirt, our name tag and Saturday night’s dinner ticket on a long lanyard. An exhibit building full of blacksmiths reacquainting with old friends and meeting new ones made for an opening ceremony which can kindly be described as joyous revelry. We were ready to light the fires! Start the hammers! Make some noise and let the sparks fly! Rain or shine, blacksmiths are the best people in the world to hang out with.

As day two got underway it became clear to me that I would not be able to see every demonstration, attend every lecture, peruse the art gallery with any real contemplation of art and craft, nor be able to spend time looking through all the books and perusing every tailgater with any sense of satisfaction. Priorities were tough to set and choices tougher to make. With 30 minutes here and one hour there, I was able to make the rounds to see every demonstrator at least once. But getting to see a whole demo from start to finish was a luxury that I never experienced.

As editor, I was only able to take in the flavor of it all. Yet, I felt lucky to see so many fabulous smiths in one place working their craft and the crowd. Artist blacksmiths from around the world — Chile, Spain, Ukraine, Czech Republic, and Mexico — converged with American artist blacksmiths from every section of the United States. They offered a full program ranging from colonial re-enactment smithing, swords, and weaponry to magnificent forged sculptures, delicate tables, furnishings, and beautiful tools. This was the place to be in August if you liked steel!

In 2016, the ABANA Conference will be in Salt Lake City, Utah. To stay apprised, check out the ABANA website.

Valerie Ostenak is an award-winning artist/designer/metalsmith working in silver and steel. She is also the editor/designer of the Anvil's Ring, one of two magazines published by ABANA and available to their membership. View more of her artwork by following VOSTENAKstudios on Facebook.