Here is my column in today’s Greenville News.  They haven’t put it online, so you’ll have either read it in the actual paper, or here.  Have a great day!


I believe, sometimes, that one of my children is misplaced in time. Seth, who is 13, loves things ancient. He plays the bagpipes and does it well. He reads mythology and memorizes it. He hopes to one day learn to read Anglo-Saxon. He would love to have a falcon and he looks longingly at long-bows. I suspect that somewhere in the time-line, a family in medieval Scotland is struggling with a son who keeps writing the word ‘KOMPUOOTER,’ and who is ceaselessly trying to generate electricity in their stream.

Anyway, several years ago Seth began a quest that grabbed us all. He came to me one day and asked if he could learn to blacksmith; he was about 10. Thinking it was a fad, I said, ‘sure, we’ll see.’ (Standard adult code for, ‘if it makes you forget about it, I’ll think about it.’) That turned into a chance meeting of an actual blacksmith and an invitation to a guild meeting. We drove up to what was then the Falling Creek Blacksmithing Guild, on Bob’s Creek Road, just across the line in North Carolina.

Life got busy and we didn’t make it back for a while. But this year we took up Seth’s passion and started going each month to learn that ancient art from which so many other arts necessarily grew. The group is now called the Foothills of the Carolinas Blacksmith Guild, and it meets once each month in Tryon, NC.

Along the way, Seth’s brothers Sam and Elijah ‘caught the bug.’ As well as some of his friends, and some of mine at church. And my nephews. And why not? There’s something amazing, something ancient and primal about standing around a fire that’s about 3000 degrees, putting in pieces of metal until they glow like the sun, then pulling them out and hammering them, turning them, shaping them until they become something useful, or beautiful; and frequently both. It’s amazing to sense the genius that resulted in the assorted tools and techniques the blacksmith has employed since the dawn of civilization; many of which are unchanged in 2010.

The group is made up of men and women who have been doing this for many years. They have been kind and gracious. They welcomed our family, and continue to welcome everyone who tags along each month. And they share their mastery.

One hallmark of mastery, in my book, is that the master loves to impart knowledge, and does it with calm confidence. The master guides but does not overwhelm. The master steps in to help when the student is stuck, but understands that the student must struggle with his own mistakes, sometimes for years, until he himself develops mastery.

Our blacksmithing mentors are like that. There are several I would call masters, and many more who are well on their way. But I can say, with absolute confidence, that my children are eaten up with working iron because of the gentle, but firm, guidance of Mr. George Matthews, a master who seems able to shape their manhood as he teaches them to shape metal. When Elijah asked, ‘George, can you sharpen this?’ George replied, ‘ask me to show how you how!’ I see the transformation at work; I asked Sam if I could help him with a project; ‘no, I want to do it myself,’ he said, hammer in hand.

George has a new project each month and every project teaches. So far we have made decorative leaves, arrow-heads, a device for flipping steaks and knives from rail-road spikes. At every step we use different tools, different techniques; and as my shoulders testified, different muscles. And with each lesson we learn history and metallurgy, a bit of chemistry, a bit of physics and a lot of awareness of what’s hot, and what’s not.

But more than that. The boys learn that, in an age of electronic technology, computers, the Internet and UPS, things still have to be made by people who work with their hands. Even machines that make things are made by humans. It’s a lesson in things noble and holy that they will remember for life.

If you’d like to hammer hot metal, please join us! We usually meet every 3rd Saturday of the month at the Tryon Arts and Crafts Center. We’re on the web at There’s nothing like going home, sore, sweaty and covered in soot. And with something in your hand of which you can say, proudly, ‘I made this.’

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