Part craftsman, part performance artist, Ryan Adams forges an old profession
OXFORD – Being a blacksmith in today’s world is more of a craft that sparks curiosity than the essential profession it has been for hundreds of years, if not millennia.
Ryan Adams from Otisfield brought the forge back, and he honed it in a cross between history lesson and performance art. He works in his Bell Hill Forge workshop and goes to various events to demonstrate his craft.
Adams learned the blacksmith trade as an apprentice when he spent a year in Wyoming.
“I was in my twenties,” Adams explained during a demonstration at the Oxford County Fair last month. “I’ve been interested in it since I was a kid when I saw my first demo but I didn’t know how to get started. I didn’t know what I wanted to do regarding college.
“So when a friend got married in Wyoming, I went to the wedding and decided to stay for a while. I was introduced to someone else who had lived in Maine. He ended up being the city’s blacksmith. We hit it off and I asked if he wanted help in his store in exchange for the education and he agreed. It started out as nights and weekends.
Adams returned to Oxford Hills a year later, in 1996. He used his newly learned trade as a hobby and then as a side activity as he pursued a career in education, teaching mathematics at Oxford Hills. Middle School for several years.
In the face of teacher burnout, with the blessing of his wife Kathryn, Adams traded math for the post of head warden at Otisfield Primary School.
“I had a conversation with my wife, who is also a teacher, ‘what would you think I spend more time in the forge?’ Adams recalls. “On-call work is for health insurance. The forge is still on nights and weekends. I introduce myself as a general blacksmith.
Adams began working at craft and agricultural fairs to demonstrate his craft. These appearances, as well as word of mouth, represent the bulk of his activity. Its first event took place during a meeting of trappers in the west of Paris. His current blacksmith tour takes him to fairs in Waterford, Oxford, Windsor and the Common Ground in Unity.
“I have found that craft fairs are not the right place for what I do,” Adams said. “But the shows I do now are still productive and lead to orders for custom work.
“I’ll do decorative hardware for people. Making tools, lathes, that sort of thing. It’s all a commission job.
Overcoming the pandemic has not been easy, with major events halted by restrictions on public assembly. Last year, Adams was unable to make any appearances. And although the smaller events he works on took place in 2021, the Common Ground Fair was called off and still left a void in his business.
Adams made the most of the opportunities still available. On September 17, he was at work at the Oxford County Fair, forging tools and accessories and educating visitors about an ancient industry barely effective in the 21st century.
He is an endearing artist as much as a craftsman.
“A long time ago, people thought blacksmiths were magic because they extract this red iron ore from the ground, a red rock, and turn it into metal,” Adams announced to the small crowd seated in the forge of the Oxford Exhibition Center. “And turn that metal into useful items. No one knew how they were doing. They were very secretive and didn’t let anyone who wasn’t a blacksmith watch their process. He came in like a rock and came out like these metallic objects. So people thought that blacksmiths controlled nature. They must be magical.
While discussing the history and technical aspects of turning metal into tools, Adams presented a step-by-step exhibit, taking a thin iron rod and shaping it into a well-crafted decorative sheet. Normally a project that would take less than 10 minutes, the narrated demo lasted around half an hour as it stopped frequently to show the transfiguration and took the time to answer every question from a curious audience.
The Damon-York family of Greenwood achieved double the value in the Adams demonstration.
“Today is our education day,” mom Tanisha Damon said of her 11-year-old son Kayden. “He has chosen to do homeschooling, so we’ll be looking for things he can be questioned about later.”
Dad added Travis York, “I have a burning interest in this. I would like to do it. I have a few anvils. We have the space.
“I’m not settled in but I’ve seen a lot of these propane forges. I was going to try to fit an old water tank and install a propane one for now.
“It’s a lot easier to pick up now,” Adams explained. “There is a blacksmith’s school in Auburn, northeast of Metalwork.
“It’s very easy to build a coal forge, it’s much simpler than gas. In the long run, when you get used to it, you will be much happier with it. You have a lot more control over the oxidizing environment, so you have less decarbonization from a coal forge. More control over the heat.
Adams then gave York advice on when it is efficient to forge versus buying tools, which stores are best for picking up supplies, and what parts (like a push lawn mower deck) are. easy to convert into portable charcoal tables.
“One of my favorite salvaged fans came out of one of those puffy bill ornaments,” Adams said. “Someone had one that didn’t swell and asked if I could use the blower. I said ‘yes, that uses air, doesn’t it?’ “
“You’ll see me on your Facebook page,” York said, thanking Adams for all the information.
Finished decorative sheet, Adams gifted it to Kayden Damon for later use in her home schooling classes.
As promised, Tanisha and Travis visited the Bell Hill Forge Facebook page.
“Our kid fell asleep with his sheet on his footboard tonight,” Adams commented under one of Adam’s posts on the Oxford Fair. “Thank you for taking the time to answer all of our questions and for giving such an impressive demonstration! “