PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — In the 19th century Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of the “smith, a mighty man is he,” working under a spreading chestnut tree.
When it comes to forging metal using flame and simple tools, not much has changed since the writing of “The Village Blacksmith,” and latter-day smith Eugene Katsman drew a small crowd as he hammered on metal at the Northern Maine Fair this weekend.
“It’s important to keep traditions like this alive,” Katsman said as he fashioned a leaf from a piece of steel. “Showing others how it’s done is part of what blacksmithing is all about.”
Katsman set up his forge beneath a spreading birch tree near the fair’s agricultural heritage building and was happy to let spectators try their hands at working the metal.
“I wanted to be a smith since I was 4,” Katsman said. “I’ve been a smith since 1998.”
Katsman said he learned the art from members of a welding group in northern Minnesota when he lived in that state.
“I want to show people what [blacksmithing] is all about [and] how it used to be done without electricity,” he said.
How it’s done is on a bed of burning coal heated to 2,800 degrees.
Katsman inserted metal rods into the middle of the coal mound until the rod turned as red as the embers. At that point it was soft enough to be pounded into any shape desired.
“Like most smiths, I’m never so busy that I don’t have time to stare,” Katsman said as he used a hammer to bang the metal into the shape of a leaf. “I often look to nature for inspiration.”
Handing a red-hot metal rod to fair-goer Herman Martin of Laconia, N.H., Katsman instructed him in how to use the hammers with the anvil to fashion a simple S-hook.
“I love this,” Martin said, pointing to the forge. “I have got to get one of those.”
His wife, Sharon Martin, was equally thrilled.
“I’ve been asking for an S-hook for my flowers,” she said. “This is perfect.”
Near the smithy, the animal barns drew crowds who were admiring the horses, goats, alpacas, cows, rabbits, sheep and chickens on display.
“These are our fairly young cows,” Brooke Chase of Mapleton said. “They’re just taking a visit down to the big city.”
Chase’s family is among 10 dairy farms supplying organic milk in the state.
“We milk around 60 to 70 cows,” the 13-year-old said. “I do some of the milking and I like it.”
The fair kicked off Friday and runs through Aug. 7 at the Northern Maine Fair Grounds.
Other attractions include a midway, horse racing, tractor pulls, cooking contests, a baby beef auction, historical displays, an antique car show and tractor rides.
Complete scheduling information is available at www.NorthernMaineFair.com.