Blacksmith demo shop opens in Dover-Foxcroft

Posted June 27, 2014, at 6:38 a.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The floor creaks and the smell of weathered wood wafts through the open door of the Blacksmith Shop Museum, where a yellowed notebook holds a register of visitors with just a few names.

If the shop’s curator, Dave Lockwood, is successful, by the end of the summer far more names will fill that book. And more visitors will understand the historic role of the town blacksmith who once worked on Lockwood’s land.

Lockwood walks across the open, retired farmland to a weathered but sturdy building filled with original blacksmith tools. The walls speak of over 150 years of farming and blacksmithing and, most importantly to Lockwood, community.

The shop’s original anvil whispers memories from its past — the clanging of iron on iron begs to fill the room again. That clanging brought children and farmers from remote Maine towns together to visit the blacksmith.

It’s a sound Lockwood hopes will fill the surrounding fields again with the opening and dedication of a new demonstration shop on July 4 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society. The society was created for the preservation of the shop museum in 1964.

The Dunham Forge, a traditional post-and-beam building situated next to the museum, will host at least nine Maine blacksmiths for demonstration events through September in hopes of fostering a sense of community and learning in Dover-Foxcroft.

A sign, made by Lockwood, will hang above the entrance to the red, 10-foot-by-12-foot shop. It will read, “Become skilled, become successful and respected,” a motto Lockwood created to encompass the core of the blacksmithing tradition.

The blacksmith was the town generalist, and his shop became a center for social activity and a one-stop shop for whatever needed fixing, whether it be a wagon wheel or a new tool created by combining heat, power and strength.

“The smiths years back could do this work and people came to them not only to [get tools but] because they were looked up to in the community. They became a focal point for the community,” said Lockwood, who has looked over the museum for 23 years.

In the fall Lockwood hopes the demonstration events will attract school groups.

In the meantime, the quote hanging above the demonstration shop will provide a reminder that the craft’s more traditional uses still hold value and are still an example of skilled labor.

“The smiths became very, very respected because they could do something. It’s a subliminal message to young people. If the young people come and see the smith and say, ‘Hey, if I can become skilled at something, I can become successful, I can become independent, you know, I can become one of these guys that’s looked up to,’” Lockwood said. “It’s one of those things — becoming skilled, isn’t that what we want out of our educational system, out of our way of life?”

In a year and a half and with a budget of $700 along with a couple grants, the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society funded the demonstration center, which was completed in the spring.

Community volunteers and donations from companies like Portland Glass made the project possible.

Lockwood hopes the demonstrations will increase the museum’s attendance of 250 people a year.

On July 4, the shop’s first demonstrator, Adrian Gerber of Ellsworth, will be participating in an event similar to one that first sparked his interest in blacksmithing.

“The fire and steel, they never forget that. It makes a big impact to see it up close like that,” said Gerber. “I will always remember that incident — I was intrigued.”

Gerber, who used to work at Boston University doing computer work, said he was tired of being inside looking at a “little screen” and now makes different knives and swords as a blacksmith.

“Blacksmithing is one thing that really interested me and I stuck with it and I’ve never looked back,” he said.

He now hopes by teaching the craft he can help people who are in a similar position he was in 10 years ago.

“I’m trying to promote the art of blacksmithing and in general the art of doing things by hand and doing things yourself. Going back to a more basic way of living. Promoting it and getting more people involved — more people in my position, who are unhappy with what they do and help them get out of it by providing a path to change direction, or an avenue to do something that they want to do,” Gerber said.

At 74, Lockwood, plans to keep working, as “long as I can walk without losing my mind.”

However, he knows small towns are shrinking, he knows people need to start investing in what’s in front of them. Places like the Dunham Forge demonstration site.

“You have to do something and you have to try to preserve what you’ve got,” Lockwood said. “There will always be naysayers and then there will be people who say, ‘Hey, what are we going to do? We need to do something, we don’t want everything to falter.’”

All Dunham Forge demonstration events will be held on 103 Dawes Road in Dover-Foxcroft. Demonstrations and a swap-and-sell tent will be available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the following dates: July 4, July 12, Aug. 2, Aug. 9, Aug. 30, Sept. 6, Sept. 13, Sept. 20 and Sept. 27. More dates will likely be added.