Blacksmith’s craft showcased at West Bohemian international symposium
The charming and historic West Bohemian town of Bečov nad Teplou has just hosted its third international symposium showcasing the blacksmith’s craft. The two-day event gave the public the chance to get up close and feel the heat of the braziers as a series of top smiths showed that this is very much a craft making a comeback.
The sound would have been familiar in the not so long ago age when horses had not been replaced by horsepower and almost every village would have had a blacksmith.
A few decades ago the craft looked like it had almost died out in the Czech Republic. But now, as the Bečov symposium, testifies this is a craft that has come back from the brink and can pull in a lot of public interest. The national association of Czech blacksmiths has around 350 members.
His more recent artistic craftsmanship can be spotted frequently around a town dominated by a medieval castle and baroque chateau. The work of other smiths was also on show at an al fresco exhibition under the arches of the bridge leading to the baroque chateau.
When it started three years ago there were a lot of Czechs but just a token presence from Slovakia and France. Representatives are mostly prize winners in their field who have been invited to take part in what is very much a showcase event. This year there was a record attendance at the symposium of 53 blacksmiths.
Hundreds of people must have watched enchanted as up to five craftsmen at a time hammered away in public. The event continued into the night with the fires casting mythical shadows of the men at work. Without much doubt the craftsman from furthest afield was Ken Akiyama. Originally from Tokyo, he is now studying with a master blacksmith at Tišnov, near Brno. The slight 30-year-old says that he could not have found this sort of training in his homeland.
It should be pointed out here that katana is the traditional Japanese single edged, slightly curved warrior swords often associated with the samurai feudal traditional.
The student of architecture says that iron attracts him for its plastic qualities that lend itself to sculpture after experimenting with other materials such as glass and wood. He hopes to set up his own business in Europe after his studies have ended.
Jean Pierre Fullenwarth has returned again to Bečov for the symposium from his home in the capital of the French region of Lorraine, Metz. He had what might be described as having a supporting role which he nonetheless enthusiastically fulfilled.
The local government worker explained the attraction of the event. “I am attracted by the whole world of the forge, sculpting out of metal and the whole way of working. That is the crux of it.”
“This piece of work has not got a title. It is more or less a fantastical piece. We originally wanted to fashion an angel out of iron but we stylised it so much that it might just now be a wing, but it could still be a stylised angel.”
Jiří Oplt says that he decided to become a blacksmith although there was no such tradition in the family and there is no likelihood that it will make him rich quick.
“I think that this is the sort of work which if you enjoy and do it properly and well, then you can make a living out of it. But it is not the kind of work that will make you wealthy.”
“I am a member of a Plzeň grouping, or rather the Plzeň regional association of craft blacksmiths. As far as recent craftsmanship, we made the logo which was used for the campaign to be the European City of Culture in 2015. Plzeň got the title and this was very interesting work.”
“For blacksmiths, this is interesting because we meet with everyone from the craft. We talk to each other and share problems that we share that are associated with it; what is troubling us and uniting us. It is a really pleasant partake, we can come here with our wives and children. We in the craft regard it also as a sort of presentation to the public because they can come here for nothing and see what we do, our craft, our work and see some nice pieces.”
His preparations for the fourth symposium next year are already underway.
Photos: Michele Morsa