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Ray Boone/KSL TV

"I love fire": Blacksmith 'business conference' visits Utah

By Ray Boone | Posted - Jul. 16, 2016 at 8:02 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah is no stranger to business conferences. While most convene in locations like the Salt Palace, one group of blacksmiths held shop at the Utah State Fairpark.

They call it a business conference — a gathering of those who were once some of the most powerful members of society.

"Back in pioneer times, the blacksmith was one of the most influential people in the community," said blacksmith Dan Perkins. "Most of the time, he was one of the richest people in the community. A lot of times, he was the mayor of the town or city."

But things change. The centuries passed and time nearly extinguished this ancient knowledge.

"Blacksmithing was almost gone in the United States," said blacksmith Michael Bondi.

A world of forges and flames gave way to one of factories and foundries.

"It wasn't as much of a part of our culture," Bondi said.

But a select few refused to let this craft go up in smoke.

"I love fire," Perkins said with a laugh. "Fire's a great thing."

They put their noses to the grindstone and this rusty old profession is heating up.

"It's making a comeback," said blacksmith Dennis Dusek.

"Having a renaissance," said blacksmith Laura Armstrong.

"A real big resurgence in the last few years," Perkins said.

But how? There isn't exactly a huge demand for handmade horseshoes these days and yet, they do call their gathering a business conference. 600 blacksmiths, as part of a group called ABANA.

"Artist-Blacksmith's Association of North America," Armstrong said.

That's right, these are artists.

"We can do anything with it that you can do with modeling clay," Perkins said. "Being able to take a piece of hot steel that you can't move, heat it up, and basically do anything with it that you want."

The main attraction for these artists is to share their knowledge — knowledge that was nearly incinerated.

"We're really a pretty tight family," Dusek said.

"I can learn a lot just from watching," said Armstrong.

"The young smiths, the next generation of smiths are incredibly talented," said Bondi.

This may be a business conference, but it's also a business workshop; a group of people dedicated to making sure the flame of knowledge never goes out.

"We're making stuff together," said Dusek. "And that's really important to me."

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Ray Boone

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