SHERIDAN — Blacksmiths came to Sheridan for the camaraderie of the craft that came out of three, three-day clinics creating a metal bench worth $4,500 that the group donated to the Historic Sheridan Inn.
Metalworkers from all over Wyoming and even Minnesota joined together for the Wyoming Artist Blacksmiths annual forge-in, providing hands-on opportunities for the artisans to learn from each other in specific metalwork techniques.
This year, the team completed an original design from David Mariette of Rosemount, Minnesota, who taught blacksmithing for years before retiring and making the metalworking into a hobby.
“This is probably why this bench became a good fit for me,” Mariette said. “I’ve done a lot of (architectural work) like this before.”
Mariette said he snapped photos of the Bighorn Mountains on his way over to the event and sketched the plan from the photographs. In the original design, Mariette included both an elk head and a bear head. By the end, because of time, resources and aesthetic, the elk head was cut from the design and the bear became a focal point on the bench that now sits on the porch at the inn.
One of Mariette’s former students lives in Gillette and connected him with the group. Mariette said although the art isn’t dying, it’s changing from a necessary occupation to more of a hobby. Because of this, blacksmiths tend to travel farther distances to learn from each other.
The initial spring workshop lasted three days, but wasn’t enough time for the group to complete the bench. Another three days was planned, but still the bench remained incomplete. Finally, after a third three-day stint of working on the project, it was completed by many hands, several hours and a contribution of time, money, supplies and expertise.
Travis Blankenbaker of Glenrock was one of the blacksmiths helping complete the project. He used his skills in detail work to construct the bear head to go within rings created by Mariette on the back rest of the bench. Blankenbaker noted the intricate detail of the bear’s fur on the project, noting that each small detail like that when completing artwork in the metal crafting industry requires different tools. Each project has its set of tools it needs, and every type of blacksmith also needs specific tools for their particular craft.
“If you say you’re a blacksmith, it could mean a lot of different things,” Mariette said.
The art of metalwork takes years of practice and precision, as well as a passion for lifelong learning.
“It’s a craft that takes a lifetime to learn,” Mariette said. “For everything I know, and I do know a lot, there’s always someone way out there ahead of me.”
The group meets for an annual project each year at Duane Bomar’s well-equipped shop. Bomar and others might also conduct other workshops, classes or demonstrations throughout the year. For more information, email Bomar at email@example.com.