New York State Historical Association
Fenimore Art Museum/The Farmers’ Museum
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Forging Perfection: Masterworks from The Farmers’ Museum Blacksmith Shop
March 30–December 29
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (1/31/2013) —Artistic masterpieces of the highest quality produced by blacksmiths at The Farmers’ Museum are on display in Forging Perfection: Masterworks from The Farmers’ Museum Blacksmith Shop. Opening March 30 at the Fenimore Art Museum, the exhibition features metalworking tours de force such as a re-created 1740 pistol and a scale that measures to the sixteenth of a gram.
Many of the pieces in this exhibition were made in the last thirty years at The Farmers’ Museum by blacksmiths Paul Spaulding, Robert Cerny, Robert Manker, and Travis Edgington. They used historic designs found through extensive research in historic journals and museum collections. Years in the making, the pieces required reengineering of long-forgotten tools and processes, such as 18th century gunsmithing and steel engraving techniques.
The first piece encountered in the exhibition, a European-inspired coffer, is a masterpiece of intricacy and beauty. Produced over the course of 25 years with at least 8,000 hours of handwork, the coffer was inspired by Medieval and Renaissance European coffers used to hold and protect precious items and important documents. It combines fine forging and steel carving with gold and silver inlay.
A single forging technique can yield a remarkable diversity of works. The handle of a fork, inspired by medieval examples in Le Secq de Tournelles Museum in Rouen, France, was constructed in much the same manner as a gun barrel. The smith formed the flattened steel into a cylinder and then welded it at the forge. The lattice-like pattern was then handcarved to make a hollow form. The fork was finished using whitesmithing techniques, including filing and polishing.
A beautiful Scottish pistol, modeled on pistols made in the 1740s, was made entirely by hand, including forming the stock, forge-welding the barrel, creating the flintlock mechanism, and performing the engraving. The process required recreating 18th century techniques and tools through historical research and experimentation. The pistol project, which spanned many years at The Farmers’ Museum, was inspired by the surviving pistols of British Marine Major John Pitcairn, who commanded the troops that launched the raids on Lexington and Concord, beginning the American Revolution.
Another must-see is a pipe tomahawk that features filing and chisel ornamentation and an ash handle ornamented with handmade brass tacks and cast-in-place pewter arrows and animals.
Also made by a Farmers’ Museum blacksmith, a finely worked balance beam scale is forged from steel, pierced, then filed in the style of an 18th century European balance beam. The parts were made to tight tolerances using hand production methods, allowing the scale to achieve an accuracy equivalent to modern factory scales.
Broad axes, wafer irons, and a strongbox with hidden key lock, all from the 18th and 19th centuries, are displayed with more these recent masterpieces. While not made at The Farmers’ Museum, these historic works are part of its collections.