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Creativity forged with fire

Words: Bryan Alary | Images: istockphoto.com, supplied

There's something about blacksmithing and the combination of fire, metal and creativity that's always fascinated Kristina Dembinski.

"It's just magical," she says. "When you put those tools in your hands, there's a bit of nervousness. But there's a certain feeling you get when you're striking hot metal, when you're standing there in front of that anvil — hammer in hand — watching something emerge in front of your eyes. Any sense of nervousness evaporates."

For Dembinski, blacksmithing called to her after practically growing up in a shop. Her late father, Ralph Lemke, was a shop teacher and mechanic did his own welding and autobody work.

"I found my way back to those interests that were lying dormant for a while," she says.

"There's always been a certain number of people who are interested in blacksmithing and acquiring skills that give them independence of design and thought. That's where I come in." —Shawn Cunningham, blacksmithing instructor

Shawn Cunningham of Front Step Forge has taught students from all walks of life during his 10 years as a NAIT blacksmithing instructor. Sometimes dismissed as an extinct trade that's little more than a hobby today, Cunningham views it as an "ever-growing and enlightened artform" that appeals to people who are makers at heart.

"There's always been a certain number of people who are interested in blacksmithing and acquiring skills that give them independence of design and thought. That's where I come in."

During a recent blacksmithing iron 101 course, students spent 16 intensive hours learning how to forge their own three-pound rounding hammer — a tool used for shaping metal. Cunningham also teaches more advanced courses on creating axes and hatches along with classes specifically for women.

The objective is to teach the principles of blacksmithing and not necessarily how to create a pair of flat bit tongs or a tomahawk.

"They have these tangible things but I’m trying to teach them to be independent," Cunningham explains. Several former students have gone on to open their own businesses or share their latest creations on social media platforms like Instagram.

Dembinski has taken two blacksmithing courses so far and even bought her own forge to set up her own shop. She's also working with Cunningham and a local jeweler to create a Damascus ring — a 25th anniversary gift for her husband, Grant.

The complexity of Damascus and the intricate design might be beyond Dembinski's skills, but she's still had a chance to strike a few blows, imprinting just a little bit of herself into the piece.

"In a miniscule way, I had a hand in helping to forge this, to create a deeper connection to the object that already has a deep meaning," she says.

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