Blacksmiths Forge on at Annual Fitchburg Festival

September 30, 2018

Blacksmith David Caruso of Ashburnham works in front of a crowd during the 15th annual Blacksmith Art and Renaissance Festival in Fitchburg on Saturday. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Scott Shurtleff


FITCHBURG -- The 15th annual Forge-In at Riverfront Park was highlighted by a stimulation of all the senses.

More than 1,500 people attended Saturday’s blacksmith competition, which runs concurrent with the Blacksmith Art and Renaissance Festival, and were treated to a visual glimpse through history.

As the clang and pings of metal-to-metal impacts accompanied the song of the river, the scent of burning coal and kindling mingled with frying burgers while the eyes feasted on art. Blacksmiths of all ages forged chains and other wares from solid chunks of iron. Twenty-five competitors, across three skill levels, molded the requisite sculptures from slabs of metal.

“Everyone is given the same pieces of metal,” said Nicholas Downing, a metalsmith and event judge. “And they must all create the same three products.”

The main body of competitors in the novice group were students from two local vocational high schools; Monty Tech and Assabet Valley.

Connor Hurley, of Shrewsbury, entered for the second year in a row. The AV high school junior has been enrolled in the school’s balcksmith program for three years and even has a wood forge at his home.

“I like that you can take a piece of metal and shape it into whatever you want,” Hurley said.

It is the shape of the products that Downing uses as a primary assessment measurement when judging the pieces.

“I look for clean forging and seams,” he said. “I want them to demonstrate skills. Embellishment is secondary.”

The intermediate level smiths add artistry to the basic shapes, putting a signature of sorts onto precisely molded items.

While the competitors were banging and bending on the three acre park’s east end, the renaissance fair delighted visitors on the west side. Knights from Lord Talbot’s fiefdom battled on the central field. The fully-armored knights swung their forged swords at the tailored steel body-armor of their rival.

The swords and suits represent the end products of Medieval blacksmiths, whose primary clientele was combatants. The vendors around the perimeter even wore dress from the middle ages, dual-colored cottons and wools that covered the body from head to heel. There were even horses on the infield, with jockeys staging mock jousting events and equestrian mastery.

The highlight of the mid-day festival, which ran from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., was the professional level smiths, who had all the fundamental skills, artist’s vision and speed of production down to a routine. Justin Morell from Colrain, Carl West and Joshua Swalec, all noted experts in the industry, competed for top honors. All are former champions at this event and others around the region.

Achla Madan, an architect and her husband Ashok Hingorany, a metalurgist, were looking for a way to bring their combined loves and skills to the old city. The Concord couple, who also own the four unique statues scattered about the fairgrounds, chose blacksmithing because it is both a craft learned of hard work and an art form that allows for individual expression.

Among the myriad volunteers who helped with the success of the entirely event were twenty five cadets from the Montachusett Junior ROTC, who set up fencing, cooked burgers and prepared the site beginning at sun-up then assisting with the cleanup and disassembly.

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