Blacksmithing Is Alive and Well in Kentucky
Art of Craft is a series about specialists whose work rises to the level of art.
Are blacksmiths going extinct in America? Not according to Craig Kaviar, a prominent practitioner of the craft who is based in Louisville, Ky. If anything, he said, “there’s been a revival.”
The industrial revolution rendered a lot of traditional blacksmith work — making hammers, nails, axes, shovels and more — obsolete. But blacksmiths like Mr. Kaviar, 69, have found success creating so-called “functional art.” Mr. Kaviar, for instance, is regionally known for making handrails forged with leaves and birds that have a rough-hewed, borderline macabre design evocative of the work of sculptors like Louise Bourgeois.
He recently completed a sprawling, three-part archway for the local Crab Orchard Animal Sanctuary with almost Tim Burton-esque details. Mr. Kaviar said he had taken “the criteria the owner had” and had then made the work his own, adding horses, trees, a giraffe and more to a sign denoting the sanctuary’s name.
Mr. Kaviar reached a national audience on the HGTV show “Modern Masters” and then went global at the World’s Fair in Japan as part of the United States Pavilion. But it’s in Louisville where his work is most prominent.
And, in his telling, the craft is only growing in the area. “When I came to Louisville, there was no one doing it,” he said. “Now there are several other people around doing it as well. It’s a fine craft.”
Mr. Kaviar also works with Guns to Gardens, a group that repurposes voluntarily surrendered guns into garden tools. His role is straightforward: “I take the barrel and I punch a hole in the center. And then on one end, I flatten it.”
Mr. Kaviar said he would continue to work so long as his body could handle it. He’s typically in the shop from 9 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. “I fear that if I give it up, I’ll sit around watching TV too much,” he said. “It helps keep me in shape.”
“I love using the tools and the feel of the metal,” he said. “When you’re hammering hot metal, the metal has a different feel, and different heat. You can really judge what you can do through the hammer.”
Below, the before and after of the gun barrel transformation, with the garden tool on the right.