Blacksmiths Gather at Mackinac Island Convention on August 1 to Celebrate Craft
July 23, 2009
|Mackinac Island, Mich. — A craft older than our country is reborn in its purest form on Saturday, August 1 as Mackinac State Historic Parks (MSHP) welcomes back the Benjamin Blacksmith Convention for their 25th year at the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop on Mackinac Island. Over a dozen blacksmiths from across the state gather to showcase their skills and to share their own techniques.
Blacksmithing may seem a forgotten trade. However, because we can mass produce metal products does not mean that demand for the craft—or love of the art—has died away. Mackinac Island, with its motorized vehicle ban since 1898 and its deeply ingrained historical roots, is the perfect place to ply this ancient skill.
|“For some of the blacksmiths that attend this convention, blacksmithing is a hobby,” said Katie Cederholm, MSHP curator of education. “For others, it’s a lifelong career. But all of them share a passion for the trade, and they come to Mackinac Island hoping to learn a few tricks from the others, and most of all, to exhibit their skill to spectators. Their goal is to instill in visitors an appreciation for the art, and just like the rest of MSHP, the convention is much more than a demonstration—it’s a historic interpretation meant to teach and inspire.”|
|Each year, the convention has special projects that require many strong arms and creative minds. This summer, they will craft a new section of the fence surrounding the veteran’s memorial on Mackinac Island, and make new fireplace tools for Wawashkamo Golf Course. In addition, they are continuing an extended endeavor from last year, forging flower stands for Mission Church, to be used at weddings.
The historic essence of Fort Mackinac requires authentic works of blacksmithing that help keep the craft alive. Since the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop’s earliest days, the most common item needed by the inhabitants and businesses has been horseshoes, and the shop provided farriers throughout its history. Throughout the summer, blacksmiths at the shop forge the everyday items necessary for the fort.
“Because we portray a time when blacksmithing was a flourishing business, much of our equipment is made or mended by the shop,” Cederholm said. “Door hinges, rifle parts, belt hooks for drums, and many other little things we use on site are made by our resident blacksmiths.”
The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, one of five historic Mackinac Island Downtown Buildings operated by Mackinac State Historic Parks through the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, is open daily from 11:00 a.m.— 6:00 p.m. June 6 to August 22. Restored to its 1950s appearance, the shop was originally known as the Star Blacksmith Shop. It was purchased by Robert Benjamin and a partner in 1885, and remained in the Benjamin family and in operation until 1965. The Benjamin family donated the shop to the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in 1968.
Admission to the blacksmith convention may be obtained in two ways: with a ticket to Fort Mackinac, which includes admission to the five historic downtown buildings (Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, Biddle House, American Fur Company Store/Dr. Beaumont Museum, McGulpin House and Mission Church) or with a ticket to the Historic Downtown Buildings only.
The Fort Mackinac ticket is priced at $10.50 for adults and $6.50 for children ages 5-17. The Historic Downtown ticket is priced at $5 for adults and $3 for youth. In both cases, there is no charge for children four and under and Mackinac Associates. Tickets are sold at Fort Mackinac entrances, at the Kiosk in Marquette Park, or in the Visitor’s Center across from Marquette Park. Entry into the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop is obtained through the Biddle House, located next door.
Mackinac State Historic Parks is a pure Michigan family of living history museums and parks in northern Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac. Its parks—which are accredited by the American Association of Museums—include Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island State Park, and Historic Downtown on Mackinac Island, and Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park in Mackinaw City. Mackinac State Historic Parks is governed by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, established in 1895 to protect, preserve and present the parks’ rich historic and natural resources for the education and recreation of future generations. Visitor information is available at 231-436-4100.
Written by Reannon Dykehouse