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Sun, Dec. 15

Class teaches how to make art from steel

Jan Eryan, blacksmith student, heats a rod of metal in a forge at Yavapai College’s artistic blacksmithing class on the Chino Valley campus.

Nathaniel Kastelic

Jan Eryan, blacksmith student, heats a rod of metal in a forge at Yavapai College’s artistic blacksmithing class on the Chino Valley campus. Courier/ Nathaniel Kastelic

PRESCOTT – A local teacher and his students have taken what started out as a simple, necessary profession and formed it into an intricate art.

Prescott metal sculptor Gary Cassidy teaches an artistic blacksmithing class at Yavapai College’s Chino Valley campus, and his students are creating manifestations of their own visions – some functional and some purely decorative.

During a class Thursday, Cassidy explained that people used to go to a blacksmith when they needed someone to repair their wagon or to make kitchen utensils or horseshoes. Blacksmiths made tools for other people or for themselves.

Now, however, the profession has become an art form, with people heating, bending and forming steel and iron into aesthetically pleasing and inherently useful items, Cassidy said.

Jan Bryan, a Prescott resident and a student in Cassidy’s class, was working Thursday on making a decorative curtain rod.

Although she has taken three welding classes, Bryan said this blacksmithing “is the next frontier.”

Creating her own curtain rod, she said, will keep her out of stores and give her home something unique.

Bryan’s fellow student Cathy Willett’s creation – an iron fence and gate – will serve with both form and function.

Willett raises Dobermans and said the gate she’s creating will keep them out of the tomatoes. The fence will extend above a block wall she has in her garden, and will imitate ocotillo plants.

“It’s fun,” Willett said of blacksmithing, “and you’ll never see that anywhere else.”

Matthew Hammons, a 16-year-old Chino Valley resident, said he’s taken various art classes, including welding, metal sculpture and woodworking.

He was working Thursday on a sword, and plans on using some walnut he has left over from a woodworking class to create a tang or hilt for his sword.

Of Cassidy’s teaching during the artistic blacksmithing class, Hammons said, “he

lets us work on whatever we want to work on.”

Each piece of art starts out as a piece of iron or steel, Cassidy said. The artist then heats up the metal in a forge and, once it’s red hot, uses tools to bend it. The iron stays hot enough to bend only for a few moments, and the artist can’t touch it because it’s

too hot.

Cassidy spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Army’s Special Operations unit as a psychological operations specialist. His last military experience was as an Army artist. He served in Bosnia during 1998 and 1999 to collect images of soldiers, places and things and highlight scenes of the soldiers’ experiences there.

The retired Army colonel served in Bosnia, the first Gulf War and Vietnam. He completed U.S. Army Airborne School, Special Forces Qualification Course, and he’s a member of the Infantry Officers Candidate School Hall of Fame.

All along, Cassidy said, he wanted to be a teacher.

“I prefer to help students achieve their vision,” Cassidy said. “I help them learn the skills they need to get there, as well as the basics.”

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