When Tool Becomes Art


We were in Prague just outside of the castle on the top of the hill. Of course, castles are always on the tops of hills. There was a narrow path leading somewhere, and it wasn't all that clear where. Martha and I decided to make an expedition just to see what was down there. It was a blacksmith's shop. Smoke billowing out of the chimney. On the outdoor wooden table, we could see a variety of jet black objects--but my favorite was a wine corkscrew that doubled as a beer bottle opener. A fellow came out and said that he was closed but would reopen the following day. So, we returned the next day about the same time that a father and his young daughter arrived. They had flown in from California. There were four us. And the blacksmith. He banged on his anvil and was a bit upset that he was not getting something quite right, so back to the air bellows which pumped air into the fireplace and increased the flame. Then, the blacksmith did something I had not expected. He pointed to me and to the young girl and said "Now, you try." We put on gloves, aprons, and safety goggles and went at it. By "at it," I mean simple things such as making something square from a round rod. Then we were able to make a helical, screw pattern from the metal. You twist and twist while the metal is red hot. When all was said and done, I realized that my outlook on the blacksmith and his operation had changed. This wasn't about objects and tools. It was about craft and process. I can still remember the process and how the hot metal felt as I was twisting it. The difference between art and tool is a matter of perspective. A tool becomes an art if you pay attention to it--taking the time to dive into it..to broaden your understanding. I used to think of the blacksmith and his products as tools for my consumption. Some folks think about "technology" like this--a tool for some other purpose. Put on an apron with me and get ready to twist and shape some metal.