PICAYUNE -- Every year, on the last Saturday in January, Crosby Arboretum hosts Forge Day, an exhibition of demonstrations by local metalsmiths.
"Forge Day pulls together a lot of people in different backgrounds with the same passion for sharing their craft," said Patricia Drackett, Crosby Arboretum director. "People don't get to see handcrafted things anymore."
Metalsmiths showcased their work at tables set up displaying knives, spoons and a variety of metal art. Many lit portable forges to heat chunks of iron and steel until they were red-hot and had become malleable.
Crowds gathered around the smiths' work areas to watch them strike hammer on the hot metal against a supporting anvil. Most spectators stayed for the stories of the ancient craft and eagerly asked questions as they watched the blacksmith twist hot steel into works of art or utility.
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Forge Day spun off from the success of the arboretum's two-day Piney Woods Heritage Festival, held each November, which offers exhibits such as spinning, basketmaking, woodcarving, beekeeping and Native American culture.
Forge Day kicks off the arboretum's year of program offerings such as nature walks, native-plant sales, yoga at the waterside Pinecote Pavilion and many children's events. But Forge Day's focus is on the harder arts and crafts -- coppersmiths, knife makers and blacksmiths get a chance to show off their craft.
"Blacksmith booths were well attended -- people were always crowding around," Drackett said. "We started out with maybe 40 or 50 people (attending Forge Day) and have steadily increased our numbers into the hundreds."
In earlier days, nearly everything metal, except fine jewelry, perhaps, came from the smithy -- from the molded armor of the medieval knights to simple door handles, latches and hinges. The smithy fixed wagon axles and wheels, cast pots and pans for the kitchen, built machines that turned millstones and water wheels and of course made and nailed shoes on every horse worth its oats.
With advancements in technology, much about traditional metalwork is now done by machines. But the specialized skill still keeps shoes on all our equines, and manages to find a place in today's culture.
"The wonderful thing is, all these people are getting exposure to the Crosby Arboretum that they may not have got otherwise," Drackett said. "We get to show people what we are and it's a wonderful place to show your friends from out of town, and say, 'This why I live in Mississippi.'"