Perhaps the most legendary American artist blacksmith associated with the resurgence of interest in the field of blacksmithing was Francis Whitaker. He apprenticed under the great Philadelphia artist metalworker, Samuel Yellen, and, in Germany, with Julius Schramm.
He returned to the United States and executed his talent first in Carmel, California, where his friends and clients included many well-known figures, then relocated and established his mountain forge in Aspen, Colorado. In the final chapter he moved to Carbondale, Colorado, and made a living/working agreement with The Colorado Rocky Mountain School. They built a teaching smithy and his living quarters and he worked and taught there until the end of his life.
I have felt many times that I have benefited from extraordinarily good luck. My meeting with Francis Whitaker qualifies as one example.
In the very early phase of shifting my “retirement business” plans from woodworking to metalworking I learned of ABANA and subscribed to “The Anvil’s Ring”. I felt excited to learn of living-breathing-teaching artist blacksmiths and an upcoming conference offered by the Rocky Mountain Smiths at Carbondale in August, 1996. I eagerly mailed my registration.
The event gave me a great deal of stimulation and satisfaction. I had no idea at the time of the importance of Francis Whitaker or that this conference would stand as his last teaching event.
A noon break offered an opportunity to buy some of his books. I picked out his Beautiful Iron and The Blacksmith's Cookbook . Then I had the opportunity to sit down with Francis and visit while he autographed the books. He asked a few questions about my background then proceeded to do his autographs. He then rather pointedly asked if I knew about Cyril Colnik. Luckily, I recently watched a television documentary about Colnik, a German immigrant blacksmith who became locally famous in the Milwaukee area in the early 1900’s.
Francis seemed very pleased that I recognized his name and asked what I knew about him. I told him what I knew and he seemed impressed and became very affable. He went on to ask, “Son, do you plan to make any money doing this?” I replied, “Sure, I hope so.” Then he said, “Well then, you’d better make what women want because men will come to your shop and admire all your tools but the woman will say, ‘I’d like to buy one of those.’” I took his advise seriously, as I think he meant it, and and it has worked well for me. The preponderance of my most satisfying work comes from the requests of women.