By Alicia Stemper/Vitamin O for the Orange County Arts Commission
In Mark Eichinger-Wiese’s required blacksmithing class at Emerson Waldorf (EW) School, he gives students a piece of hot metal to push around. Through his work with them, “they get history, math, physics – they get it all.”
Mark was exposed to blacksmithing from his grandfather, but when he bought some tools in college, he couldn’t find anyone to teach him how to use them. He has since seen a resurgence in the art form which he feels is both a practical and a fine art. Simply put, a blacksmith is one who shapes and forges iron with hammer and anvil. To put it more creatively, Mark tells an educational, entertaining fairy tale illustrating how essential metalsmiths were to the establishment of the United States and to our expansion west. The fact that Smith is such a common surname is no accident!
Blacksmithing is a natural extension for EW students who begin in kindergarten pushing beeswax around after warming it in the forge of their hands. By the time the students are teens, they are viewed as moving out of the “want forces” into the “will forces.” The materials they work with are now much harder – literally. A high school theme is the development of Grit – a sense of follow through and determination. According to Eichinger-Weise, “smithing and hammering is somewhat therapeutic.” All students make a hook and choose their second project – perhaps a bottle opener or a knife blade. The 2016 senior class used their skills to make a sculpture called “Growth” which they donated to the school.
Mark’s eyes twinkle as he tells the story of a recent school group that came to tour Emerson Waldorf. One of the host students told the visitors, “At other schools you would be expelled for having a knife. Here, they teach us to make beautiful blades.”
Mr. E-W, as the students call him, is in his fourth year at the school after moving here from Portland. He loves the cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity of Orange County. On a staycation, he would dive into the rich historical record of the county and ask, “Who is Orange County?”
He works at the school purely as a volunteer. He also teaches adult night classes with 100% of the proceeds supporting the student blacksmith program. Sign up for an adult class by contacting mark at email@example.com.