The rhythmic clang of metal against metal is the first greeting at Train Brook Forge (www.trainbrookforge.com), Paul Smiths. Blacksmith David Woodward, decked out with leather apron and protective ear wear, bends the fired iron to the beat of a different drummer.
"The blacksmith was the only craftsman to make his own tools," Woodward tells a group at a recent artist-at-work tour. "All the other tradesmen would rely on him; therefore he was the center to the community." Now the work is still based on a practical nature but shaped with patience for a custom audience.
Born in Rutland, Vt., David Woodward moved to the Paul Smiths area at four years of age when his father was offered a teaching position at Paul Smith's College. He and his family lived in the gatekeeper's cottage of White Pine Camp, at the time owned by Paul Smith's. Woodward was able to wander the property and learn to appreciate the land in a manner that he nurtures in his artwork today. During this time he discovered an affinity with Native American customs. "I believed they were the experts in living in harmony with the planet," he said.
(Photo —Diane Chase)
He attributes his artistry and quest for knowledge to his parents, his environment and growing up without a television. Woodward even named his business after the brook near the family-owned tree farm in Middletown Springs, Vt., which he managed for years during summers.
"Books were my best friends," he says. "My father was a navy commander and, through his various travels and experiences, allowed me to broaden my interests. He would talk to us (his eight children) about how to use a book, extract information and question the essence of something. I would research a project until I found the exact details to produce the piece I wanted."
"I think I was the only kid growing up that took Home Ec. (for sewing), Metal Shop and Mechanical Drawing, but I felt compelled to be as authentic as possible." He still does, from the hand wrought hinges on one of his specialty handcrafted document boxes to the silhouettes on his forged fireplace screens, Woodward is meticulous with the details.
Upon graduating from Paul Smith's College in 1975, Woodward furthered his interest in living with nature and Native American traditions by living for one year in a tipi. Later his interests expanded to include carving soapstone and creating wooden containers. "I think the fascination with boxes and containers came from having seven siblings. I liked the organization it gave me," he explained. "Plus," he sighed, "it helped to keep the rest of my family out of my stuff."
Through various connections he moved to Vermont in 1978 to attend the Brotman Forge Blacksmith School while doing construction. "At the time there weren't a lot of places to learn ornamental ironwork." There he learned the basic techniques of blacksmithing.
"Since then I have taken special courses and seminars to further my understanding with such internationally known figures as Wendel Broussard, Jay Close and Bob Becker," says Woodward.
He continued his hands-on education in New Hampshire, rough-framing houses where he was promoted from finish work to drafting. With the pull of the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, Woodward came home to find work as a finish carpenter and set up his own small blacksmith shop.
At this same time through a passion of his father's, Woodward started to practice the martial art of Tang Soo Do. Woodward credits this with changing his life. "The martial arts taught me patience and humility, of being aware of power without bullying." As a Fourth Degree Black Belt and teacher of Tang Soo Do, Woodward now instructs in the studio above Salon Mirage where his students learn this martial art not only for physical ability but in the traditional manner to develop self awareness and integrate intelligence with body and spirit.
As an avid reader and lover of history, Woodward uses his interest in the 18th century to influence his art. As a young person he fell in love with the Pre-Revolutionary era and he attributes that to his attention to detail. "It's the details that define a style. A lantern may give light but it's the details that give it style."
Woodward replicates many different styles in his work including Adirondack, Adirondack Revival, Art Deco, English Baroque, Art Nouveau and 18th Century Colonial as well as his own distinctive method. He says, "The devil is in the details."
He waves a hand up and down an extensive library of Revolutionary War research volumes. "These books are filled with 18th-century items," he says. Books are also stacked on the floor and line the walls to his office. He flips through several to show the detail in a document trunk here or a hinge there. His movements are quick and sure, exuding a confidence with his subject.
"I want to make for people what they can't find anyplace else," Woodward explains. His portfolio is displayed on a table full of photographs highlighting his handmade trunks, portmanteaus, candlesticks, gates, tools and chandeliers. On a nearby table samples are displayed of a more tactile nature: a forged pinecone with such detail it looks like it fell off a tree or the antler that is only differentiated from the real by its high metal polish. These are a few samples left over from the custom fireplace screens he creates. His studio is a jumble of lanterns, lighting fixtures, fireplace tools and equipment.
Over time the eclectic interests of Woodward, the blacksmith, have blended to form the artist he is today. He can be found most days in his studio finishing his commissions while managing the Easy Street Cabins, long-term rental efficiencies for Paul Smith's College students.