How different modern California looks when seen in the light of a blacksmith’s forge.
The light of Barry’s forge is glowing almost as bright as the San Francisco skyline that stands behind it. It’s evening and we are high on a ridge in Balboa Park where Barry has set up his makeshift metal-working studio in the driveway of a quirky, mural-painted house of a friend. “A good day is a day of hammering hot metal”.
So, here I am, in the middle of California, not far from the one of the greatest high tech industry hubs, watching this craftsman perform an ancient art that requires patience, attention and devotion. I think what difference this encounter makes for my perception of California. Not all of it is Silicon Valley and microchips. I truly feel like a traveller, looking behind the scenes, finding the real stories, the most amazing idiosyncrasies of a place . A blacksmith pounding his hammer in California is hardly a stroll through the Walk of Fame.
Barry is a blacksmith by trade and inspiration, a “disciple of an ancient, elemental craft.”: “There’s an ancestral connection in my art. I need it. There’s a lot we can learn from it.” In his pieces he tries to remind people of the process of making the art, of the craft itself. He adds: “I never take out hammer marks, the process being as part of the art as the final result. Everything has its personalized ‘flaws’“. For Barry, art is unique and irrepeatable. But it is also functional. The idea that people use it, that it brings joy to them, it’s something…” he pauses, “reassuring.” He is the proud creator of more than fifty public artworks. But he also creates things people use in everyday life, fulfilling the original task of blacksmiths. He makes fences, benches, furniture – and memorials. Modern and ancient, artistic elaboration and practical use, hand in hand.
As the forge continues to blaze, Barry changes his tone: “My friend, I deeply believe in synchronicity. Nothing happens by chance. I’ve been kinda stopped in the last year, rough moments. You coming here is not a coincidence. It has given me the push I needed to start hitting the metal again!” I smile at him, not entirely sure of my role, but pleased that he’s creating again. We recall how we met, in my hometown Lisbon. My hostel work definitely has that brilliant, rewarding side of bringing people together. And now here we are, meeting on the other side of the world. Same feel. Totally different context.
As a token of our friendship Barry makes me an iron bracelet. It is on my wrist as I write these lines. “You see, blacksmith is a universal language, my friend. And bracelets are a very special way of speaking.” I cannot describe how meaningful this moment is for me. I put down my camera and take his broad, heartfelt hug. I can hardly speak and I simply whisper “Thank you, my friend, I’ll carry this wherever the road takes me.”