DECORAH-- The history of Vesterheim Museum's metalworking classes goes back to the 1970s, when Håvard Bergland, the king of Norwegian knifemaking and blacksmithing, first came to the museum to teach. While the museum has offered great knifemaking classes every year since then, metalworking classes have not been offered for a few decades. Now the metalworking classes are making a comeback!
With the acquisition of new property on Water Street between the museum’s Main Building and Westby-Torgerson Education Center, plus three propane forges donated by Diamondback Ironworks, Vesterheim’s Folk Art School has it’s own smithy. It’s a great place to see for yourself how fire makes metal both useful and beautiful.
“Making your own tools is an important part of immigrant history,” Vesterheim’s Class Specialist Darlene Fossum-Martin says. “And knifemaking, including forging the blades, has always been popular in Norway, where they have their own unique style.”
Darlene is so excited to offer metalworking classes again. This year students can learn to make their own Viking Age lock and how to hand-forge chisels and scorps and other tools. There will be a class in forging your own “Maker’s Mark,” so you can put your own symbol on your metal or wood pieces. You can also learn to craft an entire knife from start to finish—forging the blade, carving the handle, and making the sheath. Plans are in the works to get coal-fueled forges up and running as well, so in future years, students will have the opportunity to take a class in forging a Viking axe.
Vesterheim is lucky to have great metalworking teachers, including K.J. Groven and Tom Latané, who both studied with Håvard Bergland. K.J. grew up in Skien, Norway, and spent most of his childhood on the family farm working with his grandparents. In 1999, he left Norway to attend South Dakota School of Mines and received a degree as a mechanical engineer. After some time as an engineer, he built log homes and did custom woodworking. He was introduced to a blacksmithing club during this time and was soon forging tools and hardware, as well as making buildings, cabinets, and other furniture in the Norwegian style.
Tom started forging reproduction colonial and early American ironwork in Maryland in the early 1970s. After moving to the Midwest in 1981, he was introduced to the creative whimsy of Norwegian folk iron. Tom and his wife, Catherine, have a shop in Pepin, Wisconsin, where Tom repairs antiques and creates original pieces using a traditional design vocabulary and historic hand techniques. Tom has demonstrated for blacksmith groups and has taught at folk schools around the country and as a regular Heritage Demonstrator during Decorah’s Nordic Fest celebration.
Kim Glock, a woodworker from Decorah, enjoyed his first forging class at Vesterheim. He says, “For anyone wanting to learn about forging, Vesterheim has some great opportunities. I took the knifemaking class and it was super. Never having done any forging before, it was quite an experience. We learned about metallurgy and how to weld with only heat. We got to see how Damascus steel is made and saw the beautiful finished product. It was a real eye-opener to see what working with metal really consisted of and the art of working with it. It did get a little warm at times but the staff made sure that we were kept hydrated and happy. Most of us came away with two beautiful (or at least in my opinion) knife blades. Then we went on to make the handles and sheathes, which was awesome. The instructors were incredible masters of their craft and were very good at sharing their knowledge with the students. Of course we had some failures (who knew that you could hammer a piece so thin so that, when you heated it again, it about melted into nothing), but came away with some great things that will last a lifetime. As with all of the classes at Vesterheim you can’t come away from one without having a greater appreciation and understanding of that craft.”
Find a list of 2016 metalworking classes here, and check back for new classes every year!