In Northwest Arkansas, my father, David Stanford Baker, was born the 10th of 10 children. His family homesteaded at Osage and Kings Rivers in the foothills of the Ozark highlands.
Education, hard work and participation in the community were highly valued in my father’s family.
Like eight of his siblings, my father left the farm to study and earn a college degree. Beginning his career, he taught in one-room schoolhouses before becoming the superintendent of schools in Carroll County.
When my father married my mother, she became a teacher, and my dad took the position of postmaster of Berryville, the county seat. After some time, they went together to Washington, D.C., and worked as personal assistants to their congressman.
Daddy served in the Air Force in World War II, then earned his law degree as they began our family with my birth.
Working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he served two tours in Vietnam, where he prepared GIs for their return and resuming their educations.
Reflecting on his full and satisfying life, my father told me that some of his happiest moments were back on the farm as a young boy; those sweet times where he would pause at the end of a long day. His after-school chores completed with the livestock and in the gardens, standing on the side of Round Mountain in his dirty overalls and scruffy hand-me-down boots, he would look out over the farm and the two ribbons of slow waters meandering past, and he’d think: “I’m the luckiest boy alive!”
He told me that sometimes as he stood alone, a poem he’d learned in class would pop into his mind, and he’d sing the lines loud and clear for all the world around him to hear. He said his very favorite poem was “The Village Blacksmith,” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem, familiar to so many of us from our own school days, begins:
Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
Longfellow, on Oct. 5, 1839, recorded in his journal: “(I) wrote a new Psalm of Life ... ‘The Village Blacksmith.’” He presents his character as an iconic tradesman who’s embedded with deeply rooted strength in the history of his town and the town’s defining institutions.
His blacksmith serves as a role model who balances his job with his commitments to his family and community.
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
Week in, week out from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And watch the burning sparks that fly.
The artCampers of artCentral had their very own iconic village blacksmith working with them and teaching them to make horseshoes during the first week of camp. Beneath the spreading maple trees on Hyde House hill, Longfellow’s poignant poem fully came to life when world-class farrier Chris Gregory and his son, Cody, arrived in two large trucks pulling two heavy trailers fully equipped with mobile forges, anvils, hammers and tongs, along with all the other tools and materials needed for making horseshoes.
Chris earned the title of fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers at the age of 30. The Worshipful Company of Farriers is a group founded in London in 1356 and regarded by many as stewards of horseshoeing’s highest standards. Internationally, around 40 farriers currently hold this distinction, five of these are Americans. Chris’s 696-page book, “Gregory’s Textbook of Farriery,” has become the textbook for most of the top schools teaching the craft. He brought a copy for the artCampers to see.
Along with the two men came Chris’s wife, Kelly, herself a certified farrier and full-time instructor at their Heartland Horseshoeing School, established in 1995 in Lamar. Kirsty, Cody’s wife, a second time new mother, came with them, and spent the 97-degree day outside with the youngest family members — 2-year-old toddler Marcy Grace and 12-week-old Heidi Fayth. The family’s farm dog — the robust, impeccably trained blue heeler Blueberry — completed the Gregory family entourage.
All day long, the hammers of the farriers and their artCamper proteges sang a beautiful psalm of praise for the art of blacksmithing!
Just before “going home” time, I asked the artCampers, “What was your favorite part of your blacksmithing class?” In enthusiastic unison they replied, “Everything!”
With the words of Longfellow, I say to Chris Gregory:
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou has taught!
Alice Lynn Greenwood-Mathe is the executive director-curator of artCentral at the Hyde House in Carthage.