Texas Renaissance Festival blacksmith welcomes The Examiner into his shop

Texas Renaissance Festival blacksmith welcomes The Examiner into his shop

The Texas Renaissance Festival opens its gates once again this Saturday, Oct. 11, celebrating 40 years of hearty food, first-class entertainment and old-world charm. The festival has evolved over the past half-century, adding new shops, new shows and most recently constructing a Greco-Roman-style temple for King Midas’ Masquerade Ball celebrations featuring Cirque-du-Soleil-style entertainment, dancers, musicians and aerialists.

Despite the many wondrous additions to the festival throughout the years, one mainstay that has endured time and continues to fascinate visitors today is the blacksmith’s shop. The shop offers a chance to take a peek back in time and learn the importance of metalworking prior to the Industrial Revolution — a time when a smithy was the staple of every village.

In spite of advances in technology and the passing millennia, the craft hasn’t changed much over the years, said 47-year-old League City resident Anthony Addison, who has worked as blacksmith at the Texas Renaissance Festival for more than nine years.

“From the Roman times on — 2,000 years back — it literally has not changed at all,” Addison said. “I’ve actually seen an archaeological dig of a Viking grave that they figure is over a thousand years old. They found a pair of tongs … it literally looks like a pair of tongs you could find at a shop today.”

At Addison’s shop — located near the glassblower, the only completely round building at the fair — he hammers away, heating iron in his forge to more than 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Think of the iron like clay,” Addison said, explaining the forging process in layman’s terms. “You can move it around. You can change its shape, but you … can only shape it when it’s a certain temperature … and you have only a precious few seconds to work on that piece.”

Unlike clay working, however, blacksmiths can’t touch the scalding hot iron with their hands to shape it. They have to use special blacksmithing tools for shaping the metal such as tongs, hammers and chisels.

“Occasionally blacksmiths do accidentally touch a piece and it causes severe, severe burns,” Addison said. “I’ve had some horrible burns, and some of them during shows.”

The blacksmith also uses the unique form of the anvil to aid in the shaping process.

Daven Hiskey explains the reasoning for the shape of the anvil in his article, “Why Anvils are Shaped as They Are …”

The horn or front end of the anvil is curved, allowing the smith to hammer different curves into the piece they are working on. The step, the flat area next to the horn and just below the face, is used as a cutting area to cut a piece while hammering it. The face is the main large flat slab where most of the hammering takes place. It also contains the hardy hole, a square hole through the anvil that allows you to secure various tools in the anvil; the pritchel hole, a round hole meant as an aid in punching holes through the metal can also be used for holding tools.

When many think of blacksmithing, they think of swords, axes and other weapons. Not all smiths make weapons, however, said Addison, who mainly makes household objects such as eating utensils, fireplace pokers, nails and scrollwork — decoration consisting of spiral lines or patterns. Iron chopsticks, which are especially popular in Korea, are Addison’s biggest seller, he said.

“An actual blacksmith makes anything you would use in your house,” he said. “The fancier stuff like swords is a completely different profession. It’s still a smith, but you have your specialties. They deal with tempering and more alloys. A blacksmith basically uses raw iron with a certain percentage of carbon. It doesn’t need to be tempered or fancy.”

For those curious enough to wander by his shop, Addison demonstrates his smithing prowess — a skill that runs in his blood.

“I have a great (x7) grandfather who served for about a year in the American Revolution under Brigadier General Francis Marion– The Swamp Fox — and was not paid for that service, but afterwards was given a receipt … in exchange for (his) service … as a blacksmith,” Addison said, explaining that his great grandfather received land, horses, mules, grain and wheat in exchange for his smithing service.

Addison also had another great grandfather who as a blacksmith helped rebuild South Carolina after the Civil War, he said.

Addison’s skill caught the eye of American Broadcasting Company producers and he was asked to appear on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition from 2009-12.

“I got a cold call from Hollywood,” Addison said. Producers of the show told Addison that the show was scheduled to shoot in Texas and they needed a blacksmith to complete a project. “I said OK and ended up being there for about 14 days on a seven-day shoot. I was the very first blacksmith ever on the show. I did some things that they really liked, and so they kept calling me any time they were in the area. I ended up doing three seasons with them. I was on the very last house that they ever built. I had my own private tent and my own apprentices that they gave me. I did some amazing things.”

Addison even had an opportunity to meet film and television actress Jessica Alba while blacksmithing on the show.

“She was in for a few days and they were just looking for things for her to do that they thought would be interesting,” he said. “I happened to be over in the corner doing my own thing and they said, ‘Hey, would you be willing to show her how to make something?’ We probably did about a half hour to an hour of filming and trying out different things and having fun.”

After the show disbanded, Addison received calls from other TV shows, from Houston news morning shows, from schools and museums to do demonstrations, and to do the San Jacinto Battle re-enactment. He also appeared on Tattoo Rescue on Spike TV in 2013, helping remodel a more than 100-year-old shop into a western-themed tattoo parlor.

Despite his fame, many successes and vast knowledge about his craft, Addison remains extremely humble and approachable. When you visit the Texas Renaissance Festival this year, be sure to drop by the blacksmith’s shop and meet him. Who knows, you might even learn a thing or two about the craft.

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