At the Old Cedar Forge, Longfellow’s 1841 poem comes alive:
Under the spreading chestnut tree
The Village Smithy, a mighty man is he.
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are as strong as iron bands.
The forge, built in 1984, is in Allyn, and is owned by Jerry and Ina Culberson. Jerry Culberson has been an artistic blacksmith for 55 years, starting at the age of 11 in Bay City, Mich. He lived and worked on a dairy farm that used 166 draft horses for farming and pulling the wagons and sleighs delivering milk. His job was to always have a full set of four horseshoes for each horse, available at all times. He also shod draft horses, sharpened plow shares and bean knives, and repaired all types of farm equipment. A big job for young boy.
Later he went to work for Dale Montgomery, a blacksmith and welder who made playground equipment. Culberson was drafted to help him. He found that by using the old forge and tools, he could make more life-like noses, ears, etc. Plus they were more durable than the ones made welding them on the heads.
At 17, Culberson went into the Navy, where he had a career as an engineer. He served a six-year stint in Vietnam. After retiring from the Navy, he knew he wanted to go back to his first love, artistic blacksmithing.
In 1980, he built a forge in Port Orchard, before moving to Allyn. He has honed his artistry and design by using his strong arms, a 2,400-degree forge, anvil, and hammers to forge steel into many small and large items. He uses hammers dating from 1898 to 1941, varying in weight from 100 to 500 pounds.
Culberson is known as the “dean of blacksmithing,” passing on his legacy to 13 apprentices, most of whom are still active in the trade. He has taught over 1,400 students in his three-day workshops. However, due to liability he no longer has apprentices. He has reduced his classes to three pupils per workshop.
Culberson’s wife, Ina, operates the onsite gallery, handles the wholesale end of the business, and manages the financial affairs, public relations, and workshop registrations. When classes are held, she makes certain everyone feels at home, has a place to stay and is well fed. Tours are also offered.
The gallery holds over 300 handmade items, all designed by Jerry. They range from coat hooks, drawer pulls, to bigger pieces like bed heads, tables, and gates. Many more items are available through custom orders. Since each piece is lovingly handmade, taking time and effort, they are priced accordingly.
Each year is highlighted by a pre- Christmas open house, when privately invited customers and guests can visit the Culbersons’ home, forge and gallery. This summer they hope to celebrate their 25th anniversary with a tour of the working forge and a gallery walk in the new 12- by 30-foot room they recently added to the gallery. They will feature local artists’ works and demonstrations.
Jerry Culberson has added a new love to his life, besides Ina and blacksmithing. You can see him on his Harley Davidson motorcycle in the company’s poster that is hanging in the gallery. He was also a model for the company’s new 2004-2005 equipment catalog. A true Renaissance man.