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home : arts & entertainment : arts & entertainment November 24, 2015

4/29/2014 1:03:00 PM
Ringing the anvil at Sisters Library
Chris Corcoran, metalsmith at Ponderosa Forge, shaping metal the old-fashioned way.  photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Chris Corcoran, metalsmith at Ponderosa Forge, shaping metal the old-fashioned way. photo provided

By Jim Anderson

If the functional beauty of hand-forged iron sparks your soul, come to the Sisters Library, Sunday, May 4, 1:30 p.m. as the smiths of Ponderosa Forge & Ironworks demonstrate the art of blacksmithing.

Jeff Wester, master blacksmith and owner of Ponderosa Forge, will be there with smith Chris Corcoran. They'll have the portable forge fired up on the library's community room patio - and the sparks will fly.

"I really enjoy the design work," Wester says. "I love to see the process from start to finish. Everything starts with a thought, then add a little creativity, motivation, mix it all together and throw it in the forge."

Wester grew up in the small coastal town of Tillamook, and is living proof of the fact that fate works in mysterious ways. He moved to Central Oregon to attend college - and fate stepped in; he befriended a farrier who had a small shop east of Bend. That one act was a crossroads for Jeff.

"We'd fire up the old coal forge on a snowy winter night and do some blacksmithing; transforming horseshoes and old steel remnants into useful and creative objects," Jeff recalls.

Something in the ancient alchemy of hammer, fire and iron spoke to his soul; and his path was set.

Reading every old book on blacksmithing, and trying to figure out how historic forged parts were made, his learning was all by trial and error. Jeff joined the Northwest Blacksmiths Association, and found a lot of other folks doing the same thing.

"There was a wealth of knowledge that was passed along from older smiths that were willing to share," Wester remembers.

Sisters Country is horse country, and in 1983 Jeff began shoeing horses for a living with his portable blacksmith shop in the back of his truck.

"I loved shoeing horses," Jeff recalls, "but as soon as I drove the last nail and dropped the horse's foot, my finished product went straight into the mud, never to be seen again until I picked that foot up eight weeks later to pull the shoe off and put another one on."

In 1987, after graduating from Oregon Institute of Technology in engineering, Jeff set up shop in a yurt.

"Times were simple" he recalls.

Within a couple of years, he quit horseshoeing and built a small shop at his house with one employee, handling welding and blacksmithing chores for folks in Sisters Country.

In 1991, Jeff built a larger shop in town. It had a hitching rail in front to remind him of his roots - and as reassurance that he could always go back to nailing shoes on horses hooves to pay the mortgage. That never became necessary, and Ponderosa Forge grew in shop-size and employees. Jeff added a machine shop, more forging hammers, anvils, forges and showrooms.

"I really enjoy the whole process," Jeff says. "Take it out of the forge red-hot, finesse it into shape by hammer and hand, let it cool. Behold! Stuff that works, art to look at, and for the craftsmanship to be proud of. That's why I love to go to work every morning."

Chris Corcoran grew up in Central Oregon and graduated from Central Oregon Community College with a degree in Emergency Medical Services. While testing for paramedic jobs, he got a job at a local heating and cooling business in the duct shop. Like it was - and is - with many seeking a place to fit their life, fate stepped into Chris' path and realized he had an interest and talent for welding and fabrication. He took a second look at the emergency medical field, and the rest is history.

In 2006, with the recommendation of his mentor, Chris drove to Ponderosa Forge to see if Jeff was looking for an apprentice, and was hired to weld and fabricate, and trained in blacksmithing.

"I love what I do!" Chris is quick to say. "It's always something different that requires me to think and be creative."

Come to the library Sunday afternoon and witness craftsmen creating beautiful and functional objects from raw steel.

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