Blacksmith Thomas Taranowski offered two suggestions for anyone coming up to see him Saturday during the Arts Index Festival.
Don’t forget to bring whatever metal thing you have at home that needs straightening.
And don’t forget to bring the kids. They love to see blacksmiths at work and, this is kind of technical, but here’s why: “They love seeing the metal being squished around,” Taranowski said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Taranowski is among the 40 artists demonstrating their techniques during the fourth annual Arts Index Festival starting at 10 a.m. Saturday. The festival is sprawled throughout the historic buildings and streets of this rural community nestled near the Cascades. Those artists may be bronze sculptors, poets or painters, all unique and viewed in a spectacular rural setting.
Taranowski is unique in that he’s basically a nerd wielding a heavy hammer.
“I’m a software engineer. I realize I’m a nerd,” Taranowski admitted. “When you work with the computer, it’s very virtual. You don’t see the fruits of your labor. In iron, you do something, whether it’s good or bad, it’s there for 100 years.”
Taranowski, 31, came late in life to blacksmithing, discovering it on his own by picking up a book on the subject about five years ago, just a few years before he and his wife, Heath, and their two young children had moved to Baring.
That book ignited some deep-seated passion inside him and Taranowski was, as he puts it, obsessed. He started with a cheap, 3-pound Home Depot hammer and something to bang on and began to forge.
Then, Taranowski discovered the Northwest Blacksmith Association. He attended one of their conferences in Corvallis, Ore., and, as the phrase goes, his eyes were opened to what amazing things could be done in this field.
“I go to these conferences now fairly frequently and I move up to a different plateau each time,” he said.
Today, Taranowski makes just about anything, from hinges to kinetic sculptures that blow in the wind. He said he once made a bracket for a customer who wanted to hang up a plastic crucifix. “That was probably the most bizarre thing I’ve made so far.”
Taranowski proudly confessed that he works slowly, taking time with his hammer and anvil because he’s not in it for the money, but for the passion. He could weld pieces of metal together and increase his production, but that’s not what matters. For him, it’s the quality of a craft that he’s hoping to keep alive.
“There’s always that difference between art and production. You sell a lot more by cutting corners and welding stuff together and a lot of people, frankly, don’t notice the difference, but it would make a difference to me,” Taranowski said. “When you heat up the metal and hammer, it takes on this form. It’s like the energy of the artist that goes into it and it’s almost inexplicable.”
Taranowski will be demonstrating his blacksmithing skill at the Arts Index Festival most of the day. He’s not sure where he’ll be exactly, but visitors are sure to find him, he said.
“Just listen for the clang.”
Arts writer Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blacksmith Thomas Taranowski at work.