Article and Photography by Jennie Williams
On Saturday, May 18th, family members and orchard volunteers gathered at the Bloomington Community Orchard during their Spring Planting Day event. At 1:30 PM, master artist and blacksmith Jason Nickel and his apprentices, Paolo Ansaldo and Iris Nickel, unveiled their finished product: an artfully detailed iron gate door to be mounted on the orchard fence.
Jason and Paolo expressed pride and contentment over their accomplishment as they reflected on nearly two years of careful and collaborative design, planning, and production. As recipients of one of the inaugural TAI Apprenticeship Program awards, Jason and Paolo used this teaching opportunity to infuse the basics of blacksmithing skills into their design for the gate door. The pair met while working with Jack Brubaker, a renowned blacksmith who mentored Paolo when he was ten years old.
After the two experimented with and practiced different techniques, the resulting design “evolved,” incorporating several of their ideas. Paolo created three emblems portraying a sapling, a growing tree, and an apple, each respectively accentuating the words of the orchard’s motto: “Dream. Build. Share.” Meanwhile, Iris worked with her father to produce an elegant latch used to open and close the gate.
The majority of the gate was built using traditional blacksmithing techniques, meaning electrical welding equipment was used only when reinforcing its structural stability. Paolo considers learning the traditional methods as a means for increasing his tool kit. All a blacksmith needs is a forge, an anvil, and a hammer; the rest of the necessary tools can be made by hand. Paolo reflected on his experience. “What Jason always tells me,” he said, “is that, if we don't learn the traditional things now, then we’re never going to learn them later because they’re just going to be forgotten.”
With a newly acquired anvil and forge in his family garage, and his first major project completed, Paolo has built a foundation to begin his own career in blacksmithing. He and Jason see themselves collaborating on future projects down the road, perhaps after Paolo’s high school years are over.