How long have you been involved with Blacksmith Doris?
Blacksmith Doris has been running for three years. I have been co-ordinator of Doris from the group’s conception – from the twentieth anniversary celebration of the Australian Blacksmith’s Association (Victoria). It began with an observation made by a South Australian woman blacksmith (Kirstie Stewart), myself and Nick (my husband) about the scarcity of women blacksmiths in Australia. Together we agreed that something needed to be done to remedy the situation, so we organised a blacksmithing day and, by word of mouth, women came.
Can you give us a brief overview of the project?
Blacksmith Doris is a group of women who are interested in blacksmithing. They meet on the first Saturday of every month, one month at the Australian Blacksmith Association (Victoria) and the alternate day at the Hackett home. Through skill sharing we teach and learn the craft of blacksmithing with an aim to making traditional and contemporary objects. There are no skill requirements to become a Doris, just an interest in learning about blacksmithing. Also, there is no real program structure. We meet to make.
How many people are involved?
There are approximately eight to ten committed Doris members, though there are around twenty who come on a casual basis.
Is it important that the group is exclusive to women? Why is this so?
A women only blacksmithing group is very important. There are women blacksmiths all over the world but there are few in Australia. We are not sure why, but there seems to be an ambivalence amongst male blacksmiths here in regard to women joining in. They would like us to participate but only on their terms and sometimes that can be a little uncomfortable. Blacksmithing is traditionally a male oriented occupation. They have their own way of operating in an environment that has been built up by them. They can be a bit paternalistic. We feel that learning in an environment that is women only helps us explore our idea of blacksmithing without battling discrimination. Having said that there is one member of our group who is male. He is a founding member and will be there as technician until there is a woman blacksmith willing to take his place.
Why is it important to preserve and share these skills?
Metal skills are important to preserve and teach as they are, like any craft, a knowledge base. Blacksmithing is a link to the beginnings of industrial civilisations. It is the basis of modern industry, a building block, if you like, to our modern world. To be able to move metal as a smith assists in understanding how things have been made, and how they can be made. Also, being able to make is import to our spacial awareness, our fine and gross motor skills, and gives us the ability to respond personally to the world around us.
How has being involved in Blacksmith Doris affected your own practice?
Being involved with Doris has allowed me to explore an advisory role. I have always taken my knowledge for granted, not realising that I had skills that might appeal to others. The reasons for joining Doris varies from those who are interested in traditional smithing to those who want to extend their practice. The skills and perception is so diverse making it a privilege to meet and share with these women. I enjoy and feed from their enthusiasm.
See below images from Blacksmith Doris and images of Mary’s own work (beautiful!) And if you’re interested in learning a new skill, Mary will be teaching a nine week silversmithing workshop at NMIT in Fairfield starting on October 15. It will run on Monday evenings from 6pm – 9pm and the best thing is… No experience necessary!