Artful Living - Bladesmith Erin Aylor Enfolds Life Lessons Into Steel
From The South Mountain Journal Blog Series Clockworks, exploring wheels and gears that keep life around South Mountain turning. In this post, we visit blacksmith and woodworker Erin Aylor.
"Living artful living", is this Frederick County, Maryland native's response to a world, where craftspersons are in the words of Kerry Chappell, 'making and being made'; in effect, they are becoming while they are making (Chappell, Kerry Anne, et al). Erin is also inferring that good crafting equals a good community to live in. This framework references both his preference for items that are handmade and serving the greater good of the community through his own contributions.
Everything Erin needs is arranged within arms reach of his rural farm. This includes the unseen elements of his Artful Living; the tension between his quiet reflective side and a propensity to falling into reclusion. These are juxtaposed to his joy in spending time with others and being as he said "a social butterfly". Navigating this contrast keep his senses sharpened. An aspect of success as a maker is straddling the two worlds of stillness and connecting with the audience of his work.
Erin appears to act as the co-author of his life experience. Showing a keen appreciation for collaboration both with his community and his muse. He strives for work-life balance. Erin cultivates new audiences for his craft and while being mindful of leaving room for quality time with his family.
Following a series of patterns that fit together in a larger framework of developing skills and creating products, mastering the skills of both, followed by periods of rest and reinvention. One could equate his process to that of a white oak tree. The tree awakens and creates over 200,000 new leaves (Morrow, J) in the Spring a massive full-scale production. In the Summer the oak ceases production and fine tunes the structure of its new branch growth. Then, during the cycle of Autumn, water is cut off from the leaves and eventually they fall from the ends of the twigs to the ground. This regenerative process results in about 70% of their nutrients returning to the soil (Çakır, M. and S. Akburak). Through these ebbs and flows, this craftsman is ever-evolving his craftwork through new styles and applications.
To quote an unknown source (often attributed to Thomas Jefferson) "In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock". Erin, working from his woodworking studio, his blacksmith forge, on the land, and in his home gives him the opportunity and the inspiration to be a living model of this quote.
Erin says the concept of the 'Hero's Journey', is something he feels deep in his bones, much the same way that his artwork calls to him from within. This call emanating from somewhere that is neither effable nor for Erin, ignorable. Campbell’s, 'The Hero’s Journey' provides a conceptual roadmap for navigating and confronting life’s challenges, a framework for the hard and sometimes lonely work of answering the call of one's vocation (Robertson, Derek L).
No two people have the same journey, but every journey has common traits. In a journey, there is a calling, followed by doubt, impossible circumstances, then an interceding. This is followed by more challenges and temptation. Should the person remain faithful to their path then this is said to result in the transformation of the individual? Once the lessons are met, the person integrates the hard-won insights, knowledge, and understanding that they obtained and they head back towards where they started.
Eventually, the quester reaches their village and now the journey starts over, living an ordinary life, a new life, in an ordinary context, nurturing the effect of extraordinary joy and the sense of connection to the known and seen and the Unknown and unseen. This illustrates how there is indeed a "ripple effect" to every decision we make, states John Zenz in his study on vocation and spirituality (Zenz, John).
According to the blacksmith Maegan Crowley, one must “be in love with, and committed to, the trade in order to make a successful life in the field” (Lopez, A) and for Erin that success is measured by the full breadth of his life and the quality of relationship he sustains with those he loves.
Erin embodies an appreciation for balance and continuity in life, family, friends, and art. Many times at his place I observed his open and giving nature and his commitment to paying forward his craftsmanship to his community, other craftspeople, and various visitors young and old. His eyes light up like the Aurora Borealis when someone shows an interest in heritage skills, especially in blacksmithing.
Looking at how blacksmithing was “revitalized by the studio craft movement in the 1970s” (LOPEZ, ANA). Erin spoke about his passion for blacksmithing and how it also instills in him a sense of responsibility to future generations, for people and for the craft itself. Doing demos and workshops with local college students and wide-eyed boy scouts plants seeds in the minds and imagination of curious students.
Part of a locale and a collection of heritage skills, an important ingredient is involving young people and facilitating their exposure to these traditions. Reviewing the work of Ronald Morris, there is a viable link between young people and where they live (place) when meaningful content is applied to skills, such as blacksmithing from with their community, this enables students to "make connections between school knowledge and their lives outside of school". When students have this meaningful and tactile connection to someone in where they live, then this becomes a foundation of their sense of self and their guiding narrative (Morris, Ronald V).
Erin has intentionally put himself in the place and with the people, he loves while immersing himself in the work of his heart. Having arranged his life like a gardener arranges a rose bush with his clippers and a vision of where tomorrow’s blooms will emerge. Cultivating an atmosphere that supports the love and joy he feels and so freely shares while serving his community through his craft, his commitment, and his presence. Most striking of his presence and care was observing him sitting quietly with his youngest daughter while together they enjoyed the light gold evening and the gentle breeze as the sun neared the horizon.
Hawkwood Mountain Farm, Erin's home, is an uncontaminated cocoon where he has apprenticed himself to his life and in the words of Joseph Campbell, “ the perilous journey was a labour not of attainment but of re-attainment, not discovery but rediscovery” with life; with and through exploring his craft and sharing it with others (Campbell 1993: 39 ).
Questions to the reader, do you now or have you ever had the sensation, perhaps an internal gnawing sense, of something that is vague yet feels bigger than yourself? Perhaps you sensed that something within a vocation waits for you to unlock it. What have you tried? What have you discovered?
What is it about cultivating a vocation that causes a labored and heroic journey where one follows faint clues battles internal struggles and persists in the intrinsic unfolding that hints to a purpose, or some manner of putting one’s mark on the world?
We will collect your comments and put them together to share with Erin (unless you prefer not to have your comment shared).
For more information about Erin, you can find him on the web at www.hawkwoodmountainfarm.com where you will find information about upcoming classes, order a custom wood furnishing or knife, and nature his outings.
Morrow, J. (2012). Branching Out: Modeling Leaf Weight by Tree Growth Simulation, University of Washington 19.
Pandey, R. R., et al. "Litterfall, litter decomposition and nutrient dynamics in a subtropical natural oak forest and managed plantation in northeastern India." Forest Ecology and Management 240.1-3 (2007): 96-104.
Çakır, M. and S. Akburak (2017). "Litterfall and nutrients return to soil in pure and mixed stands of oak and beech." Journal of the Faculty of Forestry Istanbull University 67(2): 5.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 17 Vol. New World Library, 2008. Web.
Chappell, Kerry Anne, et al. "Making and being made: Wise Humanising Creativity in Interdisciplinary Early Years Arts Education." International Journal of Early Years Education 24.3 (2016): 254-78. Web.
Zenz, John. "A Divine-Human Partnership: Providence and Vocation." Human development 36.3 (2016): 6-13. Web.
Hargreaves, Jo, and National Centre for Vocational, Education Research. Apprenticeships and Vocations: Assessing the Impact of Research on Policy and Practice. Research Report. National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), 2016. Web.
LOPEZ, ANA. "Forging on: America's Women Blacksmiths." Metalsmith 33.3 (2013): 40-5. Web.
Morris, Ronald V. "Social Studies Around the Blacksmith's Forge: Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning." Social Studies 98.3 (2007): 99-104. Web.
Pannone, Silvia. "The Hero's Journey: The Search for Identity from a Psychological, Mythological, and Astrological Perspective." Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture 1.2 (2007): 220-36. Web.
Robertson, Derek L., and Christopher Lawrence. "Heroes and Mentors: A Consideration of Relational-Cultural Theory and 'the Heros Journey'." Journal of Creativity in Mental Health 10.3 (2015): 264-77. Web.
WIEBE, SEAN. "Poetic Inquiry: A Fierce, Tender, and Mischievous Relationship with Lived Experience." Language & Literacy: A Canadian Educational E-Journal 17.3 (2015): 152-63. Web.