The Blacksmith Shop is Back in Business!
By Becca Mendelson Hughson, Director of Administration, Development, Marketing, and Events
The St. George Village Botanical Garden was a fully functioning sugar plantation from the 1700s up until the 1940s. SGVBG boasts of interesting historical artifacts and ruins, but did you know that our property contains the only fully-functioning blacksmith shop in the USVI? Built in 1846, our blacksmith shop was used to create and repair tools on the plantation.
In years past, enthusiastic volunteers manned the SGVBG blacksmith shop, giving guests memorable demonstrations. Unfortunately, over the last decade (or longer!) the blacksmith shop has been sitting there, dusty and unused… until now. SGVBG is absolutely thrilled to introduce you to our new volunteer blacksmith, Brian Louden!
Brian Louden was a paramedic instructor before going to Sam Houston University, where he Majored in Microbiology. His love of educating others propelled him into becoming a STEM educator. Years later he found himself in a unique position to teach science to millions of people as he hosted the final two seasons of Discovery Channel’s hit TV show: MythBusters. Brian Louden spent his time on MythBusters doing anything from blowing up farts to crashing cars. “Now I have a chance to be a part of history and continue to interact with the public in the blacksmith shop. I am looking forward to it!”
Becca Hughson, Director of Administration, Development, Marketing and Events sat one on one with Brian Louden for an interview:
What inspired you to become a blacksmith?
Metal is such a unique material to work with. it can be incredibly strong and seen as an immutable element that can stand forever, yet at the same time, with the application of heat becomes soft enough to work with human hands. The idea that I could learn to create something brand new out of a material as unique and foreboding as that was a big draw.
How long have you been a blacksmith?
I have been practicing on and off for a few years. I was lucky to have friends who worked in the Renaissance Festival circles and was exposed to a lot of interesting crafts and was able to always learn.
Do you work with other metals?
No material would be off limits to me, metal or not. If there is a youtube video, I will work with it.
What drew you to the blacksmith shop at SGVBG?
It is such an awesome opportunity to be part of SGVBG to begin with. The blacksmith shop is an important part of history and I was drawn to keeping it in good health and alive. The idea of it continuing to share with the community here through education.
What kind of projects are you interested in working on at SGVBG?
I would like to produce a lot of tools from cookware to hardware while also reproducing hinges, locks, and other items in the garden in order to help restore the facilities. We have started some talks on collaborating on sculpture projects and I would like to produce some of my own works to support the garden store.
The blacksmith shop has been out of use for at least a decade. What was your first impression of the shop? How much effort does the shop need to get it back into working order?
The shop itself is capable, and I was surprised that after a cleaning I was able to fire up the furnace and get the hearth blower running. So as far as fire we are in good shape, and we have plenty of metal and great anvil and vice. We could use some help from the public improving the roof and structure to protect it all, as well as hope to improve the electrical wiring. I would also personally love to work on restoring the hearth to use bellows as would have been traditionally done.
With your background in education, you seem to be an ideal candidate for teaching guests of the garden the historical significance of the SGVBG blacksmith shop, and modern blacksmithing methods. How do you foresee yourself interacting with guests of the garden?
I really get joy out of talking to people and explaining anything I can. In the time I have spent in the shop cleaning, people are excited to see me work with hot metal but it is also explaining what and why I am doing what I do that adds real interest.
Do you think the blacksmith shop will be in working order in time for Mango Melee?
I hope to have the blacksmith shop active in some way for Mango Melee. It may not be fully producing products but I foresee glowing hot metal being worked.
What do you want SGVBG members and guests to know about the blacksmith shop?
I would encourage members to walk the gardens with the blacksmith shop in mind. Every nail, ever plow blade, every bit of infrastructure holding together the plantation coming out of one person’s hands made of metal and fire.