By Matt de Simone
During his blacksmith demonstrations, Botetourt County native Dewey Baker enjoys warming hearts (using horseshoe nails).
Last Saturday, Baker set up outside Fincastle’s restored Wysong Blacksmith Shop during the Fincastle Festival. For 30 years, Baker has made blacksmith presentations at fairs and other events.
During one of his presentations at the festival, he crafted a heart out of a horseshoe nail and gave it to Ann Wilson, a local festival attendee.
Baker’s craftmanship is mostly “jewelry-based.” He finds those items to be the most popular and makes the craftwork look pretty easy, given his years of experience. Baker noted that the money’s in farrier work and forging “fancy wine racks,” but he loves to craft charms for necklaces. Especially for his visitors.
“It’s a living history lesson,” Baker explained. “That’s the main reason I got started with it. I collect old washing machines, old engines, stuff like that. It just fit in [with my other hobbies] as a living history lesson.”
Baker grew up on Glebe Road, formerly known as “North Fork.” He noticed there wasn’t a blacksmith working out of the old shop while he was growing up. He was excited to present another living history lesson at this year’s festival.
“So far this year, this is the second time I’ve been [in Fincastle]. I’d love to see somebody from the Roanoke area to come down here and run [the shop],” Baker added. “That’s why I’m here. I’m the local boy who came back home.”
Baker talked with visitors about how the blacksmith shop operated many years ago. He showed photos of the old shop that featured several workers and their tools, like bellows, hammers, and anvils.
He displayed a factory-produced bellows from what Baker believes to be around the Civil War era. A bellows is an instrument blacksmiths use to blow air on a fire providing more air than burning charcoal or other fossil fuels. Baker plans to restore the bellows for the Rockingham County Fair’s Farm Museum. He’s presented a blacksmith demonstration there for the last 15 years.
When asked about Baker’s favorite thing while presenting a living history, he replied, “Kids.”
Baker explained that he enjoys children’s “ah-ha” moments when learning something new.
“Another friend and I do the demonstration at the Rockingham County Fair,” Baker said. “We have made or taught several 15-year-olds to ‘blacksmith.’ Now, they’ll never become a blacksmith or a farrier, but they know a lot about it. It’s a lifetime’s work. We’ve taught several kids about it, and I enjoy doing the demos. It makes a big difference. And to be honest, a lot of adults enjoy those ‘ah-ha’ moments as well.”