WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Years ago, a blacksmith was a vital member of the community. Working with iron and steel, they forged horseshoes, gates and fencing, wagon wheels and farm tools and equipment.
There are not many of them around these days but their work is still sought after by people looking for unique, decorative and one-of-a-kind items that only a blacksmith can produce.
Autumn Day is the blacksmith at Poplar Grove Plantation and recognizes the vital role that a blacksmith played in years gone by being the heart of every pioneer town.
"A blacksmith would have been responsible for making different features in the house, from door pulls, light fixtures to cabinet hinges," Day said. "They would have made all of the farming equipment, wagon wheels, so they were very important to transportation."
Today, blacksmithing is a highly skilled trade.
"Present day, it is very much architectural design," Day said. "People are willing to pay more to have a story behind their product and it being a one of a handmade, one of a kind, it would be easy to go and buy a hook online or at the hardware store that was manufactured bulk, but instead, you have a one of a kind for your hooks on a wall, so it is sort of nostalgia."
Day's blacksmith studio, known as a "smithy," is kept dark in order for her to judge the temperature of the metal she is working with by its color. Metals go through several stages as they heat, and it is important to find the ideal temperature to create a strong, solid piece of metalwork.
Coal is used as the fuel in the hearth to heat the metal, and a bellow pushes air into the fire to make the coal burn hotter.
Day believes blacksmithing has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, thanks to many television shows produced about the art, and the demand for the products made by the blacksmith has increased dramatically.
Once considered only a man's job, blacksmithing has drawn women who are fascinated with the fire and the smoke of the blacksmith shops and want to learn how to work with steel and metal.
But there is one thing that has not changed over the years for the blacksmith. The work is still as hard as the iron and steel Day hammers and bends.
"This was the first way I was able to express my creativity," Day said. "I am not a singer, dancer, painter so this was a way to express myself. It is an art, you are always learning, and there are different techniques and people to learn from, and different projects to create."
Many of the items she produces are on sale in the Poplar Grove Plantation gift shop, but she does produce custom made architectural items for people as well.
And when she is not laboring over the fire, or pounding hot steel into useful items, Day says she enjoys letting people know that, although there are not as many blacksmiths as in the past, it is still a rewarding profession in being able to turn a piece of steel into a new art form.