Ferrous 2017: Scholarship and socially engaged practice

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Last weekend, students and staff from the Artist Blacksmithing BA (Hons) course at Hereford College of Arts (HCA) collaborated with a range of partners and international blacksmiths to create Ferrous2017, our first ever Blacksmithing Festival.

At the heart of the weekend was the co-construction and creation of an arbour for St Michael’s Hospice. The arbour (you can see it in the gallery images at the bottom of this post) was designed and the framework forged by Ambrose Burne, lecturer on the BA (Hons) Artist Blacksmithing course at Hereford. What sets it apart from many other pieces is that each individual gingko leaf on the arbour was forged by students or members of the public; some at the live event.

On the one hand, this represents an extraordinary piece of unique work, rooted in tradition and the particular traditions of Hereford (which has a history of excellence in blacksmithing). On the other, we have participation from any member of the local community in both a (to many) new activity and commemorative reflection. And, as a further dimension of the festival teams of Level 5 students supervised the forging; mentoring community members and discussing the reasons for the festival; supporting their own teaching and learning journeys both technically (for what better way to learn than to teach) and in articulating their practice.

The brainchild of HCA’s principal, Abigail Appleton, Ferrous 2017 was organised by Del Done (Higher Education manager and leader of the Artist Blacksmithing course at Hereford College of Arts) and Georgia Smith, BID director. It was co-funded by an Arts Council grant and HerefordBID, a Business Improvement District venture set up to improve trading and footfall for the numerous small businesses in Hereford city centre. Ferrous2017 showed how the centre of a small city town can be transformed into a creative space that included many voices and participants, from local traders through to small graduate enterprises, students, shoppers, Hereford and Ludlow College, representatives of St Michael’s hospice, and artist/designers from across Herefordshire.

Activities linked past and present, connecting a strong tradition of contemporary excellence in metalwork with traditional craftsmanship. A town trail showcased modern and ancient pieces, curated in partnership with the local Museum’s service. Hereford Cathedral is currently host to ‘Transition’, an exhibition of international artist blacksmithing originally created for the Ypres 2016 commemoration (and involving staff and student work). Hereford Museum hosts ‘Forged’; a touring 2017 exhibition from Ruthin Crafts Gallery which represents a shift from the more narrative focus of ‘transition’ to the maker using material as critical commentary (and which also contains work from staff and students at HCA)

If we consider ‘Ferrous2017’ in terms of scholarship then we can see how it crosses multiple dimensions of Boyer’s model. The Scholarship of Teaching and learning is evident in the work of our student/staff partnership and the large part students played in the creation and running of the exhibition, which went beyond ‘demonstrating’ their craft into sharing and co-creating specialist knowledge with the wider community. Level four students used the ‘town trail’ as an initial exploration of research methods, researching artefacts using visual ethnographic methods and considering how far the context of the pieces changed their meanings.

The Scholarship of Integration is clearly found in the partnership working between so many people in a wide variety of external networks.

The Scholarship of Application is evident in the design and purpose of the arbour itself as a commemorative and collaborative object. In the age of mass consumerism and ‘the internet of things’, there is perhaps a particular resonance to the unique, handcrafted artefact. Ambrose designed the work to be purposed – it is, on a basic level, a bench. But, a bench where people will sit when terminally ill, or when visiting terminally ill loved ones. This is a single object made of many, a co-created embodiment of new knowledge (The Scholarship of Discovery) which, due to a distinct purpose, will continue to resonate long after the festival has finished.

The ability of the wider community to hand-craft a gingko leaf for the arbour, the symbolic resonance of the gingko leaves themselves as metaphor for hope and remembrance, and the design of the piece ‘to feel like a safe place; a hug’ come together to make this an object with a particular resonance far, far beyond the purely utilitarian. In ‘The Object Reader’, Gell writes of ‘ The technology of enchantment and the enchantment of technology’. In the case of the arbour, whether we take a secular or religious stance on ideas of ‘enchantment’, this is surely an enchanted object; crafted and designed to link past, present and person; a space to support safe reflection.



Gell, A. (1992) The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology pp. 201-229 in Candlin, F. and Guins, R. (2009) The Object Reader, The Running Head Ltd, Cambridge.



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