Through skill sharing Blacksmith Doris, a group run by and for women, teach and learn the craft of blacksmithing. Together we acknowledge, and are guided by, the historical weight of the craft of blacksmithing without being burdened by it.
Blacksmith Doris meets at the Australian Blacksmiths Association (Vic), and has done so for five years. We gather on the first Saturday of every month, between 10 am and 4 pm, in the blacksmithing venue affectionately known as the ‘Barn’, at Cooper’s Settlement, Bundoora, which is the most diverse park in Melbourne.
Amongst the Doris’ are established blacksmiths, who measure their work against drawings in chalk on the floor of the ‘Barn’. Others are artists looking for a new form of expression. Some of the women come to seriously hone their skills, while for some it is a chance to socialise, draw, play with clay or scrounge in the scrap box.
Blacksmith Doris, 2014
How did you get into blacksmithing?
Mary Hackett: I have been a metalsmith for almost thirty years. My husband, Nick, who studied to be a metalsmith, became a member of Australian Blacksmiths Association (Vic). He would show me some of the techniques of blacksmithing and I began using them within silversmithing. I became hooked, working more and more at the forge. It has a lot to do with the fire.
Debbie Harman: I got into blacksmithing by being friends with the Hacketts. The first women’s forge day was held at Footscray on Dynon Rd and I attended this day and had a go. I decided to continue going as a social outlet, as it was a way of learning new skills and spending a day with some very interesting like-minded women.
Dianne Beevers: Mary Hackett and I met through our involvement with Part b, a Melbourne based Research Jewellers’ collective. Discovering Mary was a blacksmith resulted in an invitation to join Blacksmith Doris, which seemed astounding as I had always been attracted to forged metal, yet never believed it was possible for me to access the field, given it is traditionally a male domain.
What was the impetus for establishing Blacksmith Doris?
Mary Hackett: Doris began as a way of bringing gender balance to blacksmithing within Australia. The catalyst was a blacksmithing function, which included an exhibition, that celebrated 20 years of the association. The only woman within the exhibition was myself. The demonstrations at the weekend long meeting were all men. It was very clear that woman were not actively involved in blacksmithing as a craft.
Dianne Beevers: Generally accepted as a traditionally male trade, blacksmithing has increasingly opened to include women, expanding the repertoire of outcomes for the arena. Women have sometimes found the traditional culture of blacksmithing daunting, in respect of explorations of new types of work, as in contemporary art works.
What are the aims of the group?
Mary Hackett: We aim to create gender balance within Australian blacksmithing and for blacksmithing to be seen, not just as an ancient and ‘dying’ craft, but as something that is alive and relevant. Skills that have a place within the contemporary making scene.
Debbie Harman: The aim is to provide a place and time where women can blacksmith in a different social space and context to the traditional setting.
Dianne Beevers: Blacksmith Doris was conceived to foster a supportive and inclusive environment for women to learn and practice blacksmithing, while pursuing traditional and contemporary outcomes.
Can anyone become a member?
Mary Hackett: Any woman can become a member of Blacksmith Doris although to work at the ‘Barn’ you need to be a paid up member of the Australian Blacksmiths Association (Vic). There is also an age restriction for the association. The minimum age for working at the forge is 16.
Dianne Beevers: A diverse membership includes artists and metalsmiths, teachers and even a skin specialist. There are no prerequisites as to prior training since new members receive an induction, and further skilling if they desire.
What has been a highlight of Blacksmith Doris?
Mary Hackett: For me there have been a few highlights. One of them was when the ABA Vic committee allowed the special women’s only day, at that time it was once every two months, for Blacksmith Doris where men were told that they were not allowed to come at all on that day.
The very first Doris Day was also pretty special. The event was hosted by Brendan Hackett at Blueprint Sculpture Studio on Saturday 21st of November 2009. Four men volunteered to teach twenty-one women and three children simple blacksmithing skills. We hadn’t advertised. Those who came had heard through friends. There were so many women at the anvils that any wrong move with a hot piece of iron meant branding a fellow maker without their consent.
I have to mention another a couple of highlights which were both opportunities to talk about Doris. One of these was at the Queensland JMGA conference in 2013, and on an American podcast dedicated to women blacksmiths called BlacksmitHer.
Debbie Harman: For me, it has been a wonderful space to practice an area of my art with no pressures at all. I often don’t even use the forge. I prefer to sit in the lunch room and make work that mixes clay with metal. The other women are very encouraging and interested in what I do. I have conversations with the other women as they come in for their breaks from forging.
Dianne Beevers: Every Doris Day is a highlight for me, when I enter the extraordinary environment of the Barn, an historic portable, iron building manufactured in Scotland in the 19th century and shipped to Melbourne where it served at Queen Victoria Market. In essence a “Radiant Pavilion” itself, the Barn contains six forges and a wonderful collection of dedicated tools and equipment. It is an inspiring place to work in a physical sense, together with the convivial activity of the members, who work hard, share knowledge and skills, and extend a generous welcome to new comers. Each piece of work attempted is also a highlight, regardless of the success or otherwise of the outcome, for you have progressed your experience.
What do you see in the future for the group?
Mary Hackett: In the future I would like Doris to be a more national concern. There is already Blacksmith Doris in South Australia which is organised by Kirstie Stewart who, along with Nick and myself, was a founder of the original Blacksmith Doris.
I hope that Doris can open the way for blacksmithing to be less of a closed men’s group and more inclusive of other minority groups.
I would like more Doris’ becoming confident blacksmiths, maybe some even earning a living from smithing, either traditionally or in a contemporary practice. What I want is for blacksmithing techniques to be used more extensively within contemporary metalsmithing.
Having said all of that, Doris has always been directed by those who participate and it is them who are in charge of the future. Without them Doris is nothing.
Debbie Harman: I am really happy with how it is at the moment. It provides a very interesting forum for women to learn in a very wide context that ranges from acquiring traditional blacksmiths skills to an art-centred approach.
Dianne Beevers: The extraordinary facility and diversity of its members, indicates a fulsome future for Blacksmith Doris, particularly in view of Melbournes notable community of metalsmiths who recognise a valuable resource. Blacksmith Doris is forging a stronger metal community and culture. Individuals are free to pursue their own directions.