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Published: Monday, 7/7/2008

Silversmith keeps art alive at Providence Metropark

BY GABE NELSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Shirley and Jim Carroll watch Don Witzler's silversmithing work at Providence MetroPark near Grand Rapids by the Isaac Ludwig Mill. Mr. Witzler took up the art about 30 years ago.
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<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <font color=red><b>VIEW</font color=red></b>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20080707&Kategori=NEWS17&Lopenr=555097310&Ref=PH" target="_blank  "><b>Silversmith at Providence Metropark</b></a> 
Shirley and Jim Carroll watch Don Witzler's silversmithing work at Providence MetroPark near Grand Rapids by the Isaac Ludwig Mill. Mr. Witzler took up the art about 30 years ago. <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <font color=red><b>VIEW</font color=red></b>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20080707&Kategori=NEWS17&Lopenr=555097310&Ref=PH" target="_blank "><b>Silversmith at Providence Metropark</b></a>
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GRAND RAPIDS, Ohio - Clang! Clang!

With silver bracelets on each wrist and a silver chain necklace dangling from his neck, Perrysburg Township resident Don Witzler slammed the hammer down again and again.

Though Mr. Witzler's movement seemed rough - out of control, even - the piece of silver on the anvil ended up perfectly straight, about the size of a Popsicle stick.

"That's practice," Mr. Witzler said.

A small crowd gathered to look at the red velvet-lined wooden box holding Mr. Witzler's handmade jewelry as he gave a silversmithing demonstration yesterday at Providence Metropark near Grand Rapids.

Mr. Witzler, 66, makes the jewelry by hand, selling it now and again at fairs and festivals. He doesn't use molds, just fire, metal, and good, old-fashioned know-how.

About five minutes earlier, the bracelet had been coiled silver wire.

About half an hour later, it would be a bracelet adorned with imprinted shooting stars.

Mr. Witzler, who first learned blacksmithing as a high school student and took up silversmithing about 30 years ago, said he enjoys the challenge of making jewelry from scratch.

"Nobody knows what you started with," he said.

"I get a kick out of that. That's just me."

People like Mr. Witzler, a former factory worker, are keeping the ancient art of blacksmithing alive even as automation renders much of it obsolete.

The demonstration took place at the Metropark's Isaac Ludwig Mill, a water-powered sawmill and gristmill that aims to demonstrate how mills operated around the late 19th century.

Because of the recent rainstorms, the Maumee River had risen too high and prevented the use of the mill's turbines, so Laird Henderson, mill curator, descended a ladder and shoveled coal into a boiler that powered the mill's steam engine.

Leather belts attached to the steam engine whirred, spinning shafts that ran the length of the mill and powered the mill's machinery.

While Mr. Witzler hammered, another man carved a knife handle on a lathe powered by the engine.

Mr. Witzler said blacksmithing isn't a museum oddity, even though there aren't as many blacksmiths as there once were.

"A lot of people that don't know anything about it think blacksmithing is dead," Mr. Witzler said. "It's not."

Mr. Witzler said he often teaches a class on metalwork at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., that draws artists and craftsmen looking to learn how to make jewelry.

Antoinette Strayer of Napoleon, at the mill yesterday, marveled at Mr. Witzler's jewelry and said she planned to enroll in his next class.

She said she enjoys embroidery, stitching, and making stained glass, and hopes to learn to make jewelry too.

"I have wanted to do this for years and years," she said.

Contact Gabe Nelson at:

gnelson@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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