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Arboretum features FIRE with Forge Day’s blacksmiths and metalworking demonstrations, and prescribed fire season

By Pat Drackett

Crosby Arboretum Director

Forge Day has taken place at the Crosby Arboretum for over a decade and offers the public a unique festival experience through its blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations. This event is held the last Saturday in January and is now in its thirteenth year.

January often brings warm days, and this year is no exception, as temperatures are predicted to be near seventy degrees. But even in years that have brought chilly weather or rain, this event still provides an experience not soon forgotten, because it brings together metalworkers who have a variety of styles and skills who will be showcasing a variety of techniques.

One of the attractions of the Forge Day event is that some of the demonstrators allow the public to try their hand at the forge, but due to the current pandemic, this will not be the case this year. However, you can still enjoy the chance to gather around a toasty fire and observe metalworking demonstrations. If the practice of this craft inspires you to want to learn more, you will find that the majority of the demonstrators are members of one or more area organizations who will hold “hammer-ins” and offer opportunities where you can learn about this traditional craft.

Forge Day is a “spin-off” from the Arboretum’s Piney Woods Heritage Festival in November. Many years ago, we observed that the blacksmith was a crowd favorite, and decided to organize a winter event, when very little was taking place in the region, featuring a few more metalworkers and their forges. Dedicated metalworkers were willing to make a metalworking event happen, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Our area metalworking organizations include the Gulf Coast Blacksmith Association, the Gulf Coast Custom Knifemakers, and the Mississippi Forge Council. To join these groups is only a nominal cost, and many of the members have made it their mission to educate the public about their craft and to inspire others to get started with metalworking.

Exhibitors in past years have include metalworkers like Sid Gale, who creates decorative ironwork and whimsical items “that make people smile” from scrap tools and other discarded materials such as spoon handles, handles, rakes and shovels. Many of these pieces are then painted by his wife, Judy. Larry House from Dragon’s Watch Forge & Foundry, located north of Picayune, will also be at Forge Day. He specializes in art metal, including forging, casting, and repousse.

Some demonstrators have family roots in blacksmithing that stretch back through several generations, or an interest in showing how to create historically authentic objects on the forge, such as tools and household items from the Colonial era.

This is the season when controlled fire is used at the Arboretum as a tool for managing our Savanna Exhibit. Many of the plants found in our coastal plants are “fire-adapted,” having the ability to withstand periodic wildfires caused by lightning. Applying regular controlled fire in our savannas prevents the growth of small trees and maintains the herbaceous plants (grasses and perennials) and allows visitors to experience an example of a coastal landscape as it would have appeared prior to European settlement.

Terry Johnson, the Crosby Arboretum’s certified burn manager, recently performed a prescribed fire in our south pitcher plant bog. Terry will tend to get excited as our week moves closer to Thursday and Friday. He will keep a close eye on the upcoming weather forecast, as he needs to have the precise environmental conditions, such as wind speed and direction, and humidity, to determine when he will be able to apply for a permit to conduct a burn.

If on a Thursday and Friday through February you would like an opportunity to observe a prescribed fire in our Savanna exhibit, call the Arboretum office around 9:00 a.m. to ask whether a burn will be proceeding that day. Visit the MSU Extension webpage at http://extension.msstate.edu/ and enter “prescribed fire” in the search field to read more about this topic.

The Arboretum’s Forge Day is Saturday, January 30 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The cost is $5 for adults, and $2 for children. This year, pre-registration is required. Masks and social distancing are required for all Arboretum programs, whether indoors or out. This year, we are be taking sign-ups for the festival. Call 601-799-2311 to place your name on the list.

See www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or visit our Facebook page for more information on programs and activities. The Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30. p.m. Leashed pets are always welcome.