Creativity is noise, it’s chaos, it’s emotional, it’s heat, it’s hammers striking hot steel on an anvil and it’s fires of the furnace burning strong. Creativity is the history of blacksmithing at the workshop at Eveleigh Works that spans centuries. Creativity is the three people, Catalina Governeur, Matthew Mewborn and Louis Hart, preserving that history and generating a new interest in an art that has been forged in the fires of ancient times.
The level of enthusiasm behind the three minds of Eveleigh Works is infectious. Their roles are vital for the sustainability and longevity of the blacksmithing workshop. Catalina is the marketing manager and graphic designer and is described as a whip cracker and brainstormer. Matthew (Matt) is a full-time blacksmith and runs the classes that take place in the shop. Louis was formally an arborist, but after an accident in January, he has helped with the website and the running of the blacksmithing school.
With the amount of development taking place around Sydney, it is now more than ever, vital to preserve these snippets of Australian history and the history of Australian industry. It is imperative that Sydney holds onto its culture, what little is left, through patronage and interest.
‘Catalina’s parents saved this workshop from being developed for the past 25 years that they have been here, lobbying consecutive state governments and local government with the help of some very influential people around the community to make sure that this doesn’t happen,’ Louis said.
‘When they decided to wrap up their business, we had been helping them grow the blacksmithing school. We got together, secured the lease and we decided to have a crack at it. It is going really well. We have been running classes every weekend but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.’
When you think of blacksmithing, you don’t think of it as a traditional form of creative expression. You think of big burly men with beards striking a hammer. You think of Lord of the Rings and the forging the One Ring. You think of Game of Thrones where Ned Stark’s sword is melted down and forged into two swords for the Lancaster men.
Eveleigh Works is a blacksmithing school where they run classes in all different areas and available to both beginners and old hands. They do some creative sculpting classes, tool making classes, knife making classes, and they take the range of skill sets you can use with hot metal and they pass that to their students.
‘We seem to be in the right place at the right time, with the right people, doing the right thing. We have had an overwhelming amount of positive responses to the school, a lot of re-engagement and people who follow up with us and might do multiple classes,’ Matt said.
‘They are bringing their friends and other family members and that is really gratifying because it means that they’re going home and talking about the experience that they had in a positive way.’
Being a historically significant blacksmithing workshop has its advantages. Not only are you in a state of awe at the size of the shop, there is also this sense of wonder that inspires your creativity. Where the pull to create is strong. And the sad thing is that people don’t get to experience this feeling because they might not know this place exists.
The blacksmithing workshop has the best collection of Victorian blacksmithing machinery in the world. It is the most complete and integral example of a blacksmithing workshop this age anywhere in the world and that’s incredibly significant. Nobody knows this, and just by stepping through the doors, which are opened daily from 9-5, you will see what is being offered.
‘You can start from the very beginning having never swung a hammer before and you work your way up to becoming a backyard blacksmith. It’s educational but it is experiential and very exciting. When you start working with some of the bigger hammers and forge welding, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,’ Louis said.
‘I don’t think a lot of people realise what blacksmithing is really about until they come into the shop. They see metal as this cold hard substance that you buy in mass produced factories, but when metal gets hot, it comes alive and people get addicted to that,’ Matt said.
You can enrol into a two-day course, there are several one day courses which are for specific things. You don’t get a qualification but you take away skills. You can come in for a four-day course where you learn how to make tools, you can also come in for some sculpture work, which involves more creativity. There is something for everyone.
‘What you end up with is a product that you put a lot of time and love into, a product you are proud to take home. It’s not about the project, it’s more about the making, the journey to get that things to take home. Those two days it takes to make it is where you soak everything up,’ Matt said.
The blacksmithing workshop will be 130 years old next year. In those days, there would have been hundreds of people in the room working feverishly. It was hot, it was dirty, it was dusty, it was dangerous and the hazards were plenty.
Being in the 21st century, times have changed, safety is paramount, the students don’t work in that sort of environment. They get a true blacksmithing experience but it is tailored around safety and making people feel comfortable and confident as they work.
‘It can be intrinsically dangerous when you have a piece of steel that is 1100 degrees. There are plenty of rules about how to commute around the shop with hot steel, how to move from the furnace to the anvil, how you swing a hammer correctly. Our design of the shop all contributes to the workflow of the shop,’ Matt said.
‘It is a significant undertaking. It was a very big industrial shop in its day. We are not using the space in the same capacity, we are not building locomotive motors anymore. For us, being here means we get access to some of the heritage machinery, which is a significant deal.’
While education about safety is an important part of the workshop, students aren’t taught the safety rules for the sake of safety, it is also part of the way blacksmiths used to communicate. It is part of the authentic experience of blacksmithing, this symbiosis keeps students safe.
At the moment, the male to female ratio has been disproportionate, 80/20, but Matt Louis and Catalina are hoping that would change and get closer to 50/50. It depends on the workshop and what one has signed up for. No one is turned away because of fitness level. Everyone is encouraged to give it a go.
‘We would never say you are not fit enough, you shouldn’t come, we will make the experience work. It is all about teamwork and cooperation, it can be physical but it doesn’t have to be. If you work smart, you don’t necessarily have to work hard,’ Matt said.
‘Some of the best sculptors are women, some of the best blacksmiths around are women and they are doing heavy work.’
Different projects have different physical requirements for example, the tool making course goes on for four days, it is a full four days, you have heavy 12-pound sledge hammers, it is hard on your muscles, hard on your body and it can be difficult for some people to maintain that level of fitness.
‘Then we have sculptor courses that we run, those are disproportionately female. It is not necessarily geared towards that heavy hand forging. It is a little more premeditated, you think about your aesthetic and you work towards it. It doesn’t have to be about getting big hunks of steel and really sweating over them,’ Matt said.
Kaleido is all about collaboration and the importance of fostering and encouraging growth and a more connective community between young and established creators and that is no different for Catalina, Matt and Louis.
‘There is no point in trying to do what lots of other people are doing in Australia. We don’t want to try and do things that no one is doing and leading the way in what people can do and make’
‘This is a new industry, this maker industry, our goal is definitely to be at the forefront of that. We already have a world class venue. We need the people to match it,’ Louis said.
Recently, Eveleigh Works flew Alec Steele to run blacksmithing classes in the workshop. Alec is based in Norwich, UK and is wholly committed to his craft. In 2015, he started a business offering blacksmithing classes and with over 17,000 subscribers on his YouTube account, that number is only going to keep growing.
‘That was unreal. Some of the heaviest hand forging that I have ever witnessed. He is a young guy, only 18 and we flew him to teach the biggest class he has ever taught. We were nervous, he was nervous but everyone’s energy came together and created this synergy,’ Louis said.
‘I just stood back and looked at all the action that was happening in here, it was so loud, and so energetic and sweaty. I was proud, it was amazing and he is a pretty impressive young man, with a big future ahead of him and that was a privilege to bring him out here and have a swing.’
Creativity is a funny concept, we never know what we might be good at, until we give something a good go. Blacksmithing has changed, there has been a rise in popularity as people notice it’s focus towards creativity for the sake of creativity, not just for an end result.
‘We feel really lucky, we are just in the right place at the right time, we are doing exciting, fun things that I know people will find it engaging,’ Matt said.
‘At the moment, things look very promising, the community is very supportive of what is happening here, the students are excited by it. It is a feedback loop of energy that everybody is getting involved in blacksmithing and really enjoying the hell out of it.’
The future looks very promising for Eveleigh Works and the blacksmithing workshop. They recently took part in the Heritage Festival, where people got to take part in tours and festivities that took place around the Eveleigh complex. They will continue running their workshops and advancing their curriculum as their students advance.
‘At the moment, we are looking at two other upcoming projects where we can bring international people out for. We have the best workshop in Australia, we want to get the best people from around the world and personally learn from them and share that learning experience with our students,’ Matt said.
Eveleigh Works are also interested in other esoteric trades that are quite intimately linked to blacksmithing. Like traditional joinery, timber work, a lot of ceramics and leather work, silk smithing, jewellery making, all come from warming metal.
If you want to get into contact with Eveleigh Works and you want to book a blacksmithing course or find out more about them, you will find all the details on their website www.eveleigh.works alternatively, you can go and check out their Instagram and Facebook page for links.
‘If there are courses that people want to get into but they aren’t specifically linked. They can send is an email or give us a buzz. We are quite flexible. If the interest is there, we would love to do a class, give people the opportunity to come in here and do something that they want to do,’ Matt said.
‘We want to run the coolest workshop in Australia. I look at this place, it’s already the best workshop in Australia, if we can make people aware of the space, not just through the classes, but through possible future events, then I am doing my job.’
‘A lot of people in Sydney don’t know this incredible place exists. I find it to be my job to get the word out there, get the community to know it’s here for its longevity, otherwise it will eventually evaporate. It’s not just about putting on classes and making money, it’s the history that we are holding onto and preserving,’ Matt said.