Forging of a swordsmith: college

Peter and Edna Williamson, his mother remember the events leading up to Peter going Hereford College of Art, to do the BA Hons in Artist Blacksmithing.

Edna: Do you remember when you were at West Herts College, and at the latter stages of your course you were really struggling. Although you were very artistic and creative, you didn’t really feel it was your thing, there was a lot of constructive criticism from the tutors and you felt as if you’d lost your way and were a bit demoralised.

Peter: Yes, I remember that.

I don’t know how it happened, but one of the tutors said, ‘Peter, you always make every piece of art 3D, and there is an Open Day at Hereford College of Art – why not go and take a look’. So our family took the 3 ½ hour trip (each way), along with Christian Campbell an artistic friend, who’s family were friends of ours. He was also looking for direction for his artistic flair and creativity.

We arrived at the Hereford College of Art Open Day. From a mum’s point of view, I was looking at you and to me it seems like a ‘light bulb’ experience. Also for me personally, it took me back to when I was a little girl from the age of 3 to around the age of 12, I was go and spend Saturday mornings with my dad, Geordie Johnson at the Iceatlantic fish factory in Scalloway, Shetland. He was the Chief Engineer at the workshop.

Peter: Yes, when people come into the forge, that comment on the smell of the metal and the oil.

Edna: The smell of hot metal and engine oil was so evocative. The noise and the smells, and I looked at you, and you were engaging with your surroundings and with the tutors and the students around you.

It seemed that a switch had been switched.

Peter: Well, whenever anyone asks me how I came to do blacksmithing I always, give the same answer: ‘I was failing at fine art’.

The West Herts College tutors were trying to get us to do UCAS applications and I outright said to the tutors, ‘your time would be better spend on the other students, as I have absolutely no intention of going to college.

One of the tutors said, ‘It’s part of my job to try to get our students to apply for higher education art courses, so just for me, would you take a look at this one course – Artist Blacksmith BA Hons at Hereford College of Art? If you don’t like it I’ll leave you alone.’ I agreed to look at it. I looked at and told him later that he was a ‘bad man’ as he had convinced me to visit their Open Day.

Edna: Do you remember when you came back to the college at Watford, you found out that there was a forge at the college.

Peter: Yes, it was a terrible forge, it’s called a chip forge. It has ceramic stones and gas that gets pumped into the with a bed that allows the metal to be heated.

Edna: It was probably quite clean?

Peter: Yes it was clean, and probably safer. I ended up using half an years worth of fuel in about six weeks.

Edna: It was worth it though.

Peter: Yes it certainly was. I used up all the fuel that was available, then the college asked if our family could pay for a third bottle of gas, as they didn’t have money in their budget for more fuel.

Edna: I don’t think anyone else was using the gas forge – you were the only one.

Peter: No, not really. Although there was one other guy on the course that actually did try using it. He was doing metalworking. When he went to use it – his comment to me was, ‘this is really difficult’. ‘Yes, it is’, I replied.

Edna: Were you given any guidance on how to use the ceramic forge?

Peter: I was given some guidance, but I was mainly encouraged to try it and see what I could make. They weren’t really sure how it worked – they knew how to turn it on – and how to it off. Other than that, I was mainly left to my own devices.

Edna: Isn’t that how you learn?

Peter: Yes, for sure. That been one of the main ways that I’ve developed my forging skills, through experimentation and failure. Allowing yourself to fail, means allowance to actually try.

For example, if you were given a colouring book with a set amount of colours and told exactly where to colour, someone could do that. If you were told, make something, try to develop something, then you would need to decide what to make, how to make it, why you’re going to make it, in what style you are going to make it.

What are the parameters that you are going to follow, trying to explore in relation to making it and why. There is also the question – are you capable of embarking on this journey knowing that you might fail, that you could fail, and yet still are willing to actually attempt to take on…

In the next part of the Forging of a Swordsmith story, we’ll look at Peter’s time at Hereford College of Art – and the cut and thrust of being eventually allowed to pursue his sword forging and axe forging ambitions.