Craft Fair: Metalworking
Metalwork during the European medieval times was generally considered to be crude and warlike. Much of media portrays medieval times as violent and barbaric by focusing on weapons and warrior culture. However, these works do not accurately represent the breadth of Anglo-Saxon metallurgy and artistry, and the significant degree of advancement Anglo-Saxon metalsmith possessed. That is why, when constructing stations for the Early Medieval Crafts Fair, we felt it important to try to portray a variety of metalworkings, despite the limitations of appropriate resources. Many of the metalworkings presented give insight on Anglo-Saxon culture and domestic life. We can better understand their history by examining why their knives are so well built, or why brooches came in such a variety. Metalworking leave a trail of clues that help piece together a history that is not well documented through texts.
Our first idea was to attempt to procure some more authentic materials for people to feel and view; we understood that due to the nature of our station it would be difficult to make an interactive station. We approached both Carleton’s geology department as well as Carleton’s local metalworking staff in the art department to ask about getting a sample of bog iron, the rock used by Anglo-Saxons for most of their iron ore, and a sample piece of jewelry like a brooch or a knife, respectively. The geology department unfortunately did not have a sample of the rock that we needed, and due to safety requirements surrounding the metalworking studio, we were unable to recreate any objects.
So we fell back on an approach that was more functional and didactic in nature. Namely, we created “ingots” from playdough and provided instructions to “hammer” them into shape (See Further Reading, Leahy). The playdough was created by the ceramics group.
Our job was mostly to figure out how to use the playdough that we had and make sure it was ready for each visitor. Each block of playdough would be pounded into a rectangle and pinched into a sharper, squarer shape, to give a better tactile feeling to the substance more like metal as opposed to a non-Newtonian fluid. We then found and printed out a few diagrams of Anglo-Saxon metalworking, and fairgoers could follow along with them while we would talk about various misconceptions and practices in early Medieval smithing.
Unfortunately, we only could find good visual instructions for the making of a spearhead in this manner, which could have enforced the aforementioned stereotype of early medieval times and Anglo-Saxon metalworking. However, images of various finished metalworkings, such as brooches and other non-ferrous items, were presented so that participants could recreate their general shapes.
To aid in our teaching, we undertook the creation of a piece of “bog iron”, which was a rock repainted to give the orange/red appearance of actual bog iron. We took a rock, spray painted it with the appropriate color, and then to give it the appearance that it had been set in a bog, we tossed it in a garbage bag with some dirt. While its impact may have been small, it certainly helped as both a visual tool for describing the nature of Anglo-Saxon metalworking.
The goal of our station was to educate people on Anglo-Saxon metalworking. Although we were limited with playdough to use as our “ingots” we were able to get visitors to process the idea of molding things against their nature and facing resistance. Additionally, our station was heavily supplemented with substantial lecture as well as various models of metalworking for participants to use as a visual aid. The most important part of the station was the background provided to the audience on Anglo-Saxon metalworking, which provided a better sense of history that unfortunately could not have been provided through craft, like it had in other stations.