Blacksmith Abraham Pardee has a tattoo of a hammer behind his left ear and a tattoo of a tong behind his right ear.
"I use my left brain to operate my right hand," said Pardee, 26. "So, that's why the hammer is there. And the tong is on the other side because I use the tongs in my left hand."
He got the tattoos after he got his bachelor of fine arts in metals at the Appalachian Center for Craft at Tennessee Tech University in Smithville. Pardee, now an apprentice at the National Ornamental Metal Museum, and fellow blacksmith, Logan Hirsh, will demonstrate forging techniques Saturday during the museum's fund raiser, "Forging on the River."
As a child growing up in Tampa, Fla., Pardee "always thought armor and swords and knights and all that stuff was great," he said. "Now, I don't really care that much for it, but that was the connect to blacksmithing from the get-go anyway. That kind of metalwork. I actually made a little chain mail and banged on a couple of pieces of sheet steel in early high school."
When he was 15, Pardee took a two-day introduction to blacksmithing course at the Appalachian Center for Craft. "I remember the instructor getting angry at me because I got a piece of metal jammed in the sander."
He majored in psychology for three years at Colorado State University before he switched to blacksmithing based on the good impression he got from that two-day course. "They say there's many stages of love, but I would say the initial falling part happened right then -- getting that first bar of steel out of the fire and whacking it with a hammer and thinking, 'Oh, I'm terrible at this! This is amazing!'"
Pardee flirted with glass blowing for a while, but decided to go with iron full time. "There's just something really intrinsically appealing to me about that extreme dichotomy of the material in that it's just such a plastic element when it's hot and it becomes so resilient when it's not."
He recalled his first big metal art creation -- his final project for his intro to blacksmithing class. "I was making hooks and spoons and candle stands and whatever. I wasn't doing anything crazy off-the-wall ridiculous at that point because I was still just getting the basic technique down, but I did this grill. ...
"I sat one night and drew this thing. It was like 20 mortise and tenon joints, all these zigzags and scrolls and overlapping forms and just totally ridiculous. I thought, 'No big deal. I know how to make tenons. I know how to do rivets. I know how to forge corners now. I can do this.' So-o-o-, three months after the class was over I brought this thing in."
Though he was late, Pardee remembers making a B or an A minus. "That was definitely the first 'This is a piece of art that really serves no function. This is something that I conceived because I wanted it to look this way.'"
After graduation, Pardee went to work with blacksmith Caleb Kullman in Colorado. In addition to learning more about tool and dye work, functional forge welding and additional power hammer technique, Pardee said, "I learned a lot about the kind of work I was already doing or trying to do, which is really clean, really controlled, really precise."
Pardee's creations now include vessels made of recycled materials and art furniture, including a bedside table. One of his sculptures, "Succuboids" -- two pieces made of wood and steel -- won a NICHE Award, which honors excellence and innovation in American and Canadian fine art. Pardee describes the piece as "energy being exchanged between the two entities"
Pardee applied for the apprenticeship position at the National Ornamental Metal Museum while in Colorado and began last June.
As to why he was accepted, the museum's shop foreman Jim Masterson said, "You can see the experience in his work. ... Punching holes, slitting and drifting and tenon work, drawing tapers -- those are the basics of blacksmithing. He had that ability down."
Pardee designed the tattoo of a 50-pound power hammer on his upper right arm. "That was the first power hammer I used and learned on," he said. "Besides the fact that I just like the aesthetics of the particular machine, it also has a certain sentimentality to me."
Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797; email@example.com
"Forging on the River"
From 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the National Ornamental Metal Museum, 374 West Metal Museum Dr.. Food, cash bar, blacksmithing demonstrations, iron pour and art auction. Donations accepted. Call 901) 774-6380.