Young students, blacksmith forge bond

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Young students, blacksmith forge bond

Voice: September 2018

Every year, elementary arts teacher Jessica Noel and her students produce a permanent piece of artwork for the school as a legacy project.

When the 2017-18 school year started, Noel’s principal at Danville Primary School asked her if she could find a way to build an iron train sculpture for the front of the building to capture the rich ironmaking and rail history of Danville, Montour County.

“I thought, ‘that’s not exactly in my wheelhouse,’’’ said Noel, a K-2 arts teacher. “But I made some calls and came up with the idea of an artist-in-residence program.’’

Not just any artist in residence – a practicing blacksmith, Doug Firestone.

“I found Doug through a community member involved with the Danville Heritage Festival,’’ Noel said. “Doug came and demonstrated forging. And he turned out to be such a gentle giant that he fit in perfectly with this age level.’’

To demonstrate his craft and how he planned to build the iron train sculpture, Firestone worked with 575 young students to build clay models of the sculpture. He also told the kids about the history of ironmaking and trains.

The only missing piece of the project for Noel was finding a way to connect Firestone’s actual blacksmith trade with the classroom models. His shop was two hours away, and it was logistically impossible to take nearly 600 kids on a field trip.

So Noel and technology teacher Paul Breon went to his shop to videotape Firestone doing his craft, and to have him do a video presentation for the students.

The sculpture was unveiled as part of the heritage festival this summer, and the students’ clay models were on display at the festival.

“The project gave the students a greater understanding of our community history, and insight into a craft that is beyond their world,’’ Noel said. “It’s not every day that students get to interact with a blacksmith.’’

Firestone, who specializes in 18th century blacksmithing, said it was a two-way street.

“I’m not used to working with kids, and I wasn’t in my comfort zone at first. But it turned out to be a wonderful experience,’’ Firestone said. “They were so excited to see me when I went to the school that it was easy to get their attention.’’