By Dave Fidlin
Blacksmith guild recognized for restoring cannon, other historical artifacts
In an era marked by instantaneousness and availability at the touch of a button, the care and craftsmanship that have long been hallmarks of blacksmithing might seem out of touch with reality as it is known today.
Jim Richmond, president of the Bandy Blacksmith Guild, would beg to differ at any such assertion, however.
Blacksmithing, which has origins going back centuries, is alive and well, as evidenced by the six-month wait list of people interested in taking a class out of Bandy’s small facility within the Escondido History Center at Grape Day Park.
“The whole crafts movement is being revitalized right now,” Richmond said. “Most blacksmiths have a little bit of an artist in them.”
The role the guild plays in historic preservation also has not gone unnoticed by the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), which recently named the guild to its annual list of People in Preservation awards. The guild is one of ten of this year’s recipients.
SOHO singled out the guild for keeping the artisan movement active in San Diego, bestowing it with its Historic Arts Restoration and Education award.
“We like to recognize people who keep lost arts alive,” said Bruce Coons, executive director of SOHO. “[The guild is] very meticulous and they’re helping keep history alive.”
Richmond said the SOHO recognition was surprising, yet gratifying.
“Volunteer work is sometimes not as appreciated as it should be,” he said. “Our group was very delighted. It showed a lot of class on SOHO’s part.”
Although the guild is based in Escondido, the work of its 25 members can be felt throughout San Diego, including Downtown.
The guild has worked closely with SOHO in recent years in restoring an 1876 iron cannon, which was discovered four years ago — ironically, just days before Independence Day — after long sitting idle outside a Pacific Beach home as yard art.
The cannon, which was created to mark the centennial anniversary of the U.S., includes the embossed phrase, “1776 San Diego 1876.” William Augustus Begole, who operated a hardware store in the Gaslamp Quarter, is credited with ordering the cannon from the San Diego Foundry.
Coons said the blacksmiths, wheelwrights and carpenters within the guild played an important role in restoring the cannon. A new carriage was created so the 141-year-old artifact can be used for ceremonial purposes.
In its second, revitalized rebirth, the cannon has already been loaded with black powder and shot during a special demonstration event.
“Everything turned out very well,” Richmond said of the project. “To me, it made for a really fascinating story.”
The guild’s handiwork is prominently on display Downtown at the San Diego Maritime Museum, where the skilled craftsmen played an important role in building a replica of San Salvador, the flagship vessel that resulted in Juan Cabrillo’s landing in San Diego Bay in 1542.
The four-and-a-half-year project was painstaking, Richmond said, but it was a worthwhile labor of love.
The blacksmiths made a long list of specialized parts for the ship, which had to be created by hand. The items not readily available at your local hardware store included steel and bronze bolts, staple dogs and marlinspikes.
Richmond, who has been with the guild about 20 years, said he grew to love it — warts and all — after taking his first class.
“It’s hot, it’s dirty, it’s frustrating,” he said. “But there’s something about heating up the iron, hitting it with the hammer and seeing it move.”
In today’s technology-soaked world, Richmond said the growing interest in the artisan movement could, perhaps, be attributed to people seeking diversions from their computers, tablets and smart phones.
But blacksmithing, he said, is not for everyone. While interest in enrolling in the class is strong, only a small percentage of people actually complete it.
Richmond likened the scenario to a pyramid, with the bottom representing the enrollees and the top signifying the people who reach the pinnacle of mastery.
That scarcity is part of the reason Coons said SOHO was ready and willing to place a spotlight on the work the guild does, year after year.
“They’re the only group to go to around here,” Coons said. “It’s very much a needed skill.”
For more details on the guild, visit bandyblacksmith.org or call the Escondido History Center office at 760-743-8207.