White smoke curled upward from Aubrey Robert’s coke forge as he watched for signs of the red-hot glow indicating the metal he was working on was ready to be hammered into one of his unique pieces.
Under the sprawling green canopy of Destrehan Plantation’s huge oaks, Robert demonstrated the craft of blacksmithing to some of the many visitors who come through the plantation and watched with fascination as he pounded a metal rod into a leaf.
Robert also tells them about his days as a farrier, which is what drew him into becoming a blacksmith.
“I had horses that needed their feet trimmed to be shod,” the Ama resident says of how he started as a farrier.
When he couldn’t find one who would come to his home to shoe his horses, Robert took a course that showed him how to do it himself.
“I liked doing it,” he says, “and I had people who wanted me to do it.”
With this new education, he gained confidence about the work.
“I thought I was becoming a doctor,” Robert muses about how technical the farrier course that he completed. “I had to learn how the horse is supposed to stand and decide if there was something I could do with the shoeing to make him stand right. There were things you could do and things you should leave alone.”
He was given a pattern and made a shoe to fit that pattern. By the end of the course, he could make 27 corrective shoes.
“Some I used a lot and some I’ve never used,” Robert says.
From there, Robert started shoeing his own horses and then friends started asking him to do their horses and that led to his new career as the farrier with a highly marketable edge — the guy whose willing to make a house call.
His business grew from there.
His work got more creative with items like belt buckles or a fireplace poker. He joined the Gulf Coast Blacksmith Association, where he learned more projects from the group’s monthly demonstrations like making a knife, a leaf or spoon.
Robert’s work has grown to include curtain rods, small decorative animals, spurs, bits and brands.
“I always did like doing it since I started shoeing,” Robert says of extending his work to being a blacksmith.
When a new blacksmith was needed for demonstrations at Destrehan Plantation, he asked about the position and got it in January. He’s gotten some orders for work such as a fireplace set and enjoys how it helps keep him busy.
“I get ideas as I’m working … something from my mind.”