Potting Shed Forge is alive with activity on a sunny summer afternoon. Debora Ash stands at the anvil, pounding away on a piece of glowing metal destined to transform into a letter opener. The open furnace roars behind her, the constant whoosh a backdrop for the rhythmic banging of the hammer. It’s hot in the little garage, sweltering, actually, and Ash wipes sweat from her forehead after she places the now-flattened metal rod back into the white-hot fire.
“Once you know how to manipulate the steel, you can make anything,” Ash says. “For me, it’s taking a very straight piece of steel like this, rigid and manmade, and turning it into something organic. That for me is the challenge — making it flow, making it have movement.”
It was nearly 30 years ago when Ash got her start as a farrier. She’d been working as a barn manager when the farm’s go-to horseshoer offered her a job.
“It had never even occurred to me that I could be a farrier,” Ash says, “because I hadn’t grown up around any female farriers.”
It wasn’t long before Ash was good enough at making horseshoes that she was able to enter some farrier competitions.
“When you do competitions, [the horseshoes] have got to come out looking like jewelry,” Ash says. “It isn’t just bend it, mold it, slap it on the foot.”
From there, she’d take on an apprenticeship of sorts with a blacksmith — far different than horseshoeing, and allowing far more creative freedom. Now, she’s got her own studio in Bennington, and she’s opening the doors to those who might never have considered blacksmithing a possibility.
Ash teaches classes to anyone interested, but of late, she’s taken great pleasure in exposing the pursuit to a growing group of women — the blacksmithing babes of Bennington, as she put it. The group meets Thursday nights, each bringing a little something to the table, whether it’s a skill in stone sculpture that can be fused with metal or simply a thirst for knowledge.
“People think this is a guy thing, a male thing, and it’s not,” Ash says. “It’s amazing how easy the steel moves when it’s hot. It’s just a different medium, and it’s one that people don’t really think about. The cool aspect for me is that more and more women are looking at this as something they could potentially get into. I think it’s cool.”