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BARRY: Uh, I’ve been asked to create, uh, what’s called an artist’s statement and I’ve seen a lot of them. To me, they’re a lot of wind. So, at one particular show I applied to the fellow, said, hey, uh, send me your artist statement, I said okay. And I thought, well, I know what they’re gonna all read, so mine was simply, let me entertain you and that’s it. That’s I think that kind of says it all. Uh, I like... I think my pieces are entertaining to people even the ones that, uh, as a friend of mine once said, it dudn’t do anything. Still entertaining and kind of unique and you gotta look close at my stuff, so you just can’t glance at it.
BARRY: The process, the process, uh, well for one thing it keeps me off the streets, um, I don’t golf, uh, I got plenty to do around here maintaining the place but still it’s, I guess I was born to it. Um, my great-grandfather on my dad’s side was a blacksmith, my grandfather, his father was a blacksmith at a big forge shop in Akron. My uncle was a blacksmith at this forge shop where my grandfather worked, I think a little nepotism there. This was all during, uh, World War II and my dad was a journeyman sheet metal worker. And, on my maternal side, uh, my, uh, grandfather, uh, emigrated from England in 1910 as what was called an iron turner. So, that would be a journeyman machinist. Uh, worked for D... started with Diamond Rubber, they were bought out by BF Goodrich and he worked there for thirty-five years, was called back after Pearl Harbor, worked seven days a week for the duration of the war, at sixty-five years old is when he started, you know. And, uh, there’s some, uh, there’s some very nice pieces that he has done and did for my brother and, uh, of course, he did a lot of this on what do you call it, government work, uh, apparently when the old timers were called back, uh, they weren’t monitored too much, they knew their job, they were just glad to have them there so he made four cannons and a steam engine and three... two, uh, what we call Spanish galleons. One in which I have in the house there and some of the stuff was done on the job and the rest of it was done in his basement, no power tools at all. So, I guess I kind of born to it.
BARRY: Fortunately my work I think it has improved, uh, when I started out it only had one way to go and, uh, I guess I kinda found my rhythm or found my niche. It’s like, uh, it was a, a Buddy Holly movie called Buddy Holly Story I guess and, uh, in this when he’s starting out in the garage with his band and stuff and his record producers are trying to tell him no, no that’s not gonna sell and stuff, he says, no I’ve got this sound in my mind and I know what it is. Well, I don’t have a sound exactly but it’s kind of the same parallel and I know what I’m doing and I know how to do it but I don’t know everything. This (INAUDIBLE) has so much to know it’s, uh, it’s like being a rocket surgeon, you know, to know everything and I’ve just scratched the surface really.
BARRY: People think that the blacksmithing trade, uh, is a lost art. It’s never been stronger. Just in the, uh, well, in my little area here there’s one, two, three, four practicing smiths, uh, and I mean these guys are working at it. They’re not piddling around. Um, there’s national organizations for somebody that wants to get into it today it’s a piece of cake because there are so many conferences. These conferences are not, people call them... some people call them the convention, they’re not, and they have demonstrators. The big one that I go to, uh, SOFA, Southern Ohio Forge and Anvil, is, uh, has a big facility at the Miami County Fairgrounds in Troy, Ohio, uh, they started in 1977 I think and I joined their group in ’78. But, now they... this last year they had demonstrators from South Africa (THROAT CLEARING) excuse me, yeah, South Africa, Ireland and, uh, Germany. It’s international. And, 1,200 people attended and it’s, uh, people who have an interest in the business. It’s not... they try to keep out curiosity seekers, okay. And, uh, so that’s another thing, of course with the internet and everything, videos, You Tube and everything, it’s a piece of cake. When I started out you had to kinda really dig, it was joining a resurgence. It’s kinda like pottery in the, in the age of Aquarius type of thing, you know.
BARRY: Well, I... I have given some classes, been asked to demonstrate, uh, I worked for the little art group here in town and, and do some things with them, it’s mostly ladies and they’re into two dimensional stuff and, uh, uh, the things that I do... I’m not a good fit for the organization really because this is labor intensive work, period. Uh, you can knock out a water color in an afternoon, alright. This... the current project I’m working on, the Easy Ride, the genesis of that was in, uh, late January. And, uh, with, uh, made some cardboard mock ups, I could do that work on a dining room table, cause it gets pretty cold out here. And, uh, kept working on that and it just kinda kept evolving and things. So, it’s, uh, it’s complicated but that, that’s what, that’s what makes the fun out of it and people will ask me, how long it takes you to make something, I don’t know. Just long enough. And, I think the secret in this business and I’ve seen it with a lot of things, people either quit fifteen minutes too soon or they worked it fifteen minutes too long. And, it just doesn’t come off. You know, we’re all trained to recognize things that look good. We’re born with it. Uh, uh, and, and, some things even if you’re not trained in metal working, you know, like one guy said, you’re curves outta not have any straight lines and your straight lines shouldn’t have any curves in ‘em, now that’s pretty straight forward. And, anybody can recognize that.
BARRY: Sometimes, yeah, when do you quit? Uh, well, I’m getting better at it, put it that way. Uh, sometimes you just kinda force things and you say, no, this is just not gonna work and, uh, and not everything I do comes out exactly right. Uh, this car I’m working on, the front fenders were a nightmare. And, when you look at them, you say, gee that’s not, that’s not rocket science but it just gave me fits and I finally got through it, it worked out. So, I’m happy with it. I guess if it was a piece of cake I would have... I would not have enjoyed it.
BARRY: I don’t like the word, yeah challenges, difficult... complexity, I hate the word challenge. It kinda... challenge kind of gets overused and things like that, hackneyed I think would be the... would be my take on it. But, uh, uh, difficulty, yeah and something that’s... something you’re gonna get through it but ain’t’ gonna be easy, period. It might be, uh, sometimes it’s enough to make a train take a dirt road.
BARRY: The future, well, I.. I just hope it keeps going the same way it’s going. I always say, you know, I’m not a spring chicken anymore, I may look like one but I’m not. Uh, uh, just kinda one day at a time, you never know. I’ll be talking to a friend of mine on the phone, he was having some difficulties and I said, hey, you know, you got up this morning that’s a personal best for you. So, I, I, that’s the way I look at it. I did make the mistake of once or sometimes I’ll make something and get rid of it and my wife will give me a little grief about and I said, I can always make another one. But, you know, with everybody else eventually the time comes when you can’t and you don’t know what it could be. So, just, just keep on going and when your times up, your times up. I’ve left enough stuff behind it’ll all go to somebody’s estate sale anyway. You never really own anything, you just have the right to own it... use it for a while, period.
BARRY: Uh, on animated things, uh, mice, now oddly enough around this place we’re plagued with the damn things. But, they’re kinda neat to make and they’re... they entertain people. And, I, I did do a couple of rats once just to break the monotony but they kind of add to something, you know, and, uh, makes it a Wheeler, otherwise it’s just something, some stuff.
Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows
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Barry Wheeler interview, part 3 of 4
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Raw interview with Barry Wheeler, blacksmith. Part 3 of 4.
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Performing Arts
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