morning sun is still mixing with shadows over Apodaca Hill when
Tomas Arrey dons a pair of faded overalls, slides heavy black
gloves over his weathered hands, and lights a pitch-and-kindling
fire in his hilltop workshop. Cold hangs in the air from the winter
just past, but before long, Arrey has perspiration dripping from
beneath the blackened brim of his well-worn hat. "If you can't
stand the heat," he says with a smirk, "get out of the fragua."
in Arrey's fiery fragua--a massive coal-fueled forge--is a scorching
2,000 degrees. It's the ideal temperature, Arrey says, for bending
iron into material goods. It's also the tool through which Arrey
is breathing new life into the age-old art of blacksmithing. Arrey,
a stocky sharp-witted man,grew up on Apodaca Hill. As a boy, he
often passed time with the neighborhood blacksmith, Manuel Apodaca.
Apodaca, who created ironwork in the Spanish Colonial tradition
of his ancestors, was one of many Hispanic blacksmiths working
in Santa Fe at the time. Watching Apodaca shape tools, horseshoes
and other hardware through a precise combination of fire, water
and physical strength, Arrey became fascinated with the blacksmith's
the sounds, the smells, the soot, the sweat: all of that intrigued
me," he recalls. "It became my goal to someday become a traditional
the next 20 years, stints as a student, a soldier, a biker and
a welder distracted Arrey from his goal. Nonetheless, he continued
to read books on the history of New Mexico's Spanish Colonial
herreros, or blacksmiths. Their legacy began when they arrived
in the region from Spain with the Juan de Onate expedition in
1598, the same expedition that Arrey says brought his ancestors
to the area. Their forges blazed as new settlements were established
all along the Rio Grande, and the new colonists depended upon
their trade for their very survival. By the early twentieth century,
virtually every town had at least one blacksmith of its own.
time Arrey decided to dedicate himself to blacksmithing, however,
Manuel Apodaca and the blacksmiths who came before him were dead.
There were other working blacksmiths in town, but there were no
Hispanics working in the Spanish Colonial style. Combining what
he learned from books with memories of his early days in the Apodaca
forge, Arrey gradually taught himself the techniques of the trade.
was long and hard, particularly because Arrey was adamant about
sticking to historical methods. He collected, and sometimes made,
the tools of the early ironworkers: the yunque (anvil), fuelle
(double bellows), pujavante (a hoof paring tool), and catarina
(used to measure the circumference of wheels). He shunned modern
gas forges for the more complex coal forge. Finally, he returned
to Apodaca Hill and built a small smithy just beyond the house
where he grew up and where his parents still live.
in the style of the sixteenth-, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
blacksmiths," he says. "I'm putting my own expression and interpretation
into an art form that has been asleep for a long time."
Arrey received his first commission to create Spanish Colonial-style
hardware for a local home. A year later, he was accepted to the
annual July Spanish Market, where he continues to exhibit and
demonstrate his craft on the Plaza every year. He now works as
a blacksmith full-time, creating a number of utilitarian and decorative
objects--chandeliers, candlestick holders, meat forks, door handles
and more--in the crudely elegant style of the old blacksmiths.
The only Hispanic blacksmith in town working in the colonial style,
Arrey's work is sold in local shops and galleries, or from the
back porch of his childhood home.
blacksmiths of yesteryear, Arrey spends up to 14 hours a day in
his workshop, shoveling coal into the forge and manipulating metal
upon an anvil with traditional martillos (hammers) and tenazas
(tongs). Sizzle, steam, clink, clank: the workshop vibrates with
the sounds of Arrey's intensely physical task as he heats pieces
of wrought iron steel until they are soft enough to break, twist
or curl into shape. As the forge spits red and orange flames from
its belly, this modern-day Hephaestus bounces back and forth between
the fire and anvil with concentration and skill.
what they say about having too many irons in the fire?" he asks.
"Well, I've had to learn that the hard way."
as he pulls two newly formed candlestick holders from the forge,
Arrey again comes face-to-face with the realities of his complex
craft: While the first candlestick holder emerges from the fire
as a near-perfect replica of a 17th-century design, the second
has been left in the fire a little too long--and cracks before
the craftsman's eyes.
art is a lot like life: one has to live with his glories and his
defeats," he says. "But it takes a lot of hard work to bring back
a dying art. I'm willing to keep playing with fire."
Fe writer Carmella Padilla is the author of "The Chile Chronicles,"
published in 1998 by the University of New Mexico Press.
Stories by Carmella Padilla