Gagne keeps blacksmithing alive
Lee Gagne can’t bring himself to retire from blacksmithing just yet.
Because he wants to keep the art of blacksmithing alive.
When Gagne, 71, was four years old, he began blacksmithing in Massachusetts. He said that his whole family was involved with it.
“We would work on farms and actually make useful items and repair those items that you couldn’t just go to Wal-Mart and buy,” Gagne said. “It was mostly farm equipment, tractors, wagons and horseshoeing of course. You name it, we did it.”
Gagne said that he continued to learn from his family until he was about 12 years old. When he turned 17, he joined the army, and didn’t return to blacksmithing until he got out of the army 20 years later.
After Gagne moved to Grand Junction a few decades ago, he learned more blacksmithing skills from Francis Whitaker.
“Francis is the grandfather of blacksmithing in America,” Gagne said, smiling.
He began volunteering at Cross Orchards Historic Site in 1997. Gagne gives blacksmithing demonstrations, teaches apprentices, talks about the history of blacksmithing and answers questions. He comes in 3-4 times a year when there are special events, like last Saturday’s Spring Day on the Farm.
“I came here one day just to see what the farm was about,” he said, explaining why he decided to start volunteering. “And I ran into Gary Mansfield who was in here beating iron. And we got to talking, so I took one of his classes and then he realized I knew a little bit about [blacksmithing], so we started teaching together. I really enjoy the people here. It’s a great place to come and volunteer.”
When he’s not volunteering, Gagne blacksmiths at home. He usually makes ornamental items, like candleholders, stair railings, window grills and chandeliers.
“I have a little farm and that’s where I work,” Gagne said. “And people will come in and ask me to build something for them. So I’ll do that or take what I make into to a shop for consignment. I don’t have a display store or nothing like that, mostly because whatever I make sells so quickly. There’s no point in wasting time in putting it on the shelf.”
Although Gagne would prefer to live in the present, he doesn’t think he would have a problem fitting in during the heyday of blacksmithing. He said that his home consists of three 150-year-old train cars that were built into one house.
“I don’t have water,” Gagne said. “I have to haul it in. I have electricity, finally we got electricity. I don’t have gas or any of that. I heat my home with a wood stove so I have to go out and cut wood and chop it and sack it. I grow a lot of my own food, my own medicinal herbs.”
Gagne said that he is always cultivating his blacksmithing skills.
“You’re always learning,” Gagne said. “I’ll learn something here today. And when you quit learning, you might as well hang it up.”