Arboretum’s annual Forge Day features blacksmiths, metalworking demonstrations

Published 10:51 am Monday, January 24, 2022

By Patricia Drackett

Director of the Crosby Arboretum and

assistant extension professor of landscape architecture with the Mississippi State University Extension Service

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Now in its fourteenth year, Forge Day has always been an event that is eagerly awaited at the Crosby Arboretum. The activities offer the public a unique experience through numerous blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations and is held on the last Saturday in January.

January often brings some warm weather, and in recent weeks we have certainly seen some extremes. We have our fingers officially crossed for “reasonable” weather on January 29, meaning, we hope it is not raining, not too hot, without stiff winds, and the morning will be just cool enough so that the heat of the forges will provide some welcome heat. Even in years that have brought inclement weather, Forge Day is an experience that is not soon forgotten, with its range of metalworkers who showcase a wide variety of styles and skills.

One of the attractions of the Forge Day event is that some demonstrators allow the public to try their hand at the forge. If you want a sneak peek, search online for the Farm Week video on Crosby Arboretum’s 2016 Forge Day.  If observing the practice of blacksmithing and metalcrafting “sparks” your desire to learn more, you’ll discover that most of the demonstrators are members of one or more area organizations that hold regular “hammer-ins” that offer opportunities for learning more about the practice of these traditional crafts.

Forge Day is a “spin-off” from the Arboretum’s Piney Woods Heritage Festival in November. In 2009, we realized that the blacksmith demonstration was a hands-down crowd favorite, and soon decided to organize a winter event, when we would have few other activities to be competing with in the area. It didn’t take long to locate additional metalworkers who were willing to make such an event happen, and the rest is history!

Area metalworking organizations include the Gulf Coast Blacksmith Association, the Gulf Coast Custom Knifemakers, and the Mississippi Forge Council. To join these groups is only a nominal cost. Members of these groups have made it their mission to educate the public about their craft and to inspire others to get started with metalworking.

Some demonstrators have family roots in blacksmithing that stretch back through several generations, or an interest in showing how to create historically authentic objects on the forge, such as tools and household items from the Colonial era.

Fire is a theme during our winter months at the Arboretum.  This is the season when prescribed burning is used at the Arboretum as a tool for managing our Savanna Exhibit. Many of the plants found in our coastal areas are “fire-adapted”, meaning, they have developed the ability to withstand the periodic wildfires caused by lightning. Applying regular controlled fire in our savannas prevents the growth of small trees and maintains the herbaceous plants (grasses and perennials) and allows visitors to experience an example of a coastal landscape as it would have appeared prior to European settlement.

We are hoping that February will bring the precise weather conditions needed for a prescribed burn to be conducted in our south pitcher plant bog. The excitement is certainly building as the Arboretum’s “burn season” approaches! Observing new plant life as it emerges from the blackened earth following a dose of prescribed fire is an awesome experience. After a short rest, the tufts of charred grass will push forth new shoots, and a new non-stop season of blooms will begin again.

In only a few short months, while northern states are still chilly, we will be delighting in the early spring flowers of sunbonnets (Chaptalia tomentosa), white bog violets (Viola lanceolata), and lovely carpets of pale yellow “buttercups”, blooms of the yellow pitcher plants that flower before the hollow leaves. What a breathtaking show!

Forge Day is Saturday, January 29 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and is $5 for adults and $2 for children for members and non-members. For planning purposes, we ask that you call to pre-register at 601-799-2311 (we are open Wednesday through Sunday).  The Crosby Arboretum is a Mississippi State University facility, which currently requires that in the face of the major Covid-19 “Omicron” variant outbreak across the nation, region and state, masks are to be worn inside all buildings, which applies to all students, faculty, staff, and visitors through February 1. This policy will be revaluated at that time after the university receives guidance from the Mississippi State Department of Health and federal public health officials.

See<> or visit our Facebook page for more information on programs and activities. The Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are always welcome.