The Crankie

Before Christmas, my sister-in-law Gelsey and I embarked on a project. In a year when we didn’t really want more things as Christmas gifts, we decided on an experience instead. Going off her idea, we built our very own crankie.

Now I had never heard of a crankie before, but it quickly developed into an entire world of possibilities. A crankie is a sort of old-fashioned (I prefer traditional) storytelling device, kind of like a tv for those of us without electricity. You start with a long scroll of paper, and create images on it by painting or cutting out forms and gluing them on. This scroll gets rolled up on two cylinders and put in a box with a light source behind. By turning a crank on each cylinder, the paper is passed in front of the light, telling the story within. From the action of cranking comes its name, a crankie.

Folks often tell a story or sing a song to accompany the images, and we chose the music route. We (by which I mean Gelsey) found a perfect song, ripe with imagery. It the story of an incredibly strong pioneering woman in Appalachia, set to the striking shapenote song Fiduccia. It was the work of many days to plan, gather materials, sketch, draw, cut out figures, and build the box for it all to fit in. It was a sort of artistic cross-training, and although it had nothing to do with my usual work as a blacksmith, it was a refreshing break and revival of creativity.

I hope you enjoy the story, the light, and the music, which we present to you all in a relaxed and humble fashion. All the artwork, singing, and design is ours, although inspiration has come from many sources, near and far.

This is the story of Mrs. Whitmore:

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The King of Crafts

As I prepare to leave, I thought I would share a story that illustrates why I want to be a blacksmith…

Camelot had been finished for a month or so, the concrete curing to perfection. King Arthur had decided to throw a feast to honor all the craftsmen that had helped construct the place.

As the craftsmen entered the great hall, they were instructed to seat themselves in a manner where those that had most to do with the construction sit nearest the king and those that had the least to do with it sit furthest away. In that way honor could be given in an equitable fashion.

Arthur was renowned for his wisdom and council throughout the kingdom. Part way through the main course Arthur looked about the room. He stood after the main meal and walked about the tables.

He approached the craftsman nearest him and asked what was his occupation? The man replied, “Why sire, I am your tailor!” Arthur asked what he had constructed. The tailor replied “Those fine robes that you’re wearing sire, the tapestry that hangs on the wall. I made those!” Arthur congratulated him on his fine workmanship and moved to the next person.

He asked the same questions. The man replied, “I am your goldsmith sire. That platter that you eat from, the goblet that you drink from, I made both of those. I even made the fine gold thread in the tapestry.” Arthur again offered his congratulations and moved on.

The next in line was the silversmith. His reply to Arthur’s question was to point out the cutlery at the king’s table and the fine candle sticks adorning the king’s table.

And so Arthur made his was down the table. Stone mason, carpenter and so on, until he reached the blacksmith sitting at the far end of the room.

He asked the blacksmith what he had contributed to the palace. The blacksmith replied that he had made the hinges for the door, but not much else. Seeming satisfied with his meetings, Arthur returned to his seat.

After the fine dessert, Arthur again stood and walked around the table.

He approached the tailor. Arthur asked, “Tell me, your scissors, your needles, where do you get those?” The tailor replied, “Sire, I go to the blacksmith!”

Arthur asked the question of the goldsmith. “Your hammer and stakes, where do you get those?” The goldsmith replied, “Sire, I have the blacksmith make them.”

Arthur got the same response all the way along the table until he reached the blacksmith. Arthur asked his question of the blacksmith and the smith replied, “Sire I make my own tools, and those of others. That is my trade.”

Arthur exclaimed, “Smith! By your hammer and hand all crafts do stand! You shall be seated at the top of the table.”

Arthur bade the blacksmith to move to the top of the table. He asked the tailor to swap seats as he thought the smith had been done an injustice. The smith was very embarrassed, as he had just come from the forge and was still wearing his apron. The tailor was livid.

So intent was the tailor to exact some sort of revenge that he snuck beneath the table with his scissors and when he reached the blacksmith, he cut a fringe on the blacksmith’s apron.

After the meal the smith noticed his apron and understood what had happened. He continued to wear the apron for work at the forge and always exclaimed with delight when someone would ask him the story behind the fringe.

“Why,” he would say, “the tailor gave me this as recognition of my services to the crafts.”

That is why, to this day, a blacksmith should have fringe cut on the bottom of his/her apron. And make his/her own tools.

From The Skills of a Blacksmith, Volume I: Mastering the Fundamentals of Blacksmithing, by Mark Aspery. Copyright 2006. Used with permission.