Q & A with Jen MeigsPosted by Whole Earth | 03.17.2023
Q & A with Jen Meigs
Austinite Jan Meigs is a Blacksmithing Instructor at Pioneer Farms. She teaches introductory blacksmithing and the Date Night: Making Sparks Fly classes. We wondered how she got her start in this ancient craft. Here are her gracious responses to our questions.
How long have you been volunteering at Pioneer Farms?
I started volunteering at Pioneer Farms in September 2018 after taking my first blacksmithing class there. I was instantly hooked!
How did you become a metalsmith? And how long have you been instructing as a metalsmith at Pioneer Farms?
I’m a hobbyist who hammers hot metal for fun. My husband Leo and I took our first blacksmithing class together at Pioneer Farms in September of 2018. I was captivated as soon as I felt that hot metal move under my hammer for the first time, and never looked back. I began instructing beginner and date-night blacksmithing classes in 2019.
Can anyone become a metalsmith?
With patience and the ability to hold a hammer, anyone can become a metalsmith! The term “smith” comes from the same Germanic root as the word “smite” meaning to hit. Blacksmithing refers to hammering metal that appears black in color such as iron or steel. There are many other types of metalsmiths: goldsmiths, silversmiths, tinsmiths, locksmiths, bladesmiths, gunsmiths, etc.
I personally have a history of neck and shoulder injuries from horseback riding accidents in my youth. When enrolled in my first blacksmithing class, I wasn’t sure I would be able to fully participate due to those physical limitations. As I found out, brute force is not required. Technique is everything. The heat, weight of the hammer, and surface of the anvil can do all the work for you. Like the scientific method, if you follow the steps in the correct order, you will arrive at the expected result. I tell my students constantly, “Trust the process.” Experienced blacksmiths sum up “the process” in a few concise words: “Heat. Beat. Repeat.” If your project doesn’t look how you want it to, forge ahead until it does.
Metalsmithing is an age-old craft. Do you think its skills and values still translate to today?
Artisanal skills such as blacksmithing are still vital in the modern world. Human civilization would not be possible without age-old skills like blacksmithing, woodworking, textiles, agriculture, and animal husbandry. Based on enrollment in classes at Pioneer Farms, people are hungry to learn the age-old artisanal skills that generations of our ancestors relied on in daily life. In uncertain times, self-reliance is priceless.
The blacksmith's motto is, “Need a tool? Make a tool.” With the skills of a smith, a person can create their own tools to get almost any job done. From farm tools, kitchen implements, machine parts, weapons and armor, to fabricating the tools used by many other artisans and craftspeople.
What inspired you to get started in metalsmithing?
I’m not ashamed to admit that my first real introduction to blacksmithing was through the History Channel show Forged in Fire. My husband Leo and I have watched most of the episodes of that show, which spurred me on to gift him (and me) with a Pioneer Farms blacksmithing class as a birthday gift back in 2018. We’ve been hammering hot steel together ever since!
Are there metal projects you’re partial to?
I love taking horseshoes and bending them into heart shapes – the project from the Pioneer Farms Blacksmithing Date Night class. In general, I’m partial to making pretty, decorative objects and basic, functional farm fixes.
What thoughts would you like to share with local Austinites who aren’t familiar with Pioneer Farms and their class offerings?
There are so many fun classes to experience! We truly have something for everyone. If Blacksmithing isn’t your jam, check out Crafting with Nature, Barnyard Buddies, Raising Backyard Chickens, Birdwatching, Archery, Leatherwork, Needlework, Cooking, or any of the many other offerings at the Pioneer Farms website.
Blacksmithing classes are offered monthly, with options from beginner to intermediate level. I teach a Blacksmithing Date Night class on the second and fourth Wednesdays each month where we take a horseshoe and bend it into a cute heart shape. It’s a great bonding experience for couples and a good introduction to blacksmithing for beginners. We also offer knifemaking, toolmaking, and several other blacksmithing classes.
We hear that you met your husband during a metalsmithing class at Pioneer Farms back in 2018. Is that true?
My husband Leo and I met at Austin College in Sherman, Texas in 2004. We discovered blacksmithing together by watching the History Channel show Forged in Fire, and we took our first blacksmithing class together at Pioneer Farms in 2018.
What have you learned that was unexpected from blacksmithing?
My favorite idioms that come from blacksmithing include:
Strike while the iron is hot (working efficiently, with purpose)
Go at it hammer and tongs (having both hands full, working as hard as you can)
That rings true, or has a nice ring to it (the sound a solid anvil makes when struck)
Too many irons in the fire (juggling many tasks at once)
Forge ahead (moving forward on a project)
The heat is on (meaning it's time to pay attention and get to work)
Lose your temper (heating up too much, ruining a hardened blade)
How does your work in metalsmithing relate to your daily life?
When you learn basic metalsmithing skills, you gain a certain insight into how the world around you is put together – literally. When you have felt metal move under a hammer, made it bend or twist, or melt in a fire, you will appreciate every door hinge, gate latch, padlock, iron fence, kitchen knife, fireplace grate, or decorative trellis in a different way.
In terms of life skills, there’s nothing like blacksmithing to teach patience! Each project, each heat of the metal in the fire, takes the amount of time that it takes. There’s no way to rush it. Attempting to rush will result in your own frustration in the best-case scenario and will ruin your project in the worst case.
And finally, perhaps the most important question for an Austinite, what is your favorite taco?
The best taco by far is the one you’re eating right now. If you’re looking for a specific recommendation, I’d suggest the El Niño from Taco Shack: refried beans, cheese, chorizo, and lots of pickled jalapenos.