Story and phots by: Kevin Fellows
A blacksmith is busy at work.
Fletcher sits nonchalantly as Mike Parwana pounds red-hot metal over an anvil. The dog appears accustomed to the racket made in the craftsman’s shop.
The Chicken Coop Blacksmith Forge sits hidden in a field in Queensbury, N.Y., near Glens Falls. Behind a door featuring a rooster painting, Parwana and his wife, Jeanette Brandt, contort metal into just about anything.
Nearly gone are the days of blacksmiths making functional everyday items. Now the finesse in metalwork has taken an artist approach. This is the case with Chicken Coop Blacksmith Forge.
The couple’s interest in the craft piqued when they received blacksmith lessons as a promotional gift for making a donation to Northern Public Radio. After a day at John Scarlett’s Little Tree Forge in Rossie, N.Y., their passion in the craft was solidified. “We found we really enjoyed it, and it was a lot more fun than the other jobs we were doing,” Parwana says. The decision to become fulltime artists brought an uncertain future, but one they were truly excited about. “I thought ‘the hell with it,’” Parwana says.
“I was tired of working for other people. I’d work for myself now."
The first step in developing Chicken Coop Blacksmith Forge was testing the market and, more importantly, finding their niche. At first, they made hooks—functional yet decorative hooks. While there was money in hooks, Parwana wasn’t fulfilled. His budding creativity demanded a medium that had more personality.
Using the Adirondack Park as a guide, the forge found a market that embraced their ancient art form. “Our geographic location is a huge factor,” Parwana says. “The Adirondack camp concept of handmade furnishing is really instilled in the area.” John Scarlett has been doing custom metal work on houses along the St. Lawrence River for 30 years and believes interest in the craft is growing. “I am a member of the New York State Designer Blacksmiths Association in the Adirondack region,” Scarlett says.“Over the years, the number of craft schools and training programs has definitely increased.”
The idea of metalwork complementing natural wood and stone made hooking a brief chapter for the forge. The demand for custom fireplace screens and decorative lighting brought out the artistic side of the business that Parwana and Brandt were eager to explore.“When a craftsman makes anything, they are doing a unique thing for an individual, and you can personalize it to those people,” Parwana says. “If you can do that, it’s an added bonus that can’t be accomplished by producers in China or the Philippines.”
The Forge has a rustic look to it.
The forge often works through architectural decorators who have a specific idea of what they want. Designers like Ann O’Leary relish the opportunity to use local artists. “Chicken Coop can make anything whether it’s contemporary or rustic,” O’Leary says. Based out of Lake Placid, O’Leary specializes in rustic interiors, a theme that meshes well with the forge. “I come up with an idea from a magazine or a walk and hand them a sketch and say ‘let’s work with this,” O’Leary says. “They have never disappointed when it comes to design or a deadline.”
"When a craftsman makes anything, they are doing a unique thing for an individual, and you can personalize it to those people."
Other times, clients don’t know what they want; they just know they need something. Situations like this give the artist a free-range for ideas. “People sometimes say, ‘I need something here, create something,” Parwana says. Often this approach leads to back and forth communication about possibilities, much like creating a tattoo.
The Forge shows metalwork with finesse.
The benefits of modern technology help streamline the ancient craft. The overall concept of what has to be done to take a piece of metal and mold it is the same, but the tools have changed. “It is a contentious idea among certain blacksmiths that they only use traditional methods and tools,” Parwana says. “Those people are usually retired and putter around teaching classes. Blacksmithing is not how they make their living.” Traditional methods are labor intensive and time consuming. For this reason, most authentic forges are found at historical sites, like colonial Williamsburg Parwana says. At the Chicken Coop Forge, modern tools, such as arch welders, torches and plasma cutters are used to not only quicken the process but also offer complete control over the metal.
Most of their products are made of iron, but they do venture out and use other metals. “We have the capability to work with non-ferrous metals like copper, bronze and brass,” Parwana says.
Now in business for 17 years, the forge has found its niche and made a name for itself.
“If you start out cold with something like we did, you have to expect you’re not going to make a lot of money,” Parwana says. “You have got to have a plan and be prepared for that. For us, it was a matter of staying focus and driven.”
What could Chicken Coop make to fill that space in your house?