|Master framer Michael Beaudry advises the drilling of a peg hole that will lock a brace into the frame. John Phelan photos.|
|Workshop participants raise a timber frame at MOFGA’s Unity, Maine, site on July 24, 2005.|
|The completed frame.|
|The new blacksmith shop with its green steel roof in use for Common Ground Country Fair, 2005.|
Join Beams at the Common Ground Fair
by Marada Cook
The fire out, demonstration over, and the crowd dispersed, John Phelan, his wife Vicky, and master carpenter Mike Beaudry are still at work on the last day of the Common Ground Country Fair. Gusts of chilly wind crumple a green tarp keeping the rain from the sides of MOFGA’s newest construction. John Phelan gives me a brief history of the 12- x 16-foot blacksmith shop in the Folk Arts Area.
“For years we put up and tore down an elaborate, temporary blacksmithing station,” Phelan says as he gestures to the open frame of the building, “It got to be more work than it was worth, and two years ago I put in a proposal for the design of this permanent space.” He looks overhead at the joints in the rafters. “Building it has definitely been a team effort.” Vicky grins and swings a beam around on a sawhorse.
Mike Beaudry shaves logs 10 feet away, while Phelan shows me a poster with volunteer names written in magic marker. Equipment donations, blacksmith demonstrators, timber framers and workshop participants are grouped separately and thanked. There are easily 40 people on the list.
“Mike and Pete Campbell did the primary bulk of the work on the structure,” Phelan explains. The beams used in the shop came from trees in MOFGA’s woodlot. Pete Campbell worked in the paper industry until his recent retirement and had long promised himself he’d learn timber framing.
“We met every Tuesday starting in April,” Campbell says, “and I learned a lot over the course of the summer. Mike doesn’t mind taking the time to explain things to amateurs like myself.” Campbell lives an hour and a half away, near Skowhegan, and showed up in Unity without missing a single week.
Robert Hitt joined the team a month a half before the frame went up. Like Campbell, he wanted to acquire basic timber framing skills. “I had never been able to attend a class,” Hitt says, “so Mike let me come to the blacksmith shop as kind of a consolation prize. He just said, ‘I’ll teach you as we go along.’”
During MOFGA’s July Timber Framing Workshop, Beaudry transformed his novice woodworkers into assistant teachers. Phelan organized the workshop, and the group used the blacksmith shop as both classroom and guinea pig. Beaudry led the two-day teaching event, and recruited Campbell and Hitt to help guide the 28 participants through the steps of hand hewing. “Just helping out with the workshop was a learning experience in itself,” says Hitt, “Mike is a very patient man and a very good teacher.” The group got the frame off the ground and a roof overhead by the end of its second day. Hitt, Campbell and Beaudry had the crucial pieces ready to be assembled by the time they’d arrived.
By Common Ground, the shop was fully scheduled with blacksmiths volunteering to demonstrate their skills, and a crowd eager to watch. Anu Dudley, coordinator for the Folk Arts Area, explains, “There’s something very alluring about watching people make things with their hands. With blacksmithing, you get to watch something be made completely in the course of a few minutes. It’s a combination of fire, iron and brute strength. People associate blacksmiths with the men who built America.”
Dudley is quick to point out that, brute strength aside, the strength of the Fair is its volunteer-driven nature. “The Fair is our community and we work together to make it the best we can.” For Pete Campbell, experiencing the Fair as a member of a team was an unexpected reward. “This was the first time I’d been there as a volunteer,” he says. “It was really nice to know people I’d met over the summer, and to have a sense of things because I’d been on the Fairgrounds before. It was a great experience, and I’d do it all over again.”