John Patterson, a.k.a. “Big John”, is hard to miss around Blanding. Standing 6-4 and weighing more than 300 pounds, you would not want to meet him in a dark alley if he had a bad day.
But not to quake… this writer found him to be a gentle, well educated, deeply committed giant. His wife, Mary (Pugh), grew up in Blanding, and is a registered nurse working at the Blue Mountain Hospital. The couple are expecting their first child in a few months.
John grew up in Olympia, WA. His grandfather had a blacksmith shop and blacksmithing got into little John’s blood at a young age.
After an LDS mission in Texas, John completed a four-year program in welding at Northland Pioneer College in Holbrook, AZ, followed by a two-year program at the Uintah Basin Area Technical College in Vernal, UT.
He then moved to Thatcher, AZ and completed another two-year program in welding and machine shop technology. “I had some fabulous teachers along the way and part of my dream is to affect the lives of my students the way my life was changed by my teachers,” he said.
Today he is a master welder with his own mobile welding service. He loves working with metal and is able to do about anything you can imagine.
But his heart is in blacksmithing, which has become a lost art since electricity and manufacturing technology rendered the profession obsolete a couple of generations ago.
“But what if, for some reason, we have to survive without electricity? How would we work iron and steel and survive?” he asks. The answer would be to go to a blacksmith, who is able to make anything out of metal with no electricity or fancy, expensive tools. On the other hand, do you know a single working blacksmith anywhere in 2010?
Big John and Mary hope to change that and, so far, their enterprise has exceeded their expectations.
John has scrounged equipment that is hundreds of years old from his Grandfather, from Charlie Sipe’s shop in Blanding and from numerous sites across the country. He has built a school for blacksmithing in Charlie’s Blanding shop and hopes to draw students from across the country to come to Blanding and learn to work metal as hundreds of generations have done for thousands of years.
“But first I had to find a living, breathing blacksmith to teach me,” John said. “My education includes all the latest technology, but they don’t teach blacksmithing anywhere.”
He looked across the country and finally, in Mancos, CO, found Steve Williams, who is a bona-fide survivor of the lost art of blacksmithing.
“I became friends with Steve, shared my dream with him and convinced him to come to Blanding and help me teach classes until I learn as much as he knows… which may be never.” Big John concluded.
And so blacksmithing classes are now available on Saturdays in Blanding. A class consists of eight students. They go all day for eight hours and Mary serves a delicious lunch. Cost: $85.
The first class was full. The second class has one spot left and other classes are scheduled. Virtually all of their students so far have been local people. They hope the word will get around and they will soon be teaching people from around the country. Advanced classes that last weeks or months are on the planning board, but they wanted to start as a one-day operation to see what kind of response they got.
But this is just the tip of the dream. John hopes to some day have a new building that will cater not only to blacksmithing, but will contain classrooms and all the conveniences of a modern tech school
John says an additional immediate benefit for his students is being able to save a lot of money. A blacksmith/welder can go to a junk yard, pick up metal for a few cents on the dollar and build things for a fraction of the retail price in today’s world.
For instance, he said he is already helping his students build their own hand-cranked forges. A new one, if you can find it, costs at least $1,500. John can build one for about $75 in his shop.
His motivation for this project is three-fold: 1) To preserve the dying arts.
2) To teach people and give back to some of the great teachers who have profoundly influenced his life.
3) To prepare people to be self sufficient should some calamity make it necessary to revert to the skills that saved our forefathers.
It is refreshing and exciting to visit with a young couple who have big dreams and are committed to making them come true.
John and Mary Patterson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-459-1372.