When Anthony DeCaro moved to this area 20 years ago from Miami, Fla., it was not with the expectation he would become a fixture at the Highland Renaissance Faire as its resident blacksmith running his own successful business, Iron Leaf Forge.
It’s doubtful he saw himself building the fairground’s 11-foot high entry way with customized Celtic hound hinges or participating in the Henry County Arts and Crafts Guild. “I have no art background,” he said.
DeCaro’s professional background is in the medical field. He was a respiratory therapist for two decades, and still is a practicing licensed massage therapist. He said he operates a thriving massage enterprise, but has cut-back to part-time hours in order to build his burgeoning ironwork business.
As is the case with many enterprises, DeCaro’s began as a hobby. “Usually people start out making hooks,” he said, “but for me it was always odd things.” DeCaro’s first real project was a two foot by four foot table. A friend who knew DeCaro had taken up ironwork asked if he could incorporate hand-painted Portugese tiles into a table top. “It was big,” he said.
The house he and wife Regina share off Mt. Olivet Road showcases both practical and artistic examples of DeCaro’s work. Curtain rods sprout black iron leaves and curlicues, and a reclining female sculpture hangs in repose on an adjacent wall. Practical door and window hardware shares space with a whimsical pet gate in butterfly form.
DeCaro said his introduction to the Henry County arts scene took place at a drive-through bank teller window. He had been commissioned to design a broom and had it in the back seat of his vehicle. Local artist Cordelia Miller, a teller at the Farmer’s Deposit Bank, noticed the ironwork and asked DeCaro if he had been part of an artists’ guild. After that, he joined the local guild.
“The amount of artistic talent in Henry County is phenomenal,” he said.
Just like a chain he would forge, DeCaro’s connection with the Henry County Arts and Crafts Guild and the Shelby County Tourism Commission linked him with what would become his artistic home.
In October 2005, he met Mark Lowery, co-owner of the Highland Renaissance Festival. In 2006, Iron Leaf Forge was named the festival’s Vendor of the Year, beating out more than 80 seasoned veterans of the Renaissance Faire circuit.
He also was the first vendor to erect his own permanent building at the renaissance fairgrounds.
Although DeCaro had never worked in front of an audience, Lowery told him demonstrations were a big part of the festival. “I told him (Lowery) I don’t know what to build and he said ‘nails,’” DeCaro said.
DeCaro taught himself to make a variety of period-appropriate nails. “I made little acorn-topped nails and blockhead nails that magicians hammer into their noses,” he said. Soon DeCaro was churning out hand-forged items such as knitting needles and iron dice while customers watched. “They haven’t been able to stump me yet,” he said. “I will fill an order while you wait.”
DeCaro also performs repairs on medieval gear such as helmets and armor. He said he knows few blacksmiths who do repair work, but believes it is an important skill, especially in a depressed economy.
He said one of the most rewarding aspects of demonstrating the art and skill of the blacksmith is the opportunity to educate and entertain children. DeCaro shows them how he can craft a custom-sized reverse twist ring just for them. “We wanted children to come up and learn about blacksmithing,” he said, “then be able to buy something with their pocket change.” DeCaro also has designed coloring pages depicting the blacksmith’s craft.
Though he can whip up all sorts of entertaining and practical things at his fairgrounds forge away from home, DeCaro tackles much larger pieces of work at his home forge. “Some projects are a year long,” he said. “The more time I have, the more you get for your money.”
DeCaro prides himself on listening to a client’s idea and bringing it to fruition. “I have an idea, load my brain, then go to sleep,” he said. “The next day it’s like the Karate Kid approach.”
Iron Leaf Forge is open at the Renaissance Fairgrounds during all events and is available on the web year round at masterblacksmith.com. or call (502) 845-4056 or (502) 741-9449.
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