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Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Legacy of A. Smith

Allen Smith, a farrier from Marion, Massachusetts died this afternoon. His friends will want to know, so I am posting the sad news here. He died at his home near Buzzards Bay.

Because he was such a private man, I'll leave it there. Most of us didn't even know he was sick until very recently. Those who know him understand.

But for those who didn't know him: Allen Smith was always a bit amused and intrigued by the ironic fact that his trade matched his name. He was "A Smith". And he was proud of it.

Back in the days when farriers were called horseshoers and drove trucks with smokestacksfor their coal forges sticking up into the air, Allen had the word "horseshoer" written in big letters on the side of the wooden "cap" on his truck.

I remember one night at a Southern New England Farriers Association meeting, someone asked him why he had the word painted so large, instead of his name. Allen didn't hesitate for a second. He answered that you could read it from a mile away and wherever he went, people would walk by his truck and make a comment or tell a story about how their grandfathers had shod horses, or something they remembered from a blacksmith shop in their towns growing up. 

In this way, Allen was a catalyst. He worked that same logic (or was it magic?) in many ways in his many roles in the farrier world, from shoeing my old horse Jasper (with concave, of course, that he imported as bar stock from England) on an island enclave off Cape Cod that he had to sail his boat to, to being the president (more than once) and peacemaker (perpetually) of the American Farrier's Association. He showed up at my house for a meeting one night on his motorcycle...but still wearing his trademark bow tie (from his "part-time" job as a professor of library science) under his leather jacket.

Allen may have wanted to leave this world privately, but it would be important to remember how strongly he believed that the proud traditions of farriery and smithing should be honored as long as any one of us remembers what a real blacksmith shop looked and smelled and sounded like. May our eyes and noses and ears never forget that combination.

Back in 1989, Allen sent me a poem written by the highly-regarded poet Edward Kleinschmidt called "Katzenjammer", in which the poet explained in lovely verbiage that in spite of the word "schmidt" in his last name, he was certainly not a smith, and that all the real smiths were dead anyway.

Allen objected. And wrote this poetic answer to Kleinschmidt: 

Smith y Gwf

And while you write, a smith
Tends fire, takes heat, and turns a shoe
To burn the balanced coffin horn
Among the bones of the limb,
Pacing the day, breaking steel
Across the anvil devil,
In back of behind.

--A. Smith

I believe there always be A. Smith among us, wherever horses are shod.


CogSciLibrarian said...

I knew Mr. Smith, as I thought of him, in his library profession. It's lovely to read about his work as a farrier. I adored him and learned quite a bit from him about how to be a librarian and how to teach future librarians. Rest in peace, Mr. Smith.

Ben Ide said...

Speaking as a librarian, trained in part by Allen Smith, he was pretty good at his part time job, too.

He'll be missed.

Anonymous said...

This is very sad to hear. I knew Allen in his part-time gig as a library professor where he taught us to us how to start a beech tree and think beyond the reference desk. I will never forget his response to the question librarians frequently get.

Person: " What!? You need a master's degree to be a librarian?"

A. Smith: "It takes alot to gain bibliographic control over the whole universe of information"

He'll be missed.

-Krista Ferrante

Fran Jurga said...

Krista, thanks so much for your comment. I am so glad to hear from someone from Simmons! I went to college there *undergrad* and that always was a bond between Allen and me, and I think a source of bemusement for him! I can never forget that he was the first person to ever tell me about how he prepped one of his classes in a new format called Hypercard. He was also the first one who encouraged me to jump feet-first into the Internet! Now I'm over my head!


Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear about Allen. Sure will miss him.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this tribute to Allen, the finest of teachers and mentors. Karen

Unknown said...

Thank you; this is a beautiful tribute. A classmate of mine and ardent fan of Allen's created a Facebook page. It is open to all; please consider joining.

Deb said...

It was great to hear about Alan Smith the farrier. I knew him as a Professor and had him for the "Literature of the Humanities" class a long time ago. It was a great class taught by a great teacher and I am sorry that future librarians will not have Alan Smith to learn from.
Framingham MA

gnttcstr said...

Hello Fran
I have finally reached a point beyond sadness to share my thoughts about Allen. I always made it a point to be there when he shoed Iabony- just to watch those two have a silent, private conversation that seemed to ease both their minds was relaxing enough for me. Several times during the session, Iabony would grab his chaps and manage to undo the velcro as he would do the front feet! And Allen always let him get away with it! I told myself that I should allow them to be close because Allen knew my horse way before I owned him and that was one thing I would not take away from both of them. When he finished, he would mention that he loved my horse and enjoyed the conversations they had every six weeks. Like you said before, my horse is sound because of Allen- and that is so true. I am sure Iabony will miss him as much as I will. Thanks for the tribute to a great friend of ours. Ginette

Anonymous said...

Though I only knew Allen for a brief time he had an impact on my life. He was one of the few people who I met in this modern world who could appreciate the beauty of our cultural past. He taught me to be curious about the ideas we pass to each other through our words and our music. He taught me the importance of their preservation.

rockinruby said...

Thank you for your blog post about "A Smith." Like many other commenters, I knew him in his "part-time" role as a professor at Simmons. I took Reference with him, and it was, perhaps, the most difficult and most rewarding course I've ever taken.

I loved his stories about dulcimers and horses and horseshoeing - his quirky ecclecticism struck a chord for me, and made his class a delight.

I learned a whole lot about library reference that I don't expect I would have learned in any other library reference course offered in this country.

His wit, intelligence, and verve will be deeply missed.

Tyngsboro, MA

james at 10engines said...

i too only knew Allen recently and from the library side. we have horses though and so loved his comments; "neighing quadruped", "lawn ornament" etc.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fran , Thank you for getting the message out about our Dear farrier Allen Smith. I met him about 8 years ago ,I had taken a barn manager position in a barn where he had been shoeing for a long time.He knew the horses so well. He would tell me tales of what the horses were like when they were younger.They were tough old cases and on one occasion he had to rush to the hospital with nearly half a finger.Over the eight years at 5-6 week intervals up until Dec. we talked regularly while he shod horses. He told me about the blacksmith shop he kept on an island that he sailed to. The way he described things I felt as if I had been there. This is true with all his stories, they all touched me deeply.Allen was such a wonderful man all around. Such a gentleman in a barn and in life. There is a distinct sound and smell in a cloud of smoke when a red hot shoe touches a horses hoof and through this we are all connected. Peace to you, Lauren

Max Fleischman said...

Hey, I just wanted to thank you for this post, and especially for the photo. Allen was my advisor at Simmons College, and looking back, he probably gave me more practical help than anyone I've ever met. I've got a presentation for a job interview in a couple days, and I wanted to mention him, but the only photo I could find on the Simmons website was really poor. I hope you don't mind if I pinch this one.

Fran Jurga said...

Of course that is all right, Max, I'd be honored. I've been working on a research indexing project in Allen's honor for the past couple of years, still trying to keep his memory alive and his name out there. Time marches on, and so do all of us who were positively influenced by him!