Thursday, January 23, 2014

Silent Anvil: Charley Orlando, the Teaching Farrier

Charley Orlando in an Aran Islands style sweater that he knit himself. He knit sweaters like these for 50 years.
We live in a world where people have hyphenated descriptions attached to them. In music, there are singer-songwriters. In our world we have farrier-veterinarians, artist-blacksmiths, and barefoot-farriers.

But when you come right down to it, those labels just don't hold up because each of us is an individual, and being in the horse world molds you into being a character that is unique. There is no hyphen strong enough to bond just two little words together to describe any of us. We are who and what we are.

And then there are some that seem to have shown up to be charged with the task of encouraging and mentoring us to develop not just our skill but that character part of who we are. These people seem to understand that skill and character are linked somewhere, and that working on one or the other can encourage both. That's the kind of person Charley Orlando was.

Charley Orlando was at home in Belmont, New York this morning when he suffered what is believed to have been a sudden and massive stroke.  Charley was a farrier-artist-blacksmith-teacher-musician-knitter-clinician-friend.

Charley Orlando's tin-can art shrine to Marilyn Monroe.

Charley was a great friend of mine and a mentor and supporter who tried very hard to be supportive of everything that came out of this office that might have a chance to move the farrier profession forward. He didn't understand why I stuck with it all these years, but he was glad I did.

Yes, he was a farrier, although he's been retired for some time. More than anything, Charley was a teacher, in the best sense of the word. He did have a PhD in education, and was a college professor. He was one of a handful of PhD farriers driving around the countryside to shoe horses. 

One of his favorite stories is that he had to hide his professor credentials while attending farrier school in 1978, lest his instructor, Bruce Daniels, at South Jersey Horseshoeing School, find out that there was a PhD in the class. Charley wouldn't let his wife Besty forward his mail to the school, so Bruce wouldn't possibly see a letter addressed to "Dr Orlando". Yet he and Bruce became longtime friends, and I never did find out how long it took before Bruce learned the truth about one of his students.

Charley made--and played--musical instruments. This is his "carousel fiddle".

What he found there in New Jersey was a calling, in the form of blacksmithing. While Charley would love being a farrier, and went on to become a leader in the farrier world, he was a talented artist blacksmith through his Orlando Forge and went on to teach blacksmithing.

Charley was a stalwart supporter and member of the American Farrier's Association and Western New York Farriers Association throughout his career. He served several terms on the AFA's Board of Directors and then became secretary and possibly held other offices and committee positions, since he was always willing to help.

I was lucky that one of Charley's daughters lived here so he came to visit often. Over dinner less than a month ago, he was reminiscing about old farrier friends and asking about them.

Charley's specialty in education was learning disabilities. He had terrific insights into how people learn, and how people with learning disabilities can overcome or circumvent them to learn blacksmithing and farriery. My last formal interview with him was a video about whether conference lectures are a suitable format for teaching people about farriery. He thought people should save their money, or else hang out in the bar, since unsupported lecture formats aren't good for teaching people much of anything, in his opinion.

Charley made the beautiful vine-wrapped table with marble top that has pride of place in the Hoofcare and Lameness office. I traded graphic design services for it, and I look at it every day and wonder how I can own something so beautiful.

The Artist-Blacksmiths Association of North America (ABANA) was fortunate to have Charley as a member, board member, two-time conference coordinator and demonstrator. He was also past president of the New York State Designer Blacksmiths. 

Charley was 81 when he died. People always are surprised to learn that Charley was born in the borough of Queens in New York City. His father was Sicilian and his mother was from Newfoundland. So he was born interesting.

In recent years, Charley taught at the New England School of Metalwork, Touchstone Center for Crafts, Jacksonville Center For Crafts, Peters Valley Craft Center, and especially the well-known John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, where he taught from 1989 to the present. He taught blacksmithing, tin can art, Aran Island knitting and instrument-making.

While Charley will surely be remembered for his artistry at the anvil and the people he taught to forge weld or use a power hammer, I've always been intrigued by Charley's tin can art, and I think it personified him. 

You and I might open a can of tomatoes or tuna or soup and toss the can away without thinking about it. Charley, however, was a connoisseur of cans. He saw tin cans the way that a sculptor sees a lump of clay. What could he make out of it?

What can you do with some tin cans and a pair of tin snips? Charley could do a lot.
I think he saw all of us the same way he saw the tin cans. What would we all be turned into? I've watched Charley teach a class on posture at the anvil to experienced farriers who perhaps didn't think much about which leg they unweighted as they dropped a shoulder away from the hammer, or help people sort things out under a horse. "Try putting your toolbox over here," he'd suggest.

"If you can cook a dinner like that, you can learn to forge weld," was the kind of thing he'd say, and the next day, there I'd be, getting a lesson.

We were all just like interesting tin cans, and Charley could see something special in us. More than that, he could make us believe that what he saw was really there, and with that, we'd move forward, and try something else we'd never tried before, whether it was in the forge, the barn aisle or in life.

Because that is what a really good teacher can do. I think Charley Orlando was probably the best teacher I have ever known, because he first taught so many of us how to learn, and his encouragement made us want to learn more, and more, and more.

And that should keep us busy for the rest of our lives, just like it did for Charley Orlando.

"Are you ready to try it?" Click on the right arrow to see more photos from the Folk
School. This is Charley and one of his beginner students.

Charley Orlando wrote a wonderful memoir, Life Has Been Good, which can be purchased in print or downloaded for Kindle from In the intro, he calls it "an autobiography written to chronicle the life of an ordinary citizen."

He also wrote: "Mark Twain said that chance favors the prepared mind. My parents gifted me with a prepared and curious mind. Others helped me make good choices, mentored me, and worked with me to help me have good fortune in my life."

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