With the ring of the hammer and a song in his heart
Dan King is a force to be reckoned with. He forces and sometimes caresses cold, hard steel into glowing, heated malleability, creating fine art masterpieces with the basic tools of anvil fire and hammer. Or on another day, he might be welding a skidder.
Dan and his family rolled the dice and moved to the Adirondacks from Florida to make a new way for themselves.
“Both kids were going into new schools at the time, so we decided to take a chance and move north,” Dan said in an interview outside on the lawn with the bright blue sky roiling with cumulous and the bluegreen mountain horizon across the lake. A warm summer breeze was blowing.
“We found a lot was happening in Tupper Lake,” Dan said.
They bought an old hotel two blocks from the old railroad junction, and by the work that was going on there, it seemed the train might come back.
“I’m fully in favor of the tracks and the train returning,” Dan said. “I think the trail and the tracks can coexist. I’d like to see the train start running again from Utica to Montreal and actually go across the border and bring goods and services across.”
They expected that would happen in 2006, “but it didn’t happen then,” he said.
But Tupper Lake was moving toward it, and they came to town knowing that talent and personality would carry them. They got involved in the ground-level work of “dig ditches and carry water, so to speak,” Dan said. As they built their own life and business, they also volunteered wherever they could.
“I think volunteers make a strong community, and it’s amazing how this town pulls together, puts aside its differences and all work together when there’s a family in need or a soldier is wounded or something happens,” Dan said. “If that’s any indication of a good community then this is a great community.”
Dan tries to stay pretty much unplugged in this digital age, he said.
“I don’t trust it, with the ID theft and all that (corporate) surveillance,” he said.
“I make stuff with my hands, and it’s the physical manifestation of my efforts that makes it rewarding.”
Not only is he a blacksmith artist by trade and spirit, he has also made a niche for himself in Tupper Lake as a working man’s helper. “The first year I was in Tupper Lake, I found myself lying in a pile of gravel on my back fixing the metal bracing at the concrete plant, or fabricating a new de-barker at the Tupper Lake Hardwood plant. Other times I would be repairing an oil pan on a skidder in the woods.”
In the next breath he is making beautiful creations either for their sheer beauty like the intricately powerful dragon sculpture that appears in his shop window among other whimsical works, sheer art, or items for daily use like fire screens which his clients have called “the best most beautifully made ever,” he admitted. At other times he finds himself twisting metal and hammering out andirons and fireplace pokers or a giant steel chandelier or an intricately ornate iron gate for a great camp somewhere deep in the woods by a pristine Adirondack lake.
“I’ve found there is a need for my art, as well as for utilitarian projects that people need in order to keep working.”
Dan has been a rescue squad volunteer driver since the beginning of summer and also a member of the National Ski Patrol all winter.
Still he has time to play guitar and write music and maintains an open mic studio area in a space which is set up in their old hotel building, which is also their home.
“I also love fishing,” Dan said. “I caught a 5-pound landlocked salmon Saturday at the bog. The whole family loves fishing. Our 14-year-old daughter loves to fish she baits her hook catches the fish, takes it off the hook and then decides for herself whether to release it or eat it, in which case she cleans and fillets it.”
They also love to camp, and they love all seasons.
“We just belong here now.”
Dan grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which he said is “a lot like the Adirondacks.” From where he lived, he said you could walk from his house to the Appalachian Trail without crossing any roads.
Dan’s wife Jenn was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and moved to Lakeland, Florida when she was little.
They met in Tampa at an internet cafe that one a friend of Jenn’s owned at the time.
“I went there for the coffee, not the internet,” Dan remembers. They were married in Tampa in 1998.
Jenn is now a certified Kripalu yoga instructor, and her artistic sensibilities are wildly evident in a diversity of different projects she likes to create.
“We’re not afraid to take risks and go after things, but we’ve also learned you can sneak up on things,” and do it gradually, “if you take your time,” Dan said.
Dan is a busy blacksmith artist, especially in the summer, with his business he calls Hammersong. “The name is kind of a Viking kenting with two words combined to create a larger meaning,” Dan confides. “Kind of like ‘boundingwave’ as the Vikings called the sea.”
It combines the sound made by the hammer with the song in his heart that he listens to when he creates and becomes a meditation in blacksmithing and music.
“We have two beautiful daughters, Kelsey and Alamanda, and granddaughter, Aubrey. Kelsey is finished school and out on her own now, with her little daughter, and Alamanda will be a freshman at Tupper Lake High School in the fall. They love it here too,” Dan said. “Kelsey went back to Florida for a year but decided she likes it here better.”
Alamanda was named student-athlete of-the-year in eighth grade, and is a member of the volleyball and track teams as well as chorus and band, and she also loves to snowboard. She’s an honor student and achieved straight “A”s last semester in middle school. “We’re super proud of all of them,” her dad said.
At the end of July, Dan will celebrate 20 years in business as a self employed artist-blacksmith.