Photograph by Jim Richardson

Photograph by Jim Richardson

The Blacksmith Shop in Cuba Comes to Life

Contributing editor Jim Richardson is a photojournalist recognized for his explorations of small-town life. His photos appear frequently in National Geographic magazine.

Last night I had the great pleasure of seeing blacksmithing done right at the old Blacksmith Shop in Cuba. (That's Cuba, Kansas, by the way). The guys from the Prairie Blacksmiths Association put on quite a show.

But what made this special for me was that some 35 years ago I photographed blacksmith Joe Sturba in this very location, doing much the same thing. In the intervening years Mr. Sturba died and the shop slowly fell into ruin, and finally the walls fell down. It was nothing more than a pile of rocks with one wall standing after a fashion. Here is the miracle. In the last several years the folks in Cuba have put it all back together! They put the walls back up, put on a roof, found old tools (like the trip hammer in the foreground) and outfitted it with anvils and tongs. Everything you need for a working blacksmith shop.

I couldn't believe the glow of life that the flaming forge gave to the place. And it was obvious that all the folks in Cuba who worked on this are proud as punch, as well they should be. Remember that Cuba is a town of 200 people, after all.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about how they did the restoration was this: they did not create a museum. (A real museum would probably never let you build a fire inside the building.) No, they made a working blacksmith shop, a place where real blacksmiths can practice their craft. They made a place where old Mr. Sturba would feel right at home.