5/26/2011 4:27:00 AM CROSS CREATOR Blacksmith forges faith
Mr. Moran at work. Each month, he meets with a group of about 15 blacksmiths in Albany, training them on basics like lighting a fire and holding a hammer and complicated tasks like riveting and making tongs.
Interest in the trade has resurfaced in recent years, he said. He attends international conferences for blacksmithing and enjoys meeting others like him when he vacations: "No matter where I go in the world, I find a blacksmith." (Angela Cave photos)
Jim Moran's blacksmithing hobby started four decades ago with a hair dryer, a hibachi grill and a handful of coal in his Delmar backyard.
The makeshift forge he created evolved into a shed with a full hearth and draft hood, and blacksmithing turned into a passion for Mr. Moran, a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
Today, the retired environmental engineer is the resident blacksmith at Normanskill Farm in Albany, where he leads demonstrations for schoolchildren and community members and takes requests for artwork and tools.
His most recent piece - a cross surrounded by leaves made for the Albany Diocese's Spring Enrichment gathering in mid-May - is just one example of his talent.
"It's clay," Mr. Moran said of the steel and iron scraps he finds in junkyards, inherits from friends or buys in stores. "I can make it into whatever I want. That, to me, is the thrill of being a blacksmith: I can take a piece of metal lying on the ground and turn it into something useful."
When he began the hobby, his wife of 50 years, Maureen, was just happy he had an outlet for stress. "He could go out in the backyard and beat out all his frustrations on a piece of metal," she joked.
Mr. Moran has forged personalized fireplace tools and chandeliers, hooks and brackets, birdfeeders, coffin fixtures and even a lifelike snake he keeps in his car.
But his favorite subject seems to be crosses: Different sizes and styles hang on walls and grace tables in his house and in the homes of friends and fellow parishioners. He recently hung a Celtic-influenced cross on the brick exterior of the house.
Mrs. Moran noted that "a couple of people have said, 'That is perfect for your house. It epitomizes what you and Jim are about.'"
She describes her husband as "filled with faith" - especially as he is her caregiver through the end stages of ovarian cancer.
"He is here. He is constant," she said simply.
Mr. Moran, who tries to attend Mass about three times a week, couches his faith in more subtle terms.
"I look upon the work sometimes as my prayer," he said of blacksmithing, describing the candle stands he made for his parish. "If I'm fixing something at church - a broken pew or lights - then that's my prayer.
"We are given gifts, and how we use them is important."