Restoring An Arnaudville Barn To Maintain A Craft Tradition

ARNAUDVILLE, LA (AP) — It would've been hard to pick a hotter day for a barn raising.

         By 11 a.m. on July 18, the temperature in Arnaudville hovered around 90 degrees under a bright, hot sun.

         But the blacksmiths of the Louisiana Metalsmiths Association — LAMA for short — hammered, drilled and hoisted tin onto the roof of an old wooden barn. They plan to turn it into a workshop for their craft and a place to teach it to others.

         "We have been given charge of this barn to repair and preserve it," Richard Delahoussaye, a leader in the group, said under an open-sided tent that offered welcome shade.

         The building is a few steps from the NuNu Arts and Culture Collective, and the connection between the two places involves more than proximity. For about four years Delahoussaye has worked with NuNu's on its Fire and Water Festival and other projects.

         That partnership developed into a decision to share the vacant barn on the collective's property. "It's a heritage, a cultural thing we're trying to preserve," said team member Jim Dungan. "It's resurrection of a skill that's been lost for a generation."

         Although blacksmiths traditionally concentrated on shoeing horses and keeping farm tools in repair, most these days, like Dungan, craft ornamental fences, gates, light fixtures and the like.

         Access to the completed barn and the smithing tools and instruction will share the techniques with people who can't afford their own workshops, said members of the crew working on the barn.

         The youngest on the job Saturday was Jackson Babineaux, 13, who traveled with his mother from Prairieville.

         He traces his interest in blacksmithing to another fascination. "I used to like to play with fire all the time," he said. "Now I'm using the fire to make stuff instead of to destroy."

         Babineaux reached into the pocket of his cargo shorts and pulled out his phone to display pictures of knives he's forged.

         "This is going back to most men's origins, making knives, fire and weapons," Dungan quipped.

         Another man on the crew, Sam Riehl, joked back, "I make jewelry."

         In Delahoussaye's shop Riehl, a sophomore at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, also helps to fill orders from throughout the country for custom chandeliers and sconces, stair railings and fences.

         "My mom's a glassworker and my grandmother does stained glass," he said. "Art's been in my family all my life."

         He credited them and other skilled adults who have been willing to share what they know with those eager to learn. His informal craft apprenticeship began when he was eight years old.

         "Everyone in the group has a desire to teach and facilitate and help anyone do what they want to try," Riehl said. "It's quite a thing to get a group of people to get out on a hot day and do manual labor that won't always directly benefit them."

         When it's fully restored, the building will bear the name of the late Percy "Perc" Courville, a much-admired Arnaudville blacksmith.

         The end result, the crew members predicted, will be pretty cool.

         Even if the day they worked on it, Riehl said, was "actually, really hot."

         – by AP/ Reporter Cheryl Devall with The Daily World

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