Like it or not, the holiday season is right around the corner. One of my favorite places to visit and to buy gifts -- at any time of the year -- is the Wendell August Forge in Grove City.
Wendell August Forge has a rich history in Grove City. I discovered it when a friend told me about the ornaments and I stopped in the small, red-brick building on a dead-end street near Grove City College.
The late Wendell August founded the company in 1923. At 38, August was working at a coal mine in Brockway when he hired Tony Pisoni, a blacksmith from the mine, to make iron hinges for a door in his home. The work so impressed August that he started his own forge and hired Pisoni to create decorative items.
The original items included candlesticks, doorknockers, latches and hinges, railings and more. Pisoni and three other blacksmiths created a product line. Soon, Alcoa Inc. commissioned the company to make decorative aluminum gates and elevator doors.
One of my favorite parts of visiting the forge is viewing pieces from the original line. A small museum display room shows off some of the early work, and photos tell the story of the forge's beginning.
News about the work the craftsmen were producing at the forge spread through the area. When the company completed work for the Grove City National Bank, the president of the bank convinced August to move his company to Grove City.
Over the years, the giftware line has expanded to the company's famous Christmas ornaments -- which were my introduction to Wendell August Forge products -- trays, bowls, vases, collector’s plates and more.
The forge was in the same building for years until a fire in March 2010 destroyed the structure. A fire of that scale could have ruined the company, but workers and community volunteers rallied. Within a week, a temporary shop was set up in a nearby warehouse. A little more than a year later, a new shop opened closer to Interstate 79 and to shoppers heading to the Grove City Premium Outlets.
Forge craftsmen still use an eight-step process that includes pounding the aluminum and other metals using die plates for the designs. Starting with a die engraving that the master engraver creates, there also is hammering, surface anvilling and the carbon finishing, a step where they put the pieces into a hot oven that turns over coals.
The best part of a visit to the forge is getting to watch the artists at work, whether it's observing those who draw the designs or those who hammer the designs into the final products.
It is a fun, if somewhat noisy, process to watch. Small children love the demonstrations, and they can make their own little creations for a small fee.
The new location includes a display room full of Slovak folk art. Thousands of lovely vases, dishes and other pieces of Slovak work fill the shelves. In the back of the room, there is a large wooden carving of a village. I can only begin to imagine the hours of work that went into making such a beautiful display.
As far as the forge, the pieces of artwork include annual commemorative ornaments, plates, boxes, trivets and jewelry. Not only can you purchase amazing gifts for extremely affordable prices, you can get your wedding, baby and anniversary gifts personalized.
Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it's worth it to make the little more than an hour's drive to Grove City to see the artists at work.