Friday, August 13, 1999
Treasures from Carlisle's Past: The Decorative Ironwork of Ingwald Otterson
The Carlisle Historical Society is fortunate to have a distinctive collection of decorative ironwork, forged in Carlisle in the early twentieth century. The five hand-wrought pieces were made by Ingwald Otterson who once was Carlisle's village blacksmith.
Four of these pieces are garden ornaments, their design reminiscent of early weathervanes. One is a large rooster (16 inches long by 17 1/2 inches high), which is painted yellow with red and black details. Another is a white hen (12 1/2 inches long by 16 1/4 inches high). Then there is an ornament comprised of two smaller chickens, painted yellow (6 1/4 inches long by 7 inches high). The fourth lawn ornament is a perky dog, painted black, which measures 12 1/2 inches long by 10 1/2 inches high. The final item is another black dog (9 1/4 inches long by 7 inches high), intended to serve as a bootscraper that one would place by the front door. All these pieces are notable for the maker's ability to capture the character of the animal and demonstrate the techniques of a highly-skilled blacksmith.
Ingwald Otterson, who was born and trained in Norway, was the last of a long line of village smiths who had forges in Carlisle. Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins in her book, Carlisle: Its History and Heritage, writes of forges during the second half of the 1700s, located in various places in the community. By the 1830s, William Durant had a forge in Carlisle Center and was succeeded there by his apprentice, William Parkhurst.
Parkhurst in turn sold this shop to Samuel Scott and began another "smithy" at the corner of South and Concord Streets. Around 1859 Scott sold the center forge to Marshall Lee, who operated it until 1899. At that time Otterson purchased the business.
Otterson had been living at 444 Bedford Street (the house formerly on the corner of Bedford Road and Stearns Street, known as the Jenney House) and had operated a forge in his barn. From 1899 until his death in 1936, he lived and worked in Carlisle Center. In 1938 the old village forge was torn down.
Otterson and his predecessors mastered an old art, dating as far back as 4000 B.C. Working conditions demanded patience and fortitude, especially during hot summers, as forges reached very high temperatures, necessary to shape the iron. Skill was involved as heat, together with hand tools are the only means of shaping those decorative pieces.
Blacksmiths were important to the village economy, especially for residents who depended upon iron tools for their livelihood. Blacksmiths not only provided shoes for horses, (providing the main means of transportation and primary method of pulling farm equipment), but fashioned a variety of household implements and farm tools. The coming of the automobile and mechanized farm machinery greatly reduced the need for the blacksmith's skills. Thus, Otterson turned his abilities to other types of ironwork. According to Ruth Wilkins, "These articles, which were both artistic and useful, included fireplace sets, candle holders, door stops, weather vanes, and all types of iron crafts, which were adjudged excellent in design and workmanship....Anyone fortunate enough to have an example of Mr. Otterson's work, prizes it." [Wilkins, page 306] He also began to give classes in the art of blacksmithing -- an early example of adult and community educationwhich drew people from Carlisle and the surrounding communities!
Ruth Wilkins' book is sold by the Carlisle Historical Society, available from Charlie Forsberg at 369-3577.
Stephanie Upton is a member of the Carlisle Historical Society. Currently, she is an independent museum professional.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito