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The Museum of Blacksmithing in Warsaw

The Museum of Blacksmithing in Warsaw

The Museum of Blacksmithing in Warsaw is among the few in Poland that are devoted specifically to this craft, certainly the only one found in the capital. Located in the Warsaw district of Służew, almost totally obscured by the surrounding residential blocks, the museum and the working smithy are a bewitching sight. The presence of a small, one-storey timber building in this particular place is extremely surprising, especially to those who associated the name of Służew mainly with modern residential architecture – indeed, it looks lost in time, as if only by the urban planners’ oversight it had not been replaced by the plastered walls of the blocks.

The timber smithy is built in the ancient dovetail construction technique, in which the walls are built of rough, round or half-round logs or processed beams, set vertically one upon the other and joined at the corners with notched pins and tails into a closed, encircling frame. A similar building, located nearby and still extant in the first half of the 20th century, provided the pattern for the present smithy.

Zdzisław Gałecki, a blacksmithing aficionado and an artist himself, initiated the effort to create the Museum in the 1990’s. In this endeavour he was supported by his wife Eleonora, and in 2009 the museum was taken over by his son Kamil, who shares his father’s preoccupation and continues his work.

Barely half a century ago blacksmithing was still perceived as one of those crafts which were crucial to the everyday existence of both a town and a village. All iron elements of appliances and furnishings were the works of blacksmiths’ strong hands. Even the development of industry did not diminish the need for the services of those craftsmen, since many factory-produced machines were brought for repairs and maintenance to the smithies. It is worth remembering that in the past, a smith made most of his tools himself, and put all his heart into his work: the most interesting tools are those which are not only useful, but beautifully decorated in addition. Today, the visitors to the Museum of Blacksmithing admire many tools and appliances typical for the traditional practice of this craft. Air is blown into the forge by beautiful manually-operated bellows, which Zdzisław Gałecki brought from the vicinity of Zakopane in the 1980’s, iron is held in tongs and worked with a hammer, and each and every object that leaves the smithy is a true work of art.

The museum’s collection includes numerous objects more or less closely connected with blacksmithing, e.g. smith’s tools like hammers and tongs or an implement for measuring curved lines, as well as carpentry tools like adzes (including a special one for debarking logs), saws, planes and calipers, and a large set of archaic door-handles and padlocks. The purpose and functioning of many tools and implements are best discovered with the aid of the blacksmith himself – the visitors are not only allowed to touch and handle the exhibits, but are encouraged to try them out or watch them being used. One of those is an upsetter, a tool consisting of two vice-like dies, in which a chipped metal rim of a wooden cartwheel was mounted in such a way that the chip was positioned between the die grips; two parts of the upsetter were then screwed together until the chip filled in. Those visitors whose fascination with the craft grows too strong for mere watching the smith at work, may apprentice themselves to Kamil Gałecki and learn the secrets of blacksmithing under his practised eye.

An anvil, made in Germany some two centuries ago, is the oldest object in the Museum’s collection. It belongs to the type of hornless anvils, lacking the projection used to bend worked iron, which is seemingly so typical for this tool. The anvil’s very simple decorations are interesting, as are the barely visible traces of an inscription. Perhaps one day someone will manage to decipher it?

In front of the door to the smithy there stands a little chapel, built by Zdzisław Gałecki, with a plaster sculpture of St. Joseph, patron of craftsmen. Various objects gathered around the building, e.g. a treadmill, a chaff cutter, some ploughs and harrows, the rear part of a cart, a wooden cart wheel tap, an upsetter, a pillar dovecote, a beehive in an upright log and a wheel-and-axle device for lifting water from a well, are also worthy of the visitors’ attention. Some of those appliances are blacksmith’s tools, others are those which it was his job to repair. The tap was used to create screw threads inside sockets of cart wheels. The contraption mounted on the front wall of the building looks like a decorative sculpture, but in fact is a harrow, an implement for breaking up clods of soil. Old metal cutter, no longer operational, stands nearby. Its gear system changed the motion of the smith’s hand holding the lever into a slow opening and closing of the blades to cut sheet metal and rods. Contemporary hand-operated firefighting equipment employs a similar system. The treadmill was a kind of two-horse (or two-oxen) “non-combustion engine”: the animals walked round and round, and the power of their muscles activated some machinery, e.g. a grain mill.

The well by the smithy is an imitation, but its presence underscores how important access to water was to the blacksmith – without water, it would be impossible for him to practice his craft, and the fire hazard would have been immense. Small decorative elements of its wooden construction are noteworthy. The two other interesting objects are the beehive, which is just an upright, hollowed-out log, and the pillar dovecote. Unfortunately, says Mr Gałecki, for unknown reasons neither bees nor birds ever settled by the smithy. They may have been disturbed by the sound of hammering.

The Blacksmithing Museum enjoys great popularity in the course of the Museum Night events. During the holidays it participates in the Summer in the City action and is visited by crowds of children. Happily, the idea to create a mobile blacksmithing exhibition, to tour schools in Warsaw and its vicinity, is slowly approaching fruition. The idea to build a water mill seems increasingly feasible, too, although the available funds are still insufficient. The mill will be located at the stream which flows by the smithy, at the spot of the disused transforming station.

To spend an extraordinary afternoon, visit the Blacksmithing Museum. It is easy to reach from any point in Warsaw: just two bus stops away from the Wilanowska underground station. Visiting cyclists can chain their bikes to a stand which has been made by the creator of the museum!

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