Hot Hands

Blacksmith Steppe enjoys teaching others about his craft

He offers interactive demonstrations
with his ironwork furnace

(Sept. 21, 2018) – John Steppe is most happy whenever he gets the opportunity to teach someone about his passion, blacksmithing. Passing along what he has learned from others in the trade keeps him busy at art shows, Civil War events and with 4-H clubs.
“I love teaching blacksmithing,” said Steppe, 55. “I really like the interaction; you don’t have to buy something to interact.”
His interest in this ancient craft, which dates to the Iron Age, began in 1999. “I had a friend who was a blacksmith,” said Steppe. “He got me interested in a variety of things you could do.”

Photo by Don Ward

John Steppe of Prairie Creek, Ind., demonstrates his skills during his 2016 visit to the Chautauqua.

His interest grew after watching the friend make knives so that he began to apprentice occasionally with him. Steppe’s interest was piqued even more when he attended a meeting for the Indiana Blacksmithing Association, which holds regional meetings for those interested in the trade.
“A lot of the members will teach you how to get into it and show you how it is done,” he said. After attending several regional blacksmithing hammer-ins, Steppe became a founding member of the Wabash Valley Blacksmith Shoppe satellite group of the Indiana Blacksmithing Association, located in Vigo County, Ind.
Steppe continued learning all he could about blacksmithing and in January 2005 began his own business, Cool Creek Forge, in Prairie Creek, Ind., where he lives.
Steppe will be part of the featured entertainment lineup for this year’s Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art. His tent will be set up in the Art in Motion section, formerly known as the Demo Village.
He will be one of several demonstrating artists and craftsmen to appear at southern Indiana’s premier outdoor juried fine arts and crafts show. He will have a full product line for sale or can take custom orders, making some on site.
“Art in Motion will have various different artists set up on the south lawn of the Lanier South Lawn,” said Jenny Straub, Madison Chautauqua co-chair. “John first appeared at the show in 2016.”
In addition to demonstrating his craft, Steppe will also have items available for sale, Straub said. “He will keep his forge running and demonstrate how he makes different items.”
Straub said that during his 2016 appearance, there were a lot of children at the forge. “That’s what he’s known for; he’s all about education. It’s fun to watch him work.”
Referring to the 2016 Madison Chautauqua, Steppe said he “typically had a lot of young kids at my tent. I think the youngest was 4 years old.”
He likes to involve young and old in his demonstrations and only asks that young children have a responsible adult with them. “I like forging at events and teaching kids how to do it,” he said in reference to this lost art form.
In 2006, Steppe said he was presented the Blacksmith of the Year Award from the Indiana Blacksmithing Association “based on his work with kids and 4-H groups.” He has been working with youth and 4-H groups since 2004.
Through his business, Cool Creek Forge, he creates custom ironwork and gives demonstrations. It has grown rapidly, expanding throughout the Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Michigan and the Ohio region.
Items one might find at Steppe’s tent include gates, grates, hooks, camping equipment, ladles and other cooking implements and items frequently used during the Civil War era. In 2005 he was invited to attend a Civil War event, and from that time began attending such events, dressed in period clothing and selling his wares.
To hone his skills, Steppe even worked for two summers in the blacksmith shop at Billie Creek Village in Rockville, located in Park County, Ind. The village is a 70-acre, open-air living history museum and park containing 38 historical buildings and structures filled with antiques and artifacts.
Steppe has also been a Boy Scout Merit Badge Counselor. Last year in Jackson, Mich., he taught a Boy Scout troop the basics needed to earn their blacksmithing badge.

In addition to traveling to art shows, conducting demonstrations and setting up at about 20 Civil War re-enactments a year, Steppe works as a CNC Machinist and has been an adjunct machining instructor for Ivy Tech Community College.

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