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Levi Pendlebury | 34 | Blacksmith

Levi Pendlebury with blacksmithing equipment

Speciality time: 20 years, started when I was 14

Full time, part time or hobby: Part time
A few years ago, I had the intention to build a business around public demonstration. I was more of a performer than a craftsman. There is not a lot of work around that. But I thought there would be a lot of interest as a performer in festivals and fairs etc. It took off and I was almost doing it every weekend, but I just needed the mid-week work to fill the void.

Inspiration for starting: I saw an old blacksmith in the national park when I was young, and I was blown away. I loved learning about anything that wasn’t the norm and that stood out, like whip cracking and I loved ancient things. When I got talking to this guy he said ‘if you want to come on weekends, and help out a bit, that's great and learn some stuff’. I did that every weekend until I finished school. It was free on the job training.

Can you do any festival or is there a specific type?
I do any type. I throw myself out there and I tailor my look to suit the event I am at. If I go to a local town street festival, I will just wear pants and t-shirt, but if I go to a medieval fair I would dress as a Viking. This year I met some Supanova people and had some ideas for some Star Wars theme outfits. I’m a bit of a nerd and get into new initiatives. There are old trade fairs etc. Sadly, not this year. It's all come to an end.

COVID-19 hit and I had about $2.5k worth of jobs in my shop, and I chased customers to come collect, and they never came and never paid. I’m only a small-time thing, people ask me for jobs that I make them. But then they just pulled out. I was left without my pay. I have learnt that doing what you love is one thing, but I need money. I always hold true to my word, and I have learnt that people just don’t, and with these jobs I learnt people didn’t care that I was out of pocket for my materials and time spent.

Sadly now I’m forced to get a full time job. But next year things will be better, hopefully, and I will get a call from the fairs. And I will be in a position where I can't risk losing my full time job to take up a fair, but then if we have another wave of COVID-19 and I have no money again... I’m not money orientated. I like to do what I like to do.

Claim to fame to date?
I got asked by a movie producer for a film who has not been released yet. He needed 25 nails for a scene where the coffin gets nailed shut in an 18th century film. It was for the props department of the film. Then on the back of that they said ‘hey you are actually a blacksmith, aren’t you? Can you be a cast member in the background doing blacksmithing in the film?’ So, I got to be on set for a few days dressed as an 18th century blacksmith. I hope I don’t end up on the cutting room floor.

Can you share a bit about your training?
I finished school in year 10, did my school certificate and got an apprenticeship doing blacksmithing, but this was now industrial blacksmithing. A great place to learn a different side of it. Machine presses. Very loud. Sharpening tools and quite monotonous. You may spend 3 weeks in front of a grinder. Four-year apprenticeship and I stayed about 6 years and then after that I needed something different, so I went and worked in a café!! I needed to be with people not in the back of a factory. It's quite physically demanding and hot especially on a summer 40-degree day.

Do you have a proud accomplishment?
I look back on a lot of things I made years ago, like a rooster I made for my sister and I think wow I cant believe what a great job I did on that, it's so accurate! I have made some metal fairies, including wings, for my nieces. I love a claim to fame when I see a metal item in a movie or video game, and I get up and go and make it! I made a horned helmet and hooks etc. I made Davey Jones’s key from Pirates of the Caribbean.

How has COVID-19 affected your ability to do your craft?
My phone just stopped ringing. I was busy constantly, and had a full calendar and had 3 events a month. Every weekend someone would ask for a commission job I would do during the week. Then it just stopped, and everyone is tightening their belt. We just need a vaccine. The festivals were an excuse to catch up with our friend etc as well. I don’t qualify for any of JobKeeper etc because I’m a sole trader. I work at Sanity casually, but they can’t give any more hours. I really need a full-time job again though. My attempt to do this craft full time didn’t work, and at least needs a really good rethink. You have to find your own thing and what works for you. I like being busy. Everyone is keen to get the festivals open again but not without security that it's safe. So, I know they will call me when it's open and running, but it's just a case of if I’m available.

How has it made you feel to not be able to do your craft?
I went through waves at the start. I thought this is a great time to do my things. Then I finished all those things and then I got quite depressed to be honest and then went through a wave of re-evaluation. I’m a very social person and not being able to do that really affected me. Not being able to talk to people. I missed the people coming up and chatting, and seeing my work and just talking about it. I am fortunate that one organisation has contacted me for an event in October and that’s 3 days to look forward to, but it is reassuring that they are starting to do things even with social distancing.

What do you think the effect to society as a whole would be without performing Arts?
Somehow the arts will find a way to be exposed. That is what it is. They have always been a minority coming up the outside lane. But creative arts find a way. Even if it’s a random guy standing on the street performing it gets out there. It will start again but it may be in a different format. It might be something you don’t see happening, just one day it's there in its new version. The big events may take a while though.

Any positives out of lockdown?
I made lots of things I didn’t have the time for before. I had time to see what was important and what’s not. Having time off work means I could spend time with family. This year I was hoping for a very social year but it didn’t happen. I did enjoy spending some days at home with nothing to do. It has made me think if things pick up I should start charging a bit more because my time is valuable. So that is a positive, I have reorganised myself with that. We have been forced to watch B grade movies, and that’s great in the sense we usually would surpass those films. But some are really good, with good actors and story lines. It's been nice to expand our view.

If you could ask our government anything about supporting the arts what would it be?
I am not a very political person and I have very little faith in government. I am not sure it's all funding, because I feel artists do come out from grass roots levels and that’s when you get your best stuff. They find a way to get their craft through. I do wish the government would give the arts more space and time so people can enjoy it. It gives people stuff to do.

Do you see any challenges facing the Arts?
Definitely, I see a lot of artists very reluctant and tentative to go back into their craft. Or outlay to pursue it. Our industry is very fragile. We have realised how fragile it is. If big corporations are struggling the little ones just went under. Many won't be jumping to get back to where they were but we have lost a lot.

If you had a magic wand what would you do next in your field?
I would open a shop that makes fan based things from movies and games. People love pop culture and things like Supanova. I would like to pursue the fun side of pop culture like armour etc. People pay top dollar for that stuff. I love making something that looks exactly like an item in the movies or games.

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