Bill Gichner2002 Askins Achievement Award Recipient
"Throughout his career Bill Gichner worked tirelessly to advance the trade, or art, of blacksmithing by formally and informally teaching the subject everywhere he could."
Bill wasn't always a blacksmith. He was one of the sons of the owner and operator of Gichner Iron Works located just outside Washington, DC, and had no interest in his father's business. However, when he was about 16 and looking for work, he found that the iron business offered him a steady job and good pay. Bill had to work hard to learn all the things about smithing that his father and others thought he should know to become a master smith. The fact that he did become a master smith can be shown by two small but important points. First, a large portion of the iron work that you can still see today in the Georgetown area of Washington was designed and built by the Gichner Iron Works and installed by Bill, since he did a large portion of the outside work for the company. Second, Bill was considered — and was officially recognized by his peers as — one of the few master smiths in the United States. When Bill left the Gichner Iron Works, his blacksmithing did not stop. He settled in Ocean View, Delaware and opened a shop called Iron Age Antiques. Some say the antiques were just a front for what really went on at the shop. Bill established a blacksmith shop in the basement and began teaching blacksmithing and selling blacksmith equipment. Bill soon established himself as the man with high prices, but the man that could get what you needed when no one else had it. Throughout his career Bill Gichner worked tirelessly to advance the trade, or art, of blacksmithing by formally and informally teaching the subject everywhere he could. In his 9th decade of life, he had an apprentice working and learning in his basement shop. His informal teaching also never stopped. Bill picked people that he thought had the talent and the creative mind and the desire to become a good working smith or teacher, and informally coached and encouraged them. The organizations that Bill helped have become legendary. The Artist Blacksmith Association of North America (ABANA), has bestowed its highest award in recognition of the work Bill has done to further its cause. The Blacksmiths Guild of the Potomac and the Gulf Branch Nature Center agreed that if the nature center built a shop to meet in on the Center's grounds, the guild would provide demonstrations to educate the public about smithing. Bill arrived one day with anvils, forges, vices, hammers and whatever else he thought they would need to get started. The Mid Atlantic Smiths Association received so much help from Bill that they took on the task of hosting the annual Bill Gichner Hammer-in, since the attendance became too large for everyone to fit in the Iron Age Antiques shop. On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the Furnace town guild has a teaching facility mostly equipped by Bill. The facility was dedicated as the Debbie Gichner Memorial Blacksmith shop in honor of Bill's daughter. The Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland (BGCM) survived for years solely on the money from the equipment and material that Bill donated every year for their auction at their Blacksmiths' Days celebration. When BGCM entered into an agreement with the Carroll County Museum to establish a blacksmith school and Bill heard about it, he called and asked what was needed to start the school. Bill interrupted the list of needs and said, "Let’s put it this way, when are you coming to pick it up?" BGCM now has a school with eight forging stations and gives classes all year, winter and summer. Bill gave his entire Library collection to the National Ornamental Metal Museum. It took three trips in a large van to transport the library to the museum in Tennessee, and they are building a new wing on the museum in which a section will be set aside for the Gichner collection. This section will be available to the public so that both present and future students may benefit from the generosity of this master smith.
Bill Gichner passed away on December 8, 2004.