On a hot day in Hatch, New Mexico, sparks fly as a piece of scalding metal comes out of a burning forge and onto the anvil. A hammer strikes the metal over and over and creates the perfect profile of a horse.
The person carrying that hammer is Hopper Shannon. Hopper Shannon has been a blacksmith for the last 30 years.
Shannon became involved in the trade after he broke his back for the third time falling off a roof while working in construction. His doctor told him he wasn’t going to be able to walk well anymore. Shannon didn’t let the doctor’s words discourage his desire to work hard and told himself, “stand up and do it.”
Getting up and doing it is exactly what he did.
His wife showed him some articles on Spanish Colonial blacksmithing, which first sparked his interest in the trade. He has been pounding away at it ever since.
Shannon is completely self-taught. He hasn’t taken any lessons from fellow blacksmiths, nor has he taken a professional class. Everything he knows he has learned on his own through trial and error. On top of teaching himself the trade, he also built his own blacksmith shop. The shop is a 30 feet by 40 feet building that includes a carpentry shop, a welding shop and a forge. This is where all of his work is created on a daily basis.
Shannon makes everything from letter openers to fireplace screens, but his favorite items are special orders that people ask him to make. “Anything anybody needs, if I’m able to make it I’ll get out there and do it,” Shannon said.
The special order that he is most proud of is a 15 feet by 17 feet cross that he made out of steel tubing, which he manipulated to look like wood. It sits outside the First Baptist Church in the Village of Hatch.
“It has the bands and the footstep that he stood on. It just came out real nice,” Shannon explained.
Blacksmithing isn’t just something Shannon does for fun. He has made it his full-time job and source of income. “Many people tell me ‘that is a really nice hobby you have,’ and I tell them this isn’t a hobby. If it was a hobby I wouldn’t be able to make a living off it,” Shannon said.
Shannon’s most common way of doing business is through the Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces. He attends the market every Saturday to sell his work and share his passion for blacksmithing.
Although the trade is not very popular in this day and age, Shannon feels that if society declines any more we are going to need blacksmiths again — maybe not in our lifetime, but our children’s lifetime.
In addition to working in construction, Shannon also fought in Vietnam and says that blacksmithing is “the closest thing to an inside job I have ever had.”
“You just can’t sit down and quit … you got to do something. Quitting is the worst thing you can do.”
“It keeps my mind right,” Shannon added. And he likes the fact that he is still standing on dirt and working hard.
Shannon says that blacksmithing has taught him “self-motivation and [that] you just can’t sit down and quit … you got to do something. Quitting is the worst thing you can do.”
He sets his hammer down on the anvil and puts the scalding metal in cold water to cool, and yet another Hopper Shannon piece is created. It is just a matter of minutes before he chooses another piece of metal and picks that hammer up again. Sparks fly with every strike as Shannon keeps on doing what he loves to do.
Interested in blacksmithing?
If this type of work sparks any interest, Shannon is more than willing to teach others his craft, but New Mexico State University students don’t even have to leave the campus to learn how to manipulate metal into art.
The art department on campus is offering a course during the spring 2020 semester, ART 285: Introduction to Metals and Jewelry, in which students can learn the fundamentals of metalsmithing through making jewelry.
NMSU professor Motoko Furuhashi, who teaches ART 285, says students should take the class “because it is so much fun!”
“I think it is important to have fun with what you care about, too. If you work with larger-scale [projects], often times you work with others, so teamwork is important. Also, we are a small field compared to painting or other art forms, so community is important. You will learn so much about paying attention to detail, and problem-solving … It’s also a good workout with hammer pounding, ” Furuhashi added.
Furuhashi has been metalsmithing for 14 years and teaching at NMSU for six years. She has been teaching for almost 10 years total including her time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a graduate student. For more information about the class, contact Ms. Furuhashi by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.