K. John Mason is a fourth-generation blacksmith, but in the 1960s when he told his father he wanted to join the family trade, the elder blacksmith didn’t like the idea.
“My dad always tried to talk me out of this…he said, ‘Don’t do it, it’s dead. It’s a finished trade,’” says the now 69-year-old Mason. “By the early ’70s, you couldn’t give iron away.”
Mason took up smithing anyway, and travelled the world plying his craft. He did church work in Germany, and made chandeliers in Panama, and plied his trade in Iran, Mexico, and Turkey. By the time Mason returned to Canada, demand for the kind of classically-trained, all-in-one metalworking skill that he mastered had all but dried up.
“There was a micro-sizing in trades,” he says. Craftsman were beginning to specialize. “As time passed, there became drywallers, and electricians, and plumbers, and glaziers. So a single trade job is subdivided into many trades. Blacksmithing was no different.”
The advent of tooling and fabricating factory-made pieces added to decreased opportunities for Mason. One need not be a master to get simple things done anymore.
But Mason eked out a decent living as a smith out of Jordan, Ontario, for 20 years, before moving to Blandford, Nova Scotia. He and his partner (in business and in life) Jayne Geldart, run K. John Mason’s Ironworks.
“This direction change has probably been the most freeing for me,” says Geldart, who met Mason four years ago and now runs the day-to-day business of the ornamental ironworks company.
He bought a ship shed from the Lunenburg Foundry and relocated it to his South Shore business three years ago.
“It was standing independent and unused,” says Mason. “Two weeks later they came back and said, ‘Yeah, come and get it.’” Within the fires of his forge, Mason creates unique pieces. That’s what keeps him in demand.
“Nova Scotians are looking for unique pieces, art pieces,” says Geldart. “Pieces you might not see on an everyday basis. Over the years, I’ve seen him make everything. And repair antique things that people bring in, as well.”
He’s known for his skills at lighting fixtures, such as the chandeliers he honed in Panama. One of his best sellers is a bird lamp. Wrought-iron vines and leaves are a regular motif on his works– there’s no way to mistake a genuine Mason for anything else.
“I consider myself a bit of a table specialist,” Mason says. “Not to sound egotistical about it, but I’m very proud of the level of the craft that I’ve raised myself to. In this day and age, I don’t think you’re going to find too many people who are interested in doing that kind of work. The kind of trade that I’ve enjoyed over the last 55 years, I don’t think that trade’s coming around again any time soon.”
That said, he has no plans to give it up.
“We forge ahead,” he says.
Correction: The version of this story published in the spring 2018 issue of East Coast Living contained several untrue statements about K. John Mason Ironworks that were not fixed during editing. We have corrected the story above. East Coast Living regrets the error.