Lafayette teen finds passion in blacksmithing
LAFAYETTE — Sam Riehl would often tag along with his mother, a glass beadmaker, to art festivals, and he always felt himself gravitating toward one particular craft: blacksmithing.
“I had never seen anything like it,” recalled Riehl, now 18. “It was the culmination of fire and heat and metal and power to produce something either beautiful or useful.”
Riehl would stand just behind the rope watching the blacksmiths demonstrate their work, waiting for the day when he could practice the trade himself.
“As I got older, they finally let me under the rope, and that’s when I got started,” Riehl said. “I started blacksmithing at 8½ years old.”
Today, the Lafayette native is one of the youngest professionally operating blacksmiths in Louisiana and, as a senior at St. Thomas More Catholic High, Riehl is the only student member of the Louisiana Crafts Guild.
Although he now prefers metal, Riehl first gained experience using heat to shape glass in demonstrations with his mother, Angela Riehl, a lampworker who designs jewelry.
“He moved on very quickly,” Angela Riehl said with a laugh. “He was much more interested in the blacksmiths, all these old, smoky guys that were hammering metal.”
Riehl and his mother would always attend Pyromania, a former Lafayette festival that featured heat-generated forms of art, which is where Riehl met his metalworking mentor, Richard Delahoussaye.
Without Delahoussaye’s help, Sam Riehl said, his parents would have never let him practice blacksmithing at such a young age.
“He’s been so incredibly giving, from his knowledge to his tools,” Riehl said of Delahoussaye.
Delahoussaye now shares his shop in Carencro with Riehl, so he can practice metalworking on weekends.
Riehl explained that blacksmiths create objects, either for utilitarian or ornate purposes, by heating metal in a coal or gas forge, placing it on an anvil and shaping it with a hammer.
Because most utilitarian items can now be made by factories, Riehl said, blacksmiths create more decorative items.
“Blacksmithing in today’s time is far more of a luxury than a necessity,” he said. “Like, if you wanted a gate — a big, metal, handmade gate — we could do that.”
Riehl’s own metalwork includes everything from knives to plant holders to rings in the shape of tiny leaves.
He said he prefers to keep a balance between items for show and items that serve a specific purpose.
“My optimal mix would be the pairing of form and function,” he said. “If you’re making an object that has a certain task, of course, you could make it as basic as it could be, but it won’t look good. I personally like it to look good.”
“Sam is just a phenomenal kid,” said Miles Peterson, president of the Louisiana Crafts Guild. “He always has it done perfectly. He’s learning the value of promoting himself.”
Riehl got involved with the guild when he was in junior high, Peterson said, and he began demonstrating at Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, which once awarded him with a scholarship in art.
In addition to his unusual hobby, Riehl serves as student body president and, with graduation approaching, he plans to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the fall.
Even as he moves on in life, Riehl said, he’ll stick with blacksmithing.
“I plan to do it my entire life. I’ll always have it as a hobby,” he said.