Blacksmiths David and Caleb Burress draw learning and inspiration from their family’s heritage of craftsmanship, the craft traditions of the Appalachian region, and thousands of years of metalworking knowledge passed down through human history. A century ago, David’s great-grandfather Charlie Reece was the blacksmith, as well as the cabinetmaker and coffin-builder, in the Cherokee County community of Pinelog, near Murphy. David grew up learning from his father, who had both a home welding shop and a commercial machine and fabrication shop nearby. In the coming years he added to this at-home learning a personal interest in forging, professional experience in welding, and studying fine arts at Western Carolina University.
David went on to found Calerin Forge, the family business located in Balsam, where he serves as head blacksmith. David’s son Caleb also learned blacksmithing, and daughter Erin is an artist who lends advisory support to the work at the forge. The family website says, “Caleb has been working and creating with his father, David, since he was old enough to stand on his own two legs.” Caleb is also an accomplished knife maker and leatherworker, and he has started his own leather business called Animal Husband.
The Burress family offers a range of hand-forged products, from decorative pieces for homes and businesses, to gates and home hardware, to recreations and reinterpretations of ancient forms of armor and weaponry. Their stylistic inspirations run from ancient Celtic art to the Art Deco. Teaching is also an important part of Calerin Forge’s mission.
While they still create custom work and create inventory regularly, David and Caleb have moved their emphasis to teaching and demonstration. They teach throughout the year at the John C. Campbell Folk School and other venues, and they host courses at the forge. The classes, which are as short as daylong or weekend intensives, or as long as a couple of months of weekly instruction, cover topics like knife making, colonial hardware making, and, for beginners, the fundamental skills necessary for enjoying a lifetime of blacksmithing. Those with interest can schedule a private day class while visiting the area or enroll in regular classes, which are posted on the website’s calendar.