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Lasting Impressions: The Wendell August Forge Story

Ron Winder, master craftsman/cell leader with Wendell August Forge in Grove City, PA, has been with the company for 30 years. Every single piece of hammered metal is handmade and bears the mark of the craftsmen who created it. These works of art are owned around the world, from the United States to the Far East, Europe to South America.

The Grove City, Pennsylvania-based Wendell August Forge is the single remaining survivor of what was once the flourishing industry of handcrafted aluminum giftware. In PBS Western Reserve's LASTING IMPRESSIONS: THE WENDELL AUGUST FORGE STORY, viewers discover the history of this famous forge and meet the men and women who pound out their living in aluminum.

At the peak of the industry, more than 200 companies made hand-hammered aluminum commemorative items; today, only Wendell August Forge remains in business. This 78-year-old company specializes in handcrafted metal gifts made in hand-hammered aluminum, bronze and other metals.

"Mass production is a dirty word around here," says Bill Knecht, owner of the company. The 125 employees of Wendell August Forge take pride in the fact that every single piece of hammered metal is handmade and bears the mark of the craftsmen who created it. Their works of art are owned around the world, from the United States to the Far East, Europe to South America. So reputable is their craftsmanship that representatives from Franklin Mint, Remington, Tiffany's and other purveyors of art have journeyed to the mom-and-pop shop in Grove City to learn from Wendell August's expert master die cutters.

Wendell August giftware "touches both people and modernism at the same time," says antiques appraiser John Bruno in Lasting Impressions. He and his wife, Tina, are admirers of Wendell August metalware and discuss its appeal to collectors around the world.

That appeal is borne in the rare skill Wendell August craftsmen employ to create ornate, hand-wrought metal objects. The process can be traced back to the master metalsmiths of Europe, who used little more than hammers, chisels, and anvils—and an artist's eye—to create works of art. The original artisans of Wendell August Forge worked with wrought iron, too, until they pioneered the technique of hand-hammering aluminum. Today, whether buyers choose metal giftware in aluminum, bronze, pewter or sterling silver, the gifts are created as they have been for more than seven decades—one at a time. Like snowflakes, no two pieces are exactly the same, and each creation bears the initials of the master engraver who hand-cut the die and the individual hallmark of the craftsman who hammered it.

Wendell August began production of metal giftware in the 1920s and opened the Wendell August Forge facility in Grove City in 1932, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Lasting Impressions tells the story of how August conceived of the idea of his forge, a journey that began with his search for metal door handles for his house.

The business remained in the hands of the August family until 1978, when Bill Knecht, then employed by IBM, bought the company. Bill and his son, Will, have taken the business to a new level of success since that time.

LASTING IMPRESSIONS: THE WENDELL AUGUST FORGE STORY is a production of PBS Western Reserve. Executive Producer: Don Freeman. Producer/Director: Jeremiah G. Blaylock.

A PBS Western Reserve production, 2000.