The photo below is a work of art in iron that no one will ever see. It’s a forged metal cover for an urn that was buried. The urn holds the cremated remains of Joe Whiton, one of the founding members of the Southwest Artists Blacksmith Association and a volunteer fire fighter who donated his body to science.
Joe Whiton retired from a career with the Air Force and became a blacksmith and an independent businessman. He was generous, intelligent, and a problem solver. He created devices, tools and jigs to help blacksmiths more easily make their handmade items. He could whip out puzzles made of nails in seconds flat. He was also a volunteer fire fighter.
His fire fighting training was lifesaving when fire broke out at his son Ken’s home in 2005. An electric short in the gas-fired hot tub caused a huge blaze in the middle of the night. Ken came to get Joe in his bedroom. Joe dropped to the floor and started crawling, staying as low as possible.
Ken had panicked. He was standing up, trying to pull his dad out of bed. The hair on Ken’s head was singed by the fire, but everyone got out of the burning house okay.
Joe Whiton died on December 9, 2009, just 11 days before his 88th birthday. His body was donated to IIAM, the International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine. As soon as the death was pronounced, Joe’s body was flown to Phoenix for tissue harvesting. What remained of his body was cremated and sent back to the family. This was all done at no cost to the family.
Shortly after Joe died, Ken and his wife Betty had a celebration of life reception at their house. After his cremated remains were returned, they had a graveside service where attendees shared memories and stories.
It was at this graveside service that the pictured handmade metal cover was last seen. The cover features Joe Whiton’s smith symbol and the stamped symbols of all the blacksmith artists who knew and admired Joe Whiton.
Here are the names of each artist, counter-clockwise from the lower left corner, with the lines leading to each of their smith symbols: Chad Gunter, Brad Gunter, Frank Turley, Leaf Gonnsen, Bob Curtis, Alex Ivey, Christopher Thompson, Kevin Dunlap, Bob Keers, Richard Rumpf, (top center) Joe Whiton’s symbol, Gary Bryant, Jack Beadersted, Gary Williams, Helmut Hillenkamp, Bruce Hansche, Mike Rufe, Robert Ulibarri, Ward Brinegar, Larry Kern, and Robb Gunter.
Even when a work of art is unseen, its quality shines through. And aren’t we as individuals a bit like that as well?
When we become unseen, our qualities still shine through via the impact we make on others. What kind of stamp are you putting on the people you know and love?