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vocabulary h.z.: "The greater the resistance, the stronger the desire."
Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and nature

Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and nature



And here stands before me an ordinary-looking person:
 in his pocket - a mobile phone, on his back a backpack, in his soul - peace.
 His name is Bogdan Popov. He is a Blacksmith...


We meet at the entrance to the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine, in Pirogovo. On the way to the Polesian smithy, where Bogdan works as a "blacksmith for tourists," the conversation is about anything but the hammer and anvil. For example, the surrounding May greenery, fields and forests, beauty:

- It's a pity for our children! In about 50 years, we'll probably be living in a dry steppe.


-Because of the amount of precipitation - it's getting less, especially snow... One type of ecosystem is being replaced by another...

-How did you say? - ecosystem replacement... Is this really a Blacksmith?

-Culture is a way to survive and leave offspring. Yes, yes, if you think about it, you'll understand that I'm right. Any ancient culture was closely connected with ecology... In ecological relationships, the main currency is energy.

      Suddenly, I feel that yesterday's prepared questions are becoming unnecessary. I just want to listen. There is no possibility to record on the go - I have to memorize.

Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and nature

  -Human evolution is the concentration of energy. The current civilization is based on oil as an energy concentrate; ancient civilizations were derivatives of the Sun's energy. Oil is a depletable resource, the Sun is not, of course. That's why I say that in about 20 years, when the oil runs out, the current system of relations will collapse...
And the Sun - it's practically an eternal source. That's why I put its sign on all my products.

- Hooray! We're finally going to talk about the products! And here's the smithy...


First impression - a shed-like shed. In the yard, there are some metal barrels, inside - homemade constructions made of bricks, pipes, metal pieces... On the floor, a bunch of scale... Chaos, in short. No romance. Except that it smells like my grandfather's attic - old wood and soulful clutter that you don't want to throw away. Bogdan quickly changes into his work clothes and transforms from a completely modern young man into a tourist favorite - "blacksmith Bogdan".

-Well, let's forge something?

Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and nature -Just like that, we'll take and forge?!

-Yes, I'll just gather everything we need... 15 minutes... In the meantime, I can still talk... My story is... probably ordinary. Until I was 16, I practiced fencing. Then I got a serious injury, and my sports career was over. I had serious thoughts about what to do. While I was thinking, one of my mom's acquaintances suggested I go learn and work in the forge of the "Ancient Kyiv" museum. At that time, in 1988, it had just appeared. In Podil. Of course, it quickly turned into an ordinary cooperative, but it was there that I plunged into a regular male environment. It was important back then! And I really wanted to forge a real sword - romance, the opposite sex - you understand!

  At that same time, in 1988, I met Goltis - my first real Teacher and great friend. In general, I'm nothing special myself. I've just been very lucky with my teachers. Goltis was already quite a well-known figure in certain circles back then. We met in a youth military training section. He taught martial arts and physical exercises there. But most importantly, he laid the foundation for the philosophy that I partly follow now.

Well, it seems like everything is gathered, the bellows are in place, the anvil is ready, - while the fire heats up in the furnace, I casually ask:

Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and nature

- So, what about the sword? Did you forge it?

- Yes, I forged the sword, and then forged others on order... But now I'm not interested in weapons at all. An ordinary working knife is more valuable to me because it can be used. It's not just a souvenir. And I love axes the most. An axe is the pinnacle of blacksmithing; a kind of sculpture, a complex shape, and at the same time - function. If you make even a small mistake - that's it, you won't be able to refer to the original author's idea. It will simply be impossible to work with the axe! By the way, they are ordered most often. Oh, Grisha appeared! Hello Grisha!

Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and nature-(conspiratorially) A student?

- Yes, very talented. If everything goes well, he will surpass me.

- Are there any other students?

- There are, but fewer than before. People came and still come, but... they study just a little bit for themselves and that's it...

-Are there any real masters among the students?

-Nah... To become a real master, it takes a minimum of ten years.


-Did you study with the famous blacksmith Vyacheslav Ivanovich Basov?

-Yes, at 18, I went to Suzdal. There, I became "infected" with the restoration of ancient blacksmithing techniques. To recreate the spirit of the past! Of course, I work differently now, not like with Basov. But the idea remains: the way you make a thing determines what it will be in the end.
I am not a theorist. When you come to the forge and start working, many things fall into place. I don't use electricity and prefer to do everything with my own hands. Sometimes I even mine ore as an experiment. Because recreating ancient technologies using modern tools and materials is like coming to a traditional martial arts class with a Kalashnikov.

Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and natureAt one time, I consciously gave up the "benefits" of civilization and began to work under the same conditions as the blacksmiths of antiquity. The same charcoal burning process is a kind of meditation by the fire. It prepares the blacksmith for further actions. And most importantly - do not harm the forest. It can take revenge with unpleasant surprises. This is not mysticism. This is reality, common sense. For me, the main thing is to convey to you the harmony that exists in the forest, fire, air, and everything that surrounds us.
Later, after returning to Kiev, I worked a lot with archaeologists. And in '93, I went to the UK, to Wales, at the invitation of the famous archaeologist Peter Crew. He was also engaged in the reconstruction of ancient iron production methods. I helped him as a blacksmith, read a lot. Traveled hitchhiking around Europe. I've been to farms practicing ecological agriculture - permaculture (shortened from "permanent agriculture") several times. Life in harmony with nature... In 1994, Bill Mollison, one of the "fathers" of permaculture, came to Russia, the Urals, with lectures. I couldn't help but go there, I was his interpreter, traveled with him, we became friends. I translated his book "Introduction to Permaculture" into Russian. And in 2002, I went to visit him in Tasmania... My God, I was in Tasmania!!! And you know what? It's cold there!!! It's the mountains. You go out, look at the landscape - everything is unfamiliar. But at the same time, for some reason, it feels like you're in the Carpathians! Only wallabies - such small kangaroos - peek into the library in the mornings. Want to eat, grab a rifle, and... here's your breakfast! And there are also places where no human foot has stepped before. Maybe tea or coffee after all?

Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and nature

- No, no, we don't have much time, we need to let the photographer go...

- Yes, time is short, the century is fast-paced. Speaking of the pace of the century... Before Tasmania - after my first encounter with Bill, I was eager to implement the ideas of ecological design in my life. In '96, I moved from the city to a village near Kyiv. I was passionate about this idea. And the first thing I experienced was disappointment. Great job, money (international grants, royalties for translating the book), a certain fame... All gone. The most terrible thing was that I was cut off from the whole world. I fell out of the system. Mobile phones were not yet in use, and I managed to get a landline only a few years later. When I heard the dial tone again, I experienced a culture shock. But one way or another, I managed to build a real forge there. And start experimenting with metal and gardening.

Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and nature- Can I hold something in my hands, like a knife, for example?

In my hands are two knives. The blade of one looks as if it was chewed by a prehistoric monster. The second one is, of course, prettier, with a patterned (damascus) steel blade and a stunningly beautiful handle. It feels awkward to even ask about the quality - it's handmade, after all, a work of art. I approach the topic indirectly:

- What would happen if I, say, wanted to cook borscht with this knife?

- Yes, everything will be fine! My knives don't break. My wife prefers them. Sometimes she asks to use one, and then it stays in the kitchen for a while.

- Who carves the handles?

- My wife...

- Why does this knife have such a battered blade?

- These are the traces of forging (inexperienced people call them "dings") - a characteristic feature! Another distinction of ancient knives is the wedge shape in length and thickness.

   Today, when talking about a forged knife, people usually mean a plate flattened by a power hammer, from which the final shape of the blade is then ground using abrasive wheels or mills. In ancient times, such technology did not exist (you can't grind much metal on a sandstone wheel with manual or belt drive - I tried). Knives were actually forged. Moreover, the craftsmen tried to ensure that not a single precious iron particle was wasted. It's hard for us to understand because we are surrounded by mountains of scrap metal.

   As for whether ancient forged knives are better or worse than modern ground ones - it's simply pointless to discuss. Firstly, it's a custom-made product, handmade. And secondly, the quality of ancient items was also relative - as it is today. There were high-quality knives that were expensive, and there was cheap, low-quality stuff. The former were good even by modern standards. They were worth decent money. They were worn on the belts of free inhabitants of Kievan Rus - of both sexes, by the way. The second ones were worse than Chinese stainless steel on folding knives. But in general, comparing those blades and the current ones is like comparing a Volkswagen with a Cossack cart - everything is good in its time.


Traditional blacksmith Bogdan Popov: craft and nature- By the way, about the price: what's the most expensive thing you've ever made?

- A steel coat of arms of Ukraine for a very high-ranking Ukrainian politician. In general, the price of my products ranges from 1 to 100 USD. There are some very expensive items. More precisely, these are items that are not for sale... But if someone really wants...(Spreads his hands). As in the anecdote. For example, Moscow tourists - people come here and are mentally prepared for the fact that they will be "sold" something. So we charge double, and everyone is happy. VIP clients? They happen. But I don't know them well... They all look the same to me.

- What is the most difficult thing in blacksmithing?

- The most difficult thing? For me - to stay true to myself and my work. This applies not only to blacksmithing but to life in general. Anything is possible if you curb envy. Our main limitation is in our heads.

Returning through the Holosiivskyi Forest back to civilization, I imagined how I would definitely write about everything that happened during those three hours. And about the group of Japanese tourists that Bohdan indeed treated to tea. And about how he lectured them on the blacksmithing craft of Kievan Rus - in English, of course. And about how we also drank tea from sooty mugs for a long time afterward, discussing Darwinism and recalling the Latin name for aspen (we remembered: Populus tremula). Bohdan is an ecologist by education. About the End of the World and advanced nuns. And about Grisha... And about the children - Bohdan has three of them...

And about how much you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the managerial world back to this forge. I wanted to tell everything. And then I thought: well, really, why do YOU need a Blacksmith?..

author: Marina Maslova

vocabulary h.z.: "The greater the resistance, the stronger the desire."

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