Life can be a difficult, slow and arduous process at times and you don’t get through it alone. I have lived my life with the goal of giving to the people around me as much as I possibly can. What tends to happen when you live your life in this state of open heartedness is that the people around you, more often than not, give back. I have been so blessed in my life to be surrounded by many people who have given back at least as much, and often more than I’ve given them.
One of the challenges of being a full-time blacksmith is that the work is very repetitive. It puts strain on very specific points on your body. Very early in my training, I developed tendinitis in my right arm. It started in my elbow, then my shoulder, and finally my wrist. I had heard of other people overcoming this by learning to use their opposite hand. I was so in love with the trade that I began the process of learning how to hammer left-handed. I was only 19 years old when I started this difficult and frustrating process.
I can remember my boss, John Smith coming to me with a inferior product and asking, “Paul did you make this?” I would reply, “yes” and he would say, “well why is it so terrible?” and I’d say, “because, I made it with my left hand”. He would walk away shaking his head in frustrated admiration. But slowly I became proficient and whenever my right arm started to hurt too much I would switch to my left. This worked well for a number of years until, in my mid 20s I began to develop tendinitis in my left arm as well. At this point I had to make a decision. I had to either teach others how to do the heavy work or get out of blacksmithing altogether. So while I was working at Fort Steele, I began to hire people and train them. This became one of the best things that I’ve ever done. By opening myself, and my creative process up to others, my life and the lives of others were enriched. These new people in my life began to give me feedback and encouragement. Some of them became very crucial to my development as an artist.
One of the first people I hired was an 18-year-old kid right out of high school, who had the body of a dwarf and the mind of a wizard. Alex Marriott is short and stocky without much of a distinguishable neck. His body was made to do the things that make my body break! He can swing a four-pound hammer all day long while discussing ancient Greek philosophy and not break a sweat with either one. He has made massive contributions to many of the projects that are distinctively, “Paul Reimer”. He continues to be a passionate blacksmith and dedicated friend after 18 years.
I also hired one of my brothers from a different mother. Rick Friesen is my childhood best friend’s little brother. And he is way smarter than I am. Some of the most beautiful architectural projects that I’ve done require intensive math. Rick could do the math and the engineering side of these projects so easily that it made my head swim.
One of the biggest artistic influences in my life, I just happened to casually hire in a coffee shop one day. Little did I know that Mike Hepher is a modern-day Renaissance Man. Easily one of the most well rounded artistic talents that I’ve ever met, Mike can do it all. He picked up blacksmithing like he’d been doing it for years and I soon found out that it didn’t matter what it was, from painting to sculpture to pen and ink drawings and now woodcut prints there’s pretty much nothing that he doesn’t excel in. Mike is the co-artist for many of my public art projects, but most importantly he is a great friend.
When Rick decided to leave the shop and go back to school to become a teacher, he recommended that I hire Josh Fennema. Josh seemed like an ordinary guy when I first hired him, but it quickly became obvious that he was a superhero in disguise. Whenever there was a problem Josh’s amazing problem-solving skills would appear to save the day. Josh has a unique ability to stand back, calmly and quietly analyze a crisis situation and come up with a solution that works, every time.
I’ve had a couple of dozen people come and go as members of my team over the past 20 years. Every person that has worked with me has, in some way, made a special contribution. There are too many people to name them all here but to you all, I want to say a big thank you.
A friend of mine who owns his own business once gave me a great piece of advice. He said, “When hiring employees first try to recognize the things that need to be done that you’re not very good at. Then try to hire the people that can do those things much better than you can.” I’ve tried to follow that advice and many of the people that I’ve worked with definitely fit that description!