Martin O'Connor

Martin O'Connor


Faces of PTN: Member Spotlight

In my youth, I developed a taste for speed, power and noise, but as time goes by I'm increasingly drawn to the peaceful pleasures of naturally-powered human inventions. Kayaking and sailing are among my favorite recreational pursuits these days. Collecting vintage hand tools is another. Like so many middle-aged men, I've never outgrown my fascination with machinery and tools. 

Acquiring old tools necessitates learning how to restore and tune them to good working order, and in turn, how they were properly used. After 25 years maintaining machines to produce throwaway packages, I find it extremely satisfying to labor over the restoration or creation of things that are meant to stand the test of time. This has lead to involvement with nearby historical museums, artisans and contractors in pursuit of skills and techniques to help preserve historical structures and artifacts. 

Toward that goal, I joined a blacksmithing club formed about five years ago through the J.F. Glidden Homestead in DeKalb, IL. On weekends when the museum is open for tours, club members take turns staffing the small blacksmith shop added to the grounds. We also meet weekly in rural Sycamore to enhance skills with master smith, Lucio Bortolin. In the fall of 2014, I was called upon to give blacksmithing demonstration at the Garfield Farm and Inn in Campton Hills, IL. 

In addition to blacksmithing, I occasionally do custom woodwork, such as the turning of replacement porch balusters for the miniature victorian playhouse on the grounds of the Ellwood House Museum, also in DeKalb. As time allows, I plan to be a continuing student of traditional trades, well into my retirement.

Martin O'Connor
DeKalb, Illinois

Martin at the forge.
Bending hot metal.
Small dragon door knocker, work in progress, awaiting pivot rivet and mounting holes. Approximately 8” tall.
Initial layout of 30” x 30” screen, based on photo of a window grille. Martin made his own proportional dividers to scale up the drawing from scrap oak.
Checking work in progress with master smith, Lucio Bortolin (right).
Existing and practice pieces for Ellwood Museum’s “Little House” Replacements had to have somewhat random profiles to blend in with old parts.
The completed installation after 2014 restoration by Roger Keys.
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