PRESQUE ISLE, Maine– Eugene Katsman has been a blacksmith for the last 25 years.
Every summer since 2005, he can be found underneath his custom-made gazebo at Northern Maine Agricultural Fair, donning a stained apron with ash covering both hands as he forges metal to entertain passing fairgoers.
But Katsman doesn’t want to just put on a show, he wants to teach.
His apprentice is 9-year-old Ben Chertier of Fort Fairfield, who he’s been teaching for about the last four years.
Chertier is Katsman’s second apprentice since becoming a blacksmith. After moving to Maine around 2005, he decided to abandon his work as a process engineer and pursue something different.
“I’ve always wanted to be a blacksmith,” he said.
He said that it’s important to teach children the craft in order to keep it alive. “I want the art to survive,” he said. In his Woodland shop, he creates masterful art. His latest work is a standing tree made of metal rods branching out in all directions. When it’s finished, it will sit atop a wood stove and be used to hang mittens on to dry.
According to Katsman, Chertier asked to be an apprentice a couple years ago when he saw him working at the fair one summer.
“I just [did] it for a few years and thought it was fun,” Chertier said.
On the other side of the fairgrounds, 59-year-old Wayne Parker stood beside his canvas wagon, selling tin mugs for old-fashioned sodas.
Parker, originally from Monmouth, said Friday’s opening was his first time selling at the Northern Maine fair. He just got into the business last year at the Windsor fair where he sold $1,875 worth of mugs in one day, he said.
His stand featured a traditional canvas wagon with barrels on the side and soda taps below. The “Chuck Wagon Old Fashioned Soda” displayed various soda flavors like sarsaparilla, root beer, black cherry and more.
Parker isn’t coy about his sales game, either. During the Windsor fair last year, he almost completely sold out of the product, he said. “I wouldn’t want anyone at the fair to get disappointed but I could blow them all away,” meaning he assumes he can outsell other fair vendors by the end of the week.
Tin cups aside, he enjoys working the summer fairs in Maine, mostly because of the diversity of people he gets to meet. “I love being out here with the people,” he said.
The Northern Maine Agricultural Fair will run through July 3 when it will transform into the “Freedom Festival” on Independence Day.