We are honored to share the work of blacksmith and session 2 instructor Daniel Souto as part of our #PenlandEverywhere series. Daniel’s story is nothing short of remarkable, a true testament to the fundamental power of craft and education. We are proud to have played a small part in his journey, and we can’t wait for a future opportunity to welcome him back to the Penland iron studio. We encourage you all to learn more about Daniel’s efforts at lacaravanaescuela.org or on Instagram at @lacaravanaescuela.
This story goes back to the summer of 1997 when I was 19 years old. I left my country Venezuela for the first time searching for a place where I could learn to forge iron. To my surprise I arrived at Penland School, and at that time I could not have asked for more. I was received by the Penland community, and my first teacher was Stephen Yusko, who became not only my blacksmithing idol but also my English teacher. After taking his class I wanted to stay, so I managed to be around for the rest of the summer learning all that the beautiful Penland community had to teach me… Many years have passed since then, and finally this summer I was invited to co-teach with Stephen Yusko. I could not ask life for more—after more than twenty years I was to be a teacher in that marvelous place, teaming up with my mentor.
Having experienced how education changed my life for the better, I started a few years ago to try to start a blacksmithing school in my country of Venezuela, where I have lived since I came back from Penland in 1999. Of course it has not been an easy journey to work in a country where blacksmithing has vanished from our history due to the discovery of petroleum. I tried in 2010 and invited Stephen Yusko to my workshop in Mérida to teach a class for eight friends in my place called SoutoStudio. It was a blast, but it had so little impact that I kept thinking of new ways to spread the craft.
Ten years have passed since then. Our economy has disappeared as well as our currency, food, gasoline, propane, electricity, medication, and so on. Five million people have emigrated; meanwhile, the ones who stay are trying to find a new way to survive. A few years ago I faced a personal crisis that put me on a split road between leaving or finding a way to stay afloat with my two kids. I sold some heavy machinery I had and started a plan to take a blacksmithing school to the rural areas where people see no way to keep feeding themselves—not for the lack of land or knowledge but for the lack of basic tools to work the soil.
There I was, with a pickup truck and an old VW bus for a week-long camping expedition to teach these farmers to forge their own tools out of scrap steel found on the riverside. Without the need of electricity we forged not only tools but a new future. Thriving is the class we teach and gratitude is the payment. Now that dream is called LaCaravanaEscuela, an educational platform that has transformed the lives of more than a hundred farmers from three different communities all above 10,000 ft high. They have forged all together more than one thousand horseshoes, hundreds of sickles for harvesting their wheat, oatmeal and barley, and there are more and more communities waiting for LaCaravanaEscuela to arrive.
So, since I could not be there at my dreamland place called Penland School of Craft, I remain here teaching more and more farmers to overcome one of the darkest episodes of our history, comparable only to the battle Simón Bolívar fought more than 200 years ago to free our South America from the Spaniards. I do apologize for not being able to be in the second session teaching, but teaching never stops here where a sickle forged out of rebar or a horseshoe set makes the difference to a remote Andean community. These communities now embrace the infinite and sacred power of the fire that transforms not only iron but a whole society pleading for help and knowledge…
Gracias to all of you for being part of my life and part of my new country’s history.
To see LaCaravanaEscuela in action, we highly recommend watching the short film below.