You don't see many around anymore. In fact, some even say they're a dying breed. Gilbert Walker is a modern day blacksmith. A craft he acquired through simple curiosity.
"I was working with the Savannah Police Department at the time," Walker recalls, "and I was riding my horse at Lincoln and I came to Bryan Street... and there was this shop that was open... a garage door... and there was a guy inside... and I could hear this sound... a pinging sound of an anvil."
That "guy" was John Boyd Smith a celebrated artist internationally recognized for his ironwork.
That "pinging" would become a part of Walker's weekend ritual.
A makeshift shop in his mother's back yard is where he does most of his metalwork... gates and fences... and what have you. He explains one of his pieces he calls "A Fish Out of Water."
"I got this idea because we grew up in the East Savannah neighborhood, we would spend our time in the marshes. The guys that I grew up with, we'd go fishing and we'd go crabbing. We'd bring bushels of crab and fish in to this yard and we'd boil and fry them. So, basically, I'm bringing back certain memories of my childhood."
Walker, who's not only an artist but a historian, also reflects upon his ancestry. Dressed in period clothes, he pays homage to his forefathers and his African heritage.
"I like to incorporate a lot of African proverbs and basically these symbols which are called adinkra symbols are African proverbs... and so in a lot of my work, you'll see those type of things."
Once upon a time there were hundreds of blacksmiths imported from Africa as slaves because of their skills.
Today, he says, there are few African American blacksmiths still around- although his research did lead him to Phillip Simmons... a famed blacksmith out of Charleston, South Carolina who's work appeared in the Smithsonian. Walker had the pleasure of meeting him several years ago before he passed away.
"I learned that most of the art that he did stemmed out of necessity. During the turn of the century when horse and buggy was gone and automobiles started coming in, it basically put him out of a job and he started his artwork. As many blacksmiths as there were from slavery on to the industrial age, you don't find them anymore."
It's Walker's goal to change that. In fact, he hopes through combining history and art he can spark someone else's curiosity... and perhaps inspire others to not only appreciate the past... but preserve it.
"African Americans helped build America, so we left our footprints here... but we don't know it when we see it sometimes... So, that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to get everyone familiar with what we've done, what we've contributed to America (here in our arts also)."
Here's an interesting sidebar, Walker is also a woodcarver... a trade he learned from famed folk artist the late Ulysses Davis. Much like Davis, he hasn't sold any of his work. He does, however plan to open a shop one day to put his pieces on display. He's also in the process of completing a book he calls "From Slave to Soldier to Freedom: A Blacksmith Story" to educate others about the history of the craft.