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Forging history by hand

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MERCER COUNTY, Pennsylvania - A retired Mercer Schools art teacher is a driving force behind the unique metal giftware at Wendell August Forge.  21 News Photojournalist Tim Dale and Anchor Leslie Barrett went behind the scenes, where artist Linda Hoover and skilled workers are forging history by hand.

Before this decade's old tradition of strength, forcefully shaping metal into giftware, can even begin at Wendell August Forge, the detailed design is born quietly, delicately and carefully with the strokes of the finest point pen.

"I am so totally focused on the design that I don't hear anything. I don't hear anybody. I become numb to the outside world," Hoover said.

The touch of this retired art teacher's hand has formed over 770 images for America's oldest and largest forge, ranging from Amish scenes to sports logos.

Each one of her visions is personal.

"I'm a shy person, so this is a way I can talk to people and express my feelings," Hoover said.

For the Grove City based company, the luck of having Linda's talent nearby has been instrumental to the business's success over the last 20 years and now it's integral in the rebuilding process, since fire destroyed the workshop in 2010.

"Without her, I don't think from an artistic perspective, we would have pushed the envelope and done the incredible detail we are now known for," said Wendell August Forge President Will Knecht.

Her attention to detail is passed on to engravers who chisel the blueprint into a steel die.

Knecht called this (the room housing the dies) the Fort Knox of Wendell August.  All of these dies survived the devastating fire and hundreds of them are Linda Hoover's artwork.

"They're able to capture my feelings through their art," Hoover said.

Apprentice engraver Mike Youngo said, "It's our interpretation of it but it's her artwork and we hope we can do it justice at the end of the day. That's what it's all about."

Skilled workers are indenting the skylines of major cities, like Philadelphia, that Linda drew for a proposed home giftware line in a major department store.

"Some of the artwork, the commercial artwork, has gone [to] Japan [and] different countries throughout the world," Hoover said.

From the hand drawn pen and inks to the craftsmanship of the workers, the process has become a dying art but this isn't stopping the company or Linda from forging ahead.

"My mind is always working.  My husband thinks that I'm like an Energizer bunny.  I just keep on going," she said.

Preserving centuries old techniques for generations to come.

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