Pa. couple forges bond with past

January 11, 1999

Blacksmith coupleBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

FORT LOUDON, Pa. - Cynthia Lawrence and David Fink saw each other for years at Civil War reenactments.

Lawrence sewed gowns and dresses for women reenactors. Fink, a blacksmith, made the iron implements used in camp and in battle.

Lawrence and Fink were divorced from previous spouses. It seemed natural that since they shared so many interests they should share their lives. They were married five years ago.

"We knew each other for about 10 years before we started a relationship," Cynthia said. She grew up in the Pittsburgh area and David comes from New York State.


Cynthia, 57, who now goes by Cynthia Lawrence-Fink, still makes costumes as a freelance seamstress. She's getting ready for another round of summer business.

Her costumes and ball gowns have found a level of fame through the years. Some are on display in the Gone With the Wind Museum in Jonesboro, Ga. Others have appeared on actresses in several movies, including the television drama "the Last Surviving Confederate Widow."

Her customers include shops that rent period clothes and ball gowns for special occasions like reenactment balls and banquets.

Before retirement Cynthia worked as a paralegal. She has always sewn clothes for herself and other people. She learned that sewing for reenactors could be fun and lucrative as well as satisfy her taste for history.

Walls of bookcases hold reams of research material for her period costumes. "I also make my own patterns," she said.

Her interests are shifting from Civil War era clothes to those of earlier times including the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War periods. "They have reenactors too," she said.

For years David, 61, was an office manager for big corporations until one day he decided to chuck it all for the simple life.

He doesn't know what attracted him to blacksmithing, but one day he decided he'd learn the trade and enrolled in an apprenticeship at a farm museum near Cooperstown, N.Y. Once he mastered the techniques he focused his energies and talent on forging historic pieces.

"They didn't make anything for frivolity in those days," he said.

He ended up working for a museum at a restored historic village in Westville, Ga. The best part of the work was explaining old-time blacksmithing to groups of school kids who came to the museum on class outings.

Today he's on permanent disability, the result of an accident that occurred when he slipped on a hill while carrying an anvil. He ended up with serious, permanent back injuries.

Now he spends his time teaching blacksmithing, mostly in the two-car garage behind the early 19th century brick house the couple rents in Fort Loudon.

It's a big old house, comfortable, rambling and roomy with ceilings high enough to hold some of the tall antiques the couple owns.

Last week David was teaching two students how to bend and shape red-hot iron into usable shapes.

Liza Mishler, 48, and her son, Robert, 19, of Bedford, Pa., were attentive as David worked them through the technique.

"I've been collecting antique iron for 30 years and I want to understand and appreciate really fine iron work when I see it," she said.

"She's also starting to understand the process of what goes into making these things," David said.

Robert Mishler, a community college student, said if he likes blacksmithing he'll take it up as a hobby. "I like working with my hands," he said.

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