Thomas F. Googerty was born in Pontiac on November 14, 1864. Over the course of his extraordinary lifetime, Googerty grew into one of the nation's greatest craftsmen in decorative iron work.
In 1999, Howard S. Miller, Director of the National Ornamental Metal Museum described Googerty and his work. "An educator, writer and artist/blacksmith, Googerty spent a lifetime quietly working to improve the craft and expand the number of its practitioners. While the quantity of his ironwork cannot be compared to the tonnage that commercial shops were pounding out, it is solidly honest and very much in keeping with the Arts and Crafts tradition."
Googerty Teaches At Illinois State Reformatory
When young Tom Googerty was 13 years old, he left school and began to do odd jobs around Pontiac to help support his widowed mother and three siblings. At age 15, he started work as an apprentice at a local blacksmith shop. Slowly he learned his trade and eventually developed a unique style of making decorative wrought iron objects.
Sometime in the mid-1880s, Googerty packed his tools and took to the road on a sort of journeyman's quest. He worked at a variety of different types of blacksmithing, learned as much as he could from experienced smiths, and honed his craft. By the time he returned to Pontiac in 1894, he had developed into a "sophisticated master craftsman."
In 1894 he was hired to teach ironwork to the inmates at the Illinois State Reformatory. Googerty began with a small, temporary blacksmith shop inside the Reformatory. In 1905 he moved into a new, 4,000 square-foot shop with 18 forges, a power hammer, and "a full compliment of hand and machine tools."
Googerty believed firmly in the value of teaching young men the craft of ironwork. To him, his chosen trade taught self-reliance and self-respect. As Googerty himself explained, "If one is to be successful in designing and making ornamental ironwork, he must learn to use his head in conjunction with his hands; that is to say he must think out his own ideas and not be depending on someone else."
In his teaching, Googerty not only provided a firm foundation in ironwork to his students, but encouraged them to create expressive as well as practical works. According to Googerty, "Art, in its best sense, may be expressed in iron as in the more noble and precious materials." He firmly believed that there was no reason why a blacksmith should not be termed an "artist" if he can produce splendid and beautiful work.
Decorative Ironwork by Googerty
In 1915 he was recognized as a Master Craftsman by the prestigious Boston Society of Arts and Crafts. He spent his remaining active years teaching iron working to young blacksmiths at the Illinois Boys Reformatory School in Pontiac. Over the course of time he wrote dozens of articles and published three books on the subject of decorative iron work. Those books are still in print and still valued as teaching tools.
Googerty's ironwork has been exhibited in New York, Boston, Cleveland, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis and other major cities in the United States.
South Side Cemetery Gates - Googerty's last major project in wrought iron.
Googerty died on October 29, 1945, shortly after suffering a major heart attack. However, his legacy lives on in Pontiac. Examples of his work can be found on the decorative iron gates at the City's South Side Cemetery, St. Mary's Cemetery, and on the door of the B&B Coin and Jewelry store in downtown.
Detail - Cemetery Gates
Googerty Work - Decorative Security Bars B&B Coins and Jewelry (Formerly Smith's Jewelry)