‘Who do you think you are?’ Siberia’s only woman blacksmith laughs off sexist taunts (VIDEO)
Just four years ago, Biletskaya was unemployed, and looking for career advice at the local employment office, when she dared to say out loud an idea she had been carrying inside her head for years.
“I have a legal education and an art school behind me, but my last job was a secretary,” Biletskaya told Ruptly’s crew as she waited for the forge at her workshop in the resort town of Belokurikha, in Russia’s mountainous Altai region, on the border with Mongolia. “All my decisions come from the heart, and at the time, my heart told me to become a blacksmith.”
With the help of a small grant and Aleksey Larin, a local master struggling to find apprentices, Biletskaya drew up a business plan, then immersed herself in the centuries-old, almost ritualized world of wrought-iron smithery, coming for several hours at a time, then eventually spending her entire working day there.
And while no one objected, few resisted a chance to pass a comment.
“People react when they find out, all the time, and they say uncomplimentary things, with a smirk,” says Biletskaya. “They ask, ‘Who do you think you are?’ ‘What can a woman do with metal?’ ‘Why did you bother?’ To be honest, it still hurts.”
But it would be disingenuous to suggest Biletskaya – who has “Pity is for the weak” carved next to her workplace – hasn’t profited from her gender.
Traditional blacksmithing is catnip to TV and documentary crews, and doubly so, when it is a telegenic blonde wielding the tongs. Within a year, Biletskaya had been featured on national television, while her website became flooded with orders.
Yet, one man on it wasn’t looking to buy, but to admire. Fellow blacksmith Evgeniy Biletskiy told Anna he fell in love from just looking at a picture of her, wearing an apron, face glowing with reflected fire. He soon bought a ticket to a local festival, and within months the two became a couple.
Anna’s ambitions go beyond carefully-crafted chandeliers and ornate country house gates.
An artist at heart, she has become the organizer of the local smithery festival, has participated in dozens of exhibitions, and regularly stages masterclasses for children and tourists.
Yet for her, the primary obligation of the blacksmith is not just to help others, but to become a better person.
“This is considered a difficult and harmful job, shaping the metal to your will is hard work – it is fickle and difficult, like some people are. You need patience, but also moral and spiritual resilience to be a true blacksmith.”