Avella tradesman forging career from 7 year blacksmith hobby

Observer-Reporter | October 9, 2001

As reported by Heather Nalbone  in the  Observer-Reporter:

” He might be younger than most professionals, but Nigel Tudor has reason to believe he’ll succeed.

It’s not just that he was the youngest applicant in recent history chosen for a competitive, international blacksmith study program in Germany, or that the sale of domestic metal products is on the rise.

The 20-year-old Avella resident has a passion for the metal industry that began more than seven years ago. Now, he is one of numerous blacksmiths nationwide looking to make a career of the trade.

“Initially, it was a hobby,” Tudor said. “But I’ve always wanted to have my own company.”

His first encounter with blacksmithing occurred during a junior volunteer program at Meadowcroft Village in Avella. He was 13. Since then, he’s taken part in 18 weekend seminars and weeklong classes in different states, and continues to attend yearly blacksmithing conferences. He even has an impressive collection of antique metalware, including a 100-year-old lock from Morocco.

But that’s not all.

Tudor recently was selected by a four-judge panel to take part in the competitive three-month Aachen program in Germany. As the apprentice to a well-known blacksmith earlier this year, Tudor forged a 7-foot-tall entrance gate and a decorative weather vane.

Back on his parents’ 100-acre farm in Avella, Tudor has put $50,000 toward converting an old toolshed into his own private studio. A large part of that sum, he admits, was taken from a college fund provided by his grandfather.

“He’s not quite as supportive as my parents, but he doesn’t mind,” Tudor said.

With more than two dozen hammers and a set of his own handcrafted tools, Tudor has produced candlestick holders, shelf brackets, towel racks and various outdoor ornaments. He’s purchased all the necessary machinery, including a belt sander for fine-tuning utensils.

Now, he’s looking into bigger projects and plans to begin soliciting commercial architects with his portfolio before Christmas.

“Blacksmithing is definitely not an easy way to go,” said LeAnne Mitchell, executive secretary of the Artist Blacksmiths Association of North America. “You can’t just graduate from college and say you want to be a blacksmith. There’s only one college in the United States that offers blacksmithing as a major.”

But, she added, that’s not stopping Tudor and numerous others from pursuing the trade. ABANA has 5,000 members nationwide, and about 20 percent of them are full-time blacksmiths.

“You name it, there’s a blacksmith out there making it,” Mitchell said. “There’s a resurgence of the craft industry at large. My personal feeling is that people are wanting something unique, especially when they’re spending all this money on homes. Maybe they’re looking for heirlooms to pass down.”

At Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, a $700,000 donation from the Eberly Foundation was used to build the Hart-Moor Blacksmith Studio and Museum in 1999. The 7,000-square-foot, two-building complex is now host to 500 students in 22 classes each year.

“It’s preserving an Appalachian craft that was dying, and now it’s coming back,” said Touchstone’s Executive Director Margerie Arnett.

Among those working to preserve the craft is Glenn Horr, one of Touchstone’s contracted instructors. A native of West Alexander, Horr, 44, has been forging household items from his private studio in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., for 20 years.

“I got interested in it during high school shop class,” Horr said. “I became fascinated with it. I took a couple of classes and then went from there.”

It took a while to develop his business, but the shop is now Horr’s full-time source of income.

“People are becoming more aware of handmade products,” Horr said. “They’re wanting to get away from the sort of cookie-cutter stuff. People have more extraneous funds and are developing more appreciation for handmade architecture.”

Tudor is hopeful the resurgent demand for metal products will work in his favor as he attempts to launch a career in metal architecture. He’s the first to admit the hours are long and the work labor-intensive, but it’s what he prefers.

“We’re supportive of him,” said Tudor’s mother, Marcy Tudor. “I don’t think he would be happy sitting behind a desk. He enjoys working with his hands.”