Blacksmith Stephen Nuttall Forges Ahead at Tuckerton Seaport

Jun 28, 2017
Supplied Photo

Moving through Tuckerton Seaport is like traveling through time. The Seaport has long been the site where the new and old of the Jersey Shore collide; its heart is its Jersey Shore Folklife Center.

Through classes, exhibits and tours, the center is dedicated to documenting and presenting the diverse stories and experiences of folklife along the Jersey Shore and the Pinelands. Whether it’s the smell of fresh wood being carved, the feel of traditionally woven fabric or the thundering sound of a boat being assembled from scratch, folklife pervades every corner of the Seaport.

This past weekend, at the Baymen’s Seafood and Music Festival, Tuckerton Seaport and the Jersey Shore Folklife Center continued their enduring commitment to preserving folklife by adding a new blacksmith forge, with expert blacksmith Stephen Nuttall at the anvil.

What began as a budding interest during his free time has evolved into a passion for Nuttall. Traveling through Batsto in 2015, Nuttall came upon Toby Kroll, a third-generation blacksmith and farrier in the town. Not long after, in the spring of 2015, Nuttall began taking classes with Kroll, devouring any knowledge and secrets of the trade Kroll would give to him.

“I was drawn to it,” Nuttall said. “Everybody likes fire; everyone likes a little danger.”

Nuttall continued taking classes with Kroll, pounding hot metal into submission to create works of art or practical tools, perfecting the techniques that Kroll had perfected many years before. After Nuttall had proven his natural skill, Kroll began mentoring him in individual sessions.

“Once I exhibited the ability not to burn down the shop, then Toby and I began a mentor-mentee relationship,” Nuttall said. “I would go to his house six or so times per year, and he’d give me a project to practice skills that I felt deficient in while offering his experience.”

Despite his natural skill and clear passion for the art of blacksmithing, it is still only a part-time job for Nuttall. Unfortunately, blacksmithing is a traditional crafting art that is dying off as metal tools and other metal appliances are outsourced to developing countries where more can be produced for a cheaper cost.

Luckily, a resident of Little Egg Harbor, Nuttall is familiar with Tuckerton Seaport and its dedication to preserving folk art and traditions. According to the Seaport, blacksmiths have been part of local history for hundreds of years. With this in mind, Nuttall approached the Seaport to gauge interest in adding a blacksmith forge to its already prolific re-creation of a Jersey Shore maritime village. Garnering support from the Seaport, Nuttall applied for and was awarded a 2017 grant from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts. With this grant he purchased a forge, anvil and other tools and created the permanent blacksmith shop at the Tuckerton Seaport, which debuted at this weekend’s festival.

“It was great,” Nuttall said about the grand opening. “We kept a good crowd all day. People seem to be interested, and I’m excited to be able to preserve the history of the folk art of blacksmithing while showing where this stuff is going.”

Blacksmithing seems to be moving away from practical, everyday applications such as fitting horseshoes or creating wheels for a horse and buggy. Today most smiths, like Nuttall, are using the traditional craft to create works of art.

“I’ve always been artistic, and that’s my approach to blacksmithing. I sang and danced throughout high school and college, so I’m trying to bring that artistic side to this as well,” Nuttall said.

Although art is Nuttall’s main focus of his blacksmithing, as seen at the festival, he is still contributing to preserving Tuckerton’s local blacksmith history. He worked on anchors, along with clam and oyster knives for local fishermen, similar to those that would have been used throughout Barnegat Bay made by the original blacksmiths. Nuttall has a plan to partner with Pinelands Brewery and make custom bottle openers and to begin scheduling classes and clinics open to the public at the Seaport.

“I really think it’s neat, to stand in front of the forge with a piece of scrap metal, let your creativity run wild and transform it into something that is beautiful,” he said. “It’s all about having fun and not being afraid to make mistakes.”

Nuttall hopes the Seaport will continue to grow as a signifying landmark in the area, with the forge and blacksmith shop as one of its focal points. More than that, he hopes to continue his work at the forge, making people stop and watch him transform flaming-hot scrap metal into stunning pieces of art.

“I want it to be more than a local attraction,” Nuttall said about the new forge at the Seaport. “I want it to become a regional attraction, akin to Colonial Williamsburg, a place where we can preserve the local history of the Jersey Shore while contributing to the future of the artistic culture of the area.”

— Zach Hoffman

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