By Clare S. Richie
Tucked away in a quiet Lake Claire neighborhood is a blacksmith shop (also known as a forge) built by hand by resident blacksmith, Nelms Creekmur. There, Creekmur forges practical items with an organic aesthetic and teaches others his craft.
“I’m proud of this place and love visitors. When they come to the shop I can show them what I’m doing, that I’m ready to do business, and that they can do this too,” Creekmur said.
Up until five years ago, Creekmur “never once thought of becoming a blacksmith.” His earlier passions were for photography, writing and teaching, but those all led him to his current vocation.
As a student, Creekmur collected photography books like Karl Blossfeldt’s 1929 close-up photographs of plants and living things. Decades later, Blossfeldts images of natural symmetry, would become a major influence to Creekmur’s aesthetic and a daily reference in his shop.
After college, Creekmur focused on writing short stories, while working manual jobs with a brick mason and stone mason to earn a living. “With the masons, I learned how to use tools, hard physical labor, how things fit together, and the importance of getting proportions right,” Creekmur reflected.
While living with his wife Renata in Milan, Italy from 1997 to 2007, Creekmur continued writing, this time teaching English to help pay the bills. Creekmur and Renata welcomed two daughters to their family before relocating to Atlanta.
Ironically, it was Creekmur’ detested medical supplies sales job in Atlanta that sparked his unexpected career shift to blacksmithing. “I thought about what else I could do. I always liked photography, physical labor and making a nice line,” he explained.
Forging steel as a blacksmith appealed to his senses. Creekmur liked the way it felt to swing a hammer and the sound of his tools. “I like the rhythms I make when I’m hammering on the anvil,” he said. He appreciated that although metal starts off hard and cold it can become malleable when heated and transformed into a new shape.
He started with bottle openers made from reclaimed railroad spikes that he and his daughters found along the Atlanta BeltLine. “I forge practical household items, such as bottle openers, grilling forks, and fire pokers – that you like to look at and you like to hold in your hand.”
He also creates architectural hardware like doorknockers, door straps, shutter hinges and small gates. Creekmur forged door pulls, booth hooks and a customized bar piece for The Albert in Inman Park. Now more restaurants are lining up for his useful art. And new patrons are requesting bigger custom pieces like fire baskets and side tables held together with rivets that allow for cleaner lines.
“I’m inspired by the curves and lines in nature – in plants, leaves, trees but I’m not looking to perfectly replicate a leaf,” Creekmur said. Rather, he produces a natural symmetry that is balanced but not perfect. None of the scrolls on his the fire basket or gate are exactly the same.
Creekmur is self-taught and eager to share what he’s learned. At his forge, Creekmur teaches beginning blacksmithing coordinated by The Homestead Atlanta, a central source of classes in both heritage skills and sustainability innovations. His classes are always the first to sell out and receive the most universally positive feedback, according to The Atlanta Homestead founder Kimberly Coburn.
“People love their time in his studio, and his teaching demeanor is kind enough for the shyest participant and firm enough to make sure everyone leaves having really learned the basics. Many are eager to start designing their own home forges when they leave,” Coburn said
You can find Nelms Creekmur Forge on YouTube, etsy or at local festivals. In August, look for him at the Piedmont Park Arts Festival and Grant Park Summer Shade Festival selling premade items, meeting new patrons seeking customized pieces, and finding new students.