September Featured MCA Member: Wicks Forge | Nicholas Wicks Moreau
Blacksmith and Maine Crafts Association member Nicholas Wicks Moreau had his sights set on a career in environmental resource management and conservation, but fate had other ideas. Through a series of serendipitous events that crossed borders and oceans, Nicholas now carries the torch as a third-generation metalworker, continuing the traditions of many Wicks family members before him.
Located in Pownal, Maine, Wicks Forge provides a wide range of products and services handmade in this age-old tradition. From customer favorites like simple hooks and bottle openers to complex architectural pieces, Nicholas’ pull toward and appreciation for the natural world can be seen in many of his design elements.
Wicks Forge continues to grow steadily since its inception in 2013, serving as a place of skill-building, mentorship, and employment for other up-and-coming smiths called to the trade.
Q & A with Nick Moreau
Q: Who are some of your greatest mentors and influences?
A: I’ve been blessed to have many incredible mentors over the years. They encouraged me to develop my creativity and showed me how to turn your creative passions into a sustainable business.
In high school, I took a pottery class and began what has turned into a 15+ year friendship with my teacher, Trevor Youngberg. Trevor took me under his wing and introduced me to the world of traditional wood-fired pottery techniques. Firings can last 4 or more days, where the kiln must be constantly stoked with wood. It is thus impossible to do this alone. Trevor’s firings were communal experiences where other artists, neighbors, students, and friends came together to share in this ancient tradition of fire and clay into finished pottery. From Trevor, I saw the importance of craftspeople in bringing communities together–not just with the products of their labor, but through the very process of creation. It was also around the kiln late one night that we forged a few pieces of steel for fun, and the idea of blacksmithing first entered my universe.
Not long after that firing, I found myself in Scotland for graduate school. I looked through the yellow pages one day and found a list of local blacksmiths. Jim Whitson was one such blacksmith. I mustered my courage and contacted him for an apprenticeship. Jim gave me a chance to help out in his shop and over the next year and a half, I had the privilege to work alongside him. Jim is a true artist-craftsman. From him, I saw metal formed in ways I never knew possible. I got to see how a master approaches his or her craft and even though I didn’t have the ability to execute such high standards, it helped open my eyes to what is possible when an artist’s fully-realized vision is executed with matching craftsmanship.
When I moved to Maine I was not yet blacksmithing full-time. By chance, my landlord’s husband was a master wood carver named David Pollock who had been making his living selling his wood products for 30+ years. David has been and continues to be an invaluable mentor and friend. He gave me advice on pricing, product design, and production processes. Rather than just making pieces with no plan, he helped me become more professional in how I approached blacksmithing as a business. He also showed me the ropes of the craft fair scene and it was this avenue of sales that helped me when I transitioned to blacksmithing full-time. From David I’ve learned how to turn your passion into a career, and to use that career to continue to grow as an artist.
Q:You are known to us primarily for your metalwork/blacksmithing. Is there any other medium that you enjoy working with or playing around with?
A: I’ve found for myself there is a difference between creating things for sale and creating things for yourself just for fun. When you are creating things to sell, they are still a representation of your vision and creativity, but you are making them for someone else to judge (hopefully positively!), use, and enjoy. When you’re creating for yourself, you are both the creator and the audience. You don’t have to worry about what other folks might think or if the piece will sell well. You can just enjoy the act of creation. I love that feeling and as much I enjoy blacksmithing every day, I’ve especially needed that latter type of creative expression since I started blacksmithing as my full-time occupation. For the last 8 years or so, that has taken the form of linocut block printing. I can’t draw worth anything but I’m good at working with my hands, so this has been a great medium for me. I take old pictures of places I’ve lived or friends from over the years and turn them into high contrast black and white photos. I then transfer those to a block and get carving. The best part about it is unlike blacksmithing, which is a blackhole of new equipment acquisitions, you only need one carving tool!
Q: What is your dream project?
A: My favorite pieces to make are music stands. I’ve made about 10 of them over the years. I love the combination of functionality and aesthetics that those pieces allow me to execute. And I also love the idea of inspiring musicians through a cool music stand to use while they play.
Q: Do you work alone, or with a team? What is your favorite aspect of your working environment?
A: I started out [as] just me; but over the years the business has grown and there is now a nice little team of folks helping out with various aspects of the business. One of the hardest parts of growing as a maker is all the tools needed and getting a space to actually practice your craft. My favorite part of the working environment is being able to share the shop with up-and-coming artists and craftspeople and seeing them grow and develop.
Q: Where do you see your business in five years?
A: Over the last five years, I’ve been learning a lot about product design, production processes, taking on staff, online sales and marketing, shipping, and the general ins and outs of running a small business. The growth has been pretty organic but at this point we’re pretty maxed out in the current shop in terms of production capacity. I’m in the process of buying a larger work space and I’m hoping that I can take the lessons learned from the past five years and apply that to a new space designed specifically for the way we work.
Q: What advice do you have for newcomers to the trade- and future blacksmiths?
A: Consider joining New England Blacksmiths, a group dedicated to helping preserve the trade and teach the next generation of smiths. There is also the New England School of Metalwork right in Auburn where you can take week-long classes on blacksmithing. For making a career in crafts, craft fairs are a great entry point. I started with smaller, more informal local fairs, where a fancy booth set-up wasn’t needed and fees were low. This is a way to get feedback from customers about products and, equally important, network with other makers. When you have that dialed in, larger craft fairs are a great way to be able to make a base income each year. Etsy is also an easy tool to enter online sales and is still a larger revenue stream for us than our own website.
View a special series of environmentally inspired work by Nicholas Wicks Moreau on exhibition alongside two fellow renowned blacksmiths + Maine Crafts Association Members in Forging Ferrous: Steel Works by Nick Rossi, Wicks Forge, and Jason Morrissey at Shop Maine Craft gallery Maine Craft Portland. Opening reception: September 5, 2022 from 4-8 PM during Portland’s First Friday Art Walk. Forging Ferrous is on view from September 2- October 31, 2022 at 521 Congress Street, Portland ME 04101
Learn more about the Wicks Forge story and shop their range of fine metalwork here.
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