By Britney Grover
If it looks like blacksmith and craftsman Jesse Hall isn’t looking directly at the red-hot metal he’s working with, it’s because he’s not. Jesse is legally blind. He has Stargardt disease, a rare, hereditary eye disorder that affects the central field of vision—the vision most of us use on a daily basis for everything from reading and scrolling social media to facial recognition and driving.
“For the average person, the center of your vision is the best vision you have,” Jesse explained. “Basically, I just have blind spots right there—I see only with my peripheral vision. I don’t see a black spot; my brain tries to compensate, but the best vision is missing.”
Jesse’s vision allows him to walk without a cane, but he can’t drive; reading printed text and seeing details is difficult, and unless he knows someone very well, Jesse can’t recognize someone until they’re very close. It affects so many areas of his life, but at 23 Jesse doesn’t let it stop him—in fact, it may be part of the reason he’s doing what he’s doing: combining his skill as a craftsman and metalworker with his passion for art and horses.
Jesse was contacted by TV producers to make this axe for Jason Momoa.
Building a Business
Jesse grew up in Brown County, Ohio, as the sixth of eight children. His oldest sister also has Stargardt disease, passed down from their grandfather. Jesse was diagnosed when he was 5, but with so many siblings and a farm to take care of, Jesse was never treated any differently. “My parents wouldn’t let me feel sorry for myself—they always encouraged me, and wouldn’t let me not do things just because I felt like I couldn’t do them,” Jesse said. “Having a big family was probably a good thing—everybody’s doing things, and you’ve got to keep up with them!”
Jesse and his family moved to rural Adams County, where Jesse’s dad has a metal fabrication shop on the property. “I had the opportunity to watch a blacksmith at a local fair when I was 14, came home and started fooling around with it—I built a little homemade forge out of some bricks, started very primitive,” Jesse said. “My dad would let me and my brothers mess around with the tools and equipment in his shop, and I just went with it and got more advanced.”
Jesse continued to develop his blacksmith skills and metal work through high school, where he also developed his interest in art through drawing and inspiring teachers. Eventually he added custom woodwork to his skill set and began making handcrafted sculptures of both metal and wood, as well as a wide array of beautiful objects from furniture to cutting boards and home decor.
With his family’s support, Jesse decided to create a business as a blacksmith and woodworker. “We started tossing around ideas for a name for the business and came up with The Blind Blacksmith.”
Jesse is working on a new sculpture of a rearing horse.
Jesse’s business now includes much more than just traditional blacksmithing, but the name has proven effective: It was even how producers of the AppleTV series “See” found Jesse and hired him to make a custom axe to be wielded by Jason Momoa in the show. While his business continues to evolve, his family’s support remains constant—and imperative.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” Jesse summarized. “I see a lot of my family throughout the week, so we’re all very connected. My younger brother and my dad and I work in the shop together, and I don’t drive so it’s pretty much always my family driving me around, always helping me.”
In the last couple of years, Jesse’s artistic projects have become more and more ambitious—specifically, awe-inspiring metal horse sculptures. “I was always just interested in horses,” Jesse said. “Why? I don’t really know.” Jesse’s answer is familiar to many with the inexplicable “horse bug.” “My family owned horses for recreational use on our farm in Brown County, and now in Adams County, we’re surrounded by the southern Ohio Amish community who have horses for riding, pulling carts, plowing fields, etc. I love nature and especially animals. My love for horses comes from just being around them and their majestic spirit.”
Jesse may be surrounded by horses in Ohio, but that’s not where he gets his artistic references. “As far as actually going out and watching horses, that would be kind of odd just because I have to get pretty close to see them! So scrolling through enlarged images is easier for me—a lot of them to get the general gist.”
Jesse utilizes his drawing skills as he first sketches and then he builds a large wire frame, adds hammered and shaped metal panels and welds until the piece is finished. “I put a piece on and then stand back and look at it, move it—it’s a slow process,” he said. “The scale of it, honestly, was just easier for me because of my eyesight—the smaller it is, the harder it’s going to be for me to create it. I like to do big things—life size.”
Jesse’s sculpture is on display at the Bluegrass Stockyards in Lexington, Kentucky.
Building a Future
Jesse’s first horse sculpture is impressive, and his second promises to be even more so, featuring a rearing horse. “I definitely would have to say that if I didn’t have a visual disability, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing—I’d just have a normal job,” Jesse said. “Not being able to drive forced me to work at home in our shop and see if I could come up with some way to make a living.”
Recently, Jesse deconstructed an 1800s farmhouse and is in the process of building himself a timber frame-style cabin with the reclaimed materials, with the idea that he could be more independent and simply walk to the shop for work. Jesse completed a two-year degree in electrical mechanical engineering, but he’s currently focused on seeing how far the Blind Blacksmith can go.
Although Stargardt disease is degenerative and may get worse as Jesse gets older, his vision is stable for now and he hopes it will stay that way. No matter what the future holds, with his family’s support and vision that surpasses both his eyes and years, Jesse is headed for success.
“I don’t really think about my disability, because I’ve always had it—I don’t really know how the average person sees,” he said. “If I just sat around and thought about it, I might be depressed because it makes it pretty hard to do a lot of things. But I believe you can always find a way. Don’t let anything hold you back.”
Jesse Hall, The Blind Blacksmith, stands next to his first life-size horse sculpture, Gears of Glory.
For more information, visit theblindblacksmith.com or follow @theblindblacksmith on Facebook and Instagram
Photos courtesy of Jesse Hall