Making Tinware the Studio B Way
By Peggy Birkemeier
Our enthusiasm was high and Bill was
in graduate school, we were newlyweds and the time was 1973. We became
intrigued by Bob and Millie's adventures making rope beds and Windsor chairs.
But what could we do? We were living in a small apartment, and had very few
tools, but Bill had always had a knack for electrical things and working with
metal. So, we tried our hand at a punched tin lantern and with making a brass
firescreen with a drying rack.
We realized a few things very
quickly, the full size soldering iron would have to go, and we needed to find a
way to make very tiny punched tin holes, to shape and flute tin cups for
candles and to create tiny tin hinges. In our first apartment, Bill sat in a
comfortable recliner and worked on a typing table cutting, shaping, and
soldering the tin pieces.
We were fortunate to be living in Lancaster
County, PA, which is rich in history for tinware of all shapes, designs and
patterns. We could find lots of help measuring full-size tin pieces and then
scale them down to the proper size. We were able to examine the tools used to
create tinware, and then we made our own tools to accomplish the same tasks.
Our 'workshop' soon outgrew the typing table, but it never was very big. We
found tools and materials in jewelery supply catalogs, hobby shops, and
hardware stores. Tiny light bulbs, tin sheets, thin wire, plastic tubing for
electric candles. What we couldn't find, we improvised or designed ourselves. I
learned how to cut down a 10 'o' brush until it was small enough to paint the
tiny toleware designs.
Our standards included making each
piece function, and perfect enough in scale and proportion that when
photographed, they could be blown up to fill a 16 x 20" frame and not look like
a miniature. But more than anything else, this work gave us an appreciation for
our American history, for the creativity and artistry of those who made the
full size original tin pieces and lighting devices.
We also received encouragement from
miniature enthusiasts and it was difficult to keep any stock on hand. As we
grew our family and moved to Virginia and then down to the Outer Banks of North
Carolina, we could not keep pace with all the orders and regretfully had to
stop our work altogether.