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This blog follows the reconstruction of the Revolutionary War Public Armoury on the James Anderson site

Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's & Public Armoury

September 27, 2013

Meet the New Armoury Tin Men

Joel (left) and Steve, the Armoury's Tin Men.

Joel (left) and Steve, the Armoury’s Tin Men.

We have completed our search for Tin Men to establish and lead our new historic Tin Shop, and have selected two workmen from a host of worthy candidates.  We had 40  applicants for two positions in the shop, making review and selection a time-consuming process. 

Ultimately, two candidates rose to the top and they are now members of the Armoury team.  It was not easy to narrow the field down to two candidates from such a rich pool of applicants.  Thanks to all who expressed an interest in being founding members of the program.

 Steve Delisle is our Journeyman, charged with developing the first new trade in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Trades program in about 15 years.  He has an extensive background in early American decorative arts which is enhanced by his interest in and passion for this period in history.

 Steve is a native of Québec and trained as a tool and die maker in a modern manufacturing environment.  As a personal interest he studied Canadian militia during the Seven Years’ War and published on this subject. This led him to Fort Ticonderoga in New York State after which he spent a number of years studying the French material culture of Fort Carillon from the archaeology, the period correspondence and colonial archives, especially the Magasins du Roy (King’s Stores).  He was particularly drawn to the iron and other metalwork- materials relating to his machinist background.

Then, Steve volunteered in the Anderson blacksmith shop in a quest to understand and “read” 18th-century ironwork. In addition to his interest in hand work and early technology, he was drawn to the academic study of material culture and decorative arts, and earned an M. A. in American Material Culture from the Winterthur program and the University of Delaware — one of the premier programs of its kind.  He also received a Museum Studies Certificate from the University of Delaware.

Following his graduation from the Winterthur program, Steve worked as a museum consultant to the American Revolution Center/Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, where he researched and catalogued objects from the former Valley Forge Historical Society and from other private collections destined for the ARC-MAR’s soon-to-be-opened museum near Independence Hall. 

But like all good tradesmen, the call of hand tools was strong enough to draw him away from the desk and back to the bench.  As tradesmen, we need to do creative, productive handwork that might use, but goes beyond, the computer keyboard and draws us to that hammer, anvil, shears and file.

For the past 10 years, Steve has assembled tinsmith tools and set up a workshop pursuing an interest in historic tinplate work, and also has taken classes from established tinsmiths to learn more about the trade.

Among the skills that Steve brings to the program is the fact that French is his first language, enabling him to translate early French texts describing processes in the tin trade.  This sort of technical translation can be challenging if the translator has language expertise, but lacks knowledge in historic technique.  Steve brings both skill sets to the table, improving the detail and accuracy of his work as translator and as tin man.

 Joel Anderson joins us from Northern New York State as our tin shop apprentice.  Joel has a number of years’ experience in the museum field as well as southern roots, having worked at Walnut Grove Plantation and Middleton Place in South Carolina.  In addition to his background work in historical interpretation, he has experience in shoemaking and tailoring.  While these “soft “or “genteel” trades may not seem to be related to the tin work, they actually have interesting parallels.  In tailoring, shoemaking and tin work, patterns are drawn and cut from a two-dimensional material and the pieces are shaped and joined into three-dimensional forms.  The visualization skills and hand-and-eye coordination are much the same.

Joel refined his trade skills and interpretive experience as an artificer at Fort Ticonderoga in New York State.  His responsibilities included production of clothing and shoes for the Fort’s interpretive programming.  His study of original objects and attention to detail provided outstanding accessories which enhance the physical setting of the Fort. 

In addition to his hand skill experience, Joel’s background includes historic military research and presentation with a particular interest in provisioning the southern army during the Revolution.  This rich background in research, presentation skills, and detailed hand work already has made Joel a productive member of the site.

Join with us in welcoming these two tradesmen to our newest Historic Trade.

Contributed by Kenneth Schwarz, Blacksmith, Master of the Shop

For more information, listen to Harmony Hunter’s podcast with Steve Delisle, the first tinsmith in the Revolutionary City.

Comments

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  1. Looking forward to visiting the shop and seeing a new trade activity.
    Will everything be up and running by opening day?

    • Chuck~
      Indeed! The tin men are already at work in the new shop, and can be visited any day that you happen to be at the Armoury. Of course if you are here on opening day (November 16th) the fanfare will be greater, but the skills is already in place! Within the next week we will post an events schedule for the official Armoury opening. We hope that some of our blog followers will be able to join us!

    • Chuck- Our new Tin Men are working in the shop, although at present their schedule is a bit erratic. They need to attend some of the Colonial Williamsburg background training and orientation, so we cannot yet open the shop full time. I anticipate that the tin shop will operate five days a week with two tin men, most likely Tuesday through Saturday. They are working that schedule presently, with a few missed days due to these other obligations. We may keep them open Saturday and Sunday of the dedication weekend.

      • We will be visiting after the dedication for a long weekend. Looking forward to meeting them.

  2. Wow! Great additions to the team. Welcome Steve and Joel. So much has changed over the last year, more than ever, we’re looking forward to our Thanksgiving week visit.

  3. Will any of the objects made by the Tinsmith be sold in the shops at Colonial Williamsburg?

    • Mary Anne-

      Initially, we will dedicate most of our tin shop resources to meeting our own demands for tinware in the Historic Area. As we catch up with the Historic Area needs, we will begin to produce items for sale through Prentis Store. I would imagine that that will be possible by some time next year.

  4. Ken/Meredith
    So glad you got the new tin guys.I am very impressed and can’t wait
    to come up and meet them. A sad note about our good friend and
    your co worker Bob Rowe. I have known him for several years.
    Our trip to CW was not complete without a visit with Bob. I know we all will miss his talent as a master Blacksmith. He always encouraged
    me when I was working on a project at home here in Georgia.
    It won’t be the same without him.

    • Kerry- Thanks for your continuing interest. We will look forward to having you visit and meet them in person.

      Thank you for your thoughts on our colleague Bob Rowe. We are sad to lose him as well. He was a valued member of the Colonial Williamsburg team in our Facilities Maintenance Department. Bob handled the modern behind-the-scenes ironwork within the Foundation. He was a very skilled blacksmith, and a true gentleman.

  5. Off topic but what is being built as shown in the roving webcam?
    Thx!

    • Lane~
      You’re not off-topic at all! The building currently featured on the Armoury’s Roving Webcam is the South Storage Building- the southernmost structure along the Armoury’s fence line. It was last uncovered by archaeologists in 2010, and is the final building to be reconstructed prior to November’s Armoury grand opening. It is quite small and has no fireplace, hence our interpretation that it served as a storage facility rather than a space in which Armoury workers spent significant time. The reconstruction will be finished before November 16th. We hope you have the opportunity to visit it in-person!

  6. Hi Meredith & Ken,
    It’s good to see the storage building going up. What kind of paint job will this building have, White or Red/Brown? It looks like it will have a wooden floor? Any windows or just light from the open door?
    Will there be webcam or perhaps a live web-cast for the grand opening? Unfortunately we will not be able to attend.
    So sorry to hear about Bob. He will be missed.
    Have a good week,
    Chris

    • Hi Christine – the newest little storage building does indeed have a wood floor, and the single door will provide the only light inside the structure. It will be tarred with straight pine tar, rather than the tar paint that is on the kitchen and tin shop. Tar helps the clapboards perform better, preventing them from drying out and cracking in the sun. Also, it helps keep the nails from rusting: nails on a clapboard roof are exposed to the elements, and the rain, along with the natural acidity of the oak boards, rusts the nails to the point that they pop loose causing the roof to leak. Tar helps a lot…

      • Hi Garland,

        Thanks for the update.

        Hoping for great weather the weekend of the opening.

        Hope to watch if web-cams in place.

        Have a great Fall season,
        Chris

  7. With all of the attention paid to detail, it is no wonder you have found such well qualified individuals to man the shop. I have been following the progress of the shop. Our first visit was as the Charlton’s Coffeehouse was almost finished. But I wonder, when did the tin shop really start? I’m sure it was known a shop existed somewhere in the city. Was it always suspected to be on the site of the Mary Stith building? To read of the discovery of tin scraps at the site of the Mary Stith building was fun. Was the addition of the tin shop part of the armoury master plan? Are there any digs in process this week?

    • Good morning, Dave~
      Glad that you have enjoyed following progress on the tin shop…from the discovery of tinned iron scraps to the installation of tin men. Sounds as if you might have the lock on sustained interest by a blog follower!

      What we know about the tin shop is this: the original was likely built as a tenement in the 1760s. When Armoury development began in 1778, the tenement, perhaps no longer in use, was commandeered and refitted as a tin shop. By 1779, James Anderson records the arrival of an Armoury “tin man”, but he was not likely the first…there were already significant quantities of tinware leaving the Armoury. There may have been other tin plate workers in other shops in town, but not in the State’s employ.

      We did not initially focus on the Mary Stith tin shop as the Armoury’s tin shop, in part because it is not located on the Armoury property. Additionally, the reference to this structure as a tin shop comes from a 19th century source: Mary Stith’s (1813) will. Two boundaries were therefore crossed–one physical, the other, temporal. Once we broadened our perspective, it began to make sense. And so in answer to your next-to-last question: No, reconstruction of the tin shop was not part of our initial plan (as it is outside the bounds of the Armoury lot). Generosity on the part of this project’s benefactor allowed us to add the tin shop to the reconstruction plan once we realized its significance.

      Finally, yes, we are currently digging! The archaeologists can be found at Market Square, next to the Powder Magazine, where we are looking for evidence of the 1757 Market House.

  8. All:
    We will be making our yearly trip to Williamsburg the first two weeks of December and are looking forward to seeing, first hand, the progress since our last visit November 2012. What should we we looking for, in particular?

    Eleanor new?
    Dick And Karen

  9. Correction:
    Eleanor news?

    • Karen and Dick~
      You’ll see some big changes at the Armoury if your last visit was a year ago! Not only has the Tin Shop been reconstructed during that span, it is now functional. Other additions include a new workshop toward Francis Street, a storage building (now nearly complete), and a very fine privy! Personally, I think the biggest change to the site has to do with the fences. With the fence now installed in its 18th century position, the whole Armoury complex has taken on a different feel…more enclosed, and somehow, more integrated. Eleanor is up to her same old tricks. She will, no doubt, greet you warmly… as she greets all Armoury visitors (particularly if you bring food!).

  10. We met the Tin Men last week, along with Garland and Ken. What a wonderful addition to Colonial Williamsburg! Their program was very informative. We saw their wares being used in the cobbler’s shop and gunsmith shop. As usual, all of the shops were interesting.

    It was fun to see the excavation in search of the Market House, and the thought that perhaps a corner had been located in the midst of the debris from a drug store and other later structures.

    The wheelwrights told us of their backlog of work, including a carriage for the cannon cast at CW! They said the cannon may be useable and that inclusions were somewhat normal.

    The plans for a Market House and backlog at the wheelwright shop indicate CW is continuing to improve and work towards it’s mission. There was more for us to see since our last visit and we are planning our next.

    Congratulations to all.

    Dave and Nan

  11. Meredith,
    We leave a week from today to spend 2 weeks in CW. I can’t wait to see all the progress since our last visit and of course to witness the Grand Ilumination. We are particullary interested in seeing the new tin shop and watching the “tin men” in action.

    Hope to see you then.

    Karen and Dick Meredith

    • Karen and Dick~
      What a great time you’ve chosen to be here! The tin shop (and the tin men!) are definitely worth a long visit, as is the rest of the Armoury complex. I hope you will be in touch during your 2 weeks here. We aren’t hard to find! Safe travels.

  12. MEREDITH,
    We are here and the weather has been great, but seems to be turning south. We have been keeping an eye out for you at the dig, to no avail.
    We may get a chance to track you down in the next few days. We visited the “tin men” amd were duly impressed with the shop and their work. We will visit them and the whole armoury several more time while we are here.

    Eleanor came running for kitty treats, which thrilled us.

    Dick and Karen Meredith

    • Dick and Karen-
      Check your email for a response! As for Eleanor, you’ve learned that her affection can, indeed, be purchased!

  13. I see snow today. A good day for lots of warm soldering irons.
    I’ll bet Eleanor is by the fire today.

    Dick and Karen

    • Eleanor is always happiest when her “Kitchen Staff” is around. As the Armoury kitchen is, indeed, open today, you will no doubt find her curled up in front of the fire…tending a pot of stew.


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