worthy of Hollywood fame
VEVAY, Ind. In a shabby, river town theater in
the 1985 version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
filmed in Augusta, Ky., hangs an eight-foot chandelier lit by candles.
In the film, those notorious con men, the Duke and the King, wind up
swinging from the blazing fixture.
Jerry Wallin of Vevay, Ind., made that chandelier. His
wife, Sandra, made the coffee pots, plates and tableware used by Huck,
Jim, the Duke and the King in various scenes on the raft and on the
Together, Jerry and Sandra operate Wallin Forge from their historic
home in downtown Vevay.
Many people dream of operating a home-based business, and many couples
fantasize about working together, but few have been as successful as
the Wallins, who married in the 1970s and have been successful at both
Jerrys career path was set early on; metal smithing had been a
hobby of his since his teen-age years, and after studying painting and
fine arts at the University of Louisville, he set out to become a blacksmith.
I had to call myself a metalsmith, however, because people thought
all I did was shoe horses, Jerry recalls.
Sandra became a tinsmith by a more circuitous route. A native of Cuyahoga
Falls, Ohio, she was educated as a medical photographer.
I was working at the Appalachian Museum in Berea (Ky.) as a photo
archivist and went to Fort Boonesboro to document the work being done
there. Jerry was there setting up the forge, and that is how we met.
Shortly after their marriage, Jerry was approached by James Thomas,
president of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, and asked to do some tinsmithing.
He was too busy with his other projects, so Sandra decided she could
Approaching tinsmithing as a scholar, Sandra studied the history and
began acquiring antique tools.
I wanted old tools authentic to the history of the craft, and
it took me one and a half years to find them, Sandra explains.
Today, San-dras shop is in one large, neatly organized room of
the 1835 house, built by a craftsman from Switzerland who made saddles
in a shop in the side yard. The large windows on the south side of the
room look out on the Ohio River, the gardens, the bird feeders and Jerrys
forge in the back.
Their house is filled with examples of their work. Sandra laughs when
she says, Its our store, so to speak. Customers want to
see samples of our work, so much of it is right here.
In the foyer is a wonderful table with a mirror hanging over it draped
in fabric and tassels. But no, its all iron! And just one example
of Jerrys fool the eye technique that has proven so
A chair in the dining room appears to be a lovely piece of walnut, painstakingly
turned and joined. Again, the viewer is fooled; the chair is made of
plate steel, with a shaped seat and rods forged into shape. The pieces
are joined just like wood, using rivets or mortise and tenon joinery.
Of this particular chair, Atlanta art critic Tom Peterson wrote, J.R.
Wal-lins cleverly titled Not a Wooden Chair looks
almost exactly like an Ethan Allen-style colonial wooden chair, and
it strongly tempts the viewer to touch it in order to verify that it
is indeed made of forged steel with a faux burl burnish.
It is a carefully crafted joke, in effect, with historical precedents
in the work of Marcel Ducamp and the dadaists.
Jerry says much of the metal smithing process is mental. I may
have a project cooking in my brain for years. I dont always put
it on paper, it just comes out as I do it. Maybe if there is a mechanical
part, I will draw it to make sure it will work.
Sandra has made all the lamps in their home.
These lamps, reproductions of fixtures from 1750 to 1850, begin with
A lamp can have up to 20 different parts. I start with a paper
pattern, then transfer that to tin plate so I will have a permanent
pattern. I do not use pure tin, but sheet tin, which is sheet iron coated
with tin to keep it from rusting. This is what a tinsmith has always
Tin is a rare and expensive metal and very soft, she explains. Historically,
it was found only in the homes of the wealthy.
The Huck Finn work is not the Wallins only brush with fame. They
also did the lighting fixtures for a television movie of Black
Beauty, filmed at Shaker Village. Jerrys work has been included
in a BankOne TV commercial, the one with the branding iron. He made
it. Sandra made the lanterns for Walter Cronkites boat. She also
made lamps and lanterns for Mariette Hartley.
The Wallins visit Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill three times a year
to demonstrate their crafts. The gift shop there sells many of their
wares. Most of the rest of their work is custom, and they get their
jobs through word-of-mouth referrals.
To inquire about Wallin Forge, call them at
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