Reviving the Tin Painter's Art
A MUSEUM or two, some old tinware and a strong feeling for authenticity in her art work have given Patric Claiborne Bauernschmidt of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a hobby with a future.
Descendant of the historic Louisiana Claibornes (she uses the name Patric Claiborne for sales purposes), Patric has long been interested in regional arts and crafts in the United States. But not until she accompanied her Navy husband to Carlisle Barracks four years ago did she discover a regional craft which appealed to her more than all the rest. That was the tinware painting artistry of the old Pennsylvania Dutch peddlers.
"If you live in the Pennsylvania Dutch country long enough," she says, "you can't help wanting to find out more about their colorful art."
And that's just what she did.
First, she visited local libraries to read all she could about the early Pennsylvania Dutch. She learned that these settlers arrived at their early homesites with little more than the clothes on their backs and an ax to build a log cabin. To offset the drabness, they expressed their love for color and design in decorated household utensils.
Each spring itinerant peddlers traveled the farm circuit, bringing pots, pans and gossip. Unpainted tinware would be piled high on carts, and the farm wives chose the pieces they wanted.
Each wife selected the design she liked for her teakettle or spice box, and the peddler would spend a day or two at the farm while he decorated the tinware to milady's specifications.
Then the housewives learned the simple art, too. The fact that neither they nor the peddlers were accomplished artists gave the original designs a unique quality.
WITH HER reading done, Mrs. Bauernschmidt started another research project. She visited museums and art centers to see the original works of the old peddlers. At each place she got permission to trace the exact designs off the old kettles, pans and boxes.
She located other pieces in antique shops, at auction sales and in the basements and attics of friends' homes. Soon she had over 100 authentic designs in her files. Only then did she begin the actual reproducing of old decorated Pennsylvania Dutch tinware.
Even though she was a newcomer to Pennsylvania Dutch country, her wares were soon exhibited at various local fairs and shows. It wasn't long before people sought to buy the items she had decorated.
When Mrs. Bauernschmidt noticed the marketing possibilities of her products, she decided to check on the profitable aspects of her hobby. She packed up a dozen of her best pieces and started a selling campaign.
Mrs. Bauernschmidt figured her tinware wouldn't sell as successfully in Pennsylvania where painted utensils are less novel, so she decided to go first to a "fringe" city. She selected Washington, D. C., and that's where she went as a modern tin peddler.
Her first task was to make a list of the shops and stores with gift departments; then she started what she felt might be a long process. But it didn't work out that way.
She went to House Unique, a popular shop in the nation's capital which features handmade gifts by American and European craftsmen, and displayed her wares. House Unique was impressed, and its representatives asked her to consign some pieces to the establishment.
A deal was made on a rather semi-exclusive basis. (Patric decided that because a husband and seven-year-old daughter require a certain amount of attention, she would rather limit her outlets. That way, she felt, she would be able to supply all the needs of her agent without disrupting her family life and without sacrificing art for mass production.) At that point her work passed from the just plain hobby to the profitable hobby stage.
Business really boomed after a Washington television station televised the artist and her hobby.
Patric has always been convinced that America is rich in culture, and that each section of the country has a regional art or craft which almost anybody can master. She said the same thing about decorating Pennsylvania Dutch tinware to her video audience, and it wasn't long before requests were coming in, asking her just how the process works. (At this writing she was working out details for conducting small classes in her home for interested local housewives.)
TO GIVE you an idea of the profitable aspects of Mrs. Bauernschmidt's hobby, here, are some dollars and cents figures.
First she buys old tin pieces wherever she can—from second-hand stores, at auction sales, rummage sales, dime stores and even from junk dealers. These items usually cost a nickel or dime, but seldom more than 25 cents. Friends and neighbors have given her, many pieces they are discarding. Special orders cost her more as she has them handmade by an old Dutch tinsmith.
Here is a list of some of the items she has decorated: pie tins, stewpans, spice boxes, lunch pails, candlesticks and snuffers, coffeepots, buckets, ladles, sugar scoops, scales, funnels, matchbox holders, cups, bowls, tobacco tins and many others.
When these pieces are decorated—she calls them Patricware—they sell for $2 to $15. In one year Patric's hobby added $1,000 to the Bauernschmidt till—and various side lines are now being studied.
Requests are starting to come in for design patterns, and there are possibilities that the Pennsylvania Dutch patterns might work as textile designs on place mats and furniture.
CAN ANYONE else profit by this hobby? Mrs. Bauernschmidt says, "Certainly. It's easy, and the market looks especially good since new tin and other metalware may grow increasingly scarce as defense efforts spread."
Pennsylvania Dutch designs are all made with a basic brush stroke—an extended teardrop-type stroke—and once a person learns that, he or she is in business. But there are a few other things to consider in converting a rusted tin coffeepot into a beautiful painted mantelpiece, and Mrs. Bauernschmidt is happy to pass these instructions on.
Scrape and clean the article thoroughly, using such helpers as sandpaper, steel wool, paint remover, Rusticide and elbow grease. The tin must be thoroughly wiped with turpentine to remove all traces of paint remover.
When it is completely dry, apply a primer coat of red sanding primer and then wait for twenty-four hours. Rub this down well with steel wool, and if the resulting surface is not smooth, apply more paint until a good finish is obtained.
Now you're ready to start decorating.
First, apply a background coat of flat lacquer, either black, red, blue or yellow in keeping with the Dutch tradition. Two coats may be necessary, and each must dry for twenty-four hours. The backgrounding is completed with a coat of satin-finish varnish.
If any white borders or bands are desired, apply them next, using a flat enamel undercoater. That takes another twenty-four hours of drying.
THERE ARE three ways of applying the design: freehand, stenciling and tracing. Because Patric uses authentic old designs which she keeps on transparent paper (Traceolene), she uses the third method. She transfers the design onto a piece of tin as follows:
Lay ordinary tracing paper over a pattern and make an outline tracing of the design. Rub the back of the tracing paper with powdered chalk (carbonate of magnesia), distributing it evenly over the surface of the paper with the flat of the hand.
Place the tracing paper on the tin where you want it, and fasten it down with Scotch tape. Using a well-sharpened pencil, go over the tracing very carefully, making sure the white chalk line comes out clearly on the tin. When the tracing is completed, the actual painting begins.
Apply the paint, using the basic stroke as shown in the accompanying illustration. When one color overlaps another, allow the bottom coat to dry for twenty-four hours to get best results. Any fine black lines used to make features stand out should be applied last. Then comes another coat of satin-finish varnish.
The resulting tin piece has a sparkle or newness to it; if an antique appearance is desired, proceed as follows:
Mix raw umber and turpentine to a thick creamy consistency and apply it to the whole tin by brush. After five minutes take soft cloth (cheesecloth) and rub off as much of the antiquing mixture as you desire.
After that dries, it takes just another coat of satin-finish varnish, and in twenty-four more hours the job is done. There are so many steps requiring drying periods of twenty-four hours that Mrs. Bauernschmidt does her work on a staggered schedule, putting varnish on some pieces, antiquing on others and flat coats on still others. In that way she is able to finish some items each day.
Artist Bauernschmidt feels that her hobby can be practiced in any section of the country where regional arts exist. She believes in authentic patterns, but freehand art also has a place in decorating such items as tinware, furniture and other utensils.
Mrs. Bauernschmidt's love is Pennsylvania Dutch, but you don't have to have Pennsylvania Dutch patterns to make a profitable hobby out of utensil decorating.
Note: To account for inflation, multiply prices by 8 to 10.