Judy Miller

The Tin Man

No, I’m not talking about the tin man in the Wizard of Oz. I’m talking about Bill Metz, tinsmith in Middle Amana. One of the things I’ve most enjoyed as I’ve researched and written books set in the Amana Colonies has been the opportunity to visit with lifelong residents whose ancestors were some of the original settlers of the villages. Bill Metz is one of those special people.  Since my latest book, A Shining Light, features a tinsmith, Bill was good enough to spend time teaching me a bit about the Amana tinsmiths who created everything from cookie cutters to lunch pails to gutters for the Amana homes.

I can tell you that Bill’s love of the Amana Colonies shines every bit as bright as the metal in his tinsmith shop. I was thrilled by his willingness to share both the history of his home and the art of tinsmithing with me. Bill grew up in Middle Amana and still lives in the house that once was a kitchen house where his grandmother was a küche baas.

Much of the old tinsmithing equipment has been moved into Bill’s basement where he creates items that are sold by the Amana Arts Guild using some of the equipment brought to Amana from Ebenezer (the settlement in New York)  or even Germany.

Bill showed me how to use a bar folder, grooving machine, beading machine, circle cutter, gutter beader and, of course, there was every size and shape of shear as well as patterns that have been used throughout the years as the tinsmiths created kettles, colanders, pail ladles, food baskets, pans and cookie cutters for the kitchens. (Above and below are just a few of the tools and machines in Bill’s basement workshop.)

The tinsmiths were a fixture in several Amana villages and played a vital role in the Colonies. The tinsmithing shops created the kettles, colanders, pails, ladles, food baskets, pans, and many other items used in the kitchen houses.

They also fabricated gutters and downspouts for the Amana houses, created items for industries, the meat markets, the washhouses and personal items such as bathtubs. Of course, tinware in need of repair also lined the workbenches of the village tinsmith.

In addition, twice a year people from surrounding villages would bring kitchen utensils by the wagonful to be repaired by the Amana tinsmiths. Changing from craftsman to artisan, the tinsmith also created delightful cookie cutters, cupcake molds and fashioned large cake pans in a special shape and used only for weddings.

Although the tinsmith shops in the Amana Colonies closed after the society voted to cease their communal lifestyle back in 1932, I’m thankful Bill has chosen to continue the craft. Next week I’ll take you through the portion of Bill’s home where his grandparents lived and much of the Amana furniture still sits where it has for many years.

For those of  you who plan to read A Shining Light, I hope this blog and the pictures will help enhance the hero, Dirk Knefler, and his position as an Amana  tinsmith!

May you find joy as you explore history. ~Judy

2 Comments

  • Jackie McNutt says:

    Judith, what an interesting post. I love to learn of these skilled craftspeople. Thank you

    • Judy Miller says:

      Hi Jackie,
      So glad you enjoyed the post. Since I’m no longer blogging at Writes of Passage, I decided I’d do more blogging here on my own website where I can blog as frequently as I’d like about the topics I enjoy. I’m like you–I love learning about the old crafts and visiting with folks who still keep them alive for us!

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