“The Travelling Tinker” by John Burr

The Travelling Tinker

The Travelling Tinker

A painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893).  Tinkers were originally tinsmiths or “tinners”.  One of many itinerant jobs pursued by a class of casual laborers.  These were mostly skilled and specialized crafts like basket making, shoe repair, leather work, and metal work but many poorer workers were migrant farm labor picking hops and tending the market gardens during the peak harvest.  The fellow in the image above appears to be a fairly well-off repairman mending a seam in a pot.  This from a time when new items were a rare purchase.

I love deciphering images like this for the details of domestic life.  Unlike most photos, there is real intention in what the artist chose to include or not in the painting.  The house is clearly a poor one but a freshly killed chicken hangs from a nail on the wall by some dry roots.  A handmade broom leans against the wall next to a basket that has the tradesman’s coat lying across it.  The oldest daughter tends the infant while the mother stands by the laundry basin with a toddler behind.  All the children look on while the novel worker plies his trade in a waistcoat and hobnail walking shoes.

Itinerant Blacksmiths

GypsyBlacksmiths

I don’t have much information about the image above but I like what it is depicting.  Mom working the bellows while Dad heats up something he’s working on while the kids all look on.  Like most travelers in Europe, these (probably Roma) don’t have fancy wagons or accommodations; just carts and some rough tents.

We fear what we don’t understand.  Even though people like this have been ostracized and persecuted for centuries, they filled a vital role in society catering to the poorer elements as blacksmiths, tinsmiths, cobblers, basket-makers and more.

Tinsmiths, a short film and a longer one…

A short film about a great craftsman.  I like this one because the project documented here is so unusual.  The almost forgotten art of the tinsmith.

 

And a longer one that is really worth watching.  It’s a treat to see someone who knows his business so well.  A dying breed of traditional artisan.

“This is a video of County Mayo native Ted Maughan demonstrating his immense skills as a Tinsmith. Ted is a member of the travelling community and has kept this great craft alive for many years. His work is a credit to him and this is only a small example of the quality work that Ted is able to carry out.”

We just don’t value the artisan or craftsman the way we one did.  The Industrial Revolutions have wrecked havoc in our culture.

Instead of this:

the-tinsmith-1385932752_bWe opt for outsourcing, mechanizing, and abstracting our purchase.  These days, for now, are lost in the Industrial world.

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The Tinsmiths, 1763

tinsmith_diderot_1763Stump anvils, stakes, hammers, lamps, mandrel, soldering iron, and other goodies galore.  Diderot never missed a lick and this is as good as any.  From Diderot and D’Alembert 1763 Encyclopedia of Sciences, Arts and Trades.  One of my favorite resources.

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Medieval Tinsmith

Tinsmiths were the sheet metal workers of the preindustrial days in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  This almost certainly includes Africa as well but I haven’t been able to find any depictions yet.  These craftsmen created many everyday objects and mended all sorts of metal.

75-Amb-2-317-82-r.tifHere we see a smith creating a flask.  I doubt he would be whacking it from that height but old images of carpenters and smiths use this convention to show the movement.  Behind him are some of his wares including a pitcher, something shaped like a bottle, and a pile of funnels.  A stack of prepared metal sheets sits on a table next to him.

75-Amb-2-317-155-v.tifThe lantern maker has more great tools.  He is set up in front of the window for light.  His work surfaces are stumps but his bench is a fancy trestle type, not the typical tenon leg affair one normally sees from this period of history.  In this image, the smith is in the act of soldering the base onto the lantern.  This is the oldest image I have found, so far, of a soldering iron in use.  The little three-legged pot on the floor is a brazier, holding coals to heat the iron and he has a pretty nifty stake tool on the bench.  I think it’s a shears but please correct me if I’m wrong on that one.