Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.

Tinware

Let's make an English Ship Lantern like the ones on the HMS Victory.

TinwareRob GorrellComment

I have a long list of tin items that I would like to learn to make in my shop. One item near the top of the list is the ship lanterns that are hanging on the HMS Victory in Portsmouth England.  Recently I have been asked by some reenacting groups to make up some examples that they might be able to use in their interpretation of late 18th and early 19th century navy crews.

A problem that I run into in trying to reproduce a period lantern from the late 18th/early 19th century is the difficulty in locating and seeing dated original lanterns.  For the most part they did not survive to our times.  There are various mid to late 19th century lanterns floating around, but earlier lanterns are scarce, or I haven't found them yet.  I have mostly worked from paintings, period drawings and assumptions based on later lanterns.

The best contemporary illustration of the lanterns on the Victory I have found to date is the painting "The Death of Admiral Lord Nelson" by Arthur Devis, 1807.  Devis made sketches for the painting on board the HMS Victory upon her return from the Battle of Trafalgar.

I also received some closeups and dimensions of the lanterns currently on display on the Victory from the museum staff.  The current lanterns look like the lanterns in the painting, but have some necessary modern adaptations.

Photo from HMS Victory website.

Working from this information and advise from other tinsmiths and historians, I started working up a pattern for the lantern.  The first couple of attempts were disasters, but in time I think I worked up a pattern that is a fair interpretation of the lantern.

The panes on this lantern are a modern compromise, being flakes of mica embedded in a resin material.  The original lanterns most likely had thin panes of horn for panes.  Every horn worker that I have talked to says that it would be difficult and expensive to reproduce the horn panes. It is a very labor intensive process and would probably triple the price of the lantern. There is a source for horn panes made from water buffalo horn, but in my opinion they are too dark to be useful. 

This lantern is painted with black oil paint to try to approximate a period oil finish. I do not know if the original Victory lanterns were painted or japanned.

This lantern is fitted for a candle, though the originals may have been whale oil lanterns.

The next step is to talk to the living history people and see what they think of this design.  This lantern is the same size as the originals, 21" tall by 7.5" in diameter.  We might need to compromise a little to make it a little easier to pack to events.  In the meantime I will be putting the current version in my store on this site.

 

 

 

A Big lantern for a Mason friend.

Tinware, UncategorizedRob GorrellComment

My friend Bill has been wanting me to make him one of my large parade lanterns (AKA party beacon) for quite a while.  He wanted several different masonic themed panels along with his gunsmithing notice.  Unfortunately I could not figure out a way to get all that information tin punched onto the lantern without it looking like an odd star chart.  So we talked more about it and simplified the design to one repeated image with his initials added. This lantern was an interesting challenge and was fun to make.  I look forward to seeing it lit up outside Bill's camp at an upcoming event.

 

Mason party beacon

Here is what it will look  like at night, minus the blur I hope.

 Mason party beacon night.

This lantern design is my interpretation of an 1830's parade lantern that is part of the Winterthur Museum collection.

 

A new red colonial lantern.

Tinware, UncategorizedRob GorrellComment
I have started playing around with painted finishes on some of my tinware.  It would be nice to be able to reproduce original paints, but so far most of the formulas for period paints that will stick to metal are pretty toxic. But I am still looking.

This lantern was painted with a few layers and colors of paint, and heated in an oven to get the final finish.

You can see more images in my Etsy Store.

 

 

Creating a Wide Awakes parade lantern.

Folk Art, Tinware, UncategorizedRob GorrellComment

When a tinsmith gets a chance to study an original antique tin item firsthand, or has access to a design drawn from an original, he or she can produce a reproduction.  More often what I create should really be called an historic interpretation.  I try to stay true to tools, techniques and designs from the period when creating a period piece.  But sometimes I end up blending parts of different traditional designs into a new piece that may or may not have existed in the period. Living history people can get really steamed on this subject. This is my interpretation, non-expert like. One project I was contacted for recently involved making what we called the Wide Awake Lantern.

Wide wake 1

 

We had the rooster image to start from and a couple of images of original parade lanterns found online.

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I worked up a design that was a combination of features and started working up prototypes.

?????????? It always looks so simple starting out on paper, but as I worked through the details I had to make many changes.  For example, it was decided that it would be much more practical to have a slide up panel that a hinged door on a lantern that was to be put on a swivel handle.

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We also decided to put an asphaltum finish on these lanterns. Asphaltum is an old recipe of asphaltum black, turpentine and varnish. It has to be painted on, dried and then baked at increasing temperature increments to drive off the volatiles. It is a long, stinky and messy process. In the case of these lanterns I had trouble getting a smooth layer of finish. The final result is not as smooth as I would have liked, but I think they are acceptable in a period context.

Another design feature that I had to work with was the wire bracket for the lantern to swing on.  No matter what I tried to to stiffen up the bracket, the whole assembly would flex when the lanterns were carried around.  The wire looks to be about the same size as in original examples, and the design is similar. I finally decided that the originals must have had a similar flex to them.  Just because something was made a certain way in the past doesn't mean that it was a perfect design.

In the end we came up with what I think is a good approximation of what a tinsmith may have made for a Wide Awake parade lantern in the mid 19th century.  it was a real learning process and if I am asked to make more I will be making some improvements to the design again.

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Making a Parade Torch.

Folk Art, TinwareRob GorrellComment

A colleague of mine contacted me a while back about reproducing some parade torches for his reenacting activities.  He needed some torches that could be carried in political rallies and parades from the 1860's period.  This was an opportunity for me to learn something new and I was happy to take on the project. It took a series of emails and picture swapping to get to the design that seemed to work the best.  We settled on something similar to this antique design.

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I ran into a problem with the screw on spout.  The problem being that I don't have any idea how to make a screw on cap. Some other tinsmiths took a look at it with me and we threw around the idea of adapting an existing metal cap to fit, but didn't work out in the end. We ended up going with a corked spout on this batch.  if anyone is interested in teaching me how to make a screw cap I would very interested.  We also talked about a press on cap but were afraid they might leak.

The bodies were rolled on a mandrel and punched to receive the copper rivets that would hold the handles on.

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I did not get photos of making the rest of the parts. The tops and bottoms were cut and burred on a burring machine then touched up on a steel mandrel. The handle and hangers were a bit of trial and error to get right.  It's weird how simple these things always look on paper...

??????????The wicks for this series of lanterns were old smudge pot wicks I found in an antique shop.  They flame huge!  I ended up wrapping thin wire around the wick top to reign in the flame a little.  In the future I think I will try a smaller type of wick.

torch 2The torch shown above is the final design. This particular torch is made from hot dip tin which is a much more historic appearance than the shiny modern electroplate that is commonly used.

As always, I welcome any comments about the methods of construction, suggestions and opinions related to this post.