Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.


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.



Making a New Hampshire Paint Pot.

UncategorizedRob GorrellComment

One day while scouring the Googlesphere for ideas for projects I ran across this great little tin item on the New Hampshire Historical Society webpage. The original can be seen here. paint pot 2

It is owned by the NH Historical Society and is Object 1975.023, dated 1850.   The description is " Small oval tin pot. Partitioned in middle with large flange at one end. Fits comfortably in the hand. Small handle on one side."

I contacted Doug Copeley at the Society to see if they had any more information and was told that the "pot was purchased in 1975 from an antique dealer in Hollis, NH, who had purchased it in Vermont. The dealer was told that it was a carriage striper’s paint pot. One section was for the paint, and the other for the thinner."

To me the small projects are sometimes harder than big ones. For example, on a large lantern with lots of parts, if you are off just a little here and there it doesn't always show. But if you are off on a small item with few parts...well, you can't miss it. The original item is less than 2 inches high and less than 6 inches long.Making a New Hampshire Paint Pot.  Layout precision is something that I am still learning, so this seemed like a good project.

There was only the one image online to go from, but there were dimensions given. So with dividers, a ruler and calculator I worked up what I hope is a decent pattern.paint pot pattern

The technique that was new to me on this project was the flange on the top of the pot portion. I have watched master tinsmiths like Bill McMillan work a lip like this over a stake. But he has been at it about 30 or so years longer than me and I did not have any success doing it that way. I ended up making a wooden two piece form to work the tin over. I first formed and soldered the body around the solid inner form. Then I put the tin and inner mandrel inside of the outer part. This way I could use a mallet to swage the lip over against the top of the form. The inner mandrel also made it much easier to burr the edges of the bottom to fit over the body of the cup.IMAG0185

I doubt that this is the best way to do this, but it worked for me. I would be very happy to hear other techniques or experiences.

The rest was pretty straight forward, handle, divider and the lip, which I assume is for mixing the paint and thinner. As usual, I did not remember to take very many in process photos, but here is one.paint pot 3

And here is another image of the finished pot.paint-pot-etsy1

If anyone has more information about this paint pot or similar tin items, or if you have suggestions to improve mine, please leave a comment.  I am also posting this on my FaceBook page.


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.

lantern_ITM_63013      lincoln original 2   railsplitter

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.