Tinware by Barbara Bunsey

“To walk in the footsteps of our ancestors… To achieve something exceptional with our hands… To feel their presence as we interpret and embellish their designs… To bring them to life in our era… To link the past with the future in our present day.” 

Tinware photos courtesy Barbara Bunsey.

When I would see painted tinware at an antique store or show I was always drawn to it, feeling comfort and peace. It always spoke to me in ways other objects did not. As I learned more about the “flowering” done on tinware produced by tinsmiths in the mid-nineteenth century, and then sold by itinerant salesmen, I came to appreciate this art even more.   Many family tin shops, mainly in New England and Pennsylvania, were producing wares. To make them more appealing, women in the families began to add painting. Although most of the art was not signed researchers have found certain characteristics and styles used in certain shops, and have been able to attribute those pieces to certain shops, and even certain painters. At that time oil paints were used in the decorating; today I use non-toxic acrylic paints to interpret designs on period tinware. The tinware produced by today‘s tinsmiths are done using tools and practices of those from the nineteenth century.  As I paint the stylized flowers and leaves, add strokes and linework, feel the tin in my hands, I think of all those women of years past, “flowering” (a term used in the nineteenth century) the work of their employer, or even a tinsmith in their family. I hope they are happy with my interpretations.

Antique document boxes and coffin tray (background).

The two small document boxes are antiques that I purchased at antique shows.  Although some of the painting has disappeared over the years, much is still present and shows the beauty and precision accomplished by our forebears. The coffin tray in this picture’s background is one of the designs I painted and submitted to Early American Life magazine for their Directory of Traditional American Crafts.

From left: tin tea canister, two tin coffee pots, tin coffin tray, tin document box.

Helen Jeglic created the designs on the two coffee pots. The designs on the tea canister and coffin tray are some of my interpretations of antique pieces. In the nineteenth century, chemicals were applied to the tin to create crystallization. I mimicked that technique in the center of the tray with several layers of metallic paints, brushes, and plastic wrap. Werner Wrede, who painted with Peter Ompir, painted the small document box on the right. I hope this trip down memory lane inspires you to learn more about early decorative painting in America. Barbara Bunsey bbunsey@calicogoose.com www.calicogoose.com