“Tinsmithing is my passion,” says Michael Felk, who practices the artwork with a deep understanding and appreciation for the history and cultural heritage of the craft, while also maintaining high standards for his work.
Michael grew up in Winston-Salem, and as a teenager he frequently rode his bicycle over to Old Salem. “I love the heritage of our beginnings as a nation,” he says. “And the stores and artisans in Old Salem really intrigued me.” He was particularly interested in metal-smithing, both blacksmithing and tinsmithing.
After high school, Michael went to school for electronic and manufacturing engineering and moved to the Raleigh area for several years to work in robotics and engineering technology. “But the metal work never left my heart,” he says, and in 1989, Michael started working with metal as a hobby.
Michael’s interest grew, and he continued to learn more about the history of the tin work, researching period methods from masters such as Thomas Quantrill, and Herbert Dyer, combined with local period tinsmiths like Gottlieb Schober and his apprentice, Johann Phillip Reich of the Moravian community of Old Salem. Reich’s shop is recognized in Salem as the first tin and copper smithing store. Michael went through what he calls an “apprenticeship collective” working with and learning about tin work up and down the east coast. Michael worked with Peter Blum of North Carolina, as well as Jim Burnett and Phil Kelly.
By 1994, Michael had moved to Yadkin County, where he opened his shop and started working full time with tin and lighting. From 1998 through 2003, he served the Yadkin County schools with an educational satellite program titled “Day in the Life of a Tinsmith” to all 4th grade students, presenting to more than 500 students over a seven-day period. A hands-on project was included, providing practical knowledge with actual experience, giving students an appreciation for the past. The program met 4th grade core curriculum requirements regarding North Carolina history and culture.
Michael has also served the city of Winston-Salem in presenting at the Dixie Classic Fair’s Yesterday Village. “His knowledge and personality draw fair goers in and keep them entertained while educating them on the craft of making practical and beautiful tin products,” says Fair Director, David Sparks. Michael says that what started as an interpretive exhibit has evolved into an entertaining historic presentation of tinsmithing.
Michael welcomes visitors into his shop, and he enjoys giving presentations on the craft and history of tinsmithing. He is particularly interested in informing young people about traditional craft skills. “I want to see youth turned on to their forebears’ creativity and ingenuity,” Michael says.