Peter Blum, a third generation tinsmith, lives in Surry County and has worked full-time as a tinsmith for twenty years. He learned this family trade more than fifty years ago. “I was trained by my grandfather and father,” says Peter. Peter’s grandfather handcrafted many objects for historic Old Salem when it was being developed. His father was a master tinsmith at Old Salem for twenty-two years.
Peter started working for his grandfather when he was fifteen and wanted some extra money. “All the time I worked for my grandfather in high school and college was probably equivalent to a seven-year apprenticeship,” he says. “A traditional colonial apprenticeship was seven years because there are certain situations that only come up about once every seven years.”
His work includes a wide variety of items. The first piece he remembers finishing on his own was a chandelier made from bright tin, which always fascinated Peter as a boy. He also remembers making buckets for milking cows. He makes reenactment gear that includes items such as cups, canteens, and coffee pots, and he makes more than 100 types of cookie cutters. Along with candle molds, he makes his own beeswax candles. Peter made a number of objects for Hollywood’s Last of the Mohicans, and The Patriot. The movie creators sent Peter pictures of the needed items, and he went to work. “First you have to figure out how they made it,” says Peter. “Then you have to make the tools you’ll need to make it. I enjoy figuring out how to make it.”
Peter has been part of the North Carolina State Fair’s Village of Yesteryear for about eighteen years, and he has demonstrated at a number of festivals, including Merlefest. He has also conducted occasional classes or workshops for scouts. He reminds his students that the craft takes a long time to learn and cannot be mastered in a simple workshop. One complicating factor is that the tinsmith has to use many different tools. Peter’s tool collection includes a number of tools from his father and a couple from his grandfather. “I’ve been collecting tools for thirty years,” he says.
Peter has helped a few people get started or figure out some specific aspects of tin smithing, but he expects to be the last tinsmith in his family’s tradition. “In one respect, I’m a dinosaur,” he says, “Because the material is getting harder and harder to find.” Nevertheless, he loves perfecting his craft, and he continues to learn. “It’s how well you can recover from your mistakes that sets you apart from the rest,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”
Peter is available to demonstrate and exhibit his work.