- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

WEST BEND, Wis. (AP) - If you watch closely during the movie “The Revenant,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, you just might see some of Bob Bartelme’s handiwork.

Bartelme, a tinsmith, owns Backwoods Tin & Copper LLC in West Bend.

In 2014, he was contacted by Hamish Purdy, set director for “The Revenant,” to create about 40 pieces of tin and copperware as replicas of objects used during the 1830s, the era in which the movie takes place. It is based on a true story.

Earlier this month, when the Oscar nominations were announced, “The Revenant” garnered the most with 12, including production design - in which the nominees are Purdy for set decoration and Jack Fisk for its production design.

“They had me send the finished items to two different locations in Canada where they were filming the movie,” Bartelme said this month, standing in his West Bend workshop amidst the tools of his trade - many of which date to the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Bartelme saw the film recently and said he thought he caught a fleeting glimpse of one of his copper mugs in a scene featuring DiCaprio but it happened so quick, he really wasn’t sure.

“There is one scene in the movie, though, that takes place in a tavern or cantina in a fort, and there’s a whole group of my mugs and such on the table,” Bartelme said, a smile crossing his face.

It was a smile he and his wife, Marilyn, shared when that scene appeared in the movie, she said.

“His smile just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Marilyn Bartelme said. “It was really something to see.”

“I kept nudging my wife during the movie, saying, ‘there’s another one,’” Bob Bartelme said, laughing. “I think she was finally getting tired of me by the time the movie was over.”

“It was really hard for me to not stand up and yell, ‘Hey, that’s my husband’s stuff up there!’” Marilyn Bartelme said.

This isn’t the first time Bartelme’s artisanship has made its way to the big screen.

“I had some things in the Ron Howard movie, ‘The Missing,’ with Tommy Lee Jones,” Bob Bartelme said.

“A lot of my things appear in documentaries, like ‘The Civil War,’ by Ken Burns by way of re-enactors who have bought them from me and carry them in the movies,” Bartelme said.

It was a re-enactor who got Bob Bartelme interested in applying his hands-on skills to creating replicas of items once used in everyday life made of tin and copper.

“It started out with a candle lantern that I had bought. My re-enactor buddy saw it and said it would be perfect for his camp that recreated the fur trading days in Wisconsin. I tried to find another one like it for him but couldn’t,” Bob Bartelme said. “I figured it couldn’t be that hard to make one, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

Bob Bartelme needed to purchase tin for his project and said he needed to buy a minimum of 25 sheets.

“When I finished that one lantern, I had 24 1/2 sheets of tin left over, so I figured I should put them to good use,” he said, noting that is how his hobby turned into a business in 1993.

Bartelme and his wife have since been bitten by the re-enactment bug, too, and during the summer, they can be found at various re-enactment encampments, where he brings along some of his wares to sell.

“Re-enactors are particular and want items that are true to the period,” Bob Bartelme said.

“Bob does a lot of research on the things he makes so they are accurate,” Marilyn Bartelme said.

He even uses tools from the era, collector items in themselves.

“This one is from 1803,” Bartelme said, showing off a piece of equipment he said he uses most every day in his work.

Bob Bartelme also does repair work, getting requests for such work from all over the world.

“This is a very old kettle, likely from the mid-to-late 1700s and it needs a new bottom,” Bob Bartelme said, holding a pot, its patina rich with age.

He also has invented a few things. Copper mugs are beautiful but have a few drawbacks, like sweating when filled with cold drinks and becoming hot with hot ones.

“I created a copper mug that has a stainless steel insert so it doesn’t sweat and keeps drinks hot but won’t burn your mouth,” Bob Bartelme said.

A Milwaukee native, Bartelme said he discovered early he enjoyed working with his hands from helping his father.

“In school, we had woodworking and metalwork classes and I enjoyed those,” he said.

When he decided to make his hobby a business in 1993, Bartelme said he and his wife started looking for a place that would allow him to have a shop.

“We moved from Milwaukee to West Bend and I’ve been in the tinsmith business ever since then,” said Bartelme, who is one of only a handful of folks in the country plying that old trade full time today.


Information from: Daily News, https://www.dailynewsol.com/

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