Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In which I meet a Wisconsin blacksmith November 13, 2014

DARKNESS AND RED-HOT HEAT and banging of metal against metal…

T-C Latane, 412 Second Street in Pepin, Wisconsin.

T-C Latane, 412 Second Street in Pepin, Wisconsin.

Memories of accompanying my farmer father to the blacksmith shop in my hometown of Vesta flash through my mind as I step into the shop of Tom Latané in Pepin, Wisconsin.

Blacksmith Tom Latane talks about his craft  in the front part of his shop. Behind him are examples of his work.

Blacksmith Tom Latane talks about his craft in the front part of the shop he shares with his wife, Catherine. Behind him are examples of his work. Several artisans sells their wares here.

My husband and I have stopped here on a mid-week October afternoon during a brief get-away. By chance, we have found this life-long blacksmith in his shop where anvils and vises, buckets and axe and tools of the trade crowd the brick-floored space.

Tom splits wood in the area where he blacksmiths.

Tom splits wood in the area where he blacksmiths.

While Tom rapid-splits wood for a forge fire, I scan this grimy room with a good luck horseshoe clamped on brick above a neatly lined shelf of corralled chisels.

Hardware crafted by Tom.

Hardware crafted by Tom.

Tom also works with wood, sometimes combining wood and metal in pieces.

Tom also works with wood, sometimes combining wood and metal in pieces.

Tom created this candleholder.

Tom created this candleholding masterpiece.

Standing here in this time, in this place, with a man practicing the aged craft of blacksmithing seems almost surreal. But Tom has been doing this all his adult life, relocating from Maryland to open his Pepin shop in 1983 with his wife, Catherine, a tinsmith.

Two of Catherine's cookie cutters.

Two of Catherine’s cookie cutters.

She’s a native of Minnesota, just across the river, and an artist, too, who crafts tin cookie cutters by hand. Catherine is known for her commemorative Laura Ingalls Wilder cookie cutters in a community that each year celebrates its most famous native daughter.

An anvil in Tom's shop.

An anvil in Tom’s shop.

Surely blacksmith shops existed in this area during the late 1860s when Charles and Caroline Ingalls lived with their family in a cabin in the Big Woods near Pepin.

Tom looks the part of a craftsman.

Tom looks the part of a craftsman.

History holds this town. And Tom looks every bit the part of a long ago craftsman, untamed white beard and longish hair and period cap and suspenders giving him the appearance of a historic reenactor. But he is authentic, hand-forging locks, hardware, tools and candle fixtures.

Symbols of the trade for blacksmithing and tin cutting.

Symbols of the trade for blacksmithing and tin cutting.

I almost expect Charles Ingalls to walk in the door.

A sign at the shop.

A sign at the shop.

FYI: For more information about T. & C. Latané, as this couple calls their business, click here. The shop at 412 Second Street in Pepin is open from noon – 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, May – December or by chance.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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12 Responses to “In which I meet a Wisconsin blacksmith”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    I love running across these local artisans. One of the special things about small towns. You won’t find anything like this at the mall. There is another gem further up river in Bay City, WI. The next time you are in the area stop at Old Stuff Antiques. Limited edition birdhouses produced every year and some pretty amazing horse busts and rocking horses carved from wood. Cynide and I were a lucky recipient of one of these special birdhouses for a wedding gift.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    He does look like a blacksmith for sure! What fun to find someone who still actively practices his trade and who obviously loves what he does. Love their hours—by chance. Yep—that is the way to be able to run a business.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    So interesting and close to home!!!! You had me with the first WARM photo!!!!! Looking out at the snow and cold vs looking at your photos of not long ago reminds me of how quickly life changes. That tin ceiling is “to die for”!!!!!!

  4. Thread crazy Says:

    How neat to meet a blacksmith craftsman in person. Now that’s a trade that it seems we are starting to see a resurgence of here in the south. I love the cookie cutters and that candleholder.

  5. Jackie Says:

    I love this kind of stuff…great find Audrey. I especially like the photo of Tom and the photo of the handcrafted hardware. That’s one talented man!

  6. Great post! And Little House sites seem to follow us around. Or do we follow Little House?

    • Thank you. I’ve been to most of the Little House sites and was fortunate enough to grow up within 25 miles of Walnut Grove. I know Laura’s books from her books, not the TV show. A grade school teacher read the entire series to her students. When I had children, I read the whole series to my two girls.


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