The Tin Man

Madison’s Cunningham plays part well
in Lanier Days re-enactment

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (May 2003) – Pat Cunningham grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, where he learned to make tin ware as a teenager while employed by Living History Farms. Prior to moving to Madison, Ind., a decade ago, he worked at similar living museums throughout the Midwest and New England, including Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass., and Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Mass.

Lanier re-enactors

Photo by Ruth Wright

From left, Tamaura Coghill
and Pat Cunningham

After moving to Indiana, he worked for a while as master tinner for Maintenance and Restoration of Indiana State Museums and Historic Sites. As an employee of the state, Cunningham’s primary projects were replicating original tin architectural features such as gutters, cornices and roofing at various historic properties.
Now in business as a full-time tinner, Cunningham creates by hand custom reproduction pieces for various clients including museums, educational institutions and re-enactors. His work has received national attention, including that of the prop company of the hit movie “Gangs of New York,” which ordered some of his pieces for the production. All of the items he makes are replicas of 18th, 19th and early 20th century tin objects copied from museum and private collections and photographs.
Cunningham’s unique tin reproductions will be on display in May during the annual Lanier Days, May 17-18 on the grounds of the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site in downtown Madison. The two-day festival will celebrate life in the mid-1800s with period activities and demonstrations.
The 1844 Greek Revival mansion, one of Madison’s premier historic attractions, was once the home of financier and railroad magnate James F.D. Lanier. Owned and operated by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Museums and Historic Sites, since 1926, it now provides the perfect backdrop for reminiscences of the area’s 19th century splendor.
Cunningham’s work is a natural fit for such an event. Much of his success as a tin craftsman can be attributed to his attention to detail. This includes reproducing historically accurate objects using hot-dipped tin, which Cunningham makes himself by dipping sheets of tinplate in hot tin to produce an authentic look and heavier coating. Hot-dipped tin, unavailable in the United States since the 1940s, is the type of tin used prior to the invention of electroplated tin, Cunningham said.
“We are the only people in the country that I’m aware of that are producing tin this way,” he said.

Photo by Ruth Wright

From left, Tamaura
Coghill and Pat

At Lanier Days, Cunningham will showcase everything from hot dipping to the actual forming of tin ware such as cups, plates, pots and lanterns, using authentic 19th century tools. His apprentice, Tamaura Coghill, will prepare period and seasonally appropriate food on a camp stove Cunningham built according to a patent recorded in 1864 by George A. Higgins of New York.
Cunningham called tin ware “the Tupperware of the 19th century,” explaining its inexpensive use in a variety of expendable kitchen, lighting and household goods of the period. Cunningham’s tin ware will be available for purchase at the event. His tin light fixtures will be on display at the celebration’s ball on Saturday night.
The Lanier Ball will be held at 7 p.m. on May 17 on the north lawn of the mansion. Tickets are now available for $10 per person. Civil War re-enactors in military costume will escort ladies in period ball gowns to the affair. Costumes are welcome but not required of the public.
Ten Penny Bit, a Louisville-based Celtic band, will play at the ball, and Don and Sylvia Coffee will call dances. In anticipation of the ball, a dance workshop will be held on Saturday afternoon, beginning at 3 p.m.
The Lanier Tea will be held on Saturday and Sunday afternoons beginning at 1:30 p.m. on the mansion’s south portico. Tickets to the Victorian-style tea are available on a first-come, first-served basis at $15 per person. Tea service includes scones and dessert breads catered by Vintage Views Inn of Madison, storytelling by Jeff Kuehl and music by Myra Dworski.
Prior to the weekend celebration will be the first “Heritage Week,” beginning, Monday, May 12, with guided tours of the mansion from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. followed by a Madison High School Band and Choir concert on the north lawn. Other activities planned for the week include a ground-breaking ceremony for the carriage house reconstruction project site east of the Mansion on Thursday; and the annual Heritage Day on Friday, May 16, when area fourth-grade students will converge at the mansion to learn more about history of the area.
Student activities that day will include an archeology program on the carriage house site, a demonstration of the pug mill brick making process, and a demonstration of mid-19th century stone cutting during the lunch break on the south lawn.
History Week will culminate with traditional celebration activities on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free and includes storytelling, strolling musicians, Civil War encampments, children’s games and period-style arts and crafts demonstrations.

• For additional information about the celebration or any of the events mentioned call (812) 265-3526 or visit the website: www.laniermansion.org.

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