Captured by copper

A familiar name with a familiar product will be making a familiar appearance at Saturday?s Hillsboro Arts & Craft Fair.

Lyndon Hett of Marion will bring his copper and metal art to the 41st annual fair for about the 15th time, he estimates.

?Hillsboro?s one of our better shows, and it?s one of the bigger shows,? he said.

The Hett name has been linked with copper art for years in Marion County, starting with Lyndon?s father, Ernest, whose trade was blacksmithing but became known in later years for the beautiful landscape scenes he created.

?My dad grew up in the Depression era,? Lyndon said. ?They weren?t poor by any means, but you did for yourself in those days. If a part broke for a farmer, you fixed it or you made it.

?They always said that when my dad was a kid he had the first blacksmith shop that was in a tree,? Lyndon added with a smile. ?He had a treehouse and had a blacksmith shop in it. Of course, he didn?t have fire or anything. It was play.

?I suppose that?s part of where the creativity comes, through.?

A relative latecomer

Lyndon was relatively slow to pick up the family avocation. He spent much of his working career as owner-operator of Aulne Grain Co. His son, Tracy, who also worked at the grain business, was the first to show interest in copper art while working with his grandfather during the winter months when the grain business was slower.

Tracy eventually developed Trace of Copper as a successful sideline business.

?When Trace got out of school, he was working for me, and he?d do (copper work) part-time,? Lyndon said. ?Then we got out of the grain business, and we both sort of needed a job.?

That prompted Lyndon to join his son at Trace of Copper.

?We worked together maybe 15 years,? he said. ?Basically, I was on the road a lot. We did 45 shows for several years. I did the shows, while Trace was home making the stuff.?

Eventually, the Hetts developed a wholesale end of the business, which grew to the point where they reevaluated their joint venture.

?About five years ago, as partnerships develop, we thought maybe it was time that we sort of each go our own way,? Lyndon said. ?I sort of kept the arts-and-crafts-show end of the business and he got more into the wholesale, where he doesn?t really have to have an outside person.

?He sells to a lot of stores and has a good business that way.?

Today, Lyndon?s business is called Quail Creek Copper. He and wife Neva go to about 20 shows a year, limiting the traveling distance to the 300-mile range.

?Trace and I still have a good relationship,? Lyndon said. ?It was one of those times?well, I needed to be creative, too, and he needed to be creative and be out from under dad?s wing, so to speak. It?s been good to both of us.?

Western niche

Lyndon has developed more of a ?western? niche in his art. Some of his most popular pieces incorporate hames?which are the two rigid pieces along the sides of a horse?s color?or saddle stirrups, pitch-fork tops, bale hooks and almost always barbed wire.

?We sell a lot of crosses anymore with masonry nails in them,? he added. ?They?re square nails?they look like an old barn nail, but they?re actually new masonry nails that they use today.?

He also incorporates horseshoe nails, often as ?fence posts? when he creates a scenic piece that may be enhanced by a windmill or roses or wheat heads made from copper.

?The hardest things for me to make are the roses, then the wheat is next,? Lyndon said about the time invested in a single project. ?It depends for each piece how much of that it has on it.?

Creating a windmill scene with some wheat heads on the backdrop of a spoked wheel takes about four hours, he estimated.

Knowing the market

Even though the cost of his basic materials has doubled or tripled since he started, Lyndon and Neva still charge about the same amount for the finished pieces.

?In the art-and-crafts-show arena, the dollar range is pretty important,? Lyndon said. ?I carry everything from $5 (items) to $300.?

His primary market is the $15 to $20 range.

?I call it the five-and-dime?it?s what makes your living,? he said. ?You?ve got to have a lot of that stuff, because that?s the bulk of it.

?Occasionally, we?ll sell some big items. But if I had to rely on $300 items, you couldn?t make it in most shows in this area. Maybe back East or West. Here, you?ve got to watch that price range.?

Work schedule

Hett calls himself ?semi-retired.? The time he spends working in his backyard shop at their home at 418 Locust St. varies according to the weather and their show schedule.

?I try to get in one good nap a day,? he said with a smile. ?Like I said, we are Social Security people.?

If the weather?s hot, Hett may start as early as 7 a.m. and work to 11 a.m., his lunch time. After a rest, he?ll often work from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Doing the show circuit sometimes requires more hours.

?When we?re doing shows, we?re putting in a lot more than 40 hours a week,? Hett said.

In the case of the Hillsboro show, he?ll have some inventory already on hand. But the size of the fair and the potential for sales means some extra labor.

?I want to have a good three to four weeks to make sure I got prepared for Hillsboro,? he said. ?Normally, we like to do two (shows) a month. If we can do two regular-sized shows, that?s plenty.?

If there?s a creative downside to knowing the arts-and-crafts market as well as he does, it?s realizing he has to invest a lot of time and energy developing the near-identical pieces that he knows will sell.

?I can get engrossed in (creating) a farm scene, and I don?t want to take a nap,? he said. ?But if I?m at a point where if I?m going to make 20 of those standing windmills, I get to dragging my feet a little bit.

?But I still like the creative side of it. Just to make something different?I?d like to do a little more of that.?

Are the designs of his pieces original or is he inspired by other copper crafters?

?A lot of these things, Trace and I picked up on our own,? he said. ?In general, the basic idea?my dad?s probably done it before. Whether we recall back in our brains that we saw it, I don?t know.

?He did most anything,? Lyndon added. ?He wasn?t one who?d sit down and make a hundred. Usually he?d make one thing, but he was always doing something different.?

More from Hillsboro Free Press
Loewen earns NAIA recognition
Tabor College volleyball player Tena Loewen has received NAIA honorable mention All-America...
Read More