Marion copper artist featured in Kansas Profile series

Tracy Hett poses with his signature piece: a three-dimensional seal of the great state of Kansas. The seal is nearly two feet in diameter, complete with everything including the lettering.by Ron Wilson

Huck Boyd Institute – K-State

As the wheat in a Kansas field ripens, it turns from green in color to a rich gold, tan, and brown—accented with just a trace of copper.

Today in Kansas Profile we’ll meet a Kansas craftsman who creates beautiful works of art representing Kansas symbols such as wheat, using actual copper, brass and steel.

Tracy Hett is owner of Trace of Copper in Marion.

“My grandfather started this whole thing,” Hett said. “He was a very creative man.”

It seemed he could fix anything on the farm, and in the winter months, he would tinker in his shop.

“He would weld together nuts and bolts and make a figurine or a windmill,” Hett said. Then people wanted to buy them.Tracy Hett, owner and artist with Trace of Copper in Marion, creates a wheathead souvenir in his store along U.S. 56 Highway at Marion. Hett, holding the finished product, says he has made some 300,000 wheatheads during his years in the business. Each wheathead takes him 60 to 90 seconds to complete.

“I was close with my grandpa,” he added. “As a little kid, I wanted to do what he was doing. I learned by watching him as he cut out designs and welded them together.”

One of his favorite designs was a head of wheat. If someone was visiting his shop, Hett’s grandfather would build a metallic head of wheat, and then give it to them.

Tracy worked in his father’s grain elevator business. In 1985, he started to make these metallic creations of art himself. Tracy Hett, owner and artist with Trace of Copper in Marion, creates a wheathead souvenir in his store along U.S. 56 Highway at Marion. Hett, holding the finished product, says he has made some 300,000 wheatheads during his years in the business. Each wheathead takes him 60 to 90 seconds to complete.

Like his grandfather, he created these hand-crafted metal sculptures by welding or brazing pieces of brass, copper or steel together and selling them. As a play on his first name, he called the business Trace of Copper.

In 1993, he opened his building along U.S. Highway 56 on the north side of Marion, where it is today. Hett lives in Marion with his wife and daughter. He builds his products in the back room, which is visible from the front through a large glass window. The front room is covered in wood paneling with hundreds of his products on display.

Hett custom-makes designs. Most of his products have a rural or Kansas theme, using such symbols as wheat, sunflowers, windmills, nails, horseshoes, crosses, and more.

“We find new ideas and make changes through the years,” he said. Foreign exchange students like to take home his products that have an outline of the state of Kansas.

Stalks of wheat are hugely popular, complete with leaves on the stem and a head of kernels with long beards on each one. The beards are typically made of gold-colored brazing rod. Hett also has created a unique series of miniature models of farm equipment.

Perhaps his most impressive creation is a three-dimensional seal of the great state of Kansas. The seal is nearly two feet in diameter, complete with everything including the lettering.

Today, Trace of Copper’s products are sold at his shop, craft shows, Kansas Originals at Wilson, and through the Kansas Kollection stores at the state’s travel information centers to people from all over the country.

Hett’s products have gone as far away as Ger­many and Australia. It’s an impressive record for someone from the rural community of Marion, population 2,103 people.

Now, that’s rural.Tracy Hett, owner and artist with Trace of Copper in Marion, creates a wheathead souvenir in his store along U.S. 56 Highway at Marion. Hett, holding the finished product, says he has made some 300,000 wheatheads during his years in the business. Each wheathead takes him 60 to 90 seconds to complete.

“I have gotten to the point that I can make a head of wheat in less than a minute and a half,” Hett said. “Through the years, I figure I have made more than 300,000 heads of wheat.”

Wow. That’s quite a wheat crop.

Some of his creations include moving parts.

“Like my grandpa, I like to make things that work,” Hett said.

For example, the fan on top of the windmill might really turn, or the grain auger will swing out on the combine, or the booms on the ag sprayer will fold in.

This adds a touch of realism to the beauty.

Another tradition has continued from Hett’s grandfather. When a guest comes to visit, Tracy might invite the visitor to watch, build a head of wheat, and then give it to them.

As the wheat in a Kansas field ripens, it turns from green in color to a rich gold, tan, and brown—accented with just a trace of copper.

We commend Tracy Hett and Trace of Copper for making a difference with Kansas craftsmanship. We wish this entrepreneur a bountiful harvest of success.

Ron Wilson is director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Develop­ment at Kansas State University. To read more of his “That’s Rural!” profiles, go to kansasprofile.com.

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