Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 40

A 'BORN OLD'
CRAFTSMAN

KEVIN RIDDLE KEEPS THE

1600s ALIVE

Back in a hollow of the Virginia mountains, Riddle is one of only a
few people in the nation to still practice the art of tinsmithing.

T

o reach his workshop, coppersmith Kevin Riddle told me I'd
have to drive past a dirt road off
a tertiary road, go over a hump,
look for an orange traffic cone
he always puts out when visitors
are coming, then turn right into
a hollow.
That's how directions often work in
our mountains when folks live in the
"suburbs" of tiny mountain communities-in this case Eagle Rock (population
2,037 or thereabouts) in Botetourt County, Virginia.
Riddle's family has owned the 100-orso-acre spread since the early 1930s when
H.M. Vise, his great-grandfather, purchased it. Riddle is the type of Blue Ridge
mountain craftsman one might well expect to live at the backend of a hollow.
"I'm 60, so technically I'm a Baby
Boomer, but I don't consider myself one,"

40

BLUERIDGECOUNTRY.COM

Story and phtos by BRUCE INGRAM

TOP: Kevin Riddle displays two reproduction
copper pots from Virginia's Jamestown
Settlement. He has mostly restored the pot on
the left; the one on the right has not been retinned yet.
ABOVE: Kevin Riddle is formulating his
patterns to make vintage-style copper cups.

Riddle says, the disdain evident in his
voice for the generation of which he is a
member. "Some Boomers seem to think
they discovered old-fashioned craftsmanship, but I was brought up by family members who practiced this lifestyle."
Riddle is one of those individuals that
mountain folks describe as being "born
old." So it's not surprising that on the day
of my visit, he is re-tinning a 15-gallon
copper pot that he originally helped make
for the Jamestown Settlement some 15 to
20 years ago.
"The Jamestown interpreters want authentic copper pots like those that were at
the settlement in the early 1600s," Riddle
says. "Those kinds of pots wear out at a
certain point and have to be re-tinned. It's
a messy, smelly business to re-tin them.
It's best done outside and upwind from
where you're standing."
Although Riddle is an accomplished


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Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020

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