Book Signing and Coppersmithing: Local Author Sara Dahmen Shares Her Dual Passions at Locally Inspired
By Mary Boyle
This holiday season, Sara Dahmen of Port Washington has a lot to be thankful for: On the one hand, she's celebrating the publication of the third book in her Flats Junction series, Outcast 1883; on the other, she is celebrating moving her workshop out of her garage and into its own place. The workshop, of course, isn't where she writes, but where she restores and builds copper kitchenware for her other business, House Copper & Cookware. Luckily for us, she's sharing the joy with the whole community at Locally Inspired in downtown Port Washington with a book signing and a limited number of handmade tin and copper ornaments, as well as reproduction Victorian tin tinsel for your Christmas trees, some of which you can watch her make at the event.
Dahmen's latest book is a continuation of her first two historical fiction books: Widow 1881 and Tinsmith 1865, which will eventually make up a total of six books in the Flats Junction series. The stories are set mainly in the Dakotas and each book features a different woman as the main character. While it doesn't matter which order you read the first two books, Dahmen said, it helps to read the first two before reading the third.
"My editor said this is the strongest book I've ever written, but it was also the hardest, because I had to make it work with the series. The first two books can each stand alone, but this one ties them together and moves the story forward."
The first book, Widow 1881, is the story of Jane, a recently widowed woman who leaves the refined and settled city of Boston to take a position as a housekeeper for a doctor in the pioneer wilderness of the Dakotas. In Tinsmith 1865, Maria is the only daughter in a family of Polish Immigrant tinsmiths but, when her father falls ill and her brothers have joined the army, she must learn the trade in order to survive. The newest book, Outcast 1883, is about Kate, a character introduced in the first book who is another woman struggling to make it on her own, with the added burden of being part Native American in a time when just being a woman was hard enough.
The Flats Junction series is in serious development for a television series, although there has been a lot of delay, thanks to the pandemic. While the television project looks promising and Dahmen is excited about the prospect, she knows it's a matter of waiting for all the pieces to fall into place. In the meantime, she'll be writing another book a year for the next three years to finish the series, along with working in her shop, caring for her three young children, and pursuing her other varied interests, including historical reenacting.
Along with all the historical research Dahmen puts into her books, reenacting, she said, has helped to give her a very real physical knowledge of the period. "I know how it feels to wear a corset and the weight of the skirts around your waist," Dahmen explained. Not only that, she knows exactly how Maria felt being a woman tinsmith in the mid-nineteenth century, as she has demonstrated coppersmithing and tinsmithing at the 2018, 2019, and 2022 Crossroads Rendezvous, an event she helped to reestablish, alongside the man who taught her the trade: Bob Bartelme of Backwoods Tin & Copper in West Bend.
As the only female coppersmith in the country, Dahmen also has great experience being a woman struggling in a man's world, and that world is a very small one; there are very few tinsmiths and coppersmiths left and the ones that are working are often jewelry makers or other types of artists, not people making cookware. Dahmen’s hope is that more people, and more women, will take up these types of historical trades, continuing traditions and passing down knowledge from older generations before that knowledge is lost. With her new workshop, Dahmen will be able to hire assistants and hold classes, among other exciting opportunities; but first, she must finish all of her holiday orders, which all seems more manageable now that her workshop is no longer in her home and she can’t be suddenly interrupted by one of her children in the midst of working with sharp objects over hot flames.
To see Sara Dahmen in action and purchase or pre-order a signed copy of her latest book, head to Locally Inspired in downtown Port Washington between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday, December 10th. Learn more about Sara and all her doings at https://housecopper.com.