Tag Archives: steel

King and Queen of the Blacksmiths

May 5, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

These days, many couples find each other via dating websites or apps. John and Trena Thompson literally found each other at a meat market.

He was just a guy working in Hy-Vee’s meat department, and she was a gal in the deli who sometimes needed said guy to help take out the trash.

“When he asked me out, he took me to a Renaissance festival and spent the whole time looking at swords,” Trena says. “I can’t say it was the best date in the world.”

Three decades later, Trena and John are happily married (despite their one-of-a-kind first date) with a home filled with more swords, knives, spears, and axes than she could have ever imagined.

For the past 25 years, the two have worked as professional blacksmiths in the Renaissance festival circuit. He’s the muscle—the artisan who carefully crafts each Camelot-worthy weapon—and she’s the brains behind each sale. Together they have sold out stock at fairs from Texas to Kansas, and they annually dazzle local folks at myriad events around Omaha.

“What makes our product so unique is everything is 100 percent handcrafted by just one person,” Trena says. “John even makes his own pins to connect the handle and blade.”

It was due to a fair amount of scheming on Trena’s part that John got his first taste of blacksmithing. What she told him was a trip to visit family in Colorado was actually a secret vacation to stay in Albuquerque with an award-winning knife-maker. In Albuquerque, John learned to make his first knife from start to finish.

In a pre-Braveheart, pre-Game of Thrones, pre-internet world, John scavenged what little literature there was on knife-making to hone his craft. And in 1996, for John’s 30th birthday, Trena submitted her husband’s resignation at Hy-Vee so he could focus solely on blacksmithing.

“There were a lot of days spent in the shop messing up a lot of steel,” John says. “It’s surreal because now we’re the experts. People come up to us at festivals to ask how it’s done.”

And after 25 years of participating in festivals, it makes sense that John has become a master blacksmith. In addition to running the couple’s business, Dwarf Mountain Knives, John teaches classes at the Blacksmith Shop of Omaha.

Annually, the couple spend about 16 weekends a year at festivals, including the Nebraska Renaissance Faire (held at RiverWest Park for the first time in 2017), which is about half the number they used to attend before having two boys. Kyle, who is 25 years old, helps to polish and prep finished blades. Their youngest son, 10-year-old Zayne, is already sketching designs for Dad.

In this trade, it takes the whole family to keep the Thompson reputation sharp.

Through it all, Trena says, John has proven to be her knight in shining armor. After all, the two have slashed and conquered obstacles to their business and family like the mightiest of sword-wielding dragon slayers.

“Working Renaissance festivals is the hardest job I’ve ever had,” Trena says, “but it’s easier and way more fun knowing we have each other’s backs.”

The metro area’s longest-running medieval-themed festival, the Nebraska Renaissance Faire, relocated to RiverWest Park on April 29-30, 2017. It was previously held at the Bellevue Berry and Pumpkin Ranch, which now hosts its own Renaissance Festival of Nebraska during the subsequent two weekends in May (May 6- 7 and May 13-14). Visit blacksmithomaha.wordpress.com for more information about learning the blacksmith trade in Omaha. Visit dwarfmountainknives.com for more on the Thompsons’ company.

This article was published in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Making the Old New Again

November 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sherri and John Obermiller decided their new downtown condo reminded them too much of the suburbs.

They should know. The couple moved in 2011 from their five-bedroom, five-bathroom home in the white-picket-fence-lined neighborhoods off 180th St. and West Center Road to the eclectic, artsy downtown for a reason, and it wasn’t perfection and modernity.

Obermiller2“It was time to downsize and just get rid of stuff,” Sherri says. “Plus, this gave me an excuse not to do yard work anymore.”

The pair looked at five or six buildings before deciding the 902 Dodge Street condos were a natural fit for them. The building is located close enough to walk to yoga classes or sushi restaurants, but far enough from the bustle of the Old Market. “We don’t always like to be in the crowd, but we like to be near it,” Sherri says. “We enjoy being anonymous in a sea of people.”

An available condo on the fifth floor was too small and in need of a facelift, but the Obermillers saw its potential. Their first act as new owners? Asking their neighbor what amount of money it would take for him to move. Their new home instantly doubled in size.

To further construct their vision for the space, they enlisted the help of Stephanie Basham, principal designer and owner of Group One Interiors, and Don Stormberg, owner of Stormberg Construction. The couple rented and lived in a unit on the second floor of the building as Basham and Stormberg’s teams worked to renovate the condo to the Obermillers’ standards.

Obermiller3“It’s always challenging to work in a space that people are inhabiting during construction,” Basham says. “The Obermillers have a finely tuned sense of contemporary style and an appreciation for urban modernism. And to top that, John and Sherri value attention to detail, which is a dream for a designer.”

From using lime green as an accent color to matching the gray of the exposed concrete ceiling to the condo’s columns, the detailed design was inspired from the Obermillers’ travels to metropolises like New York City.

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To make the home feel larger, Basham took advantage of the high ceilings and crafted a floating translucent cloud above the kitchen island. The focal point of the home, the cloud creates a sense of separation between the kitchen and adjacent rooms without impeding the view. Local fabricators and installers used frosted acrylic to have the effect of tinted glass without the weight. This fixture is a personal favorite of the Obermillers.

“The cloud above and countertop below have the same steel lines, so they mirror one another,” Sherri says. “We strived for symmetry throughout our home.”

Following nearly a year of renovations, only the cherrywood cabinets in the kitchen remain in the now-2,400-square-foot condo.  An entire patio was removed; new floors and appliances were installed; iron-welded, artisan-crafted barn doors were mounted; and rooms were ornamented in furniture from as far away as Sweden. The result is a simple, contemporary design that’s entirely unique to the Obermillers.

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The Obermillers saw not only the potential of their condo but the value of the downtown area as well. While the CenturyLink Center was the major draw north of Dodge Street when the Obermillers first moved downtown, the area will soon be home to HDR’s high-rise headquarters and a collection of newly developed apartments, offices, and entertainment space.

“We are incredibly excited about this development and what’s next,” John says.

Obermiller6Embracing an urban lifestyle is a hot trend, yet the Obermillers aren’t concerned with following or setting trends. Instead, their new home serves as a space for them to reinvigorate their story together.

“We can walk to the trails by the pedestrian bridge or quickly go to the restaurants in the Old Market. It’s fun and incredible,” Sherri says. “It feels like we live in a much bigger city than what Omaha really is.”

When the Obermillers aren’t watching Nebraska sunsets melt behind the Woodman and First National from their building’s rooftop terrace, they enjoy a different view from their living room window. They look down onto the interstates weaving under and over themselves, roads looping and stretching in different directions. An image the Obermillers agree is beautiful. Just below the roads and between the urban sprawl of Omaha and Council Bluffs lies the river.

“We always thought at this point in our life we’d have a condo overlooking Lake Michigan,” John says. “Living happily next to the Missouri River in downtown Omaha? Well, that’s just the next
best thing.”

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