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Nelson brothers continue The Copper Shed's legacy

Staff writer

Legacy is an idea that is bigger than one person. It’s an idea that can influence family members to carry on a life’s work.

Ernie Hett was the mastermind of countless metalworking creations at the Copper Shed on 140th Road southwest of Marion. Hett would routinely mold household items into works of art.

More than that, he would put his sense of humor and resourcefulness into every piece. Hett’s daughter, Julie Nelson, remembers Hett fondly as someone who would give people impromptu nicknames by saying their names backward. He also didn’t know an old tractor he wouldn’t try to fix.

Creativity and ingenuity were evident in garden shears that became a raven or keys that were fused together to make a heart.

He would take wires from an electric motor and use them to make the tips of wheat heads. He often took the center of disk blades and made them into rusted sunflowers. The Copper Shed is filled with Hett’s work, including a railing made from old wrenches and other tools.

This hobby transformed into a business by accident. Nelson said that Hett started by making small decorative chairs out of empty hair spray bottles provided by his beautician wife.

Hett was soon making things for friends, and by word of mouth, started receiving commissions. Soon, he had enough business to build his own shop.

Hett died suddenly of a heart attack in November 1997. With orders left incomplete, Nelson, her husband Dwight Nelson, and brother-in-law Kent Nelson completed Hett’s work.

The orders didn’t stop. People continued to call and ask for one of Hett’s signature creations as if he was alive.

“We’d say, ‘Well he’s not here anymore,’” Kent said, “and people really didn’t care.”

Kent and Dwight continued what Hett had started. Because Dwight works for full-time, Kent is the one who spends hours — bent over a gas welder, putting pieces together.

And the hours can be long. Kent said he had assembled several hundred wheat heads for a wedding, made by taking lengths of a golden-colored wire and fusing them onto a metal stem. It took Kent a few minutes to make one wheat head, but repeating the process laboriously is something Kent can only do in spurts.

Hett’s spirit lives in Kent’s creations.

The Nelson’s have maintained Hett’s resourcefulness. A 10-foot sunflower stands outside of the Copper Shed barn. Kent used a disk blade as the flower center and a bent piece of scrap metal for its stem.

And they’ve maintained Hett’s whimsical style. One of the pieces that Kent pointed out as one of the strangest was a model of the Starship Enterprise made of old machine parts.

Hett’s ideas and spirit live on through the work of the Nelson’s at the Copper Shed and through Tracey Hett, Ernie’s grandson, who owns Trace of Copper in Marion.

Last modified Feb. 25, 2010

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