• Last modified 23 days ago (June 26, 2024)


Shedding anonymity

Shop may be one of county’s best-kept secrets

Special to the Record

My parents started this in the early 1970s,” Julie Nelson said of the Copper Shed. “They didn’t really have a business plan. It just evolved. We continue to make the wheat, windmills, and sunflowers.”

Those unique pieces, inspired by life in Kansas, were some of the earliest items Ern Hett created in his hilltop workshop in what was once a pasture in rural Marion County.

What began as a hobby soon became a business that still attracts customers today.

Hett, a farmer and rancher, gained recognition when he was named Kansas Artist of the Year in 1985.

Nelson’s mom also was a big part of the success of the Copper Shed before her death in 1990.

“I remember my mom said a long time ago that once you have a business, the business has you,” Nelson said.

Together, the Hetts built a business.

“Since high school, my parents coaxed me to sell things in the shop, but after my mom died, I stepped in to help my dad,” Nelson said.

She has been at it ever since.

“My dad died suddenly in 1997 of a heart attack, and for about two weeks we were closed,” she said. “He was in the middle of some big orders at the time, and this was before cell


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phones and the internet.”

Unaware of his death, people began calling to ask about their orders. That’s when the Nelsons stepped in to finish custom-made large sunflowers.

“He was a guy before his time,” Nelson said of her dad.

Hett was known for repurposing tools and machinery parts to create unique artwork from unlikely materials like brass, copper, square nails, old tools, driftwood, stone, and barbed wire. It came naturally.

“My dad took leftover machinery parts and tools and just put things together,” Nelson said.

The Copper Shed and a red barn are at Nelson’s childhood home, where she and her husband, Dwight, now live.

Dwight’s brother, Kent, creates items in the barn’s workshop.

Fascinated visitors can watch Kent as he skillfully works on decorative pieces, including stalks of wheat that are made of wire used in steel-belted radial tires.

The Copper Shed is known for recycling old materials significant to Kansas agriculture to create attractive items. Salvaged scraps of farm and ranch life surround the buildings at this beautifully landscaped oasis.

Bits of history — galvanized tubs, buckets, windmill blades, chicken feeders, and more — are now popular pieces for yard décor. The barn itself is filled with other treasures.

“It’s like a mini-thrift shop,” Nelson said. “I mark down things in the barn to garage-sale prices.”

Visitors to the Copper Shed often are surprised. Many first-time visitors remark that they had no idea what they could find there — antiques, new décor items, repurposed creations, and more.

“We hunt to find things to put in the store,” Nelson said. “We try to get things as cheaply as possible and marry things together for the shop.”

The Nelsons also continue a decades-old tradition of repurposing things for their customers.

The Copper Shed is not a consignment store.

“We own everything we have here,” Nelson said. “I buy what I like and what has previously sold. We like quirky, unique pieces — one-of-a-kind pieces. Sometimes, we buy things outright. Sometimes, I buy at auctions.”

The Copper Shed not only is a shopping experience. The building itself also is unique.

“My dad did so much of the work in the buildings,” Nelson said.

When pouring concrete for the main showroom floor, Hett embedded wrenches, horseshoes, strips of wood, and even a quarter into wet concrete.

“People still comment on the floors and railing,” she said. “Little kids try to get the tools out of the floor. People who’ve never been here come in and like how it’s set up. We’re glad people are still enjoying it.”

The showroom features rough wooden beams overhead, shake shingles, and a stone fireplace.

A staircase to a loft, packed with discounted merchandise, has massive wooden steps. Its railing is a conglomeration of tools skillfully welded together for both artistic value and safety.

A special room is devoted to kitchen-related items — old and new — but there also are plenty of more masculine gift items.

All walls are lined with furniture, most of it for sale. Wooden pathways, accented with red plaid carpet, lead visitors through the building, where treasures fill every nook and cranny.

Visitors to the Copper Shed come from near and far. Many Kansans know where to find just the perfect thing for their home or garden décor, but travelers often hear of the eclectic shop and make it part of their trip across the state.

A guest book Nelson’s parents kept when they were still running the shop tells of a time a Japanese family stopped by. The parents spoke no English, so their daughter translated as they shopped.

“They bought many items to take back to Japan,” Nelson said. “One of our state seals went to Japan.”

Some would say the Copper Shed is one of the best-kept secrets in Marion County.

Five miles south and 1½ miles west of downtown Marion, it is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and other times by appointment.

Last modified June 26, 2024