This article was published in the
May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.
King and Queen of the Blacksmiths
May 5, 2017 by Sean Robinson
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.