He’s a sixth generation Milwaukeean with the name of the city tattooed on his arm, and on Tuesday night, his family forge and hometown pride will be on full display for a national audience.
Kent Knapp, owner and lead blacksmith at Milwaukee Blacksmith in the Third Ward, is starring in a History channel reality TV show called “Milwaukee Blacksmith,” along with his wife, Shannon Knapp, and their six kids — Zoe Rae, Miles, Birdie, Oscar, Dharma and Tashi.
The show, which premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. Central time, will follow the Knapp family as they forge custom metal works for customers in their shop at 518 E. Erie St., a one-story white brick building with the city skyline and the Hoan Bridge visible from its front door.
“Historically, we’ve done a lot of architectural pieces, from coat hooks to driveway gates,” Kent said. “We saved some cool projects for the show. You’re going to see us build some crazy cool stuff starting off with sheets of metal and turning them into works of art from step A to step Z.”
Kent began blacksmithing in 1991, when he was just 19 years old. At that time, he was a young musician who played bass and sang. He said he was exposed to blacksmithing by an older musician he knew.
“He invited me into his shop and soon as I saw what they were doing with iron and fire, that was it,” Kent said.
Kent said he and his family had been open to the idea of doing a reality TV show ever since being featured in an article in the Bay View Compass. The family appeared in a picture before their forge, and a friend said they should be in a reality TV show.
“The History channel caught wind of us,” he said. “We had kind of been putting the idea out there and letting it be known we were open to the whole premise, with a family business and working with your hands being on the forefront of people’s attention these days.”
He said based on the success of another History channel show about bladesmiths called “Forged in Fire,” the History channel was willing to take a shot on the Knapp family.
“NorthSouth Productions implanted a crew of 15 people in my shop,” Kent said. “We filmed upwards of 60 hours a week for four months. There were times where it’s a lot of fun. You’re kind of pushed to be your best. And the crew kind of became like our extended family … there’s ups and downs. It was tough; it was hard, hard work, but in the end we were all in the trenches together and we came up with a great product.”
The show’s primary characters will be members of the Knapp family, its secondary characters will be customers and the tertiary character will be the city of Milwaukee, Kent said.
“I’m a huge fan of Milwaukee,” he said. “Part of the goal of the show was to showcase Milwaukee and get word out to the rest of the country, the rest of the world, how great the city is. Milwaukeeans can be fiercely proud of the city and we’re happy to give some positive light to the city now.”
The History channel will air the first two episodes of the show starting at 9 p.m. Tuesday. The Knapp family is hosting a party for the premier that is open to the public at the Milwaukee Ale House in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday.