Old farm tools and wood recycled for Forkland festival

October 06, 2003|EMILY TOADVINE

Darrell Ellis can overlook a little rust when he picks up old tools. The retired carpenter also can handle an old piece of wood and envision how he might shape it into an apple. More amazing, he can recall where he picked up all the tools and acquired the pieces of wood.

He will share his talents with the many visitors to this year's 32nd annual Forkland Heritage Festival and Revue Friday and Saturday. His booth will be called "Second Time Crafts" because this is the second time for many of the items to be used. The booth reinforces his idea of the importance of recycling old things.

"I think we're too wasteful in this country," says Ellis, a tall, slender man who now lives on Bluegrass Pike, but lived and farmed in Forkland until 10 years ago. "There's a lot of things I've seen that have been thrown away that I wish I still had."


He and his wife of 40 years, Margaret, have been involved with the festival every year since it began, but they haven't joined in the craft business since the first couple of times the festival was held.

Ellis, who always has donated a piece to the festival's silent auction, decided about a month ago to have a booth.

"I made what I could. I've got 49 pieces. I'll make one more," says Ellis, who is following in his mother's footsteps by having a booth at the festival.

He is one of 11 children of Alma Ellis. The 96-year-old Ellis demonstrated at the festival how to make chair bottoms out of the linings of fertilizer and feed sacks. Alma Ellis used the freezer paper-like lining in this way

while showing her talent at Berea for 21 years.

"She thought it up," says Margaret Ellis. "She's twisted a million miles of that."

Many of Ellis' items incorporate old farming tools. Ellis has the ability to elevate them into art. For instance, he used three links from a chain as frames and asked his sister, Karen Marsee, to do some paintings to go inside. Ellis admires the craftsmanship that went into the links.

"I think how long it took some blacksmith to make that," he says, noting that he bought it at a sale held at the Forkland farm of Leonard Roller.

Since customers at Ellis' booth may not remember the stories Ellis tells him about the items, Margaret Ellis will use her calligraphy skills to write about each piece.

Single trees, which are iron pieces used to hook a horse and plow together, were made into tiny planters. He harvested some corn tassels from a nearby farm to decorate the basket-like form.

A dust pan decorated with Heart of Gold will stimulate nostalgia for someone.

"Some little girl had a good time with this in the 1950s," Ellis says.

Geodes, often found in the Rolling Fork that runs through Forkland, also are part of his work. He embedded a large, red one - which is a rare color - in a rail that was behind a barn of his father's. The rail is out of chestnut, a type of tree that was destroyed by a blight. Ellis has found all sizes of red geodes, but not often.

"You might look where there are geodes and look half a day and not find one," he says.

Much of the metal that Ellis works with comes from yard sales he has attended. His collection of old wood stems from the 18 years he spent as a carpenter. Sometimes, it comes from homes and buildings that were in the family. A shiny, cedar apple is from a piece of a log cut off from a house his father built in 1977. The stem is from a piece of a rotten window sill out of the Karrick-Parks House in Perryville.

"Somebody gave it to Mother and she used most of it, but there was a piece left," Ellis says.

Margaret Ellis says Alma Ellis had the philosophy that no piece of wood is beyond salvage.

"Someone would give her an old, rotten piece of apple wood. She would say, 'It's not rotten. It's aged fruit wood.'"

Like his mother working with something no one else wanted, Darrell Ellis saw the potential in a broken carpenter's level. The level's glass was broken when Ellis spied it at the U.S. 127 yard sale. Ellis gave $1 for the walnut level and cut it to make little containers to put medicine in on the table and six letter openers.

He combined a collection of old locks - one with an 1890 patent on it - with a piece of old wood from the Piedmont Church. The church was located on Ky. 243 in Forkland. He called the exhibit "Locked in Time."

"They're all locked and there's no key to them."

Despite his knowledge of old farm equipment, he was puzzled by a set of tongs he found. He figured out their purpose when he saw "use Black Betsy coal" on the back. They are displayed on an unusual piece of wood from a barn on his wife's family farm in Crawford Hollow.

"This tree I don't think could make up its mind which way it wanted to grow. The grain goes to the left, right and back left."

His barn lumber collection also came in handy when he made a shadow box. The lumber came from three barns and is incredibly smooth.

"I've had two or three people rub that and ask, 'What kind of finish did you put on it?'"

Nature applied the finish for him.

Central Kentucky News Articles