Shaker craft fest evokes time before Wal-Mart

August 09, 2004|EMILY BURTON

Your grandmother's favorite black currant jam sat a skip away from the hand-carved maple spoon used to stir the same recipe long ago. Next to that hung a stitched whisk broom used to clean up after sealing that last jar. Nearby waited a row of homespun wool shawls, dyed naturally with indigo and goldenrod, to warm bare arms during an evening on the front porch.

The array of cultural delicacies presented at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill's annual craft fair on Saturday brought to light a way of living that has long passed. The textures, colors and forgotten simplicity of wood chips resting in curls on the green lawn let visitors and shoppers slip away from time crunches and back through timelines.

Under one white awning, Shaker Village interpreter Vivian Yeast of Harrodsburg weaved chair bottoms out of green cloth tape. Chair listing, as it's called, is a centuries-old craft, but the Shakers preferred to use wool and linen tape with horse-hair padding rather than the commonly used cane, Yeast said.


It was more comfortable, she explained, "and it didn't wear out their clothing like cane did... The cane would crack and snag little places in their clothes and dresses."

Behind her, wooden spoons basked on a table as Ralph Ward carved them a mate, this one a ladle from an apple tree branch. The art of woodcarving, or more specifically wooden spoon carving, is a slipping skill in today's Wal-Mart culture but had been a family staple in an earlier time.

"It's become one of those lost skills, but I just do it because it's more therapy than anything," said Ward, historic farm manager at Shaker Village.

He further explained that tight-grained woods such as dogwood, cherry or maple, make the best spoons.

It was one small piece among much forgotten wisdom that surfaced Saturday. Your great-grandmother's daily chores had brought with them lessons like letting soap cure four weeks so the lye doesn't burn you. Use sumac berries and rusted iron to dye wool gray, but mix indigo and osage orange for sea-green mittens.

Saturday night baths meant scrubbing with a good bar of soap made with rendered pork or beef fat. Soap maker Kathy Werking said she preferred to use vegetable oils in her modern, all natural soaps. Where the homemade bar of soap had once been replaced with store varieties laden with chemicals, Werking said the market for her lost home craft was growing.

"I've noticed a big change in the last 10 years, that consumers are turning more toward natural, wholesome, products," like organic foods and all-natural soaps. "There's more benefits from it."

Including trips down memory lane.

"People would come through my booth sometimes, and it would bring back memories of when their grandma or their mom would make soap on the farm," Werking said.

Dulcimer maker Mark Eubank of Bee Lick agreed that not all advancements made over the years have been for the better. Sometimes, you have to go back in time to find quality.

"There's just some things you can't do with modern tools", said Eubank, who shops at flea markets to find his antique wood-working tools.

Sometimes, all it takes to trigger a cobwebbed memory is a familiar tune plucked out on the front porch.

"It's simple to learn," Eubank said of his dulcimer, "but it has a really pleasing sound, and it has a sound that takes you back to a simpler time."

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