Old crafters create new tradition Fall Fest at the Lititz Historical Foundation

By on September 21, 2011

By: LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer



Photo by Presteon Whitcraft
Fall Fest was a step back in time for those who visited the Mary Oehme Memorial Gardens last Saturday.Photo by Presteon Whitcraft
Fall Fest was a step back in time for those who visited the Mary Oehme Memorial Gardens last Saturday.

It could be Lititz’s next tradition — the Historical Foundation’s Fall Fest, held Sept. 17 in the gardens behind the Lititz Museum.

The festival was a step back in time, when whitesmiths decorated metal utensils, carvers created wooden bowls from huge pieces of wood, and baskets were hand woven and used to hold everything from apples to sewing supplies.

"We wanted to hold a nice, informative festival that would educate and entertain with artisans and crafters," said Cory Van Brookhoven of the Lititz Historical Foundation.

The event included bluegrass music by the Heart and Soul Bluegrass Band, featuring Joanne Thomas, with a medley of banjos, guitars, dulcimers and other old-fashioned musical instruments.

Located at the Mary Oehme Gardens at the rear of the Lititz Museum and the Johannes Mueller House, 137-145 E. Main St., the festival showcased 18th century crafts and trades. Many of the items demonstrated were available for sale.

"Many people ask me what whitesmithing is," said Larry Long of Lititz.

Long has done whitesmithing work for nearly 40 years. He became interested in the old-time craft back in the 1970s. As he explained, whitesmithing is a technique for taking forged wrought iron pieces and removing the blackened slag to reveal a lighter metal. The metal can then be embellished with designs, monograms and decorative features.

He first noticed whitesmithed items when he saw small fat burning lamps that were used in colonial days. The whitesmithed iron was lighter in color and weight, with a "fancier" look that made everyday objects not only functional, but attractive. He began making reproduction whitesmith lamps.

"Then I discovered that there were many other ways to use this technique," he said, adding that he now had a backlog of work making ladles, door knockers, candle holders and much more.

Edwina Chomeley-Jones was on hand to share her expertise on making bandboxes. Author of an instructional book on making bandboxes, Chomeley-Jones demonstrated how sturdy cardboard was used to make decorative storage boxes for everything from jewelry to hats to combs to tea.

"Bandboxes came into vogue in the 1830s," she explained, adding that they continued to be made into the early 1900s. In the 1970s, new attention focused on the technique for crafting pretty boxes that had many uses.

Chomeley-Jones demonstrate how the cardboard was stitched together to make boxes of various sizes and shapes, from hearts to squares to ovals to circles. There were even unique shapes just for holding large combs.

The boxes were then lined with newspaper or other paper, then covered on the inside with wallpaper, wrapping paper or other decorative papers. Early newspaper had the added benefit of deterring insects because of the ink used in the printing process.

Chomeley-Jones showed some antique bandboxes that were used for hats and decorative combs, as well as her own newly created bandboxes that were done in many different color combinations and shapes.

Fashioning something from raw materials was demonstrated by Alvin Miller of Lititz, who used huge pieces of wood to carve wooden bowls, trays, spoons and other items. He explained that the best wood came from the north side of the tree, which grows slower and is more dense.

Miller got interested in his craft about seven years ago, and explained that it takes about 12 hours to fashion a bowl from rough wood. It’s more of a process of hewing the wood than carving it. Very gradually, the wood is cut away, revealing a bowl shape that might be rectangular, oval or rounded. Once the bowl has been formed, it takes another three weeks to three months to treat and protect the wood with coatings of mineral oil and beeswax.

"When it is all done, it has a beautiful sheen," said Long. "But it takes time."

Making braided rugs takes time too, noted Marsha Campbell, retired kindergarten teacher at Bonfield Elementary School.

Campbell has been making braided rugs for many years, using scraps of wool in much the same way that early settlers did. Plaid, solid and textured wool are turned into narrow strips that are then braided and wrapped in a circular pattern, which is gently sewn together to hold its shape.

Using wool provides for a more durable, long-lasting rug or chair cover, said Campbell.

"And using scraps of wool, like an old wool skirt, makes each design unique and colorful," she added.

Paul Miller of Halfville was another craftsman on hand to demonstrate herbs and their uses in cooking, folk medicine and providing a freshening scent. Among the herbs he showed were oregano, sweet Annie, sage, Italian parsley, rosemary and rue.

"Some herbs, like rue, had many uses, like preventing jail fever, sprinkling holy water in Catholic masses and chasing away witches," he said with a smile.

Other craftspersons at the Fall Fest included Matt Good creating wooden Moravian Stars, Cindy Seaton with basket making, Marion Mason with Penny Rugs and Anne Henderson with needle and wet felting.

During Fall Fest, the Johannes Mueller House was open for tours and the Lititz Historical Foundation’s museum was also open. Outside the Mueller House and museum, the American Homefront display was parked on Main Street. The tractor trailer has been converted into a slice of World War II history, with rooms featuring artifacts from that time period.

Fall Fest also featured a Chinese Auction, "General Sutter" panning for gold, and food vendors with hot dogs, sausage sandwiches, desserts and more. More FALL FEST, page A15

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