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Appalachian craftsmanship

Visitors to the Appalachian Mountains have always seemed to be amazed by the craftsmanship of the people who live in these hills and well they might be, because from the very earliest times mountain folks have had to carve their existence from the hills and valleys round-about. In the early days a man and woman would go into the depth of some hemlock forested ravine or some oak or chestnut forested mountainside, and cut trees, hew logs in such a way that the ends interlocked when laid up, and with a lot of hard work, they would end up with a log cabin. This would be home for whatever number of years that they lived. Log houses built by these early technicians still stand in our mountains and valleys today as monuments to the skill of our forefathers; monuments of the age of “Make Do.”
Most of the mountain cabins were of the same design, being square or rectangular in shape, with a loft above the first floor that had headroom at the center, and a ceiling formed by the A-_shaped roof. Many of the older people remember painful bumps on the head, caused by rising too suddenly from the old feather ticked beds.
The first floor was usually one large room, reserved for the old folks. It contained a large chord bed, with a mattress made of a large woolen sack, containing many goose or other types of feathers. At one end was a stone fireplace where the family meals were cooked over an open flame. Next to the master bed sat the family cradle; usually one handed down from parents and grandparents. The cradles or cribs as they were sometimes called, were usually worn slick from much rocking that was required to keep the baby quiet. Some of the cradles were made of a section sawed from a large log hollowed out, with the rounded part forming a natural rocker. Others had rockers similar to those found on a rocking chair; both brought the same result. With the parents and baby sleeping on the first floor, and the older children in the loft, family members stayed close to each other in those mountain cabins.
In the loft, the children had featherbeds, and since heat has a tendency to rise, much of the heat from the first floor escaped through cracks and openings to the loft.
If you have noticed the stairways in any old cabin, you see that they take up very little space. About a four foot square of floor space, and a stairway can be built to the loft.
One thing is for certain, and that is, when the master of the house announced bedtime, it didn’t take a lot of coaxing to start those kids scrambling up the stairway to their beds. And it must have been like floating on a cloud when their bodies sank into those warm feathers on a cold windy winter night.
Not only did those mountain folks build their own homes, but they crafted their own beds, and covered them with goose down mattresses, and they built furniture for the home.
Many a mountain child has been made to feel like a child of a king, when on a cold winter night he or she sank into the feather bed so deep that the sound of the howling winds outside were silenced
From within these Appalachian cabin walls have come great pieces of American art, in the form of quilts made in scores of designs that were created by mountain women. They built their art into their surroundings in crafting their own games, their musical instruments, and their toys. Apple head and cornshuck dolls, and those dolls whose heads were made from hickory nuts.
Many times at night the family watched as the father worked away on a musical instrument he was making, or listened as he sang to them songs of tragic events called ballads. Many times the family would join in and help fashion a ballad, and they would sing it together. Folklorists have combed the hills of Appalachia in search of these mountain ballads.
Most of these ballads are about murder and false hearted lovers, and American bluegrass lovers today travel many miles to listen to them sung. But all are not sad. Sometimes the song might be a little ditty, about such a silly subject as a frogs courting rats. If you have a book of folk songs, look up “Froggy went a-courtin.”
It is all a part of our mountain heritage, and each year there are occasions for people to display their crafts in local Craft Festivals and County Fairs. The New River Valley County Fair is accepts all types of crafts so it’s not too soon to get your exhibits ready for the 2009 fair. If you can draw, or paint, or bake a pie, or make fudge, or raise pretty tomatoes, or grow pretty flowers, enter them in the fair this year.

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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Appalachian craftsmanship

Visitors to the Appalachian Mountains have always seemed to be amazed by the craftsmanship of the people who live in these hills and well they might be, because from the very earliest times mountain folks have had to carve their existence from the hills and valleys round-about. In the early days a man and woman would go into the depth of some hemlock forested ravine or some oak or chestnut forested mountainside, and cut trees, hew logs in such a way that the ends interlocked when laid up, and with a lot of hard work, they would end up with a log cabin. This would be home for whatever number of years that they lived. Log houses built by these early technicians still stand in our mountains and valleys today as monuments to the skill of our forefathers; monuments of the age of “Make Do.”
Most of the mountain cabins were of the same design, being square or rectangular in shape, with a loft above the first floor that had headroom at the center, and a ceiling formed by the A-_shaped roof. Many of the older people remember painful bumps on the head, caused by rising too suddenly from the old feather ticked beds.
The first floor was usually one large room, reserved for the old folks. It contained a large chord bed, with a mattress made of a large woolen sack, containing many goose or other types of feathers. At one end was a stone fireplace where the family meals were cooked over an open flame. Next to the master bed sat the family cradle; usually one handed down from parents and grandparents. The cradles or cribs as they were sometimes called, were usually worn slick from much rocking that was required to keep the baby quiet. Some of the cradles were made of a section sawed from a large log hollowed out, with the rounded part forming a natural rocker. Others had rockers similar to those found on a rocking chair; both brought the same result. With the parents and baby sleeping on the first floor, and the older children in the loft, family members stayed close to each other in those mountain cabins.
In the loft, the children had featherbeds, and since heat has a tendency to rise, much of the heat from the first floor escaped through cracks and openings to the loft.
If you have noticed the stairways in any old cabin, you see that they take up very little space. About a four foot square of floor space, and a stairway can be built to the loft.
One thing is for certain, and that is, when the master of the house announced bedtime, it didn’t take a lot of coaxing to start those kids scrambling up the stairway to their beds. And it must have been like floating on a cloud when their bodies sank into those warm feathers on a cold windy winter night.
Not only did those mountain folks build their own homes, but they crafted their own beds, and covered them with goose down mattresses, and they built furniture for the home.
Many a mountain child has been made to feel like a child of a king, when on a cold winter night he or she sank into the feather bed so deep that the sound of the howling winds outside were silenced
From within these Appalachian cabin walls have come great pieces of American art, in the form of quilts made in scores of designs that were created by mountain women. They built their art into their surroundings in crafting their own games, their musical instruments, and their toys. Apple head and cornshuck dolls, and those dolls whose heads were made from hickory nuts.
Many times at night the family watched as the father worked away on a musical instrument he was making, or listened as he sang to them songs of tragic events called ballads. Many times the family would join in and help fashion a ballad, and they would sing it together. Folklorists have combed the hills of Appalachia in search of these mountain ballads.
Most of these ballads are about murder and false hearted lovers, and American bluegrass lovers today travel many miles to listen to them sung. But all are not sad. Sometimes the song might be a little ditty, about such a silly subject as a frogs courting rats. If you have a book of folk songs, look up “Froggy went a-courtin.”
It is all a part of our mountain heritage, and each year there are occasions for people to display their crafts in local Craft Festivals and County Fairs. The New River Valley County Fair is accepts all types of crafts so it’s not too soon to get your exhibits ready for the 2009 fair. If you can draw, or paint, or bake a pie, or make fudge, or raise pretty tomatoes, or grow pretty flowers, enter them in the fair this year.

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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