Interest in traditional arts expands

2004 workshops at Sycamore Shoals begin

By Julie Fann
star staff

When Sycamore Shoals Historic Area began offering traditional arts workshops to the public in 2001, those interested could choose from a list of eight classes. Three years later, the number has increased to 37.
   "There's just been a renewed interest in people wanting to learn how to do things with their hands; how to make and create by themselves. There's really a great satisfaction in producing something and designing it," said Jennifer Bower, who took over the position of park manager in September.
   Bower said she created the traditional arts program while working at Roan Mountain State Park a few years ago.
   "It's a program that I kind of dreamed up ... I knew a lot of folks that live in our region that were just incredibly skilled crafts people, artists, and many of them were very committed to preserving the very traditional ways of doing things," she said.
   The workshops range from crafts that involve fabric and yarn to working with stone to make tools.
   The first workshop of the year is knitting. Last year, just four people signed up for the class. This year, 12 registered for the workshop with others on a waiting list. As a result, Bower added another class.
   Bower said her job as park ranger at a historical site makes it easy to find people to teach the workshops. "A lot of the people I deal with that attend our festivals -- or they might come to a muster or a garrison and re-enact -- a lot of these folks possess these different skills," she said.
   About 25 percent of the instructors who teach the workshops already have a connection with the park.
   Bower considers workshops that will provide a complete historical framework for life during the 18th century. "Sometimes also I'll look at the whole picture and say, 'we're really missing this aspect', because we're wanting folks to get a complete picture of and an opportunity to learn a lot of different parts of our heritage and tradition," she said.
   "People had to do things. If they wanted something on their feet they had to sew up the leather; if they wanted a warm sweater they had to know how to knit it; if they wanted the thread to knit it with they had to know how to spin it. I try to hit all of the processes."
   One of the workshops offered is titled "Developing Your 18th Century Persona: Becoming a 1st Person Interpreter." Different from stage acting, Bower said developing a historical character involves more accuracy in speech and manner.
   "You have to be more specific in what you say and what you do and what type of language you use. You know -- someone in the 18th century wouldn't say, 'Oh, that's awesome man!' They haven't heard that type of lingo," she said.
   Bob Estep, Bower's husband, is one of three instructors who teach a workshop called, "Flint Knapping: Making Stone Tools". Estep, who has studied other cultures throughout history since he was a boy, said that certain Stone Age tools are the same across the world. "Projectile points, arrowheads, and knife blades -- you can look at points from England and from this area and the technology was the same. They are virtually indistinguishable," he said.
   Flint knapping involves using wood billets, deer antlers, and stone to make tools. Knapping means "a loud, cracking noise" Estep said, which is exactly what happens as stone tools are made. "We only teach traditional tools. Some people use copper billets, but we use only stuff that would be available to primitive man," he said.
   Sycamore Shoals played a significant role in 18th century history as the setting for some of the most dramatic events in the expansion of America's western boundary. It is the site of the first permanent American settlement outside the original 13 colonies, and the Watauga Association -- the first majority-rule system of democratic government -- was formed in 1772.
   For more information on any of the traditional arts workshops offered through December 2004, or to register, contact Sycamore Shoals Historic Area at 543-5808.