Friday, April 27, 2007

Folk Life at Pharsalia Plantation April 07

This picture is of Judy Adams, a friend and talented fiber artist, who accompanied me to Nelson County Days on Saturday where we were costumed and fit to create a little folk ambiance, sitting outside the spinning and weaving house. On Sunday, another friend, Ann Vonnegut, brought wool from her Leicester sheep and she spent the day spinning and inviting people to dip their hands into sacks of raw wool 'in the grease' and then into some cleaned and combed rolags. This all happened at a folk life festival held at one of the last remaining intact plantations in Virginia. I always think it is interesting that men seem willing to try their hand at weaving a throw or two, or at mastering the drop spindle. Several boys took to the drop spindle in lots less time than I did!

You might notice that the gentleman at the loom has on a red/maroon remembrance ribbon, and this is because the festival happened just 6 days after the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Nearly everyone in central and southwest Virginia has a connection of some sort to this school. If your dog or horse is sick, you cart them off to the veterinary school at Virginia Tech. If you need your soil tested, you send it to them. My uncle graduated from that school, and I graduated Radford, just 10 miles away, and at that time known as the women's division of the university. This part of Virginia is a Tech football bastion, and just across the historic James River begins the emotional loyalty to the University of Virginia's Cavaliers. We have attachments to one or both of these schools.
The day of the folk life festival at Pharsalia, I noticed many outfits in the crowd which were put together in variations on the red/maroon Va Tech colors, a reminder of truly awful things while we sat and wove and spun and talked to passers by, all in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside a gracious Southern plantation house perfectly set on a knoll and overlooking hundreds and hundreds of acres of apple orchards, pastures laid out logically to allow movement of cattle across the land, two creeks cutting through the pastures with walnut and locust trees overhanging the bends and curves.

It was a mixture of old and new in so very many aspects.

It occurs to me to tell anyone reading this and who may not have been to Virginia, other than a quick pass-through on the north/south routes, I-95 and I-81, or the east-west Interstate route 64, that this is one of the states in our country where a bit of the old colonial history lies around the next corner. I have lived in Virginia, Italy, Mexico, California, and finally made my way back to Virginia again, and I absolutely love it. I know my roots are in Virginia. Running through my town, the James River winds its way to Richmond in one direction, and through mountain passes to eventually join the New River in the other direction. Every single time I cross the river, I say out loud in my car -- no matter if I am alone, or driving Mr. PeeWee to the dog groomer -- I say, "Ja-a-a-a-mes River!" I love saying that. Sometimes I get a quick flash of a memory of the grade school stories of children walking along a corduroy road to school, or think of the bateau festival that starts here in Lynchburg and winds it's way, literally, to the capital of Virginia, Richmond, when, during that two weeks, the boatmen-and-women are reliving a part of our country's early history, every town and village along the way comes out to greet the floating boats, or to put them up in tents on their land along the banks of the James.
If you come to Virginia -- and you must! -- please get off the interstates and drive the old roads because that is where you will see bits and pieces of history, preserved and lived in every day life. When I stopped at a country store after the festival, wearing my colonial dress and apron and bonnet, and walked along oiled pine floors creaking beneath my feet, made my way to a cooler in the back to buy a Starbucks Double Shot drink, no one looked at me twice. I could have been wearing my usual jeans, but my colonial costume somehow did not raise any interest at all. And suddenly, all those yards and yards of fabric getting in my way and wadding between my knees every time I moved, seemed a perfectly natural dress to wear on a late Sunday afternoon in the mountains.

All of this to say that our crafts are pieces of the old ways, our movements are remembrances of women and men who made those same movements and wove and spun and knit and dyed and sheared and combed wool and nursed new little lambs sometimes to health and sometimes not. What we do is important. Every time we turn towards these fiber arts, we are a little tiny representation of a living folk life festival, all to ourselves.

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