Somerset Historical Society hosts artisans at Mountain Craft Days
Mark Ware began his career with the Somerset Historical Society in the 1970s as a student guide in the museum. Now executive director, Ware welcomes the 43rd annual Mountain Craft Days celebration on Friday through Sept. 8 at the Somerset Historical Society grounds as a homecoming for himself and for many other people.
Ware enjoys being a part of a community of artisans.
“Like many artisans who participate, many of my family members are involved in various historical demonstrations. Through the museum, we have found many persons willing to become apprentices and learn skills to produce items using only hand tools,” he said.
The festival is well known for its food court, which offers the best of regional cuisine — Pennsylvania Dutch-style chicken pot pie, German style hot potato salad; southern favorites such as barbecued chicken and Appalachian standards such as ham, potatoes and green beans.
In the woods, artisans demonstrate period crafts such as masonry, rail splitting, weaving, spinning and blacksmithing. The Junior Historians serve gingerbread baked over a fire. In the meadow, there are many other crafts, such as bobbin lace, tatting, and cross stitch.
Amongst the favorite attractions, Ware said, is the historical magician and charlatan that involves the audience in his programs. The story teller and tractor-drawn wagon rides also are popular. The children's activities will relate to printing, in celebration of Frederick Goeb's 1813 printing of a German Bible in Somerset.
Roy Phillips, a historical society board member and tinsmith who will demonstrate his craft at the festival, said he enjoys “the authenticity of this festival.”.
Phillips began tinsmithing seven years ago as a way to contribute to the Mountain Craft Days event.
“There was no need for coopers or for other artisans. There was a need for a tinsmith,” he said.
Phillips spent a summer in Ottawa, Canada, learning his trade under master tinsmith George Peterman. He said that tinsmithing is a regional craft.
“Until the Civil War, much of our tin was imported from England,” he said. “Tin was not used commonly in the South. It was more common in the Northeast, including Pennsylvania and Ohio.”
Ware said that the festival's uniqueness stems from over 40 years of experience.
“Our artisans are carefully selected by a jury that reviews their skills, the traditional nature of their trade and what activities the artisan will be demonstrating,” Ware said. “No more than two similar trades are permitted, to ensure a greater variety of crafts. Vendors are encouraged to show how their items are produced.”
General admission is $7 for adults; children 6-17 are $4 , and children under 5 are free of charge. The festival runs from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday through Sept. 8.
Persons who need special assistance or accommodation are encouraged to call the Historical Center at 814-445-6077 in advance to discuss their needs.
The Somerset Historical Center is on Route 601, four miles north of Somerset.
Barbara Starn is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.