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Mountain Craft Days showcased pioneer crafts

| Sunday, Sept. 15, 2002

It was picture-perfect weather for the 33rd annual Mountain Craft Days festival at the Somerset Historical Center, as visitors took a stroll through the forest trail of history.

Lulled by familiar melodies ringing from dulcimers, guitars and fiddles, people showing their crafts donned period working attire to demonstrate how pioneers in the Laurel Mountains might have lived.

One could watch over 100 skills that were showcased, learn how flax was grown and processed into linen, smell the aroma of boiling fresh-ground coffee, and watch perspiration drip from the faces of blacksmiths as they hammered iron over a hot forge.

The newly restored Adam Miller log house, a structure built in 1798 in nearby Berlin, was open for touring, and after seeing how a typical family lived, it was a short walk across the meadow to sample home-cooked fare of ham and chicken pot pies, sausage burgers and apple dumplings.

One of the most colorful displays featured carousel horses carved by Jay Zeigler, of Washington, Pa. Zeigler, who started his carving hobby five years ago, said, "I did it because I wanted a carousel horse. I had no training, I taught myself and I've only made five of them in five years.

"Quite frankly when these kids were little," he said, referring to his family, "We used to come up here and spend the day and I thought it would be a nice thing to give back."

After putting in his regular day as a physician, Zeigler said he spends his winter evenings in his basement carving. Each year he takes a week of vacation and comes to Mountain Craft Days with his finished horses and one in progress to show how it is done.

"It's a challenge," he said. "I try the different styles, the different poses, the tucked heads and the raised horses. I made three of them before I did any research. Then I started reading about it and figured out how to do it after I did some."

Zeigler works from his original designs and executes all the work with hand tools. A taxidermist supplies him with horse tails and glass eyes, and the tack used is modified from horse equipment.

He said the carousel horse industry in the United States was started by Gustav Dentzel, in 1860, near Philadelphia, with horses referred to as the Philadelphia style. The Coney Island style originated in 1876, followed by the County Fair style.

Somerset Historical Center site administrator Charles Fox, said this year's event went very smoothly with very few problems. He estimated attendance at about 15,000, adding that attendance was up by a few thousand people over last year.

Mountain Craft Days is held each September at the Somerset Historical Center outside of Somerset.

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