Lost arts come to life at Thompson House Museum

August 11, 2010 —

On Saturday, August 9, Hudson found the Lost Arts exhibition taking place on the front porch of the Thompson Museum. This year’s exhibition is the fourth such event to have graced Hudson since the event’s inception, and features local crafters and artisans, many of whom have taught classes at the museum throughout the year.

Exhibitions like these and the support that they get are an attempt to keep more traditional forms of artwork and crafting, industries that were once mainstays of society like weaving, blacksmithing, and more alive. These nearly-lost arts – and the people who practice them – are the last of a dying breed. Consequently, these exhibitions are a chance to learn and admire the skills that many of our ancestors once found necessary to their daily survival.

However, some of these arts are experiencing a resurrection of sorts as more people are able to see them. “You know, it’s being found again,” Diane Crosley said in reference to spinning and dying cloth, the arts she was demonstrating at the festival. Crosley said that dying is a little chemistry and a lot of experimentation, but that it wasn’t hard to learn. “My favorite dye is made from pokeberry. It’s one of the few true pinks you can find.”

To the background music of Uncle Carl’s Dulcimer Group playing – which sounds a lot like a cross between a harp and a harpsichord, and which often encouraged the public to try – other crafters demonstrated their arts for the public.

A lot of crafters get their starts through hobbies or clubs. Paul Malnar, a wood turner, got his start in high school, but says, “I didn’t do it after that because I worked in construction, so I just got started doing it again. I belong to a club with Adrian and Ohio folks that do this. We have a lot of fun.”

However they get their starts, many of the artists also endeavor to share their crafts with the public by teaching. The Lenawee Basket Weavers teach classes at the Thompson House among many other places, including 4H and Hidden Lake Gardens, and always welcome new weavers. But they also acknowledge the history of their art. Not only is it something to while away the time and meet new people with, but it was also at one time a survival art. “Baskets were always woven with indigenous materials, like the Hopi would use a lot of grasses,” said Barb Stebbins, one of the weavers. “So while the weaving techniques would be similar, the materials could be radically different. The Shakers, though, would make very utilitarian baskets that were also considered a gift to God, so they were also very beautiful.”

Even such an everyday item as a pair of socks represents a lost art. Beverly Larsen, a crafter who makes socks from a century-old machine that simulates hand-knitting but with greater precision and speed, says that she enjoys making beautiful, comfortable things. “I have a hard time making socks that don’t match,” said Larsen, “You lose a little yarn when you’re matching up the socks, and I have some relatives that know that you get more socks when you don’t make them match. And I have a couple of nieces that like mismatched socks, so I’ll use the odds-and-ends to make them socks.”

Thompson House Museum curator Ray Lennard said that interest in the lost arts festival at the museum is growing, and he hopes to see it grow in future years.The lost arts event is supported by the Arts and Industry Council and is a program of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.