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Coopering is demonstrated
Craftsmen demonstrate coopering, once an important cottage craft industry for the farmers and maple producers of Somerset County

Mountain Craft Days

Held in Somerset, Pennsylvania, in a beautiful woodland setting the first weekend after Labor Day, Mountain Craft Days was created to help visitors relive southwestern Pennsylvania's history and heritage. The success of this three-day festival has been earned though the quality and variety of its offerings. Founded in 1970, its mission is "to promote, preserve and demonstrate, and enhance public appreciation and enjoyment of the historic crafts heritage of Somerset County and surrounding areas by presenting a wide variety of festival experiences for the general public." It seeks to present the artistic folkways which brought color to the otherwise lonely existence of early settlers and their descendants, and allow modern day visitors to observe and participate in living history.

Featuring more than 125 different period craftspersons and a dozen outdoor performance sites, all connected by wood-chip paths and within walking distance of each other, Mountain Crafts Days offers visitors a medley of demonstrations, music and food. It builds on the rich crafts tradition in the area (many of the artisans learned their skills from a previous generation) and demonstrates its evolution into the talents and abilities of today's artisans.

Potters throw clay on a foot-powered wheel in the glen; spinners, dyers and weavers transform wool into fanciful fabrics; a papermaker mixes funny stories with his mash; and a cooper displays his skill in combining stave and hoop. Children demonstrate their contribution to family life with butter-churning and pie-baking. Shaping stones for a wall, a stone mason works but a few steps away from artisans hewing great logs into timbers for a new cabin. There are a maple sugar camp, blacksmiths, and coopers. Live music is played on period instruments in small, amphitheater-like settings in the woods without amplification, allowing visitors to hear the music as it would have sounded several centuries ago, and participants are garbed in period dress.

Five museum sites filled with artifacts and exhibits welcome those who want to study history in more depth. Attention to detail and historical accuracy also extends to the foods offered to visitors during Mountain Crafts Days. Eschewing contemporary foods such as hotdogs and hamburgers, workers serve up cornmeal mush, buckwheat pancakes, homemade pies, corn on the cob boiled in a big iron pot over a wood fire, chicken pot pie with noodles made while visitors watch, and other homemade delicacies made from old family recipes. Among the artistic crafts demonstrated are tole painting, stained glass making, hex sign painting, fraktur and scherenshnitt. Needle crafts include bobbin lace, tatting, smocking, quilting and rug-hooking.

The 1999 event held a "frontier frolic" at the 1773 Farmstead, featuring flax spinning and weaving, log-hewing, and open hearth cooking demonstrations. There was also a living history interpretation of a Civil War era recruiting muster and field hospital at the 1798 Farmstead. Agriculture was highlighted with the addition of an extensive outdoor display of historic farm equipment, and visitors could watch as a team of oxen plowed the earth.

The festival has distinguished itself with its discriminating nature: the historical accuracy of the crafts and trades being interpreted has always been of paramount importance. Prospective craft demonstrators are asked to submit samples of their work prior to being asked to participate in the invitation only event, ensuring the highest possible educational standards. Only non-profit groups participate as food vendors, ensuring that the educational nature and unique historic atmosphere of the event are not overshadowed by commercial considerations. Over 1,000 individuals take part in the planning and implementation of the three-day event. Sponsored by the Historical and Genealogical Society of Somerset County and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Mountain Crafts Day celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1999 and was attended by 13,800 people that year.

Project documentation consists of a history/mission statement of the Somerset Historical Center, an eight-page written report, fourteen 8 x 10 color photographs with descriptions, a selection of brochures and guidebooks from past festivals, a map of 1999 Mountain Crafts Days, and a membership application for the Historical and Genealogical Society of Somerset County

Originally submitted by: John P. Murtha, Representative (12th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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