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See the best traditional artists in America
For those who read or want to write for the magazine
As we often discover in the process
of producing each issue, new facts
emerge to offer a different perspective
on what we think we know.
Several of the articles in these pages
concern the return of objects and
traditions once thought lost, or that
have been interpreted in new ways.
For instance, Ray and Janet Carney, long-time residents
of New York’s Genesee Valley, decided to tackle one
last house restoration somewhere with milder winters than
the blizzards that often blow down from Lake Ontario.
Working with Preservation North Carolina, they qualified
to restore a National Register house in historic Pittsboro.
After ten years (and counting), they learned not only
how well late-1700s carpenters had built the framework,
but that the building is both the town’s oldest house and
its first tavern. In 1792 owner Patrick St. Lawrence advertised
“for sale, or to let” the two-storey structure “well
fitted for a tavern,” with a separate billiard house, a stable
for twenty horses, and a carriage house, with the added
enticement of being within a mile of a mineral springs.
Not mentioned in the ad were the two hinged wall panels
separating two downstairs parlors from the entry hall—
when raised they opened a 27-by-27-foot room suitable for
dancing, dining, or meetings. The Carneys’ thoughtful
restoration preserves or replicates the tavern’s Georgian/
Federal features while creating a livable modern home.
Articles about foot baths (most are more vintage than
antique) and Martha Washington’s recipe for pepper
cake (which failed to list “pepper” as an ingredient) offer
new information based on the research of assistant editor
Bathing one’s feet, practiced for millennia in China,
eventually became common in Europe, but it wasn’t until
the early 1800s that England’s Staffordshire potters, particularly
Spode, began molding porcelain tubs to mimic
wooden versions. Much later in the century, Chinese potters
renowned for the export porcelain so popular among
wealthy Americans a century earlier began producing foot
baths with traditional designs. Collectors should be aware
that a “Chinese foot bath” on today’s antiques market likely
dates to the 20th Century, not to be mistaken for a Chinese
fish basin, bidet basin, garden planter, or food server.
If adding black pepper to a dessert cake seems counterintuitive,
it probably was in the 1600s and 1700s as
well. Most food historians believed that the recipe Martha
Washington inherited from her first husband’s mother
used the oriental spice for its preservative properties,
despite the cake being a dessert. Instead, Martha’s recipe
used Jamaican allspice, also called “pepper” in the period.
Despite the Crown’s mandate to American colonists
to import goods only from Britain, the colonists traded
with the West Indies, where “Jamaican pepper” originated.
Before Independence, Americans could buy allspice more
readily than black pepper. The cake, made without eggs or
butter, produced a crispy treat akin to gingerbread.
Other unexpected cross-cultural influences arise
in the scant biographies of young girls who stitched
samplers, show towels, and other textiles. A thread of
their cultural heritage, geographic region, or religious
influence can often be teased out from the designs they
created, highlighted in the Stitched in Time exhibition at
Roddy Moore, former director of the Blue Ridge
Institute & Museum at Ferrum College, shares his
research into baskets made by a 20th-Century Virginia
woman, who added her own interpretation to the painted
designs on baskets made by Native Americans possibly a
century or more earlier.
These cross-cultural influences, much like the work
of today’s artisans who re-create the material culture of
the past, help keep our traditions alive.
The entry deadline for the 2023 Directory of
Traditional American Crafts has passed. We are now processing entries and submitting
them to our jurors. We will contract entrants after the jurors have made ther decisions.