Heated by a wood fire, the boiling cauldron of apples, sugar, and spices bubbled and splattered on its way to becoming sweet apple butter. The lawn in front of Heath Hall on the Radford University campus was the location of this fall mountain ritual. The Appalachian Events Committee (AEC) of Radford University was hosting their 28th Folk Arts Festival this past Saturday.
The AEC is a student organization focused on the study and preservation of the history and culture of the Appalachian region. This year’s Chair, Brenna Ishler, is a Senior majoring in Social Work. The committee is comprised of fifteen students who believe that showcasing and preserving Appalachian culture is important to the area.
The event was free and open to the public and gave visitors the opportunity to meet craftsmen and artisans engaged in traditional occupations and crafts.
Billy Phelps of Woodlawn has been practicing blacksmithing for forty years. Steel rods were heated until glowing red and spectators watched as he hammered them into shapes. The clanging of his hammer on steel on his anvil echoed between the buildings of the campus.
Down the sidewalk a short ways Brad Smith of Hillsville was carving roosters from wood. Wood shavings appeared to fly from his hands as he worked green wood sticks into stately looking roosters. “The wood has to have the right moisture content or the feathers won’t bend right,” said Smith.
Karl Hunter of Pulaski captivated onlookers with his knowledge of bees and honey. Hunter admits to being obsesses with bees and selectively breeds queens and sells them all over the country. “On a good day I only get stung five times, on a bad day maybe 65 stings,” said Hunter. Hunter displayed a see through beehive and was selling his honey.
Little dolls made from corn husks by Verily Simpkins of Hiwassee exhibited amazing detail and personality. Simpkins has been making the dolls for twenty-eight years. The process starts with gathering husks and dyeing them. She said “the dolls kind of make themselves.”
Another product from a different type of corn, corn brooms, were on display by Micah and John Alexander. From Grayson County, John Alexander also makes walking sticks.
Throughout the day acoustic music was provided by several groups. The day opened with the vocal duo called Little Sparrow. Mary Dailey and Jeanne Hoffman from Lewisburg, West Virginia, provided sweet harmonies and strong vocals.
Wood carving, quilt making, tatting, pencil sketching, and other crafts were on display and the crowd of all ages enjoyed the fine weather on the campus lawn. Appalachian life of a hundred years ago was much more difficult than today and most likely the crowd did not appreciate that the crafts being demonstrated were necessities of life at one time. Remembering and preserving that culture is the purpose of the Appalachian Events Committee and the Folk Arts Festival.