Tag Archives: wool

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Sheep Shearing and Cecil Sharp

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 11: FARM
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH
Sheep Shearing and Cecil Sharp

0046a P. Roettinger Album.”Sheep Shearing, Uncle John Shell, Aunt Sis Shell, and Mrs. Joe Day.” c.1920s  [Woman standing next to a barn on left, watching man and woman sheer a sheep.]

TAGS: sheep shearing, Cecil Sharp, sheep, sheep flocks, dreaming of sheep, sheep in history, sheep in song, Uncle John Shell, Aunt Sis Shell, Mrs. Joe Day, George Pullen Jackson


SHEEP SHEARING and CECIL SHARP (Say that fast!)

It is not likely that Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), the British musicologist, ever sheared a sheep. But, he was, in any case, a close observer of the ruminants and probably an even closer critic of their bleets and baahs! Nontheless, what Cecil Sharp has left to the history of sheep is a unique auditory trail that helps to re-trace the prevalence of sheep within the rich agrarian history of Great Britain and in the American Appalachian mountains.

When musicologist Sharp sat on the porch of Old Far House at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Kentucky and watched the Kentucky Running Set as it was performed by students and staff, he was watching the well-trained legs that probably had chased a sheep or two up the Pine Mountain and down. Tending sheep is an active job and the energy of that Kentucky Running set was just a short measure of what it took to maintain a sheep flock in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

What a celebration it was when lambs arrived and wool was sheared at the small hillside farms of the Appalachians. In far-off “lands across the sea,” as Uncle William Creech, a founder of Pine Mountain Settlement used to say, many Europeans were continuing similar agrarian practices. Their customs lingered on in many of their Borderland ancestors  who formed one of the largest immigrant groups living deep in the Appalachian mountains. Like so many customs, known to immigrants from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and also other European points of origin, the custom of raising sheep was built into the Appalachian pioneer household. In fact, sheep-raising, an international livelihood, is tied to the history of most agrarian cultures.

What Cecil Sharp added to sheep history was the discovery of an English folk song that no doubt flowed from the music and lives of early sheep farmers, probably in the Norfolk area of England. Elements of that song then found its way into the Appalachians. The song suggests the importance of sheep in the daily lives of the European immigrants and a certain logic  to its transfer to the New World. Just try saying “Cecil Sharp and sheep-shearing ,” and see what lyrical lapses leap from your tongue. Songs of shearing sheep are not at all uncommon, especially in families with weaving willfulness — a trait that abounds in the mountains of the Central Appalachians.

SHEEP AND DREAMING

It is no small wonder that when we speak of dreaming, we also often speak of “counting sheep.” There is a very practical origin for that association. It was the duty of the herdsman to know the number of sheep in his herd. Counting sheep is probably deeply etched in the DNA of descendants of sheep-herders or at least deep in our historical agrarian psyche. We have been counting sheep for as long as we have joined our lives with the practice of raising sheep and herding them. Sheep have been a part of our history as a country from the beginning. At one time Kentucky led the nation in the number of sheep! That is a lot of counting and a lot of dreaming.

Cecil Sharp was a collector of songs, not wool, but he shows all the instincts of a weaver, dreamer and numerator. He began his collecting of folk ballads in the English countryside. There, it was inevitable that he would encounter a myriad of sheep and those who tended them. Some references to sheep were sure to appear, and they did. He recorded one such sheep ballad from his song-gathering encounters in a small book he edited called 100 English Folk Songs [ published by Oliver Ditson Co., Theo. Presser Co. Distributors, Philadelphia, 1916].

One of the songs in that collection found its way into another small book of collected folk songs, The Songs for All Time. The booklet issued by the Council of Southern Mountain Workers, was intended to be a resource for “recreation material in the Highland area.” It was a utilitarian collection of songs for social gatherings that is largely dependent on the rich oral tradition of the Appalachian region and that had many familiar tropes that would be recognized in Great Britain. The Foreword tells us that

The contents, folk songs for the most part, were compiled by a committee which has made practical use of them with singing groups. Where tunes and words depend on oral tradition, innumerable versions usually exist — some of them perhaps better than [the] variants included. There is no version which can be called the correct one, but the committee has chosen those which it has found satisfactory in the light of their lasting qualities and the ease with which they can be learned. Modal melodies are not always easy to introduce to those unfamiliar with such music, but practically all songs included have been put to the proof: given a little time and repetition they “sing well” and become dear to the heart of the singer.

Song For All Times, Copyright, 1946, by Cooperative Recreation Service, (Forward).

On the back of the booklet, Songs for All times, there appears a short essay by George Pullen Jackson, an American musicologist, and educator. Pullen was a pioneer in the field of Southern (U.S.) hymnody and popularized the spurious term “white spirituals” to describe “fasola“* singing. [*fasola= harp singing or shape-note singing] Pullen says

…Sing, preferably your own songs, brother. Live your own song life and be proud of it. Don’t let the I-dont’-know-a-thing-about-music complex trouble you. Don’t let the processed and canned music lower your musical morale. If you are a mature person, re-learn and re-sing the songs of your childhood and youth. (You’ll be surprised at the large admixture of genuine folk songs among your remembered ditties.)

George Pullen Jackson, comment from Songs for All Times 

What George Pullen Jackson sensed was the power of music to heal and make joyful the day when it is pulled from routine experiences and even more when it is derived from a shared experience. The shearing of sheep and other communal activities of pioneer families brings home the satisfaction of sharing with neighbors the sometimes daunting tasks that an agrarian life demanded. Further,  Jackson in his remarks, shares with Cecil Sharp the understanding of the healing power of song as it is remembered across all time and as it derives from the common stories of living.

While there is no direct knowledge of the following song appearing in the musical repertoire of the Central Appalachians, the sentiment would clearly have resonated with the mountaineers. The following song, The Sheep-Shearing, was collected by Cecil Sharp in his 100 English Folk Songs for a good reason. He described it as “very popular among English country folk” and “in existence before 1760.” His sensitive ear could also, no doubt, frame the picture evoked by the lyrics in this and in his other collected songs

THE SHEEP-SHEARING

How delightful to see,
In these evenings in Spring,
The sheep going home to the fold.

The master doth sing,
As he views everything,
And his dog goes before him where told,
And his dog goes before him where told.

The sixth month of the year,
In the month called June,
When the weather’s too hot to be borne,
The master doth say,
As he goeth on his way:
“Tomorrow my sheep shall be shorn,
“Tomorrow my sheep shall be shorn.”

Now as for those sheep,
They’re delightful to see,
They’re a blessing to a man on his farm.
For the flesh it is good,
It’s the best of all food,
And the wool it will clothe us up warm,
And the wool it will clothe us up warm.

Now the sheep they are all shorn,
And the wool carried home,
Here’s a health to our master and flock:
And if we should stay,
Until the last go away,
I’m afraid ’twill be past twelve o’clock,
I’m afraid t’will be past twelve o’clock.

Cecil Sharp, 100 English Folk Songs, …”In existence before 1760.”

SEE ALSO

CECIL SHARP AND MAUDE KARPELES Visit to Pine Mountain Settlement School

JAMES GREENE ACCOUNT OF CECIL SHARP and MAUDE KARPELES at PMSS

PETER ROGERS’ ACCOUNT OF CECIL SHARP AND MAUDE KARPELES Visit to Pine Mountain 

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Sheep

FARM GUIDE to Sheep, Goats, Weaving and Dyeing 

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Weaving at PMSS Beginnings

WEAVING AT PMSS – BEGINNINGS

One might say that Pine Mountain was conceived among coverlets.  Weaving at Pine Mountain Settlement School certainly was encouraged by the re-discovery of the craft of coverlet weaving and the enthusiastic collecting of mountain weaving near the turn of the last century.  Katherine Pettit, founder of Pine Mountain Settlement School and earlier of Hindman Settlement School, was an avid collector of “kivers.”  Her interest in the exquisite craft of coverlet weaving kept her roaming the mountains in the early years of the twentieth century in search of new patterns and techniques.   It was the search for beautiful mountain “kivers” that kept Pettit journeying across the Eastern Kentucky region and eventually to the Pine Mountain valley in Harlan County, Kentucky.  There, in the long valley on the north side of the Pine Mountain she established one of the most unique of the Appalachian settlement schools.

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Neighbors in the Pine Mountain Valley with coverlet hanging behind mother, two children and dog. c. 1920s.

Pettit often traveled from Hindman in Knott County, where she had established her first school in the early years of the twentieth century.  Even before the founding of Hindman, in 1901, Pettit was into her third summer season in the eastern Kentucky mountains at a location known as “Sassafrass.” She and her adventuresome colleagues had already journeyed to many of the remote valleys and hollows of nearby Harlan, Perry and Letcher counties where she frequently came into contact with mountain weavers.  She soon began to search for coverlets to purchase and also found her interest in the craft gave her a sound introduction to many mountain families. While looking for homespun coverlets she soon discovered more than the coverlet.  She discovered the weavers and their humble but rich skills, their ancient culture, and their stoic resourcefulness. Theirs was a life-style that she would soon come to cherish, partially adopt and commit to “raising up.”

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A Pine Mountain neighbor with her spinning wheel. c. 1915.

In Harlan county she  found the distance from the rapidly industrializing world she desired and she expanded on her Hindman experiences.  She  rapidly reached out to her many contacts and built a rustic home and a school dedicated to serving the people of the remote Pine Mountain valley and nearby hollows. She did not, however become a recluse.

When she came to Pine Mountain in 1913, and with the help of William Creech and the families living in the valley, Pettit established a school founded on the principles of the more urban settlement houses found in Chicago, New York, Boston and other locations. She recruited educators and workers from those early urban settlement schools and women’s colleges and sowed the seeds of a progressive educational program.  What she created was a settlement school that adopted a unique response the urban settlement house ethos.  While weaving in the urban settlements had often depended on teaching weaving that was modeled on practices found in the Arts and Craft’s Movement and in Scandinavian models, Pettit’s models were already established in the mountains of Kentucky and other areas of the Southern Appalachians.   Weaving for Pettit and for the Pine Mountain community was an integral part of a response to the legacy of many families and the demands of a rural environment that was still in a pioneering and subsistence mode.

Beating flax using a wooden flax beater. Ethel de Long [?] X_099_workers_2527l_mod.jpg

Farming was the other foundational principle she integrated into the school’s core mission. Weaving and farming go together well and well they served Pine Mountain for many years.  Pettit’s interest and promotion of weaving pre-dates the important work of Eliza Calver Hall and her 1912, A Book of Hand-Woven Coverlets.  No doubt Pettit was strongly influenced by Hall’s book, which she owned, and the work of the weaver Anna Ernberg who had assumed the position of superintendent of Fireside Industries at Berea College, Kentucky in 1911, but she was embedded in the idea of weaving and settlement-work much earlier and had early connections with women who would later shape mountain weaving into an industry.

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Pettit made the Pine Mountain valley and the Settlement School her home and along with Ethel de Long, whom she had recruited away from Hindman Settlement School, she began to build the second of her schools in the region.  Pine Mountain soon became one of the most unique and viable of the Southern Appalachian rural settlement schools. In that school the sound of the batten, weaving away, has rarely ceased it’s tempo.

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At Pine Mountain Pettit and her staff did not live in isolation but challenged the people of the region to look beyond the walls of mountains surrounding their valley, to the flood of ideas, economies, and beliefs that would prepare the people of the region for the inevitable changes coming to the mountains.  Following the turn of the century, industrialization was moving ever closer to the Pine Mountain Valley and Pettit recognized the need to develop a marketing strategy for the mountain crafts to bring money into the area.  Weaving was part of her plan at “raising-up” the mountain people and she set about finding looms, building looms and establishing weaving as part of the school program.

0050b P. Roettinger Album. “Swinging flax. Aunt Sal and Lizzie [Elisabeth Roettinger on right.]” [roe_017a.jpg]

Founded in 1913, Pine Mountain is now celebrating its 100th year of existence.  Katherine Pettit retired from the School in 1936 but the school archive contains numerous directives, letters, invectives, and suggestions that show her connected to the School until her death in 1938. The models of education, farming, health-care, and civic responsibility that Pettit and others at the school provided the people of this long valley, to Eastern Kentucky and to the state, promised a rich future while preserving the best of the earlier cultural legacy. Weaving at Pine Mountain has had a continuous association with the school since it’s founding and today it continues to inspire ideas and pride in it weavers.

The beautiful homespun coverlets discovered by Pettit on her mountain rambles became a visual passion for Pettit and for others who saw them.  It is impossible not to have a deep appreciation for the skill and artistry of the craft of weaving and for the women and men who wove the exquisite and complicated patterns found in Pettit’s collection of coverlets. The mountain coverlet in all its complexity and subtle colors has a deep and extended history in the lives of mountain families with a weft that stretches back to Ireland and to Scotland, to France and to England.   The coverlet is a visual testimony to the people’s deep intelligence, creativity, and manual skills,  Often described as “asleep”, “apart”, “lazy”, “dull”, or worse, the early mountain weavers produced some of the most elegant and complex and extensive repertoires of coverlets.  The Pine Mountain archive has long been the keeper of much of the history that documents the exquisite legacy of weaving in the Kentucky mountains.

From booklets that detail vegetable dying, such as the Katherine Pettit Dye Book, to implements that can convey the tactile activity of the weaver’s art, to correspondence related to the marketing of mountain craft by novel cooperatives such as Fireside Industries , to the intimate stories of times spent in homes where weaving was done,  — the archives at the School are rich in weaving lore.

Shortly before Katherine Pettit died she left some of her weaving collections to Pine Mountain Settlement School but donated the bulk of her collection in May of 1936 to the Bradford Club of Lexington, Kentucky.  Eventually, this large collection found its way into the holdings of Transylvania College by way of the historic home owned by the college, the Bodley-Bullock House, and under the care of the Junior League.

The Bullock’s were Pettit’s family. The home was obviously an active intellectual scene, filled with books and art, enjoyed by the patriarch, Waller O. Bullock, his wife, and children. Bullock, a physician and a sculptor, knew well the education of joining head and hand and heart, and no doubt passed that along to his children, one of whom was Clara, the mother of Katherine Pettit.  The home, located adjacent to one of Lexington’s most impressive parks, Gratz Park,  is surrounded by the homes of Lexington’s creative and intellectual elite, such as Henry Clay, the early entrepreneur William Gratz,  John Wesley Hunt, the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies,  and others.

 

Many of Pettit’s coverlets and textile fragments in both the Pine Mountain collection and the Bodley-Bullock collection have, in some cases,  histories that go back some 200 years.  Some have stories, and others have their provenance waiting to be discovered by researchers.  But, all have a visual presence that cannot be denied and names that suggest ties with life in the family, region, and country as well as hints of ancient balladry and dance in the British Isles.

For example a beautiful peach and vanilla coverlet with a pattern called “Kentucky Winding Blades” in the Lexington collection, has the following attached note:

“This coverlet was made by Granny Stallard who was 110 years old when she died about 20 years ago [note:1936].  She sent this with a number of other coverlets and blankets with her great, great grandchildren to the Pine Mountain Settlement School to pay for their tuition.  she said that most of these were made when she was in the “rise of her bloom” — sixteen years old.”

Another textile, un-named, a very worn and modified blanket/shawl has a badly damaged note that reads:

“This shawl was willed to … Uncle Enoch Combs, when he was a young man, not quite 20. [When he was] starting [for war] his sweetheart Nancy St … him and gave him this shawl [to ….] him.  She told him to f… [when the] war was over.  This he [did ?] … Uncle Enoch wore the shawl [until he was] an old man with long white [hair].”

Even this fragmented note tells of a very precious warp that is woven with the weft of memories; love, and loss and return and loss, again.  So many of the weavings of Appalachia have these stories. They speak to what Eliza Calvert Hall calls the “Time Spirit” in her important 1912 book, The Book of Handwoven Coverlets. [1]  The “time spirit” is found in that object that cannot be handled without recalling the life of the past. Many of the names of the coverlets speak to the past times.  Stories, such as “Young Lady’s Perplexiuty,” [sic] “Lonley Heart,” “Youth and Beauty,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and “Lasting Beauty.”   “… the rise of her bloom”  is a mountain colloquial reference to the early adolescence of girls as it was often in early these years that girls began to learn to weave and to assemble their house-hold textiles for later marriage and their own homes.  It can quickly be deduced that coverlets were often seen as the dowry of young girls.  Certainly, they were the offerings that she carried into her marriage in her “Hope Chest”.

Eliza Calvert Hall has pointed out that the naming of coverlet patterns is a very imprecise practice. She says, ” … a design may have one name in North Carolina another in Kentucky, another in Tennessee, and still another in Virginia as if it were a criminal fleeing from justice.”

Enoch Combs [the same as mentioned earlier] and his wife Mary were a childless couple who lived at Sassafras, near Hindman.  They were the hosts for a group of young women who came to the third and final summer camp in Knott county prior to the establishment of Hindman Settlement by Pettit and Stone.  Katherine Pettit, of Lexington; Mary E. McCartney, of Louisville;  May Stone, of Louisville;  and Rae M. McNab, also of Louisville, traveled into what had become familiar, but still, very rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky.   Their summer school at Sassafrass in 1901 was the last of a series of summer camps that were established to serve the literacy-poor hollows in Knott County. The success of these summer camps and the enthusiasm of Pettit and Stone led them to the foundation of a permanent school at Hindman in the following year.

The life of the Combs family and their skills at weaving were captured in a small album of photographs belonging to Katherine Pettit which she titled “Sassafrass 1901.”   In the small and fragile album, held in the Pine Mountain archive, members of the family and a young lady who was living with the Combs’ are shown shearing their sheep, washing the wool, drying the wool, picking and carding, dying the “hanks”,  and finally spinning the wool to be placed on spindles.  The images freeze this valuable pioneer process in time and allow the viewer to understand the many complex tasks associated with the manufacture of textile in the Appalachians.

FLAX

The processing of wool is just one of the complex tasks involved with Appalachian textiles.  There is another even more arduous series of processes associated with the flax plant. When Katherine Pettit came to Pine Mountain she met “Aunt” Sally Creech. In Aunt Sal she had one of the finest weavers and spinners as an accomplice in her search for “kivers.”  But, she also had a consummate teacher.  Aunt Sal was the wife of William Creech, the farmer whose vision of a school caught the imagination of Pettit and whose land formed the basis of the physical site for the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Uncle William grew flax and harvested it to process linen thread.  Katherine Pettit provided him with the seeds.

“‘Aunt Sal Creech – retting flax.” [nace_II_album_059.jpg]

The elaborate process of turning flax into thread was a process learned by many of the Appalachian families whose origins reached back to an Ulster-Scot ancestry. Many of the people of the Southern Appalachians had this ancestry. Ulster, in Ireland, was a center of linen production in Europe and many of the immigrants brought their knowledge of flax farming and linen creation to the New World. It continued as a viable occupation for the many Scots-Irish-English-French-Cherokee-German and African American families who lived deep in the Appalachian mountains.

At Pine Mountain, farmers who maintained subsistance farms in the small valley and hollows and on the steep slopes near the School sometimes found ways to extend their incomes by engaging in flax farming.  Flax was one of the crops that could be turned to income.  But, by the turn of the twentieth-century few of these resourceful farmers remained. Pine Mountain was fortunate that some of these flax farmers had passed down their knowledge in the family and there were families that were still growing and weaving with flax.

William Creech supervising the pulling of flax. [floral_III_020_mod.jpg]

When Pettit arrived in the valley she met families with names like Creech, Boggs, Turner, Couch, Combs, Coots, Day, Hall, and more, suggesting that the population was heavily indebted to England in its origins. A study of family names could shed light on possible English or Irish or Scotch origins of textile practice, but unlike tracing ballads or dances, or pageants, the trail for textile arts is not well developed. English families migrated to all areas of the British Isles but it is well-known that many Scots migrated to Ulster where they took up the practice of flax farming and production.  However the practice arrived in the Appalachians, the production of linen thread, an enormously labor intensive and complex process was passed along to Uncle William and Aunt Sal.  They knew the processes but the depth of their knowledge is difficult to determine.  Just how their processes compared to European practice invites further study.

Certainly Uncle William saw an opportunity to pursue his farming interests and to combine this with the practice of weaving, an art his wife Sally knew well.  Labor in the nearby school was available to him but he also had a sincere desire to improve the production of farmland, to educate, generally, and he, like Aunt Sal, was a consummate teacher.  It is also clear that he shared these interests in flax farming with Katherine Pettit.

The raising of flax and its processing for the weaving of linen cloth is another long weaving story. It is evident, however, that farming and weaving and education all make good partners. Whether, wool, flax, or cotton, “Summer Weave”, “Snail’s Trail,” or “Virgil”, or “Longfellow”, the threads come together.  It is true that the partnership of farming and weaving can be found repeated throughout the world, but the patterns derived from those partnerships are as diverse as the cultures that created them. Pine Mountain’s contributions to a weaving history are many and the contributions of Appalachia have their roots firmly planted in the long histories the earliest families brought to the region whether European, African, American Indian, or South American, or other cultures. There is strong evidence of cultural mixing in both practice and patterns and the research field waits for those who want a rich research project.

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CRAFT WORKSHOPS AT PINE MOUNTAIN SETTLEMENT SCHOOL

For a schedule of events at the school , see:

http://www.pinemountainsettlementschool.com/events.php