Lots to learn at Simple Living Festival
By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — Saturday, the annual Simple Living Festival at Dan Nicholas Park was the place to be for those wanting a quiet afternoon on which to reminisce.
The fifth annual event, celebrating down-home arts, crafts and music, wasn’t as busy as in years past.
Exhibitors said that was probably due to a combination of Cinco de Mayo celebrations and commencement at some area schools.
But all around the picnic grounds, with local musicians playing gospel, bluegrass and country standards, were stores of knowledge.
How to turn a block of wood into part of a ballpoint pen.
How to transform fleece into yarn, and from there into kitchen linens.
And how to forge iron into tools or ornaments, whichever you need.
For Jim “Jeep” Sabo, a Simple Living Fest regular, Saturday was a day to fire up the forge (no matter the temperature outside) and work on a hobby he loves.
With a coal fire stoked by a handmade mechanical blower, Sabo made a piece of metal briefly glow red-gold before carrying it to the anvil.
He picked up a delicate hammer and struck. A tap, followed by two taps on the anvil in rhythm, and another tap.
In a matter of moments, the metal became a decorative hook, soon to be part of a project Sabo said he’s working on back at home.
“Most of what I do is the same as what they did in the 1700s and 1800s,” said Sabo, who teaches science at East Rowan High.
Nearby, for visitors, was a book of photos of past creations, plus a tidy display of fireplace tools, andirons and the like.
Sabo said the festival is good for spreading the word about what he does, but it’s also a sign of people’s changing knowledge.
The best blacksmiths could make pieces, Sabo said, that today would look as good as those made by machines.
The irony, he said, is that many people today want “authentic” pieces, full of obvious dents and dings, that look more like what an apprentice would make.
“A master smith could give you a piece and it wouldn’t have a hammer mark on it,” Sabo said.
Two young men worked with Sabo at the festival, where the teacher is passing on his 25 years of experience to a new generation.
One, Jason Miller, said he started teaching himself blacksmithing from library books while a student at North Rowan Middle School.
Saturday, he helped answer questions.
“There are people who come by and stay around for a couple of hours,” Miller said.
Seth Culp, sophomore at East Rowan, took Sabo’s Earth Science course last year and decided to learn about working with metal.
“It’s kind of hard to choose one thing I like about it, everything is interesting to me,” Culp said.
He hopes, someday soon, to create some of the same things Sabo has.
Across the grounds, under a tent, sat three local women carding wool, spinning and weaving on a small wooden loom.
Members of the Olde Rowan Fiber Guild, this was their first year at the festival.
Josie Esquivel, president, said groups of as many as 15 people gathered throughout the morning and afternoon to watch.
“Kids were fascinated by the movement of the shuttle and the turning of the wheels,” Esquivel said.
“Men seemed to be more fascinated by the mechanics of it.”
Darby Nelson, treasurer of the three-year-old club, brought fleece from sheep she raised.
In addition to young people wanting to learn more, Nelson said, “A lot of the people who had been in the mills would be reminiscing about what their jobs were.”
“Part of our goal as a guild is improving our own knowledge, but also bringing knowledge to the community,” Esquivel said.
“Most people have no idea where their clothes come from. But no matter where, they come from the carders, the spinners and the weavers.”
While few might be willing to invest in an ash wood spinning wheel, like the one Nelson’s husband gave her in 1983, the afternoon might make them think about the people, plants and planning that it takes to make clothing.
And, Nelson said, young people will hopefully take advantage of the knowledge that’s to be found all around them.
“Spinning, quilting and knitting are getting a resurgence,” Nelson said. “You’ll find clusters of spinners.”
“As long as people like us and members of our community honor the old customs, we’ll have that knowledge, and we’ll pass it down to our children.”
In addition to craft experts, the festival drew some who’ve found their hobbies more recently.
John Zerger, who runs ZergerWorks, started turning wood on a lathe after he tried to find a good way to preserve some pieces of wood from his father’s homeplace in Kansas.
Using kits he purchases, he cuts pieces of rare or colorful wood, drills holes, then turns them to fit the diameter of the metal parts.
The result: a handmade ballpoint or fountain pen.
Though one purpose of being at the festival was to sell pens, Zerger also had his lathe on display, hoping to win converts to the hobby.
And interest was high. “We ran out of business cards,” Laurie Zerger said.
Visitors said it was interesting to learn about nature, crafts and arts.
“I’m always glad to see people making things,” said Ken Rickman, who came with wife Cindy and family out to the park for their first Simple Living Festival.
“It’s interesting. It keeps (knowledge) alive, for one thing.”
He’s into woodworking, but stopped to watch Sabo work at the forge for some time.
“I’ll never know when I’ll learn something,” Rickman said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.