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See the best traditional artists in America
For those who read or want to write for the magazine
America’s history is as rich and diverse as
the people who have built and inhabited
its vast landscape. So too is the material
culture they created, which reminds us
of our ancestors and their connections to
other cultures. In honoring those traditions,
each August we celebrate the artisans who study the
craftsmanship of our forebears and add their artistic sensibilities
and skills to achieve something distinctly new.
This year we showcase some of the work chosen for
the Directory of Traditional American Crafts at the 1736
Henry Antes House in eastern Pennsylvania. A National
Historic Landmark, the restored house is a pristine example
of early Germanic architecture, virtually unaltered
through more than two centuries of family living.
A group of dedicated preservationists and folk life
researchers—who eventually coalesced as the Goschenhoppen
Historians—studied the house in its cultural context
as well as the importance of its designer, Henry Antes,
who worked to spread the tenets of the Moravian faith.
The sparsely furnished house provided an unusual
but compelling backdrop for works that might have been
owned by subsequent generations of such a prosperous
family. The site also welcomes visitors in August for the
Goschenhoppen Folk Festival, staffed by hundreds of
volunteers who share the authentic folk ways and life skills
of the area’s German settlers.
This issue also looks at another restoration farther
south. Although they had hoped to live indefinitely at the
historic farm they restored in Virginia years ago, Max and
Carol Sempowski found it prudent to move closer to family.
Their “new” farm in Maryland, built in 1792, offered a
compromise location between Virginia and Pennsylvania
and the solidity of stone walls that Carol preferred. Best
of all, their lifelong collection of antiques suited
this farm too—and they can still raise sheep.
Well into the 1800s, our ancestors had only
letters as a means of doing business or keeping
in touch with distant family. We trace the early
origins of the postal service, which relied on
everything from transatlantic ships to post riders
to deliver mail across a continent with conflicting
sovereigns and few passable roads.
Named Postmaster General by both the British
Crown and later the American Congress, Benjamin
Franklin brought order to the postal system. Interestingly,
stamps didn’t become mandatory until 1855, leaving
the post office responsible for all costs associated with
transporting and delivering letters, even if the recipient
couldn’t be located or refused to receive the letter, or the
letter was lost through theft or natural disaster.
Franklin also makes an appearance in our story about
the development and eventual restoration of Philadelphia’s
Fairmount Water Works, the first steam-powered
water works installed in the world. Most historians credit
the ingenuity of Frederick Graff, architect Benjamin
Latrobe’s engineering protégé, for designing and building
the original water works along the Schuylkill River
and for adding landscape plantings that turned the site
overlooking the city into both an engineering marvel and
a pleasure garden open to all.
For nearly a century, the water works (which later
reverted to more efficient, less expensive water power)
provided relatively clean drinking water to residents of
the rapidly growing city. By the early 1900s, the works
had succumbed to a lack of understanding of waterborne
diseases and the river’s growing pollution. But in the 19th
Century, Fairmount was the place for travelers from across
the world to visit.
It is still worth seeing, with the restoration of part of
Graff’s original architectural and mechanical works, still
set within an expansive park. Preserving such attachments
to our past helps inspire—and ideally guide—future
improvements for the benefit of all.
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.