Plymouth CRAFT helps preserve historic crafts through hands-on workshops.By Laurie Celine Balliett • Photography by Betty Wiley
In the last wind storm, a twisted cherry tree branch fell in my yard. I brought it inside to use as kindling for the fire. But then I spoke to Peter Follansbee, a master woodworker and furniture maker who teaches workshops through The Plymouth Center for Restoration Arts and Forgotten Trades (Plymouth CRAFT). I soon learned that he could teach me how to transform the tree branch into a functional work of art.
“It doesn’t have to go into the chipper or the fireplace,” says Follansbee, one of several artisans who helped establish Plymouth CRAFT in December of 2014. “With an axe, two knives and a saw, you can make a nice set of wooden spoons for your kitchen.”
Plymouth CRAFT is a nonprofit organization that aims to bring together artisans from around New England and beyond, who specialize in a range of historic crafts. The group holds hands-on workshops at a series of South Shore and Cape Cod venues, offering everything from basket weaving and natural fabric dying to traditional hearth cooking and even the intricate art of Ukrainian egg dying. And no matter if participants are carving bowls and spoons from rough-cut blocks of wood or building wood-fired ovens out of clay, everything is made by hand without the use of electricity.
“I only work with hand tools, and that’s the way I’ve worked wood since the 1980s,” says Follansbee, who specializes in making reproductions of 17th-century furniture and has traveled all over the world to teach.
Students who attend one of Follansbee’s basket workshops, find themselves pounding a freshly fallen ash tree with a mallet in a way that Follansbee describes as “pounding the rings out of the tree, year by year.”
“When you pound the ash tree, the rings delaminate and you are left with strips that you can weave baskets with. It’s an ancient idea that’s just captivating,” says Follansbee. “It’s a rich experience and in the end, you have something that you will last forever.”
Many of Plymouth CRAFT’s instructors live on the South Shore and have known one another for years, often honing their skills at cultural institutions like Plimoth Plantation and traveling abroad to research or teach. Such is the case with food historian Paula Marcoux, who helped spearhead the group and now serves on its board of directors.
Marcoux, who previously worked as an archeologist in the Middle East and spent 20 years at Plimoth Plantation, is passionate about sharing her vast knowledge of culinary history with the public. The food editor of Edible South Shore magazine and author of the book “Cooking with Fire: From Roasting on a Spit to Baking in a Tannur, Rediscovered Techniques and Recipes That Capture the Flavors of Wood-Fired Cooking,” Marcoux leads workshops through Plymouth CRAFT that range from building wood-fired ovens to preparing authentic native American recipes.
Some of Plymouth CRAFT’s other instructors include people like world-class embroiderer, Elizabeth Creeden, Denise Lebica, who specializes in knitting, card-weaving and sewing, Amelia Poole, whose expertise is natural dyeing and Kirsten Atchison who leads classes in traditional German baking.
For Marcoux and the other instructors, it is satisfying to watch class participants come to the realization that they are not just learning how to make things—they are also helping to preserve a part of history for generations to come.
For more information and a list of upcoming workshops, visit PlymouthCRAFT.org.