Tagged ‘pilgrim’

Lessons from Henry Roach

April 6th, 2010 by admin

The day after Easter, on a postcard-perfect spring day, the Plimoth Plantation Interpretive Artisans Department welcomed former museum employee Henry Roach to come and show us how to make spars. Hank is a thatcher (having learned from the legendary Peter Slevin), basket maker, and all-around craftsman. He is a master of many forgotten arts and is an invaluable source of information. His willingness to share his knowledge, coupled with his sense of humor, made for very enjoyable and informative morning.

What are spars?

April 6th, 2010 by admin

Spars are the wooden “staples” that hold down thatch on a roof. They are driven into the thatch, across long sticks which run the length of the roof, to help secure the material. They are twisted from green wood such as maple, and each roof in our re-created English Village needs several hundred of them.

A sapling of about 1 1/2 inch in diameter and about 2 feet long, is split in half (sometimes quartered) with a tool called a bill-hook. The hook is also used to point the ends of the spar so it more easily can be driven into the thatch.

Twisting the spar

April 6th, 2010 by admin

Twisting the spar is particularly challenging. While it would seem an easy process, there is a surprising amount of subtlety in doing it correctly and efficiently.

Here, Hank has trimmed just enough of the wood away to make it easier to twist without breaking. He has left a ridge for his fingers to grasp, and with a deft twist of his right hand, bends the fibers of the sapling.

Perfectly positioned

April 6th, 2010 by admin

Here, Hank’s hands and fingers are perfectly positioned to twist the spar with a minimum of breaking. The tip of his right index finger makes a perfect mold to wrap the spar around. The few broken fibers on this spar have more to do with the material than with Hank’s technique.

Hands-On Demonstration

April 6th, 2010 by admin

Here, Hank is demonstrating just the right twisting motion to Interpretive Artisan Justin Keegan.

Many thanks to Hank for his time and his expertise. There is so much wisdom in the seemingly simple process of making a spar. We are fortunate to have Hank as both a resource and as a friend.

One of Those Days

November 6th, 2009 by admin

Saturday was one of those days. No, not one of THOSE days. One of those days that makes wet wool, sweaty pilgrim garb, not-for-profit pay scales, early mornings shoveling manure, late nights reading incomprehensible 17th century texts, freezing cold, blazing heat, and those excruciating pilgrim shoes- one of those days that makes it all worthwhile.
We had a boy coming in from hospice who also had some mobility issues. So, we brought many of our animals up to the fort area so he could meet them. This isn’t something we could do everyday, but we knew about the visit in advance, they had a special guided tour planned, and they were not coming at one of our busiest times.
So, our three lambs born in June were herded up to the fort. “Poppers,” last year’s newborn kid goat, was carried up by Shelley. And, I was able to take Damson and her new calf on his longest walk ever, so far, all the way up to the fort.
The young man and his family were able to meet them all which was quite delightful enough. His bravery and excitement were palpable, and it really was an honor to be part of brightening his day. But then it just got better.
Another visitor came in leading her blind son. His jaw dropped when I had him touch the cow, as he realized the enormity of the animal under his fingers. Then, Shelley handed him Poppers to hold; his fingers found her horns, and he beamed. Later, before we brought the animals back, a paraplegic woman from Ireland came into the fort area, and she was able to touch a cow for the first time as well. Not to mention the tour group of children from Holland and all of the other visitors coming through the fort that afternoon.
Our animal interpreters are here to delight and inform all of our visitors- young, old, city folk, farm families, everyone. But, I have to confess a special satisfaction whenever I get the chance to help folks who might have more difficulty interacting with a farm animal to get that amazing experience. It reminds me that our job here is really, dare I say it?, a labor of love.

-Jonny Larason, Agricultural Exhibits

A Whole New World

October 31st, 2009 by admin

Our little bull calf is exploring his world. Two days ago, he seemed like he really wanted to come closer to us, to come and say hello, but he was a bit too scared. We were too far away from mom I guess. Yesterday he got brave and came right up and sniffed and licked us. Today, he is licking everything. Licking different plants his mom eats. Licking the fences. Licking my apron. Licking my hand. Licking the dirt I’m working in (putting in a new fence post) which leaves powdery brown smudges on his nose. Then he gallops around in circles.
We were visited by 1800 schoolchildren today, and he even went up to the fence and licked them from in between the pales. And somehow, either in his mind or mine, his work here at this museum became clear: he’s going to spend his life around kids, families, and guests to our museum, pulling loads and maybe even plowing. (Not bad when most little guys look forward to becoming a tasty steak!) He’s going to be a bovine interpreter, hopefully making it possible for kids (or anybody) to see what cattle feel like, or look like, or smell like; or for a museum guest to learn how a cow thinks. Hopefully he’ll educate people how the colonists used animal power to do things beyond the capabilities of their own musculature—moving heavy loads of wood or hay, taking stumps out of the ground, plowing (not to mention totally transforming the indigenous landscape into what it is today, but that’s a different post…)

Final Exam for a Milk Cow

October 30th, 2009 by admin

Earlier this week, we posted from the Village Farm about the arrival of our newest interpreter, the calf born to Damson, our red and black cow. In that post we mentioned the training Damson has gone through over the last 4 years to become the excellent exhibit animal she is today.
In all learning processes, some of steps in training are strange and mysterious to the student until they have enough background to put everything into context. In the same way, I think parts of our morning and afternoon cow handling routine (which is an essential part of how we teach our exhibit animals) must have seemed odd to Damson. I mean, I’m sure she enjoyed the part where we brush and rub her down. Lifting her legs every day may have made sense to her the first time she got her hooves trimmed. But why, she probably wondered, do they insist on reaching under me and touching my udder? Isn’t that sort of personal?
Over time, Damson stopped feeling tickled when her udder was palpated, and she learned not to move away. And yesterday, the fruits of four years of training came true, as Damson stood still for her first milking- without rope or stanchion or anything to restrain her. Her training enabled us to make milking her an exhibit that looked just like the images we see from 17th century paintings and woodcuts, dairy maids milking their cows freestanding in the fields.

It’s a Bull!

October 27th, 2009 by admin

Four years ago, just about this time of year, a three-month old calf was introduced into the 1627 Colonial Village site. She was the size of a German Shepherd and red with brindled red and black head and legs. We called her Damson (like the plum) and trained her to be an interpreter. She learned to follow commands when led by the halter or horns. She got used to being poked and prodded from all sides by countless schoolchildren. She took on the role of the heifer William Bradford called “Raghorn”.
Well, she’s all grown up now. You see, last winter, Damson spent our museum’s off season in the company of a delightful, mild-mannered, if somewhat undersized Kerry bull named B.B. Nature took its course, and this past Sunday (St. Crispin’s Day in the 17th century English Church,) Damson gave birth to a beautiful chocolate-brown bull calf- the first calf born at Plimoth Plantation since 2003. Mother and calf are currently resting comfortably in the animal pen next to Mr. Brewster his house.
Both are healthy and well and would love to entertain guests.
-Jonny Larason, Agricultural Exhibits

I Dare You

April 11th, 2009 by admin

Hello again,

The 2009 season is in full gear and we are all very happy to be back. Some of the children have startred already and all will be here for house raising week (which begins the 20th of this month). I have given them an assignment to read the first chapter of Good News From New England (by Edward Winslow) and discuss its meaning.

So I want to offer the same challenge to you, dear reader. Go to your local library and borrow it, or better yet (for us) purchase the book by clicking this link, and read the first chapter and we can all discuss it on these pages. Are you up for it? I hope so. Let’s make history come alive.

I dare you.


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