ATHENS COUNTY, Ohio — A new project by local artist Talcon Quinn seeks to showcase Athens County folkways in their past and present incarnations.
Athens County Living Traditions is a five-part event series that celebrates the folkways — art, music, craftsmanship and more — of the people of Athens County. Taking place across the county this summer through the fall, the free event series kicked off in Albany on Saturday, May 27.
Around 40 people attended the first four-hour event, Quinn said in an email. It featured folkways from people of Albany, Shade and New Marshfield areas.
One presenter was Meta Van Nostran of Albany. In her booth stocked with yarn, historical information and blankets swaying in the breeze, Van Nostran shared her folk practice(s) of fabric arts.
A sheep farmer of 53 years, Van Nostran handspun wool — the old-fashioned way — and her work demonstrates the wide variety of uses for the material, from blankets to rugs, quilts, embroidery and more.
Van Nostran did not grow up spinning wool, she said. It wasn’t until she and her husband raised sheep that she picked up the practice.
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“I actually retired three times,” Van Nostran said. “The first time I retired … I bought the spinning wheel. And the second time I retired, I bought my best sewing machine that I’m still using and then the third time I retired, I bought a castle wheel, another spinning wheel that’s upright, so it sits on the corner of a closed-in porch … It spins entirely different.”
A longtime educator, Van Nostran was a high school home economics and parenting education teacher in southeast Ohio. She was passionate about home economics, despite students’ complaints that “all you did was make cookies.”
“Well, that’s sort of true — yes, you did make cookies — but there were some reasons why,” Van Nostran said. “When you’re talking about home economics, it’s giving to others, it’s doing for others. It’s a service — and you’re not paying for it.”
She also enjoyed having a project to demonstrate to students each week, and watching them later create on their own.
Beyond being an outlet for artistry, Van Nostran also sees the importance of wool as a sustainable, natural fiber in an increasingly artificial world.
“But for [everyday] average wear, you think of all the things you wear — how much cotton do you have? How much plastic do you have? And cotton biodegrades terrible — polyester, nylon,” Van Nostran said. “My wool clothes, in my closet — nothing’s recent. I mean, they’re eons old — they’re classic … When you buy something, you put a lot of money into it, and you want it to last 30 to 40 years — and [it] will.”
And as far as clothes going out of style or needing alterations, “that’s when it’s nice to have the skills to go in and remodel it,” Van Nostran said.
Other presenters on May 27 included Willie Perkins, who played and sang fiddle tunes; Benji Brite, an Athens County leatherworker; and the New Marshfields, an Athens County family band.
Cristina Benedetti, a folk and traditional arts contractor at the Ohio Arts Council, worked the first Living Traditions event on May 27. The Ohio Arts Council is working in partnership with the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Benedetti said.
At the May 27 event, Benedetti helped administer a survey to ask attendees about their own “living traditions” and folkways.
“It’s been interesting doing this survey,” Benedetti said. “A lot of times people don’t totally understand the ways that they all have folkways … [They] are often passed down in families. It’s not usually something you go to school to learn how to do. But it’s a way that all people practice creativity and pass down artistic traditions, within their families or friend groups or regions, [and] communities.”
The survey responses included “a lot of gardening, a lot of needle arts, sewing, embroidery. A lot of cooking,” Benedetti said. “We’ve had a few different international folks and they’ve talked about their traditions that they practice from their home country.”
For Quinn, Appalachian folkways — living traditions, skills — represent the tenacity of the region.
“Self-sufficiency … feels very important to me,” Quinn said. “Personally, for me, [that’s why] these things need to keep going. To me, this is what’s going to turn a page of Appalachia from like, from surviving to thriving, right? This is what’s gonna give it to us, because we’re barely surviving right now, a lot of us.”
The next Living Traditions event will take place this Saturday, June 24, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Southeast Ohio History Center, 24 W. State St. It will be a Q&A-style panel discussion focused on the past 60 years of the Athens music scene.
Remaining events include (times and exact locations TBA):
- Trimble, Saturday, July 29. This event may have a focus on music, and feature live bluegrass and old-time, as well as square dancing, Quinn said.
- Nelsonville, Saturday, Aug. 26.
- Stewart, Sept. 30.
A previous version of this story misspelled Cristinia Benedetti’s name. It has been corrected.
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