January 01, 1980 News & Features » Cover Story


What to See: The Lost Art of Stuff 

Far-flung crafts that keep civilization moving.

click to enlarge yoyo.jpg

For whatever reason, building boats offers a little more romance than folding chinos at the Gap, and because of that more than anything, chino-folding is not on the festival's roster this year. Which isn't to say it won't be in the next century, when pants are made of some kind of aerosol material that evaporates at day's end and chino-folding is practically a lost art.

The point is that the festival is highlighting some arcane skill-sets to push this civilization along, promoting commerce, refining transportation or entertaining the masses with flying balls on strings. Thus, we recommend:

1) Shipbuilders Wanted: Beards a Must

There is some connection, perhaps lost to the ages, between the crafting of water vessels and the cultivation of facial hair, as can be seen in three of this year's craftsmen. Saturday, noon-8 p.m.; Sunday, noon-6 p.m.

There's Michael Vlahovich, shipbuilder and restorer, from a long line of Croatian watermen. He's on hand to talk about the all-important art of ship caulking, so your handiwork won't be admired from the bottom of the sea, beard or no.

There's Chuck Modjeski, batteau builder, whose work on the excavation of the legendary flatboats of the James River led him to start building the things for the annual James River Batteau Festival. He'll be talking about period dress, the commercial importance of the boats, and perhaps period beards.

George Butler's family (many bearded, no doubt) have built wooden boats for Chesapeake Bay fishing for 100 years. The boats are specifically used in the collection of menhaden, the "fishy gold" that makes up so much of the United States' fish export.

2) No, just a pack of Camels for me, thanks.

Imagine the tobacco warehouses of yore, as far back as 2003, when that precious leaf was put on the block and pushed along by the able tongue of the tobacco auctioneer. Just such a man is Bob Cage, who single-handedly turned the sale of the crop into an event, the kind of thing for which they'd elect tobacco queens and hold parades. And colorful barking styles like Cage's kept Virginia's favorite greens moving along. Saturday, noon, 6:15 p.m.; Sunday, noon, 4 p.m.

3) Them balls is magic.

Credit where credit's due: The Chinese already get big points for inventing fireworks, and it turns out they also came up with the yo-yo. A more fun nation you're not likely to meet. So it is with Boston's Chinese Folk Art Workshop, where youngsters ages 10-17 boggle the fun glands with such antics as the Lion Dance and Taiwanese drums. But it's the Chinese yo-yo that really anoints the culture with frolic, those whirling things of wood or bamboo that surely make China the one nation you have to have on your Evite list. Saturday, 1 p.m., 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.

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