Traditional arts classes look back at history

Participants in the Carroll County Farm Museum's Traditional Arts classes spent their weekends looking back in time, and engaging in craftsmanship from a bygone era. Throughout the museum grounds, students completed hands-on projects, including traditional basket weaving, chair caning, stone etching and tin smithing.

Downstairs in the administration building, Tracey Schaub brought her mother Bonnie McElroy and mother-in-law Pat Schaub for a day of basket weaving, spending hours creating their own unique wine baskets, under the instruction of Karl Gettle.


Gettle taught the group how to cut and weave bark to make a basket. Gettle said he first learned the art of weaving as a component of his devotion to antiquing.

"I had collected antiques for years, and one day, I couldn't afford a basket, so I got a broken one and taught myself to fix it," Gettle said. "My wife and two daughters keep me busy, by giving away the baskets for presents and such. You can put wine bottles in here, or for the younger ones, you can fill it with candy."

Gettle showed the group the proper measuring techniques to create a basket of any dimensions, and the proper way to weave the bark among the handle frame of the basket. Gettle said in the old days, weavers would use the winter growth from oak trees to weave the basket, though today, they have moved to rattan palm bark from China, because it is easier and cheaper to procure, though weavers in colonial Williamsburg will still use oak for authenticity.

Next to the weavers, Rick Barrick taught a course on chair caning -- creating a woven seat and back to a chair from rattan bark. Barrick said he was a graduate of the Farm Museum's caning course, and instantly took to the art.

"I took a class here nine years ago, and now I'm the official caner here," Barrick said. "I do all of the special events and I teach classes here. It all started because I was looking for something to do with a bunch of chairs in my attic."

The group worked with chairs with holes in the seat, weaving the bark in four different directions in a seven-step process, creating a latticework to sit on. Barrick said depending on the complexity of the job, a chair caning can take anywhere between one-and-a-half days of work to 100 hours of caning.

For student Nancy Warrington, this was not her first time learning about chair caning. She said she was refreshing her skillset, since the last time she took a course was more than 10 years ago.

"I've forgotten more than I learned," Warrington said. "My grandfather used to do chair caning, and I watched him when I was a little girl. I've got some chairs that have been waiting for 40 years to be repaired."

Across the museum grounds, carver Ferenc Gregor taught Gina Tucker the art of stone etching, a process that involves carving into a piece of stone with a reciprocal diamond point etching tool. Using this tool, Gregor could draw on the stone, much as a pencil draws on paper. For the class, he exhibited pieces including etchings of a tiger and one of an owl at night.

"I started off by carving bone and antler, but I transitioned to stone because I wanted to work in a larger and more challenging medium," Gregor said. "I always liked the old masters, so I do dimensional carving as well as etchings."

Each line carved appears as a white line on a black slab of stone, with the depth of the cut deciding the brightness of the line. Gregor said an artist has to be careful in etching, because there is no turning back once a decision is made.

"Unlike certain other forms of artwork, you don't get to paint over it. Sculptural work is pure subtraction. This is pure addition," Gregor said. "Once you have a part a certain brightness, you've set the bar for tonal quality. If you want something brighter than that, everything has to come up again."

Gregor said much of his work is done for the monument industry, but the high contrast look of stone etching has its own value as an artistic medium as well.

Ian Fischer and Karl Grotke, members of the Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland learned a new form of smithing, as Jeff Leister instructed them in the proper technique for tinsmithing.


The two learned how to make a 17th century night light, a finger candle holder and a biscuit cutter out of tin. Leister helped the two hammer their projects into the proper shape and size and then hem the edges.

"They used to use tin plate as a paring knife, so you have to be aware of how sharp that rough edge can be," Leister said. "We fold it over and hem it just like you would a shirt or pant leg."

After the basic shapes were created, Grotke and Fischer punched holes in their pieces in order to create lighted designs on their night lights. Leister said tin was once one of the most important crafts in the country.

"It really started in 1740 in this country," Leister said. "It was used for just about everything people could think of. Tin was used as silver for people who couldn't afford silver. Today, we build things to sell at the museum shop."

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or