Demonstrators teach variety of old-time skills to festivalgoers



Two days each year in October, people can walk through the gate at Fort Vallonia and step back in time.

While the Garrison House is there year-round, its doors are open and demonstrators are stationed throughout the surrounding grounds during Fort Vallonia Days.

Today’s generation can gain an understanding of a variety of old-time skills, including woodworking, weaving, spinning, tatting and blacksmithing. Plus, there are Native American artifacts and antique machinery.

Shannon Wehrkamp of Dudleytown sat on the porch doing clasp weaving to make a table runner on a loom. Clasp weaving involves interlocking two threads to produce two colors.

“A lot of young people, they don’t even know what it is,” she said. “They think you go to the store and you buy your material and that’s it, and it shows how it’s made.”

She’s more than happy to show how it’s really made. She uses scrap yarn, mostly wool.

“I retired six years ago and I started then, so I haven’t done it that long,” she said. “I had a friend that does it, and she talked me into trying it, and I love it. You get to design the look. It’s very relaxing.”

On the other side of the porch, Lori Ammerman of Scipio worked on a spinning wheel. She has been doing that skill since 1984.

“I got a book and I met a few ladies, and it just took off from there,” she said.

She started coming to Fort Vallonia Days in the early 1990s and likes talking to people about the different products she makes, which also includes baskets.

“It’s fascinating for all ages to walk through here. I love to talk to the kids, and they come with such fantastic questions. Then you can tell when the engineers come through,” she said, smiling.

Ammerman also is into genealogy and learned some of her ancestors used spinning wheels.

“Boy, I would love to track down one of the family wheels,” she said. “It would be so cool.”

She is glad to have an opportunity like Fort Vallonia Days to share those stories and her skills.

“Just the passing-on of that information,” she said. “A lot of people will have a better appreciation of what they have now because they can see how far it has come and the way things change and how different it was.”

In front of the Garrison House, William Henry Root of Nashville sat at a table doing pen-and-ink drawings of horses. Over the years, he said he has drawn thousands of horses. That includes a postcard-size drawing with 451 horses on it that he had for sale over the weekend.

“I grew up on the farm and we had workhorses and a few riding horses, but I never had a desire to own one,” he said. “I just think they are the most beautiful creature that God ever made, and I just like drawing them. I do a lot of carousel horses, and I do full-size carousel carvings.”

Displaying his skills at Fort Vallonia Days was enjoyable.

“I’d go back to the 1700s in a heartbeat if I could take my dentist with me,” Root joked.

The old-time skill is among the things Root likes about sharing history. He said he was named after his great-great grandfather, who was named after family friend William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory in the early 1800s who later became the ninth U.S. president.

Before leaving Vincennes to head to Washington, D.C., to be inaugurated, Harrison had breakfast at Root’s great-great-grandfather’s farmhome. That farm is still in Root’s family.

“It has been in the family almost 200 years, so I’m kind of hooked directly into history, and my father made it interesting,” Root said. “There’s a lot of history in (Vallonia) and in Corydon and Vincennes and of course Indianapolis, and it’s really neat if you’re really a part of that.”

Vallonia native Debbie Andry enjoyed watching the different demonstrators. She was particularly interested in Wehrkamp’s work.

“I do a lot of quilting, and I do a lot of crafting. I’ve done a lot of crafting for years and years and years, and I’ve always wanted to have a weaver, a loom, but I’ve never seen one that small,” she said of Wehrkamp’s loom.

Talking to Wehrkamp piqued Andry’s interest in weaving, but being a teacher in Paoli, where she now lives, she said she stays busy.

“I have so many irons in the fire,” Andry said, smiling.

Still, she liked returning to her hometown to check out all that the fort area had to offer.

“It’s just really a neat part of the whole atmosphere of Fort Vallonia Days being in here because you see skills from the past,” Andry said.

She said it’s good for people, especially kids, to see those demonstrations.

“Kids don’t realize that everybody didn’t grow up with an iPad in their hand and electricity and a flushing toilet,” she said. “I have students that are just blown away by things that I tell them that we really didn’t have. The world is still like that in places, so we talk a lot about that.”

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