Festivalgoers awed by demonstrations at Fort Vallonia Days

VALLONIA — Walking into Fort Vallonia’s Garrison House, Ashton Drake became intrigued by the various types of brooms on display.

Most were out of the 9-year-old’s price range, but he found some small ones that were affordable.

Instead of just buying one to take home, broom maker Bev Larson proposed an idea to the young boy from Norman.

“She’s like, ‘Well, let’s just make a whole new one,’” Drake said.

While the broom was small in size, he quickly learned there’s a lot that goes into making one.

“Trim these a little closer,” Larson said to Drake as he worked on one end of the broom.

“There’s a little bit of work to it,” Drake said, smiling. “It’s pretty awesome.”

Once he completed his broom, he held it up and smiled. To Larson, that’s what it’s all about, sharing what she knows with others, especially kids.

“Sharing what people used to do,” she said of what she likes about coming to Fort Vallonia Days, a two-day festival on the third weekend of October each year that has a replica of the fort that was built in 1811.

“To be honest, there is a tremendous uptick in broom makers in the United States right now. There are a lot more learning to do it,” she said.

So will Drake be the next one?

“I don’t know. He was a broom maker today,” Larson said. “If he wants to continue it, that’s up to him.”

Broom making was among the demonstrations set up in and around the fort Saturday and Sunday. It’s always a popular stop during the festival each year, as it allows people to step back in time and understand how different things were made.

Larson, who lives in Lafayette, said she has been coming to Fort Vallonia Days for several years. Peggy Boyd, a Seymour native, usually comes with her and has baskets she made on display, but Boyd had an accident and couldn’t be there this past weekend. Larson still had some of Boyd’s baskets for people to look at and buy.

“She has been coming for a lot longer than I have,” Larson said. “She asked me one year if I wanted to come, and I said, ‘OK.’”

Larson said she took classes at a couple of colleges to learn how to make brooms and gained knowledge about various types and sizes.

“It’s like everything. You take a class, and then you take another class, and then you take another class,” she said. “Now, I teach it. I teach classes all across the country.”

On the porch of the Garrison House, Lori Ammerman of Jennings County and Shannon Wehrkamp of Dudleytown demonstrated spinning and weaving, respectively.

Both have been longtime regulars at the festival.

“My dad was raised Vallonia, and he graduated from Vallonia High School. I just feel like it’s a special place,” Wehrkamp said.

She was at this year’s festival — the 53rd — doing clasp weaving. On Saturday, she was working on a colorful scarf while wearing one she had already made.

She began weaving when she retired about 10 years ago.

“I had a friend that wanted to sell a loom. I said, ‘OK, I’ll try it,’” Wehrkamp said. “It just makes such fun things. You can’t go to the store and buy this.”

She said she usually gives what she makes to family members.

“They make a nice Christmas present,” she said.

At Fort Vallonia Days, she always gets a lot of questions about her craft.

“People enjoy watching you do that, especially the young people,” she said. “They’ve not seen this before. They enjoy it. They really get interested in it.”

Across the bridge over a creek inside the fort, blacksmithing is always demonstrated during Fort Vallonia Days.

Paul and Natalie Bray were there along with David Good of Seymour on Saturday. They are all members of the Indiana Blacksmithing Association.

Good said he has been in that group for about four years.

“My son, I came home one day and he had a forge built in the backyard. That’s what started it,” he said. “I ran into somebody that was a member of the IBA, and they said, ‘Hey, you need to go here,’ so I went and checked it out, and that’s pretty much where I learned everything.”

On Saturday, Good had a list of items to make, including a fireplace poker, a bottle opener and a trammel hook.

Festivalgoers often stopped by to see what was being made.

“I enjoy talking to the crowd, having the kids there, especially if they are interested in what we’re doing,” Good said. “A couple of demos I’ve been to, there were individual kids there for a couple of hours at a time asking questions, watching. They were like, ‘Can you make this? Can you make that?’ It’s a lot of fun.”