Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pillow, Pins, and Patience: Landis Valley Craftsperson Marian Blouch's Bobbin Lace Creations

When viewing the delicate strips of bobbin lace produced by craftsperson and guide Marian Blouch (right), it is easy to see how they were once reserved for the nobility. This type of lace, created by weaving threads from individual bobbins in a pattern along a pillow, once enjoyed prestige so high that it was often smuggled around Europe.

The craft grew up as a cottage industry in Europe in the late 15th to early 16th centuries, employing men, women and children in its production. It can be made from cotton, linen, silk, wool, or even precious metals such as gold and silver. According to Emily Jackson in her book, History of Handmade Lace, its heyday was during the 16th through eighteenth centuries, when lace was worn by nobles around the waist and neck in various ways—from high and stiff collars of Elizabethan times (below), to low and draping collars of the seventeenth century, to neck cravats popular during the time of the American Revolution—and also bordered articles in the home.

The industry employed thousands of artisans until machines, first invented around 1818 in France, slowly replaced them as the technology to manufacture fine lace improved. Hand-made lace competed by becoming more and more complicated. Because new machines that could reproduce these designs kept pace with the lace-makers abilities to adapt, though, hand-made lace became unprofitable on a massive scale. By the end of the 19th century, the trade that had once been the cornerstone of many European cities and towns was reduced to a hobby.

Today, lace is taught by books and by masters in organizations such as the International Old Lacers Incorporated, of which Marion belongs. Marion herself was taught by a Danish instructor and has passed on her knowledge to her children and to past Summer Institute classes. She once taught a pastor over the phone, too. In the 35 years that she has devoted her time to bobbin lace making, the craft has taken her all around the United States and Europe. Together with other masters, she learns and passes on this treasured skill.

You, too, can learn bobbin lacemaking during Marian’s Winter Institute class. The bobbin lace class meets on Saturday and Sunday, February 18 & 19, 2012. Saturday’s class runs from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM and Sunday’s class starts at 1:00 PM and lasts until 4:30 PM. Cost for Landis Valley Associates members is $152 and the cost for non-members is $160. Materials fees will be extra. For more information, either visit the calendar on our website,, or call Museum Educator Tim Essig at 717-569-5783.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Irene and Lee Pack a One-Two Punch

Although we didn’t see many hurricanes in my time, Landis Valley has weathered each one that has come along, including the latest one: Irene. The huge storm that walloped the Eastern Coast of the United States and left thousands without power and inundated low-lying streets left the buildings of Landis Valley relatively unscathed. The trees, though, took a beating.

Kyle Hake and George Weston of the Maintenance Department reported that three large trees came down: a locust behind the one-room school house, a pine behind the hotel, and a smaller, decorative tree next to the log. One also came down on the neighboring Hands-on House’s property. “It took me and George two and a half full days to clean up all the debris,” Kyle said. “We were lucky. Last hurricane, the tree next to the Brick [House] fell on the roof. But that was addressed right away.”

The trunks and limbs, deemed useless for burning in the bake ovens around the museum, were tossed into a large pile in the pasture behind the schoolhouse.

According to Farm Manager Joe Schott, the animals and the plants carrying precious heirloom seeds weathered far better. “The corn was blown over but the seed stock is fine. It was mature enough to harvest anyway. The plants are fine,” he said.

So much for Irene.

But, while the ground was able to soak up the hurricane’s torrential rains, downpours today subjected Landis Valley to another form of damage from the leftovers of Tropical Storm Lee: flooding. The pictures below tell a story of Hay’s Creek, which runs along the side of the Collections Gallery. In my time, there was a hay field, formerly owned by the Landis’s who occupied the Isaac Landis House, in what is now the parking lot. In these pictures, one can see that the pipes running beneath both the parking lot and Landis Valley Road are not designed to carry the copious amounts of water draining from the surrounding countryside. The water backs up and overflows, pooling up to two feet in some places. Our fearless leader, Jim Lewars, and Maintenance Manager Will Morrow braved the flood in the Kubota in the pictures below. Floods like this don’t happen often, but when they do it is quite spectacular.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Gaining Appreciation Through Experience

As part of our original vision for Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, or “Landis Valley Barn Museum,” as we once called it, visitors can often see tools used to do the chores commonly done by Pennsylvania Germans around our home, as well as the art created and games played in leisure time. Washboards, yokes and buckets, scherenschnitte, clothing irons, and fraktur all have a place in the collection. Visitors are not to touch them, though. Just look, possibly smell, and quietly imagine the lives revolving around these artifacts.

Nowadays, washing machines have replaced the women who scrubbed at the boards all day. No longer do children have to use a yoke to carry water-filled buckets around their necks, for the electric well pump has delivered them from this chore. Mattresses are not only bought—versus homemade—but they are filled with springs, foam, and/or cotton, not straw. Books, like the ones by Laura Ingalls Wilder or my father’s own diary, can give one an intimate glimpse of the actual people who labored to get these chores done, but a sentence, a photograph (such as the one above, which I took at my grandfather's (George Diller) house in the 1880s), and the artifact itself still lend a sense of detachment to the task itself. It was done many years ago…

There are some days during the year when these artifacts star in an interactive experience, Hands-On History Days, when the past imprints itself onto the memory and our visitors come away with a renewed appreciation for the modern way of life. On August 2, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., Landis Valley invites all of our visitors, not just the children, to get your hands dirty and wash linens on a washboard, carry water on a yoke, fill a mattress, help with the quilting and the ironing, and still have time to take lessons at the one-room schoolhouse. Those who get their chores done can pass some leisure time playing games like Hoop and Stick or Grace, taking a wagon ride, or quietly indulging in the creation of keepsakes like fraktur and scherenschnitte.

Hands-On History Days are an homage to where we are today by dealing a firm dose of the labors and pleasures of yesterday. Look at the artifacts with an impartiality begotten by modern society now, then study them after your chores are done with an appreciation of the hard work it took to wash clothes, stuff a mattress, or create a beautiful fraktur. Then relax and let the horses carry you on a leisurely wagon ride around my beautiful home.

Upcoming Hands-On History Days:

Tuesday, August 2

Thursday, September 22

Thursday, October 13

Thursday, October 27

Thursday, November 10

The day begins at 10 a.m. and lasts until 3 p.m. The cost is $10 for anyone (and we mean any and all visitors) ages 6 and older. Children 5 and younger are free.

Recent Events:

Civil War Day was a huge success, with coverage on Fox43. Here is a clip featuring our own Tom Martin being interviewed by Melanie Gardner.

The Food and Spirits Festival featured celebrity chefs Fabio Viviani and Rocky Fino, as well as chefs and representatives from local restaurants, breweries, wineries and more. All in all, it was a great experience, with pleasant weather and great food and beverage all around. The event introduced this beautiful place to local residents who had never heard of it before and to chefs who viewed it as a unique venue for a tasting festival. We welcome them all with relish.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Civil War Camp to Decend on Landis Valley

They seemed like foreigners to those whose open spaces were shared by Union soldiers during the War Between the States. Men and women in their normal linen and hemp in shades of brown had to make way for men dressed in dark blue with yellow trims as they marched along our streets. Some of us sympathized with them and what they stood for, but others of us could see the viewpoint of the Southern cause as well.

They could be rowdy at times, but for the most part, they remained cloistered together on the edges of town. The only times that those of my parents' generation were disturbed by them were when they performed musket drills on the edge of town. The pops and booms brought the war uncomfortably close, though, thankfully, it never actually came to Landis Valley.

Food had to be rationed, so infantrymen didn't feast at the tavern every night. Instead, soldiers relied on hardtack and salted meats to keep them going, sometimes getting raisins and figs to stave off scurvy. They looked forward to stopping at verdant villages like ours so that they could replenish their supplies and tend to their wounded. This stressed the resources normally abundant here, but the scarred land healed once the soldiers were gone.

Landis Valley memorializes the sacrifices of both soldiers and civilians every year during its Civil War Day, giving visitors a unique perspective on a much-romanticized time in American History. It is held this year on Saturday, July 9. Visitors can join our resident historical interpreters as they work amidst bayonet and cavalry drills, musket firing demonstrations, and meal preparations. You can also tour the military camp or take a wagon ride around the site. Children and adults who want to participate can also join a musket drill. My brother, George, would have liked that.

Admission is $12 for adults; $10 for seniors; $8 for children 3-11; and children 2 & under are free. For more information on this event, call the Visitor Center at 717-569-0401 or visit our website at

They Came To Learn From The Masters

Students from all over the USA and Canada flocked to Landis Valley last week for the 55th Annual Summer Institute for Rural Life. For four days, the valley was a-buzz as students learned how to make a moonshine still, a leather fire basket, herbal medicines, an iron trivet, wall hangings in both scherenschnitte (paper cutting) and fraktur (PA German calligraphy), a basket, a tin chandelier, carved wood figures, and bread and pies—lots and lots of bread and pies. Others learned to drive wagons and to keep dairy cows happily producing lots of milk. Still others went off-site to learn about the historic Oley Valley or to tour beautiful gardens, mills, or houses and barns normally not shown to the public.

“We learned how to maintain the fire. Also shaping, riveting, and welding,” said Vinny, a blacksmithing student from nearby in Lancaster. Beside him were rested a trivet and camp fork, made at the portable forge across the lane from the blacksmith shop. He learns the craft plied by my ancestor, Jacob Landis Sr., whose blacksmith shop once stood at about the same spot that the current one stands today.

Further along, in the bright yellow Isaac Landis House, was the scherenschnitte class, where students sat at long tables strewn with pieces of paper, scissors, and memories. Many of them have come back repeatedly, such as Nina, of Bensalem, PA. She’s been coming for ten years to practice her craft and to re-learn the patience it takes to keep it up. “We had a good class on scherenschnitte. We learned a lot, made good friends, had excellent teaching, and, as always, it was good to come back to institute to meet—or re-meet—people that we’ve met in the past and become friends with,” she said.

There are some skills that cannot be learned from a book and need the careful supervision of a master. He looks over your shoulder, checks your work, and tells you how to salvage a project that would have been scrapped had you tried to learn on your own. She teaches you techniques that may be more efficient than you had previously learned, and then shows you how to display your piece. They provide the backup and patience that builds confidence. And all the while, they are passing down skills once common in my time here.

“I come back here for peace, every year,” says Lynn, a tinsmithing student from Horsham, PA. “And I achieve it.”

Next up for Landis Valley is the Tinsmith Convergence on Friday and Saturday, June 24 & 25. Tinsmiths and copper-smiths will demonstrate their trade and will exchange ideas and techniques at this gathering of masters. Anyone interested in these two crafts is welcome to come. Registration and admission information is on Landis Valley’s website,, or go to You can also contact Timothy Essig at 717-569-5783 for more information.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Plants Reign Supreme at Herb and Garden Faire

While spring is normally a time of gradual awakening, the Valley suddenly burst into life on May 6, the first day of the 24th Annual Herb and Garden Faire. What started as a small sale of excess plants by the Heirloom Seed Project has turned into the second-largest event here at Landis Valley, with roughly 80 vendors and thousands of visitors. One exciting change to this year’s Faire was the food. Not only were fresh crepes and salads featured beside everyone’s favorite chicken corn soup, but fresh ideas for dips, breads, and sweets peppered the landscape. Above the din hovered the smells of pungent herbs and tomatoes mixed with essential oils in soaps and lotions. The animals of the land also played a starring role in sweaters, scarves, paintings and pottery and, of course, wagon rides.

Naturally, the biggest draw was the wealth of plants for sale. Herbs, vegetables, roses, and annual and perennial flowers awaited new homes with eager gardeners. The Heirloom Seed Project, alone, anticipated selling roughly 10,000 plants, most of them tomatoes. As of now, they’ve come close to that number, too, between sales at the Herb Faire and sales from the wagon parked at the museum’s entrance.

It was an orderly chaos of new life condensed and celebrated in two days. Next up for the Valley is the 55th Annual Summer Institute for Rural Life, from June 14-17, where registered students will take trips to explore sites in the regions surrounding Landis Valley and learn many of the skills that were once common during my time here over a century ago. There are still openings for many of the classes and if you, too, would like to learn from the masters, please contact Karen Cunningham at 717-569-0401, extension 216.