Monday, June 20, 2011

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.

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