Friday, October 3, 2014

History and Craft at Plimoth Plantation

by Jessica Burko

Last month Lucie Wicker wrote about her visit to the living history museum that is Plimoth Plantation and all the handcraft examples and demonstrations available throughout the property. This month, inspired by Lucie's post and the re-opening of the newly renovated Craft Center at Plimoth Plantation, my family decided to go learn and explore everything this local gem has to offer.

Top image: signage between the 21st Craft Center and the entrance to Plimoth's 17th Century English Village
Middle image: my 2.5-year-old daughter romping through the Village fields to see some sheep
Bottom image: a view of the dwellings in the English Village

If you've never been, Plimoth Plantation is a living museum dedicated to telling the history of Plymouth Colony from the perspective of both the Pilgrims and the Native Wampanoag people. On the property there is a 17th century Wampanoag Homesite and English Village, both remarkably accurate down to every historical detail. Visitors to Plimoth walk through these environments experiencing and learning with each step.

According to the Plimoth Plantation website, "The English Village is a re-creation of the small farming and maritime community built by the Pilgrims along the shore of Plymouth Harbor. In the Village, the year is 1627, just seven years after the arrival of Mayflower. The English Village brings colonial Plymouth vividly to life. Here, you will find modest timber-framed houses furnished with reproductions of the types of objects that the Pilgrims owned, aromatic kitchen gardens, and heritage breeds livestock."

My children, ages 5 and 2.5, loved exploring the homes of the villagers and imagining how we might live in such dark and cramped spaces with open fires and only one bed. A far cry from our modern way of city living for sure! We learned how the Pilgrims built their homes by hand, and crafted every item they needed from the materials the land provided. The people we met throughout the Village explained their methods in voices of the 17th century as costumed role players with adopted names, viewpoints and life histories of the original people living and working in the Colony in 1627.

Top image: toys and dolls handmade and played with by Wampanoag children
Bottom left image: my 5-year-old son learning how to spin flax fibers into linen thread in the English Village
Bottom right image: a Wampanoag woman handcrafting a bag, with her baby on her lap

Nearby at the Wampanoag Homesite, we learned how the 17th century Wampanoag would have lived. We got to explore different kinds of homes including a mat-covered wetu and a bark-covered nush wetu, (a house with three fire pits inside). We again had discussions about what it might be like if we lived in these homes, how it would be different from our own home in Boston, and also different from living in the houses in the English Village. We learned from the Wampanoag at the Homesite how these dwellings were built, by hand, and how the techniques were passed down from generation to generation.

The most wonderful part of this living environment is that the Wampanoag Homesite staff are not role players. They are all Native People, either Wampanoag or from other Native Nations, and they were all dressed in historically accurate clothing made of animal skin and natural fibers. This engaging environment had everyone in my family feeling like we were a part of daily Wampanoag life

We saw how meals were cooked in a large outdoor "kitchen" housed under a simple shelter with an open fire. It was truly awe inspiring to witness members of the Wampanoag Nation make their cooking pots from clay, craft their cooking utensils from wood and stone, harvest their crops, grind their grain, and using only the ingredients that were available in the 1600s, cook a meal for their families. I left with a new perspective on how our own meals arrive at the table and a deeper resolve to adopt a more home grown, handmade, slow foods lifestyle in my own family.

Top image: loom weaving demonstrations in the Craft Center
Middle image: my children partaking in a craft project with illustrator Frane Lessac
Bottom image: a ceramicist at work in the Craft Center

Our last stop of the day was the newly renovated Craft Center at Plimoth Plantation. As the Plimoth Plantation website explains, "Since 1992, the Craft Center has provided guests with a rare glimpse into the historic crafts and technologies that allow the Museum to so vividly re-create the look and feel of the 17th century. Using tools, materials and craft techniques of the 1600s, Native artisans make stone, wood and sinew tools, porcupine headdresses and hand-coiled clay pots. Other artisans practice historic English trades, making reproductions of the objects that 17th century colonists imported from England."

At the core of the Craft Center renovations are a working bakery for visitors to view demonstrations of 17th-century baking techniques, and the addition of hands-on activities for visitors. There were extra presentations and demonstrations the weekend we visited as part of the Craft Center celebration. One of the highlights for us was seeing a presentation by a husband and wife team who wrote and illustrated a new children's book entitled The Mayflower. Mark Greenwood, the author, spoke about his research for the book and his desire to make the history and story of a people escaping religious persecution accessible to small children. Frané Lessac, the artist, described her process of creating the images in the book and then led an activity to create a ship out of paper that opened up so a story could be written within it. My children were riveted, and we brought a copy of the book home as a memento of our Plimoth Plantation experience.

While the day was filled with history lessons big and small, for me it was an experiential view into a true handmade lifestyle. My son and I recently had a conversation in which I told him that when his Nana was his age there were no cell phones, no TVs, no paper towels, and no computers. His response was, "How did they do anything?" to which I replied, "They found other ways." It's true there are now endless shortcuts and means to accomplish most things while maintaining clean hands, but there are still endless ways of using those same hands to make what you need from what you have around you. While I won't be throwing away my cell phone and laptop any time soon, our day at Plimoth Plantation has definitely inspired me to incorporate more handcraft and good old fashioned hands-on resourcefulness into our daily modern life.

1 comment :

  1. So glad you went and your kiddos loved it as much as I did as a kid (and still do!). Imagine a life without paper towels! Plimoth Plantation is a treasure :)


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