Mountain Weavers Guild spun out of rich history

Throughout the summer of 1977, Davis & Elkins College sanctioned a harvesting of mulberry leaves from the trees on their campus, to provide food for the voracious silkworms being raised by Mountain Weavers Guild member, Ellie Lesser. Her project resulted in fat silkworm cocoons, some of which have been kept intact. These remaining cocoons will be a part of this year’s Mountain Weavers Guild exhibit during the Mountain State Forest Festival.

One piece woven from the silk will also be on display. Ellie’s husband, Walt Lesser, spun a portion of the silk worms’ unwound thread into yarn that was woven into a small wall hanging by the late Olive Goodwin. Olive’s classes enabled hundreds of people to learn to weave. She was a founding member of this 45-year-old regional guild. Long before the formal beginning of the guild, Olive and other weavers and spinners demonstrated at Helvetia, several county fairs and the Mountain State Forest Festival.

Ellie Lesser taught spinning through the Randolph County Adult Education program. Walt Lesser, a wildlife biologist (now retired from DNR), was in charge of bringing broken and nonworking spinning wheels back to life, and keeping their collection in good repair. Both Lessers spun at Guild exhibits and other events over the years.

The Lessers amassed a large and very impressive collection of spinning devices. Most of their collection has been dispersed to family members and to other collectors. A photograph of one antique great or “walking” wheel from Doddridge County will be in the exhibit photo gallery. Three of the Lessers’ other wheels and a number of their other spinning artifacts will be exhibited during Forest Festival.

Two wheels from the Chenoweth House in Beverly, including one built by Lemuel Chenoweth, are on loan for the exhibit. The remainder of the many spinning devices, artifacts, and antique, vintage and modern wheels, belong to Weavers Guild members.

A Benjamin Thompson family great wheel took over a century to journey down from Maine to Canaan Valley. Another great wheel built by Jacob Westfall in Hardy County in the 1700s, came over the mountains to Beverly via horseback, while the young woman who spun on it led her horse. These antique wheels are now spun on by descendants Sarah Thompson Fletcher and Helvetia native Enrica Hofer McMillon.

Included in the exhibit are about 150 skeins of local wool, dyed with local plant and tree materials, handspun yarn, items made from handspun yarn, handwoven items, and old and new baskets. Live demonstrations of these fiber arts, plus needlefelting, are featured, and a selection of items made by Guild members will be for sale.

If you have an old spinning wheel, bring a photograph to the exhibit for inclusion in our photo gallery. Guests are also welcome to post wants and sales of fiber, fiber animals and weaving or spinning equipment.

The free Mountain Weavers Guild exhibit is downstairs in the Elkins-Randolph Public Library on Davis Avenue. Hours are: Wednesday 5-9 p.m.; Thursday noon-9 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Saturday 9 a.m.-5pm. The exhibit will remain open during parades and the Coronation.