Tapestry of Beauty
On an obscure road near Route 32’s Canaan Valley Store sits Ben’s Old Loom Barn (Cortland Road south) rather alone on the landscape, yet, surrounded by sporadically placed trees in the vast valley that sits at its front. Here you will make a marvelous find of homespun weaving not unlike our ancestors produced, especially those who knew winter’s brutal winds where woolen hats, scarves, mittens and blankets were necessities.
This is a time of year when we seem to always think of the Appalachian cold breezes as they become more frequent with the temperature’s decline. We may recall early November childhood rushes to our school busses where we tried to lose the chill on the heated ride home as we thought about our teacher’s stories preparing us for Thanksgiving.
As well as considering visiting Ben’s Old Loom Barn and viewing items that represent our heritage and long-standing need for warm clothing, it may be of additional interest to recognize that this year marks the 400th anniversary celebrating the arrival of the Mayflower with its 102 original boarding Europeans who set sail for a new frontier at Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts.
The “Encyclopedia Britannica” internet rendition of this noted that before these 1620 A.D. pilgrims left their boat, they constructed the beginnings of our representative government and called it the Magna Carta. American Family Radio host, Tony Perkins, recently was quick to clarify that faith in God brought these people to America and today 30 million citizens can trace their linage to these voyagers. It is no wonder that historian Henry Culver in the Encyclopedia description called the Mayflower “the wave-rocked cradle of our liberties.”
As events took place in years after the Plymouth landing, the textile industry was an important part of our nation’s early days. While many of our sewing materials were shipped initially from England, these New England entrepreneurs realized the value of making clothing as a big business and revolutionary strides were made to industrialize this process.
Meanwhile, back in the mountains, large hand-looms were constructed by visiting Quaker workers like Ben’s Old Loom Barn’s owner, Sarah Fletcher’s father. With thread produced on spinning wheels, early settlers learned how to weave and got busy making their own useful woven items.
Fletcher’s mother, Dorothy Thompson, who is responsible for assembling so many of the looms in the barn, was selected and received the prestigious National Endowment of the Arts’ Heritage Award for her many contributions toward keeping alive this old vocation and skill.
The day of my visit to Ben’s Barn, Joanne Neubert was our hostess and clerk. She, also, is a very talented weaver and basket-maker. The Harman resident has made many sales to Elkins area residents, as well as to those in distant places. Fletcher seems to have a cadre of skilled weavers to assist with weaving production.
Neubert noted that the shop is currently open on each Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and group visits can be arranged by calling 304-642-4161 or 304-777-4390.
My impression of this business is that they do fascinating work. The patience and precision they reflect will cause people to be amazed as they produce their final product. I can assure you that they have some beautiful pieces ready for holiday giving.
As we take a step back in time, we can recognize that our ancestors dealt with any adversity using imagination and determination while maintaining hope through fervent faith in God. They chose this way of problem-solving because of their loyalty to their country and to one another.
They recognized that their success was generated from the collective well-being of all surrounding them. For the most part, we have maintained the traditions of being helpers who made modifications and adapted when we knew we must.
As we move toward Thanksgiving, it may do us all well to consider what 1979 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mother Teresa had to say in “The Impossible Takes Longer” by David Pratt. She explained about achieving advancements, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Especially at a time when we find illness knocking at our doors, it is important that we continue to care about one another. Our friends at the Salvation Army have provided us a Thanksgiving Prayer that seems to speak to all. It reads, “Dear Lord, Thank you for this gift of food. You’ve placed upon our table — And help us all to do your work. In any way we’re able.”
Stay safe and may the sweet, sweet spirit of the Lord be with you through this Holiday Season.