Knowledgeable crowd at Mountain Heritage Fest

September 28, 1997


Staff Writer

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Rip Mann's bulk hunkers over the watermelon-size chunk of walnut, the handle of the razor-sharp adz hidden in his beefy hands as he pounds it across the wood in sewing-machine-like action.

A crowd of gawkers gather around the edge of the tent as Mann chips away at the wood. Soon it begins to take on a familiar shape. By day's end it will become a large hand-hewn salad bowl, one of about 150 that Mann makes and sells at craft shows every year.

The Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival this weekend on Job Corps Road near Harpers Ferry is one of his favorites.


"I've been coming here for six years. It's incredibly well-run and there's a knowedgeable buying crowd," he said.

Mann's craft dates back 10,000 years when primitive people gouged bowls out of wood with tools made of stone and bone. The only difference between them and Mann is his sharpened steel tool.

Mann's bowls sell for about $350.

He was one of about 190 crafters showing wares to an estimated crowd of 25,000 visitors expected over the three-day festival, said Mary Vine, executive director of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, the agency that sponsors the festival every spring and fall.

All vendors are juried, Vine said.

She declined to say how much money the festivals net the chamber every year.

The first festival was in the spring of 1972, followed four years later by the first fall festival.

Lawrence Crouse, a joiner from Kearneysville, is a Harpers Ferry crafts show veteran.

"I've been coming here for 20 years. My furniture is high ticket so it doesn't appeal to the average Joe, but it's a wonderful advertising tool because of the exposure," he said.

Crouse's booth was filled all day with people admiring his woodwork and running their fingers over its smooth surface. A popular item was an 18th Century reproduction slant-front desk in tiger maple. A man and his wife were showing serious interest in it. It's price tag was $6,000.

"We're thinking of buying it," the man said. "We already have a table made by him."

Rows of giant tents held booths with any kind of craft imaginable, from wood, leather and glass works to quilts and paintings, pottery, dolls and stuffed animals, graphic and fine arts to musical instruments.

There was plenty of whimsy too in booths like that of Irvan and Maggie Groff of Charles Town, W.Va. Irvan's "whirlygigs and whimsydiddles" - hand-made, wooden windmills and chimes - brought in the curious by the dozens.

Typical of the buying crowd were veteran craft show attendees Kathleen Moore, Marilyn Taylor and Kerry Russell, all of the Springfield, Va., area.

"We're regulars. We come twice a year," Moore said. "There's nothing here that we need, but it's fun."

"We go to a lot of shows, but this is one of the best," Taylor said.

She carried a plastic bag with two quilted pillows inside.

"The quality and variety are wonderful," she said.

Russell was the only one of the trio who seemed disappointed. She said she had her eye on a dried flower wreath in a booth but didn't buy it right away.

"I was poking around and by the time I got to it somebody else bought it," she said.

There was plenty of music to entertain the crowds. In one large corner of the festival grounds dozens of people sat on yellow straw bales set on field's green grass listening to bluegrass music provided by such groups as Colin Dunbar and Sleepy Creek, The Goins Brothers, Bob Paisley and Southern Gras and the Seldom Scene.

The festival continues today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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