Unfestive obstacles

June 14, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Driving rain, a tornado scare and a stuck tractor-trailer dampened sales Saturday at the Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival.

Many shoppers left after powerful thunderstorms rolled through in the early afternoon. At one point, festival organizers announced that a tornado warning had been issued south of the festival site.

At one point, visitors were advised over a loudspeaker system to leave, but no twister ever struck and the festival went on.

At about 10:30 a.m., a tractor-trailer became stuck on railroad tracks near the festival for about 45 minutes, blocking traffic.

Despite the bad fortune, many dealers stayed busy, protected under giant tents.

Melissa Lettick, aka "The Herb Lady" of Shepherdstown, had a constant crowd around her potpourri stand.

She started the business with $250 in 1981 in Shippensburg, Pa., before moving to Shepherdstown in 1982.

"I had been waiting tables," she said.

Originally, she wanted to write children's books and do the potpourri business on the side, but it hasn't turned out that way.


"This took over and I didn't have time to do anything else," she said.

Lettick, 45, said that she is able to get out her artistic urges by designing potpourri. "Scent is like an invisible color wheel," she said.

Harpers Ferry's own potters, Jane Murto and Skip Wiggs of Westwind Potters, have been coming to the festival for 12 years and displaying their solid, simple stoneware.

Murto said it's the only festival they attend.

"There are so many people that come year after year. It's like a family," she said.

"Some of the people I can't even remember their names but they give you a hug anyway. It's great."

Pam Kisner of Charles Town, known as the "The Bear Maker," was busy knitting the head of a teddy bear while she tended shop. She displayed an assortment of handmade teddy bears and rabbits, with an average price of $150.

Kisner has been making bears for 25 years, and it's a full-time operation. It takes her about a day to make an average-sized bear, and she makes 250 to 300 a year.

Kisner travels to about 18 shows a year to sell her wares, but Mountain Heritage is at the top of her list because of the type of clientele it attracts.

Anton Leonhard, 73, of Shannondale, W.Va., is a first-time dealer and is known as "The Wood Butcher."

He got the knickname when a doctor friend of his said he was the meat butcher and that Leonhard, a carpenter, was a wood butcher.

He was selling assorted wooden boxes, wine bottle holders and hat racks, ranging from $40 to $200.

Leonhard said he only recently went into retailing his work.

"I had so many boxes, I had a wardrobe full of boxes. I had to do something with them," he said.

Leonhard first came to America as a prisoner of war after he was captured in the Battle of the Bulge while in the German infantry. He returned to Germany after the war but came back to America in 1952 and moved to Shannondale in 1980.

Ralph Basford, a 45-year-old Martinsburg, W.Va., painter originally from Hagerstown, was displaying everything from $20 prints to $3,500 original paintings. The 1971 South Hagerstown High School graduate has turned his art into a full-time job.

The festival, on Job Corps Road, typically attracts 25,000 visitors a weekend. It features about 180 dealers, including about 25 from the area. The dealers compete for the right to attend the festival, and are judged each January.

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

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