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Mountain Heritage Festival offers crafts, music

June 12, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The engine went pop, pop, pop, as the stone grist mill churned out wheat flour and cornmeal.

It was one of dozens of attractions at Saturday's Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival. But a grist mill isn't quite an art or a craft, is it?

Maybe not in the traditional sense, but don't tell that to Martinsburg, W.Va., resident Skip Zimmerman, who owns the device. Zimmerman is an artist in his own right, setting his machine up to transform corn into buckwheat, cornmeal and whole wheat.

Zimmerman was selling the product Saturday in increments of 2, 5 and 10 pounds.

"Buckwheat's hard to find these days in this area," said Zimmerman, whose day job is at Southern States Petroleum in Frederick, Md. "You don't find it in the stores."

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Zimmerman, who grew up on a farm in Jefferson, Md., said he found the grist mill about 20 years ago at a junkyard. The contraption, which dates back to 1889, cost him $70.

"He didn't know what he had," he said.

The mill is run by a "hit-or-miss" engine, which is named that way because it only fires when it needs to, Zimmerman said. Hence, the occasional popping sounds.

The 1928 engine was built by Sears Roebuck.

"And then I built the rest," Zimmerman said.

In three days, the machine can grind out about a ton of flour, Zimmerman said. A sign in front his tent advertised the various uses for cornmeal and wheat, including buckwheat griddle cakes, cornmeal mush, beer bread and buckwheat cookies.

The Mountain Heritage festival has grown into one of the leading craft shows on the East Coast since its inception in 1972.

On Saturday, hundreds of people milling around Sam Michaels Park got a taste of the very best in handmade baskets, clothing, paintings, jewelry and pottery.

Susan Mortimer, a graphic designer and aspiring artist, gushed at Stephen Sebastian's artwork.

"He does the most amazing watercolors I've ever seen," she said. "He's the only person that's ever been able to give me the goosies."

Mortimer and her husband, Jim, made the trip from Alexandria, Va.

"It's definitely worth the trip," she said.

For those who were not enthralled by the craftsmanship, there were a half-dozen musical acts.

Al Limberg, who came from Vienna, Va., said he was happy to listen to the music while his wife browsed.

"She's the shopper; I'm the listener," he said.

It was also a great event for the practical-minded. Martinsburg resident F. Page Burdette bought several presents for his grandchildren. He said he uses the festival for Christmas shopping - "particularly for people that are hard to buy for."

Burdette and his wife have been coming to the festival for about 15 years.

"It's great. It's nice and cool. They rearranged it so you don't have to walk quite as far," he said.

Mountain Heritage veterans Thomas McCallum and Ruth Volid said they come every year.

"There seems to be a lot of unusual things," Volid said.

"And new things," McCallum added.

It's not just the patrons who enjoy the festival. The vendors seem to love it, as well.

Richard. W. Reuter, who produces pottery in the ancient Japanese style called Raku, said he looks forward to the festival.

"It's unbelievable. The people are extremely professional. They really treat you like an artist," he said. "It's rated one of the best in the country - for good reason."

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

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