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Tale of sisters' lives woven into documentary

August 14, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Ora and Lynn Tusing's life provides a stark contrast to today's high-tech, fast-paced world.

The sisters lived on a mountain in a remote part of West Virginia's Hardy County and they rarely left there, according to their niece, Kathy Sholl.

The women were expert weavers, and they saved pieces of discarded clothing and other material to make intricate coverlets and hooked rugs.

The sisters were independent and deeply religious. They grew their own food and, after the day's chores, the sisters typically retired to their upstairs sleeping quarters with their glasses of spring water after some time spent reading the Bible.

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"They never owned a car," said Sholl, who lives in the Glenn Meadows subdivision along Flowing Springs Road.

Despite the sisters' remote way of life, it is becoming quite public.

The story behind the women recently was the subject of a 28-minute documentary that Sholl had a part in producing.

When Sholl was growing up in Poolesville, Md., she often visited her aunts at their farm during the summer and watched them perform their daily activities, such as churning butter, weaving and feeding chickens.

Ora Tusing died June 4, 1974, when she was 78 years old, and Lynn Tusing died in 2000 at the age of 95, Sholl said.

About 2002, Sholl decided to write a short story about her aunts and submitted it for a writing contest sponsored by West Virginia Writers Inc.

The story won honorable mention.

Sholl left a copy of the story in the Lost River Museum in Hardy County, where filmmakers Ray and Judy Schmitt ran across it, Sholl said.

The Schmitts became interested in producing a documentary based on Sholl's story and contacted her to see if she was interested.

Sholl took the Schmitts up on the offer and they went to the farm in 2003 for a day of filming, said Sholl, who works as a public affairs assistant for the National Park Service.

"I just wanted to show a way of life that is being lost," Sholl said.

At that time, the farm was still owned by Sholl's family and family heirlooms such as a butter churn, a wooden loom and a spinning wheel were used as props for the film, Sholl said.

Sholl played the role of Ora Tusing in the film and Judy Schmitt played Lynn Tusing. Sholl's daughter, Laura Huffman, played Sholl as a young girl.

The three women wore period clothing, and some of the shots show Sholl making butter and removing a freshly baked pie from the oven, Sholl said.

The film, titled "The Texture of Life," has won several awards, including Best Documentary in 2004 at the West Virginia Filmmakers Film Festival, Sholl said.

In March, the film was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of a program focusing on independently produced films, Sholl said. The film also has been shown at the West Virginia Cultural Center in Charleston, W.Va., and at the nearby U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Conservation Training Center, Sholl said.

Others also have been fascinated by the life of the Tusings. In the 1970s, representatives from the Smithsonian Institution visited the sisters on their farm, and they have been featured in magazine articles, Sholl said.

Copies of the film can be obtained by going to www.realproductions.com.

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