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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

American Throwbacks

( Originally Published 1940 )



We may not immediately realize that even the early crafts, in more or less their original forms, still exist widely in America today. They flourish in the general region of the Southern Highlands, including parts of Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Many of the so-called "hill-billies" of this region exist under conditions which approximate those of the early American colonists. Their land is conducive neither to agriculture nor to manufacture. They seem to have been cut off from the entire stream of modern American achievement through lack of the resources or cash with which to participate. The Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, locally called the "wish book," is sometimes still their main contact with the general world; a contact which means little for they have little cash with which to buy.

Families have lived from year to year simply from their "patch of ground." Local crafts have been maintained to supply local needs. Here are to be found a good many of the old imple ments which we've had occasion to mention. Nearly all the crafts, even including pewtermaking, are found in their early phases.

Recently a number of government and private agencies have cooperated to develop this circumstance to the advantage of the people. They have organized craft guilds, instituted the teach ing of crafts in local schools, and tried to create an outside market for the rare craft products of the region. The Russell Sage Foundation is one of the most powerful agents in this field.

Baskets, boxes, brooms, candlesticks, chairs and other types of simple furniture, lamps, pewter, and work in other metals, toys, and pottery are among the constant craft productions of these people. Their chairs are most often of the 17th century slatback variety, and other products are similarly primitive, yet they are also of a conscientious craftsmanship associated almost entirely with the pre-machine era. Their potters work by the old methods, as do their pewterers, woodworkers, and so on. The generally extinct implements described in the section on early carpenter's tools are in use today throughout the Southern Highlands.

Folk-literature and folk-music still persist in their original forms. One of the genuinely indigenous articles of the region is the Dulcimer. Many musical instruments of the past have borne the same name but bear no other relation to the mountaineer instrument. It is an oblong box, usually strung with three strings. The box may be constructed with varying outlines, but it is always the length of the entire instrument. In other words, it has no appreciable neck. Its sad, nostalgic tone makes an appropriate simple accompaniment to the folk-songs of the region.



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