Old crafts get new interest at fair

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Margaret Plevak | August 27, 2014

ELKHORN--As you check off your list before you head out for the 165th annual Walworth County Fair—sunscreen, comfortable shoes, water bottle—the director of the fair board has one more suggestion.

“Bring a cooler,” said Eileen Walsh Grzenia. “You're going to want to take some of this fair home.”

Grzenia is referring to the Old World Artisan Village and Farmers Market, where almost two dozen vendors will be offering farm-fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, honey, maple syrup, and dips, plus antiques, ironworks, wooden shoes, jewelry, soaps and select arts and crafts.  

The market, sponsored by the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board, is in its second year at the fair.
It was recognized in the fair industry by the International Association of Fairs & Expositions last December, selected as a best newly-established fair feature to promote agriculture, Grzenia said.

“(It) was exceptionally well-received last year,” Grzenia said. “Fair guests enjoyed a new area to explore …and especially enjoyed the opportunity to shop, browse and watch demonstrations from a wide variety of vendors who offered farm-fresh goods, agriculturally-related artifacts and treasured handiwork from yesteryear."

The village market will be open Friday, Aug. 29 through Monday, Sept. 1, opening at 11 a.m. each day, and closing at 6 p.m.—except for Monday, the last day of the fair, when it closes at 4 p.m.

While the market village serves as a great opportunity to let fair visitors meet producers of local goods, from apples to zucchini, it's also a way to see some old-time craftsmen in action, like blacksmith Darold Rinedollar, who is preparing for a return engagement to the Walworth County Fair.

Don't believe for a minute that blacksmithing is a profession that's long disappeared. Rinedollar still teaches frequently sold-out workshops on blacksmithing at Old World Wisconsin, the outdoor living history museum in Eagle. And he remains busy creating everything from fireplace tools to much larger items. One of his latest works was a gate for a large, circular driveway. The piece measured 16 feet wide by 12 feet tall, and the posts weighed 1,000 pounds, he said.

Visitors to the Old World Artisan Village will be able to see Rinedollar in action, and can browse a selection of his handcrafted pieces, including decorative garden items.

Rinedollar brings a portable forge on site, often drawing an audience of both young and old.

“Probably the most questions we get are from people who can't believe steel is so maneuverable,” he said. “Last year we had people watch for hours.”

People gather, too, when they hear Luke Traver hit a block of wood with a big wooden wedge and see a spray of chips fly. They stay when they learn Traver is using the block to make wooden shoes.

They also have questions when they see him working with a hatchet and a block knife with a blade that's nearly a foot long.

“The number one question is what kind of wood do you use—it's aspen,” he said. “Number two is, 'Do you have all your fingers?' And yes, I do.”

Traver has been learning the craft for about 10 years, discovering it while volunteering at Old World Wisconsin when veteran wooden shoe maker Bob Siegel was doing demonstrations. For about three years, Traver was an apprentice to Siegel, who is now in his 90s. But even before he began tackling wooden shoes, Traver was a woodworker, carving staffs and walking sticks and caning chairs.

“But this was quite difficult,” he said. “This was different from everything else I've done. I've never taken a chunk of wood and hollowed it out.”

It's so daunting, he said, that it's taken him years to master crafting little shoes.  

Traver, 31, finds preserving the old methods a reason to keep crafting them.

“People tend to move on and forget how it's all done,” he said. “But doing this has showed me I can do something. I look at everything and see it can be done easier and simpler, in a more traditional way.”   

Wooden shoes got their start centuries ago in the Netherlands, when resident found that traditional leather shoes rotted quickly in their below-sea-level land, but wooden ones lasted, Traver said.

Visitors to his booth can learn a little history, watch him work, and even try on wooden shoes.

Fairgoers will also find a little bit of the past with The Antique Farmer, Jenny Pinnow, a sheep farmer and antiques seller, whose primitive wares include wagon wheels, a cabbage masher, crocks, jugs, hand shears, horse equipment and even a buckboard.

“The inventory changes daily,” she said, adding that popular items now include antique toys, old brands like Fisher Price and Playskool, old buttons and marbles.

Pinnow, who travels around to flea markets, estate auctions and other venues—37 so far this year--in a 1967 Nomad camper, complete with a vintage aqua color scheme, wasn't the first “Antique Farmer”—her grandfather, Laurel Pinnow was.

Also known as “Mr. Thingamajig,” Laurel Pinnow was a farmer who could identify just about anything.
“He had five barns full of items, anything from a Model A to a bear trap,” Jenny Pinnow said. “When he passed away three years ago, I asked if we could take the name on for my business.”

She even has a website, antiquefarmer.com.

In addition to selling at the fair, she will also have a few of her own items on display.  

“I've put my heart and soul into this business and collected antiques my whole life,” she said.

Beth Gallagher, supervisor of the farmers market and artisan village, said there's plenty that's new at the 2014 fair, including a salute to corn—complete with a “Cooking with Corn Challenge” and a huge Dairen corn cob on display for inspiration,

"People can bring in baked goods, dips, etc. and compete for some great prizes," Gallagher said. 

Also new will be local musical talent performing at the gazebo, and a  couple of historical farming presentations called “Adventures with Ma & Pa.”

For further information online, visit walworthcountyfair.com, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.  


Fair Schedule: Wednesday, August 27

Senior Citizen's Day, 62 and older $5

Judging-Junior: swine, horticulture, dogs, dairy showmanship

Open: antiques, horticulture, baking, photography

9 a.m.          Dog obedience & showmanship, Activity Center

10 a.m.        Class in Old School House, Park

10 a.m.        Opening ceremony, honorary marshals, Park Stage

10 a.m.        The Paul & Kenny Combo, Pepsi Stage

11 a.m.        Kid's pedal tractor pull, Kiddieland

11 a.m.        Moo Mania Show, Kiddieland Stage

Noon            Nick's Kids Show, Barnyard Adventure Stage

12:30 p.m.    Chainsaw artist Dave Watson, Kiddieland    

1 p.m.-11p.m.“Moonlight Madness” $25 wristband-Midway

1 p.m.          4-H Reunion get together, Reach Out Singers, Park Stage

1 p.m.          Moo Mania Show, Kiddieland Stage

1 p.m.          Duck races, Kiddieland

1:30 p.m.      Pig races, Kiddieland

2 p.m.          Nick's Kids Show, Barnyard Adventure Stage

2:30 p.m.     Chainsaw artist Dave Watson, Kiddieland    

3 p.m.         Brian Mitchell, Pepsi Stage

3 p.m.         Duck races, Kiddieland

3 p.m.         Moo Mania Show, Kiddieland Stage

3:30 p.m.     Pig races, Kiddieland

4 p.m.         Nick's Kids Show, Barnyard Adventure Stage

4:30 p.m.     Chainsaw artist Dave Watson, Kiddieland

5 p.m.          Duck races, Kiddieland

5 p.m.          Moo Mainia Show, Kiddieland Stage

5 p.m.          Lake Geneva House of Music Showcase, Pepsi Stage

5 p.m.          Senior Idol, Park Stage

5:30 p.m.      Scarecrow making contest, Barnyard  Adventure Stage

5:30 p.m.      Pig races, Kiddieland

6 p.m.          Nick's Kids Show, Barnyard Adventure Stage

6 p.m.          Show us your talent, Park Stage

6:30 p.m.      Chainsaw artist, Dave Watson, Kiddieland

6:30 p.m.      Adult dairy showmanship, Activity Center

7 p.m.          Moo Mania Show, Kiddieland Stage

7 p.m.          Duck races, Kiddieland

7 p.m.          Bulls, Broncos & Barrels, Grandstand

7:30 p.m.      Pig races, Kiddieland

Daily events:
Farm machinery display
HCE exhibits and demos
Log cabin
North American Midway
Barnyard Adventure
Discovery Barn
Calf Barn
Historical Society used book sale in the Park, daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.    


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