Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 28, 2013

Artisan couple makes pioneer items

Pair participates in Pioneer Life Week encampment and reenactment

Mike James
The Independent

OLIVE HILL — Persuaded by her brother to attend a pioneer craft festival a few years ago, Sara Boyd took a workshop on carving powder horns.

She noticed there was another workshop with some openings, this one on making leather bags. She attended that one as well.

There was something gratifying to the senses about incising delicate, scrimshaw-like designs into the smooth, hard surface of the horns, and the buttery-soft pieces of leather that yielded to her scissors, punch and awl to form authentic pioneer carryalls.

As her skill developed, she learned more about the historical underpinnings of her craft, particularly the 19th century artisans whose work she emulates. These days, she makes the rounds of pioneer reenactment events with her husband, Tony, telling spectators about Francis Tansel, who in the community of early American arms enthusiasts is considered among the premier makers of powder horns.

On Saturday, she was at Carter Caves State Resort Park with her husband for the annual Pioneer Life Week encampment and reenactment.

Wearing a mobcap, a long dress and white pinafore, she explained to visitors the tell-tale characteristics of Tansel’s horns, such as the fish-mouth motif and the curtain-like trim design.

The Cannonsburg-area couple are among the skilled and dedicated artisans and reenactors who people the pioneer encampment for a week each summer, bringing Kentucky’s early years back to life.

Tony Boyd is a carver and woodworker and on Saturday he displayed a selection of lathe-turned bowls, candlesticks and other items, most of which he made from salvaged wood. “There’s so much out there I don’t have to buy much,” he said.

One of his bowls is turned from the stump of a Christmas tree, the lump of spruce had been attacked by beetles before he mounted it on the lathe and hollowed it out. The resulting holes give it a bit of extra character, he said.

A pair of Japanese elm bowls were made from a tree that blew down on his parents’ farm. Boyd disassembled a battered piano that wouldn’t stay in tune and made a blanket chest from the body, then carved the keys into spoons. “The piano still lives,” he said.

The Boyds were recruited for their first reenacting gig by Roland Burns, who opens his Wolfpen Woods reconstructed village once a year to school groups and the public. Now, wearing authentic pioneer garb, they pass on the history they’ve grown to love to visitors. “It’s kind of like teaching history. People get the chance to see how things were made and how people lived.”

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.