Folk Life La Crosse features traditional crafts at the Hixon House
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – Several tents were scattered around the yard of the Hixon House in downtown La Crosse on Saturday afternoon. The Crosse County Historical Society hosted the Folk Life La Crosse event which aimed to show the public how traditional crafts are made.
Folk Life La Crosse is an annual gathering. It brings together talented folk artists from across the region to exhibit their crafts to the public. Many visitors stopped to see what they had in store and learn how many of the crafts on display reflected La Crosse’s past. Craftsmen have displayed everything from flint cutting and quilt making to a printing press tracing the entire timeline of La Crosse’s history.
Peggy Derrick, executive director of the La Crosse County Historical Society, says this event and events like it are very important in maintaining the culture of the area and educating people. “It’s part of our past, people need to do things with their hands,” Derrick said. “You learn differently, your brain develops differently when you do things with your hands.” She said that not only are crafts like this a great way to connect with the past, but it’s also a great hobby. “It gives you a great sense of accomplishment,” Derrick added. “The time you spend doing the manufacturing gives you a huge reward.”
For many artists, these crafts become an important part of their lives. Sometimes they discover the love for crafts in a unique way. For printer Bob Mullen, his love for his wife was the beginning of his love for printing. His wife was an amateur printer, as was his father. “I got interested in it after I got married, and it became a passion,” said Mullen. “And since then he has not only become a printer, but has also researched history and written about the art of printing.
Some artists get involved when they are young. Shane Howe began his love for flint cutting when he was little. Flint cutting is the art of methodically breaking rocks to create sharp edges to use for arrowheads, tools, or blades.
Howe searched the woods and found what he thought was a turtle shell. When he brought it home to show it to his mother, it wasn’t a turtle shell. Howe had found “a 2,500-year-old scraper,” an ancient stone tool. “It really started my love,” Howe said.
A few years later, Howe came across “Blueberry Jack” showing off the size of the flint at an event. Howe stood “wide-eyed like only eight-year-olds can” for hours, watching Jack pound a boulder. Later, Jack would take Shane as an apprentice, and now they teach many others, even archeology students at UW-La Crosse, the ancient practice of flint cutting as partners.
Howe said “we owe our existence by taking a big boulder and hitting it and seeing what happens,” adding, “This knowledge is really to be kept alive, not just as a part of the story, but as a really fun way to spend an afternoon in the shade, hitting rocks with good people. “
If people want to get involved in local history, Derrick says a good place to stop is at the Hixon House. It is one of the oldest houses in the area and was owned by Gideon and Ellen Hixon. The couple are an integral part of La Crosse’s past as they have been involved in much of its development. Ellen Hixon has also played a vital role in maintaining the wonderful natural features of the area so that people can enjoy them for generations.
If you would like to learn more or even volunteer with the La Crosse County Historical Society, you can visit their website. here.