Early Ozark arts come to life

Monday, June 15, 2015


Staff Writer

VAN BUREN, Mo. -- Needle and thread in hand, 5-year-old Jagur Backus of Puxico, Mo., listened closely Saturday as a National Park Service demonstrator explained how to sew a button to a green piece of fabric during Heritage Day at Big Spring.

The event highlighted the culture and lifeways of early Ozark residents for several hundred visitors to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. It included more than 30 demonstrators, sharing knowledge of everything from candle and soap making, to sheep shearing and clog dancing.

Backus was one of many children during the day to share in the enthusiasm Melody Atkinson has for the traditions passed down by her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

Atkinson's love of sewing began as early as age 8, when she used her great-grandmother's Singer sewing machine to make a dress for the first time. Atkinson's mother used the same treadle sewing machine to make all of her children's clothing at the time.

"I had to stand up to use the treadle," recalled Atkinson, who had the machine on display. "All I really remember is that feeling of accomplishment.

"I think it should still be important for children to learn how to do things like that, on their own, to be self sufficient."

Watching his grandson and granddaughters work with Atkinson, Brad Williams of Dexter said the group really enjoyed learning how work was once done by hand.

"It helps them realize how simple life used to be and how you were self sufficient. It's kind of a lost art, being self sufficient," said Williams.

Atkinson's display included quilts handstitched by her grandmother from scraps of family clothing.

"She was raised in the Depression era. She saved any piece of clothing that we out grew," Atkinson said. "She could tell us, 'That's from the dress I made you when you were 2.'"

The event also inspired many of the visitors to share stories of their own family's past and traditions.

Williams recalled his own grandparents making soap by hand on their farm near Dexter when he was a child.

Peggy Pyatt of Summersville, Mo., also had memories of making soap and seeing sheep sheared as a child.

Over time, Pyatt said, she has wanted to learn more about original handcrafts, like the cane chair seat weaving on display. Pyatt and her family stopped to admire a set of handwoven chair seats at a one of 30 booths set up for the event, noting a small basket woven together with water-soaked pine needles.

The many displays earned an enthusiastic "really cool" from 13-year-old Iziah Smith of Palmyra, Mo., who visited with his family. The group was camping at Alley Spring.

Smith and other family members tried their hands at writing with a quill, under the direction of Virgie Alcorn-Evens of Ellsinore, Mo.

Through out the day performances by the Country Fire Cloggers and other entertainers were also held.

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