- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Shetland Islander Anne Eunson contentedly spins Shetland fleece into yarn at the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival. Ben, a 5-year-old boy, watches the spinning wheel intently, explaining it to his father.

Mrs. Eunson, whose white-blond hair and porcelain skin belie her 48 years, is astonished. “How did he learn so fast when it often takes adults a while?” she asks.

The spinner of gossamer yarn and knitter of intricate shawls is one of some 20 craftspeople demonstrating their techniques in the Scotland at the Smithsonian section of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Many of the artisans work with textiles, like Douglas Guirson, who has worked for 40 years as a master weaver for the Dovecot Studios, a center for contemporary fine-art tapestries; or Anne Campbell, who says she learned to make hand-spun Harris Tweed from Marion Campbell, the last of the traditional weavers; or Alwyn Johnston, who demonstrates the process of producing tartans, including his design for the new Smithsonian Tartan. He created it to commemorate the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Mr. Johnston is a weaver at the Lochcarron of Scotland mill, which dates from 1840 and is famous for its cashmere wools.

Others concentrate on Scotland’s Highland dress, like master kilt maker Robert McBain, 42, who trained as a tailor in the British Army and founded the Keith Kilt School in his hometown of Aberdeenshire, where he trains 10 students yearly, or become sporran makers.

Craftsmen stretch the textile arts by using such fibers as the driftwood and sea grass used by Jackie and Marle Miller of Orkney, who braid sea-grass ropes for furniture and baskets as there are no trees on Orkney. Traditional woven-straw “Kishie baskets” from Shetland and Orkney, made since prehistoric times, attach to the back with straps across the chest. Craftsmen designed them to leave laborers’ hands free.

There also are violin makers, superb silversmiths and makers of handmade golf balls.

The United States looked down on crafts — remember the term “artsy-craftsy” — until American crafts had a renaissance in the 1960s. Crafts enthusiasts founded the influential American Craft Museum and American Craft Council in New York. Craftsmen such as glassmaker Dale Chihuly and weaver Annie Albers became international successes.

Scotland is 30,000 square miles, about the size of South Carolina. Its crafts — making boats; weaving cloth for kilts and other dress; and spinning and knitting wool for shawls, hats and mittens — are part of the fabric of ordinary life.

Exhibit organizer Louise Butler emphasizes that Scottish contemporary crafts are often overlooked and rarely shown in museums and galleries. This program of demonstrations and the “Celebrating Scotland’s Crafts” traveling exhibition at the Arts and Industries Building are the first of their kind.

Want to make a boat? Just ask Fair Isle boat maker Ian Best, who fashioned the Shetland “Ness Yoal.” He followed dramatic viking designs in constructing the larch-wood and copper-nail craft. Mr. Best says Fair Isle is the most remote place in Britain on which people still live and boasts all of 70 people.

How about learning how to make and play Scottish bagpipes? Hamish Moore, 53, is your man. He left veterinary surgery 17 years ago and works with his son, Fin, 24. “I found I didn’t enjoy operating on animals and that I love music passionately,” he says.

Mr. Moore also talked about his pipes in the “Celebrating Scotland’s Crafts” show. “This was a copy of an older original, one of the last sets made in Scotland in this style,” he said, pointing to one.

The craftsman described the set of Scottish small pipes he made as “mellow and easy on the ears. They’re made of African blackened wood from Tanzania.” He says he buys woods in Africa and from a German dealer.

“I go to the south of France for canes for the reeds. I also love the wines. Of course, you Americans aren’t buying French wines right now, are you?” he asked, to laughs from his audience.

Mrs. Eunson stresses that she primarily raises beef and cattle on a small family farm and that wool lace-making takes second place. She lives in Tingwall, a village of 200 and a five-minute drive to Lerwick, Shetland’s capital.

“Because it pays so little, I just do it for myself and my family,” she says. She estimates that spinning wool for the large black lace shawl shown in the Smithsonian’s exhibit took her about 60 hours. Her sister, Kathleen, spent another 60 hours knitting it.

In the festival’s Scottish Knitting Booth, Anne Eunson displays a photo of a white knitted wedding stole — 6 feet long by 5 feet wide — that she considers her best work.

Scottish craftsmen Mr. Moore, Mr. McBain, Mr. Best, the Millers and Mrs. Eunson, among others at the festival, show what makes their crafts unique. As people who just achieved their own parliament on July 1, 1999, they’re proud to be Scots and to express their independent, strong heritage.

They care. That’s the difference between their craft art and some of the namby-pamby crafts productions too often seen in Washington.

WHAT: Scotland at the Smithsonian, Smithsonian Folklife Festival

WHERE: National Mall

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through Sunday


PHONE: 202/391-5870 or www.folklife.si.edu.

WHAT: “Celebrating Scotland’s Crafts”

WHERE: Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, 900 Jefferson Drive SW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through Sept. 12


PHONE: 202/391-5870

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