Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Symphonic Band Concert

 ALFRED: Alfred University’s Performing Arts Department attracts students from all areas of study. Many students choose Alfred because they can continue their experiences in performing arts without committing to the rigors of a performance major or minor. Three such students, Kyle Merrifield, Katie Weiss and Jay Horwath, talked with me about their musical experiences as they prepared for the
Alfred University Symphonic Band Concert. (Friday, December 9, 7:30 pm Miller Performing Arts Center. Admission is free and open to all.
                Kyle came to Alfred from Amherst, NY to study Renewable Energy Engineering.  He chose Alfred because it was close to home, because he could continue to participate in instrumental performances and because he could compete in his high school sports – bowling, tennis and volleyball.
                Kyle began his musical career, like so many others, in fourth grade. He chose percussion because percussionists play several instruments. Mallets are his favorite. During some rehearsals Kyle will jam a set of mallets under an arm as he plays with a different set. Suddenly, he will switch mallets and zip over to a different instrument or he’ll hammer a chime.
                Kyle said the different mallets give different sounds. A harder mallet compares with woodwinds playing staccato while a softer mallet creates the legato articulation.
                Kyle played percussion from 4th through 12th grade but also picked up the French Horn in 7th grade just for the experience. While in high school, Kyle traveled to Chicago and Washington DC to compete in symphonic band competitions and do some sightseeing. He said it was always interesting to hear several groups play the same piece and have all sound different.
                One great thing about AU is that Kyle is able to be a die-hard football fan and a percussionist at the same time. Kyle bangs on the drums with the Pep Band at all home football games.
                For the upcoming concert, he notes that My Shot from the musical Hamilton is his favorite piece. For that piece he will set aside mallets to give his first rap performance on a stage. His only other public rap was the conclusion of a presentation on geothermal energy. That rap, a big hit in class, was his own creation.
                After graduation Kyle will work in the solar or wind industry. Right now there are more people employed in renewable energy fields than in fossil fuels.
                “I’m thankful for the opportunities to continue in performance arts here at Alfred. My life goal is to be well a rounded individual and my experiences in athletics and music help me attain that.“
               Katie came to Alfred from Rome, NY to major in Bio-materials Engineering. She hopes to help design new and better orthopedic medical implants. She told me that the research & developing in joints is constant. Doctors want implants that are easier to insert and everyone wants them to last longer and work better.
     Engineers work with an array of materials and try to improve attachment systems.  Implants are used to replace aging arthritic joints but also to replace joints damaged by traumatic injury.   
         Katie will play French Horn in the concert and you’ll hear her on some solos. She regularly plays trumpet with Pep Band, sometimes plays French Horn in the orchestra and always plays Tuba in "Tuba Christmas."
      Tuba Christmas is a national organization that helps to arrange regional groups to perform in December. The group has only tubas, euphoniums and baritones (essentially little tubas). She has played with groups of about 40 members but hopes to play with the New York City group one year. That group draws a few hundred performers.
                Katie chose Alfred because it is a small community and AU offered the program she wanted. She was attracted by the fact that she could play in the musical groups here because rehearsal times give her a break from study.
        As an added bonus, she met Scott DiFranco-Norton. Scott recruited her for pep band student but that was just the start of their time together. They were recently engaged and will live in Mahwah, NJ, where Katie will work, after they marry in June.
                In this concert, Katie’s favorite piece is Star Wars. Katie is a Star Wars fan. In high school, she and her best friends would make costumes and go to the films. Her favorite character is 3CPO so Katie's nickname is KTPO.
                Katie said, “Music is my source of sanity here. It gives me a break from study  and is totally different from my normal class work.”
     Jay is one of the rare students who did not start music lessons in 4th grade. Instead, this senior in glass engineering with a chemistry minor started working with a trumpet in 8th grade.
       In the summer before eighth grade, Jay went to his grandfather's house to help clean out a closet. Jay had been fooling around with a guitar but wanted to start taking lessons.  That day, they dug his Grand Dad's trumpet of the closet. It was the perfect time for a first trumpet lesson.
      Jay chose to attend AU because of the glass engineering program but the fact that he could play in Symphonic Band, Jazz Band, Pit Band and Orchestra without competing with music majors was a bonus.
    Jay said, "Having the opportunity to do so much with music has made me more rounded. Working with and learning from people with different perspectives has been a another benefit of my music experience."
     Jay's favorite piece in the December concert is Olympic Fanfare.  He likes it because it's challenging and fun as well as familiar because of the number of times it was played during the recent Olympic Games.
       Jay is planning on graduate school in the Philadelphia area, near his family's home in Doylestown. There are many community musical groups there and Jazz is particularly popular.     Jay told me about his 2 trumpets. They are both brass but one has a higher copper content and makes a darker sound so is more suitable for jazz. The voice of a trumpet is impacted by the metal as well as by the tightness of the curves. Two trumpets might look the same but sound different.
       Whichever trumpet he plays, you'll be impressed. The concert will be at 7:30 on December 9 in the Miller Performance Hall.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Alfred State Pioneers Show Timber Skills

Jack and Jill Crosscut Saw 

Josh preparing to throw pulp log

Josh with pulp log airborn

Bow saw

ALFRED: You’re invited to the Woodsman’s Conclave in Alfred this weekend. That might sound like a small, lazy gathering around a campfire but after spending time with a rugged bunch at Alfred State I know that conclaves and timber sports are not lazy and this one is definitely not small.
            There will be over 300 students from 16 schools from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and more. These men and women will be chopping, sawing, throwing axes, rolling logs, lighting fires, racing on land and in water and running sure-footed on slippery, floating logs. This serious, and slightly dangerous forestry action, will sort out who can claim honors at the 70th Annual Northeast Woodsmen’s Conclave.
            All of it is free and open to the public starting on Friday, April 22 both at the Lake Lodge, 3107Terbury Road, and on the campus athletic field. The Alfred State Pioneer Woodsmen hope their community will cheer them on.
            Attending practice sessions has given me some understanding of the events. Competition can be between individuals or involve pairs or teams of six.  Alfred State has 2 men’s teams and one Jack and Jill team (J&J). You can likely guess that’s 3 men and 3 women. Some schools will bring all women teams also with a total of 40 teams registered.
            I watched a J&J cross cut saw practice. Three people lined up on each side of a squared off log and at the signal the first man/woman team cut 3 slices (cookies) off the end of the log. They balanced the wicked-looking saw blade on the log while handing it off to the next pair who did the same and then the last pair cut. .
            They also practiced with the bow saw, a smaller saw used by one person at a time. For a turn, each cut 3 cookies and then handed off to the next person until all 6 had cut. All sawing events are timed.
            Both of these events involved head to toe work. The competitors each had their own style and rhythm but those with the most practice, as in any sport, showed the most power and grace.
            “Experience is everything in timber sports,” said Scott Bingham, Club advisor. “Some of the students have been doing this for 4 years and they understand the wood and tools and they predict the moves of their partners. I tell them that partner work is a lot like dancing. They each react to the moves of their partner at a matched pace.”
            Bingham competed at the college level when he attended Finger Lake College and then continued in professional competitions for a while. Six years ago he started the club at Alfred and has helped students saw through mountains of white pine.
            The logs are donated – rejected by lumber mills – but the students transport them in their trucks to the club’s saw mill behind the Vet Tech building. Some of the logs are left round, others cut square, all eventually reduced to splinters and chunks.
            Here’s some of what I learned. For axe throwing, they stand 20 feet from the target and throw a double-bit axe so that it will rotate in the air and (hopefully) bite into the log. Points are awarded with higher points for those hitting closest to bull’s eye.
            Pulping is like horseshoes but they throw a small log. If it lands between a pair of metal stakes, it gets a point. 4 logs are used, tossed from one end to the other and back. The first team to score 48 points wins.
            Birling is running on top of a log. The log has a flag to allow a judge to count rotations. The log has to rotate 10 times. The fastest time wins.
            This “log” is a plastic device that is filled with about 50 gallons of water. It has the same buoyancy as the traditional 12’ cedar log. Its disadvantage is that spikes can’t be used on it but the advantage is that it weighs 75 pounds when empty.
            Log rolling uses wooden logs, pushed across a field with a device called a peavey. Partners work together for this timed event.
Peavey poll used to roll logs
            Fire building allows the use of matches and dried wood to build a fire and the winner is the one who first gets a can of soapy water to boil over.
            There will be chainsaw competitions, a relay called pack boarding and some furious chopping while wearing safety gear. Canoeing events are also relay races, done in teams in the water as well as portage.

The schedule
Friday, April 22
·         8:30 am to 12:30 pm – Men’s canoeing, pulp, and log roll (Lake Lodge); Women’s singles, doubles, and pack board (events field); Jack & Jill singles, doubles, and pack board (events field).

·         12:30-5 pm – Men’s singles, doubles, and pack board (events field); Women’s canoeing, pulp, and log roll (Lake Lodge); Jack & Jill canoeing, pulp, and log roll (Lake Lodge).

Saturday, April 23 – athletics field only 
·         8-11 am – Men’s team sawing, Women’s triples, and Jack & Jill triples.
·         11 am to 1 pm – Men’s triples, Women’s team sawing, and Jack & Jill team sawing.
·         2-4 pm – Stihl Championship.

Information - 607-587-4230,

closeup of cross cut saw

Logs enter the competition cut to size and shape for events and they go out as sawdust and wood chunks.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Getting Started: Tin Can Folk Art

WELLSVILLE: Aviator snips, duct cutters and scissors turned cookie, candy and popcorn tins into raw material hammered straight on an anvil and then cut into pieces to make Tin Can Folk Art Welcome signs in Wellsville in a class sponsored by the Allegany Arts Association.
The concept presented for the class as a suggestion
            Eleven participants were on hand, this time all of them women, during the 7 hours it took to turn a significant pile of cans into thorny mass of metal scrap and fun signs.
            While the class offered the chance to make a welcome signs, it was noted that welcome could be spelled any way. Some spelled their family names, others their house numbers. One sign says “home” and other ignored words in favor of flitting butterflies and summer flowers. There weren’t any limits put on creativity as long as the participants worked with safety in mind.
by Karen Dickerson
            Working with tin cans does require some hand strength and when a fellow participant was struggling, others came forward to help. Planning and color choice was another area where people worked together to help and encourage.
Sue Lacy
            The class was taught by Elaine Hardman, better known as one of Wellsville’s potters but someone who has worked with upcycled tin cans since taking a class from Charles Orlando in 2010. Orlando’s class was also an Allegany Arts Association program.
            Marianne Hass, a participant, generally works with the softer, kinder material of fibers to make mice and monsters. Hass said, “The class was great and I loved the location and I think everyone worked together and helped each other. Great class - and I only cut myself once.”
Judy and Tara, neighbors and friends
            The location that Hass noted was at the rear of LaGra Salon and Day Spa on East State Street in Wellsville. Barb and Cal Graves, owners of the building, have been giving free use of space in their building to local artisans and antique vendors since November 2015. A portion of all sales is donated to the Hart Comfort House but the Graves keep none of the money.
            In like generosity, they offered the rear of the building to the Allegany Arts Association for classes they wished to present to the public.
            Karen Dickerson, president of both the Wellsville Art Association and the Allegany Arts Association said, “It was nice to spend the day with family and friends. I learned a lot of ‘tricks of the trade’. We identified the right tool for the job. It made the day go by quickly for us. I will start collecting more tins and be ready for another class. I want to Thank Barb Graves & LaGra for allowing us to do all that pounding and hammering. It was a perfect place for the class.
Kristen Kruger
            Kristen Kruger, a mixed media artist said, “I am excited to be able to apply what I learned in this class to the things I already do and can't wait to get my own tools.”
            To see some of what is for sale to benefit Hart’s Comfort House go to or, better yet, visit the Little Gallery in person. Programs offered by the Allegany Arts Association are always listed at Hardman will help people make aluminum can flowers at the Cuba Library on July 19 under their Community Arts Program.

Elaine Hardman's Sunrise Chicken
Elaine Hardman's Splashy Chicken

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Congressman visits Wellsville

WELLSVILLE:  Congressman Tom Reed met with about a dozen constituents at the Town Hall on October 24. He started with a statement about work in Washington saying that he expects Paul Ryan would soon be Speaker of the House.
                Reed said that both chambers of the legislature passed a defense bill but it was vetoed by the President.  Reed expressed confidence in an override. 
                This is only the 4th veto of the Obama presidency. Reed said that the veto made no sense to him but it might as a bargaining ploy to protect domestic programs from cuts that are directed in the 2011 Budget Control Act.
                Another bit of progress on the way is a 3 year highway bill - fully funded without a gas or other tax increase though he did not mention how the bill would be funded. He also discussed the possibility of a government shut down over the debt ceiling.
                A constituent wanted to address gun control.  He stated, “I don’t like Democrats. They are all communists.”
                This man said that he was concerned about the government taking guns from people. “Some people do stupid things with guns and all gun owners should be trained the way I was and the way I trained my kids.”
                Reed responded that there have been horrific events involving guns and that he attributes many of these to the lack of a good mental health care system in our country. He said that there needs to be a national conversation about mental health. We need to have insurance cover services and medications for people with mental illnesses and to treat mental and physical illnesses in the same manner.
                Fred Sinclair, former county legislator, asked if there is any evidence in Washington regarding an effort to disarm American citizens and Reed said that he has never seen any efforts toward disarmament of any kind and doesn’t expect any to develop.
                Barb Hetzel asked if there is any mental health test that can be used to determine if gun ownership is appropriate for a person and Reed said that Congressman Tim Murphy (R, PA) introduced  the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013” in order to change the national conversation for mental health services.
            Another constituent said that her husband was a police officer who noticed a change in the national attitudes after the film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” She said that film changed attitudes the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin had earlier.
            In the past police officers could pick up a mentally ill person and give them a meal and help them clean up and then bring them back to the street but that kind of service is no longer offered by the police.
            Reed said, “Mental Health issues have been driven underground and we all need to work on this.” He was also concerned about the pending release of 6,000 non-violent offenders.
            A great deal of time was spent asking about the Trans Pacific Partnership, which Reed supported in the Fast Track Authority vote. (This means that congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster the bill.)
            Reed supported a bill that removes the “Country of Origin” label for beef as well as the “Dark Act” that forbids labeling genetically engineered animals or plants. Both of these bills were seen as legislation that removes the public’s right to local rule.
            Reed said that these were only procedural votes and that he hasn’t even read the TPP so he can’t be for or against it. He also said that there would be a period of 60-90 days for public comment on the TPP but if members of congress have agreed that there would be no amendments or filibusters, can private citizens have any impact?
            One constituent said that he felt that these trade bills demonstrate that the government values money over human health.
            Two constituents complained that while congress got a cost of living increase that Social Security recipients did not.
            One person said, “Anyone who goes to the store knows that prices go up and prices for medications go up by dollars. We paid into the system so the money would be used for our Social Security benefits and not to have it raided. If you had borrowed it and put it back, that would be okay but it was raided.”
            Reed said that both Democrats and Republicans have raided Social Security and it has to stop. “If everyone had an IRA things would be different but that’s not where we live. Do we as a country want to throw 70 or 80 year olds into the street?”
            Some constituents said, yes, they did, Reed didn’t agree. “I believe in Social Security. “

            Reed spent an hour in lively discussion and invited people to call any of his offices at any time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Driving Mid County - Scio to Angelica by going East

ALLEGANY COUNTY: While the Tourism Board calls this the Mid-Country Driving Tour, it could be called the Green Fields and Neighbors Tour. That’s how our 6 hours and 61 miles spent driving and walking on the tour felt. We came home with hand screened T-shirts, sausage, Red Curry squash, spinach, bagels, pancake mix, brownies and lots of news from folks we found.

            Generally my husband Rick does the driving and I write but he wasn’t available so my friend, Joanne Allen, came along. It is suggested that the tour start in Scio and head toward Friendship, but we started in Scio and aimed for Alfred to catch the last of their farmer’s market.
            I travel the Vandermark Road twice a week to rehearse with the AU Symphonic Band so that road, for me, means watching for deer and thinking of my destination but this time I made sure to focus on what the road passes.   
Scio Playground
            Just after the turn, I had to note with appreciation that the Scio community came together to provide for their neighbors. They put a charming bronze sculpture in front of the school and, across the street in Fireman’s Park, they built an inviting picnic pavilion that may be reserved at the clerk’s office. There is a playground, a ball diamond, and a tennis court with parking for events on both sides of the road. The school, Lion’s Club and Fire Department blended resources admirably.
            The Vandermark holds cabins, houses, farms, and green fields with white sheep or black cattle. There’s a farm house for sale on Waugh Brook Road where recent rains created mud enough to coat my cars and others. Two favorite named places on the Vandermark are Uncle Cooter’s Farm and Whiskey River Farms (where birds are always on the roof of the tailored barn).
            The Vandermark State Forrest hosts public hiking trails and the Philips Creek State Forest stretches from Vandermark to groomed hiking, skiing and horse trails. Turning right to pass the Vander View Golf Course and enter Alfred, one passes a Palliser house. This is one of many houses built around the country in the 1800s after people checked the Palliser catalog, found a pleasing house, and purchased the plans. Many such houses have a tower, porch and a touch of gingerbread.
Palliser House
            We took this detour to shop at The Rogue Carrot, a store that may forever be Kinfolk to me. It’s the natural grocery store in Alfred where everyone goes for local produce and now more and more locally made art. Several huge ceramic pieces are on hand as well as functional pottery, soaps, cutting boards and jewelry.
            What’s the most popular item at Rogue Carrot? Bananas for smoothies are a hit with students but just now there’s a run on cider and cider-donuts unless it’s Thursday. Thursday is all about fish and bagels delivered by Jessen. Eat well. Get clean. Feel good. It’s all there 7 days a week.
            We stopped at the Alfred Farmer’s Market on Main Street where we heard live music from the Decker and Ruch families making it easier to dance some warmth into one’s damp-chilled extremities.  We tried some of Mascho Homestead Farms’s sausage and heard about the heritage turkeys from Chilson’s in Belmont then admired Robin Kellogg’s work - Kellogg's Alpacas. Near her knit and felted work was a penned in mamma and baby alpaca accepting grass from the fingers of slightly wary college students. Kellogg’s Alpacas will be open on November 14 & 15.
feeding alpaca
            Back on the trail we found the location of the old fire tower on Route 244. It seems to be a communications tower now. In the old days one could climb to look around but now a gate and lock indicate a new attitude.
Canacadea Country Store
            Next we passed the Country Cabin Bed and Breakfast, a business that supports local artisans by using locally made pottery and art work in the rooms and kitchen. And just down the road is the Alfred State Farm. Keep November 17 open because from 4-6:30 students will meet you near the green houses at the Agricultural Building and bus you to the farm for a tour. The organic farm is making news in agricultural education.
            We turned left onto Route 21 and stopped at the Canacadea Country Store in Alfred Station where Laurie Lang was selling candies and coffees and then found the Quest Farm Produce stand open so bought more fall produce there. Quest will be open till Christmas with local pasta, organic meats, whole grains, and produce.
Quest Farm Produce
        If you don't know this, learn it now. Friday is Pieday at the Tinkertown Hardware. Stop by for hardware, breads, pie and cookies.
            We turned left at the signs to Route 86 in Almond but passed by the highway to find cemeteries, farms and huge barns – some standing proudly and some just reminders of the past. Near the western side of Angelica are the remainders of the old county poor house or work house and the home of Major Moses Van Campen, circa 1808.
            If you aren’t in a hurry and haven’t been there lately travel all the way around the town circle and look at the restoration work that has gone into making the buildings there shine with history. We parked on Main Street and spent some time in one of the shops. The Angelica Country Store and Antiques which boasts that they have the state’s largest collection of vintage costume jewelry and it would be hard to imagine any store with more. There are drawers and trays and racks and hangers of every style and color of costume jewelry for fingers or toes, necks or wrists or just to dangle from your ears.
Angelica Sweet Shop
            A visit at the Angelica Sweet Shop for a cup of hot chocolate and a visit with Karen Ash was next. We heard about the ongoing success of the Angelica Community Radio station. They broadcast 7 nights a week and their signal will reach further when they get the rest of the equipment installed. Getting the radio on the air has been a huge project.
            We made a left at the American House and Hotel and passed the homes of the Bromley/Daggets went to the other side of Route 19 to see the charming Episcopal Church. The driving tour continues to Friendship and back but it was getting late. Businesses in Angelica were already closed so we just headed home to cook squash and try on those T-Shirts.

 References: On Facebook:  The Rogue Carrot, The Holly Trail, Tinkertown Hardware, Alfred Farmer’s Market, Angelica Sweet Shop, Mascho Homestead Farms, Kellogg’s Alpacas, Quest Farm Produce, Angelica Country Store and Antiques, Angelica Community Radio

Box: Visit the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce and Office of Tourism at the Crossroads Commerce Center, 6087 State Route 19N in Belmont. Call 800-836-1869 to request brochures.  Publications include Scenic Drives, Festivals and Events, Historic Allegany County and Hunting & Fishing. They also have brochures from local businesses and organizations. Their website is

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Wax and Clay in Whitesville, NY

just behind Ken is near 200 pounds of dripped wax.
WHITESVILLE: The old feed mill in Whitesville has long been the home of the Candle Wizard, Ken Reichman. Ken and his candles, serious or silly in style, are gearing up for the 28th Allegany Artisans Studio Tour set for October 16 & 17, 20015.
                Ken started making candles in his parents’ basement in about 1972 and sold to friends. He also sold candles in shopping malls and, in 1974, started doing shows in Buffalo and other places. Ken didn’t just make candles; he invented a method of creating them and burned them to study how to make them better.
                I asked Ken about trimming the wick on candles and he said that if a candle is well made, it should self trim. That is, the wick should burn at a pace with the wax so that the wick is never too long or short. A short wick sputters out and a long wick gives a smoky flame. Perfect is what people need and what Ken tries to make.
                One thing that makes a candle burn poorly is scent. Scents are oil based substances and can keep the paraffin wax from burning cleanly. He doesn’t add scent to many of his candles.
                Candles can drip too and while that isn’t always wanted, Ken has made about a 150-200 pound sculpture that he started by burning candles at a windy Renaissance Faire he often attended. Ken brought his candle-drip creation to his shop and continued to burn candles and over the decades. You’ll see it as soon as you walk into the shop. It’s very much a case of “you can’t miss it.”
                Ken is a long-time member of the Allegany Artisans but took some time off. He worked at Alstom for a few years and then went back to school. In addition to his Associate’s degree in Electrical Technology he now has a degree in Computer Information Systems and is Wellsville’s Howe Library Information Technologist.
                Two years ago, Ken rejoined the Studio Tour and this year he plans some changes to the characters he creates with his special method. Ken uses pieces of wax almost like pieces of cloth. Heated, the wax becomes pliable enough to bend, fold and drape wizards and cloaks and smiling faces with beards.
                The characters hold things but some of those things need to be updated. The cell-phone-wizard has a phone with an antenna so it might need a Smartphone while the wizard sitting at a huge old desktop computer may also change. “This guy might need a tablet now,” said Ken.
                The guitar playing wizard will always be in style and in tune. In the same way dragons, unicorns and rainbows in wax are as timeless as the hand-dipped candles that Ken carefully creates.
                Ken has some stained glass candle holders and a few stained glass mirrors. He has sun glow candles and decorative tapers in many colors. There are votives and pillars in stern straight lines as well as all the flowing fantasy creatures.
                Ken is always available at and will be at his studio in Whitesville during the Studio Tour. If you suddenly realize a need for a candle dwarf, dragon or a seasonal candle, call him at 607-356-3193
                At the other end of Whitesville is the busy and inspiring studio where Marsha VanVlack puts her constantly changing ideas into clay. Marsha’s been working professionally in clay for over 40 years and she knows it’s the right thing for her to do because it’s still fun and interesting.
Some of the new totem inspired wall pieces
                She started making functional ware because she loves the rhythm of doing a series of pots and loved using and holding pottery – her own pots or pots made by anyone else.  She thinks the love of pottery started when she was a child exploring archeological digs with her Dad. She’d find shards of ancient pots with thumbprints in the clay and she would feel a connection with the ancient potter. 
                Marsha did functional pottery until about 1990 when she began to make realistic sculpture and did that for almost 10 years.  About 15 years ago she focused on tiles as a kindness to her body. She also found it a kindness to her mind because she so enjoyed painting the landscapes around her. Fantastically, people loved the tiles.
                When she started teaching at the Wellsville Creative Arts Center she felt that she could and should stretch in new directions in order to offer variety to her students. A few years ago she focused her personal work on totems with leaping fish and jumping turtles but now she’s making wall pieces with the sense of totem structure.
                She is working with naked raku, raku without glaze. The process uses heat, smoke and time to create cracks and crazes to give the work dimension. She’s built a raku kiln at her studio and is ready to share it with students. Sign up for one of her 3 hour workshops by visiting her studio during the Studio Tour or by calling her at 607i-356-3414.
                On Friday, October 16 some Allegany Artisans will open their studios for a pre-tour reception from 5-8 pm. Ken Reichman has chosen not to participate in this but Marsha will. There’s a full list of the studios to be open on Friday evening on the website
                Friday night participants are also indicated in the brochure. For a copy of the brochure send your mailing address to or call the Allegany County Tourism Office at 800-836-1869.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Fred and Susan Beckhorn, Allegany Artisans.

WHITESVILLE: I expected to learn and to be impressed when visiting Allegany Artisans, Susan and Fred Beckhorn, in Whitesville this September. They are, I believe, creative, knowledgeable, dedicated, sprouting with hundreds of ideas and interested in thousands of things.
                First Fred Beckhorn showed me around his studio, previously a sugar shack with an addition for workspace and a showroom. He’s created an exhibit of live edge wood slabs in the shop (Live edge means that the side of the log is the edge of the wood so it follows the bumps, bulges and curves of the tree, as it grew.) so that people can choose wood for commissioned pieces but there are also finished tables, beds, mirrors, lamps and benches.

                I asked Fred what his favorite wood was and he went to a small display on a workbench – an illustration of his answer. Maple is the wood and variation the reason. Maple can be quilted, curly, birds eye, line eye and ingrown bark with variations on all of those. Blocks of each type not only illustrate new words but invite touch. The wood looks textured but feels sleek. Maple deserves a call out.
                Fred remembers a bowl he made at the age of 10 using his father’s gouge as his first wood project. Fred’s father was an electrician who taught at Alfred State College but spent his spare time working with wood and lots of other things.
                Fred’s early jobs included farm hand and carpenter and he gave himself a lot of on the job training building a house with his wife Susan in the 80s. In 1994 he took a wood design and a wood carving class at the School of Art and Design, Alfred University. By 1996 his work was offered under the name Natural Form Furniture and he moved from making the occasional bed and table to a full time dedication to designing furniture and sculpture in the reworked sugar shack.
                Fred doesn’t favor one particular tool or focus on a certain piece of furniture. His work is one of a kind, tailored to a certain piece of wood. He has hand tools, power tools and ideas that transform this organic material into both cozy/ contemporary furniture for decades of use and appreciation.
                Fred finds cedar in New Hampshire around the family’s summer camp and uses it to make mirror frames, lamps, beds and whatever it seems the wood was meant to be. I was also taken with two sculptural pieces made from whole trees sandblasted to expose the hard, flowing, inner wood.
                He finds burls and local hardwoods on the land which is worked sustainably. There’s a permaculture project to grow American Chinese Chestnuts, not to produce wood but for a crop of large chestnuts.  Other trees grow pawpaws, mulberries and persimmons.
                Fred Beckhorn’s work is at He has hours by appointment and will work with people to select the perfect slab for their table or bench or work to design a lamp that will suit a special space. Call 607-356-3700 to arrange to see his work or visit during the Studio Tour.
                At the same location, you’ll find Susan Williams Beckhorn - illustrator, singer, watercolorist, teacher and published children’s author.
                When people say they’ve written a book, what they likely mean is that they had an idea that started in their heads, grew in their hearts and matured in their minds until it was worthy of the vast effort of placing a rough version of it on paper, digital or old-school pads.
                One of Susan’s books started with wondering over a Luna moth on a screen at summer camp. The moth seemed like a magical fairy that chose her for company. As a 7th grader, she labored over the story in a notebook and brought it to school. Over the decades, her story grew, changed and flourished until it became a children’s novel Sarey by Lantern Light.
                Now, when Susan presents workshops for children, she takes her first handwritten version of the story to schools. She feels that it demonstrates the value of a child’s work. Her child’s story became a real book. So can theirs.
                She remembers making up a song about a rooster on the way to Lincoln School. She sang it for Miss Cunningham, the principal who graciously applauded the proud second grader and years later came to celebrate Susan’s first book at a signing party.  
                All of her books are about animals, children and other touches of nature. Susan grew up in a woodsy area north of Boston where friends owned ponies and children got dirty. She spent summers at camp in New Hampshire and still goes there. She loves fantasy, children and nature.
                In the studio are copies of all 6 published books but, on the day I visited, in her excited hand was an uncorrected proof of her 7th book sent to her by Disney-Hyperion and scheduled to be available for your hands in June 2016. She gave me a glimpse of the behind the scenes part of the book, The Wolf’s Boy.
                Susan spent over a year reading and rereading every picture book, chapter book, middle school book and young adult book she could find about dogs. She looked into the theories concerning the domestication of dogs and studies of dog and wolf behavior.
                She went to workshops - Writing for Boys and The Heart of the Novel for example. These workshops were short (expensive) intense sessions, followed by months of writing, rewriting and feedback and then another group session. She has also long attended local critique groups and, of course, spends hours writing, reading her work aloud to herself and rewriting.
                Mark Derr, author of How The Dog Became The Dog, corresponded with her to help choose a setting for The Wolf’s Boy. He felt that China, the Middle East, and parts of Europe were likely places where the first dogs might have joined humans. She chose to place her story in southeastern France and so traveled there with Fred to visit areas with ancient cave paintings and to actually go inside of some of the caves that have been opened to the public. She needed to see the caves and feel the area around them in order to understand what her characters would see in the story.
                On that trip, she and Fred went to the Neanderthal museum in Germany to build awareness of early people. Clearly, The Wolf’s Boy represents years of research and effort to capture and build the story but that’s only one side.
                The other side, the harder part, is marketing. It sounded like the sort of thing that requires one to plaster on a smile and boot one’s self out the door. Some people find making connections with agents, publishers and other writers at conferences helpful. Her website,, has information regarding this side of the effort but she does not offer direct assistance to other writers.
                Some of Susan’s books are now out of print but she has copies of all of them to sell and autograph during the Studio Tour. She is available for workshops and presentations with details at on her website with links from
                Visit Fred and Sue Beckhorn on Irish Hill Road in Rexville. They will be open for a preview on Friday, October 16 from 5-8 pm as well as during the regular 28th Studio Tour hours from 10-5 on Saturday  and Sunday, October 17 & 18. Find directions to all the studios at or call the Allegany County Office of Tourism at 800-836-1869 and ask to have one mailed to you.