[cleeng_content id="861059333" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Floorcloths like the ones at Monticello among highlights at Mountain Heritage fest
SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – Always a fan of early American history, Grace Rochford now makes it her business to handcraft floorcloths akin to the ones Thomas Jefferson imported for Monticello and George Washington bought for Mount Vernon.
The owner of Designs By Grace will bring her stunning work to Jefferson County this week as the Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival kicks off Friday at Sam Michaels Park in Shenandoah Junction.
The Knoxville, Md., mom of three will be among the 200 high-quality artists and crafters at the three-day fall festival, an Eastern Panhandle staple since 1975 where other draws include wine samples, a children’s activities tent, craft demonstrations, food vendors and a rotating lineup of bluegrass bands.
The festival often draws crowds of 20,000 or more over its three days, with many coming from across the region as well as from nearby big cities including Baltimore and D.C. Many use the festival to start their holiday shopping and pick up unique gifts items include calendars, cards, rugs, pottery, baskets, jewelry, toys, dolls, furniture, paintings and many other goods.
For Rochford, the road to making canvas floorcloths began when she attended a historic home show eight years ago. “I fell in love with the floorcloths and their durability and read all I could about them,” she explains.
While floorcloths are associated with Colonial America, Rochford discovered the craft originated in the early 1400s in France.
“They were a direct spinoff from table runners, tapestries and painted wall hangings,” she said. “The British were the next to adopt this artwork featuring diamonds, cubes, squares and checkers. They were hand-painted, often by the lady of the house, as a way to imitate the flooring in fashionable homes – minus the fashionable expense of marble and stone.”
First imported to the Colonies from England in the 1750s, floorcloths soon were being made by firms in Boston, Philadelphia and New York, Rochford said. “The rugs were often referred to as crumb cloths because of their use under dining room tables,” she said. “As a bonus, they made floors warmer in winter and were insect- and water-repellant.”
The floor covering’s use waned as linoleum became more popular but rebounded starting in the 1980s as homeowners in love with historical American home furnishings rediscovered the craft.
Rochford also researched the pitfalls Colonial DIYers ran into, including improper paint bonding and cracking, often caused by the wrong materials and a rush to complete the work.
Soon she’d learned enough to make a small runner and then her first rug, a three-by-eight-foot piece that still adorns her home. She continued to make floorcloths for her house and then launched Designs By Grace three years ago.
For each floorcloth, Rochford starts with heavy, sailcloth-weight canvas, which is stretched and then coated with 14 layers of paint, including primer, decorative paint and multiple sealing coats of water-based polyurethane.
Besides period pieces that she paints by hand and with stencils, Rochford also offers contemporary designs. Custom orders are another mainstay of her business.
In June, Rochford came to the Mountain Heritage Arts and Craft Festival as a first-time vendor and in the months since, she’s heard from a number of attendees interested in custom items, often ordering a variation of something she’d had for sale at the festival but in a different color, size or border.
For Rochford, there’s no doubt the Mountain Heritage Arts and Craft Show is a winning choice.
Created by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and still organized by chamber officials and member volunteers, the juried festival is unique in that it requires vendors to not only sell their goods but also spend time during the festival demonstrating just how they go about their work.
“I’ve been pleased with how professionally they run the show and the respect they have treated me as a crafter,” Rochford said.
She said she also appreciates the opportunity to connect with other vendors. “It’s been a great experience meeting quality artisans,” she said. “I love learning about their work and how they run their business.”
Heather Morgan McIntyre, the chamber’s executive director, says the festival enjoys a reputation both for quality arts and crafts and also as a venue for live music. This weekend’s festival will feature bluegrass from The Hillbilly Gypsies, Patent Pending, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, and The Stevens Family Bluegrass Band.
Unlike in years past, arts and crafts lovers won’t have another chance to attend the festival in the spring. This summer, the chamber’s board voted to forgo the annual June festival, which dates to 1972.
Board members said the spring festival had long drawn smaller crowds than its fall counterpart and actually had lost money the past three years. Now, McIntyre said, chamber leaders can put all their attention into the larger, fall festival.
Visitors to the chamber’s website – jeffersoncountywvchamber.org/festival – can learn more about the event. Also on the site, the chamber offers a coupon for $1 off the cost of admission; the coupon also is included in an ad in this paper.
Want to go?
What: Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday,Saturday and Sunday
Where: Sam Michaels Park onJob Corps Road in Shenandoah Junction
How much: Admission costs $7 for adults, $4 for children 6 to 17.
Parking and entertainment are included.
Details: Go online to jeffersoncountywvchamber.org/festival or look for the coupon on Page A8 in this paper[/cleeng_content]