Churchill Weavers of Berea, KY

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 6, 2014

Please welcome guest author Adam MacPharlain. He has been working hands-on with the Churchill Weavers Collection at the Kentucky Historical Society for over a year now. Adam has also worked with collections at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City, the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Appalachian Craft Revival brought about a resurgence of various handcrafts such as woodworking, basketry, and weaving. These renewed ventures were often cottage industries comprised of home workers selling their wares privately or through regional crafts centers; however, one company in the small town of Berea, KY, rose up to become one of the nation’s foremost companies to specialize in handweaving. The company, Churchill Weavers, played a pivotal role in expanding the visibility of handwoven goods through its business practices, marketing, design, and willingness to experiment.

Color postcard showing the Churchill Weavers building, ca. 1950. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Color postcard showing the Churchill Weavers building, ca. 1950. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Churchill Weavers was founded by David Carroll Churchill and his wife, Eleanor Franzen Churchill, in 1922. Carroll Churchill, who was from Oberlin, OH, graduated in engineering from MIT at the turn of the century. In 1901 he traveled to India on behalf the British government to study the local handweaving industry.

Churchill noticed that handweavers could not compete with the output of power looms, so he developed adaptations to the fly-shuttle loom that increased the output of handweavers so that the individuals could make a solid living with their craft. Also while in India, Carroll met and married his second wife, Eleanor, who was there on missionary work. The Churchills returned to Oberlin in 1917.

Three years later Carroll moved the family to Berea, KY, where he began teaching at Berea College. He taught in the engineering department for two years before deciding to leave the college; he and the family, however, decided to remain in Berea. It was around this time that Carroll built a loom for Eleanor, who had not woven before that time. Set up in a room at a local hotel, Boone Tavern, Eleanor quickly learned the weaving handcraft and drew international attention for her design aesthetics.

By August of 1922, the couple formed the Churchill Weavers with their first order of scarves for the American Lace Co. of Elyria, OH. With the profit from this order and a small amount of additional money, Carroll built a temporary shed on the lot that would later hold many additional permanent structures, including their loomhouse, gift shop, offices, and more. For their second big order, Churchill Weavers had seven looms and seven weavers; at the company’s peak, the company could have as many as 150 looms of various sizes and uses.

David Carroll Churchill and his wife, Eleanor Franzen Churchill, 1953. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

David Carroll Churchill and his wife, Eleanor Franzen Churchill, 1953. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Carroll and Eleanor Churchill both had vital rolls in how the company was run. Carroll designed and built the looms, continuing throughout his life to modify the functionality of the looms and other machinery; he also helped to manage other aspects of daily business.

Eleanor started as the designer and saleswoman in the beginning, and in later years, hired others to take on those roles while she supervised with a watchful eye and regular input.

Unlike other handcrafts enterprises of the time, which often were work-at-your-own-pace jobs for the benefit of the craftsperson, Churchill Weavers was set up using formal business practices that were meant to ensure a long-running, self-sufficient company. Nevertheless, the Churchills did encourage locals to come and be trained in weaving as a way to boost the local economy. Carroll believed that a handweaver should be able to support herself solely on the goods she produces.

While many weaving studios of this time period often stuck to making home linens such as placemats and towels, Churchill Weavers produced a large number of products that included: ladies’ accessories (scarves and shawls), men’s neckwear, baby blankets, bags, couch throws, yardage fabric, ready-to-wear garments, and home linens.

At various points in their operation, Churchill Weavers managed stores in Berea, New York City, Chicago, and Detroit. They had sales representatives throughout the country, and in later years, for international markets in Europe and Asia. In addition to their own stores, Churchill Weavers products were sold in high-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and more. Often these stores would commission special styles exclusively for their stores, such as an order of suiting yardage for Sears in the early 1940s, totaling over 6,000 yards.

The early pieces produced by Churchill Weavers were often fabricated from wool that was purchased from outside mills and dyed per their specification. They also used rayon, cotton, linen, and other fibers, blended yarns, and various twist and novelty yarns. While the weave structures themselves were nothing new, the sheer variety Churchill Weavers produced was impressive. Beyond plain and twill weaves, which could be done in multiple combinations, Churchill Weavers also made pieces in traditional weaves such as Ms and Os, huck, and Bronson lace, as well as overshots with patterns like Chariot Wheel and Whig Rose.

Rebecca Boone carriage throw, 1975. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Rebecca Boone carriage throw, 1975. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Some products used additional notions, including purses and some sewn goods; these parts were often purchased from outside suppliers, though some were made in the company’s own woodshop. Notions could include plastic or wood purse handles, satin lining fabric, snaps, buttons, and so on. For sewn goods, the woven and laundered cloth would be sent to at-home “finishers” who would cut and sew pieces, as well as add embellishments such as trim and embroidery.

In an effort to keep up with the market, Churchill Weavers was always looking at new trends and experimenting with new endeavors. They quickly began using Orlon® acrylic yarns and Lurex® metallic threads soon after they were developed in the 1940s and early 1950s. In the 1990s, the company began regularly incorporating rayon chenille yarns into their products, which would later become their signature look, keeping them on point with the greater home furnishings market.

Over the decades, Churchill Weavers would see rises and falls in business, fluctuating with the national economy, raises in minimum wage, and changing tastes. When Carroll died in 1969, Eleanor continued to run the business until 1973. At that point, Eleanor sought out new owners, knowing their children were not interested in continuing on in the business. She was able to find new owners in Richard and Lila Bellando. The couple were well-versed in the crafts world. Richard had been the director of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen up until 1971 and had started their annual crafts fair. Lila had been an art teacher at all levels of education, from elementary school to college; she had also worked with Kentucky Educational Television, the state’s public broadcast station, on arts programming.

Richard Bellando took over as the president of Churchill Weavers and Lila was a board member and took charge of design, while Eleanor continued as board president and consultant until her death. In 1980, Lila took over as president of Churchill Weavers. The Bellandos maintained the same spirit of the company as its founders—enhancing the traditional aspects of handweaving while seeking new and innovative ventures.

Detail of fabric for Gerhardt Knodel, ca. 1980. Photograph by M.S. Rezny. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

Detail of fabric for Gerhardt Knodel, ca. 1980. Photograph by M.S. Rezny. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

As imported foreign goods such as home furnishings became cheaper and easier to access, Churchill Weavers found itself needing new life, so the business was sold to Crown Crafts, Inc. The company, which also owned Goodwin Weavers and other fashion and home furnishings brands, was positioned to provide new markets for Churchill Weavers to sell in. The Bellandos continued to run the company on the ground, while Crown Crafts provided financial backing and a larger community.

Unfortunately, this partnership did not last long due to falling profits on both sides. Churchill Weavers was unable to secure a new buyer and was forced to close its doors in 2007. Luckily all was not lost. Throughout its 85-year history, Churchill Weavers kept samples of nearly every product and experimental style they made. Lila recognized the importance of this collection and purchased it to be sold at auction. Not long after the shuttles stopped flying across the looms, the Kentucky Historical Society was able to purchase the Churchill Weavers collection, which consists of nearly 32,000 fabric samples, as well as numerous loom parts, tools, office pieces, and a large collection of paper business records.

Within the fabric archive are finished products for many of their styles, specialty commemorative pieces, and samples of commissioned works. Some of the highlights in the collection include:

-Upholstery fabric commissioned in 1932 for an amphitheater at the Toledo Art Museum. This cotton fabric was woven with such high quality that it is still in the theater today, over 80 years later!

-Experimental “space cloth” woven for possible use as part of NASA’s Mercury Mission spacesuits in the 1960s. The fabric was made of Teflon-coated glass and rayon fibers. A mockup suit was made using this fabric, but the commission was unfortunately awarded to another company.

-Examples of neckties and samples for IBM employee uniforms in 1973. These navy blue ties feature an embroidered white logo.

-The “Rebecca Boone” carriage throw commemorating the national bicentennial in 1976. The throw, named after the wife of Kentucky pioneer Daniel Boone, featured a traditional coverlet appearance in groovy 70s colors.-Fabric made for textile artist Gerhardt Knodel in the late 70s and early 80s for various installation pieces. Churchill Weavers wove yardage designed by Knodel using strips of clear and metallic plastic combined with wool and other yarns. The installation art hung in buildings across the US, including in Detroit, Oklahoma City, Miami, and Chicago.

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Historic Building Finds New Life as John Henry Museum

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 5, 2014

William JonesPlease welcome guest author William Jones. Jones is a member of the John Henry Historical Society and a John Henry Historic Park Steering Committee Member.

 

 

 

L. G. Rhodes Store, built in 1905, served the needs of the people in the small village of Talcott, WV, for more than 107 years. At one time, the once thriving railroad community had numerous stores, restaurants, service stations, hotels, boarding houses and other businesses. Talcott suffered the same fate as many other railroad towns and saw a sharp decline in its economy and population throughout the 1950s and 60s.

However, one business survived and continued to prosper: Dillion’s Superette, which was owned and operated by Donna and Ellery Wykle. They ran their convenience store out of the L. G. Rhodes Store building for more than 30 years before retiring in 2012.

L. G. Rhodes Store, built in 1905, Talcott, WV. Undated photo. Courtesy the author.

L. G. Rhodes Store, built in 1905, Talcott, WV. Undated photo. Courtesy the author.

Prior to Donna and Ellery taking possession of the building, it had been renovated in the 1970s and had a drop ceiling installed over the original pressed tin ceiling, industrial tile placed over oak floors, wood paneling installed over the 1905 beadboard walls, a faux wall installed in the rear of the store room which hid the mezzanine and all of its beautiful oak woodwork, and vinyl siding installed over the exterior of the building.

But even with all of the modern amenities, when you walked into Dillion’s Superette you felt as if you were walking into a turn of the century general store. I can remember being a child and going in for a piece of candy. You were always greeted and personally assisted with any need that you had. There was a charm to this building, and it lured people in not only for the items that were for sale (on the original shelving that had been there from the day the store first opened), or the clang of the 1930s cash register that was still being used by Donna, but for the sense of community and enjoyment that the Wykles brought to Talcott.

Over the years, Dillion’s Superette became a hangout for many of the town’s eldest citizens. They would meet there every day and sit on an antique church bench behind the checkout counter, reminiscing about years gone by. One of these citizens was my now 87 year old grandfather, Bernard Thompson. I can recall numerous times being in the store while he and his friends told stories of their youth, especially in reference to Rhodes’ corner (meaning the store building).

Currently, there is a 26 acre John Henry Historic Park being developed in our community to honor and tell the 1871 story of John Henry’s legendary battle with a steam drill at the Big Bend Tunnel. Donna and Ellery were both very active in this process, as well as with the annual John Henry Days festival. This festival takes place during the second weekend of July to celebrate John Henry and the history of Talcott. When Dillion’s Superette was still open, it was the focal point of the festival. It featured the Talcott Area Memorabilia Room (a collection of local history, photographs and artifacts) as well as a vast collection of railroad memorabilia.

The author (l) with Cheryl Jones (John Henry Historical Member) and Bill Dillion (John Henry Historical Society President and John Henry Park Committee President.)

The author (l) with Cheryl Jones (John Henry Historical Member) and Bill Dillion (John Henry Historical Society President and John Henry Park Committee President.)

The Wykles’ love of Talcott was no secret to anyone who lived there. Upon their retirement, they gave a priceless gift to their town. They donated the 1905 L. G. Rhodes store building to be used as a museum and gift shop. The John Henry Historical Society was then formed and took possession of the building in 2013. The only request that Donna and Ellery had was that the original pressed tin ceiling be exposed and restored, the oak floor refinished, and both the tiles and vinyl siding removed.

Volunteers quickly organized and started work to restore the building, removing all of the 1970s construction that hid virtually all of the historical integrity of the building. Ellery even took it upon himself to restore the ceiling that he and Donna had valued greatly. Donna was able to see the restoration process and was greatly warmed to see the building’s historical integrity beginning to shine through once again. Heartbreakingly, she was later diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed before the main floor was completed.

Meticulous detail went into the restoration. Period colors were selected for the walls, which were refurbished in tongue and groove beadboard just as L. G. Rhodes himself had selected. The ceiling has been beautifully painted fresh white, and the wood floors once again glisten beneath the reproduction porcelain light fixtures that would have once hung over store displays and showcases. The staircase and all of the beautiful woodwork on the mezzanine is once again the focal point of the store, just as it would have been on its opening day in 1905.

With all of the progress that has been made, much more is still in wait to be completed. The vinyl siding still needs to be removed, the newly added public restrooms need to be completed, and an authentic replica of the original balcony over the front of the store needs to be finished. The second floor is also waiting to be completely renovated.

This space was once the Masonic Lodge for Talcott and was an addition to L.G. Rhodes’ original plans. The Freemasons approached him and asked to add a second story to their building to be used for their lodge. Mr. Rhodes did so, and it was the meeting space for the Masons and Eastern Star for over 50 years. This floor will be restored just as it was during its time as the Talcott Lodge and will function as additional museum space.

John Henry Museum under construction

Fortunately, a community of volunteers and donors has come together to help us achieve this goal. In May of this year, this group of volunteers organized the John Henry Museum Restoration Gala. It featured a huge silent auction with pieces from local artisans, antiques, handcrafted jewelry and many other unique items. Two live bluegrass bands performed traditional railroad music to the crowd’s great pleasure, and the Wykle family provided a buffet.

Over 150 people attended, and more than $4,000 was raised in a single night. This event was a huge success and a great prelude to the opening of the John Henry Museum and Gift Shop that took place following the gala. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, visitors come to the historic building to view John Henry memorabilia and historical artifacts from Talcott and admire the grandeur of the newly restored main store room. There is a fully stocked gift shop featuring John Henry and Talcott souvenirs, pieces that are hand crafted by local artisans, Blenko Glass, homemade jams and jellies and many other exciting products.

Museum fundraiser

With all of the success that has happened over this past year with the restoration process, and the opening of the museum and gift shop, it is easy to forget about all of the work that still lies ahead. In order to complete Donna and Ellery’s wishes, more funding is still needed.

 

If you would like to see the restoration of this historic structure completed and support its continuing education about John Henry, the most famous African American laborer in history, please make checks payable to the John Henry Historical Society and mail to 104 Pence Springs Drive, Alderson, WV 24910. And if you would like any further information about this project, or to get involved, please feel free to contact William Jones at (304) 445-8839.

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My Life as Ephraim Cutler

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 4, 2014

Please welcome guest author C. Richard Dean. Dr. Dean is a retired Ohio University professor who has studied and reenacted early Ohio pioneer Ephraim Cutler for over 15 years.

 

Richard Dean as Ephraim Cutler

Richard Dean as Ephraim Cutler.

Ephraim Cutler came to Ohio in 1795 soon after the Northwest Territory was established. Throughout his life he worked to benefit Southeast Ohio and Ohio University. For seven years he and his family lived in what is now Amesville, OH, which is also my childhood home.

I knew of Cutler’s presence and influence in my community from an early age; Cutler had been one of the organizers of the famed Coonskin Library established there in 1804 by area residents who craved printed materials on the then US frontier. Cutler was the first secretary of the Western Library, the real name of that subscription library. School children of the town frequently presented a play portraying the creation of this library.

While an active professor in communication disorders I learned of the book The Life and Times of Ephraim Cutler, by his daughter, Julia Cutler. I soon became aware how much more Ephraim had done for SE Ohio, Ohio University and the State of Ohio than his father, Manasseh, the man credited for the establishment of Ohio University, although he was never there and only spent 7 days visiting early Marietta.

I was a Boy Scout leader who participated in many scouting events including annual district campouts at Burr Oak State Park. Each year there was a featured area – History Hill – where Civil War skirmishes and Native American life styles were reenacted. For many years I set up a small tent and interacted with scouts and their leaders portraying Ephraim. These were my first Cutler portrayals, motivated primarily because I felt Cutler was an important unknown historical figure.

My presentations featured speaking with a New England accent and requesting ages of those visiting my tent so that I could relate what Cutler was doing at the same age as the scouts. Generally their ages enabled me to share knowledge of events leading up to and during the American Revolution. For example, at age 8 Cutler was awakened by his grandfather preparing to march from Killingly, CT to Lexington, MA to repel the British, who had just attacked there.

Richard Dean as Cutler in front of Ohio University visitor center.

Richard Dean as Cutler in front of Ohio University visitor center.

Over the 15 year period of reenacting I have spoken at many historical groups. Most have been in the Marietta, OH area where Cutler lived most of his life, and where many local events are dedicated to the history of Marietta, the first established community in the Northwest Territory.

This was area north and west of the Ohio River, which ultimately became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. My presentations always include Cutler’s participation in the establishment of the State of Ohio. He was one of the youngest representatives at the 2nd Territorial Convention (1801) and the Ohio Constitutional Convention (1802).

He represented Washington County as a minority party Federalist. Opponents at the time were the Thomas Jefferson Democrats who settled the Virginia Military District in Southwest Ohio, generally the Chillicothe and Cincinnati areas. They were the majority party. The main issues of the time were the nature of government (strong or weak) and slavery.

These conventions took place in Chillicothe, a frontier town of the time. They were frequently boisterous and violent. Cutler’s claim to fame was his success in defeating the Jefferson plan for eliminating slavery in the new state; it would have allowed slavery, but provided for a prolonged process to eliminate it.

A common belief in Southeastern Ohio and described in some college and university Ohio history texts is that Cutler defeated slavery in a last minute vote in which he was brought from a sick bed to cast a tying vote and convince a young colleague to change a vote in order to defeat an amendment to the finale draft of the Ohio constitution that would permit slavery in the new state of Ohio. In reality there was no major opposition to Article preventing slavery; the last minute defeat of an amendment was one that would only have limited the rights of black citizens. Cutler had worked earlier in committee work on Article 8 to change committee opinions to prevent slavery in Ohio. So he is credited with preventing slavery but not in the dramatic way frequently described. To honor his work to prevent slavery in Ohio his home north of Belpre, OH was named Constitution and a nearby community was called Veto. A historic marker commemorates his efforts.

Ephraim Cutler, age 33, in a restored portrait painted by Sala Bosworth. Courtesy the author.

Ephraim Cutler, age 33, in a restored portrait painted by Sala Bosworth. Courtesy the author.

Over the years I have presented at museums, local historical celebrations, community groups, elementary and high schools and universities to name the more frequent ones. I adapt each to include information about, or of interest to, the sponsoring group.

When in Marietta I include Cutler’s role in preserving local history and successfully lobbying to bring railroads to the area. When speaking to a Prisoner of War group I include information about treatment of POWs during the Revolution. Speaking at the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati was a bit of a challenge; there is no documentation of his ever being there.

However, he was invited to accompany former president, then congressman, John Quincy Adams on his return trip up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh from Cincinnati where he dedicated the National Observatory on Mt. Ida (later named Mt. Adams.) He joined Adams at his home on the river near Belpre.

Over the years I’ve become more accustomed to speaking in dialect and to include a Q and A period to allow me to step out of character to analyze Cutler’s influence and to make comparisons to current society. For example, children frequently want to know why Cutler did or didn’t do something, because they have difficulty relating something I discussed to their own life (e.g. why didn’t his very ill children go the doctor?) I cannot answer this while in character, restricted to Cutler’s lifetime.

Ephraim Cutler was born a British citizen and lived to witness the establishment of 18 states and the election of 14 presidents. You can learn more of him HERE.

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Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 3, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with guest author C. Richard Dean. “While I was an active professor in communication disorders at Ohio University,” he says, “I learned of the book The Life and Times of Ephraim Cutler. I soon became aware how much more Ephraim had done for SE Ohio, Ohio University and the State of Ohio than his father, Manasseh, the man credited for the establishment of Ohio University.” Dr. Dean has portrayed Ephraim Cutler as a history presenter for over 15 years now.

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

“They would meet there every day and sit on an antique church bench behind the checkout counter. I can recall numerous times being in Dillion’s Superette while my grandfather and his friends told stories of their youth,” says William Jones, a member of the John Henry Historical Society. “When Dillion’s Superette was still open, it was the focal point of the annual John Henry Days festival here in Talcott, WV. It featured the Talcott Area Memorabilia Room, as well as a vast collection of railroad memorabilia.” The John Henry Historical Society is currently refurbishing the Dillion’s Superette building to house a brand new John Henry Museum.

We’ll wrap things up with guest author Adam MacPharlain of the Kentucky Historical Society. “In the early 20th century, one company in the small town of Berea, KY,” he tells us, “rose up to become one of the nation’s foremost companies to specialize in handweaving. The company, Churchill Weavers, played a pivotal role in expanding the visibility of handwoven goods through its business practices, marketing, design, and willingness to experiment.”

And thanks to the good folks at Columbia Record Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Gid Tanner & His Skillet-Lickers in a 1928 recording of Hog Killing Day.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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How Scottish dances got their names

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 1, 2014

Please welcome guest author Jennifer Cox. Cox is an instructor for the West Virginia 4-H Dance Ambassadors. She is also an instructor for the state’s 4-H Music and Dance Weekend, where 400 West Virginia 4-Hers spend a weekend at Jackson’s Mill every March, and learn a variety of types of heritage dancing. Cox has been the coordinator for the heritage dancing at the Vandalia Gathering for the last 20 years.

 

Growing up in rural West Virginia has always been a benefit to me. At the age of nine I joined 4-H and had a 4-H extension agent who was what most would say an ‘eccentric hippy.’  Looking back on that time I consider myself very lucky, because it was through 4-H and the guidance of Jane George that I learned to expand my horizons.

Jennifer Cox leads her highland dancers at the 2014 Vandalia Gathering, Charleston, WV. Photo courtesy WV Division of Culture & History.

Jennifer Cox leads her highland dancers at the 2014 Vandalia Gathering, Charleston, WV. Photo courtesy WV Division of Culture & History.

Jane taught dance groups in several different counties as an extension agent. I was fortunate to be one of those whom she taught to do heritage dancing. Initially she taught me Scottish and Irish dancing, and later folk and square dancing. Along with learning the dances we also learned the heritage, traditions and stories behind them.

As an adult I have tried to keep these dances alive by working through 4-H to reach out and teach what I was taught.

The most interesting part of the dancing, for me, is the stories behind the dances. I would like to share some of that with you, focusing on Scottish dances.

Legends/folklore about Highland (Scottish) dancing

The Highland Fling- a solo dance that was said to be danced upon a shield with a spike in the middle (a Targe). The dance was performed on the ball of the foot due to the spike. For most of the dance the arms are up with the hands making the head and antlers of a stag by putting the thumb and middle finger together (the head) and the three remaining fingers up (the horns). The movement of the feet and turning is said to represent the stag playing. One legend for this dance is that it was a victory dance performed at the end of a battle.

Solo Sword Dance- This dance has different legends. The tune for this dance is Ghillie Callum. The dance dates back to King Malcolm Canmore (Shakespeare’s Macbeth). Ghillie Callum was a Celtic prince who was a hero against one of Macbeth’s chiefs at the Battle of Dunsinane in 1054. After winning the battle it was said that he crossed his bloody sword with the sword of the defeated chief and danced.

Scottish postcard illustrating The Sword Dance Ghillie Callum. Collection of Edinburgh University / School of Literature / Language and Cultures / Celtic and Scottish Studies; special acknowledgement to Carol Stubbs of Edinburgh.

Scottish postcard illustrating The Sword Dance Ghillie Callum. Collection of Edinburgh University / School of Literature / Language and Cultures / Celtic and Scottish Studies; special acknowledgement to Carol Stubbs of Edinburgh.

Another legend is that the night before a clan would go into battle, they would pick their best dancer to perform the dance. The sword would be crossed over the sheath (or over another sword). The dancer would then dance the first step around the outside of the sword and sheath and the remainder of the dance would be performed inside the 4 quadrants created by crossing the sheath and sword. The dancer would frequently have their feet in two different quadrants at the same time. The goal of the dancer was to never touch the sword or sheath while dancing. The legend states that if the dancer did touch the sword/sheath that the clan would lose in battle the following day. (Another version of this legend states that the dancer would have an untimely end.)

Blue Bonnet’s Over the Border- This is traditionally a ladies dance. Blue Bonnet is slang for a Scotsman. The dance was said to be a flirting dance to catch the eye of and flirt with a “Blue Bonnet”.

Strathspey & Half Tulloch- One origin of the Reel of Tulloch was said to be: on a cold morning in a church yard while the congregation was waiting on the minister, they whistled a highland tune and began to dance to keep warm.

A more gruesome legend of the dance is that the inhabitants of Tulloch played a game similar to football with the severed head of an enemy and the words of a Gaelic tune tell this story.

Strathspey & Half Tulloch is often used as a party dance and is also a dance that is now done in competitions.

16 Pas de basques and Pas de basques and High Cuts- These are beginner dances that are used to teach the technique and foot placements for two of the most used dance movements.

Seann Triubhas- The title of this dance means old trousers in Gaelic. This dance is said to represent the repeal of the proscription of the kilt by the English. After the failure of the Jacobite uprisings of 1745 the clans were forbidden to wear kilts/tartan. One reason said to be behind this is because the clans could identify their clan/relatives by the design and colors of the tartan. The English wanted to strip them of their identity. The bagpipes were also forbidden because they were an instrument of war. During battles the bagpipes could be used as a means of communication to send signals. If you visit a Scottish Military Museum you will see bagpipes on display. The first part of the dance is mocking the restrictions of the trousers and the second part symbolizes the kicking off of the trousers and putting on of the kilt.

The first part of the Seann Triubhas dance is mocking the restrictions of the trousers and the second part symbolizes the kicking off of the trousers and putting on of the kilt. Image courtesy Stéphane Béguinot

The first part of the Seann Triubhas dance is mocking the restrictions of the trousers and the second part symbolizes the kicking off of the trousers and putting on of the kilt. Image courtesy Stéphane Béguinot

Highland Laddie- Hielan Laddie is the name of an ancient Scottish folk tune. There is also a poem by Robert Burns entitled “Highland Laddie, Highland Lassie”. The tune Highland Laddie was used by the Highland Regiments in the British Army as their regimental march. The dance originated between 1850-1860, and was said to be a tribute to Bonnie Prince Charlie, the “Highland Laddie”.

Argyll Broadswords- This dance is of Military origin and was commonly danced by the Scottish regiments of the army. The dance is usually performed by four dancers around swords that are placed to make a cross. One legend states that it was used as a form of calisthenics by the regiments.

The Sailor’s Hornpipe- This dance mimics a sailor in the Queen’s Navy doing work aboard a ship: hauling rope, sliding on the rollicking deck, and getting his paycheck. This dance is performed in a sailor’s uniform. The music for this dance was played on a hornpipe rather than bagpipes. Hornpipes were very common in those days and are similar to a tin whistle.

Scottish Lilt- National ladies’ dance that is very graceful. The timing of this dance is atypical because it has only six beats per measure. The tune used for this dance is ‘Battle of the Somme’- a World War I battle, fought July 1, 1916. Fifty eight thousand British troops died in this battle.

1749 portrait of Flora McDonald by Allan Ramsay. Courtesy Wikipedia.

1749 portrait of Flora McDonald by Allan Ramsay. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Flora McDonald’s Fancy- This dance is in honor of Flora McDonald who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to the Isle of Skye, Scotland, during the Jacobite uprising in 1746, so he could flee to France after his defeat in the battle of Culloden. Flora dressed Bonnie Prince Charlie up as her Irish spinning maid, Betty Burke. She was later arrested and for a short time imprisoned in the Tower of London. After the Act of Indemnity was passed in 1747 she was released. She was married in 1750 and then immigrated to North Carolina. She did later return to the Isle of Skye where she died in 1790. Dr. Samuel Johnson, an English essayist, said of her “Her name will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.” This dance is to honor her heroism.

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