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Folk Life La Crosse features traditional crafts at the Hixon House


LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Several tents were scattered across the yard of the Hixon House in downtown La Crosse on Saturday afternoon. La Crosse County Historical Society held the Folk Life La Crosse event that aimed to show the public how traditional crafts are made.

Folk Life La Crosse is an annual gathering. It brings talented folk artists from across the region to display their crafts to the public. Many visitors stopped by to see what all they had in store and learn how many of the crafts on display reflected La Crosse's past. The artisans exhibited everything from flint knapping and quilt making to a printing press chronicling the entire timeline of La Crosse's history.

Peggy Derrick, the executive director of the La Crosse County Historical Society, says this event and events like it are very important to keep up the area's culture, and to educate people. "It's part of our past, people have a need to do things with their hands," Derrick said. "You learn differently, your brain develops differently when you're doing things with your hands." She said that no only are crafts like these are great ways to connect with the past, but they make great hobbies too. "It gives you a great sense of accomplishment," Derrick added. "The time you spend doing the making is giving you a huge reward."

For many of the artists, these crafts become a huge part of their lives. Sometimes, they discover the love for the crafts in unique ways. For printer, Bob Mullen, his love for his wife was the beginning of his love for printing. His wife was a hobby printer, as was her father. "I got interested in it after I was married, and it's become a passion," Mullen said. "And since then he has gone on to not only become a printer, but do historical research and writing on the art of printing.

Some artists get involved when they are young. Shane Howe started his love for flint knapping when he was a little kid. Flint knapping is the art of methodically breaking rocks to create sharp edges to be used for arrowheads, tools, or blades.

Howe was searching around in the woods and found what he thought to be a turtle shell. When he took it back home to show his mom, it was no turtle shell. Howe had found "a 2,500 year old scraper," an ancient stone tool. "That really started my love," Howe said.

A few years down the line, Howe came across "Blueberry Jack" who was showing flint knapping at an event. Howe stayed for hours "eyes wide in the way that only eight-year-olds can do," watching Jack pound away at a rock. Later on Jack would take on Shane as an apprentice, and now they teach many others, even UW-La Crosse archeology students, the ancient practice of flint knapping as partners.

Howe said "we owe our existence to taking a large rock and banging on it and seeing what happens" adding, "this knowledge is really to keep alive, not only as a part of history, but as a really fun way to spend an afternoon in the shade, banging on rocks with good people."

If people want to get involved with local history, Derrick says a great place to stop is at the Hixon House. It is one of the oldest houses in the region and was owned by Gideon and Ellen Hixon. The pair are a huge part of La Crosse's past as they were involved in much of its development. Ellen Hixon was also integral in maintaining the wonderful natural features of the region intact so that people could enjoy them for generations.

If you would like to find out more or even volunteer with the La Crosse County Historical Society, you can visit their website here.

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Chris Donahue

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