Fiber tent at M.V. Ag Fair
File photo by Ralph Stewart
Bringing together fleece-producing animals and the dedicated folks who transform that fleece into yarn and fine fabrics seems like a natural attraction for a traditional agricultural fair. But it wasn't until 10 years ago when West Tisbury farmer Glenn Jackson suggested it to Fair Manager Eleanor Neubert and her committee that the concept began here on the Vineyard. Now celebrating a successful decade of fascinating fairgoers with a close-up look at the traditional fiber arts and the friendly animals that make it all possible, the tent is still going strong.
"We're happy the Fiber Tent has been so successful these 10 years since Glenn and Tom Vogl and Katharine Long came up with it," Ms. Neubert said last week, praising Mr. Jackson for his dediciated work, enthusiasm, and organizational skills. "It's a wonderful addition to the Agricultural Fair."
Mr. Jackson said he and his wife, Rosemary, began the tent here after taking part in similar attractions at both the Eastern States Exposition and the Barnstable County Fair. "It's not my idea at all, I just stole it from everyone else," he said. "I thought, 'Wow, we're the only fair that doesn't do this.'"
The couple have raised llamas for 15 years and sheep for 12 years at their Stoney Hill Farm in West Tisbury and began weaving and spinning because having the animals inspired them.
Set out in the field between the Ag Hall and the animal barns, the roomy tent is the weekend home to a bevy of sheep, goats, and alpacas. Llamas have often been on hand as well, and even an occasional long-haired angora rabbit.
But the animals are only half the fun. What really intrigues the many viewers who meander through the serene tent are the fiber artists themselves. Spinners, weavers, knitters, and sometimes other artisans bring their equipment and materials and ply their trade in the public eye, happy to offer visitors insight into how it's all done.
Katharine Long of West Tisbury reminisced fondly the involvement of her husband, Tom Vogl, with the fiber tent. Mr. Vogl died this year, but many in the tent will remember how he brought a loom and gave children hands-on lessons. "He loved teaching kids," she said.
Ms. Long added that seeing Mr. Vogl operate the intricate loom drew many men, fascinated by the equipment, to ask questions. "They would ask another man about it, they might not ask me," she said. "Having a man doing demonstrations gives men coming through the tent somebody to talk to."
Ms. Long said she planned to bring her big, modern plastic spinning wheel, not the delicate wooden antique one she acquired from the Athearn family. "It can take someone spilling a Coke on it or knocking it over," she chuckled, adding that both mishaps had happened in past years.
"There will be a lot more demos this year," Mr. Jackson promised.
Along with the customary spinning, weaving, and knitting, quilter Mary Ruth Flores from Texas, who is Ms. Long's sister, will be there stitching away throughout the Fair. And Mr. Vogl's daughter, Wendy Colbert, will exhibit the art of dyeing and carding wool. Along with weaving and spinning, Anna Marie d'Addarie will bring a wheel on Saturday and Sunday so patrons can try their hand at spinning.
The pens will be filled with a wide variety of sheep from the Jacksons, Carol and Richard Tripp, Maury and Caitlin Dorr. There will be curious, long-necked Alpacas from Island Alpaca Company. For the first year, The Farm Institute will join in with angora goats. Mr. Jackson said the organization is a perfect addition to the tent because of its emphasis on teaching.
"We should have all the types of fiber animals on the Island," said Mr. Jackson, adding that he was still looking for more to make this 10th year the best ever.
Fairgoers are welcome to tour the Fiber Tent all weekend. But please do not bring your dogs, which can frighten livestock and cause safety problems.