Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My Trip to Plimoth Plantation

While in Boston last week with my wife for a vacation for me/work conference trip-vacation for her, we rented a car on Thursday morning and headed off to Plimoth Plantation. I've been wanting to go to Plimoth since I first found out about the place 4 or 5 years ago. Judging by the web site it looked like a really cool place and of course a big draw for me was the possibility of meeting, watching and talking to Plimoth's joiner, Peter Follansbee.

Plimoth Plantation is divided into several sections; the Wampanoag Homesite is the Native American village; The 17th Century English village, set in the year 1627; and the Craft Center, where artisans and crafts people demonstrate their expertise. We arrived just a few minutes before the place opened, purchased our tickets, watched the orientation film in the visitors center and headed out for the Wampanoag Homesite. This turned out to be my least favorite area. The structures were well done, very authentic to my eye, but other than one native scraping out a canoe, there really wasn't much going on. From there we walked a path through the woods that led us to the English Village. This was much more my style. As much as I love Colonial Williamsburg, and I DO love Colonial Williamsburg, I've never been to a place with a more authentic feel as this. Dirt floors, thatched roofs, and sparsely furnished houses with amazing period reproduction furnishings; most made by Peter Follansbee. I spent quite a while in this area checking out the furniture and talking to the costumed interpreters, who were great by the way. They stayed in character and true to the year 1627; very knowledgeable too. If not for the other camera wielding tourist there, you'd think you were actually in 17th century New England.

Finally it was time to head to the Craft Center. Luckily, Peter was there that day. It was a real treat seeing him work up close and in person. He is an amazing craftsman, probably the premier green woodworker in the country and one of the most learned scholars of 17th century joined furniture anywhere. And to top it off, he's one of the most friendly and accommodating people you'll ever meet.
There were a couple of times when it was just Peter and I there and he was very engaging and happy to answer all my questions. I was very interested in his spring pole lathe as I think I'm leaning toward that style once I get my shop finished. He did a little turning demonstration and pointed out some features of his lathe; some that I would have never known, like the fact that his treadle is not hinged or fastened to anything, just butted up against a board on the floor that he stands on. Pretty slick.

While we were talking, I told him that I was in the process of building a dedicated shop for hand tool woodworking and showed him a picture on my phone. When he saw it he said that he'd seen it on my blog. How cool is that?! Kinda made MY day. :) He also personalized and signed a copy of Make a Joint Stool from a Tree that I bought in the gift shop. Again, very cool!

So, needless to say, my trip to Plimoth Plantation was one of the highlights of my vacation. And as a bonus, it's a really nice drive down from Boston if you stay off the interstate. Lots of nice old houses and some newer ones in the traditional style. And for the most part it seemed like everyone took pride in their houses and kept them really nice.

Oh, by the way; that elaborately carved chair in the photo above: Peter said that he has 60 hours in that. 60 hours! That's building the chair AND doing all the carving. AMAZING!

P.S.  Major props to my awesome wife for being so patient while I gushed like a school girl in Peter's shop for well over an hour. Many thanks to her for being understanding of my obsession with hand tools and history. :)


OwlOnAStick said...

I went to Plimoth Plantation years ago but Peter wasn't there. They had all gone home because they had been up all night filming an episode of The Woodwright's Shop there! And wonder of wonders, Roy Underhill was still there!

He was just wandering around like all the rest of us. I later saw him having lunch and went over and sat with him; we talked for quite some time.

It was pretty thrilling - and I'm still telling the story. :-)

Jamie Bacon said...


That is a VERY cool story! I'd be telling it all the time if it happened to me. Roy is on of the neatest and nicest people you'll ever meet, and a woodworking hero of mine. Taking a class from him at his school in Pittsboro was a great experience.

Anonymous said...

Please pardon my extreme ignorance, but wouldn’t such extensively carved pieces of furniture be an exception in the homes of Plymouth colonists in 1627? Possibly, furniture that was brought over from England or elsewhere?

Thanks, Dean

Joshua Klein said...

Oh, Jamie, that's great! My family has been planning a trip down there for a while now. My wife and son are pretty excited. We are heading down this coming Thursday. What a coincidence!

Jamie Bacon said...

Hi Dean,

While I'm certainly no authority on the subject, it's my belief, based largely on what I've read from Peter Follansbee, that the extensively carved furniture would not have been uncommon in 1627 New England. These people would have carried over the traditions of Old England with them to the New World. And if you've ever watched Peter carve, you'd see it really doesn't take as long as it would seem for an experienced hand to carve these beautiful pieces. I've seen pictures of many pieces attributed to New England circa early to mid 17th century that were extensively carved. Again, this is just my opinion based on what I've read.
Thanks for reading the blog.


Jamie Bacon said...

Hey Joshua,

So glad to hear that you're going to make the trip down to Plimoth! I think you will really enjoy it. They really do a great job in the English Village of immersing you into 17th century New England.

I hope that you have fantastic weather and I hope that Peter is there the day you go. He really is a joy to talk to and an incredibly talented and knowledgeable person. And one heck of a nice guy. Enjoy your time there! Take lots of pictures.


Kari Hultman said...

I've been wanting to visit Plimoth Plantation for several years. Hopefully soon we'll make it up there. I read "Mayflower" a few months ago which made me want to go even more. I also recently read "The Artisan of Ipswich" that talked about some of the furniture that was being made in the second half of the 17th century in New England. According to that book they were building the same highly carved pieces as the ones in old country. Sounds like you had a wonderful visit, Jamie!

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