Some stories about old men and Vermont

I drove over to Coventry to see Fred (see my post of May 3) one day last week and discovered an enormous structure about a quarter of a mile from his house that made no sense at all. He’s imported barns, bridges and school houses —but what was this? Fred came to the door, did a double take—he hadn’t seen me for seven years—and invited me in. “What,” I asked, “is that curious structure down there?” Well, it seemed that last year, he heard reports from the Newport County Airport that they were going to get rid of a stage from the Phish good-bye concert six years ago. The concert had brought 30,000 people to a town of no more than 1,000 on a very rainy weekend. Since it was historic and he liked it the building, Fred had somehow come up with $4,000 to buy it and $3,000 to bring it to his farm. At 91 he’s still collecting!

The concert. Unfortunately, Fred's building isn't visible and I didn't take a camera!!! Photo by Dave Kleinschmidt. Creative Commons license.

Fred’s not just collecting, he’s recreating. On a bluff close to the house, he showed me three snow rollers of three different sizes he’d recreated from parts he’d gathered. For the uninitiated, snow rollers were the way roads were made passable before automobiles and plows. They pressed it down rather than pushed it away.

A snowroller. Unpainted. Photo by Just chaos. Creative Commons license.

I’d never seen painted snow rollers before. Fred assured me he’d found red paint on one. Of course, red paint made sense. It was the color of barns; it was cheap and available. But what about red and yellow? They were the most cheerful snow rollers I’d ever seen.

He showed me the carriage he’s rebuilding now, and we toured one of the barns again while a sudden rain fell outside. Despite Fred’s worry that no one will really want  his collection when he dies, there has been progress made. Three hundred hours of video tape have been recorded and paper records have been made. The collection won’t sink into total oblivion, although many of its actual artifacts may not survive and many of Fred’s stories will probably be lost.

Of course, Fred is going to live much, much longer. His wife Vivian assured me and him of that. They still go to local dances to clog.

Another day, in the late morning, I was introduced to a potter in Mill Village, which, I suppose, might be described as a sort of even more rural suburb to rural Craftsbury, Vermont.  Mill Village is one of those places that look perfect, though, of course, it probably isn’t. For one thing, Lynn Flory, the potter, had a bad headache when we arrived. She’d recently lost a dog. She’d lost one or more lovers over the past few years. But her pottery was beautiful. Elegant. And more various than that of any potter I’ve seen in a very long time.

Her studio has long, wide views of hills on every side. She’s also built a house for an old book collection, one I long had my eye on since it always seemed to me that nothing could be more wonderful than the life of an antiquarian book seller in the New England countryside. If you didn’t have to make a living from the selling. Since I would have had to and hadn’t any money, I never bought it, but I can think of no better place for it.

At any rate, back to the story. Lynn Flory was a disciple and student of the potter Otto Heino, who recently died at 94 years of age. He’d been potting until shortly before his death. Otto, I was told, since I know little of contemporary pottery and pots, was a very famous man who, with his wife, had worked for a decade to discover the formula for a buttery yellow glaze that was so valuable the pots he made with it had made him a millionaire.

Otto Heino. Photo by Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times.

Now, Lynn Flory had inherited the formula from him.

Before we left, she showed us the huge brick kiln he’d sent her from California. Soon, I presume, some amazing yellow pottery will be fired there. And there will be more riches from old artists.

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