COWDEN — Crafts dating back to the area’s early ancestors were alive and well at Cowden Pioneer Days over the weekend.
The three-day event featured an array of events, musical acts, vendors and artisans. On Saturday, David Bell of Fairfield hovered over a large wooden loom under a cloth tent in Pioneer Village at the festival.
Bell was weaving a rug made of denim material with dozens of strings latched in keyholes of the loom. Scraps of cloth with “Toy Story”-themed prints on it laid next to Bell, awaiting its turn through the ancient-looking loom.
Colorful rugs were on display for sale at Bell’s stand at Cowden Pioneer Days. Bell said there is no comparison between a handmade rug on an antique loom and a rug purchased at a big box store.
“I’ve heard the young generation say ‘Oh I can get that cheaper at Wal-Mart.’ I tell them yeah but this has longevity and quality,” Bell said.
Bell has been weaving rugs for 17 years. His mother taught him to weave on the loom after he moved back to Illinois from California.
Bell said depending on size, it takes him anywhere from an hour to 3 1/2 hours to weave a single rug on a loom that has been passed down through generations of his family.
This was Bell’s fourth year at Cowden Pioneer Days. Bell said he returns every year because the event keeps historic art forms like weaving fresh in the minds of the community.
Verlin Elam of Vandalia also opts for handmade over commercial products. Elam made hand-dipped candles and wool blankets and offered his creations for sale at the festival.
Elam has been crafting the candles and wool products for over a decade and finds it more enjoyable as a hobby than as a way to make a profit.
“I just like doing it,” Elam said of his crafts.
Elam is self-taught, too.
“When I was younger, one of my relatives taught me how to crochet. Yarn kept getting so expensive, and I said I’m going to learn to make my own yarn,” Elam said.
Elam bought his own spinning wheel and has since learned to make wool blankets, rugs and more. As for the candles, Elam said it takes 18 to 20 dips into hot wax to make a single candle, so the process tends to take patience.
Saturday was Elam’s second time as a “pioneer” vendor at the event. Elam described the event as a way to preserve history and to teach the younger generations about how products were made in the past.
A staple of Elam’s stand at the festival is an assortment of lanterns he lights up with his own candles.
“All of these lanterns are lit up every night that I’m here,” Elam said.
Callie Wallis of Cowden and Quinton Galvin of Herrick browsed the handmade goods in the pioneer village Saturday afternoon.
The young duo both agreed the festival gives the community a fun gathering spot by allowing people to step back in time.
Wallis said since moving to Cowden from Ramsey, she has attended Pioneer Days for years.
“I just like seeing all the stands and the stuff people have to offer,” Wallis said. “I like seeing all the history.”