Fairgoers have fun at Hancock Shaker Village for 22nd annual Country Fair

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PITTSFIELD — The Shakers were forward-thinking farmers, crafters and entrepreneurs who were ahead of their time more than two centuries ago.

This weekend, Hancock Shaker Village kept that innovative spirit alive with new and intriguing activities mixed in with traditional favorites during the annual Country Fair.

For 22 years, the two-day showcase of the living museum, area artisans, food vendors and performers is second in popularity only to the season-opening baby animal exhibit. This year staff and the board of trustees added bluegrass music, contradancing and a fiber festival featuring 12 businesses and their high-quality products in felt, yarn and other textiles.

"Given the Shakers' history with merino sheep, and the fact that our gardens provided the natural dyes, and the Sisters' Shop was dedicated to weaving the wool, it seems like a natural fit for us," Hancock Shaker Village President & CEO Jennifer Trainer Thompson said of the festival.

Also new: wagon rides courtesy of Willie and Waylon. The five-year-old Gypsy Vanner horses from Dog Wood Farm in nearby Old Chatham, N.Y., are equine breed first introduced to the U.S. nearly 25 years ago, according to the horses' co-owner, Jill Zanetich.

"In Ireland and Europe, they've been working horses for centuries, she said.

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Museum officials cited the new attractions and stellar weather Saturday and Sunday for a two-day attendance of 3,643, up almost 700 people from last year.

In its debut, the fiber festival got maximum exposure being located in the iconic Round Stone Barn, which pleased the owners of Going Gnome displaying a variety of gnomes made of felt.

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"We love Shaker Village as we grew up here. If I had to be inside on a nice day like today, I'd rather be in the Stone Barn," said Jennifer VanSant, who co-owns the Great Barrington business with her sister Melissa VanSant.

Sue Coffrin of Adirondack Yarns in Lake Placid, N.Y., says fiber festivals help educate the public about the vendors' craft.

"It's not about the grandmothers' afghans; it's about the yarn and quality color," she said.

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The fiber festival included several workshops, one on making Dorset buttons, charming fasteners that were first made commercially in Dorset, England, in the 17th century. Instructor Gwen Steege says making Dorset buttons is fun and relaxing no matter the person's skill with a knitting or sewing needle.

"It' a lot like woodworking as you get to feel the material in your hands. It's very therapeutic and you'll be creating something," she told an Eagle reporter.

The fiber festival was a good compliment to the popular quilt show and raffle in the Round Stone Barn. Blacksmithing, timber framing, children's face painting and balloon art and those adorable baby animals were among the other traditional fare at the Country Fair that spawns many return visits to Hancock Shaker Village. Kris Noan of New Haven, Conn., was visiting the living museum for a second time with her husband and two young children.

"We like how the place is spread out. You get to see the animals and learn about the Shaker community," Noan said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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