Art of Trades and Crafts Workshop Brings 18th Century Skills to 21st Century Historic Sites

Authentic 18th century work skills were the order of the day as history and heritage volunteers gathered for The Art of Period Trades and Crafts at East Jersey Old Town Village in Piscataway on May 3. Designed to help New Jersey historic sites offer authentic demonstrations and reenactments for visitors, the event was cosponsored by Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area and Middlesex County Office of Arts and History, Division of Historic Sites and History Services and featured on MeTV’s Jersey Matters. To see the video click here.

“The 250th anniversary of the American Revolution is just a few years away, bringing enormous potential for connecting visitors with New Jersey’s remarkable contributions to our nation’s independence,” said Janice Selinger, Crossroads’ executive director. “We’re focused on making sure that our partners at the state’s Revolutionary War-era sites have the tools they need to provide the ultimate 18th century experience to visitors while having the protection of 21st century health and safety standards.”

The morning session included food safety and preparation guidance from Colonial American foodways expert Susan McLellan Plaisted, while Old Barracks Executive Director Richard Patterson discussed the considerations sites should make when inviting and hosting historical reenactors to their sites. Douglas Aumack, Resource Interpretive Specialist for Middlesex County Office of Arts and History, also shared an entertaining presentation on 18th century medical and surgical procedures.

About 60 participants then split into smaller groups for workshops occurring in several of East Jersey Old Town Village’s historic buildings. Leading craftspeople shared highlights of their trades, plus historical context that participants can now share as part of their site’s programs. Presenters included:

  • R.B. Bartgis, scholar in the history of bookbinding and the material culture of literacy, led participants in 18th century penmanship, from crafting a quill pen to putting ink to paper.
  • Nichole Gerding, proprietress of Thankful Sage Farm School, reviewed the 18th century art of candlemaking and demonstrated the use of candle molds.
  • Sharon Goodman of NJ History Alive led beginner and intermediate knitting workshops.
  • Shaun Pekar, professional cordwainer and accoutrement maker, shared the craft of 18th century shoemaking.

Mark Nonestied, the division head for Middlesex County Historic Sites and History Services, noted that East Jersey Old Town Village has embarked on a new direction to bring living history demonstrations to the public.

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