The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

July 6, 2013

Hands-on history: Heritage Center shows visitors the simpler side of life

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Children lined up to make rope, taste homemade butter and design their own quilt pattern as part of Hands-on History Family Saturday, a monthly exhibition by Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center.

Volunteer Sandy Clark showed off her butter-making skills with only glass jars and milk cream.

“It comes to the top of the milk after you milk the cow, then you skim the cream off and normally we’d either put it in this,” she said holding up a Mason jar, “or there would be a big wooden barrel we’d put it in, with a hand paddle you’d push up and down.”

The exhibit also had a device more akin to a butter churn, which featured a hand crank that turned a blender hanging down inside a large glass container.

“Otherwise, they would also do this,” she said, lightly shaking the Mason jar filled with cream. “Probably to give their kids something to do.”

As the butter would churn, it would separate. The leavings, called whey, also would be used.

“Grandpa would take (the whey) and go mix it with the hog feed and have a slurry. The hogs would love that,” said Clark. “And that is pure, unsalted butter. This tastes so much fresher than store-bought butter.”

Next to the butter demonstration, museum volunteer Alexis Owens showed the patrons how to make a rope. The young volunteer threaded several lines of a string through a hook on one end, then through a complicated-looking device on the other.

To make the rope, museum patrons turned a hand crank that spun four main strands of the string, tightening it and weaving it together.

But not everything at the museum Saturday only showed how to make useful pre-industry goods. While quilts indeed are useful, they also allow an artistic express by its maker.

Carlene Perkins and Norma Barton led children down a table, first coloring in a pattern and then gluing colorful felt pieces to paper for their own design.

Barton recalls her early years before blankets were a mass-produced item found in stores.

“In fact, when they first started making quilts, that was a necessity because you didn’t have blankets and you took your old wool coats. That material was too heavy to quilt, but you’d tie the pieces together. I have slept under quilts so heavy I couldn’t hardly turn over,” she said. “You didn’t have any kind of heat at home at night, and you had to have a lot of heavy quilts.”

The patterns of a quilt often came from leftover bits from making their own clothes.

“A lot of times, we made our clothes out of flour sacks and they’d be printed fabric, or feed sacks. And if you’d get two alike, you could make a dress,” said Barton. “If you could only find one of that pattern, it would make a good apron or a child’s dress. And the little pieces you had left over, you’d simply sew them all together to make the quilt.”

Quilt-making is more sophisticated now, she said, and some people go to the expense of buying expensive fabric to make them. Barton said she once made a quilt for a queen-size bed.

“I did buy the fabric to match, and I was very careful to what I paid for my fabric and even then, it cost me over $200 to make it,” she said. “When you buy fabric to make one, it’s pretty expensive.”

Perkins added that she has a lot of scraps she’s saved over the years.

“And that’s what I’m going to use to make mine,” she said.

Once a month, Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center holds these Hands-on History sessions. Last month, they showed off the prairie lifestyle, and on their next Family Saturday Aug. 3, the museum will let kids get hands-on with circus artifacts. That activity coincides with the museum’s current exhibit, Step Right Up! Behind the Scenes of the Circus Big Top, 1890-1965.