The pastoral grounds at the Clermont State Historic Site have reopened just in time for the Chancellor’s annual Sheep and Wool Showcase. Tours of the Chancellor’s stately home on the Hudson River have resumed, and the museum shop is also open for the season. Soon the lilacs will burst into a great smelly profusion – the ones that the Chancellor’s wife planted along her garden paths. Soon tourists from near and far will hike the trails running through the Chancellor’s vast property and gaze across the river at the view for which he named the estate.
“What chancellor?” you might ask. “The one who took part in drafting the Declaration of Independence, who served as first US minister of Foreign Affairs, who administered the oath of office to George Washington, who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from France and who developed steamboat technology with Robert Fulton?” Yes, that one: Robert R. Livingston, Jr., a man of his times. One could call him a Renaissance man, as Livingston did all that and more.
When he had the occasion to visit France to close on that famous real estate deal, he discovered a new breed of sheep with long spiral horns and very soft wool. Originally from Portugal, Merino sheep had been highly valued since the Middle Ages. Ever the keen businessman and agrarian homeowner, Livingston bought four Merino sheep and brought them back to Clermont: an act that changed the American wool industry forever after. He bred them with his domestic stock, and little by little produced an almost-pure Merino flock.
It’s said that Livingston loved scientific experimentation in all aspects of farming and animal husbandry. Now visitors to Clermont can experience this particular aspect of 18th-century living when 23 vendors and 40 volunteer demonstrators celebrate all things wooly: spinning, rug-hooking, weaving, sheepshearing and other textile arts. Featured exhibitors and vendors include Blackberry Hill Farm in Hudson, Cat’s View Farm in Germantown, Columbia Greene 4-H, Cottage on the Hudson in Saugerties, Dashing Star Farm in Millerton, East Knoll in Torrington, Connecticut, Hahn Farm in Salt Point, Hand to Mouth Weavers of Red Hook, Hampton Artistic Yarns of East Quogue, Hudson Valley Sheep & Wool in Red Hook, In a Spin Fiber Arts in Olivebridge, Laughing Paw Farm in Wassaic, Living Eden in Red Hook, Mother Frogging Yarns of Poughkeepsie, Pandia’s Jewels of Salt Point, Perry Hill Farm in Millbrook, Raisin’ Cane at Mount Rutsen Studio in Rhinebeck, Ruth Skinner in Ulster Park, Shelley Smith Ceramics in Albany, Sweet Caroline Wools of Lee, Massachusetts and more to come.
The outdoor shopping concourse will display wares and give visitors a chance to try their hand at mastering the skills that it once took to live so close to the land. Kjirsten Gustavson, museum educator at Clermont, reports that the Sheep and Wool Showcase has been held here for at least 15 years. “It has that farmers’ market feel. We’re giving people a chance to support local small businesses. We’re bringing money into the area and supporting these skilled artisans and local craftspeople. They offer a rich diversity of unique products, such as brilliantly colored yarns and hand-woven scarves. Every booth has its own palette and tactile experience.”
Herding and sheepshearing using three different historic techniques will provide action-packed entertainment, along with a demonstration of wool processing by the First Ulster County Militia, a fiber-themed silent auction, crafts for kids, 18th-century reenactors and live traditional music. Add two food trucks – the Lunch Box for good old-fashioned American fare and Yum Yum Noodle Bar with a special menu – and you’ve got a family festival that celebrates fiber arts, history and craft in a bucolic setting that’s hard to beat.
Also happening soon at the Clermont State Historic Site, the Friends of Clermont will be accepting writing submissions for “Wordscape @ Clermont: A Poetry Trail,” a community arts project to be installed on the grounds of the estate in June. All writers, creative types or fans of the written word of any age are invited to submit poems, haiku, prose, quotes…whatever you’ve got to say! To celebrate the written word, Wordscape will be installed on a trail meandering through the garden and woodland path at Clermont, displayed in a variety of formats (wooden signs in the ground, hanging tags and soft fabrications). Submissions will be taken now through May 15. Installations will go up the first week of June and will remain throughout the month.
A free-to-the-public opening reception for Wordscape will take place on Sunday, June 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. featuring readers of all ages, well-known and not-so-well-known authors, food trucks and a self-guided tour through the grounds. Word is that the whole lexical shebang is bound to spill over into nearby communities. Get out your pencils and participate! Visit the website below or call (518) 537-6622 for more information on how to submit work or to volunteer.
Chancellor’s Sheep and Wool Showcase, Saturday, April 18 (rain date: Sunday, April 19), 11 a.m.-4 p.m., $8 per vehicle, Clermont State Historic Site, One Clermont Avenue, Germantown; (518) 537-4240, www.friendsofclermont.org.