Rappahannock News

‘Crankies’ were a big hit

- By John Hallberg The writer owns and operates Estes Mill, a Sperryvill­e ciderhouse and dulcimer museum.

Both Linda Heimstra and I were hard at work on the final day before our ‘crankie’ show at Apple Atcha Cider (old Estes Mill) last Friday. Crankies, you’ll recall, are the scrolled artwork that is ‘cranked’ from one spool to another as a story is narrated or sung. She and I decided to do a crankie a while back, this after she saw one I helped conceive a while back. The deadline was Friday-show being at 8:30 p.m.! We both finished the artwork for our respective crankies the night (or morning) before. This being the case we literally had no run throughs (practice) before having to perform in front of a full house that evening.

Linda’s wonderful first attempt at a crankie was based on a song I chose for the project called ‘The Griesly Bride’-one I had heard a haunting a cappella version of by folk singer Cindy Mangsen. It’s a spooky old magical tale that is set in a winter cabin after a deep snow. This old folk song involves a young bride bolting from the house on her wedding night into the snow during full moon. The groom pursues her under the influence of his rage. At some point when he is far deep into the woods he realizes she has changed form and is now the one who is hunting him. He doesn’t make it back to the safety of the cabin and lies ‘in a crimson tide.’ The groom is said to be a trapper/hunter and one take on the story is nature taking back the power of the hunt. Another more metaphoric­al one is that if women are ‘trapped’ in the wrong way they can also turn the tables. How great that an establishe­d artist from Rappahanno­ck is into this form of art! Linda’s characters had movement by way of sliding parts and sticks glued-on. It’s a wonderful first effort.

I had chosen to have my first go at this old type of ‘moving pictures’ on the historical­ly unique tale of A.G.Willis. One sees the Willis Chapel before ascending to Chester Gap. This was the spot where, near the end of the Civil War, Albert Galatin Willis was hung in retributio­n for Mosby’s Rangers killing a Yankee defector. Initially caught at Gains Crossroads (Ben Venue Farm) with another Ranger he was forced to draw straws to decide who was to be hung. When the other Ranger became frantic after drawing the short strawlamen­ting how his young family would survive, young Willis stepped up. He had no family, was Christian and wasn’t afraid to die. The Yankees under General Powell hung him at the Marlow farm which was where the chapel is now. Both of our crankies (especially Linda’s) were received very well by the audiences. They also improved the second performanc­e day but the artist that I had trumpeted in a prior article and folks were here to see-Katherine Fahey, was next.

Katherine is known as the ‘Jane Appleseed of Crankies’ as she puts it, so how apropos she was performing at a cider house! This nickname because she has spawned so much inspiratio­n in this old art form that she is nearly single-handedly responsibl­e for its resurgence. We were so lucky to have her agree to come to the county from Baltimore! After the new crankie artists performed Katherine and her assistant Dan Van Allen had a full docket of moving pictures on tap. Dan is the master of the moving images in their crankies. He uses inventive movement with figures attached to wires or sticks, their shadows via backlighti­ng in the box really make one suspend disbelief. Katherines crankies were longer and more involved than ours of course-she has been working in this medium for ten-ish years. In fact, one of her early crankies, ‘Frances Whitmore’s Wife’ was one that influenced both Linda and I. It’s very nuanced and hypnotic, with simple shape note-type singing but great movement and themes. I had seen it online but was glad she brought it. Other unique crankies she brought involved her personal family history, beekeeping, life on the old prairie, and superstiti­ons in a New Orleans African American family. The latter was a comedic entry featuring local fiddler/musician Joe Butler. Joe provided background sounds for the various crankies, but was more front and center on this one. Each of Katherine’s crankies had such unique artwork and movement that they would be worth seeing without narration. With narration/singing they become special, surreal experience­s that somehow, even though devoid of special effects and ‘everything being there’ in terms of images, seem to potentiall­y surpass an electronic experience like TV or movies. Her crankies are truly magical.

I was unsure if people would go for this event and was on the fence about even doing it. I think crankies are cool but a new business can’t do too many promo things and lose money. How happy I was when I had to add the second date, it filled-up as well. I think we might have to do a bigger and even better one next year. Linda has already told me I have ‘created a monster’ and she is planning her next crankie! I also overheard a couple folks in the audience talking about making one. How neat if we could have more local entries along with Katherine and Dan back again! Storytelli­ng is a magical thing.

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