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Crafting the Roads and History of New Hampshire

Andrea Gross | Jul 1, 2013, 6 a.m.

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Dartmouth history professor Jere Daniell calls Hillsborough “a quintessential New Hampshire town.”

From Hillsborough Center we travel to Amherst, where we meet Sumner Bennett, who painstakingly crafts individually fabricated Shaker boxes. The Shakers, who arrived in the colonies in the late 1700s, believed in devoting their “hands to work and their hearts to God,” and thus became known for items that were made with utmost love and precision.

I look at a set of oval nested boxes, perhaps the most well-known of the Shaker crafts, and quickly realize the necessity for such precision. The top of each box must not only fit snuggly onto the bottom of its handcrafted mate, but each box must also be sized to fit into the next larger one. Sumner makes sets that consist of up to 10 nested boxes.

He is relaxed as he demonstrates the various steps required to make the boxes, from preparing the wood to cutting the ovals and distinctive finger-shaped joints that keep the boxes from buckling.

As with Rhonda and Jon, Sumner’s willingness to share his knowledge, both technical and historical, gives me insight into the past, teaching me not only how people lived but also how they thought.

Like all our crafting journeys, we run out of time much too soon. There are more crafts to explore and more history to learn. We haven’t even begun to delve into the state’s thriving contemporary art scene. For that, we’ll have to return.

Rhonda: www.rhondabesaw.com

Jon: www.gibsonpewter.com

Sumner: www.sbshakerbox.com

Other NH craftspeople: www.nhcrafts.org

Tips for Good Crafting

Be considerate. The artisans open their studios because they genuinely like talking to people and explaining their craft. Yet, talking takes up time that could be spent producing, so don’t overstay your welcome.

Beware: crafting can get expensive! You’ll want to purchase something from the craftspeople you visit—partly because you’ve taken their time, but mostly because the craft will come with memories and a story of the person who made it. Bring your holiday shopping list.

On another note

The Annual League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, which showcases the work of more than 350 craftspeople, takes place this year from Aug. 3-11.

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