Curran Homestead alive with old-time demos, activities

Jean Comerford cuts a silhouette. She offered 10-minute sessions to visitors, with frames available for purchase. PHOTO BY LILY CUSACK

The Curran Homestead Village at Fields Pond was abuzz with the sounds of iron-casting and blacksmithing one recent Saturday. A silent film festival, going on in the barn, provided a cool, quiet retreat from the bustle.

A group of students from Shaw House, a Bangor-based shelter and support program for homeless or at risk youth, were trying their hand at the old-time artisanal skills at the turn-of-the-20th-century living history farm and museum in Orrington. The Penobscot County town is about six miles south of Bangor.

The Shaw House students, who are enrolled in the Carleton Project, an alternative education program, got their hands-on lesson from metal caster hobbyist Peter Grant, who volunteers at the homestead.

“There’s something satisfying about beating hot metal into submission,” Grant said.

The Shaw House students’ hand-on field trip, is just one of the educational, experiential programs the Curran Homestead offers.

A blacksmithing student heats his knife in a homemade forger. The forger is made of repurposed propane tanks and horseshoes, which is just as effective and cuts down on costs.

“Unlike much of the rest of the country, rural Maine continued age-old agricultural practices long after other areas had modernized. Work horses are still used in the Maine woods by some loggers to this day, and the small dairy farmer found the pace of a single or team of horses suitable to the small fields defined centuries before by stone walls — in some cases until the 1970s…,” according to the Curran Homestead. “These phenomena were certainly the product of a relatively small state population and modest economic circumstances, and this is a focus of our mission, for we celebrate these circumstances which ultimately resulted in a regional culture characterized by thrift, self-reliance, Yankee ingenuity, and persistence.”

Come winter, Curran Homestead opens its doors for bob-sledding, ice-fishing, ice-harvesting and Maine’s other old-time, cold-weather activities.

In the fall and spring, Curran Homestead offers hands-on activities to schools at its southern Maine facility in the York County Town of Newfield. Blacksmithing, pinhole-camera photography, letter press printing, metal casting, paper-making and maple syruping figure in the programming there.

This particular Saturday, one such class was clanking away at the Curran Homestead’s Fields Pond facility in Orrington. In the blacksmith’s shop, instructor Dwight King had folks fashioning knives in a homemade forge cobbled together with repurposed propane tanks and horseshoes.

“It’s all born out of ‘you can do it yourself,’” museum director Robert Schmick said. “It’s not super costly.”

Metal casting hobbyist Peter Grant pours molten aluminum into a mold made of red sand. A student from Shaw House’s Carleton Project pressed his hand into the sand to create the shape.

That same day, other events included a classic baked bean supper with live bluegrass music and a Civil War reenactment with real cannon fire.

In the main farmhouse, new England silhouette cutter Jean Comerford swiftly traced the outline of her subject with scissors. Comerford has practiced the once-common art form for 25 years after being asked to do it for a Massachusetts theater’s playbill for the performance of “Peabody Pew.”

Some of Saturday’s visitors even caught an impromptu ride from Curran Homestead’s volunteer board member Jim Leighton in his 1917 Ford Model T. He calls the perfectly-functioning vehicle “Tetley T,” a play on the popular tea brand. Like Leighton, the whole museum board consists of volunteers.

“They believe in the mission,” Schmick said. “They want to serve the community.”


The Curran Homestead Village at Fields Pond is located at 372 Fields Pond Road in Orrington. For more info, call  745-4426, and visit www.curranhomestead.org.