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44th Annual Pioneer Days Shows Canoe Building, Woodturning, And Other Historical Demonstrations

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44th Annual Pioneer Days Shows Canoe Building, Woodturning, And Other Historical Demonstrations

by James Coulter


When most people want a canoe, they usually go to the store and buy one made out of plastic. Pedro Zepeda from Naples, Fl., on the other hand, prefers to make his canoe the old-fashioned way: cutting down a tree and hollowing it out.

A member of the Seminole tribe, Zepeda continues his people’s tradition of canoe-making by crafting 16-foot wooden dugout canoes from old Cypress trees.

To make his canoes, he takes a log cut from a tree and measures it to determine the parameters and shape. He then cuts the bow and stern and hollows out the log, cutting deep into the wood to see how far he can hollow it out.

Crafting the dugout canoe is easy enough. The hard part is finding and obtaining the log. Most of the old-growth forests have since been decimated through commercial logging, so finding a tree to use for raw material proves difficult, Zepeda said.

Zepeda attended Pioneer Days last weekend in Lake Wales to demonstrate his craft to others. This was the first time he attended the annual event in Lake Wales, though he has traveled far across Florida to offer historical demonstrations.

“I consider myself a modern canoe carver for [the] Seminole people,” he said. “It is a continuous unbroken tradition, trying to recreate a historical process…and I am out here educating people on canoes and Seminole people and cultures.”

Zepeda was one of 77 vendors bringing their history and culture to life through demonstrations during the 44th Annual Pioneer Days at Lake Wales this weekend.

Last Saturday and Sunday, the shores of Lake Wailes Park came to life with history as visitors could learn about traditions, customs, and crafts passed down from the old pioneers with the help of historical demonstrators.

Lee Justice, a member of the Woodturners of Polk County, demonstrated his woodturning but crafting wooden bowls and pens for curious attendees, and even giving them a chance to create their own wood-crafted items.

Woodturners of Polk County is a local organization that meets once a month to create their own projects and share their crafts with others. They often demonstrate their abilities at various events throughout the county such as the state fair.

This was the first year they attended Pioneer Days. Justice used the opportunity to create bowls from different wood such as cherry. He enjoys being able to demonstrate his crafts to others through events such as this.

“We wanted to be part of the public and increase the knowledge of the public with what we do and increase interest in woodturning,” he said. “It has been great, the public has been very interested with good comments, [and] the weather has been very good.”

For the past 44 years, Lake Wales Pioneer Days, hosted by the Lake Wales History Museum, has celebrated the local community’s history and heritage through vendors and demonstrations. This year drew in more than 77 exhibitors, as well as local non-profit organizations, explained Bartholomew Delcamp, Lake Wales Museum Curator.

From woodturning to canoe making, this year’s event showcased several exhibitors demonstrating their culture through arts and crafts. Also included this year was a children’s area with pony rides, pumpkin patch, and a petting zoo.

Helping accentuate the event this year was the overall beautiful weather, with clear skies and sun on both days without a single trace of rain. Such lovely weather drew people out to the park on both days with an overall great turnout, Delcamp said.

“I think the best thing about this festival is how it has been going on for more than 40 years,” he said. “It has been a very well-established event in this area, and we have people who have been here for 30 years for demonstrating. They love the history of this festival, and they keep doing it…I hope our goal is for more historic demonstrators and vendors and have more than 50,000 people come to Pioneer Days.”

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