Tucked away in a Keene Valley house behind tall fir and shady trees, next to the Roostercomb Inn, is the Keene Valley Porch Studio.
This little shop has handspun yarn, original acrylic paintings and handmade gifts. Ann Hearden and her mother, Margaret Hearden, draw attention on State Route 73 and make their business visible to motorists in front of the building.
Margaret and Ann opened the Porch Studio in June 2018. It has since been open from June through Columbus Day. The two moved from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to the Adirondacks at the urging of relatives already resident in the Keene Valley. At the time, Ann had been a nutritionist for 20 years, and her mother Margaret, an artist, had several exhibitions a year. Still, says Margaret, “We were ready for a new adventure.”
Margaret’s acrylic paintings, lots of flowers, fruits, landscapes and other motifs from nature are displayed on the walls, while greeting cards, bookmarks and pillows bear prints of the same pictures.
Other gifts made by both women include teddy bears, Christmas decorations, knitted hats and scarves, and a pair of small baby gloves, all handmade. Hand-spun worsted strands hang on the wall, ready for the customers’ crochet hooks or knitting needles. Miniature sheep, angels and geese are ingeniously made from all sorts of materials, from dried pumpkins to Sculpey clay to paper mache. Some of these dangle from the branches of a small Christmas tree to accommodate visitors who gather Christmas decorations during their summer trips. Knitted catnip mice are one of the most popular small souvenirs for visitors to the area.
“I love to work with my hands and be creative” said Anna. She learned spinning at the Heritage Hill Living History Museum in Green Bay. She buys lamb and alpaca wool, both raw and roving, that has already been cleaned and carded, from the nonprofit Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in Pennsylvania, as well as from several local sources in Chateaugay, Onchiota, and Jay.
Some of their vendors sell wool named after the individual sheep or alpacas that supplied the fleece – for example, Keela and Noonmark.
First, the raw wool from grass, ridges or twigs that the sheep or alpaca has collected in its fur on the way has to be picked and then washed several times with soapy water until the washing water is clear.
After the wool has been cleaned and before it is spun, Ann explained, it needs to be carded. Carding is a process of brushing clean fibers over opposing sets of short wire teeth using two hand cards (they look a bit like dog brushes) or a drum card operated with a hand crank. Carding organizes the fibers by making them evenly parallel, preparing the wool for spinning. At this stage, when the wool has been picked, washed and carded, it is called roving. Now it can be spun into yarn.
Ann sits at her spinning wheel and explains the process as she works. A hand spindle can also be used to twist the fibers into yarn.
Margaret’s father was born in Vermont and tells the story of how he left home as a young man to seek fortune in Illinois. It was his dream to become a dairy farmer with a large farm and a four-horse plow. He was not a farmer and his parents tried to prevent him from having such a difficult career because his heart was not strong. However, he was not deterred.
He became a dairy farmer, he got that 4-horse plow, and he didn’t stop there, says Margaret. Always interested in innovation and technology, he was one of the first in the country to produce pasteurized class A milk.
Margaret was named after her grandmother, an artist who referred to herself as a Sunday painter. Her mother hoped she would take it afterwards “The Sunday Painter” and become an artist too.
She was working in an insurance office when an employee saw her talent and encouraged her to attend art school. She took the advice and traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to study at the Layton School of Art. However, she was only there for a year; Her father’s death prevented her from continuing for lack of money.
Margaret laughed at an old letter she found in which her mother, as a young woman with a new baby, referred to the two lambs she and her husband raised “a filthy nuisance.” It goes without saying that Ann and Margaret at Porch Studio have a different view of sheep.