Frye’s Measure Mill recognized

National magazine names historic business in directory of traditional crafts

  • Harley Savage uses an “elephant’s foot,” to press the bottom of colonial-style box in to shape at Frye’s Measure Mill in Wilton.
  • wilton, fryes measure mill, harley and kim savage<br/><br/>
  • wilton, fryes measure mill, harley and kim savage<br/><br/>
  • wilton, fryes measure mill, harley and kim savage<br/><br/>
  • Harley Savage uses an “elephant’s foot,” to press the bottom of colonial-style box in to shape at Frye’s Measure Mill in Wilton.

WILTON — Ingenuity and quality are the skills to admire among the early American settlers. It’s a facet of craftsmanship that is fast disappearing in a digital world. But a select few craftsmen are keeping to the old ways, learning a skill at the knee of a master, crafting by hand and then passing on their own skills when the time comes. And Pam and Harley Savage of Wilton’s Frye’s Measure Mill subscribe to that school of thought.

The couple, and the 17th- to 19th-century Shaker and colonial boxes the two make and paint by hand in the historic mill, have been recognized for the second year in a row, and for the third time in four years, by Early American Living, a national magazine that highlights traditional and period-style antiques, architecture and handcrafts. The Savages’ handmade Shaker and colonial boxes are listed in the magazine’s latest Directory of Traditional American Crafts , the August 2013 issue, among other crafts hand picked by a panel of national experts.

To make the cut, the crafts must show a mastery of form and workmanship, but also an element of using traditional techniques and, whenever possible, the traditional tools of the trade.

“The judges look for authentic design and workmanship, whether the piece is a faithful reproduction or the artisan’s interpretation of period style. Scholarship, as well as use of period tools and techniques, is particularly valued in this competition,” Early American Life Publisher Tess Rosch is quoted as saying in a press release issued by the magazine on July 1. “If our traditional arts are lost, we have forgotten a part of who we are as Americans.”

The boxes, dry goods measures and piggins the Wilton mill still makes, fits all of these categories to a T, but it is the hand-painted colonial and shaker boxes, made by Harley and painted by Pam that best exemplify these qualities, according to Early American Life . For Savage and his wife, the attitude of preservation and deliberate adherence to traditions come with owning and operating a historic site like the mill, which has been in operation since 1858.

“Preservation is a critical part of life in New Hampshire,” Savage said. “Being able to save, maintain and promote a piece of our state’s history is so fulfilling that I’d encourage everyone to get involved in some aspect of the process.”

The historic mill in which he does his work was once run by waterwheel, which is still on site and functional. Though it’s currently out of commission while the Savages attempt to raise funds to clean out the mill pond and do some work on the wheel, the hope is to eventually use the wheel again to help power mill machinery with water power from a controlled water force at Burton Pond and Nathan Barker’s Pond . And some of the equipment he uses to make his boxes, such as a wooden “elephant foot” to press the bottoms into the boxes, and the molds used to shape the boxes, have been used in the mill from the time of its founder, Daniel Cragin.

Cragin eventually sold the mill in 1909 to his neighbor, Whitney Frye. During the Frye years, some of the mill’s advertising was printed on-site using a letter press that still exists today. The Savages are currently in the process of cleaning the print room and building a viewing area to allow visitors a chance to see the print room.

Savage’s father, Harland Savage Sr., worked under Frye for many years, and eventually took over the mill for him. Harley and Pam took over in 1981. Harley still makes each box individually, and some of them are then hand-painted by Pam.

“I think the historic nature of the site, the use of those historic tools, coupled with the art and craftsmanship of the boxes are what gets us that recognition,” said Harley. “After being here and doing this for 40 years, it becomes a natural part of you. We’ve been here doing it this way for so long, it’s become ingrained. We don’t think about it on a daily basis, it’s just assimilated into our natures.”

Passing down the tradition of his craft is important to Harley as well. With his children not interested in picking up the family business, Harley has been seeking to train an apprentice who he hopes will one day take over the mill in the same way he took over from his father. Harley said, “Now that we’ve been doing this for more than 40 years, we’re beginning to think about and look to find the next steward of the mill, that we can train and mentor in the craft.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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