The vanishing

May 23, 1994|By Geoffrey Fielding

MARYLAND'S VANISHING LIVES. By John Sherwood. Photos by Edwin Remsberg. Johns Hopkins University Press. 232 pages. $29,95.

WHEN was the last time you saw a cooper fashion a barrel; or a sailmaker, with palm and needle, work up a spinnaker from No. 1 canvas or Egyptian duck?

Unless you hurry, you will not see these trades practiced in Maryland in a few short years, according to John Sherwood. His "Maryland's Vanishing Lives" is a compendium of the many crafts, trades and skills which will soon be lost, not only in Maryland but throughout the country.

And yet, it is not too many years ago that you could find boat builders who worked in wood, not plastic; blacksmiths who could shape iron into almost gossamer webs; men who could fashion a button hole by hand, and weavers who would invisibly repair a tear or burn in your favorite coat.

Nobody wants to take over these skills any more and, as Mr. Sherwood points out, there are many family businesses in the state where, when the present generation dies off, there are no successors in view.

Consider Cramer's Five and Ten, in Northeast. Started in the late 1920s and modernized in the mid-'50s, it was inherited by Martha Nojunas and her husband, Michael, from her parents. But as for a third generation, "They all have their own things to do," she says, "and running Cramer's Five and Ten . . . is not among them."

Down in Port Tobacco, Vince Jameson, with his brothers and cousin, has a few acres in tobacco. It's hard work in bitter winter and sweltering summer weather, but it's satisfying.

"None of our sons are interested in tobacco," says Vince, "so there's no one to carry on the tobacco tradition in Port Tobacco. You can say that for sure."

Somewhat different is the Hopkins family in Baltimore, where Henry Powell Hopkins Jr. works in silver with his son and daughter. Silver chalices, patens, wine flagons and ceremonial maces don't actually pour from their workshop, for each is designed and fashioned individually.

It's the last workshop of its kind in Baltimore, once noted for a plethora of silversmiths, including Leret and Kirk, through Schofield, Warner, Steiff.

Hats, baskets, oyster tongs, they will soon be part of history, but while there was still time, Mr. Sherwood managed to compile a fascinating assortment of crafts, trades and jobs which, sadly, too soon will vanish.

Geoffrey W. Fielding writes from Baltimore.

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