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Baskets & Washboards

Published: April 17, 2009

—Stops along the way
(a supplement to “Hocking Hills: A Cottage Industry” from the May/June 2009 issue of The Saturday Evening Post magazine)

From her workshop located high on a hill between Logan and Lancaster, Ohio, Leota Hutchison creates 500 hand-woven baskets a year. She teaches classes in her eclectic studio where one-of-a-kind baskets are heaped on tables and scores of teakettles hang from the rafters. She collected the kettles to use as pots for her dried flower arrangements, another craft that she mastered and turned into a cottage industry several years ago. Her productivity is legendary, especially since friends estimate her age to be somewhere between 80 and 90. (But don’t ask, because she won’t tell.)

Although Leota doesn’t advertise and has no Web site, her basket-weaving workshops draw a steady enrollment. Students sit on plank benches and, under the watchful eyes of their tough taskmaster, lace strips of pliable wood into small take-home treasures. Visitors who can’t spare the required two or three hours of instruction can rummage through the sizeable inventory and buy a Leota Original for a fraction of its worth.
Six miles south of Hutchison’s hilltop compound is the Columbus Washboard Company, another favorite stopover for visitors who want to sample the local culture. Once the producer of 1.3 million washboards annually, America’s lone washboard company now turns out about 20,000 a year. Some are used as musical instruments, others for decorations, and the bulk for scrubbing clothes the old-fashioned way.

Among the company’s most grateful customers are U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. “We came up with a kit for soldiers,” explains Jacqui Barnett, one of several friends who bought the Columbus-based company in 1999 and moved it to an old shoe factory in Logan. “We send washboards, clothespins, clotheslines, small tubs, and soap.”

Evidence of the military’s gratitude is displayed on a table at the center of the factory’s floor. Soldiers send photos and notes attesting to the kits’ usefulness. “The washboards and tubs arrived at a very opportune time,” wrote one officer. “Our sniper section was sent to a city occupied by Iraqi commandos. We lived on a rooftop when we weren’t out on mission. I will always have vivid memories of doing my laundry on my stomach using those boards and tubs while we stayed low to avoid direct fire.”

Iraq-bound boards are decorated with flag decals and a message that is appropriate for the producers and recipients of the kits: “Proud to be American.”

For information about Hocking Hills, Ohio, visit 1800hocking.com or call 1-800-hocking.

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