Living & Entertainment

Learn a summer’s worth of 19th-century skills at Fort Nisqually

“Frontier House” was a popular PBS historical reality series that profiled three families living life as they would have in 1800s Montana.

Visitors to Fort Nisqually Living History Museum inside Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park might be prepared for their own dose of 19th-century reality if they take some or all of the workshops in the “Crafts of the Past” program.

On every weekend through Sept. 28 artists-in-residence will demonstrate skills at the fort including blacksmithing, botanical illustration, woodturning, wood turning, cheese making and banjo making. Most of the presenters will also offer guests the opportunity to try the craft themselves.

“Crafts of the Past” is sponsored by the Fort Nisqually Foundation and supported by the Nisqually Indian Tribe and Tacoma Arts Commission. The programs are free with paid admission. For the complete schedule, visit

Admission rates

Adult (18-64) $7

Active Military/Spouse $6

Senior (65+) $6

Student $5

Youth (5-17) $4

Ages 4 and under Free

Family $22

Artisans for July

July 5 and 6


Ray Baker (Saturday) and John Simpkins (Sunday) have together volunteered more than 20,000 hours as the Fort Nisqually blacksmiths. John started working with metal in high school. He has hand-forged items for displays and living history programs at the Fort, where he has been volunteering for 20 years. Ray trained with the NorthWest Blacksmith Association (NWBA) and has participated in workshops with master smiths from Colonial Williamsburg. He has mentored several budding blacksmiths at the Fort, where he has been volunteering for 15 years.

July 12 and 13

Botanical Illustration

Kathleen McKeehen discovered botanical painting after many years as a classroom teacher. She studied in the intensive Natural Science Illustration program at UC Santa Cruz, and completed an internship at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Britain. Her hand-done illustrations have appeared in magazines, museums and interpretive centers, and children’s publications. She now teaches mostly adults to draw and paint botanical and other natural science subjects. Visitors will have a chance to work alongside McKeehen as she demonstrates traditional techniques used by illustrators in the 1800s. She will give a program at 1:00 p.m. about the botanical illustrators – men, women, and adventurers -- who helped make the Kew’s collection famous. Many of the specimens collected by Fort Nisqually’s Dr. Tolmie in the 1830s and 40s are in the Kew collection. Reproductions of some of them are included in the current Fort exhibit “Dr. Tolmie, the Naturalist,” which closes July 20.

July 19 and 20

Woodturning and Powder Horns

Glenn Sutt is a multitalented craftsman. He built his first muzzle-loading rifle in the living room of his apartment in 1978. Later, he became an accomplished maker of powder horns, embellishing the functional horns with detailed wire enlay, scrimshaw, and carvings. More recently, he began to turn wood. Glenn will be demonstrating a foot-powered woodturning lathe and making powder horns. Visitors will get a chance to work on a powder horn and see the lathe in action. Glenn is active in numerous heritage groups, and is president of the Fort Nisqually Foundation.

July 26 and 27

Banjo Making

John Salicco is a banjo maker, historian, musician, story teller and entertainer. He made his first banjo from a cigar box and a stick of firewood about 30 years ago. John has handmade over 100 custom fretless banjos, shipping them to music enthusiasts all over the world. He constructs his instruments in the 19th century style, incorporating features seen on instruments from the 1820s to the 1860s. John will be making a tack head banjo and will have samples of minstrel and gourd banjos on hand. He’ll demonstrate both the making and playing of the gut string banjo. Visitors can learn the basic banjo stroke style of the 1850s and learn about instruments, musicians and their repertoire. There will also be dancing paddle puppets and tambourines for children who care to join him in making some minstrel music!

Remainder of 2014 Schedule

August 2 and 3: Culinary arts – cheese making with Judy Phelps

August 9 and 10: Punch and Judy puppetry with Kelsey Sample

August 16 and 17: Basket weaving with Deborah Raynes

August 23 and 24: Textile arts with Synthia Santos

August 30 and 31: Bookbinding with Jeff Wilson

September 6 and 7: Millinery with Dana Repp

September 14: Tin whistles with Steve Ricketts

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is a restoration of the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost on Puget Sound. Visitors experience life in Washington Territory during the 1850s. Nine buildings are open to the public, including the Granary and the Factors House, both National Historic Landmarks, and a Visitor Center with Museum Store. The Fort is a facility of Metro Parks Tacoma.