By Judy Folkenberg
“It is a beautiful truth that all men contain something of the artist in them.” Walt Whitman
Culpepper, Virginia: I’m heading down Route 29 to a small town, Culpepper, in Virginia about a couple of hours south of Washington DC. to teach a book binding course. It’s one of those sunny winter days, where the brightness makes you think it’s warm, and then you open the car door…and realize that it’s darn cold out there.
I don’t know much about Culpepper, but it was supposed to be pretty important during the American Civil War. And so it was. Situated on a railway line, halfway between Richmond, the rebel capital, and Wash. DC, Union headquarters, Culpepper became one of the most desired properties during the Civil war. Both armies wanted Culpepper, and the small town played “host” to each side some 80 times as they were occupied by one or the other army. During a five month occupation by union soldiers, every tree was cut down for fuel. Today, there is no tree older than 150 years in the county.
Clara Barton got her start here as a nurse, and she and poet Walt Whitman tirelessly nursed wounded soldiers. It seems that George Custer also got his start here in Culpepper. He had graduated dead last from his class at West Point amassing a record-total of 726 demerits, one of the worst conduct records in the history of the academy. Without the Civil War, he probably would have been kicked out of West Point. But the Union Army was desperate for officers so assigned him to Culpepper. One day Custer attempted to stop a train taking supplies to the south and was shot in the leg by a rebel soldier, who then shot and killed his horse.
Of course Custer was later killed in his battle against the Sioux Indians at Little Bighorn, and one can only wonder what would have happened if the rebel soldier had shot and killed Custer rather than his horse.
We arrive in Culpepper, a charming Virginia town with a lovely historic district, fine restaurants, and the only remnant of the Civil War are trees no older than 150 years.
The railroad that was fought so bitterly over, is now an Amtrak station–although an Amtrak station with a local historian sitting at a desk. My friend and fellow book binder, Linda, and I are shown to our room, by our hostess who runs “Artful Conversations” one evening a month and owns several businesses in the town.
There’s cocktails before the 45 minute lecture, and a gourmet meal afterwards. We are doing things a bit differently tonight. I will talk for about a 10 minutes, and then will teach the class how to bind two chap books (a book that got its start in the 1500’s) to take home with them.
And what a lovely time we had. All the students are passionate about books and talk about how their children and grandchildren love “real” books. They catch on very quickly on how to bind the two books and exclaim over their handiwork. Because as Walt Whitman said, all of us contain something of the artist in ourselves
During our gourmet meal afterwards, the conversation ranges all over the place; from 9/11, to truckers who now move the majority of goods all over the United States. It ranges from the battle of New Orleans and the British invasion there, and how one of the guests got locked in the Taj Mahal overnight when she traveled to India as a young woman. It seems that people who are passionate about books are also good conversationalists.
As the evening ends, one of the guests asks about the recipe for a white pizza hors d’oeuvre we had eaten. The dough was indescribably delicious. Our hostess smiles and says she found the recipe in an old Italian recipe book that she bought at a second hand book store.