What is a Crankie? Anna & Elizabeth at the Seattle Folk Festival

The Seattle Folk Festival is THIS WEEKEND! Wow, and by now I'm sure people are wondering what the heck a Crankie is anyway? (p.s. once you find out, mark your calendars to come to this once-in-a-lifetime chance to help make a Seattle Crankie—bring the whole family!—on Sunday, December 11th at Town Hall Seattle!)

We're so proud to be bringing out two young women from rural Virginia, fiddler Anna Roberts-Gevalt and old-time ballad singer/banjo player Elizabeth LaPrelle. Both of these women, as the duo Anna & Elizabeth, have been experimenting with ways to express traditional Appalachian culture through the folk arts. And they've found their muse with the old-fashioned "Crankies". These are kind of like hand-made movies, but rather than film, they're made with felt and cloth. Together, Anna & Elizabeth sew and assemble a long roll of felt covered with characters and artwork that depict a traditional story or ballad. They'll load this roll into a wooden viewer, and using a hand crank, the felt roll scrolls by in front of a window on the box. When they place a light behind the window, the light shines through the scroll and lights it up from behind. Whew! Kind of a long explanation, so let's just watch one of the Crankies:

Crankies aren't very common these days, but they used to be a form of old-fashioned movies that spread in New England and the South. Anna Roberts-Gevalt happened on the Crankies in her home state of Vermont, and there's actually a Crankie festival out there. Both Anna and Elizabeth have spent so much time exploring the traditions of the Appalachian Mountains, that the Crankies have become one of their preferred ways to spread their knowledge. Here's an excellent Crankie about Lella Todd, a great fiddler who once lived near Clay City, Kentucky.  

 It's so entrancing to watch that it's easy to lose sight of what we're seeing.  Each "frame" is comprised of intricate paper cut-outs attached to a felt cloth.

Here are some photos of the "behind-the-scenes" work being done for the Lella Todd Crankie (above). 

The attention to detail on each element elevates their Crankies to true art. They are a pleasure to watch and listen to. 

Anna & Elizabeth will be bringing a brand new Crankie as part of their "Snow Is On the Ground" show, which celebrates the beauty of winter.  "The performance centers on the theme of winter in Appalachia—stories of the cold weather today & in times gone by, and those songs, stories and good cheer that help us survive the chill, " they say.  It's a multi-media experience with two of Appalachia's premier musicians.


Anna Roberts-Gevalt plays fiddle, banjo, guitar, and flat-foots.  She spent an entire year documenting the lives of female fiddlers and banjo players in Kentucky's history in a project titled "In Her First Heaven: Musical lives remembered in story & sound", which you can read HERE. Her own musical contributions to the stream of Appalachian music is no small thing, either.  Give a listen below as she plays "The Cat Came Back":

 Elizabeth LaPrelle lives in Virginia, and has been steeped in ballad singing since she was a child.  "I try to sing ballads the way these folks and their ancestors might have sung when they were my age," she says.  "I also try to sing with the emotion that I feel when I listen to the stories and poetry in the songs."  She is considered to have the most authentic and soulful renditions of old Appalachian ballads (you can take a workshop on Appalachian ballad singing with Elizabeth on Saturday, December 10th, at the Seattle Folk Festival 2011!); but in addition to her heart-wrenching vocals she also plays a mean banjo!

 Don't miss you chance to see these two wonderful and talented Appalachian musicians at this year's Seattle Folk Festival!

Anna and Elizabeth will be playing at the Seattle Folk Festival all three days:

Friday Night—7-11pm at the Benefit Square Dance for Bike Works at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center.

Saturday—3 pm: Workshop on Appalachian Ballads at the Columbia City Church of Hope

Saturday Evening—7 pm, Appalachian Winter Evening Concert (where they will perform with a new Crankie!) at the Columbia City Theater

Sunday—1 pm, Sunday Family Jam concert at Town Hall Seattle. SPECIAL FAMILY EVENT: Make a Seattle Crankie with Anna & Elizabeth!! 2-3:30 pm at Town Hall Seattle.

See you there!

Making a Crankie:



blog date 12/05/2011  | comments comments (1)