The fourth annual Hindman Dulcimer Homecoming is scheduled to take place in historic downtown Hindman, March 8-11. The event will showcase many regional and national performers in a festival atmosphere to take place in multiple venues throughout Hindman. There are many “creative spaces” here which we plan to utilize in an effort to provide those in attendance with varying perspectives and experiences. An interactive festival atmosphere will add to the uniqueness of our event. By creating opportunities where attendees are able to mingle with artisans and explore Hindman, we hope to provide an enriching experience for all involved while building a strong sense of community and accessibility. The “Main Stage” for the event will be located in the Great Hall of the May Stone Building on the campus of Hindman Settlement School centrally located along the “Education Corridor.” Classes will be take place at the Appalachian Artisan Center on Main St. The festival will also focus on local foodways by partnering with Hindman Settlement School’s Grow Appalachia program to offer the best in regional Appalachian cuisine. Mountain communities have always been an amalgamation of people with varying origins and backgrounds. By taking such a holistic approach in presenting our rich and diverse culture, we hope to appeal to a broader swath of potential festivalgoers.
This year’s Hindman Dulcimer Homecoming staff features celebrated masters of the mountain dulcimer Don Pedi, Lorinda Jones, Jon Pickow, and Randy Wilson; as well as regional historians Ron Pen and Doug Naselroad. In addition to concurrent sessions, the Homecoming will include morning tai chi exercises, shape-note singing, seminars, nightly concerts and square dances. A full schedule of events, staff bios, course descriptions, and registration information can be found at www.hindmansettlement.org/dulcimer.
Hindman Dulcimer Background by Doug Naselroad
The history of the dulcimer in Hindman and, in the larger picture, Appalachia is both old and deep; with roots tracing back all the way to the “scheitholts” and “zitters” of the earliest German settlers. It is believed that the first dulcimers were closely patterned after these stick-like fretted instruments, reportedly carried into the back woods by Mennonite missionaries of the day.
The earliest dulcimer maker we have found in southeast Kentucky is Ely (Eley, Eli) Boggs, documented by historian V. N. “Bud” Phillips in his history of the Maggard family, Coming down Cumberland. Ely Boggs (1781-1869) was born in southwest Virginia and died in Letcher County.
Ely was living in southwest Virginia when he made a dulcimer for Elizabeth Maggard (1823-1887), then a young girl living in Letcher County, Kentucky. Elizabeth was perhaps no older that fifteen when she received her dulcimer, which would place its manufacture at about 1838.
Near Ely Boggs, located at Big Doubles (in Letcher County at the time) James Edward (Uncle Ed) Thomas is thought to have begun making instruments ca. 1870. It is likely that Thomas played a dulcimer made by Boggs or possibly Uncle Rob Cornett (a Knott maker) before designing his unique and ultimately world-famous instruments. Thomas is widely credited with making the very first hourglass or “Cumberland” style dulcimer. His most famous instrument, perhaps his masterpiece, was presented to Josiah Combs as a graduation present from the Hindman Settlement School in 1905. Hindman’s Jethro Amburgey would later pick up the mantle from Uncle Ed sometime in the 1920’s, continuing the tradition on into the 1970’s.
In the larger scope, the dulcimer story is central to the history of the Hindman community. Although the fact may be somewhat forgotten locally, Hindman is actually world-renown in dulcimer circles as the birthplace of the Cumberland dulcimer. By extension, this certainly includes Eastern Kentucky into the Bluegrass. Besides studying the work of these early masters, the Appalachian School of Luthiery at the Appalachain Artisan Center in Hindman also details the methods of the late Homer Ledford from Winchester and Warren May from Berea, as well as many other well-known Kentucky craftspeople.