The sign tells you everything you need to know. Donald Kading is a sheep shearer, the likes of which you may have never seen. He is a calm and confident (but humble) man who has shorn over 100,000 sheep. I first met him four years ago at the Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool festival in Duchess County, New York and was fascinated by how he held an Icelandic sheep and convinced it that it should relax and let him sheer it. He understands the Icelandic breed (to describe the breed in one word: fierce) and knows that they are naturally wired for survival and how to apply his technique to help them relax.
Fast forward to 2016 and a lot has happened in the last four years. There are more people (read: thousands of dedicated knitters, all wearing at least one hand-knit accessory) than ever headed to the Duchess County Fairgrounds for the annual Sheep & Wool festival. Once there you are likely to catch glimpses of designer superstar Stephen West and other knitting celebrities (yes, Madeline, there is such a thing, just check on ravelry) during your visit. Lots of vendors exhibit and there really is something for everyone (for those who don't knit, crochet, spin, or weave, there are local delicacies). But for me the thing about fiber is where it comes from before it is shorn, carded, spun ,and then turned into amazing fiber art (or a practical hat). My interest is in the animals and our relationship with them.
Towards the afternoon (having escaped from the busy vendor halls - never stand between a knitter and a display of luxurious yarn), I found myself looking at the now familiar sign of the Sheep Shearer and hoped that Donald was still demonstrating his style of shearing. Rather than fasten the sheep to a stand with the help of a harness, he balances the sheep on its hind quarters and secures it from tipping by using pressure created with his right knee and left inner thigh. Feeling secure has a calming effect on the about-to-be-shorn sheep as long as Donald watches for signs that the sheep would rather bolt away and graze in a field far away from his buzzing clipper.
As in the past, he demonstrated his shearing technique on an Icelandic sheep that had not been shorn since the spring (they are shorn twice a year). Because the sheep continue to graze outside all summer long, their fiber is longer and fuller than in the spring (when they've spent some time inside during colder temperatures). It only takes Donald three to five minuted to skillfully separate the entire fleece from the sheep.
I was as spellbound as I was four years ago - so was the crowd.
Thanks for reading.
See ya next week,
Photo Geek Speak - all of these images were created in 2012 with Kodak Gold 100 film pushed one stop to 200 ISO using a Nikon F6 camera.
This year, I stood alongside all of the other fascinated children while watching Donald work, camera just at my side and taking photos and making memories with my eyes. Then I had a long chat with him about his career as a shearer and learned that his daughter has made a name for herself doing the same thing. As ever, the nut falls not far from the tree.