The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Helen DePuydt
Saco Stories 

Listen to the Quiet: Part 9

 


Diamond willows brought from the Frenchman Creek have played a unique role in the lifetime of Otto Kientz, providing him with a handy supply of slender but sturdy fence posts. Sixty years is an unbelievably long life for a post supporting several strands of barbwire and holding up under the stress of cattle rubbing, exposure to the elements, the weight of snow banks and accumulations of Russian thistles caught in the barbs of the fence. But these locally grown willow posts are still solidly supporting the fence surrounding the Kientz fields and pastures, a sort of symbol you might say to the steadfastness of these homesteaders.

Not only did the diamond willow have practical uses, but Otto with his many hours of hand work, has brought forth a hidden beauty and consequentially developed his own particular style of handcrafted tables, lamps, candleholders, canes and footstools. One hatrack was constructed and adorns the office of County Attorney Willis McKeon at Malta – much to the pleasure of clients who usually placed their hats on the floor. The rugged shaped diamond designs finally exposed and highlighted by all this whittling, sanding and varnishing lend their special beauty to these various works of art. The word, handcrafts, is electricity on the Kientz farm. Every single tool is hand driven. Imagine the time and accuracy which is involved in just one phase of lamp making – boring a center hole down the length of a diamond willow. It requires steady hands, a keen eye and obviously, the patience of Job.

Otto has branched out, if you will pardon the pun, into another type of woodworking and that is working with cedar. Unlike the willow, cedar must be obtained from quite a distance away. Certain areas around Ft. Peck Reservoir, some accessible only by walking, have old fragrant cedar trees lying dead and forgotten by men who engineered the construction of Ft. Peck Dam in the 1930s.

The cedar roots have such fantastic shapes that they would have to be classified as modern art. These finished products have to be seen to be fully appreciated. It takes an eye as perceptive as Otto’s to recognize a drab, broken, uprooted tree lying in a deep ravine, as a potential “diamond in the rough.”

These gleaming originals sell like hotcakes – and without a sales pitch. This time-consuming hobby provides a satisfying pastime for Otto, particularly during the long, cold winter months. There are Otto’s handcrafted items in Japan, Norway, Canada and many different states, mailed by purchasers to friends and relatives living in these far-away places. Word-of-mouth and proud display by the numerous purchases are the only forms of advertising.

Rug weaving in a separate building has filled many hours for this creative family. The cotton warp used is either red or green and is ordered from Sears Roebuck mailorder house. This is the only item which has to be purchased for the rug weaving process. The rag strips are torn from discarded clothing or else are remnants, courtesy of drapery and upholstery shops. Leona declares that worn overalls make the best rugs yet. Three miles of solid rug have been woven since Otto built the loom in 1936 – carrying the plans in his personal emory bank since he viewed his sister’s loom back in Minnesota in the year 1926. This handmade loom is a remarkable piece of ingenuity. Besides the wooden frame, you see a metal drive from a windshield of a Model T. five connecting rods, wire hammers from netting fence, door springs, rubber inner tubes, roller from an old binder, copper wire from generators and the most unbelievable items of all – eyelets from mama’s corset.

This all put together produces the tightest woven rag rugs available. Credit must also go to Leona, who operates the loom. Not only are these rugs durable and completely washable, each one is very beautiful with borders of solid colors on each end framed with red and green fringes - a tribute to the chief color coordinator, Lizzie. Even when she was bedridden, Lizzie personally chose the particular color combination for each individual rug. No two rugs are alike unless specifically ordered by customers. These rugs also found their way to foreign countries and other states. Many are found among shower gifts and also are given by the Kientz family as gifts on the occasion of open house for a neighbor. These rugs can never be confused with the commercial loosely woven rugs commonly found on store shelves – the beautiful designs and quality workmanship are the Kientz trademark.

When Otto was asked who prompted him to build a loom, he replied, “We were simply all tired of braiding rugs.”

Helen DePuydt is a regular contributor to the Courier and a member of a homesteading family in the Saco area. All of her stories are true.

 

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