Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Celebration of Memories Turns Wooden Bowls Alive

You can’t put your arms around a memory. But you can embrace the moment like a group of employees of the former Woodcroftery Shop in Wayland did on February 18th at the Wayland Historical Society.

It was an afternoon to celebrate the entrepreneurship and ingenuity of the Woodcroftery as a leading industry in Wayland’s past with a little walk down memory lane.

The Woodcroftery Shop was at one time the largest manufacturer of wooden bowls in the United States. John Plail Cooley established the business in 1935 in an abandoned feed mill on Second Avenue. Later in 1956 the company purchased the former Wayland High School on Lackawanna Street where Tri County Family Medicine now is located. The building was converted for finishing, shipping and the office plant. The business has continued until 2009.

Although intended for a children’s program designed by Marian Crawford, Educational Director at the museum, to fit NYS Learning Standards, perhaps the deeper significance was not so obvious to the younger ones present.

Here was living history all around them, not just silent inanimate objects resting on shelves. Real artisans, salespeople and woodshop employees told of their every day experiences of employment in the fifties and sixties. They were among one hundred or so working at the factory’s peak operation.

Marge Shephard of Wayland demonstrated her technique of adding the painted floral design on a salad bowl to children gathered around her.

“Just use a little dab of paint and a quick twist of your wrist to do the main berry first,” Shepherd gently told the children watching before they tried their hand at a cluster of grapes on paper.

Chatting animatedly in groups these former employees were sharing their remembrances of happy days filled with friends at work. Every once in awhile one would get up to look over the old black and white photos and the museum’s display of Woodcroftery bowls each with its signature date on the back.

Harriet Morsch of Wayland said, “All of us followed the same pattern for painting often using a fruit, pine cone or dogwood motif. We were paid by the piece, so we learned to work quickly and efficiently.”

Bowls were produced from the log to the finished product, and sold in department stores and gift shops across the country.

Dick Conrad of Perkinsville remarked, “ I went on all the gift show trips to New York and Chicago to get the product out there for businesses to buy. It was a collectible item, and much bigger than we even realized in Wayland.”

Crawford hopes to bring all these people together again soon to do a video for the archives of the museum. It will be more than a memory of the past, but possibly it will lead the next generation to examine their own determination and take risks to establish businesses.

Helen Sick President of the Wayland Historical Society invites everyone to visit the museum. Winter hours are Monday at 10-noon, but call the museum at 585-728-3610 if you wish to receive a special tour. Watch for more programs for all ages.


  1. left picture shows Marge Shephard, a Woodcroftery artisan, demonstrationg her technique to young students gathered.

    right picture shows Helen Sick, President of the Wayland Historical Society, listening to Marian Crawford, Education DIrector, show a Woodcroftery piece to those present.

  2. This comment was sent to me via e-mail by
    Rose Mary Hughes
    Retired Business Teacher of Wayland Central School

    I've always loved Woodcroftery Products and remember, with great affection, the store. When we had out-of-town visitors, that was one of the places we took them.

    Those of us in the neighborhood of the plant would go there in the springtime to get hollowed out pieces of wood from the pile in the front yard there. We would place flowers in the hollow and have interesting flower beds in our gardens.

    I have a small, plain salad bowl with little ball legs--I got it resulting from a sales presentation one of my students made in a Salesmanship class at Wayland Central. Her father was working at Woodcroftery at the time, so she had all the information needed to sell me on the idea of "buying" her product. She finished and I commented on her presentation and shared with her my ranking sheet. When the presentation and the grading came to a close, she informed me that her father wanted me to have the bowl and not to let it influence me on the student's grade--that she was to be graded on her presentation and not on the gift. Each time I make a salad, I think of the Woodcroftery, the Coleys, the father and his gift, and the student who had "sold" me my bowl of good memories.

  3. I was researching these bowls, since I recently found one, It is signed Normandy Pek on the bottom, was this one of the artists?

  4. I have 2 oval shaped plaques. One has a little girl sitting on a chair, the other a little boy. On the back they have numbers. Do the numbers mean anything??

  5. Contact the Wayland Historical Society, Wayland, NY. Someone should be able to help you.