Pittsburgh Crankie Fest Showcases A Lost Folk Art

Feb 26, 2016

Ellen Gozion of Pittsburgh folk band The Early Mays saw her first crankie at a music festival in West Virginia.

“As soon as I saw them, I fell in love with them and I decided I would make one,” she said. “I knew that there had been scattered crankie (festivals) throughout the country, so I immediately thought we’re going to do that in Pittsburgh.”

It took several years, but the first ever Pittsburgh Crankie Fest is this weekend at the Wilkins School Community Center in Regent Square.

“Crankie” is a modern term for a miniature moving panorama, an art form popular from the early 19th century until about 1920, when it was usurped by film. Enormous scrolls were painted to depict battle scenes or voyages and companies would travel from town to town, sometimes with a full orchestra, telling stories.

Sunday’s event features much smaller versions of the moving panorama. Gozion’s crankie is a wooden box, with the front cut out to create a screen-like effect, and a wooden dowel on either side. The scroll is wound or cranked from one dowel to the other, advancing the scenes of the story.

It took Gozion 18 months to make her first crankie, a paper mosaic illustrating the traditional ballad “Pretty Fair Miss.”

“I chose this story because I thought it would be easy to illustrate and because it has a happy sort of ending,” she said. “But as I went along, I found it was actually describing very abstract ideas about a person thinking or remembering ... So I really had to stop and consider how to illustrate certain feelings.”

Sunday’s event will also feature work by North Carolina puppeteers West of Roan, Addie Best of Confluence, Pa. and a handful of other regional artists. There is a suggested $15 donation and the show begins at 7 p.m.