Lesa Postell remembers that during her childhood in Jackson County, “Everything was done as a family. We raised food as a family, we ate as a family, we worked as a family.” The traditional arts and homemaking skills that Postell carries on today were learned in this manner. “It was part of life,” she says. “I grew up seeing and experiencing it.” Her family has deep roots in the Smoky Mountains. Her mother’s family are from the Cataloochee section of Haywood County, and fanned out in the Maggie Valley-Waynesville area when the National Park Service acquired Cataloochee. Postell’s father, who was fully two generations older than her mother, grew up in Whittier. Having a much older father gave Postell a perspective on the life and ways of an earlier time that few of her own contemporaries had ever experienced.
From her parents and grandparents, she learned home remedies, quilting, weaving, gardening, canning, open-hearth cooking, how to make candles, soap, and poplar berry baskets, and a multitude of other traditional skills. She savors the memory of what she describes as the spiritual aspect of homemaking and farming, the value of working closely with one’s family and neighbors. In her professional life Postell is a social worker, and she finds that the lessons of her own upbringing-of the importance of cooperation and hard work, as well as the crafts and skills themselves-are valuable teaching tools for children from troubled backgrounds. She also teaches her traditional knowledge in venues other than her social work, demonstrating at many historic sites, festivals, and schools in the region.
In 1999, Catch the Spirit of Appalachia published Lesa Postell’s book Appalachian Traditions: Mountain Ways of Canning, Pickling, and Drying. Of this book she has written, “The stories and teachings of the people of this region are still present, yet vaguely heard. I fear for this great heritage, that this heritage may be lost forever. With this book, I am doing my best to assure the preservation of a lifestyle and heritage known by few in this modern world.”
Lesa Postell is available to give demonstrations and teach workshops on a multitude of heritage skills.