Frank Feather (there is no "s" on the end of his name) was a well-known transient in the Cumberland Valley area. Many of the towns in southern Franklin County, Pennsylvania and northern Washington County, Maryland claim him as their own.
Frank Feather was born in Jamestown, New York in 1877 and died in 1951 at the age of 74. He was the eighth of nine children. The Feather family immigrated to the colonies from England, their family having been weavers and loomers.
He was characterized by one of his brothers as being lazy. At a young age, in his teens, Frank began his transient lifestyle.
There are as many stories about Frank Feather as there were homes that he visited. Many of the stories have become legend. Frank help perpetuate the myths by often changing the information he told about himself.
This is a story about an interesting man, Frank Feather ... I (Marydon) personally have been at auctions where people were on the telephone from all over the USA bidding on his creations, paying an absolute fortune to own his pieces.
Frank lived/travelled in PA & Md.
**(As a child in WA. ST. we kids used to go down the railroad tracks at our Mother's sisters home to a 'hobo' camp, just to look & see how they lived ... & always afraid they would catch us in their camps. It was interesting how the transients made beds, chairs, etc. Out of odds & ends they found & made a little 'home' amongst the trees in the woods.)**
A member of the family that has operated the Bast of Boonsboro furniture store since the early 19th century, Doug Bast is also known for his private museum located next to the furniture store on Boonsboro's Main Street.
One of Bast's favorite tramp artists is Frank Feather; he has 13 of Feather's creations.
"I find the personal story of Frank Feather to be as engaging as his artwork," Bast said.
Although he did not like to be known as a tramp, Feather actually fit the mythic definition of the tramp artists. Born in Jamestown, N.Y., in 1877, he was an itinerant who was well-known in many towns in northern Washington County and southern Franklin County, Pa. He often sold his work in exchange for food or lodging.
He was known for his exquisite carving of canes, some of which have sold for thousands of dollars at auctions, but also carved more mundane things such as racks, combs and brushes, spoons, wall plaques and wooden "books" (often the Bible). Distinct designs included in many of his pieces include the acorn, keystone, cross, butterfly and daisy. Many of the carvings are religious in nature, including such words as "faith," "love" and "charity." They're often dated.
Feather died an indigent in Frederick County in 1951, was cremated and buried in a common grave.
Bast has an interesting pair of candlesticks carved by Feather. He said the client had asked Feather to make the candlesticks look old. (from Herald-mail Newspaper)
He was ever vigilant trying to maintain his privacy. His God given talent of carving was recognized early on by people in the homes he would stop at for a meal or overnight boarding. He, from time to time, would be hired for a job but often leave before completing his assignment.
A local Greencastle story is that Tom Zullinger, father of Evelyn Pensinger and also a talent scout for Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Phillies, had Frank Feather carve a cane for Connie Mack.
Frank Feather was a tall man with angular facial features. He appeared menacing to some because he had a lumbering gait probably caused by the two to four coats he would most always wear. He was a private man whom never shared overnight accommodations with other "bums" because he did not think of himself as a bum. He was above them. He kept himself as clean as possible considering his life on the road. He was neat - first preparing his bedding using loose straw with feed sacks spread on top and then in the morning he would fold the feed sacks. It is a fact that he had a drinking problem, every so often going on binges.
Frank was a proud man, never trading or selling his work for less than what he thought it was worth at the time. Frank got along with people if they treated him with respect. He also had a temper, which flared mostly, when he was not treated with the level of respect he thought he deserved.
Frank Feather never allowed anyone to watch him carving except very young children whom he felt confident would not remember or be able to copy his techniques. He is known to have carved in stone as well as wood. The wooden articles ranged from the coveted canes to racks for papers, letters, combs and brushes, to spoons, wall plaques, and "books". He had several distinctive designs that he often used on his carvings that are now used in identifying a Frank Feather piece. They are the acorn, keystone, cross, and a butterfly in his early years that eventually evolved into a daisy. He signed many pieces "FF" but would have different, sometimes camouflaged ways of carving this "signature". Other pieces are unsigned. Many of his carvings are religious in nature such as FAITH, LOVE, CHARITY or GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH. He would sometimes personalize pieces that he made for individuals by carving the name or initials into the item. Or, he might make a personalized theme cane such as the one he made for H. W. McLaughlin that is on exhibit today. Many pieces are dated.
Frank Feather died in a Frederick hospital as an indigent. Because of this, his body was donated to medical research. It is ironic, that having spent his whole life avoiding sharing overnight accommodations that his remains were cremated with many other indigent bodies and the ashes buried in a common grave.
The foundation of tramp art boxes was often wooden cigar boxes - used in whole or taken apart and used.