Richard Stevick, Messiah college professor and author of Growing Up Amish: The Teenage Years, has kindly shared an interesting report on an unusual new Amish publication (excerpts to come) based in the Sunshine State:

Sunny Pinecraft, Florida, may not be replacing frozen Alymer, Ontario, as the creative and intellectual center of Amish thought and writing, but at the least, Pinecraft seems to be experiencing a bit of an intellectual renaissance with the appearance of a new periodical. Just before Christmas past, the first edition of the Pinecraft Pauper hit the newsstands.  All right, “hit the newsstands” may be exaggerated a tad, but the unexpected appearance of the twelve page “rag,” as the founder/editor affectionately calls it, is making a splash in this vacation community.

Rather than resembling the Budget or Die Botschaft, The Pauper reminds me of a down home and denim version of the New Yorker, minus the cartoons and the attitude.  It certainly features clear writing, a broad range of subjects, and engaging writing. The inaugural issue reported not only recent and current happenings in this snowbird capital for plain people but featured a diversity of offerings, touching on the economy, the arts, some science, and even some political ruminations.  In the lead article, the editor interviewed a variety of local business people to get their take on the state of the economy in Pinecraft—most expressed cautious optimism of a turnaround.  In the science section (not labeled as such), he examined the complexities of solar power, an area of great interest to many of his Amish readers. In the Arts area, he did a respectable “parsing,” to use his term, of a Walt Whitman poem.  Perhaps the best piece featured an accounting of how Pinecraft’s Sistine Chapel equivalent came into being a couple winters ago.

The object of interest was the now-famous Pinecraft Park Picnic Pavilion mural featuring an almost life-sized seascape carefully rendered by a sixty-something Amish matron with a love of painting.   Moby Dick, a pseudonym for somebody—the editor, perhaps—related how this Amish grandmother-artist added value to a wall of plastered concrete blocks to produce Pinecraft’s first public contribution to the visual arts. Mr. Dick quoted various reactions to the painting and the artistic process from a variety of on-lookers.  These observers and gawkers ranged from park idlers and college professors, to the art critic for the Sarasota Herald Tribune—not too bad an interest sampling for a writer and artist who graduated from one room schools.

Surprising to some, the first edition, and every subsequent one, also featured an editorial page, with its not-surprising jabs at President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi. (Our best-know Amish political junkie from Lancaster County, Pud Sam Stoltzfus, declares that all Amish are Republicans.) Finally, the editor or Moby Dick announced that individuals could subscribe for the bi-weekly paper ($1 per issue, plus postage) and advertise therein for $3 an issue. (Not surprising, Moby’s three newspaper boxes, which he personally constructed, operate on the honor system: anybody could simply take one or all of the papers in the boxes without slipping the dollars into the slot.  Sounds like the roadside stands in Lancaster or Holmes counties, and that’s just the way Moby likes it.

After publishing the first three issues that sit quietly between the Sarasota Herald Tribune and U.S.A.Today, the editor, a modest chap whom I will call Daniel Fisher, lapsed for a moment when he asked someone if he knew what the New York Post and the Pinecraft Pauper have in common?  A: “They are the only two papers in the country that are growing in circulation. “ The PP jumped from one hundred plus copies to nearly 450 in just three issues.

The editor, and the charter readers, all recognized that not only did each issue grow in length (from an initial 12 pages to 22 pages for the most recent fifth issue), but virtually everyone in the Pinecraft Pauper You-tube Fan Club reported that the interest level and content of each issue was even better than the previous ones (BTW, just kidding about the PPYou-TubeFC—but it’s not hard to imagine).

Subsequent issues continued the personality sketches, e.g., a profile of Pinecraft’s 88-year-old one-armed, still-active auto mechanic; a lovely portrait of a 15-year-old Amish lad from Pennsylvania who writes for the Pauper; a personal sketch of Katie Troyer, one of Pinecraft’s little adults and official photographer for the PP; an excellent article on bird watching by a youngie; and an extensive interview with a Pinecraft visitor who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and wrote about it as part of his grieving the death of his wife.  On a lighter note, sometimes contributor, Captain Ahab, wrote a two-part satire-spoof on the early-morning denizens of the Back Room at Troyers Heritage Restaurant.

Daniel also regularly features events of interest to Pinecraft regulars and visitors: A photo feature and article on the annual Pinecraft Christmas parade; an interview with Atlee Raber on the yearly Haiti Auction; an eye-witness account of circus performer, Nik Wallenda’s daring high wire walk twenty stories up in downtown Sarasota one recent windy morning; and a neat little piece on an Amish grandma who goes fishing in the Phillipi Creek almost every day.  The editor has a clear sense for who his readers are.

The recurring challenge of providing an engaging and informative paper twice a month energizes Daniel.  As his self-imposed deadline appears, he deals with the pressure by working harder and smarter.  His dream is to provide a forum for all kinds of writers and interests that surface in Pinecraft, and elsewhere.

Although he has never taught school, he is in many ways a born teacher who, incidentally, has produced carefully constructed curriculum for Amish teachers.  As part of his mission, he announced and introduced a writers’ workshop for potential and budding writers this past January.  Afterwards, Daniel concluded, “Such an event attracts people who share common interests, people who we had not known had a passion for writing.” Daniel is constantly watching for potential writers who will pick up the pen or keyboard and write something for the Pauper.

In terms of the logistics of actually producing a paper every two weeks, Daniel was elated to find an accomplice in someone I will call Leon Hostetler, a twenty-something from Northern Indiana.  He provides the technical expertise to transform the scrawls, typing, and rough manuscripts into a carefully formatted and very readable final product.  They still run off each copy on their own printer, and until they found a source of inexpensive printer cartridges, they were paying as much as sixty cents per copy.  Now they have pared those costs to a reasonable amount.

When enthusiastic friends urge Daniel to advertise more widely and expand his readership, he simply replies, “At this stage, I am perfectly happy with the way things are going. In fact, I can be contented with an intimate little circle of readers. Anyway, the best advertising is by word of mouth. Besides, I never intended this to be a money-making endeavor.  I want to give people a place where their creativity and voice can be expressed.”

The Pinecraft Pauper both reflects and expresses Daniel’s personal interests and creativity.  For as long as he remembers, he has been intrigued with language, words, grammar, ideas, and writing.  Not surprisingly, he is a more-than-avid reader, and his interests span a wide spectrum from Mark Twain, Herman Melville (hence Moby Dick), dental, medical, and health issues, liberal politics (He’s a tenacious critic), and art and the Old Masters.  One of my favorite experiences is to accompany him through the Ringling Art Museum on their free-admission Mondays, observing the paintings and sculptures through the eyes of an artist (His eye revels in light, detail, and color, and he produces paintings that leave me in awe.)  Incidentally, my best trip ever to New York City occurred last December when I accompanied Daniel and two of his nephews to “do New York.” He had prepared well for us to have a fascinating field trip.

Time will tell as to whether the Pauper will replace the Budget or Die Botschaft. If that did happen, Daniel would undoubtedly be as grieved as anyone.  His niche and his purpose are different.  At the end of March, he intends to put his baby to bed until next December.  “I plan to get back to my painting.  I’m learning a lot, and I have a lot to learn yet.” Of course, he would be the first to admit that this also describes his venture with the Pinecraft Pauper.  It will be fun to see where he and the Pauper go when that journey resumes.

Reported by Richard Stevick,  Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Messiah College, Grantham, PA 17027  rstevick@messiah.edu.  Rich has written Growing Up Amish: The Teenage Years, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, in 2007. Read more on Florida Amish, or find Amish furniture in Florida.

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