Scott Fuss shears a sheep at the Atlanta History Center’s Sheep to Shawl festival in 2009. He’ll ply his part-time trade again there this year.

As a teenager, Scott Fuss kept a small herd of sheep on his family’s dairy farm near Covington. Every year, an old man came to the Fuss family farm to shear the wool from Scott’s sheep.

The teenager watched with interest as the old man, who himself had learned to shear sheep as a young man on farms in Nebraska, maneuvered his clippers and removed the animal’s wooly coat. Eventually, Scott asked if he could learn to shear sheep, too. The sheep shearer took the teenager on as an assistant.

The sheep shearer was in his 70s then. One day, he turned to Fuss and said, “Will you promise to keep this trade alive?”

“I said ‘yes,’ so he handed me his tool box,” and retired, Fuss said.

That was three decades ago. Fuss is 48 now. He makes his living as a graphic designer. He sold his last sheep when he was in high school or college.

But he still shears sheep.

“[Sheep shearing] is a skill passed from one generation to the next,” he said. “Now that we’ve gotten away from the agriculture-based economy, you just don’t have the need any more. The skill is dying out.”

Fuss keeps his shears sharp by doing small jobs for craft weavers or others with an interest in high-quality wool.

“I possess a skill that is quickly vanishing,” he said. “It’s almost like a piece of Americana.”

On April 16, Fuss will demonstrate his sheep-shearing skills at the Atlanta History Center during the center’s annual “Sheep to Shawl” festival. Fuss has been shearing sheep at the center for about a dozen years, most of the 15 or so years the center has held the event.

Sheep to Shawl returns
“The Atlanta History Center’s annual spring festival known as “Sheep to Shawl” returns April 16. The event features demonstrations of sheep shearing, wool carding, spinning and dyeing, and weaving, as well as well as demonstrations of other farm skills from the 1860s such as blacksmithing and candle making. A storyteller will be on hand and festival-goers may take part in old-fashioned games. The country group Little Country Giants is scheduled to perform starting at 12:30 p.m. The festival, at the Smith Family Farm, is scheduled from 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Admission is included with the price of admission to the History Center.

Five sheep will be brought in for shearing demonstrations during the event at the center’s Tullie Smith Family Farm. The “Sheep to Shawl” exhibition also will feature demonstrations of washing and carding wool, spinning, dyeing and weaving. The festival, which recreates farm life in the 1860s, also offers demonstrations by a blacksmith, a woodworker, a candle maker and a storyteller. The event begins at 10:30 a.m. and continues until 4:30 p.m.The band Little Country Giants is scheduled to perform at 12:30 p.m.

“This is a family event,” said Cary Ann Moody, manager of public programs for the History Center. “I think people of any age like to come and see what life was like in the 1860s.”

Fuss, for one, enjoys the show. He takes pride in how he handles sheep and he likes demonstrating his craft for an appreciative crowd.

“I really enjoy doing the history center because people have a real interest. They get to see the whole gamut, from shearing to dyeing to weaving,” he said.

And, he said, he’s gotten to know others who demonstrate their skills during the event. “It’s gotten to be like a homecoming, I guess you’d say,” he said.

Still, it does feel a bit odd, he admits, to spend a day shearing sheep in the center of Buckhead. “It strikes me when I make that turn on West Paces Ferry [Road] and I turn to the right and I see skyscrapers and I smell like a sheep,” he said. “It doesn’t add up.”

So, does he think he’ll be able to pass his sheep-shearing skills to the next generation? He does.

He has a 5-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son.

“Like it or not,” he said, “they’re going to learn to do it. I’m going to teach them how.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.