The Association of Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) is an organization of people who bring history to life. The preservation of historic skills and trades is an essential part of our ability to do this. With heritage skills fast disappearing around the globe, ALHFAM launched the Skills Training and Preservation Resource Center (STP) to provide ways to capture and teach heritage skills. Building on the goals of the Resource Center, the ALHFAM Board of Directors decided the next step was to create an award to recognize ALHFAM members who have demonstrated notable service and leadership in the preservation of historic skills, especially those who serve as mentors and role models for others in the history field. Thus, the Skills Award was born, but it needed a name. Like ALHFAM’s John T. Schelebecker Award given in recognition of a lifetime of service to ALHFAM, it was decided the Skills Award should be named after its first recipient. There was little debate about who it should be, so the Pete Watson Skills Award was created and presented to Pete Watson at the 2022 ALHFAM Annual Meeting & Conference in Tacoma, Washington.
So why Pete Watson? As one ALHFAM member Barbara Corson said, “Pete is ‘all about’ historic skills.”
Pete began teaching historic skills even before becoming part of ALHFAM when he taught the use of animal draft power to farmers in Benin while serving in the Peace Corps. After returning home, he worked as a farmer at Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, becoming its director in 1984.
Co-worker and ALHFAM board member Sonrisa Crespin had this to say about Pete Watson:
“Pete makes a point of teaching and involving everyone in the learning process, from summer interns to visitors, to full-time staff. He is particularly good at meeting people where they are so a beginner doesn’t feel lost, and the expert doesn’t feel bored.
“Pete knows that knowledge is valuable, and he loves to create value by sharing it.”
ALHFAM member Barbara Corson shared her thoughts about Pete:
“The first historic skill set that I associate with Pete is plowing, specifically using draft animals and a walking plow. Pete was plowing before it was the cool thing to do! More importantly, from the beginning, Pete and his co-workers at Howell (like Rob Flory) have actively pursued ways to share their know-how with others through a top-notch intern program.
“Of course, Pete’s interest in preserving historic skills is not limited to plowing. He and his co-workers at Howell have been steadfast in their support of all kinds of historic skill sets, including a skill set that is especially ‘near and dear’ to my heart: small-scale dairying.”
From Lauren Muney, Silhouettes By Hand, STP Committee Member:
“It was such a pleasure working with Pete to create STP. He passionately wants skills to be passed on. Pete has the ability to talk to every type of person – and he works to help others learn to communicate with their own communities. Teaching skills doesn’t have to be formal. Pete opens his mouth and magic happens: people are inspired to ‘create the past.’ I am still motivated every time I talk with him.”
From Jim Lauderdale, ALHFAM Vice President
“I met Pete during the plowing competition at Nash Farm, Grapevine, Texas in 2012. I knew instantly that this man is passionate about all things plowing. He was so eager to discuss the soil, crops that were regularly grown in the region, and the team of draft horses we would be using. Since this was my first ALHFAM conference, it was also my first plowing competition, and based on that experience I knew I wanted to be part of preserving plowing as a heritage skill and ALHFAM tradition too.”
From Bob Powell, Working Horse and Farming Historian, Kingussie, Scotland
“As the inspiration for the Pete Watson Skills Award, there is no better inaugural recipient for the first award than the man himself. Like many past and present ALHFAM members, I have been the recipient of his generosity, wisdom and the opportunities that he has afforded me, not least behind the plow at Howell Living History Farm.”
“A sage with the aura of a guru, Pete, literally or metaphorically, is the quiet man at the handles of his plow guiding his team. Over the years the ‘team’ has taken many forms: the ‘ALHFAMily,’ Howell Living History Farm with its staff and interns, his local community, and friends and colleagues from far and wide, including from here in Scotland. With his quiet strength, Pete has the passion to encourage, create opportunities and enable people to engage with those traditional skills that we as an organization hold dear.”
From Ed Schultz at Colonial Williamsburg:
I first met Peter in 2002, and I knew then as I know now that this was someone special. Pete always listens to what you have to say and values it. He is warm and fun and giving and fiercely committed to historic farming.
“Pete revived the ALHFAM conference plowing matches in 2003, now in its 20th year. He has carried the flag for historic skills for a long time, presenting at ALHFAM conferences and many others. He helped create and taught at the first ALHFAM Farmer’s School in 2003. Pete was one of the founders and the driving force behind ASK, ALHFAM’s searchable database, as well as a founder and leader of ALHFAM’s STP Resource Center and the innovative skills clip concept to preserve heritage skills.
“I remember sitting with him at a presentation on draft animal traction in 2008. It was a compelling presentation on using the historic skills of working draft animals for the betterment of worldwide agriculture in the developing world. Pete turned to me and said: ‘Do you see how big this thing is?’”
“I sure do, Pete, and you have helped us all see it.”
“ALHFAM would not be what it is today without Pete Watson.”
Kathy Dickson, ALHFAM president