For most Americans, the Amish lifestyle is somewhat mysterious, almost "exotic" in its simplicity. But for one Ohio Valley resident, observing everyday life among the Amish has become a passion.
Master photographer Jay Stock of Martins Ferry has been visiting an Amish community in central Pennsylvania for many years, striking up a friendship with several families and documenting their hard-working lifestyle with his camera.
Through photography, Stock has captured stunning, moving, images of the Amish families as they go about their daily routine of farming, gardening, cooking, baking, sewing and doing laundry and chores. Through friendship and generosity, Stock has gained the trust of the Amish and helped the families by providing treats and, most importantly, precious photos of their children.
While Old Order Amish remain opposed to photography, other members of the religious sect are more open to the concept - as long as they have the trust and respect of the person using the camera. Stock has gained the trust of the families with whom he interacts, and they know that he will not exploit them.
Stock has been visiting the Amish in central Pennsylvania for about 25 years and has developed a relationship with 10 families there. He won't disclose the exact location of their community, explaining, "They don't want me to promote where I go. They don't want to be deluged with people."
The Martins Ferry resident was no stranger to the Amish lifestyle when he began visiting that area.
"I worked with the Amish in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana," he recalled. "I started about 35 years ago in Sugar Creek, Ohio, where I hooked up with a blacksmith. It never got beyond that family."
One day several years ago, Stock got a call from a friend who liveds in central Pennsylvania and who had been photographing the Amish for 40 years. The friend suggested that Stock also visit the Amish in Pennsylvania and, thus, the relationship began.
Stock now makes several trips a year to visit his Amish friends in Pennsylvania. "I load my car up with peanut butter, pop, ice cream, popcorn ... I visit 10 families. Everyone gets the same thing," he said.
"My relationship with them is so great," Stock commented. "I tell them what I'd like to do, and the next time I go, they're ready (to be photographed)."
Over the years, he has documented the Amish families sewing, washing clothes, cooking, baking, working in the fields and in dairy barns and building barns. "There's not very much that I've missed in that community," he remarked.
"These people are just wonderful with me. They take me into their homes," he said.
Stock's relationship with the Amish families blossomed after he produced a calendar of photographs for them. "The families want pictures," he said.
He had noticed that the Amish don't hang anything - other than calendars - on the walls of their homes, so he hit upon the idea of making a calendar showing Amish farms, buggies and horses. "I gave one to each of the 10 families. Since then, the doors have been open," he said. "That calendar idea opened a lot of doors for me ... They just are pleased with this calendar."
Stock also takes photos of the Amish children and gives the photos to the parents, much to their delight. "They have drawerfuls of them (the photos)," he said, adding, "They don't want big ones; they want small ones."
He makes the trek from Martins Ferry more frequently in the warmer months when there is more daylight to provide lighting for his photographic work. "In the summer, I go up pretty often," he said. "I usually try to go once or twice a month."
In the winter, however, the photographer has to stop work earlier because it gets dark at 4:30 p.m. and the Amish families don't have electric service.
Regarding the massive quantity of photographic images of the Amish that he has amassed over the past quarter-century, Stock said, "I am going to do a book on them. I am going to do a big book. I may do more calendars."
Stock, who will be inducted into Martins Ferry's Hall of Honor in August, described some of the aspects of Amish life that he documents. A barn raising, he said, attracts 100 people; work begins at 7 a.m. and is finished by 11 a.m. "In four hours, it's fully completed.I t's unbelievable," he said.
Every family keeps a cow to produce milk for household usee. Others maintain a dairy farm, but he said, "Some of the smaller farmers don't do the dairy anymore. It costs more to keep the cows than they can get for the milk."
Stock also has observed the Amish working in their fields, planting and harvesting crops. "Everything in the field is done by horses," he noted.
In the home, Amish women make clothing for all of the family members. "Every Tuesday and Thursday is wash day, regardless of the weather. All the wash is hung outside to dry, even in a snow storm or ice storm," Stock said.
In addition, "the ladies wash the buggies on Saturday" in preparation for Sunday church services, he said.
Saturday also is a day for making tablefuls of whoopie pies and other baked goods to be eaten by the large families after a church service on Sunday. Their church services are held in their homes and are attended by "tons of kids and family," Stock said.
"They're really very good people. They're very spiritual, very family-oriented," he commented.