Sunday, September 27, 2015

Greenmead 2015: Making Lemonade

What do you do when life hands you lemons? Well you make lemonade of course! What happens when life hands you 10,000 lemons in a short time? Do you make several batches? Where do you store them? How in the heck did you acquire so many lemons?
Alright kids, start hauling those lemons!
Photo by Ken Giorlando

I'd say the past year has been 10,000 lemons for me. I don't even know what to do with them. Even with my Grandma's peaceful departure from this earth, it has been a good run (she agreed with that sentiment through the end). The Civil War reenactment at Greenmead this past weekend was a lemon that I hungrily picked for my lemonade, perhaps a bit more than I could fit in the pitcher. Because I was so sick for this event.

It started as a cold from a Warrior Dash event that I ran last weekend in Grand Rapids. Sore and tired, I hobbled through the week. I prepared for Greenmead in my customary fashion: the night before. By then I thought I felt better. I had no time for sickness. The organizer of the event wanted me to attend as a vendor(she is awesome), and to be honest, I rather like dressing up for the weekend. In my "better" moments, I decided to play numerous games of soccer Friday night. First mistake.

By Saturday morning I was tired, but determined. After all, the sickness had passed! Time for mistake number two; I ran all hither and yon at the event, instead of resting. A more prudent Kristen would have at least rested in between visits. Nope! And then I followed that mistake with a later dinner with friends. Strike three, you're out!

I practically crawled out of the "carriage" on Sunday, feeling terrible despite the copious amounts of cold medicine in my system. Since it is a newer (but still good) event, I didn't have as much foot traffic in my shop. I limped through the tear-down process with considerable help. There are people who would have called this event a wash, and chided me for spending all of my spare time reenacting. In some ways they are not wrong-I need to take better care of my health. Resting is a priority after illness. And yet...this weekend gave me a historical healing, one that digs deep in the soul. 

Let me explain.
During my Friday setup, about four people immediately recognized my lack of health, and jumped in. Unfolding tables (thanks Nick), holding a tent pole, moving boxes...helping is in our culture, but they recognized my "extra" need, and stepped in! In this moment I was reminded of how caring this community can be. I would be further impressed.

There is a family in my reenacting unit, one with a lovely gaggle of children. I've watched them grow over the past five years. On Sunday, the day I felt the worst, they decided to accompany me under my tent fly. And by accompany me, I mean sprawl out over my rugs. I watched one aspiring engineer take over my bead loom (learning a skill in 10 minutes that took me a few hours). Little fingers brought me a filled glass of "lemonade" every so often. We beaded bracelets on the ground next to a deceased mini-soldier, who only awakened after gentle prodding. At one point we rushed to get ice cream at the general store. I'm pretty sure foot traffic wouldn't have had room under the fly anyways!
We're learning here. Come back later.
Photo by Darlene Lum

I wouldn't trade those moments for the world. One day I'll chuckle with a grown engineer about his moment of beading. I'll watch a mother bring lemonade to her own children. A studious college professor? An artist? Even though my head felt stuffier than a lecture on grammar, I saw the potential growing around me. I must have looked tired, but I was so happy to have them with me. They reminded me of the reasons that I started reenacting in the first place.

Lending a table. Waiting for me to finish my stew with a cup of tea. Letting me sneak that cookie (this actually applies to two different people!).  A borrowed dinner triangle. The goodbye hug despite my sickness, then the admonishment for me to take care of myself. Ten little hands helping pack my car. I drove home exhausted, but elated.

And in the end, no amount of money in my business can pay for any of that. I'm a reenactor at heart; this past weekend revitalized my love of living history. At its worst reenacting can be a mash-up of politics, scam artists, and insults. This weekend I saw it at its finest. My only hope is that all reenactors can experience the awesomeness that I felt at Greenmead this year. 
A moment of reflection
Photo by Ken Giorlando

With that, I must end this post. Laundry needs laundering. Pets need petting. I probably should get to bed at a reasonable hour if I plan to survive the work week. I'm oh so tired. After all, I've been busy making lemonade! 


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

19th Century Motif: Grape Clusters

Picture this: You're sitting on the back porch on a hazy summer night. The cicadas hum in the distance. A bowl of fruit is taken from the fridge; plump, juicy grapes glisten in the cool metal. Your fingers snap off a crisp bunch nestled in the pile of bounty...

I highly suggest eating grapes while reading this post; what better way to experience a 19th century motif? (No I did not have snakes or skulls in previous posts) Grapes are not only delicious little snacks! They show up time and again in paintings, jewelry, and decoration for thousands of years. In terms of my own research I should have done this blog post sooner. Back to school-->back to work!

Historical Background
One really cool human being decided to cultivate grapes 6,000-8,000 years ago in the Middle East. I'm not going to guess (WINE) why it became so popular, but it spread quickly to other parts of the world, making its juicy mark on many a society. We will skip to the Greeks and Romans, the ever-popular ancestors of our 19th century ancestors.

The grape motif shows up in the incredibly fun Greek god Dionysus (Roman Bacchus). This guy loved to party. Child of Zesus' thigh (or Persephone, depending on your reading), Dionysus represented the drunken glory that ruled the Greek world. His conquests include, but are not limited to, Aphrodite and Circe. When a man has more children than you can count on your fingers and toes, it is no surprise that he represents "bountiful harvest."

It's no wonder that this mythical being shows up many times in literature of the 19th century. At times he gives drunken delight; on more than one occasion he represents messy debauchery. There are more references to him than I have time for in this post! Here's just a few...

Pickniking in the Pinewood, November 1859
Anne gathered the most brilliant of the scattered autumn leaves, and wove garlands for each, so that the gentlemen looked like sylvan deities and the girls like nymphs, and all like attendants upon Bacchus, as they loaded themselves with the "purple clusters" as the lawful spoils of their discovery.

Frank Leslie's Weekly, April 1865
THE Purim balls, by their able management, both financially and otherwise, have become one of the fashionable institutions of the metropolis, for not only are the number of the tickets limited, but the greatest care is exercised as to the persons who receive them...The balustrade around the amphitheatre was decorated with garlands of banded flowers, the family circle gallery was covered with festoons of cloth, in all the colors of the rainbow, while under the dress circle were hung caricatures and other funny pictures painted on cloth.Among these were a Procession of Fools, Bacchus and Momus, Don Quixote fighting the Windmill, King of Hearts with Lady and Astrologer, Lent riding on a Fish.

So with the Etruscan revival full swing, jewelers such as Castellani began hammering away. Their inspiration pieces reside in museums today, testaments of that bountiful, fruitful time. 

I'm not surprised to find grape clusters in fashion from the time period. Just as today people fashion themselves after the newest meme, our ancestors catered to the whims of science and discovery.

Photographic Evidence
As I have poured through different cdvs and daggeurotypes, I come to the same conclusion; jewelry is hard to see in old photographs. Too bad we can't zoom! Or you know, ask the ladies to come back for another session. Time travel anyone?

Of course a few of these are just guesses, as the clarity is not quite there. Overall I was surprised by how many photos did show up with grape clusters in jewelry. It is telling of the prevalence of the grape cluster as a style trend. As time goes on, I'm sure more photos will appear!

Textual Documentation
Between 1855 and 1865, there are 160 references to grapes in Godey's Lady's Book. Many mention them as decorations, and leave it at that. I had to dig a bit deeper for these..

Godey's Lady's Book 1860

The Christian Recorder, March 9 1861

" Enameled and Coral Sets.
" " Carbuncle Sets.
" " Ruby Sets.
" Gold Cluster Grape Sets.
" " " Jet Sets.
" " " Black Mosaic Sets.

Peterson's 1862

I found many, many ads for the "Gold Cluster Grape Sets." While I did not necessarily find as many references to specific grape cluster jewelry, the grapes show up often in headdresses and bonnets. The magazines especially mentioned crochet patterns too. I am still stumped on references in the German and French magazines, so I'll update this section if I survive the translating!

Surviving Originals
My own collection, mid to late 19th century

It appears that many types of stones were used to create the grape cluster shape. Coral, pearl, amethyst, jet, gold, hair...all of these evoke the delicate, natural look that was so popular during the 19th century. It is clear that grapes appeared frequently in some way in the Victorian lady's jewelry.

Grape cluster earrings were actually the first pair of earrings I ever made. I do not have a picture of that prototype, but it was my starting point for making authentic jewelry. Since then I have evolved in the materials that I use, after more research of course! All of the following jewelry is available in my shop (if it suddenly isn't, feel free to send me an email!) The Victorian Needle. Clicking on the pictures will take you directly to the listing in my shop.

I think it's very important to remember context before donning a pair of earrings. While extremely popular, I doubt a lady would be wearing gold and coral earrings to work over the fire. I picture them to work best with nicer day wear, and definitely with a ball gown. If anyone would like to decorate a headdress with grapes and then add a pair of earrings, I'd love to see it!

And so I conclude my first research post in a very, very long time. It's good to stretch my fingers over the keyboard once again. I have quite a few more posts just waiting to be fleshed out into workable research. Until then...I could use a nap!


Monday, September 14, 2015

Charlton Park, Port Sanilac, Jackson, Fort Wayne

This summer was a blur. Unfortunately I didn't have the time to post about every event, as is custom. And since the time passed I'm having trouble recalling the details. So I'll just do a post with the pictures and hope you all can put it together somehow. Enjoy!*

*All photos by Ken Giorlando. Because I am too lazy to get out my camera.

Charlton Park
Okay, I remember that at this event, I was mourning the recent loss of my "husband." In reality my Grandma died not too long before. So the mourning held a deeper place in my heart.

Port Sanilac

 And that sums it up. I was a merchant, so my picture-taking took a back seat.

Fort Wayne

There. It feels better to be caught up with my posts. Even if this one is just a gigantic picture post. Can you tell I had fun? Participated in living history? Mourned? Laughed? Ate homemade ice cream? It was a wonderful summer indeed.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015


I had the ability to visit Gettysburg this summer. As if Mexico and Las Vegas weren't enough...road trip! We pushed ourselves through an 8 hour car ride (darn you turnpikes!) and mountainous terrain in order to view the great place that is Gettysburg. Also, the alternator in my car decided to die...leading to more than a few interesting adventures.

Finally! For years I've wanted to gaze upon that battlefield. We stayed at the Tillie Pierce House, a quaint home inhabited by civilians during the battle. Today it's a bed and breakfast. We settled into Tillie's original bedroom, complete with chill spots and creepiness. I awoke every night to an odd feeling that someone was watching at the end of the bed...I put on an episode of "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives," which I think appeased the restless spirit!
 Perhaps the most important thing I learned during the trip is that Gettysburg is just a big cemetery. You're never more than a stone's throw from an effigy in stone. It's odd to think that a man breathed his last mere feet away from where I walked. War is a pretty thing until it isn't anymore.

Devil's Den was particularly memorable. The huge rocks are imposing, and I can't imagine how they appeared to the Civil War soldier. The quiet, rolling hills betrayed none of the previous horrors. As a side note, I am incredibly susceptible to falling, and my fiance kept a closer eye on my footing!
My fiance was very interested in the military aspect of the war-strategy, weaponry, and etc. While I do find those things fascinating, I'm more interested in the human perspective. How did it feel in the summer heat? Was it terrifying to watch friends and comrades die? How does one recover from this?

I was also happy to see the monuments to women who were somehow involved in the battle. Jenny Wade, Eliza Thorn...I enjoyed the inclusive, historical representation of the ladies' view of the war.

We stopped at the Jennie Wade house, where the only civilian fatality of the battle occurred. I could still see the bullet holes that had chipped away the brick and furniture. The original dough box rested just as it was. The deadly bullet left a path through two doors. Again I felt the human aspect of the battle, in the cries of anguish from her mother just moments later.

On a lighter note, I ate too much. The food was EXCELLENT. I ate waaay too much in the span of our visit. The Dobbin House especially favored my taste buds. It was the first time I had eaten duck!

And just in case you didn't get your daily dose of creepy, check out the cabinet behind me...

 I also made a quick trip to Needle and Thread. It was just as wonderful as I thought it'd be! I spent too much time just touching different fabrics/patterns. I may or may no have another dress length of fabric hidden away in the house.

Another fortuitous moment of the trip...I ran into Samantha! She works with NJ Sekela, and we met at the Lincoln Funeral Event this spring. She was walking to the Button Baron, so we tagged along! This was another moment of spending for me. Here are just a few of the lovelies in her shop. If you're interested, check out The Button Baron to find out more (you totally should).

And Lydia Ann! Where did you come from? It was nice to see Samantha (and Lydia Ann) so soon, and I promise to make a Gettysburg trip again in the near future...October or November?

This trip turned out to be the perfect end to the summer. Gettysburg felt like a million places all at once-most of all, like home. How can a place with so many graves feel so comfortable? With great honor and sacrifice did the many suffer, so we must remember.


On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues,...