Stooks and sheaves at an historic farm

At Hanley Historic Farm near Jacksonville, Oregon, we came upon a wheatfield that had been cut and stacked, and it was a beautiful sight.


These aren’t just bunches of cut wheat tossed up into heaps like our idea of a haystack; they’re carefully constructed of sheaves, or bundles,



and each sheaf is self-tied with wheatstraw.


This takes us back a hundred and fifty years or so: before mechanical harvesters and threshers, grain was cut with scythes, made into stacks in the field to dry, heaved up onto wagons with pitchforks, and then threshed and winnowed to separate the wheat (or barley or oats or millet) from the chaff and straw. Hot, dusty, backbreaking work.


Winslow Homer (1836-1910), The Veteran in a New Field, 1865 (source)


(source; artist unknown.)

Think about cutting acres of wheat this way, stopping every 20 minutes or so to sharpen the scythe blade which had to be razor sharp so that the cut wheat would fall neatly.


Heinrich Bürkel (1802-1869), Loading The Hay-Wagon [and hurrying to beat that rainstorm!] (cropped for this use; entire painting here)


I’m curious how this wheat will be threshed and winnowed. Historic methods for threshing included having oxen walk round in circles stepping on the grain to break it (mentioned in the Bible: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” Deuteronomy 25:4) and using a flail,



I’ll see what I can find out from the farm, which is run by the Southern Oregon Historical Society.



Small Oregon Port hosts giant cruise ships

Astoria, Oregon, is a port town of about 10,000 at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River. It’s rich in history, and calls itself “the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies”. Lewis and Clark wintered near here at a fort they built after reaching the Pacific in 1805; the town itself began as a fur-trading site for John Jacob Astor; it is the site of the Astoria Column, a 125-foot (38 m)-tall column with an observation deck at the top and a spiral frieze all the way up depicting events of Oregon history; fancy Victorian homes dot its hills, remnants of the fortunes that were made in lumber, shipping, and salmon fishing. But it’s a small port these days. Many big cargo ships bypass Astoria, going up the Columbia to off-load at Portland, and timber exports have declined. For years Astoria has been wooing cruise ship traffic, putting $10M into piers to accommodate the larger cruise ships. The Port has organized volunteer “cruise hosts” to lead tours and make visitors feel at home.

This year the preparations really paid off, as ships cancelling their planned stops at Mexican ports due to the H1N1 flu are looking for alternatives, and Astoria was ready. The scheduled 13 ships stopping in Astoria expanded to 21 for the season, and one of the biggest pulled in on May 12 for a few hours. Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas is 1,020 feet long and carries 2,700 passengers. The Port’s marketing director said that about 80% of cruise passengers generally disembark when the ships stop.

There were tours for all sorts of interests: history and bicycling at Fort Clatsop (the Lewis and Clark overwintering site which has been re-created in replica, with historic re-enactors); galleries, shops, and restaurants; the Columbia River Maritime Museum; Seaside and Cannon Beaches; “Shot in Astoria”, a tour of locations where movies have been recently filmed; a refurbished 1920’s vaudeville and movie theatre; the great view from the Astoria Column, high on its 600-foot hill, and more. And just walking around taking in the river, the ocean, the hills and the city, is worth a visit.


Top of the Astoria Column, photo by Terry Richard/The Oregonian.

And perhaps best of all was eleven-year old Tyler Delay selling messages in a bottle! Are they bottles for the visitors to toss in the ocean, having added their own notes inside, or mysterious ones that Tyler has scoured up himself in years of beachcombing? Guess we’ll have to go to Astoria to find out.


Photo by Ross William Hamilton for The Oregonian, accompanying The Oregonian’s article (from which most of this information is derived). Sorry this photo isn’t as good as it should be; it wasn’t part of the online article and was scanned from the newspaper.

Wander through the history of world art

The Heilbrunn Timeline of World Art, on the Metropolitan Museum of Art site, is a garden of delights in which one can easily become lost. It now includes over 6000 items and more are being added. Covering the time period from 20,000 BCE to the present, the site allows exploration by keyword or subject, name of artist, time period, country or region, time period and region, medium, and more. You can even sort the alphabetical list of essays by region or time period, see a cultural time line (e.g. Central and North Asia, 8000–2000 B.C.), or search for something specific in both the Timeline and the Met’s overall collection database. I searched for “hat,” and found 2020 hits in The Costume Institute, and 75 in the Heilbrunn Timeline itself.

I arrived at this site while googling prehistoric Japanese sculpture (of the “Jomon” culture) and then somehow found myself looking at Moroccan embroidery and a 19th c. American quilt using squares with the signatures of notables of the time such as Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Each item has at least one photo that can be viewed in two sizes, a short description, and perhaps most enticing, links to other pieces related by time period, region, or material. Short essays are provided for many topics. Here’s one on the American Arts and Crafts movement; here’s one on a site in China, dated to 7000 BCE, with pictograms and bone flutes–”the earliest playable musical instruments” found (disputable, but let’s not carp).

Go to the list of artists and sort them according to medium or type of work: performance artist, calligrapher, painter, weapons maker, architect, metal worker, etc.

If this sounds wide rather than deep, who can complain? African Rock Art, Albrecht Dürer, Arms and Armor—Common Misconceptions and Frequently Asked Questions, Ancient Greek Dress, Botanical Imagery in European Painting, the Bikini, the Bronze Age, the Bauhaus…if I had to choose a few sites to be able to access on a desert island, this might make the list. (All of the foregoing are thematic essays on the A-B page.)

Embroidered panelMorocco.jpg

Above, embroidered panel, ca. 1800, Morocco.
Linen, silk; 9 ft. x 32 1/2 in. (274.3 x 82.5 cm)

Purchase, Everfast Fabrics Inc. Gift, 1970 (1970.272)
One of the rarest and finest examples of Moroccan embroidery, this wall hanging (arid) displays the most remarkable achievement of a Chechaouene needlewoman’s skills. The arids were used to cover the surrounding areas of interior arches in matching sets. Worked in plaited stitch, these panels contain geometric motifs based on tracery, arabesques, stars, rectangles, and diamonds, all closely associated with Andalusian elements. Said to have been used as an altar curtain in a Nestorian church in Jerusalem, this particular piece is certainly conversant with a variety of cultures and civilizations. The importance of embroidery in Moroccan life can be illustrated by the ceremony held for every infant girl at the age of four months, when the baby was placed in a chair and given a needle and thimble along with some silk thread to hold, in anticipation of a life blessed with the needle’s art.

[The images may be used for non-commercial purposes, with credit to the source, but the museum stipulates that the accompanying text must be used also.]


Above, detail, Autograph quilt, ca. 1856–63, by Adeline Harris Sears (American, 1839–1931). Silk with inked signatures; 77 x 80 in. (195.6 x 203.2 cm).
Below, entire quilt.

Purchase, William Cullen Bryant Fellows Gifts, 1996 (1996.4)
In 1856, seventeen-year-old Adeline Harris, the daughter of a well-to-do Rhode Island mill owner, conceived of a unique quiltmaking project. She sent small diamond-shaped pieces of white silk worldwide to people she esteemed as the most important figures of her day, asking each to sign the silk and return it to her. By the time the signatures were all returned and ready to be stitched into a “tumbling-blocks” patterned quilt, Adeline had amassed an astonishing collection of autographs. Her quilt features the signatures of eight American presidents; luminaries from the worlds of science, religion, and education; heroes of the Civil War; such authors as Charles Dickens and Ralph Waldo Emerson; and an array of prominent artists. Today, the autographs displayed in this beautiful and immaculately constructed quilt provide an intriguing glimpse into the way an educated young woman of the mid-nineteenth century viewed her world.


Below, one result of the “hat” search: [Cornelius Conway Felton with His Hat and Coat], early 1850s
John Adams Whipple (American, 1822–1891)
Daguerreotype; Each 3 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. (8.3 x 7 cm)

The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gifts, 1997 (1997.382.41)
This rare daguerreotype diptych shows Cornelius Conway Felton (1807–1862), Eliot Professor of Greek Literature at Harvard University, reaching for his felt hat and duster. The first son of a poverty-stricken furniture maker, Felton became one of the most renowned classical scholars in the country and, in 1860, Harvard’s president. Although Felton donned academic robes, he never lost his connection to the everyday experiences of common folk. As opposed to the inflexible silk top hat worn by dandies and professors alike, the broad-brimmed felt duster that co-stars here was worn by outdoorsmen and was practical, casual, and fundamentally democratic.


Children’s books online: social history, public-domain illustrations



I’m fascinated by the wealth of vintage illustrations that have been scanned and made available on the web. The BibliOdyssey blog is all about this and a great place to browse. Lately I’ve been doing some ferreting about for myself too, and of course have to share my discoveries.

This time it’s old children’s books in two collections at the University of Florida: the Literature for Children Collection at the University of Florida Library (2455 titles), and the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature (4787 titles). Cruise the title lists (LCC, Baldwin) and find multiple versions of Robinson Crusoe, Aesop’s Fables, and other classics; various illustrated ABC’s, Annie and the elves, and other stories published in 1852 by the American Sunday-School Union, Around the World with Santa Claus (1891), At war with Pontiac, or, The totem of the bear : a tale of redcoat and redskin (1896)–––and we’re still in the “A” section. [Above are the first two pages from Aunt Louisa’s picture puzzle alphabet (1880).]

Below are a few illustrations from volumes in these collections, and I was assured when I enquired that “Nearly all of the books in this collection [LCC] are public domain. Those that are not are clearly labeled as such. You can use the images freely, although we always appreciate a statement attribution that they came from Literature for Children (” I think the books from the Baldwin Collection would be public domain as well.

These are presented here considerably reduced in size and resolution, compared to the online originals, which are each over 1 MB when saved as pdfs.


Above, the cover from Puss in Boots (c. 1888), illustrations by André, R ( Richard ), 1834-1907 [nom de plume of English artist William Roger Snow].

Below, the “London Cries” page from Aunt Mary’s primer: adorned with a hundred and twenty pretty pictures (1851) shows some of the street pedlars of the city along with their characteristic “cries” to hawk their wares, which gave us phrases such as “Cockles and mussels, alive alive-o!” Also shown are the dustman collecting who knows what (horse manure?) and a “link-boy,” selling his services to light the way of those travelling the unlit streets before gas lighting.


Below, the cover and two pages from A museum of wonders and what the young folks saw there explained in many pictures (1884), text and illustrations by Frederick Burr Opper [Baldwin Library Digital Collection, also at the University of Florida].


Below, the cover and two illustrations from the ABC of Horses (1880)


But there’s more here than quaintness, nostalgia, or public-domain illustrations. Children’s books are always in some way a part of society’s revelation of itself to children, and its effort to shape their attitudes. The very first entry in the alphabetical list of titles is 10 little nigger boys (1890), no author given. A rhyme recounts how a group of ten young black boys gradually becomes only one, as various accidents befall them on their journey. One oversleeps (the most benign incident); one chokes, one is hugged to death by a bear at the zoo, one “cuts himself in half”, you get the idea.


This reminded me of the familiar title Ten Little Indians (Agatha Christie) and I wondered what the connexion was. Wikipedia was the first entry in a Google search and was very informative.

It is Christie’s best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world’s best-selling mystery…The novel takes place on an island off the coast of Devon in late 1930s named Indian Island. Eight people of different social classes journey to the Soldier Island mansion are invited there by a Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen but the eight people don’t know them. Upon arriving, they are told by the butler and his wife, Thomas and Ethel Rogers, that their hosts are currently away. Each guest finds in his or her room a slightly odd bit of bric-a-brac and a framed copy of the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldier Boys” (“Ten Little Niggers” in the original 1939 UK publication and “Ten Little Indians” in the 1940 US publication) hanging on the wall:

Ten little Soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier boys going in for law;
One got into Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two Little Soldier boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.


Cover of the first UK edition of this book (from Wikipedia).

Thus we learn, among other things, that in England in 1939 it was acceptable for Agatha Christie to publish her mystery novel under the title Ten Little Niggers in England, but not in the US, the title was changed to And Then There Were None. The book has been filmed a number of times under this latter title, and also as “Ten Little Indians.”

I wonder what black children were reading in 1890, when 10 little nigger boys was published. Books for children were a luxury, whether in white households or black. Was there a parallel endeavor to publish reading material for black kids? Maybe I’ll email the people at the University of Florida again and see what they can tell me.