Wednesday, September 11, 2019

State Fair Jelly

After three straight years of late frosts spoiling the sand hill plum crop, 2019 had a surprise for me...and for a lot of others!  There had been a late, light frost, and I assumed it would be another year without plums, but I was wrong.  Was I ever!!

Our pasture, which is unplowed prairie, has not been grazed since my father's death, and the sand hill plums have nearly taken it over.  I picked from the road one morning, where bushes have grown through the wire fence, but the next day my husband and I drove into the pasture to an area of abundant bushes with especially large, ripe plums. My husband had been scouting for the best plums, and without needing to push our way into the bushes amidst all the thorns, we were able to pick enough plums before the morning sun became oppressive.  Since protection from the thorns requires long sleeves and jeans, it gets very hot to pick later in the day.

I made six batches in order to have jelly of our own for a few months and jelly to share with friends. I was the Production Chief, but my husband was the Chief of Shipment and Delivery.  We shared not only with local friends but also with out-of-state friends who had never tasted sand hill plum jelly, and  I used every jelly jar I owned.

We let local friends know that our pasture had abundant plums to share, but this season plums could be seen in pastures and along many roadsides, and only one couple took us up on our invitation to pick.  I heard that some of the local grocery stores had run out of pectin because so many customers were making jelly.

State Fair Jelly still on the drawing board  (c) Lyn Fenwick
But, this blog is not really about making jelly to enter in the state fair.  The title of this blog post, "My State Fair Jelly" does not refer to entering a jar of my jelly in the Kansas State Fair.  Rather, my jelly entry was made on paper.  Last year I entered a pastel painting in the Professional Artist competition, and I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to do that again.  When I draw or paint I must have a reference, either an actual model or still life arrangement or various photographs from which to work.  Sometimes a single photograph is sufficient, if I know the subject(s) well enough to capture more than the photograph shows.

I began going through my reference images for ideas, and I came across a photograph I had taken a few years ago of canning supplies ready to make sand hill plum jelly.  I decided to create a still life painting using an arrangement of canning supplies.  Unfortunately, I had already discovered that, after my last canning using my Mother's beautiful 1940s canning equipment, I had put her equipment away somewhere that I can't remember.  My own 2019 jelly was made using modern, less picturesque equipment, so I had to rely on several photographs of Mother's equipment, with variations and additions that included a jar of my own jelly, mugs from my collection, and a 'church ladies' cookbook, altered by my imagination but representative of the type of local cookbooks produced during the past mid-century.

State Fair Jelly framed (c) Lyn Fenwick
I finished with time to get my pastel painting framed, and off to the 2019 Kansas State fair it went, the name for my entry suggested by my husband.

No prize for my work, but I still enjoy the experience of having a goal, showing my work, and participating with other artists.  I confess, it was rather disheartening to hear the judge declare strongly, "I hate still lifes," during the critique of his selections for awards.  One of those winners was a still life, so obviously he was willing to override his "hatred."  There were many wonderful  works by talented artists, and what appeals to all of us is subjective.  I didn't make it back to the Fine Arts exhibit to observe the reactions of visitors, but I'm sure that many of the paintings were appreciated by those who toured the exhibit, and that is, after all, the pleasure we artists enjoy having given others.

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A New Location for Art at the Kansas State Fair

(c) Lyn Fenwick,  Title:  Fresh Yellow Squash
This week the 2019 Kansas State Fair opens, and once again I have an entry in the Professional Artists display and competition.  Last year was my first year to participate in that category, and the pastel at the top of this page was my entry.  I didn't bring home a prize but I had fun entering.

In the meantime, my six portraits of characters from Willa Cather's My Antonia were selected for publication in the Willa Cather Review, Vol. 61, No. 2, Spring 2019, together with my essay describing how I searched Cather's novel for descriptions of each character to be sure that my imagined portraits were consistent with Cather's descriptions of each of the six characters.  I have a dislike of illustrations done for books that do not honor the descriptions of the author whose book is being illustrated, and I did not want to commit the same disrespect by straying from Cather's descriptions.  I gifted a copy of the Spring Willa Cather Review titled "After Antonia" to the Filley Art Museum in Pratt, Kansas, and I have been delighted when visitors to the museum have told me they enjoyed my portraits and essay.  I am particularly pleased when they tell me it has encouraged them to read My Antonia, either for the first time or to reread it after several years.  I was especially delighted to learn that Mrs. Filley is a long-time Cather fan and had received her copy of the Spring Cather Review with my portraits inside!

Lyn's "models" at the 2017 Plein Aire
The success of my acceptance for publication in the Cather Review encouraged me to enter the Kansas State Fair Professional Artists Show again.  Many of you who follow this blog are also fans and collectors of  a water color artist with ties to Pratt, and Darren Parker has shared with me his intention to enter the State Fair Professional Artists Show with one, or possibly two, of his watercolors.

I am writing this blog before the judging for the particular purpose of letting readers know that the Professional Artists' works have been moved to a different building.  You will not  find the Professional Artists work nor the Plein Aire art displayed in the Oz Building as it has been in the past.  (This change also moves the photography display.)  

Lyn drawing at the 2018 Plein Aire at the Fair

To view the art, go to Lake Talbot East/West located on 23rd Avenue, between Fort Hays Blvd. and Fort Leavenworth Blvd.  For some of you with 4-Hers,  you may identify the two buildings as being across from the 4-H Centennial Hall, the two buildings formerly the Boy and Girl Scout Buildings.  The Professional Art will be in the former Boy Scout building and the Plein Aire (and photography) will be in the former Girl Scout building.  The announcement of prizes for the Plein Aire will be at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, and will remain on display through the remainder of the fair.

The Plein Aire competition requires artists to create their work on the fairgrounds, inspired by subjects they can view at the Fair.  They must do the work only at the Fair and within the hours specified--on Friday noon to 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Visitors to the Fair are encouraged to watch for artists at work and to pause for a visit if they wish.  Children in particular seem to enjoy watching and asking questions.  Artists work in a variety of media, from acrylics and watercolor to pencils and pastels to paper mosaics or any other creative medium they wish.  No more than two entries can be submitted for judging by any one artist, although an artist my wish to complete additional work from which to select their two entries.  

Maybe I will see some of you at the Fair, and I hope you visit the new location in the former Boys and Girls Scout buildings to view the art on display.

Remember, the images can be enlarged by clicking on them.  Look closely for the cat and mouse in my "Fresh Yellow Squash" pastel painting.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Threshing Machines

Although we have often visited Red Cloud, Nebraska for the Willa Cather gatherings, we have always been too busy with the Cather events to take the time to visit the local Museum  in Red Cloud.  During the 2019 visit we decided to correct that omission.

I am always on the lookout for information related to the era of the Populist Movement, and while the Thrashing Machine pictured in this blog is a bit later than Isaac's time, it is an example of the advances in farming equipment occurring during Isaac's lifetime.  In the late 1800s, wheat was being harvested by machine in Isaac's community.

You may see the verb thresh as well as thrash  used in reference to the process of harvesting, and Thrashing Machine as used in the label shown above is actually the less common spelling, although both are used.

The process of threshing removes the seeds from the stalks and husks by beating the plant to make the seeds fall.  Isaac mentions using a buffalo wallow (apparently with some kind of canvas over the sandy soil) and walking his horses over the stalks to  remove the grain he raised.

At the museum in Red Cloud we had the opportunity to stand beside the giant thrasher in these photographs, so massive it dwarfed everything around it.

With the early threshing machines of the 1880s the grain had to be harvested separately, by hand or machine, and then fed into the thresher.  Isaac described the mowers that might have been used to cut the wheat.  Until threshing machines were invented, the threshing process was primitive.

The equipment was a simple flail, a stick with a shorter stick attached to the end which was capable of flexing or flailing about as the laborer beat the grain out of the stalks.

Threshing Flail
Obviously, the process was very strenuous for the laborers.  However hard the work was, and despite the low wages and high taxes workers paid, the arrival of the mechanized threshing machines led farm workers to strike.  Thousands of men who had been employed as farm laborers were put out of work, which put these former workers on the brink of starvation, resulting in what was called the Swing Riots.  Despite the obvious suffering of the laborers, the English government dealt harshly with the strikers, hanging nine of them and transporting 450 to Australia.

As with many new inventions, what was seen as a welcome mechanical advance for humanity was for others the end of their means of livelihood.  The improvements to the early threshing machines led to steam powered machines that could harvest the crops in the fields, and the threshing process advanced from a pile of grain, straw and chaff to belts and blowers that separated the waste from the grain.  

Now the monster machines that harvest the crop can pour the cleaned grain into a bin pulled along beside the combine, while men in air conditioned cabs move around the field, the harvesting guided by GPS.  Although far fewer farm laborers are needed, hiring those workers capable of managing the technology can be a challenge.  So far, humans are still needed in our technologically advancing world!  

Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.  

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Lost Lady's Husband

Among my favorite places when we travel are the homes of authors.  Our road trip may have a different ultimate destination, but I will check to see if our route passes near the former home of a writer I admire.  Many of the homes of America's greatest authors have been preserved for visitors, and it is fun to see how they lived and where they wrote.

But perhaps no place is more interesting than the town of Red Cloud, Nebraska, where Willa Cather spent her youth and to which she often returned for visits as an adult.  This blog has shared pictures of the many buildings in Red Cloud that have a direct relationship with her stories and novels.  For serious Cather fans, however, there is also the opportunity to learn about the actual residents of her time that Cather used as inspiration for her characters.  An obvious example is Annie Pavelka, the model for Antonia.

Our most recent trip allowed me to focus on the character of Captain Daniel Forrester in A Lost Lady, described in the novel as a contractor of railroad construction for Burlington.  Rather than describing the plot of the novel, I will use details about Forrester and his lovely younger wife as examples of how Cather built characters and plots from actual residents and events in her home town. Items displayed in the Webster County Museum provide direct references to Cather's practice.

Chapter three describes the arrival at the Episcopal Church of Mrs. Forrester:  "...a low carriage drove up to the door.  Ben Keezer was on the front seat, and on the back seat was a lady, alone, all puffs and ruffles, and a black hat carrying a parasol with a carved ivory handle. As the carriage stopped she lifted her dress to alight; out of a swirl of foamy white petticoats she thrust a black, shiny slipper."

Cather's local inspiration for Captain Forrester was Captain Silas Garber, and the carriage pictured above is the carriage that once belonged to Garber.  How easy it was for me to imagine Mrs. Forrester stepping gracefully from this carriage just a Cather wrote.  "She stepped lightly to the ground and with a nod to the driver went into the church."

Her husband was described by Cather as looking like "the pictures of Grover Cleveland.  His clumsy dignity covered a deep nature, and a conscience that had never been juggled with.  His repose was like that of a mountain.  When he laid his fleshy, thick-fingered hand upon a frantic horse, an hysterical woman, an Irish workman out for blood, he brought them peace; something they could not resist.  His sanity asked nothing, claimed nothing; it was so simple that it brought a hush over distracted creatures."  The portrait at right is of Capt. Silas Garber, Cather's inspiration for Forrester and one of the founders of Red Cloud.  When Webster County celebrated its 80th year, he was among those men honored as past and present leaders.  (See the framed newspaper page displayed below.)

Although it is generally accepted that Garber was Cather's inspiration, his is a good example to illustrate that her depictions were not direct portraits.  Silas Garber served in the Union Army, following which he moved to California and engaged in livestock trading.  He arrived in Webster County, Nebraska in 1870 as a homesteader and general store proprietor, quickly becoming involved in politics.  In 1871 he became Webster's first Probate Judge, and the next year he was elected to the Nebraska House of Representatives.   In 1873 he was named Registrar of the United States Land Office in Lincoln, a powerful position.  In 1875 he was elected as a Republican to the first of his two terms as Governor.  A distinguished man, but never a contractor building railroads for Burlington as his fictional counterpart was.

The novel is titled A Lost Lady, and while Mrs. Forrester is the central character, the relationship she had with Capt. Forrester is pivotal to the story.  "Curiously enough, it was as Captain Forrester's wife that she most interested Niel, and it was in her relation to her husband that he most admired her.  Given her other charming attributes, her comprehension of a man like the railroad-builder, her loyalty to him, stamped her more than anything else.  That, he felt, was quality; something that could never become worn or shabby; steel of Damascus.  His admiration of Mrs. Forrester went back to that, just as, he felt, she herself went back to it." (Conclusion of Ch. VI)

Although I have sometimes referred to Red Cloud as a Cather fan's Disneyland, it is not a false place of artificial reality.  It is a real town that nurtured the development of Willa Cather as a great American author and that gave her memories of real people and places around which to craft her stories, not to write in a historically accurate depiction but rather to capture the time and place using her memories but employing her imagination and her gift for writing to create something greater.  The sources for her imagination are what remain for visitors to explore in Red Cloud today.  

If you haven't read A Lost Lady, I recommend it.  And if you have read it in the past, I recommend reading it again.  The thing about great writing is that it remains fresh and reveals something new each time you read it.  
(Sword belonging to Capt. Silas Garber, Union Soldier, and inspiration for Capt. Forrester in A Lost Lady.)   Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.  

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Who Belongs in National Statuary Hall?

Prior to the movement to include more women among those proud representatives of their individual states among the bronze and marble statues in the National Statuary Hall, only nine women were so honored.  Soon, two outstanding women from the Great Plains will join those nine earlier women to be installed--Nebraska's Willa Cather, the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize and Kansas's Amelia Earhart, the pioneering female pilot.

The women there before them are a group to be admired, some whose names remain familiar and others whose achievements have begun to fade from American memories.  All of them deserve mention.

Frances E. Willard (1839-1898) was a pioneer in the temperance movement and one of the organizers of the Prohibition Party in 1882.  She served as President of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and was President of Evanston College for Women from 1871 to 1874.  She represents Illinois and was the first woman to be chosen for Statuary Hall.  Less well known but perhaps more significant is Esther Hobart Morris (1814-1902) honored by Wyoming.  Orphaned at 11, she supported herself as a seamstress and businesswoman, involving herself in the anti-slavery movement and women's right to vote.  Her influence led to Wyoming giving that right to women in 1869, along with control of their own property and equal pay for women teachers.  Elected Justice of the Peace in 1870, she became the first woman to hold judicial office in America.

Representing Minnesota is educator Maria Sanford (1836-1920), called at the time of her death "the best loved woman of the North Star State."  She championed women's rights, education of blacks, adult education, and was a founder of parent-teacher organizations.  In addition to education, she also led the conservation and beautification program of Minnesota.

Another educator, Jeannette Rankin (1889-1973), honored by Montana, was a social worker and advocate for women's suffrage, as well as a rancher, lecturer, and lobbyist for peace and women's rights.  Probably she is best known for her political positions, as the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916 and in 1940.  She supported the cause of Peace throughout her life and voted against America's entry in World Wars I and II.  She was the only member of Congress to oppose the Declaration of War on Japan.

Colorado's choice was Florence Sabin (1871-1953), a pioneer in science and public health.  She graduated from Smith College and received her medical training at Johns Hopkins Medical School, the first woman to graduate from there.  Her medical career included many achievements, and for the state that honored her she came out of retirement at the request of the Colorado governor to chair the subcommittee on health that modernized the state's public health system with the "Sabin Health Laws."

Two Native American women have been honored by their states.  Sarah Winnemucca (1844-1891) of Nevada and the Paiute tribe, used her skills in languages to assist both the government and Native American people.  She gave speeches, published the first book by a Native American woman, and started a school in which children were taught in both their native language and English.  The second Native American, Sakakawea (ca. 1788-1812) from North Dakota, served as interpreter for Lewis & Clark.  North Dakota honored her as "traveler and guide, a translator, a diplomat, and a wife and mother."

Washington chose Mother Joseph (1823-1902), who entered the Sisters of Charity at the age of 22.  In 1856 she lead five missionaries to the Pacific Northwest where she employed her skills as an architect and artist in the construction of eleven hospitals, five Indian schools, seven academies, and two orphanages, supervising the construction and raising the funds.

Helen Keller
Finally, perhaps the best known woman among those in the National Statuary Hall is Helen Keller (1880-1968) honored by Alabama.  Her statue depicts Helen as a young girl at the water pump when she first understands the connection between her teacher Annie Sullivan's signing in her hand and language.  Although deaf, blind, and unable to speak, she communicated by touch, Braille, and a special typewriter to become a writer and supporter of social causes.

Of particular notice to me as I studied the women honored in Statuary Hall is the common element of service to others.  It was not their personal achievements alone that caused their states to select them but rather their great service to others.  In the push to achieve Equal Visibility Everywhere (EVE), I hope the continuing honors in nominating women will focus on their service to others, as well as their popular fame and personal achievements.

Another observation is that most of the states that have honored women have been from the Western half of America!  Several were born and educated elsewhere, but their service was welcomed and honored by states in the West.  Perhaps the fact that as settlers immigrated westward, women were often partners with husbands and brothers in farming and business.  Women played an active role in the Populist Movement, particularly farm women, while urban women and women in the East were more involved in Suffrage and Women's Rights.  Perhaps, laboring side-by-side on the farm or in other endeavors gained quicker recognition and respect than parades and speeches!

Willa Cather championed women of many types in her writing--Antonia Shirmerda in My Antonia, Alexandra Bergson in  O Pioneers, Thea Kronberg in Song of the Lark--, inspiring readers with fictional heroes as well as inspiring women with her own achievements as an author.  Amelia Earhart showed women not only that they could fly planes but also that just because men had dominated many professions women were not incapable of mastering those professions as well.

Other states are now considering whether to replace earlier statues with individuals from more recent times.  Two governors have already signed legislation to replace male figures with females, with plans to move the statues of these largely forgotten men to a respectful location elsewhere.  In some cases of removal, the men are being replaced because they were chosen for values no longer respected.

The selection of replacements should not be based exclusively on gender, but it does seem appropriate that states give more attention to the ladies than some have in the past!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Amelia Flies Into Washington

Amelia Earhart at Lundeen Studios
It has been a long flight for Amelia Earhart but at last she will  reach her destination!  In 1999 the Kansas state legislature voted to replace the two 19th century statues in the National Statuary Hall.  The subjects of the two new statues were chosen at that time--Amelia and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The funds for Eisenhower's statue were promptly raised, and his statue was installed in 2003.  Fundraising for Amelia did not proceed so quickly.

An organization called Equal Visibility Everywhere, EVE, stepped in to help.  This nonpartisan organization is dedicated to placing more women among our nation's symbols and icons, and they worked with people in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia's hometown, to complete the raising of $300,000 needed to complete the design and get Amelia Earhart to Statuary Hall.  In 2010, a spokesman for EVE estimated that with Amelia's popularity the necessary funds could be raised and the statue completed in 3 or 4 years.  Obviously, that prediction was overly optimistic, but the important result is that despite the delay the dream was realized.

An impressive group was formed to review the proposals from sculptors from across the country, which included representation from the National Women of Arts Museum in Washington, D.C., the Wichita Art Museum and the Spencer Art Museum at the University of Kansas; both the Festival Chair and a businessman from Atchison, Kansas; the Chair of EVE; Amelia's niece, and the President of the 99s, the famed International Organization of Women Pilots.  Thirty-two sculptor proposals were received and the top five were invited to send additional information, including a maquette of their proposed sculpture (a miniature clay sculpture of their proposed design).

George and Mark Lundeen of Lundeen Studios in Loveland, Colorado were chosen, and they were tasked to produce not only the statue for the National Statuary Hall but also its twin for the Amelia Earhart Hanger Museum in Atchison, Kansas.  The image above is from the Museum website showing the straightening of the clay statue in preparation for casting. 

If you missed last week's post about Nebraska's choice of Willa Cather to represent their state in the National Statuary Hall, you may scroll down to the post below to read more.  Bravo to these Great Plains states for adding two important American women to the inadequate number of women in  Statuary Hall.  Long may they remain there to represent the achievements of two gifted and brave women from the plains!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Bravo to the Ladies

The ladies have been too long neglected in the National Statuary Hall and that has finally been noticed!  I am particularly pleased by Nebraska and Kansas, who are both in the process of sending two of their great ladies to Washington!!

My first in this 3-part series is particularly exciting because I have seen the maquette, or small version of the future full sized sculpture, to be added as one of the two representatives of Nebraska in the National Statuary Hall.  I am also pleased to have met Creighton University sculpture professor and renowned midwestern sculptor Littleton Alston, who revealed the maquette at the 2019 Annual Spring Conference.  

More than 70 artist-applicants from throughout the United States were considered by the selection committee prior to choosing Sculptor Alston.  About his choice settling upon how he wished to depict Cather, he said that he wanted to capture her intelligence and the twinkle in her eyes, "standing, as if surrounded by nature, at home in the Nebraska prairie."

Littleton Alston introduces his Willa
 As Littleton Alston gently lifted the drapery covering the unfired clay sculpture, the ohs and ahs of Cather scholars and fans filled the room.  Several of those scholars, so learned about details of Cather herself as well as of her writing, whispered excitedly about the walking costume the sculptor had chosen for Willa.  'That is the attire she wore in New Hampshire to walk up the mountain to the tent that had been set up for her as a private place to find the solitude for writing,' was whispered in varous versions.  Even the walking stick she used has been included in the maquette.  

Sculptor Alston studied many photograph in making his decision about the depiction of Willa Cather, and perhaps he saw a picture of Cather wearing her New Hampshire hiking attire.  However, the choice does seem especially appropriate for her arrival in Sculpture Hall.  The beautifully beaded evening dresses she loved for attending the opera would not have been appropriate for the serious opportunity of representing Nebraska in the halls of Congress.  I hope Willa would be pleased.

Lyn with Littleton Alston
The new statues of Willa Cather and Ponca Chief Standing Bear will replace the former Nebraska statues in Sculpture Hall of Julius Sterling Morton and William Jennings Bryan.  (Of course, Bryan was the People's Party Presidential nominee when they chose to join the Democrats in nominating Bryan for President.  Isaac would surely have cast his vote for Bryan.) 

Next week will continue with the new statue representing Kansas.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Emotion of Books

A few of the book titles Isaac owned in similar editions
I confess.  I am still one of those who likes to hold a book in my hands when I read--preferably a beautifully bound hard cover book, although I need to put a pillow in my lap to hold the book because my arms get tired.  I read when I walk on my treadmill, although paperback books are preferable in that case, because they are lighter.  I have a smart phone, but when I encounter a word whose meaning is unclear, I still prefer reaching for the dictionary rather than looking up the word on my phone.  Sometimes I will find something interesting as I flip pages or search down the columns of the dictionary pages for the word I am seeking.  Being in a library where real books line the walls stirs my emotions in a way that computers and smart phones cannot do.

There is something about walking into a library or a personal home with shelves of books that, for me, inspires awe.  When we visited Philadelphia, one of the sites we chose was the tour of a historic home owned by a doctor.  In his personal office were book cases filled with leather bound books, the only furniture being the doctor's desk with its chair facing a fireplace.  I don't remember any of the other rooms in that house, but the library was awesome to me.    

An edition Isaac's library would have contained
Recently we went to the annual book sale held by the Wichita Art Museum.  Donated books are sold at prices ranging from a dollar to five dollars.  The quality of the donated books lining rows of tables are impressive, both in condition and content.  Volunteers have sorted books into categories, and prices are shown by the colors of the bright stickers on each book's cover.  Art books and a few other books deemed more valuable are separately priced, and I could hardly resist the Thomas Eakins art book priced at fifty dollars.

However, the most exciting thing about the annual sale is the crowd!  The parking lot required a long walk to reach the museum, and the people we meet carrying bags and boxes and arm loads of books made me wonder whether all the best books would be gone by the time we reached the museum.  That was not the case.  Although we didn't arrive until after lunch on the second day of the sale, the tables remained full.

A set of books my grandparents owned
Certainly, one of the things that attracted me to Isaac Werner was our common love for books.  As a young druggist in Rossville, Illinois, he spent his money on books, writing in his journal that he believed buying books was a better investment than loaning his money to others for the interest it would earn.  He imagined building a house with a separate structure for his books, to protect his library from fire should his house burn.  When he homesteaded on the prairie in Kansas, he crated his library and brought it with him.

The discouraging

statistics about the decline in reading among Americans suggests that my feelings about books are not shared by everyone.  In 2018, Pew Research reported that 74% had read at least one book during the prior 12 months, if print, audio, and digital were all included.  Print books remained the most popular reading source, 67% having read one print book.  Between 2016 and 2018, the number of Americans 'reading' audiobooks rose from 14% to 18%.  The typical American reads 4 books a year.  Those with more education tend to read more books than those with less education.

Another research source, Statista, found slightly different numbers, although they agreed that women read more than men, and those with college educations read more that those with less education.  They compared readership by age groups, asking who had read at least one book in the past year.  Of those aged 18 to 29, 80% said they had read at least one book; those  30 to 49 reported 73%; those 50 to 64 reported 70%; and those 65 and above dropped to 67%.  Unfortunately, one book a year is a very low target to suggest significant American readers!

Wichita Museum Book Sale 2019
One-book-a-year people were not the readers that came to the Wichita Art Museum to enjoy the Annual Book Sale. I was so thrilled by the crowd that I had to take a picture.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Research Rapture

Reading the 1880-1890s County Capital newspapers
While going through the clippings and notes I save, I discovered a clipping from a newspaper--probably the 'New York Times' judging from the typeset.  The essay is written by Janice P. Nimura, and she introduced me to the term "research rapture."  The experience she describes in the article is not new to me.  She describes research rapture as "the rare and ecstatic moment when you slip the bounds of the present and follow a twinkling detail into the past."  Of course, she is talking about an author doing research.

Those of you who follow my blog know about my discovery of Isaac Werner's journal and my decision that his story, and the story of the southcentral region of Kansas during the Populist Movement, should be told.  I believed that his story deserved more that simply transcribing the journal for publication, although I did transcribe it.  Rather, I began researching his community during the Populist Movement, keeping Isaac's journal at the heart of my story but expanding my quest to cemeteries, courthouses, museums,, old newspapers, photographs, state archives, interviews with descendants, visits to towns where Isaac lived, the internet, and of course, books.

Visiting the river near Rossville, Il where Isaac loved to walk
In Janice Nimura's case, she was searching for a subject, knowing only that she was interested in Japan in the late 1800s.  Her moment of "research rapture" came from a memoir titled "A Japanese Interior," which finally gave her direction to a book subject after three years of searching.

In my case, I knew I wanted to write about Isaac and the Populist Movement, but I was open to finding the best way to tell his story.  My "research rapture" happened many times as I explored Isaac and the late 1800s.  Some of my discoveries found their way into this blog, although they did not fit directly into the manuscript.  Nevertheless, they enriched my understanding of the region during that time period.  They helped to guide the direction I would ultimately take in telling history.

Visiting Isaac's Grave
I prefer reading from what I consider "real" books, not e-books or audio books but rather printed books in my own hands.  In doing my research for the manuscript, our library grew.  I read books mentioned in Isaac's journal, books from that era, locally published books about the region or specific communities (often published for centennials or other special occasions), biographies and autobiographies, documents from the period, and scholarly books.  Of course, I also searched online.

It was Nimura's comments about searching online that drew me to her article.  She wrote:  "Search algorithms leave no room for serendipity, and without that, some of the magic leaks out of the pursuit of the past.  I had to be efficient in my research; that's where Google came in.  But whenever possible, I tried to create space for aimless wandering, and every time, the story became more vivid."

Those words spoke directly to me. Nimura's "aimless wandering" may have been done online, but my wandering was not confined within a keypad, book covers, or walls.  My husband and I visited Rossville, Il and Wernersville, Pa, although there is little in the book about those places Isaac lived before coming to Kansas.  We visited his mother's lonely grave in Abilene, Ks., as well as graves of his father and siblings.  I researched the genealogy of all of Isaac's neighbors and acquaintances mentioned in the journal.  I spent days reading all of the weekly editions of the County Capital, the populist newspaper in St. John to which Isaac subscribed and for which he often wrote.  Whether this wandering ended up directly in the manuscript or not, it deepened my understanding of Isaac and the period about which I was writing.

As Nimura wrote:  "It's not enough to find every mention of a specific event, even though algorithms make it easy.  Sometimes the telling detail--the yeast that makes the whole lump rise--isn't in the headline you're reading.  It's in the gossip column on the next page, or in the classifieds tucked in the back."  In my case, the telling details may have been found in such places as an old cemetery or inside an old volume at the courthouse.  Thank you Janice Nimura for putting so beautifully into words the importance of research rapture and the unanticipated discovery.  It is what has lifted Isaac Werner off of the faded pages of his journal to bring him and southcentral Kansas back to life as farmers struggled to survive and created a political movement to help them.  
Reading what Isaac read

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Iron Man Artistry

Art is so large it filled the entire bay door

Why is it that sometimes the local treasures closest to home are overlooked as we travel to other places to admire their sites?  Such is true of my neglect to pause long enough to visit the Ironman Studios Metal Art Gallery fourteen miles from our home!

How many times have we gone into Macksville to pick up our mail since Brian Williamson's gallery was opened?  Several times a week at least.  How many times have we pulled in to pump gas at the station across the street from his gallery?  Countless times.

A display in his gallery
If others in our region have failed to visit Williamson's gallery as we had done until recently, I hope this blog alerts you to what you have missed.

Brian Williamson is a craftsman who respects both of the skills that he brings to two very different yet similar things.  He learned a lot about working with metal in his auto repair shop, and he still takes that craft very seriously when someone brings him a car that looks beyond repair.

The fact that his gallery is in what was once a filling station may trick you into overlooking that an artist is at work there.  Although he has landscaped the exterior beautifully and the gallery where his work is displayed offers a professional background for his artistry, cars and trucks rumble by without realizing they have passed an art studio.  

My husband and I knew what it was, but until we happened
Detail reveals the silverware utilized
to pass by when one of the bay doors of the former filling station shop was open and we saw the magnificent metal artistry of Williamson did we pull in to visit his studio.  Parked in front of the gallery was a severely damaged car that awaited the artist/auto repairman.

When I asked him if I might interview him and take some photographs for my blog, thinking he might enjoy a little publicity for his art, he graciously stopped his work, but he also admitted that he had about as much work as he could do to keep up with orders!  That is a wonderful problem for an artist to have.

Study the pictures of his artistic creations closely.  He uses old blades and silverware in his designs.  I asked if he used chemicals to bring out the colors in his metal works, and he said, "No, I use fire."

Enjoy the colors and light of the metal
He told me some of the places where he had shipped his art to other states, so he is clearly not an unknown, struggling artist.  But if you are a local, or someone who happens to be passing through Macksville, Kansas, don't be as neglectful as I was.  Stop in to see the amazing metal sculptures of Brian Williamson at 133 E. Broadway, Macksville, Kansas 67557.

As I write this blog, I cannot help but recall how Isaac Werner carefully saved materials to be used in new ways and with his own creative gifts designed, invented, and improved so many things that are described in his journal.  

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Fairies at the Farm

Iris from Spring of 2019
The spring of 2019 was a challenging year for iris.  Straight line winds and heavy rain whipped and drenched the iris beds repeatedly.  Yet, somehow, these old fashioned flowers withstood the abuse and kept blooming.  Although they look as delicate as hothouse orchids, they are stubborn.  As Old House Gardens writes at their website, "Tough, beautiful, and diverse, heirloom iris thrive without care in old gardens and graveyards across America."

I have written about the iris at our farm before--my mother's love for them and my collecting of rebloomers when we lived in the South where winter arrived late enough to allow a second blooming season.  My collected rebloomers survive the Kansas weather, but they no longer bloom in the fall.

This year, as I cleared away the leaves deposited in the iris bed the previous autumn and swept aside the sand that constantly tries to smother my iris tubers, I decided to add a little magic to the iris and native wild violet beds.

Our Aunt Freda is an artist.  I wrote about her 100th birthday celebration, and this October she will celebrate her one hundred-third birthday!  For many years, including into her 100th, she enjoyed painting Kansas scenes on canvas, but eventually even this invincible lady confronted a challenge that required her to give up painting her landscapes and structures.  Failing eyesight did not force her to give up painting entirely, however!

She discovered the miniature birdhouses at the craft store and directed her artistic gifts toward painting these tiny houses, continuing her creativity in a way that did not require the detail of her paintings on canvas.

With her usual generosity of sharing her work, she enjoyed gifting these colorful little houses to family and friends.  As I worked cleaning the iris beds, I thought of Freda's tiny birdhouses that we had put away for the winter, and decided they would make perfect fairie houses in my iris and violet beds.  With a few small stones tucked inside the houses to keep the Kansas winds and curious squirrels from dislodging them, I found protected places in the roots of old trees for the little structures.  As stubborn as the iris and violets, the little fairie houses have withstood the wind and rain, and even the curiosity of squirrels and occasional deer.  Although I haven't caught sight of a fairie yet, I'm sure they have appreciated a place to take refuge this past stormy spring.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Corporations and the People's Party

Isaac's journal kept during the Populist Movement
The early years of what became the United States of America consisted almost entirely of a population of farmers, proprietors of small shops, and independent producers, like blacksmiths and farriers.  Gradually, that began to change from self-employed proprietors to large corporations operated by salaried managers.  The agricultural and small merchant society of community businesses and small towns with citizens having fewer economic differences evolved into larger urban areas with greater distinctions in wealth.

At the beginning of the Civil War, there were 400 millionaires in the United States.  By 1892 there were 4,047.  American society had evolved into a wealthy class, a middle class, and a laboring class.  Key to this evolution was the changing view of incorporation.  Many lawmakers saw the interests of the nation as linked to the growth of large corporations.  With this perspective, lawmakers voted for tax cuts and other benefits, and the old way of life changed forever.

It was during this period of rapidly changing social conditions that Isaac Werner kept his daily journal and farmers and other workers formed the People's Party to come together in their greater numbers to politically confront the smaller number of wealthy voters.  However, the wealthy had greater power, and with many politicians seeing corporations as essential to the economic growth of the nation, even those politicians elected by workers often voted with the wealthy once in office.

Power of Wall Street & Railroads political cartoon
Farmers like Isaac saw the incorporation of America as an unfair misappropriation of the nation's wealth.  The original idea had been that the new nation's greatest wealth was in its vast lands, a wealth that seemed inexhaustible.  Thomas Jefferson and others had predicted that it would take a thousand years for the population to spread to the Pacific, and homestead laws were enacted to encourage that spread.  Instead, only three generations had been needed.  Railroads had played a significant role in that expansion, and railroads had also been key to the economic changes in the nation, including the growth of incorporation.

After the Civil War the 14th Amendment was enacted to provide freed slaves "equal protection of the laws."  However, an aggressive lawyer used it for his railroad client's purposes.  Seeking to avoid a California tax on railroad property, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company owned by Leland Stanford argued that his railroad was a person too.  His lawyer cited the intent of those who drafted the amendment as having been meant to embrace 'artificial persons as well as natural persons."  Years later it was found that the lawyer had fabricated that intention.

By then, as the saying goes, the horse was out of the barn.  A series of cases which have led to the more recent Citizens' United case, have expanded the interpretation to see corporations as people too.

In a speech in 2003 by Bill Moyers, he said:  "They [populists and progressives] were a diverse lot, held together by a common admiration of progress--hence the name--and a shared dismay at the paradox of poverty stubbornly persisting in the midst of progress like an unwanted guest at a wedding.  Of course they welcomed, just as we do, the new marvels in the gift-bag of technology...But they saw the underside, too--the slums lurking in the shadows of the glittering cities, the exploited and unprotected workers whose low-paid labor filled the horn of plenty for others, the misery of those whom age, sickness, accident or hard times condemned to servitude and poverty with no hope of comfort or security. ...This is what's hard to believe--hardly a century had passed since 1776 before the still-young revolution was being strangled in the hard grip of a merciless ruling class."

United States Supreme Court
When America was founded, there was a natural suspicion of corporations, based on abuses known from English law.  The evolution of corporations in American was gradual, recognizing the benefits of people coming together to pool assets for businesses larger than the simple independent producers in the original colony but also realizing the potential for abusive power.  Yet, gradually the benefits began to seem more important than the risks.  Black's Law Dictionary defines a corporation as "An artificial person or legal entity created by or under the authority of the laws of a state or nation... acting as a unit or single individual in matters relating to the common purpose of the association..."

We ordinary humans do not need "the authority of the laws of a state or nation" to define us.  Corporations do.  In the Citizen's United case, the dissent argued that the Founding Fathers disliked corporations and never intended the First Amendment to apply to corporations.  In his concurring opinion with the majority, Justice Scalia wrote that even if that argument were relevant, "the individual person's right to speak includes the right to speak in association with other individual persons."  Scalia seemed to think that because a group of individuals had incorporated to manufacture "something or other," they were entitled to select those to speak for them about their common venture, and those persons, acting within that corporate capacity, are protected under the first amendment. 

For Scalia, the individual shareholder in the corporation has not only his voice but also the voice of the corporation of which he is a part.  One might say such a person has his own tiny voice but also the megaphone volume of his voice amplified by the wealth and influence of the corporation.  Others might see it as unfair for both individual shareholders and the corporation of which they are a part to have the protection of the 1st Amendment's freedom of speech, but the Supreme Court did not.

By analogy, it might be argued that all of those coming together in the People's Party in the late 1800s to exert more influence through the combined power of their votes were using the power of a political party to magnify their individual votes.  Even so, they didn't get to vote twice. 

Remember, you can click on images to enlarge them.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Isaac Werner Visits Cullison, Part 4

Last week's blog left Isaac Werner on his way to Pratt, leaving Cullison after feeding and resting his horses a bit.  If you have not been following Isaac's potato marketing trips to and through Cullison, Kansas, from July through October of 1887, you may want to scroll back through the previous three blogs.  

D. W. Blain
Having traveled 40-some miles that October 26th day in 1887, Isaac "Staid [sic] over night in Blaine's new built large implement shed.  Pratt quite lively, building large new brick buildings hurried along towards completion."

He awakened to a "fair and pleasant day."  The weather was always important to Isaac, and each day's entry in his journal began with the weather, even when he was not at home, as was the case that morning when he awakened in Blaine's  new shed.  Isaac was a regular customer, and he had business to conduct with them.  "Morning paid Blaine Bros 15.00 cost to apply on my last 25.00 note for Deering mower due November 1st.  Then selected a new Pekin Steel beam stirrig plow at 18.00, due Sept 1st, 1888, interest at 10% after April first & plow returnable if not proving satisfactory."  His overnight stay coincided with  the move-in for Blaine Bros., and they had begun "moving their stock to new building by 8. 

Apparently Isaac was in a visiting mood before colder weather kept him at home, for he traveled "home via Iuka and to dinner at Bob Moore's."  Isaac had built Moore's home for him, and they were well acquainted.  The noon meal was 'dinner,' and the evening meal was 'supper,' terms used in my own family when I was a child.

When he finally reached home, he could hardly wait to try the "new Pekin plow out," plowing out Silver Skin [potatoes], working tolerable well just one round & picked them up by dusk, ground yet nice for potato digging and plowing."

This ends my four-week series on Isaac's potato marketing in 1887.  He did sell potatoes to businesses nearer home, but locally, his profitable potato venture had become keeping potatoes in his cellar through the winter and marketing seed potatoes in the spring.  He knew that selling the seed potatoes reduced potato sales later to those who were growing their own, but it gave him some needed spring revenue.  Most neighbors lacked the space to store potatoes through the winter or only planted what they needed for their own consumption, so his spring seed potato business was active in the community.

This series is an example of the contents of Isaac's journal and how I can develop a narrative about a particular theme, sharing the story accurately without simply transcribing the journal.  My manuscript is not a mere transcription of the journal's text but rather the story of the Populist Movement in Isaac's area and the nation, focusing on historic events from the perspective of a particular Kansas community.  The authentic experiences of Isaac, and the communities near his claim, are integrated with research from many sources--academic books, searches in courthouses, local publications, newspapers, visits to cemeteries and towns in which Isaac lived, and historic sites, interviews of descendants, old letters and photographs, genealogy research on of everyone mentioned in Isaac's journal, and my own experience of having been raised in the area in which Isaac staked his claims, among other extensive research.

Sharing Isaac's 1887 potato marketing in these four posts utilizes more actual quotes from his journal than I use in the manuscript and less narrative with research from other sources, but I hope you enjoyed experiencing how Isaac survived as a potato farmer one particular summer.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Isaac Werner Visits Cullison, Part 3

Wagon displayed in Stafford County (KS) Museum
Having been successful marketing his potatoes further south of his community, Isaac Werner planned his last trip before winter.  The cold weather required special preparations for his trip, which began October 24, 1887.  "By 9 a.m. I got done choring & off with my load of potatoes for Stringfield's [the local blacksmith].  Got mares shod in front & off for Cullison.  There by 2 p.m. & cold raw NE air & cloudy, about bordering on snow.  Disagreeable cold to be out unless extra warm dressed to sit on wagon."

Eager to resume his trip in daylight, before temperatures dropped with the setting sun, " 3 left Cullison & by dusk turned in at J.P. Chinn's ranch 7 miles N. of Sun City.  Chilling night air sure, covered my potatoes some extra."

Isaac "found Chinns a clever family."  In the 1890 Federal Census, it appears that John P. and Joanna Chinn had both been born in Kentucky.  They had four sons--Isaac L. (born about 1853), Garrett C. (born about 1855), John T. (born about 1857), and Eddie D. (born about 1863), all of whom were born in Iowa, indicating that the couple had not come directly from the land of their births to Kansas.  By the 1900 Federal Census, J.P. Chinn is a widower living by himself in Pratt, Kansas.

Bachelor Isaac, living alone as he did, enjoyed the opportunity to visit with people he found interesting, and after his night's rest, the following morning had "cleared off and moderating into pleasant day," so he lingered for "a lengthy morning talk with Mr. & Mrs. Chinn," delaying his start until "by 10 I got started & by noon down to Sun City, good roads and agreeable weather."  Although Isaac had taken the precaution of covering his potatoes "some extra" the night before, a "few got frost bitten on top layer under 3 thicknesses of wagon cover." 

Slicker Ad from St. John County Capital newspaper
Isaac was disappointed when, unlike the market for his previous marketing trips to Sun City, "potato market somewhat dull--money so scarce.  Finally I sold 5 bushels at Hotel and 16 1/2 to dry goods store (Dougles), all at a dollar a bushel."  He did a "a little trading & by 4 ready to start back, & after dusk & moonlight by 8 to Spring Vale.  Staied [sic] there over night in feed stable.  Thirty-five cents to hay and stable."  As part of my research for the manuscript, my husband and I traced Isaac's route for this trip, but our search for Spring Vale found no remaining trace.  

The next morning dawned "fair & pleasant," and Isaac went to Wellsford to get "some needed harness trimmings & collar."  Unfortunately, Isaac had forgotten his new slicker and had to backtrack to Spring Vale to retrieve it.  That done, Isaac headed to Cullison to feed his team.  After giving his team a short rest, he headed to Pratt, making that day's journey about 40 miles.

Next week's blog will conclude Isaac's potato marketing trip as he does some shopping in Pratt and pauses for a visit with a neighbor before returning home.