Thursday, December 13, 2018

Heirloom quilts from Blog Readers


Mother's Wool Throw
Although my mother was a wonderful seamstress and the 4-H sewing leader when I was young, she was not a quilter.  However, she did make me a wool throw with square pieces sewn together with crochet stitches.  Several of the blocks are embroidered or appliqued with symbols of my young experiences.  Unfortunately, over the years moths got into the wool.  I have sealed it well and treated it to avoid the moths escaping to work on other things, but I can't bring myself to destroy her gift to me.

Drunkard's Path Pattern
The remainder of this blog is a real treat, with photographs and stories received from readers.  Jim Clopton asked, "What do you do with empty walls in a hallway?" and provided the answer with a quilt pattern called Drunkard's Path.  I guess Jim assumed that even a drunk could find his way down a hall!  

Some of the quilts shared in photographs and stories are imperfect, with stains and tears and fading, but they remain precious heirlooms from the grandmothers and great-grandmothers who made them.  Others were lovingly cared for and were passed to loved ones in like-new condition.  Janis Moore wrote to me:  "My mother made several beautiful quilts.  She gave each of my kids one of her quilts for a wedding gift."  Janis' mother was my Sunday School Teacher when I was a little girl, and she was a lovely lady.

Connie Watts' Grandmother's
Connie Watts wrote that she has several of her great grandmother's quilts, describing--"hand embroidered, bonnet girl (which I call Sunbonnet Sue), and a baby quilt she left in my hope chest when I was a little girl.  Each child and grandchild had three quilts that she made special.  The most special thing about a quilt is the weight and the feel of the fabric.  ...Grandmother used mainly flower sacks."  I had to share the picture with the amazing points.  We quilters know how difficult it is to get those sharp points!  

Rodney Smith shared:  "My grandmother and great aunts were quilt makers; however, my mother was also a dressmaker.  She even made a cashmere sport coat for me when I was in college."  I made my husband a tuxedo long ago that he wore to several important corporate events.  What I remember most about making that tuxedo was the eye strain of sewing on black!

Marcy Johnson's Grandma's
How pleased I was to receive a picture and note from Marcy Johnson, who wrote, "My mother's family was from Rossville [IL] and Manns Chapel is my favorite place on earth, next to my home."  She added, "Loving your journey!" referring to my manuscript about Isaac Werner, who was a druggist in Rossville in the 1870s.  Her picture is of a quilt for her Grandparents' 50th Anniversary, with signature blocks from friends and family.

Terry Navarro wrote:  "My mom was a wonderful seamstress--made my wedding dress, flower girl and maid of honor.  She could do anything.  Back in the day, the neighbor ladies would get together and tack a quilt-Grandma, LaLa, Grandma Rojas, Mrs Rosa.  It sure was fun to watch." 
Her comments led to several other comments from others about the dresses their mothers made for them when they were girls--including Maxine Howard and Marsha Thompson.  Those were the days when patterns were less than a dollar and fabric could be found in many stores, I'll bet!  Today, most fabric is to be found in quilt shops.

My mother-in-law, with a heart as generous as could be, made many coverlets for strangers.  She didn't piece the quilts, but she would buy the fabric panels with appealing scenes for children to fill with batting to tie as miniature comforters.  If she read in the newspaper about a sick or injured child, or a family that had lost everything in a house fire, she would find their address somehow (before internet searches) and send one of her little quilts for the children.  In so many ways, quilts are special, and the love that goes into the making is somehow passed along to the recipient--even for generations.

Thank you to everyone who shared stories and pictures, of which I received more than I had room to share but loved all of them.  I'll close with a comment sent by Phyllis McCart in response to last week's post about the sewing machines on which some of the pictured quilts may have been made.  Phyllis wrote:  "These vintage sewing machines are making a comeback!  I am a quilter (33 years) and these machines are being used.  The are sturdy, all metal parts.  Parts are available for repairs and replacements.  Quilters are loving them."  Mary Vandenburg added, "My mother made all my dresses on a sewing machine like this one (referring to last week's blog).  Oh, how I wish I still had it, even though I don't sew!"

As Alice McMillan Lockridge said in her note, these quilts are "a reminder of the life our foremothers lived.  They made work into art and their machines were beautiful too."

(You may click on the images to enlarge them, and you may scroll down to read the earlier blogs about quilts and the beautiful vintage machines.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sewing Machines from the Past

Advertisement from County Capital
In the Stafford County (Kansas) Museum permanent Quilt Exhibit, there are both hand sewn and machine sewn quilts, and part of the collection is a display of sewing machines. I was thrilled when I discovered a New Home machine--actually, two of them--in the exhibit!

From Isaac's journal, I know that he borrowed a sewing machine from friends to do some sewing for himself, but I do not know specifically what sewing he did.  Nor do I know what brand of machine he borrowed.  However, I do know from the County Capital newspaper ad shown at left that Gray & Co. in St. John sold New Home machines.

I had not realized from the newspaper advertisement what beautiful machines these were, but the ad is detailed enough to identify it as being the same model as the two in the exhibit.  They are lovely, with the beautiful trim on the wooden drawers, the name "New Home" in the metalwork of the pedal and both sides, and the intricate painting of the machine itself.

New Home Sewing Machine



There is also a Singer machine in the collection, ornamented with particularly beautiful and colorful painted designs.  

Because of the style and popular light wood of the 1950s and 1960s, another machine in the exhibit appears to me to come from the mid-1900s.  I am sure it was regarded as very modern and tasteful in its time, but the ornate older machines seemed to me to be the 'stars of the show' in the exhibit!



It is a wonderful collection to honor the many women through the years who salvaged scraps of fabric to transform into beautiful quilts, or bought fabrics to make a specific design as a family heirloom, some sewing their quilts by hand and others using machines like the ones on exhibit.  Many of the quilts in the collection were made by women who gathered with friends to quilt as a fundraising effort, raising money for various causes and beautifying the homes of whoever was fortunate enough to go home with the quilt.  The exhibit is worth the visit!

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge.

(If you missed the 2 blogs preceding this week's blog, you may want to scroll down to enjoy the pictures of the beautiful quilts and the interesting stories about the quilts' creations.  Next week I will post the final blog in this quilting series, so if you have a story to share or a picture of an heirloom  family quilt be sure to send it to me soon.)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

More History Sewn Into Quilts

One of my favorite quilt designs is called Wild Geese, which is still popular today.  A handmade quilt by Mary Melissa Groves Ratcliffe (1854-1939) uses the Wild Geese pattern.  One of the special things about quilting is discovering that many of the patterns go back generations.



In addition to the repetition of quilt patterns, many quilters pass fabric down to younger generations.  My own mother was not a quilter, but she was a dressmaker, and I have some of her fabrics.  My mother-in-law, however, was a quilter, and I have many of her fabrics, among which are fabrics from her mother and from an older friend of hers who made dresses for other ladies in the community.  Consequently, I have quite a few treasured fabrics from several decades in the past.  

This log cabin quilt top was fun for me to study, because I thought I saw some fabrics from the same era as my inherited fabric collections.  This quilt top was made by Sarah Adeline McCandless Soice (1863-1936).  It was lined but never quilted, and because it was never completed for use on a bed, the colors remain fresh and bright.  The log cabin pattern remains a popular pattern, modified into many different designs.  It is especially useful for smaller scraps.




The next pair of quilts are interesting to compare because both were made by church ladies and both used the circle pattern to display names.  The quilt above was made by the Methodist Ladies and purchased at a fund raiser by Mrs. J.B.C. (Nancy) Cook, who died at the age of 93 in 1940.  

The Methodist Ladies used a white background with deep red rails and embroidery, but the ladies of the First Christian Church chose only the white background in 1954, omitting the bars, or rails, as they are also called.  However, they too chose a deep red for the embroidery.  Their group was called the Mizpah Class, which is Hebrew for "watchtower."

One of the especially striking quilts on display uses the fan pattern, bright colors on a black background.  Many years ago I made a pair of twin quilts using men's ties my husband no longer wore to create the wedge shapes required for the fan pattern.  I used old suits for the background behind the fans and navy blue solid rails between the fan blocks.  They are a very striking pair of quilts, but because of the wool in the background and rails, they are only suitable during winter months.  I realized while drafting this blog that I packed them away quite some time ago, and this winter I need to get them out and use them again.

There are more beautiful quilts to admire at the museum, and I recommend a visit.  If you missed last week's blog sharing more of the quilts from this collection, you may wish to scroll down to read that blog.  Next week's blog will feature the antique sewing machines that are also exhibited at the Stafford County Museum Quilt Exhibit.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.

P.S.  Thank you to Jim Clopton, who shared photographs of two lovely quilts at my face book post blog reminder, and to Mary Callaway Vandenberg who also shared a photograph of a beautiful family quilt dating back to 1865!  I have downloaded all three photographs and might do a future blog sharing those images if more of you post family quilts!

 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

History Sewn into Quilts

We had not been in the Stafford County Museum exhibit of quilts more than a minute when my husband insisted that I walk away from the quilt I was looking at and come join him.  No wonder.  When I walked to the back of the exhibit to see what he had found, there was my great grandmother's name stitched into one of the rectangles of the quilt.  Michael Hathaway, Executive Director, said we were the first people to have visited the exhibit and have found an ancestor's name on a quilt.  (Of course, some of the quilts were gifted by family members, and Michael was referring to visitors who had simply come to see the exhibit.)




It was a very special quilt.  People in the community were asked to pay $1 to have their name embroidered into the quilt to raise money for the Red Cross during W.W. I.  Four hundred eight people paid the dollar, but more money was raised when the quilt was auctioned.  As people were the highest bidders, they immediately handed it back to be auctioned again, and in that way more and more money was raised.  The funds were used to purchase yarn and other materials to make items for soldiers.  Some women embroidered their own block, and my great grandmother's appeared to have been such a block.

Susan L. Beck's daughter-in-law, my grandmother, was born in England but came to America as a toddler.  Her father, my great grandfather, had family in the village where he was raised, and that village sent many young men to the war, including some family.  In my blogs "The Steadfast Tin Soilder" posted 9-25-2014 and "The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a Sequel" posted 10-2-2014,  about the discovery of a W.W. I toy soldier, I write about that village and its service to the war effort.  It was a particular thrill to see my paternal great-grandmother Susan's name on that quilt.

Many of the quilts on display were made by a group of ladies, rather than a single seamstress, and the signatures of those working on the quilt were often sewn into the pattern.  Perhaps that contributed to the survival of the quilt, since the owner may have cherished the quilt too much to use it on a bed where it would receive every-day wear and tear.  The quilt above was purchased at an estate sale in 1981 and was made by ladies in the Taylorville community, with a reference that suggests a regular quilting group that called themselves the "Merrymakers."

The ribbon cutting of the Stafford County Museum's permanent quilt collection was held May 18, 2018.  The exhibit contains 39 quilts, many of them friendship quilts and fund raiser quilts filled with names of former residents from Stafford and surrounding communities.  The quilts are beautifully displayed on professional quilt hangers that are hinged to be opened like the pages of a book for easy viewing




Not all of the bed coverings in the exhibit are quilts, and fortunately, one lovely example was labeled by a subsequent owner to document the history of the spread.  It reads in part:  "This bedspread was made by Ann Eliza Riddell.  She spun the yarn and wove it into strips.  The strips were then sewn together to make the spread.  Ann Eliza Riddell born March 21, 1843, died April 24, 1914.  John Richardson born Sept. 28, 1839, died Oct. 5, 1915.  They were wed June 28, 1877, Ann being his second wife.  They lived in Estell County, Kentucky, near Irvine, Ky.  They came to Stafford County, Kansas in 1888 and homesteaded 7 miles northwest of Stafford."  (Remember to click on the images to enlarge.)

I have a particular affection for crazy quilts because they represent for me how precious even the tiniest scraps of special fabrics were to these ladies. Velvets and silks and other expensive fabrics of such small pieces that seamstresses today would deposit them into the trash without guilt were carefully saved by their ancestors and turned into something beautiful by patching the small pieces together and ornamenting the seams with their fancy stitching.  To create even more beauty, the patches themselves were decorated with embroidery.  This round crazy quilt, displayed on the wall of the museum exhibit, is a particularly beautiful example.

Next week I will share a few more quilts from the exhibit.









Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Peek into the Voting Booth in 1896

In 1896 Mary Elizabeth Lease delivered her famous speech at Cooper Union Hall in New York City.  It was a time of great anomosity between the wealthy and the working people.  The Democrats and the People's Party had nominated the same Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, and his campaign was focused on replacing the Gold Standard with bimetallism, a monetary standard supported with gold and silver.  If you did not read last week's blog about the 1896 election, you may want to scroll down to "A Documentary Treasure," posted 11-8-2018, to read what has been one of the most popular blogs I have posted.  This week I provide a peek into what some of your farming and other laboring ancestors may have been thinking when they marked their ballots. 

Mary Elizabeth Lease was a Kansan and one of the most popular speakers of that time.  Although women did not have the vote, she appeared before cheering crowds to hold them spellbound for 2 or 3 hours, or more.  On August 11, 1896, according to the New York World newspaper, the crowd was "charmed by the seductive oratory of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Lease."  Among the targets of her criticism were "the name of Whitney and Cleveland, of Vanderbilt and Rothschild" which were "hailed with hisses and cat-calls" from the crowd.  She declared, "...here in this country we find in place of an aristocracy of royalty an aristocracy of wealth."

It was a time when farmers in Kansas like Isaac Werner had gone into debt to buy horses and oxen (the tractors of their time) and equipment when the prices for their crops were high and the interest on their loans was low, only to be crushed by debt when crop prices fell and interest rates soared.  Added to that were the rising fares Railroads imposed to ship farmers' crops to Eastern markets.  To the farmers, Wall Street, Speculators, and Railroad Tycoons were the villains. Populists wanted (1) government regulations to control the power of the wealthy and (2) bimetallism to curtail the hoarding of gold by the wealthy at the expense of the government and the American people.  As Mary Elizabeth Lease said, "They say this question is so deep that the common people are not fit to decide it.  They say 'leave it to the financiers.'  We have left it to them too long, and while we have been sinking into bankruptcy our financiers have been growing millionaires."

Some of these American milliionaires had grown so wealthy they sought to connect their families to royalty by marrying their daughters to royalty in Europe, paying a considerable 'dowery' to secure the match.  Lease didn't think much of that, describing the shame of "...an American to pay $10,000,000 for the cast-off, disreputable rags of old world royalty, for the scion of a house that boasts the blood of a Jeffreys and a Marlborough."  Winston Churchill's mother was an example, and Downton Abbey fans know that Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, is a fictional example.

Hanna was the president's advisor, looking for gold from war bonds.
Mary Elizabeth Lease also railed against the profits made by the wealthy when the government issued bonds to fight the Civil War, as they did for the later Spanish-American War.  "...we have arrived at a point when there is not enough money to carry on the business of the country. ...When the war broke out the Government was compelled to beg for men and money.  You [the American workers] responded nobly to that cry, but the men who had been crying, 'on to Richmond!' refused to answer.  They locked up their gold or sent it to Europe.  They held their gold more sacred than your lives, your liberty, your wives and children, while the Government was compelled to mortgage itself to get that sneaking cowardly yellow metal.  And if war was to break out again to-morrow gold would disappear as suddenly again."

It is always enlightening to look back at history in reflecting on today's issues.  The year Mary Elizabeth Lease was making this speech in 1896 was the same year some of your ancestors were voting on a ballot similar to the ballot that was the subject of last week's blog.  Those voters, called populists, were farmers and other laborers angry with the influence and special treatment of the wealthy in this country.  A few days ago, many Americans voted, and while voters from varying backgrounds and economic groups could be found in both the Republican and the Democratic parties, it is interesting that those voters today identified as Populists and Progressives tend to vote with the Republicans.  What would Mary Elizabeth Lease think?!

I thought this would be an interesting bit of history to follow last week's blog about the 1896 election.  I hope you enjoyed both of them.

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Documentary Treasure

I would not expect any of you to be surprised by the expectation that valuable things might be found at a bank.  However, who might have expected the discovery of this particular documentary treasure?  


The Peoples Bank in Pratt, Kansas has its own 'history detective' who manages to explore the historic documentary heritage of that bank in spare moments.  Founded in 1887, dating back to both the era in which Isaac Beckley Werner was documenting events in his daily journal and also the era of the Populist Movement, the Peoples Bank has witnessed a great deal of history.  When their in-house detective discovered that I share his passion for history, and specifically history of our region and the time of the Populist Movement, he knew he had met someone with whom to share his discoveries of special documents among the forgotten papers stored at the bank.  What a treasure he found recently!

The story behind the treasure is one of the high points of my manuscript, for the document is from the moment when the People's Party reached its political peak and became a national power, while at the same time splintering because of differences within the party that led to its decline.

The Gold Bugs buzz around Uncle Sam
One group, known as Mid-Roaders, wanted to adhere to the initial goals around which the People's Party had formed, having to do with regulation of railroad rates, breaking up monopolies, and  weakening the political power and influence of the wealthy.  The other group, known as Fusionists, wanted to fuse with one or the other of the two major political parties in order to combine enough votes to elect their presidential candidate.  In Northern states, like Kansas, the populists had sometimes worked with the Democrats to defeat Republicans, but in Southern states the old and more powerful political machinery was Democratic, so populists joined with Republicans to defeat the Democrats.  The Mid-Roaders opposed the tactic, pointing out that once elected the politicians ignored the goals of farmers and other laborers.

However, by 1896, the issue of abandoning the gold standard and returning to bi-mentalism, in which both gold and silver supported our national monetary system, had split all three of the parties--the young People's Party and the established Democrat and Republican parties.

Just as a bicycle needs 2 wheels, the Gold standard needs Silver

In the People's Party, the old-line members, the Mid-Roaders, wanted to adhere to their broader goals, but the newer leadership, the Fusionists, wanted to put old goals on the back burner and elevate Free Silver above above everything else.  The same split happened in the Democratic Party, with the majority favoring Free Silver and the minority splitting to form the National Democratic party.  In the Republican Party there was also a split, but its minority was smaller and had less impact.


President Cleveland can't compete without bimetalism

The People's Party Fusionists believed so strongly in Free Silver that they succeeded in convincing the populists to join with the Democrats to nominate William Jennings Bryan.  In exchange, they asked the Democrats to allow the People's Party to name the Vice-President.  The Democrats refused.  William Jennings Bryan was the Presidential candidate for both parties, but the People's Party nominated a well-known and popular Southern populist, Tom Watson, (hoping to win Southern votes) as their Vice-Presidential candidate, while the Democrats nominated a wealthy New Englander named Arthur Sewall.  Sewall ties to Railroads and Banking, (the archenemies of Populists), thinking his credentials could attract Eastern and non-labor votes from the Republicans.





If you have been counting, that makes five different political parties, and it gets even more complicated.  Back-room deals within the populist delegations, including Kansans, were made to swap votes, in which some People's Party leaders agreed to support the Bryan-Sewall ticket in exchange for Democrat support for down-ballot populist candidates.  (More about that later.)  Those 'deals' resulted in six different tickets.  Add the Prohibition Party, which was a strong third party at that time, and the Independent Party, and eight different choices were included on the ballot.

As I said earlier, my research had made me very familiar with this odd political situation, but I never imagined that I would see this odd ballot.  Now I have!  As the People's Bank 'history detective' has surmised, an actual 1896 ballot may very well have survived because someone at the bank was frugal and decided that the blank backs of the unused 1896 presidential election ballots made perfectly good scratch pads. (See back of ballot above.)




Two ballots, the Middle-of-the-Road Populist ticket and the People's Party ticket, have Thomas E. Watson as the vice-presidential nominee.  That may seem to be a distinction without a difference, but it was not.  The President and Vice-President were the same, but the Presidential Electors were different.  That was important.  In fact, after the election NO presidential electors cast their votes for Thomas E. Watson, regardless of where voters may have marked their ballots.   

Tom Watson had not asked to be put on the ballot as the vice-presidential nominee, and he had not been present at the convention when that was done, but he accepted the decision and campaigned.  The new-comers to the Populist Movement not only engineered the Free Silver strategy and participated in the back-room deals, they openly supported Sewell.   When Watson visited the Kansas People's Party state headquarters, he faced the humiliation of entering through a door over which a banner reading "Bryan and Sewell" was hung.

That, and other such treatment that Watson saw as disloyal to a man who had stood with the People's Party in the past, changed him.  His bitterness caused him to turn away from things he had once championed.  Reading his political history before and after 1896 is like reading the record to two different men.

Bryan lost the election, the strategy failed, and the self-inflicted wounds within the People's Party led to its decline.  The amazing ballot found by the Peoples Bank 'document detective' Phillip Toalston is a unique piece of Kansas political history at a time when the State of Kansas wielded great political power.  Thank you Phillip!



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


   

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Isaac on Ethics and Faith

Alleorgory showing sins in the human heart
Those of you who follow the blog regularly know that Isaac Werner was a man of faith, with Cruden's Concordence in his library to aid in his studies of the Bible.  You will also know that he was sometimes critical of ministers he heard preach, faulting them for inadequate knowledge of the Bible or boring presentations of His word, or even worse, hucksterism.  (See "A Wonderful Discovery," 3/12/2015 in this blog.)

Isaac faced the economic crisis for farmers and other laborers of the late 1800s by meeting with others for ideas, studying books and journals, and eventually, by joining in the Populist Movement.  Faith and Politics are nothing new.  Many of Isaac's neighbors formed morning prayer groups to meet at each other's homes as a way to face the Populist challenges.  Some of these neighbors were also active in the meetings, study groups, and political action with which Isaac was involved.  Isaac was critical of only those who seemed to think God was a Republican or those who thought prayer was the only way to improve their circumstances.

Envy, including Dog and Snake
Thinking about Isaac's times and the complications of sin and politics sparked my curiosity.  There is really nothing new under the sun, as the old saying goes, and although separation of church and state are considered integral to American freedoms, citizens have often disagreed about what this requires.

Populists certainly viewed the rich and powerful of their era as guilty of violating at least some of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Arranged alphabetically those sins are Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Pride, Sloth, and Wrath.  While the moral code of the 7 Deadly Sins has a religious origin, the ethical ideals may extend into common notions of right and wrong.

Envy is related to both Greed and Lust, and  St. Thomas Aquinas described 3 stages of Envy.  Attempts to lower another's reputation is Aquinas's first stage of Envy.  This one is easy to identify in almost any political speech, especially in campaign speeches. Second is both joy at another's misfortune and grief at another's prosperity, also easily found among politicians.  The third results from the first two--hatred.  Politically speaking, of course politicians believe in their own ideas and want them to succeed, but when political persuasion passes beyond advocacy for one's own ideas and becomes hateful personal attacks on the alternate ideas of another, it is often easy to discern the traits of Envy.

While Lust is often associated with inappropriate sexual desire (something about which we have too many political examples), it can also apply to excessive desire in general, for wealth, power, or anything sinful.  It isn't difficult to apply that politically, and the Populists in Isaac's era certainly believed that the power of Wall Street, Railroad Magnates, Speculators and other wealthy men exerting influence on elected officials met the definition of excessive desire for wealth and power.

Credit:  Muddy Colors
Gluttony is often depicted with images of lavish food and drink, but it can apply to overindulgence and over consumption of anything.  The word comes from Latin gluttire, to gulp down or swallow.  The sin is not only what it does to the glutton but also what it takes from others--the needy, or perhaps especially, those in times of famine and war.  The image at left came from Muddy Color, a fantasy arts community website.  It is interesting to discover how artists, from ancient painters to current tattoo artists, have been drawn to depicting the 7 deadly sins.  

Like all of the Sins, Greed relates to other sins, like Lust and Gluttony.  Thomas Aquinas wrote:  "Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things."  In general, greed is associated with the desire to possess more than we need, particularly material wealth.  In Isaac's time, the palatial homes of the wealthy and banquets that lasted for hours consuming rare delicacies were examples.  (You might enjoy reading "Turmoil in the Golden Age," posted in this blog on 1-14-2016.) Politically, such excesses may still be seen in individual politicians, but it may also be seen in the laws that are passed.  The distribution of America's wealth, the programs funded by our taxes, and other political decisions impact all Americans in ways that call to mind Greed.

Hieronymous Bosch, Pride detail
Pride is said to be the devil's worst snare.  Politically speaking, critics often blame pride when world leaders fail to listen to the advice of others, become irrationally self-confident, and act impulsively.  Christian writer (and children's author of the Narnia books) wrote:  "Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison:  it was through Pride that the devil became the devil:  Pride leads to every other vice..."

Sloth has many interpretations, although most commonly it is related to laziness and idleness.  One way to consider Sloth's sinfulness is by the failure to utilize the Seven Gifts of Grace given by the Holy Spirit--Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Piety, Fortitude, and Fear of the Lord.  Reflecting on these failures would seem to circle back to the sin of Pride and reinforce some of the failures of good leadership.

The final of the 7 Deadly Sins to consider is Wrath, which obviously can be defined as uncontrolled anger, rage, and hatred, but also and importantly, the desire for vengeance.  Politically, we may think of war, caused perhaps by other deadly sins but fought wrathfully.  However,  in its lesser form hatefulness and spite constitute wrath, and desiring someone else to suffer misfortune or evil, even when it is not directly disbursed, is a form of wrath.

The 7 Deadly Sins are not found in the Bible.  The classification attributed to John Cassian in his book The Institutes brought them to Europe and the Catholic Church, and artistic texts and images carried their influence further, such as "The Parson's Tale" from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and works of art in the form of paintings and sculptures.  In AD 590 the commonly recognized list was refined by Pope Gregory, and while the 7 Deadly Sins are more closely associated with the Catholic faith, many non-Catholic denominations utilize the list.  Billy Graham preached on the 7 Deadly Sins.

In my research I found the following quote from Robert J. Kolker:  "Rabies and Scholars figured that mankind was divided into three general groups.  Those who do wickedness deliberately and with malice...[the worst class of sin].  Then there are those who are totally obedient to the commandments and will not sin except to save their lives.  ...Then there are those who will keep the commandments out of habit, but also these people may violate the commandments when the pressure is on them to do so.  …[This group] is most of mankind."  Although he was speaking of sin in general and not specifically the 7 Deadly Sins, I thought it was an assessment of humanity worth sharing.

A nation that endures for future generations
Those of you who follow this blog know how I treasure the American Constitution.  It was and remains a rare document, and if you missed reading my recent blog, "Words from the Grave," posted October 11, 2018, you might want to scroll down to read it.  In that blog I quote former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia:  "The real key to the distinctiveness of America is the structure of our government."

Our government is unique, for it trusts its citizens to possess the wisdom and wit to elect intelligent and honorable men and women to the offices of our government according to the provisions of our laws.  The long campaigns provide an opportunity for us to evaluate candidates' fitness for office.  However, Article VI expressly provides "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

This blog is not intended to suggest any sort of religious test for political candidates nor for those already in office.  America contains citizens of many religious beliefs and of no religious beliefs.  Yet, nearly all of us possess a moral compass of some sort that guides our actions and allows us to judge the actions of others.  Because most of this blog has shared a Christian perspective, I will close with two quotes having no particular religious origin.

A librarian named Eric Friedman wrote:  "I deeply, genuinely only believe there is one sin--causing another person to suffer, through violence, neglect, ill-intent or cluelessness."

And from another perspective, Glyn Williams wrote:  "It's a word [sin] that comes about when someone tries to define morality in terms of obedience.  ...I do believe there is such a thing as wrongdoing.  I believe there is moral and immoral action.  But the s-word [sin] belongs to people who think morality isn't from within."

Separation of church and state does not require us to leave our faith or moral compass at home when we vote.  In fact, for our Constitution to endure, we must use the guidance of our wisdom, experience, and sense of right and wrong to vote for candidates that we trust to do what is right for America, even when we might not agree about all issues.

In the 1896 election of Isaac Werner's time, the People's Party abandoned the goals that had brought farmers and other laborers together and focused on one major objective--bimetallism, determined to vote on the primary goal of abandoning  reliance on the Gold Standard  and replacing it with a Silver and Gold Standard.  By neglecting other issues to support a candidate whose primary campaign was based on bimetallism, they not only lost the election, they neglected everything else, and ultimately, splintered their party into obscurity.  They wore blinders to the poling place that allowed them to see nothing but a single issue, having left their moral compass at home on the dresser.




Thursday, October 25, 2018

History of the Jack-0'-Lantern

Drawing of pumpkin costume
We are all familiar with Jack-o'-Lanterns at Halloween,  but do you know the history of the tradition using pumpkins at Halloween?  Actually, there is a great deal of history before pumpkins were used for Jack-o'-Lanterns. 

Over 700 years ago it is known that gourds were used to carve lanterns, but the later custom of carving Jack-o'-Lanterns at Halloween is believed to have begun in Ireland.  In the Gaelic-speaking regions of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, Halloween, and the festival of Samhain which included the belief that supernatural beings and the souls of the dead roamed the Earth at that time of year, gave rise to the practice of carving turnips rather than pumpkins to create lanterns.  Various explanations for these  Irish lanterns have been given, including to repel evil spirits, to frighten other reveiliers, or to represent spirits or supernatural beings.

An Irish legend describes trickery between an Irishman named Jack and the devil, involving a promise that the devil could never take his soul.  However, when Jack died, the devil had his own trick--for while he could not take Jack's soul to hell, he could block Jack's access to heaven.  Forever, Jack would wander through eternity, lighting his way with the glowing coal from the fires of hell that the devil threw at him.  That coal, which like the devil's curse on Jack, would forever burn inside the turnip Jack carved to use as a lantern.  Variations of the legend can also be found in the folklore of England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Wales. 
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe painting, 1914

Pumpkins were among the produce that Native Americans introduced to Europeans when they arrived in America.  Although in the early years pumpkins were associated with harvest celebrations rather than Halloween, eventually  immigrants, who had adopted the practice of carving Jack-o'-Lanterns in their old countries,  began using pumpkins, rather than turnips, to create their lanterns.  As might be expected, the European legend began finding its way into America's literature.  Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, published in 1820, is one example, as is John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, The Pumpkin, published in 1850.  

John R. Neill cover illustration
Among my favorite uses of the Jack-o'-Lantern is as a main character in the Oz series of books.  Jack appeared first in The Marvelous Land of Oz, published in 1904 by L. Frank Baum as the second book in the series.  Jack's head was a carved Jack-o'-Lantern, and his body was made from tree limbs jointed with wooden pegs.  He wore purple trousers, a red shirt, and a pink vest with white polka dots.  Baum continued to use him in later books in the series, but Jack did not get his name in the title until 1929, until Ruth Plumly Thompson was authoring the Oz series after Baum's death.  As the hero of the 23rd book in the series, Jack  upgraded his clothing, as seen in the cover shown at left.  Jno R. Neill became the illustrator of the Oz series with Baum's second Oz book and continued as illustrator when Plumly assumed authorship, so his are the images we identify as Jack Pumpkinhead.

Among the illustrated children's books that I collect, there are many examples of Jack-o'-Lanterns depicted in the Halloween books, and perhaps many of you reading this week's blog have a Jack-o'-Lantern sitting on your front step.

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




Thursday, October 18, 2018

Fun at the Kansas State Fair


For the second year I went to the Kansas State Fair to participate for two days in the Plein Aire event.  No, I didn't place, but I had a great time!  The weather threatened rain both days, so my selection of where I wanted to set my easel was influenced by that threat.

The second day I found a cozy spot as out-of-the-way as possible for a crowded Saturday.  However, I arrived early to sketch the butter cow near the front door, because I knew that once the crowds arrived it would be impossible to see what I was trying to draw.

The fun is visiting with people curious about what I am drawing.  People kept peeking around to see how I was drawing the scene in front of me.  Instead, I was working from my sketch of the butter cow scene and some children I added, and they were confused or disappointed by what they saw.  So, with a little time left before entries had to be submitted, I quickly drew the scarecrow with his head made from a gourd so people could see what they expected to see.  Look closely and you can see that scarecrow in the back corner of the photograph above left.

When I sketched the butter cow, the sculpting was in the early stage, and the legs and head were not really shaped.  The tail was skinny, and the human figure was just a 'stick man.'  My sketch looked like what I had seen that morning before the sculptor arrived but nothing like a finished sculpture.  I worried that people might not understand that I had depicted a work in progress. At the last minute I added the butter bucket to indicate that the sculpture was unfinished, but the bucket just looked like a big black square in the center of the picture.  Oh well, I still had fun, but I wish now that I had cropped the picture like I did at left.  I might have even added the sculptor's feet near the bucket to show that the work wasn't finished.

The first day, I took shelter in the gazebo near the train station for a little protection if I needed to pack up quickly in case of rain.  That was a really fun place, since lots of children passed through the gazebo on their way to and from the train, and they loved seeing my train take shape.

I definitely need to improve my plein aire skills, and I need to select subjects more like a still life setup.  With limited time and subjects that don't stand still, I need less ambitious subjects!  The details of the train, drawn in colored pencil, were too time consuming.

However, the primary objective for having plein aire artists working at numerous locations around the fair grounds is not really about creating your best work.  It is about enjoying being interrupted to talk with people who stop by to watch and ask questions.  It is also about encouraging children to never be afraid to draw, even if they think they can't draw well enough to try.  And, the same thing goes for adults.

I wish I could show you the outstanding work of those plein aire artists that did receive awards for their depictions of the fair, but photographs are not permitted.  When you go to the fair next year, be sure to visit the Oz Building to see all the plein aire entries.  And, if you are a 'Saturday Painter,' consider joining the fun.  You don't have to be a professional to produce your own fair masterpiece and have fun participating.


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