Monday, October 28, 2013

Victorian Details

Isaac has given me a wonderful gift, a gift I attempt to pass along each week to those of you who follow my blog.  It is because of Isaac that I pause to see the things I have taken for granted or completely ignored most of my life, until Isaac made them important to me.  It is because of the loyal followers of my blog that I am constantly on the lookout for things they, you, might find interesting.
During our visit to Concordia, KS for the Orphan Train Celebration, (See "Orphan Trains," 1/31/13; "Shared Orphan Stories," 2/2/13; and "More Orphan Train Stories, 6/12/13) we did a little sight-seeing.  One building caught our eyes.  It now houses an antique shop, and we took a few minutes to enjoy the treasures inside.  However, it was as I was leaving the building that a particular architectural feature seized my attention.  The building had several sets of stairs, and the risers were particularly beautiful.  I paused to photograph one set on which the name of the foundry appeared.  Recently, I decided to research what might be found about Sweet & Crider.
Charles Edwin Sweet was born a few years after Isaac, in 1884, but he died the same year of Isaac's death, in 1895.  He attended  only a few months of school before going to work to help with his family's finances, driving a team when he was only seven on the canal in New York state where they lived.  He arrived in Kansas with his family ahead of Isaac, settling in Greenleaf, Washington County, KS in 1872.  Sweet began carrying mail, then bought a stage line that he operated until 1878 when the railroad arrived.  By the time Isaac settled in Stafford County to stake his claims in 1878, Sweet had become financially successful enough to form a business partnership, selling hardware and implements in Concordia.  He was a self-made, successful man in businesses and real estate, although he also suffered some financial failure through poor investments and speculations when hard times swept the country.  Among those disappointments were a bank in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, a flour & grist mill, and the firm of Sweet & Crider foundry. 
Interestingly, Charles Sweet and Isaac B. Werner have certain things in common.  After selling his drug store in Rossville, IL, Isaac invested in land with his brother in Minnesota, (just as Sweet invested there), and between his time as a druggist in Rossville and leaving to stake his claims on the Kansas prairie, Isaac entered into a partnership operating a mill in Rossville (just as Sweet invested in a flour and grist mill).  It seems that Isaac's decision to leave his successful drugstore business and the milling operation to become a farmer was not as successful financially as Charles Sweet's decision to prosper as a businessman, making his land investments in city lots rather than farm land.  However, the hard times during the late 1800s seem to have challenged both men.
(Remember, you can enlarge the photographs by clicking on them, and be sure to notice all the stairs  with the intricate iron work on the building.)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ladies at the Fair

In my first blog of the state fair series, "Time for the Fair," posted 9/4/2013, I shared the history of state fairs and how they had grown from farmers' agricultural societies.  While the early participants had been primarily men, the women soon began exhibiting their own skills.  The Kansas State Fair has a building dedicated to the Domestic Arts, and it can be seen in the background of the photograph of the John Deere tractor in the blog "A Day at the Fair," posted 9/11/2013.  This year a display of dolls and stuffed toys greeted visitors as they entered the Domestic Arts building.
Today most quilters are not making bed coverings from scraps because fabric is too precious to waste, although in Isaac Werner's time that was a primary motivation.  Especially when women had scrapes of expensive fabrics, like satin, lace, and velvet, they wanted to save even the tiny pieces.  The use of these irregularly shaped and sized pieces of luxurious fabrics resulted in what are called "Crazy Quilts."  Unlike quilts where fabric is cut in specific patterns, these quilts attempted to use whatever bits of fabric could be saved, and they pieced the bits together randomly, producing a "crazy" pattern.  Once pieced together, the fabrics were enhanced with rich embroidery and often trimmed with bits of lace or beads.  Generally, these quilts were not subjected to everyday use, and many have been passed down through the generations, admired for their luxurious fabrics and trims, as well as for the hours of piecing together the oddly shaped fabrics and stitching the elaborate embroidery designs.  These lovely quilts are still being made today, although the price of fabric is not so dear. 
There were many types of textile exhibits entered for judging besides dolls and quilts--clothing, wall hangings, rugs, pillows, tatting, bobbin lace, beading, samplers, needlepoint, knitting, and crochet among the many exhibits.  According to the entry book, the total prizes offered by the Fair and Sponsors for the "Clothing and Textiles" entries was $7,045, a nice recognition of quality work but only a few dollars for any individual piece when divided among the many exhibits.  Obviously, these women (and some men) did not spend the countless hours creating their entries for the prize money! 

The Domestic Arts Building contains cooking entries as well as textiles, and as I reached that section of the building they were judging apricot jam.  As a regular maker of sand hill plum jelly (See "Sandhill Plums," posted 3/1/2012, and "Plum Harvest," posted 6/14/2012), I enjoyed watching the judging and seeing the jewel-like sparkle of jars of jams, jellies, and preserves lining the shelves of the exhibit. 

At a time when Smucker's jellies and jams can be bought for less than the jars, lids, sugar and fruits to make your own, when dress patterns sell for several dollars and few towns have fabric shops, and when busy career mothers and busy at-home mothers assume more volunteering responsibilities--in such times, are many of the skills celebrated in the Domestic Arts Building at the state fair disappearing?
I hope that there are still young people learning how to make jellies and jams, although I did see many empty shelves in that exhibit area.  I hope grandmothers are passing the skills of tatting, knitting, and crochet to their grandchildren.  And, I hope children are still arriving home from school to the smell of cookies fresh from the oven, although the smell of freshly baked bread is more likely to come from a handy bread machine than from  hours of mixing, rising, kneading, forming into loaves, and baking in the oven!  For now, at least, there are still those who exhibit their "domestic arts" at the fair, and with Halloween so near, I could not resist sharing this wonderful, prize-winning Halloween quilt with you!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Isaac's Antiques

You might not be surprised to find a building at the Kansas State Fair called "The Oz Gallery," but what sort of exhibits would you expect it to contain?  The word "gallery" might be a clue, and if you guessed drawings, paintings, sculpture, jewelry, and photography, you would be right.  However, the original art is not to be photographed, so I cannot share images of those exhibits, although we spent a great deal of time enjoying all of those things.
The Oz building is an interesting building to explore because of all the things you might not expect to see.  For example, have you ever seen a Wheel Ring Sizer?  If you answered "no," look to the picture above.  The person who entered the wheel ring sizer in the antique category was kind enough to include a sign explaining its use, describing how the steel rings around a wooden wheel would be heated in a forge before locking it into the sizer to make it smaller.
Of course, when I see antiques from the homesteading era, I always wonder if Isaac might have owned or used that particular object. 
Have you ever seen ox yokes carved from wood?  In 1884 Isaac Werner's neighbor, Gus Gereke, paid $175 for a pair of oxen, and many early settlers used oxen to plow through the thick prairie sod.  Perhaps Gereke's oxen wore yokes like these.
Here is a quiz for you.  Can you identify what this wooden, barrel-like contraption is?  Your grandmother or great-grandmother would have known, and she would probably have had a specific day of the week for using it.  (The answer is at the bottom of this blog.)
There were many different kinds of exhibits in the Oz building.  It was the location of Leonard the Bull, featured in last week's blog, and there was a display of chainsaw carved sculptures available for purchase.  However, one display brought tears to many eyes as they walked around all the sides, studying the faces of those who had given their lives or bodies in service.  Decorated in red, white, and blue, the display honored yet another generation of patriots who have fought for their country.
Were you surprised by the variety of things to be found in the Oz Gallery?  Beautiful art, antiques from our past, photographs of our heroes.  As Dorothy told us, "There's no place like home," and the Oz building shared many things from the hearts and homes of Kansans this year.
(Answer to the quiz:  It is an antique wooden washtub for laundry day.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cattle at the Fair

Isaac B. Werner never kept cattle, although one day in 1886 when the drought was drying up the prairie grass and times were too hard to afford to buy feed, he had two different neighbors in the same day call on him, offering to sell him one or more cows.  One of those neighbors owed Isaac money for carpentry work and offered a cow in settlement of his debt, but Isaac declined.  At various times he tried hogs (unsuccessfully), and he kept chickens eventually, and after going into debt to buy his first horse, he always had horses until his death.  But never cattle!

Cattle are definitely pampered creatures at the Kansas State Fair!  While the poultry had panted in their barn, (See Poultry Barn at the Fair, 10-3-2013.) the cattle seemed quite comfortable beneath the fans stirring the air in their well-lighted, clean barn.  The little cowgirl pictured at right was checking their family's contented cows as we entered the barn. 

There were cattle of all colors and breeds, with the entry catalogue listing Angus, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Herefords, Limousin, Shorthorn, Simmental, and Watusi, and all of them were groomed to look their best.  I watched one rancher using a blower that his wife described to me as being like a giant hair dryer to blow bits of straw off the ebony coat of one of his entries.  She explained that when the cattle lie down they pick up pieces of straw, and even though judging was not taking place, her husband wanted to keep his cattle looking their best.

Ironically, the bull drawing the biggest crowd was not at the cattle barn!  His name was Leonard, and he was attracting all the attention at the Oz Building.  Constructed of every sort of object that a welder's torch could affix to his frame, Leonard was intriguing to examine.  There were nuts, bolts, springs, tools, gears--even an old stove door to access Leonard's interior.  Click on the photographs to enlarge the images and have fun identifying all the clever parts welded to form Leonard!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Poultry Barn at the Fair

Breed:  Chinese Brown
As we entered the Poultry Barn at the Kansas State Fair, we were greeted with a cacophony of crowing, which seemed to be an ongoing competition among all the roosters in the barn, punctuated regularly with the honking of geese.  Once inside the barn, my husband's autumn allergies were immediately aggravated, so he found a chair outside, anticipating (erroneously) that my interest in the poultry would be brief.  When he called my cell phone to see if I wasn't about ready to end my visit, the noise in the barn was louder than the ringing of my phone, so I enjoyed a long, guilt-free exploration of the exhibits.   

Figure 1

The official greeter at the door was a beautiful goose, separated from his like on the other side of the barn.  I wasn't sure whether he was flattered to be displayed independently or disappointed by having none of his own kind nearby to impress.  (Figure 1)
A rooster caught my attention with his crowing, and I stood there with my camera, waiting to catch a picture of his cock-a-doodle-doing.  At last I gave up, but I back-tracked as I left the barn, in hopes I might catch him crowing again.  This photograph was the result.  (Figure 2)  I am particularly fond of this breed and wish I had carried pad and paper with me to write down the names of the breeds I admired.  Unfortunately, I had my hands full with purse and camera.  So, I am numbering the pictures I post, and if you know any of the breeds pictured, please supply them in a comment identified with the image number(s).
Figure 2 
The lovely couple below (Figure 3) was my favorite pair.  I took one shot of them, but they seemed disappointed by my failure to give them the opportunity to pose properly.  They took it upon themselves to arrange this far superior composition.  Someday, I may have to get out my pastels to draw this pair, but I will use my imagination to place them in a happier setting than a cage!  The second couple (Figure 4) is equally beautiful, but they were less obliging about positioning themselves artistically. 
Figure 4 
Figure 3
Figure 5
When I downloaded the photographs from the Poultry Barn, my bias toward black and white feather combinations was apparent, but this "cock-of-the-walk" was too colorful to ignore.  (Figure 5)
Nearby was another beautiful but less colorful feather combination.  I hope you take the time to click on this photograph to enlarge the image and enjoy the intricate patterns of this subtle beauty.  (Figure 6) 
Figure 6
Chickens ruled the Poultry Barn, but this goose won my heart.  (Figure 7)  Because I still love Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales, I naturally thought of these lines, with a slight alteration:  "Goosey, goosey gander, Whither shall I wander, Down a dozen aisles or two, 'Till at last I spotted you."  My apologies to Mother Goose!

Figure 7
Beside the goose by the entrance, this lonely turkey was also displayed.  (Figure 8)  One of my favorite authors is Barbara Kingsolver, and among her wonderful books is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which she describes spending a year attempting to feed her family only with food they had grown themselves or that they had purchased locally.  I recommend the book, but the passage I recalled while photographing this turkey, whom only another turkey could think handsome, was Kingsolver's description of breeding her own flock.  Apparently there was no old turkey in her flock for the young Tom turkeys to observe and learn what the hens expected from them, and Kingsolver's description of handling that teaching experience had me laughing out loud!  Not many writers could turn turkey breeding into a multi-page comedy. 

Figure 8

As those of you who follow my blog regularly know, Isaac Werner raised chickens.  (See "Isaac Builds an Incubator," 8-22-2013 and "Isaac Raises Chicks with a Broody Hen," 8-29-2013.)  Doing research to determine which breed of chicken he might have been most likely to raise, I decided that the Barred Plymouth Rock was most likely.  I love the look of this breed, developed in New England in the 19th Century and very popular for small farms because it is cold tolerant and is both a good producer of eggs and meat.  It comes in several colors, but the barred black and white is the most popular, and this is the breed I assumed that Isaac would have had running around his farm. 
Barred Black & White
Don't forget to add a comment if you wish to help me identify the various breeds pictured in this blog, and if you are curious to learn more about the amazing variety among chicken breeds, there are many wonderful websites you might want to visit.  I posted the images small because I used so many, so you may want to click on the photographs to enlarge the images to see them better.