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.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Words from the Grave

James Madison by Gilbert Stuart
It often surprises me that a favorite quote I interpret to mean one thing is discovered to be a favorite quote of someone else who interprets it to mean something entirely different.  That is why it is essential to place quotes within the full context of their meaning and to understand the historic moments surrounding the speaker.  

When Isaac Beckley Werner was born, America was not even a century old, and yet the nation had been tested by a civil war.  America was about at the century mark when Isaac began writing in the journal which inspired my research, writing about the Populist Movement that was so significant in our own state and region of Kansas.

It was a time when political parties formed to confront the two older and more powerful parties, the two parties which dominate our political environment today, and many of our ancestors were participants in this mix of parties.  

Prohibition Party of late-1800s
 If you, as I was when I began my research, are unfamiliar with the upstart parties of that era, here is a very brief summary of some of the more successful political challengers:  Green back Party (1874-1889) begun on an agrarian platform to support metal-backed rather than paper money; Social Labor Party (1876-   ) supporting workers rights and unions; Know nothing Party (1845-1860) with concerns about immigration; Readjuster Party (1877-1895) involving both Blacks and Whites in concerns about public education and Civil War debts of the South; Silver Party (1892-1911) focused on bi-mentalism; Independence Party (1905-1911) advocating a Department of Labor and a set work day; Populist or People's Party (1891-1908) particularly involving farmers in our region seeking a party to represent their issues in opposition to the rich and powerful.

As you can see by reading through that list, the issues were mixed, but many of their concerns remain significant today, and, as then, the same two political parties remain predominant.

"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution"
History conveys to us the 'words from the graves' of our ancestors who tried to make their voices heard during their lifetimes.  It also conveys the words from the graves of our founding fathers, who speak most clearly in the words of the Constitution they gave to us.

As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers No. 51 regarding the separation of powers of the three branches of government upon which our Constitution is based:  "But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department of the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachment of the others. ...It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. ...If men were angels, no government would be necessary to control the abuses of government. ...In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this:  you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

United States Capitol west front

The amazing wisdom of the founding fathers was to create a constitution in which powers among the three divisions of government--legislature, executive, and judicial--are divided into distinct branches to limit any single one of them to encroach on the functions of the other.  The common reference to this structure is "checks and balances" to prevent unchecked power by any one branch.  

The final voice from the grave whose words I share belong to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016).  In a speech given October 5, 2011, he began by acknowledging that in speaking to groups he would often ask them what they considered the most important thing about our Constitution, and inevitably they would answer "Freedoms," of speech or other freedoms.  He asked instead, "What is it in our Constitution that makes us what we are?" and answered his own question:  "The Bill of Rights is not the greatness of America...The real key to the distinctiveness of America is the structure of our government."  In short, he believed the single most important thing we posses as Americans is a Constitution in which our three branches have limited powers and can act to limit the power of each other.

North & South views of White House
Justice Scalia believed that we Americans are not aware of how important separation of powers is and that most of us are ignorant of the ways our Constitution differs from the governance of other nations.  He explained that unlike our House and Senate, "[There are] Very few countries in the world that have a bi-cameral legislature...two separate bodies in the legislature equally powerful."  He aimed a joke at legislators present for his speech, acknowledging:  "That's a lot of trouble to get the same language through two different bodies elected in a different fashion."  To citizens who complained to Scalia that the bi-cameral legislatures led to gridlock, he replied, "Learn to love the separation of powers...learn to love the gridlock."  He wanted Americans to understand how the difficulties of getting laws through both the house and the Senate defeats mistaken laws and improves laws that pass. 

United States Supreme Court
Scalia also opined on our election of a President, saying, "Very few countries in the world have a separately elected Chief Executive."  He explained that in many countries the Chief Executive simply tells the legislators what to do and they do it, or the legislators tell the Chief Executive what to do and if he doesn't they vote to replace him.  Under our Constitution the President has limited powers, members of the House of Representatives and Senate must act independently and reach agreement, and the justices of the Supreme Court affirmed for life have the final say on the Constitutionality of our laws.

Before leaving the remarks of Justice Scalia, I must mention the importance of differences among the justices with whom they serve.  Scalia and Justice Ruth Banner Ginzburg could not have been more different in many of their legal views; yet, they were the best of friends.  That is difficult to understand for many of us, who know them only through the court opinions that they wrote.  However, it illustrates the importance of the varying perspectives on the Court, which enable them to question the attorneys who appear before them, to argue with each other as the Court reaches its majority opinion, and to write independent opinions in which they express their views beyond the content of the majority opinion--whether they may have agreed with the majority but not their reasoning or whether they disagree in a minority opinion or their own dissenting opinion.  Many Americans are only aware of the majority opinion, but all of these functions are important and necessary in shaping our laws.

Page one of the American Constitution
 Each branch of our government checks and balances the acts of the other branches, and within each branch the ability of differing views to be considered is essential.  As Scalia said, that is what "makes us what we are."

When we Americans and those we elect fail to understand the importance of preserving the intricate checks and balances our founding fathers built into the American Constitution, only then is the greatness of America threatened.

Our ancestors understood that elections matter, and when they believed those they elected had forgotten the responsibility to represent all the people, they formed their own political parties.  Those third parties never have gained much political power for long, and have sometimes unintentionally served as spoilers.  It is also true that many of the populist ideas have now become part of the major parties' values after gaining acceptance of the wider population.  As this blog has often said, history is our best teacher, and those voices from the grave can remind us how precious the Constitution we were given truly is,  We must understand that importance.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Unexpected Guests

The photograph above was taken fairly recently from the air and shows Isaac Werner's Homestead and Timber Claim near the center and the surrounding claims of his neighbors.  You may be surprised to see how few trees there are--even less today than there were in Isaac's time when settlers worked very hard to plant and protect trees.  What you may also notice is the absence of fences, something that present farmers have in common with early settlers.

Very early settlers grazed sheep on the open prairie, but as others arrived to claim homesteads and plant trees, open range was no longer available.  However, as settlers with livestock faced several dry seasons and money became scarce, many failed to raise feed for their livestock and lacked money to buy feed.  They felt they had no choice but to release the animals to forage for themselves.  Unfortunately, the hungry animals found food wherever they could.

Bear Scat in our yard 2018
Isaac recorded in his journal having to go to St. John to buy fencing materials to put around his own hay stacks to keep the foraging cattle and horses of his neighbors from eating what he had raised for his own horses.  He also complained about a neighbor's hogs rutting up a planted field in search of potatoes overlooked during the past potato harvest.

Our farming neighbors with livestock fence their pastures and feed yards today, but I thought you might enjoy seeing some of our unexpected guests (or evidence of their visit) during the past summer.

Yes, I know that there may be some of you who regard our seeing three young bears in 2017 as a misidentification, even with photographs of tracks and scat.  This year we did not see a bear, but for about a week or more we found what several people have identified as bear scat in our lawn nearly every morning.  It was the height of mulberry season, and our pasture has many mulberry trees.

Buffalo passing through 
Equally unusual but more easily explained was the herd of buffalo that grazed through our yard.  Because we knew a new couple in the neighborhood had buffalo, it wasn't a complete shock to see them, apparently having escaped through a breach in their pasture fence.  They lingered on our property briefly before moving on.

My husband moved closer and got a better picture of the buffalo, but I chose my photo taken from the yard so that our landscaping would indicate just how close our unexpected guests were.  Our cat likes to keep watch out of the window that overlooks this mowed pasture, and although he is accustomed to various wildlife, he seemed rather perplexed by the buffalo.  Our south pasture had two definite buffalo wallows when I was a girl, but I suspect it had been a very long time since buffalo had been on our farm.

Most recent unexpected guest
Our most recent unexpected guest surprised me one morning as I stepped out the door onto our porch.  She seemed to like our Burmuda grass lawn very well, although the mosquitos  were abusing her.  My husband began calling neighbors that we knew had horses, and it wasn't long before her family came to get her.

The buffalo were gone by the time Isaac Werner was keeping his journal, and bears in this community were never mentioned by Isaac, nor by any of my ancestors.  But horses were found on most homesteads.  Isaac struggled without a horse for almost ten years until he finally bought a mare he named Dolly Varden, the name of a woman in a Charles Dickens novel who dressed in colorful clothing.   He did not describe her coloring in his journal, but his choice of name seemed to me to indicate a more colorful coat.  This beautiful horse is named Jewels (or Jules), and we both enjoyed her visit.

We are accustomed to many four-legged visitors--raccoons, badgers, deer, skunks, squirrels, rabbits, opossum, coyotes, armadillos, even cougars and bobcats, but we did see a few unusual visitors this year, and I hope you enjoyed meeting our atypical guests!

In writing my manuscript, I have been very strict with myself about documenting details.  If I could not confirm from Isaac's journal or local newspapers or other documentation that specific birds, animals, and plants existed at that time, I did not include references to them in the manuscript.  In my own lifetime I have seen many changes.  There are fewer birds and lightning bugs today, although they were abundant in my childhood.  Other animals, like deer and armadillos, that were unheard of are now prevalent.  Although Isaac's main crops were corn and potatoes, they were replaced by my father's generation with wheat and milo.  Now corn is a regular crop, there is a large commercial potato operation near our farm, and cotton is gaining acreage.  One thing is certain and that is change.  It is the responsibility and challenge of every generation to accept the inevitability of change while having the wisdom to protect what is good from our past.  Nature provides evidence to guide us, as does the record of history. 

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