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.