Close your eyes. Imagine someone who is near and dear to you. You have a picture of how they look in your memory, the sound of their voice, probably some associations with certain smells, and memories of a tactile nature…the texture of their hair, perhaps. Did you used to watch your mother unpin a bundle of long hair and brush it out each night before bed? Did you perch on the counter and watch your father shave, feeling his scratchy face like Judy in Pat the Bunny and then the smooth, mobile skin of his smiling cheeks? Do you have a lock of your baby’s hair tied with a ribbon and taped to a page? Do you touch the ends of that fine, feathery stuff in wonder every so often at the turning of another year?
Hair. An intimate part of us mammals, dynamic and changing through our lifetime and, when preserved, a vault of information about culture, diet, and ancestry. It makes a very satisfying memorial, to my mind. Some people these days may find it distasteful, but at the turn of the last century, it was quite a popular material for crafting. Think of all the time, money and material spent these days on scrapbooks and photo albums. Money and photographs were hard to come by in the 19th century, but HAIR, hair was cheap and plentiful…and personal. Why not use it?
I first encountered examples of Victorian era hair art (see
) while staying at a bed and breakfast establishment in Plymouth, Illinois. The lady who owned the place sold antiques, ran the village bank, and opened her home to guests…and cats. She told us that she had the largest private collection of hair wreaths in the nation. I looked at the framed pieces in awe. It was hard to believe that the fine strands so intricately woven were actually human hair. I couldn’t help picturing the mass of guck that clogs my bathtub drain and lurks in the corners on my bathroom floor. It made me think of how careless we are in managing our resources these days.
In the Hafford House at Old World Wisconsin, there hangs a shadow box that features a crown of small, white flowers and trailing ribbon, a photograph of a young woman in the habit of a nun, and a golden braid. When a novice took her vows, her hair would be cut as part of the ceremony of transformation. Families would not see this young woman once she was cloistered, so why not save her hair as a remembrance? This is possibly what Mary Hafford did to memorialize her daughter Ann, of whom we have no record beyond her eighteenth year. The artifact we have is not actually Ann Hafford, but it makes a good illustration for interpretation.
My partner, Steve, told me that his mother honors her loved ones on Memorial Day by visiting their graves. While I was growing up, my family never observed this tradition, probably because all my parents’ relatives are buried far from the states where we lived. I had considered Memorial Day a day for commemorating military casualties, but I welcome the occasion to remember three very important people in my life. My sister Alice, my husband Jim, and my father are buried in the same ground: the columbarium at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in California, where I was married. I am in Wisconsin and too far away to make a pilgrimage, so instead, I am visiting them in memory…and thinking about their hair.
(Part 2 to be posted on Friday…)
This week’s prompt for the photo challenge is “Culture”: a broad topic, an umbrella under which humanity sits. I tend to spend more time with the artifacts of a culture than with big groups of people. Steve & I sell used books and estate sales items and see a lot of different artifacts of this last century. We work at a living history museum and handle artifacts from the 19th century. And we find artifacts from this century around the neighborhood. So, I thought I’d share a mosaic of shots I’ve taken showing some American artifacts of different centuries. I hope you have fun trying to identify them!
Our online store is up and running with over 200 items — finally! Check out the link in my sidebar to visit the site and find out what I’ve been photographing. Our Rocky Horror Picture Show Scrapbook is up for sale for the next 6 days. Buy It Now or give us your Best Offer…the perfect Valentine’s Day gift! Or check out our Vintage Toys and Games & Puzzles. Our first vintage toy sale was a thrill for me. He was a little Schuco wind up toy, a clown faced monkey that played the violin and shuffled around in a circle, made in US zone Germany right after WWII. He was in his original box and in excellent condition. We asked what we thought was a reasonable price after having researched other items of the same ilk…and there weren’t many! Within a few hours he was snapped up by a buyer in Braunschweig, Germany. It made me very happy to think the little guy was going back home! We shipped him off and just received confirmation that he arrived safe and sound and is making his new owner very happy.
This is the latest adjunct to Steve’s online book business which he’s been running from this location for about 5 years. In the process of buying books from estate sales, he’s also been in the position to pick up other items as well. He used to rent an antique mall booth to display and sell these things, but now we’re doing it all online. I am his new business partner, and so far, I’ve been “specializing” in Children’s Books, Toys, Games, Puzzles and Hobby Kits. That means I get to research where all these curious things originated and when they were manufactured. I tell you, I’m learning a LOT! Frequently, it’s a LOL experience, coming face-to-face with humorous cultural idiosyncrasies and fetishes. There’s a lot of history thrown in as well, which I find fascinating.
So pop on over and satisfy your curiosity. There’s much more to come! Haven’t even begun to list the German LPs, stamp collections, and QSL cards…
Like Kermit says, it’s not easy being green. It’s not easy building green, either. My son has a degree in Construction Management and is interested in green design. He’s having a hard time finding an entry-level job in this field, but it seems like a very useful career in the long run. 7 billion human beings generate a lot of construction; we need to be wiser about how and what and where and when we build because it makes a huge impact on our environment. That’s common sense. What does it look like when that is taken into consideration? It takes time. It takes money. It takes intelligence and skill. So, “forget it” is the conclusion many construction companies take. Fast, cheap and easy…up goes another WalMart with a parking lot the size of an inland lake.
I’ve visited two LEED certified buildings here in Wisconsin. (click on the links to read about their energy-saving and environmentally responsible features) The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center was certified on the Gold level. It houses a pre-school, among other facilities. The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center was certified on the Platinum level. Built where Leopold died while fighting a brush fire, it houses office and meeting spaces, an interpretive hall, an archive, and a workshop organized around a central courtyard. I took some pictures for my son at the Aldo Leopold Center, and this prompt is the perfect opportunity to post them and share!
Veterans’ Day. A very forgettable holiday for me. If it weren’t for the bloggers who have mentioned it, I might have been altogether oblivious of its passing. I am unemployed at the moment, so no schedule change would have reminded me — except for the fact that the Post Office is closed tomorrow, so we won’t be preparing packages for Steve’ book business. The truth is, I don’t really know what to do with Veterans’ Day. I don’t know any vets. I don’t have any family members who have been in the service. And I am absolutely opposed to war. It seems like we should have figured out an alternative long ago. I’m truly puzzled that we have computers relaying information from Mars right now while we have yet to find an effective way to live together down here. Learning should lead to understanding, which ought to lead to compassion. At least that’s the trajectory I’m hoping for in my life.
It does occur to me, though, that I have been acquainted with a veteran whom I admire very much. I have read two of his books and have now embarked on a third. I’ve also seen a DVD documentary about his journey home from Auschwitz. His name is Primo Levi. I was attracted to him first because he’s Italian. In high school, I was the Vice President of the Italian Club. I was learning to speak Italian because I love opera, and I wanted to meet Italian guys…or at least Italian-American guys. I finally married a Galasso. Now that I’m (ahem!) more mature, my love of the Italian culture is much more broad-minded. Primo Levi’s writing is truly astounding. He was a chemist by trade, not a writer, but his experiences during and after WWII compelled him to share the intimate details, disturbing observations, and profound insights he hoped would prevent similar events from ever happening again. He could not let his story go unrecorded, even though its horrors caused recurring bouts of depression. I think that makes him a very brave soldier and a heroic humanitarian.
Here is an example of his extraordinary insight:
“Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite. Our ever-insufficient knowledge of the future opposes it: and this is called, in the one instance, hope, and in the other, uncertainty of the following day. The certainty of death opposes it: for it places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief. The inevitable material cares oppose it: for as they poison every lasting happiness, they equally assiduously distract us from our misfortunes and make our consciousness of them intermittent and hence supportable. It was the very discomfort, the blows, the cold, the thirst that kept us aloft in the void of bottomless despair, both during the journey and after. It was not the will to live, nor a conscious resignation: for few are the men capable of such resolution, and we were but a common sample of humanity.” – from Survival in Auschwitz
Thank you, Signore Levi, for your service to all of us through the horrific war you survived and the work of writing your story.
After a delicious Sunday breakfast buffet and a quick photo walk in downtown Parkersburg, Steve and I headed back into Ohio toward the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park. Steve has always been drawn to Native American archaeology and has experience working for the National Park Service at Wupatki National Monument. The information we gathered at the Hopewell site was truly fascinating. The native Americans in the Scioto River valley constructed enormous earth works, mounds and borders of giant proportions, geometrical shapes duplicated exactly many miles apart. The burial mounds contained artifacts made with materials from distant regions. The scope of this culture, the complexity of the ideas they represent, is amazing. Of course, our conjectures about the meaning of the clues they left behind will never be verified. Mystery will always surround this place. The sense of a sacred reverence hangs in the very air, though. It felt, to me, very similar to what I felt when I visited Chichen Itza in Mexico. Time, space, geometry, astronomy, mathematics, religion, life and death coming together in physical art. These were a people who understood the interconnectedness of all things and represented that in a conscientious way. To say that it’s “primitive” misses the mark completely. It certainly seems more primitive to plow over the entire area time and time again to plant corn or bulldoze the hill to quarry gravel…which is just what the white settlers did and still are doing.
We spent the afternoon slowly embracing the place and then drove home in the dark on speedy Interstate highways. We were back by 11pm. On Wednesday, we continued our research on Native American mounds and early Wisconsin history by going to Madison and visiting the Historical Museum on Capitol Square and the UW Madison Arboretum (which has an impressive bookstore!). We are still in the process of discerning how we will contribute to the conservation of this sacred planet on a local level, to what work we will devote our energy, and how we will live in awareness of the impact we make here. It’s a time to stay open to possibilities and opportunities and to be ready to move with a purpose when a specific vehicle of conveyance appears pointing toward our goal.