Ideas and Influences on Two Coats of Paint

Date : April 16, 2017
Comments :

Recently, Sharon Butler of award wining blog, Two Coats of Paint, asked me to compile a list of ten current “ideas and influences.”  The text of the blog is below. Please visit Two Coats for the full post with images.

page from my grandfather’s herbarium

 

“Artist and citizen naturalist Brece Honeycutt lives in Massachusetts, on a colonial farmhouse in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains. Fascinated with the history of her home and the surrounding land, she reads handwritten antique diaries at the local library, gathers old textiles, and creates natural dyes from the plants she collects on her morning walks. During her walks, she closely observes changes to the landscape, making notes that become the basis for new projects. On the occasion of her solo show at Norte Maar, Honeycutt has compiled the following list of ideas and influences that inform her work.”

1. Henry David Thoreau. “It will take half a lifetime to find out where to look for the earliest flower,” noted Henry David Thoreau in his journal. [1] For seven years (1851-1858), Thoreau walked his environs around Concord, MA and recorded his observations noting when plants sprouted, trees leafed out, and birds returned.  An inspiration for us all to be become Citizen Naturalists.

2. Citizen Naturalist. Recently I started participating in the USA National Phenology Network as a Citizen Naturalist, using Nature’s Notebook app. Phenology, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (as in bird migration or plant flowering).” In fact, Thoreau’s findings have become the basis for comparative studies being conducted by the scientist Dr. Richard B. Primack that demonstrate climate change and how the warming of the planet is affecting the cycles of our environs.  Daily I note the returning ducks and birds, the flowering coltsfoot and the occasional spotting of a bobcat.

3. Emily Dickinson. Like Thoreau, Emily Dickinson was a keen observer of plants and a magnificent gardener. I wondered what plants were found in her area of Massachusetts in the 1800s and might we have them here?  Dickinson wrote to her friend, Mrs. A. P. Strong, in 1848, “The older I grow, the more I do love spring flowers. Is it so with you? While at home there were several pleasure parties of which I was a member, and in our rambles we found many and many beautiful children of Spring, which I will mention and see if you have found them–the trailing arbutus, adder’s tongue, yellow violets, liver leaf, bloodroot and many other small flowers.” [2]

4. Spring Ephemerals. Indeed, all but the trailing arbutus are found on the grounds of Bartholomew’s Cobble (Ashley Falls, MA). In a few weeks, the Spring Wildflower Festival will begin at the Cobble and for the second year, I will be leading tours. I am busily reviewing my notecards, guidebooks and poems that I will read to the guests. The most important “tool” is to go and walk the trail, slowly, ever so slowly. Stopping, and really looking around. As Thoreau noted, the earliest flowers are the hardest to find.  Spring ephemerals–plants that grow for a short time span due to the intense sunlight and the particular soil found at the Cobble–are fleeting and glorious.  This year I want to embark on a project, “To know you is to draw you.”

5. Herbariums. Plants & Place, Deerfield. What did that particular plant look like when it first sprouted? Gardeners, Citizen Naturalists like Dickinson and Thoreau made Herbariums to both identify and document their native flora and fauna. Each year, I vow to start my own Herbarium and to jump start this year’s process, I look forward to the upcoming symposium at Historic Deerfield–Plants and Place:  Native Flora of Western Massachusetts. We will review various herbaria, including the early collected plant pages of Stephen West Williams.

6. Susan Howe. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture at The Morgan Library with Susan Howe and Marta Werner regarding the current exhibition I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson. The exhibition catalog is a treasure trove of essays and images including a conversation between Werner and Howe, “Transcription and Transgression.”

Werner asks Howe about seeking “small, out-of the way archives.”

Howe responds:  “Yes, I also enjoy small local libraries. Usually they have local historical collections where you will find things that historicists have neglected, or you find an old book with the odd spelling from seventeenth century. I don’t know. It’s the peace found in the landscape of place.” [3]

7. Webster’s Dictionary. Howe discussed also that Dickinson used a particular dictionary, Noah Webster’s 1844 An American Dictionary of the English Language. In a post-lecture conversation, Howe said that not only were Dickinson’s words defined by this exact dictionary, but that her gaze across the pages of the dictionary influenced her writings. I procured a facsimile 1828 Webster (also found in the Dickinson home) and have been looking up words found in her poetry, Thoreau’s writings and even to see if a spring ephemeral can be found on the pages of this book, evidencing that a plant was very much in residence. What a treat to read Jennifer Schuessler’s article “A Journey into the Merriam-Webster Word Factory” in the March 22 edition of the New York Times.

8. Mending. Sewing. Georgia O’Keeffe. Alabama Chanin. The current exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum charts her life through drawings, paintings, photographs and clothing. Her friend Anita Pollitzer noted that O’Keeffe was “extremely industrious, her hands are seldom idle. She loves to sew—not fancy things, but Chinese silk blouses and loose clothes that become her.” One wall label noted her to be a “conscientious mender” of clothes.

Inspired by Alabama Chanin a few years ago, I found the determination to make some of my own clothes. Stitch by stitch.

9. Clean Air. Clean Water. Rachel Carson. Where will we be without clean air and clean water?  After watching PBS’s documentary American Experience:  Rachel Carson, I sought the pages of Silent Spring, first published in 1962.  Carson’s intensely factual, yet lyrically written, scientific book exposed the devastation occurring from the use of synthetic chemicals on all living beings.

Carson states:

“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.

“I contend, furthermore, that we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife, and man himself. Future generations are unlikely to condone our lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life.” [4]

10. Wendell Berry. Now. Wendell Berry asks us to remain in the present with our actions in regards to climate change and land abuse. He posits that if we are only thinking of what can be accomplished in the future, we are missing the opportunity for what we can do right now. He invites us to “save energy now for the future” by beginning with small acts today. Berry states,

“….so few as just one of us can save energy right now by self-control, careful thought, and remembering the lost virtue of frugality. Spending less, burning less, traveling less may be relief. A cooler, slower life may make us happier, more present to ourselves, and to others who need us to be present.” [5]

Footnotes:

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau’s Wildflowers, edited by Geoff Wisner, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), pg. 16.
[2] Emily Dickinson, The Letters of Emily Dickinson, 1845-1886, Google Docs, page 38.
[3] Susan Howe and Marta Werner, “Transcription and Transgression,” The Networked Recluse:  The Connected World of Emily Dickinson, (Amherst: Amherst College Press, 2017), pg. 135.
[4] Rachel Carson Silent Spring, (Greenwich: Fawcett Books, 1962), pg. 22.
[5] Wendell Berry, Our Only World Ten Essays, (Berkeley:  Counterpoint, 2015), pgs. 174, 175.

“bewilderNew Work by Brece Honeycutt,” Norte Maar, Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, NY. Through  April 23, 2017.


bake a cake & vote

Category : Books, Colonial, Kitchen
Date : November 1, 2016
Comments :

Long before women were granted the right to vote (the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 26, 1920), they were helping bring men out to cast their vote. One might ask how this was accomplished? Meet the “Election Day Cake”.

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The City of Hartford, CT notes expenses for “sundries” including “cake” in 1771 and paid a Mrs Ledlie for making it. In the colonies, this cake would have been served for mustering, a time for men to assemble and practice militia skills. However, after the American Revolution, the cake was served on election days. Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, from 1796, provides a written recipe for the cake:

“Thirty quarts of flour, ten pound butter, fourteen pounds sugar, twelve pounds raisins, three dozen eggs, one pint wine, one quart brandy, four ounces cinnamon, four ounces fine colander seed, three ounces ground alspice; wet the flour with milk to the consistency of bread over night, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will render the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has risen light, work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going in the oven.”

Men journeyed to towns to cast their vote and waited there for the results to be announced. Women provided these cakes, baking them in large community ovens and vying for the right to be deemed the best cake maker. One can only imagine that women also counseled their husbands on how to vote. Abigail Adams, in her letter dated March 31, 1776, wisely advised John Adams “…to remember the ladies,” when the Continental Congress was writing their new Code of Laws.

A modern challenge has been set by the bakers Susannah Gebhart and Maia Surdam of OWL Bakery in Asheville, NC in their campaign, “Make America Cake Again.” Participating bakeries will be selling and serving a modern version to patrons during the election season and donating a percentage of the proceeds to The League of Women Voters. In the autumn issue of the journal Comestible, Sarah Owens of BK17 Bakery, a participating baker, provides a recipe for the cake, noting that this cake is made with a sourdough starter.

Do you have a sourdough starter in your refrigerator? If not, see recipe below. If so, now is the time to muster, bake that Election Day cake, cast your ballot and invite your friends around to await the results.

Note:  A basic sourdough starter: combine 1 tablespoon dry yeast, 2 ½ cups warm water, 2 teaspoons of sugar, honey or molasses, and 2 ½ cups of flour. Mix well and pour contents into a sealable glass jar and cover accordingly. Let it ferment for five days, either on your counter or in the refrigerator, stirring daily, and then keep refrigerated, using a cup or so of the starter regularly for your breads. You can feed this starter simply by adding flour, water and a bit of sugar from time to time.

https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/ElectionCake.htm Accessed on 11/1/2016 and used for the chronology of “Election Cake.”

Abigail Adams letter transcript. Accessed on 11/1/2016, https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17760331aa

Sarah Owens, “Election Cake: A Call to Bake,” Comestible Journal, Issue 3, Autumn 2016, pgs. 56-58.  Please note, one can purchase the beautiful Comestible  here for Owens’ recipe as well as others.

Second Note:  OWL is hosting an Election Day Community Event tonight, November 1.  Also their website provides recipes for the home baker. http://www.owlbakery.com/electioncake/

 


summertime, and the living is easy….

Category : Colonial, Farm
Date : June 29, 2016
Comments :

Summer arrived early on the farm this year, with temperatures well into the nineties in late May and early June, and at this point we are at least 5 inches below normal rainfall. The heat and dryness make gardening a challenge. Mulch to the rescue! Not only does it tidy up the vegetable beds and keep weeds at bay, but the mulch saves us from watering so frequently and keeps the water in the soil for a longer time. More energy efficient all the way around.

We grow onions and garlic to store and eat over the winter months. Our other crops include beans, tomatoes, peas, lettuces, greens, squash, melons, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, rhubarb and asparagus, and many herbs for seasoning and healing. We also subscribe to a CSA, our beloved Indian Line Farm, but this year the farmer is on sabbatical, so I feel more pressure than usual to have good harvests. Some varmint or fowl ate my early peas, and thus we had none. Each morning, I venture out to the garden, with my fingers crossed that noting happened overnight and to check on progress. So far, we are harvesting lettuce, greens and herbs whilst awaiting the first tomatoes, peppers and beans.

During colonial days, the kitchen garden was always under the work domain of the woman. Men worked the larger fields with corn, grains and other crops, but women often toiled there too as additional labor was needed. What happened if rain caused your crops to rot; if bugs ate all of your greens and beans; or, if lack of rain caused the garden to wither and die? There was the possibility of trading with a neighbor, but if times were lean for all, then the family would have done without.

Chores abounded for all on the colonial homestead.

Ruth Belknap sums up her 1782 day in Dover, New Hampshire in this delightfully rhyming poem.

Up in the morning I must rise
Before I've time to rub my eyes.
With half-pin'd gown, unbuckled shoe,
I haste to milk my lowing cow.
But, Oh! It makes my heart to ake,
I have no bread till I can bake,
And then, alas! it makes me sputter,
For I must churn or have no butter.
The hogs with swill too I must serve;
For hogs must eat or men will starve.
Besides, my spouse can get no cloaths
Unless I much offend my nose.
For all that try it know it's true
There is no smell like colouring blue.
Then round the parish I must ride
And make enquiry far and wide
To find some girl that is a spinner,
Then hurry home to get my dinner.
All summer long I toil & sweat,
Blister my hands, and scold & fret.
And when the summer's work is o'er,
New toils arise from Autumn's store
Corn must be husk'd, and pork be kill'd,
The house with all confusion fill'd.
O could you see the grand display
Upon our annual butchering day,--
See me look like ten thousand sluts,
My kitchen spread with grease & guts,--
You'd lift your hands surpris'd, & swear
That Mother Trisket's self were there.

Ye starch'd up folks that live in town,
That lounge upon your beds till noon,
That never tire yourselves with work,
Unless with handling knife & fork,
Come, see the sweets of country life,
Display's in Parson B[elknap's] wife.

“Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives. Documents in Early American History,” edited by Carol Berkinand Leslie Horowitz, (Northwestern University Press, 1998), pgs. 93-97, 112-3.

Note: Tim Carman’s recent article in the Washington Post, “For some growers, farmer’s markets just aren’t what they used to be,” reveals some the issues farmer’s face at these markets. Go and buy from your local farmers at your weekly market.

Note: This Friday July 1, b(RE)ce garments [my repurposed eco dyed garments] will be on sale at the Sheffield Farmer’s Market along with local produce, plants, meats, cordials and other treats. Stop by and see us in our green 1965 VW Transporter Van. The SFM is located in the Old Parish Church parking lot, just off of Route 7 in ye olde town center. (Sheffield was incorporated in 1733).


saving time and making light

Category : Colonial
Date : November 1, 2014
Comments :

Sunday marks the beginning of ‘Daylight Savings Time.’ DST is an early twentieth century concept supposedly implemented to use electricity more efficiently, to utilize more of the natural light and otherwise encourage more daylight activities; just how it does these things is the subject of some controversy. What most of us would agree on is that it is disruptive.

Thankfully, we are not ‘in the dark’ whilst M is deep into a major home project. For this particular one, involving the complete re-cladding of one portion of our home, power to the house was removed and re-routed from the garage to run back to the house. We still have enough amperage to run the refrigerator, lights, furnace, and our computers but not the clothes dryer and the dehumidifier. Furthermore, we have to monitor what is running and not over-load the new power source; i.e., we turn off some lights and then run the washing machine, but we can’t use the toaster while doing a load of clothes. No big deal.

Our monitoring of lights, heat and electricity has left me pondering methods of yore most likely sparked by my first foray into candle-making a few weeks ago. My friend Jody has dipped thousands of candles, being the former proprietoress of Wax Poetic. She taught me the multi-step process: first, cut the wicks to the same length; attach six wick strands to one piece of wood; dip each group into the warm wax; hang and let dry; and then continue dipping until the desired size. This process is not much different than the one employed by the colonial housewife described by Alice Morse Earle in Home Life in Colonial Days:

“Every thrifty housewife in America saved her penny as in England. The making of the winter’s stock of candles was the special autumnal household duty, and a hard one too, for the great kettles were tiresome and heavy to handle. An early hour found the work well under way. A good fire was started in the kitchen fireplace under two vast kettles, each two feet, perhaps, in diameter, which were hung on trammels from the lug-pole or crane and half filled with boiling water and melted tallow, which had two scaldings and scimmings. At the end of the kitchen or lean-to, two large poles were laid from chair to chair or stool to stool. Across these poles were placed at regular intervals, like the rounds of a ladder, smaller sticks about fifteen or eighteen inches long, called candle-rods. These poles were saved from year to year, either in the garret or up on the kitchen beams.”

Tallow, from “…deer suet, moose fat, bear’s grease…” as well as “…every particle of grease rescued from pot liquor, or fat from meat…” was used to make candles. Beekeepers saved the wax from their hives, for this wax did not smoke as much as tallow. Earle reports that wicks were made from “…spun hemp or tow, or of cotton; from milkweed.” Over the past few weeks, the milkweed pods on our land have been spreading their seeds and their silk-down and have given me pause, for I wondered what would have been done with this resource. Today, in the daylight, I will gather some silk-down and try my hand at spinning wicks to be used for the next batch of candles in my own effort to make light.

Alice Morse Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days, (Grosset & Dunlap, 1898), pgs. 34-35, 38.


colonial town

Category : Colonial
Date : October 28, 2014
Comments :

This morning, I am loading up my ‘wagon’ and heading over to a nearby colonial town, Monterey, MA. My journey will end at their library where I will install my exhibition, underfoot, at the KNOX Gallery. While in town, I will of course visit the Monterey General Store, as any prudent homesteader would have done; catch up on the latest news and procure some victuals. If invited, I will continue up the hill and pay a visit to the amiable ghosts of Rev. Adonijah Bidwell and his family.

On one of my earlier visits to the Bidwell House, I read Rev. Bidwell’s 1784 death inventory. These probate records are invaluable to the researcher. From these possession lists, one can posit much about a family—their wealth, literacy and social standing.

Of course, we are continuing to look for any probate records and journals tucked in the walls of our colonial home. M’s work on re-cladding sections of our old home has not revealed any particular treasures, other than the frequent walnut stored by a little critter between studs or in the crevasses of crossbeams. Over the past year, I made and stitched many books dyed with materials from our land. Some of these books are yet empty, with lines, awaiting text. Since we cannot find any writings from Taphenese, Abigail, Lucretia, Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth or Elenora (the women of this house), I might just have to write it for them.

Note 1: underfoot is on view from October 31 until November 29 at the KNOX Gallery, Monterey Library, Monterey, MA.  Opening reception November 1 from 6-8pm and I will give a brief talk at 6pm. For visiting information, Knox Gallery/Facebook.

Note 2: Recently, I was interviewed about underfoot by Amy DuFault for the Botanical Colors Blog .

 


make hay

Category : Colonial
Date : June 13, 2014
Comments :

‘Make hay while the sun shines’ is apt for many reasons and on many levels. Last week, it felt like summer here with temperatures approaching 90 degrees during the afternoons. And, indeed, hay was being made in the fields. Timely, for this week finds the temperatures lower and the days laced with rain and fog. If farmers cut their hay this week, it would either rot in the field or in the bales over time.

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A few weeks ago, while reading the New York Times food section, the following caught my eye, “In Colonial days, New England farmhands pitched hay in the summer sun and slaked their thirst with a concoction called switchel, a mixture of vinegar, water and a sweetener, often molasses.”

I recalled hearing about “ales, beers, wines, ciders and spirits” on the May 1 edition of Fieldstone Common. Marian Pierre-Louis interviewed Corin Hirsch about her book The Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips & Rattle-Skulls to Switchel & Spruce Beer. Hirsch masterfully traces the Colonies’ history through beverages of time, intertwining political events, tavern keeping, customs and recipes. Drinks were seasonal and regional, as with the switchel, which was consumed mainly in Vermont on hot summer days. Vinegar was used in this drink to give it a refreshing, tangy twist, for it was hard to acquire citrus fruits. Recipes may be found in Hirsch’s book, including one for the ‘Flip’, reminiscent of eggnog with a smokey taste and made with “beer, rum, spices and eggs served warmed by plunging a poker from the fire” into the mug. Perhaps on a cold winter’s day, we will try a flip, but this summer, pitchers of switchel will grace our table.


badges

Category : Colonial
Date : April 30, 2014
Comments : (1)

Historic Deerfield’s Calendar arrived in my mailbox and I eagerly began to look at the course offerings. Of course, I wanted to participate in ‘The Lost Art of Letter Writing,” to learn how to write with a quill, but my attention was quickly drawn to two course offerings for “Girl Scout Badge Days”.

receiving my brownie pin

receiving my brownie pin

Indeed, I was both a ‘brownie’ and a ‘girl scout’ and was awarded a few badges—some of which are still pinned onto my treasured sash. Perhaps one can guess the name of each badge from the symbol – camping, arts & crafts, hospitality, letter writing, grilling. Would I have completed more badges, and in fact sewn them to my sash, if I had been at Historic Deerfield? Indeed, I would have proudly sported both the Textile Artist Badge and the Playing with Past Badge.

my treasured Girl Scout Sash

my treasured Girl Scout Sash

My curiosity got the better of me, and I searched a few of my personal favorite historic sites to see if they offered badges, and alas, scouts can receive badges at Mount Vernon, National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution), Orchard House (home of Louisa May Alcott), Strawberry Banke Museum, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder house.

What badges are on my list to complete this summer? Looking through the 1930 Girl Scout Handbook, I am going to work on the Wildflower Finder, to become “acquainted with a least fifty wild flowers”; the Canner, thinking ahead to apple and pickle season; the Dressmaker (‘…must have both the Needlewoman Badge and the Laundress Badge in order to complete’); and finally, the Handy-Woman Badge with the first requirement, “Know how to mend, temporarily with soap, a small leak in a water or gas pipe.” By far my favorite Badge is the Pioneer, and I nod to the women that lived in this house and others that ventured to further western frontiers and award them well earned Badges.

Girl Scout Handbook, (The Girl Scouts, 1920), pgs. 418, 425, 429, 442, 449.


winter

Category : Colonial
Date : December 19, 2013
Comments :

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant:  if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

Anne Bradstreet, Meditations For My Dear Son Simon Bradstreet, #14, March 20, 1664

Winter is upon us and Tuesday dawned with the thermometer reading -0 degrees (we think the thermometer can’t “read” below zero, but we know better).  Snow began falling at daybreak and continued all day.  Six inches of puffy sparkly snow was added to the 10 inches already sitting on the ground.  We awoke to a winter wonderland on Wednesday morning—all the tree branches delineated by the snow, right up to the top of Mt. Everett, the highest peak in the southern Taconic Mountain range.

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With so much snow on the ground, we hunker down indoors.  Time appears to go more slowly, enabling one to linger and concentrate on indoor projects and projects of the mind; a contrast to the last days of autumn, where the chores mound up and come at you with a fierce but still appreciated intensity.  However, now we can also relish in the fruits of our labor from the kitchen, for example, with apple sauce and apple butter as well as frozen herbs/parsley logs (thanks to Margaret Roach over at A Way to Garden and root vegetables.  In the studio, I am thankful that I collected so many leaves, bundled and dried goldenrod, and gathered and soaked black walnuts.  Now, I will be able to fire up those dye baths for both paper and textile.

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What chores did Taphenes, Abigail, Lucretia, Mary, Sarah, Elisabeth and Elenora concentrate on during the winter in this house?  Had they set aside wool to spin and dye?  Did they knit socks?  Were they using the linen they had set out to bleach for weeks in the sun—called ‘grassing’ in America.  In her book, Home Life in Colonial Days, Alice Morse Earle reports:

 “In the winter months the fine, white, strong linen was made into “board cloths” or table cloths, sheets, pillow-biers, aprons, shifts, shirts, petticoats, short gowns, gloves, cut from the spinner’s own glove pattern, and a score of articles for household use.  These were carefully marked, and sometimes embroidered with home-dyed crewels, as were also splendid sets of bed-hangings, valances, and testers for four-post bedsteads.”

She continues, poetically:

“The homespun linens that were thus spun and woven and bleached were one of the most beautiful expressions and types of old-time home life.  Firm, close-woven, and pure, their designs were not greatly varied, nor was their woof as symmetrical and perfect as modern linens—but thus were the lives of those who made them; firm, close-woven in neighborly kindness…………….I am always touched when handling these homespun linens with a consciousness of nearness to the makers; with a sense of energy and strength of those enduring women who were so full of vitality, of unceasing action, that it does not seem to me to they can be dead.”

If I squint, I can imagine that the snow covered pastures are instead fields of finely woven linens, rippling in the breeze, awaiting their winter transformation.

The American Puritans Their Prose and Poetry, edited by Perry Miller (Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956), p.278.

Alice Morse Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days, (Grosset & Dunlap, 1898), pgs. 234-5.


mrs. glover

Category : Colonial
Date : November 25, 2013
Comments : (1)

Tomorrow, Sotheby’s will auction the first book printed in the colonies—the Bay Psalm Book.  The Old South Church in Boston is selling one of its two copies, and the estimate for the book is $15,000,000-$30,000,000—representing the highest amount ever to be paid for a book.

The Whole Book Psalmes. Image from Library of Congress

The Whole Book Psalmes. Image from Library of Congress

The Whole Book of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre was printed by The Cambridge Press in 1640.  The widowed Mrs. Elizabeth Glover (her husband Jose Glover died on board the ship traveling from England to the Colony of Massachusetts) established the first printing press in Cambridge, MA in 1638.  She ran the press as a sole proprietor for three years before marrying the first president of Harvard, Henry Dunster, in 1641.  Mrs. Glover died in 1643, and Dunster then ran the Press until he sold it to Harvard in 1654.

Mrs. Glover did not physically operate the press, but rather her indentured servant Stephan Day.  According to Sotheby’s, he functioned as a “compositor and pressman,” perhaps along with his son Matthew.  The Cambridge Press printed 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book and only 11 are known to survive to this day. [For an extensive examination of the Bay Psalm Book, please refer to: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2013/the-bay-psalm-book-sale-n09039/The-Bay-Psalm-Book/2013/10/printing-the-bay-psa.html ]

Mrs. Glover’s Press not only printed the first book in the Colonies, but it printed the first ‘translated’ book.  The Puritans painstakingly translated the Book of Psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures so that the psalms could be sung in church.  The preface of the Bay Psalm Book, attributed to Richard Mather (1596-1669), describes their sensitive approach:

“….For we have respected rather a plain translation than to smooth our verses with the sweetness of any paraphrase:  and so have attended conscience rather than elegance, fidelity rather than poetry, in translating the Hebrew words into English language and David’s poetry into English meter; that so we may sing in Sion the Lord’s songs of praise according to His own will—until He takes us from hence, and wipe away our tears, and bid us to enter into our Master’s joy to sing eternal halleluiahs.”

My mother took us to church every Sunday, and I did not always go willingly, and certainly did not want to wear the white gloves at her insistence.  However, I do recall being transported by the words and meters of the sung Psalms.  I wonder who will hold and sing from the Bay Psalm Book come Wednesday morning.

[Update—The Bay Psalm Book sold for $14,165,000.00. According to the BBC News the purchaser is “US financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein, who planned to loan it to libraries across the country.”]

National Women’s History Museum, (2007). Women with a Deadline, “Pioneers of the Press,” Retrieved November 25, 2013, from www.nwhm.org Web site: http://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/womenwithdeadlines/wwd2.htm

Aiden Lewis, “Bay Psalm Book:  Why the 18m price tag?,” BBC News, November 24, 2013. First retrieved November 25, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25045283

The American Puritans Their Prose and Poetry, edited by Perry Miller (Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1956), pgs. 320-22.


webster.shepster.litster.spinster.brewster

Category : Colonial
Date : October 28, 2013
Comments : (1)

In her book, Home Life in Colonial Days, Alice Morse Earle recounts        “…spinster is the only one of these variously womanly titles that survives; webster, shepster, litster, brewster, and baxter are all obsolete.”  Spinster (a female spinner) is the only word that I could define in that list and guessed that a brewster was a brewer, but did not know it was specifically a woman brewer.  Webster is a female weaver of cloth.  Shepster is a female seamstress; litster is a female dyer and baxter, a female baker.

The season is upon us for annual sheep and wool festivals, and webster, shepster, litster & spinster will be in attendance at the upcoming Fiber Festival of New England.  I am particularly looking forward to visiting the booth of North Light Fibers from Block Island, RI.  North Light Fibers (or NLF) runs a year-round mill that produces their own range of yarns, stunningly dyed in vibrant and natural colors.  One might ask what is so different about this particular cottage industry?  NLF is located on Block Island, RI; in the summer the population swells to 15,000 and ebbs to 900 in the off-season.  The founders recognized the need for a new business model for the island, one of light industry, to bring much needed economic sustainability.

Similarly, our own small town relies heavily on the tourist industry during the summer months and needs additional light industry to tide us over the long winter.  Recently, a new ‘brewster’ and her brewer mate came to town, retrofitted an existing structure, and hung out their shingle as “Big Elm Brewing”.  Allison Schell reports on The National Women’s History Museum site that women were the ‘brewsters’ in early colonial America, in taverns but mainly in homes.  Apparently, Martha Jefferson, wife of Thomas, was the brewster in their household.

With most of the outdoor autumn chores completed, it is time to set my sights on indoor stitching and knitting projects, which might require a bit of procuring at this weekend’s Fiber Festival.  Over the winter months, I hope to be knitting by the fire and sipping some of our local brew!

Alice Morse Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days, (Grosset & Dunlap, 1898), p. 187.

Allison Schell, “Women + Beer:  A Forgotten Pairing,” National Women’s History Museum website, http://www.nwhm.org/blog/women-beer-a-forgotten-pairing/


whither the weather

Category : Colonial
Date : October 7, 2013
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This morning’s local paper forecasts severe weather for the afternoon—heavy rain, winds and thunderstorms.  I then scrolled on over to my favorite weather source—NOAA—National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—only to find this notice: “Due to the Federal government shutdown, NOAA.gov and most associated sites are unavailable.  Only web sites necessary to protect lives and property will be maintained.  See Weather.gov for critical weather information…”  Thankfully, when I turned on the NOAA radio, the familiar voice told me when to expect the incoming front and other details.  Phew!

clouds

We live at the foot of a mountain range, so often we are unable to see the weather fronts coming in until they are upon us; the clouds tumble over the mountain top at a rapid pace.  My friends that live in town tell us that they watch the incoming weather and have a few more minutes to prepare then we do.

What did the women and men of this house rely on to predict the weather?  They must have been good at reading the signs, recalling seasonal patterns, and relying on their sixth sense.

Almanacks also became a source for information.  Benjamin Franklin began publishing his Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1733 and went on to sell 10,000 copies a year.  In her new book on the life of Jane Franklin–Book of AgesJill Lepore reports: “Almanacs, issued just before the New Year, were calendars—books of days—listing tides, holidays and the phases of the moon.  They sold better than everything except Bibles, and were bought, as [Ben] Franklin pointed out, by the “…common People, who bought scarce any other Books.”” Lepore continues:  “…fifty thousand almanacs were printed in the colonies every year, for a population of about nine hundred thousand (that is, one almanac for every eighteen people.)”

My mother used to purchase an almanac and I fondly recall pouring over the pages and perusing advice ranging from planting seeds to curing common ills to, of course, the weather.  Today one may read “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” online.  I was just looking at the astrological timetable.  It advises me the best day to plant below-ground crops is October 24/25.  Dare I plant my seeds in the hoop house today?

For a modern almanac, please consult, The Old Farmer’s Almanac—online version:  http://www.almanac.com

Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: the life and opinions of Jane Franklin, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 61-63


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