Thursday, March 31, 2011

Playing the Glass Armonica at Colonial Williamsburg with the MasterHimself, or at Least Trying to!

While at Colonial Williamsburg last Saturday afternoon, we had a unique opportunity to play the glass armonica!  Many of you may have attended one of the glass armonica concerts with the Colonial Williamsburg master, Dean Shostak!  The glass armonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin. We had learned about this at the preceeding link a few years ago when we studied the 18th century in school (we do DEEP 4 year cycles through world history). Now we would have a unique opportunity to play one ourselves! Figuring out the knack of playing one of these is extremely difficult. The young girl there was very good at making sound come forth from the bowls and worked patiently to help my kids.  The idea is to wet your fingers and run it along the sides of the bowls while they spin. It is not as easy as it looks!
Photobucket
This armonica has 7 bowls in graduating sizes nestled almost within each other on a pipe that rotates by turning the handle.  A high sound is achieved by rubbing the finger along the smaller bowls, while they are moving at a fast rotation. A low note is achieved by rubbing the finger along the larger bowls, while they are moving at a slower rotation. Alas, neither of my kids were achieving many sounds, if any, so we asked the girl to play it some more for us.
Photobucket
Then the master himself, Dean Shostak, came over to help! One problem was that the bowls got dirty from all the fingers. Fingertips must be extremely clean, but wet. He handed out paper towels to rub the fingertips clean of any oils. Next my son inserted his finger back in the bowl of water to wet it down again for playing. Mr. Shostak  also cleaned the bowls a bit from the previous oils that were rubbed on by dirty fingers. Someone asked how we could make one of these ourselves. He told us that this is a basic model for us to learn on and experience. He has an extremely nice one with an 18th century treadle to turn the bowls. The bowls are specially blown in Massachusetts, for his fancy one and even for this simpler version. In other words, it sounds expensive! To the left of the photo you can see glass goblets filled with varying amounts of water. When you run a wet finger across the top, they produce the same sound as the armonica. This goblet arrangement goes back to the days of the Renaissance. When Benjamin Franklin heard music from goblets, he decided to invent a more convenient device...hence the armonica.  After Mr. Shostak's help, my son was able to more effectively produce sound.
Photobucket

When my daughter took her turn with Mr. Shostak, she kept using her fingertips even though he kept suggesting that she flatten her fingers. Then I got an idea. Brace yourself! I told her to play it with the flats of her fingers like she does on the piano. I know, I know. I'm forever telling her to use her fingertips for the piano but instead she uses the flats of her fingers. Mr. Shostak and I were laughing about that, as I told him I did realize what the proper method was. If only she would switch technique on the two instruments, she would have an easier time! =)

Photobucket

Here he is showing my daughter how to hold her fingers to achieve sound.
Photobucket

After everyone had a turn, he looked up, smiled, and asked, "Who's next?" My son grinned and said, "Mom!" Me? Why not? Sounds like fun! I love to do things like this! Imagine, getting armonica lessons from Dean Shostak! Huzzah! I had some trouble like my daughter.  You just want to use the fingertips on glass and be dainty.  Mr. Shostak showed me, like my daughter, and I finally felt the vibrations. Of course, you need more pressure on the glass to feel the vibrations to produce sound. Sound is vibrations. However the right amount of pressure is needed...as well as the proper flatness of fingers...as well as clean fingers...as well as wet fingers.

By then, a concert was about to begin! Mr. Shostak asked me if we had been to the armonica concert earlier. Um, no. There had been several armonica players from around the world playing different pieces. He said that one lady played "Flight of the Bumblebee!" I couldn't believe it and he said neither could he until he heard it! He had asked this man from St. Petersburg, Russia to play for us. Mr. Shostak said the acoustics in the room would be perfect! He played about 5 pieces, like Fur Elise, Ave Maria, and Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago.  The sound was rich and full, like an orchestra. Absolutely beautiful.
Photobucket

You can listen to some sample armonica music played by Dean Shostak here and purchase the DVDs for yourself!  Next time you're in Colonial Williamsburg, be certain to check "This Week" (schedule) to see if he is performing.

Blossoms March-ing in to Colonial Williamsburg Before the Snow

I used to garden prolifickly in Texas and down there, freezing temperatures and snow was bad news for gardens. However in San Antonio,we were not able to grow these lovely plants. Not knowing how the predicted snow would affect them, we scurried around on Saturday to take all the pictures we could.  Also we don't know when we'll return to Colonial Williamsburg and this weekend was my last chance to capture the spring blossoms.
Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Weaver Dying in Shades of Red

Saturday we were able to see the weaver dye wool yarn for the first time! The buckets to the left of the photo have the yarn soaking in a solution of water and alum. They soak for about 72 hours, so that the alum can work into the fibers.  The alum helps the fibers take the dye. 
Photobucket

I loved how all the colored yarns were laid out with the source of their color.
Photobucket

Photobucket

Blue...there's a name for these rocky looking things.  Eliza Lucas Pinckney of South Carolina was boiling an indigo plant and these "slugs" developed.  The interpreter told us about these "slugs" but I can't find any information to determine their proper name, which I forgot.  I did, however, learn a lot about Eliza Lucas Pinckney.  I suppose if I were to ever interpret a person of the 18th century, I would want to find someone who reads books as much as I do.  Abigail Adams of Massachusetts comes to mind.  Now I have found Eliza Lucas Pinckney.  Unlike most ladies of the 18th century, she and her sister received an English education. Her particular interests revolved around botany, hence her experimentation and success with the indigo as a teenager. At the age of 16, necessity required that she manage the three family plantations, which she did effectively. She taught slave children to read.  She has a beautiful love story.  After her marriage, she continued her study of plants with a Dr. Gardner (he was destined for botany), after whom the gardenia was named! Although she was a free thinker, she was completely devoted to her husband and family.  On a trip to Europe, she presented the Princess of Wales with a silk dress she had handspun. She and her daughter were spies for the swamp fox, Francis Marion. President Washington paid her a visit in 1791 and an oak tree was named for him.  Upon her death a few years later, President Washington asked to be her pallbearer.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

On this day, she was using cochineal bugs, wrapped in this bag, to dye the yarn.
Photobucket

Checking the coloring of the yarn...She decided to let it dye some more, for a deeper effect.

Photobucket

Various shades drying...
Photobucket

Then on Sunday afternoon, escaping the cold snowiness, we returned to the weaver for an indoor demonstration of the spinning wheels.
Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

This is an embroidery project that was common in the 18th century.

Photobucket

The Prentis Store in Colonial Williamsburg sells items made in the historic area.  Having learned embroidery as a little girl, I am hoping to refresh my technique for some period accurate costumes, like embroidered pockets and petticoats.  I am slowly building my collection of CW yarns.
Photobucket
This label says:

Wool Yarn

Hand Dyed in the 18th century manner

by the Staff of The Weave Room

With roots of the Madder Plants

Grown in the Wythe House Garden

At

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation   

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Meeting Baptist Preacher James Ireland

One of our stops on the weekend of my daughter's birthday was to see the Rev James Ireland.  This was a wonderful program! I took a lot of notes.  We had missed church and I would say I got more out of this than I do some sermons that I hear in modern church.  He gave his testimony and shared about his experiences with George Whitfield and John Wesley.  He was down to earth, open, honest, and humble. He didn't preach. He shared.

Photobucket
The Reverand James Ireland was a Baptist preacher who had suffered much persecution because the state religion was Anglican. More details of his story is here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg in Costume for the First Time

We are home from another visit to Colonial Williamsburg, to frolick about town in costume with friends! This was especially fun for my daughter because it was her birthday!

Photobucket

We enjoyed the gardens. The hyacinth filled the air with a heady aroma...

Photobucket

and took photos...
Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

The next morning I arrived in the historic area wearing modern clothes. It was a cold day for me. The kids wanted to see Lafayette.  They said, "Mom, we haven't been able to say hi to him all weekend. We don't want him to feel left out!"  I had to laugh. I don't think we're that important to him but it sure was funny!

Lafayette, as always, was wonderful! Guess what? He mentioned that bright moon as part of his monologue!  He said that's how bright the moon was when he first landed in America. That was great because we had had a Super Moon the night before that we were all talking about. Love how he works things in to his program!    

Afterwards we went to ask questions.  In the last few weeks I've been wanting a Frenchman's perspective on Montesquieu. He always mentions him in his talks, so I thought perhaps he'd be fair game to talk about. His answer pretty much validated some of my thoughts and gave me things to look for when I start digging into his book.
Photobucket
 Then my son asked for a comparison between Generals Washington and Cornwallis.  He had run that question by me earlier.  It seemed like a rather basic question, but it was an appropriate question. I knew Lafayette could make it great if he wanted to.  He did!  Wow!  He linked his answer to some stuff that we've been studying, which opened a whole new door of possibilities in our studies!  Wow, that man gets the wheels of my brain turning!  As we walked to our lunch spot, I talked over some of my developing ideas with my kids.  is!

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Daughter's Birthday and her New Floral Varied Block Quilt!

I've been secretly making a badly needed new quilt for my daughter's birthday while she has been out to Awana club on Monday nights. At long last it is finished!  Instead of buying more gift wrap I decided to use my gorgeous ribbon collection to showcase everything.
Photobucket

The quilt is on the right. I half price pink feather edged pillow was purchased at Homegoods. I also made a minky pillow roll (with leftover fabric and used an old pillow form that was in the closet), in the front left. There was a new pink bedskirt in the green package on the left. There's enough money left in her birthday budget for chintz for an 18th century gown!

I used all scrap fabrics from my closet to do the quilt. Can you tell that her favorite colors are purple and pink? I tied it off with lavendar embroidery floss. She loved it!
Photobucket

Her completed bedding ensemble!
Photobucket


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Meeting "The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon"

In in a big surprise moment, I got to meet the author of The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon AND George Washington, himself!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, well, I already know GW (the actor) and he knows me and my family!  =)  That's the fun of time travel in Colonial Williamsburg! As I walked up to the book signing table, I decided to say hi to the actor and tell the author how much I enjoyed her book and presentation from the day before, then let them go so they could sell books. 

Unexpectedly the conversation took a surprising turn and the author asked all sorts of questions about me. (Um, isn't this supposed to go the other way around?) She asked about how I teach history, which interested her because she enjoys writing historical fiction for kids. She loved hearing that we use real books (like hers...this book is an excellent addition to our American Revolution studies) in lieu of textbooks. She asked about the costumes I sew (for history presentations across the eras as well as Colonial Williamsburg), which interested her for many reasons.  She wrote about the recreation of George Washington's clothing for the wax figures.  She studied extant garments with CW textile curator Linda Baumgarten so she could understand the research and attention to detail by expert craftspeople who recreated "the man".  She was thrilled to hear that some of the tailors who sewed the garments for the wax figures were the same tailors who give me tips for some of my colonial sewing.  I showed her that my daughter had death head buttons on her red cloak, like the 19 year old George Washington wax figure has on the recreated frock coat he wears as a surveyor. We had to laugh that I had just spoken to the shoemaker (who actually has another CW related job) about his part in recreating the shoes and boots for the wax figures.  She asked me lots of questions about my blog and even asked for my business card!  Um, I don't have business cards.

She asked about my favorite part of the book.  Oh, I liked everything.  I liked the biography of George Washington interspersed with the research that went behind the recreation of the 3 wax figures.  Most of all, I liked the surprise of learning that some of the people I know in the CW historic area had a hand in recreating George Washington!  She chatted with me and my kids for over an hour until the Visitor Center closed.  She even autographed my book which I had retrieved from the car.  I told her I had bought it during President's Day weekend. When I first saw it through the storefront window, I had instantly recognized those figures of George Washington on the front cover of the book and knew a deep seated desire had been realized.

(For your benefit, I am adding more details since you may not have been to Mount Vernon.) Initially I told the author I had first visited the Mount Vernon museum while on vacation from Texas in August 2008.  When I first saw the Houdon, I was speechless. As Lafayette said about the life-size Houdon, "That is the man himself."  We had recently studied George Washington in school and I had completely enjoyed reading about him.  He was a fascinating person.  Honestly, a thorough study of him reveals a deeper and incredibly more complex persona than the general myths lead us to believe.  The myths and paintings render a rather austere figure, whereas deep study supports the Houdon...stoic indeed, yet warm-hearted, deep thinking, genteel. Ah, I know someone who can put my feelings into words far better than I can. A few days before I saw the Houdon, I met Lafayette at Colonial Williamsburg who said, "When he did walk into the room, I knew who he was by the majesty in his face, by the way in which he carried himself. He was an aristocrat without the name. He was a nobleman without the title." (From the July 9, 2007 CW podcast.  I know this actor/historian puts historical research into his interpretation, though I don't know the specific source for this. I'll have to ask him.)  After watching the short  reenactment video of how the Houdon was made, with a life mask which captures every single nuance and feature of the face, paired with the skill of the gifted French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon, I knew I was looking at the "man himself" whom I had so enjoyed studying.  He didn't look anything like the paintings I had seen.  He didn't look anything like his image on the dollar bill. After pulling my heart away from the fascinating Houdon, I explored the museum.  Based on the Houdon are 3 incredible life-like wax figures of George Washington at 3 pivotal moments of his life:  the 19 year old surveyor, the 45 year old general at Valley Forge, and the 57 year old man becoming the first president of the United States.  Surrounding those wax figures were realistic scenes fitting to the moment. As I stood next to the surveyor, I felt the very prescence of the wilderness and the messiness of the job as Washington's fingers were smudged from recording surveying marks.  As I stood next to the general astride Blueskin, I felt the bitter cold of Valley Forge and sensed the enormity and heaviness of concern on his face. As I stood watching the momentous inauguration of the first president of the United States on the steps of Federal Hall in New York City, I felt the magnamity and solemnity of this pivotal moment in world history...the attempt by humankind for freedom and representation in government had begun...would it last?  He knew the gravity of every decision he would make...which would become defining moments.    At each of these spots it was all I could do to tear myself away.  Someone really needed to write a book on this.  Little did I know...

Carla Killough McClafferty became deeply involved in meticulously researching and observing the historically accurate recreation of  the wax figures of George Washington for the Mount Vernon museum to aid her in writing an authentic book about the project.  While reading the book, I felt as though I was there, from the research and recreation process, to the intertwining story of George Washington's life.

I attended her talk at Colonial Williamsburg's museum last Saturday, where she gave a power point presentation of the creation of these incredibly life-like figures.  She began by showing us the vast array of paintings that George Washington sat for...none of which look the same. Considering that art of this era was realistic in philosophy, and that most of his painters were reknown for their talent, indicates he must have been a challenging face to capture.  A quote on the back of her book says it all. "I have never seen a picture that represents him to me, as I saw him at Valley-Forge, and during the campaign in which I had the honour to follow him. Perhaps that expression was beyond the skill of the painter; but while I live it will remain impressed on my memory." -Pierre-Etienne Duponceau

McClafferty showed slides (many of which can be seen in the book) detailing the process of making the wax figures.  We watched the research in forming the face in state-of-the-art digital images.  We saw how the head and body were formed by an expert sculptor and various processes.   We learned about the the skill at adding hair to the head, to the eyebrows, and to the eyelashes, one by one.  Painting of the face and eyes was shown.  After looking at the individual parts, she showed a close-up of the whole.  When seeing the hairline, eyebrows, eyes and top of the nose at once...a gasp arose from the audience.  It looked like a real person.  It looked like George Washington.

Then McClafferty detailed all the Colonial Williamsburg employees who helped with the wax figure, from making shoes and boots, to sewing shirts, leather gloves and leather breeches.  Colonial Williamsburg experts were interviewed as part of her research in period clothing, period customs and courtesies, history, and more. McClafferty showed her research into primary resource documentation from reading actual documents (she spoke of a rare document she got to read at Mount Vernon before it was stored away), going to various museums to visit paintings of Washington, reading scores of books and closely working with the Mount Vernon Ladies Asssociation. She basically got free reign while on Mount Vernon property to experience all Washington would have experienced. There was even a photo of her in the cupola! No one ever gets to go there!

For teachers, there is a website listed in back of the book for teaching materials to use with the book. It is an excellent read for young and old.  The book encompasses a range of subjects from history, to science to art. There is also a traveling exhibit. I googled "The Many Faces of George Washington traveling exhibit" and found that it is currently, at the time of this posting, at Morristown National Historical Park Museum. So be looking for George Washington to arrive in a town near you! He might even wave as he goes by!

Shoemaker, Not Cobbler

Saturday we went to visit our friend, the shoemaker.  Never call him the cobbler. That is a derogatory term. He said that shoemaking itself is such an honorable profession, that their children are raised to know that.  If a need comes to correct ill behavior, all the parents have to do is say, "If you don't shape up, your morals will lead you to becoming a cobbler!" at which the children gasp in fear and order has been restored!  As I recall, cobblers took odd jobs on the street for a mere pittance, with no roof over their heads in house or business.

Photobucket

My son asked him all types of questions about what he was doing.  With every factual detail, he always has a story, and they are usually quite funny!
Photobucket

I was distracted though, by these!  I liked the braiding on the sides!
Photobucket

The shoemakers obviously have a thriving business!  He always tells us it's a dependable steady job to provide for the family.
Photobucket

Somehow the talk between the shoemaker and my son ended up in our current history studies! When talking about the task of division of labor while making shoes prompted a quiz. The shoemaker is always quizzing children who arrive in the shop.  He asked how far back in time does this division of labor go?  Early 18th century?  Go further back.  17th century?  Way back.  16th century?  Lean on that lever!  13th century.  Pull hard on that lever!  Somehow someone ended up in Ancient Greece...precisely where the division of labor for shoes began...cutting them out, sewing the uppers together, sewing the uppers to the sole, and my son thinks that is it. (I needed his help to remember these details! Do you remember more Ashley or Rebecca because I don't!)  It is always a thrill for my kids to make connections between something learned at CW to something else at another point in their history studies. It really goes to show that history is not isolated but intertwined!