The Brave New World of Mash-Up

On the last day of NCPH, I attended one of the last sessions:  Graphs, Maps, & Trees:  Imagining the Future of Public Interfaces to Cultural Heritage Collections.  The panelists/working group grappled with the same issues that we have been discussing all semester:  story-telling, 3D vs. 2D representations, copyright, citability, usability.  How do you tell a complex story visually?

Several of the panelists have wrestled with these issues since the heady days of the CD-ROM.  Questions have never been answered; more questions have been generated by Web 2.0.  Instead, some folks have reconciled themselves to never truly knowing the answers to the following questions:

1.  Why did a visitor come to my site?

2.  How is a visitor using my site?

3.  What are the visitor’s technical competencies?

4.  How do I know when I have finished a web/social media project?

5.  How many/what type of IT technical skills does a historian need?

6.  What are you allowed to do with online data?  (Copyright or distribution restrictions)

In the library world, best practices have evolved and are distributed via white papers or conferences.  Historians have not constructed similar mechanisms.  The panelists bemoaned the lack of research or case study sharing in the profession.  they had to look at non-history journals for guidance.  Museum personnel noted that institutional visitor studies are typically proprietary.

Since the questions above were first generated 20 years ago and have withstood technological change, the time has come to talk of many things.  Even the walrus would recognize that now is the time to actually research and then define best practices.

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NCPH Poster Preview

My poster Grave Markers as Protest Symbols:  Using Cemeteries to Interpret the Intra-Ethnic Conflicts of Chicago’s Bohemian Immigrants has been selected for the April 2012 NCPH poster sessionThe full conference schedule will be posted in early December.  Here is a sneak preview of the poster — using different trees.  Don’t want to give away too much.

Limestone tree grave makers allowed people to memorialize their ideals and philosophies on their graves.  These grave markers also preserve the intra-ethnic conflict between Catholic and Freethinker Bohemians. After the Catholic Church denied burials in Catholic cemeteries to Catholic Bohemians whose families had Freethinkers, the outraged Freethinkers founded their own cemetery.  The Freethinkers allowed people to personalize their grave markers with secular and/or religious symbols. The Catholic grave markers emphasized a person’s religious devotion and utilized crosses.  The limestone trees in Bohemian National Cemetery and St. Adalbert Catholic Cemetery remind present day visitors of this old conflict.

Let’s interpret the following example from Bohemian National Cemetery, the Prinz Family Tree:

BNC Limestone Tree

Common to all limestone trees is the broken branch at the top – symbolizing a life cut short.  The trees also have a space in the center where the bark is ripped off the tree to expose a spot for engraving the names of the interred.  The Prinz family tree contains five key symbols:  acorns, ivy, clasped hands, wheat sheaf, and mushrooms.  All but the mushrooms have secular and religious meanings.  The mushroom is significant to Bohemians as a symbol of ethnic pride.  If you are Bohemian, you understand the irrational love of the mushroom.  For the non-Bohemians in the crowd, we all have our quirks.

Clasped hands represent marriage if the sleeves are masculine and feminine or heavenly welcome if both sleeves are masculine.  These sleeves appear to be masculine and feminine.  Acorns can mean prosperity or spiritual growth from truth.  Ivy can represent The Holy Trinity or immortality.  A wheat sheaf illustrates a long life or the Resurrection.  Masons also use the wheat sheaf on their graves.  Since this tree lacks other Masonic symbols, we can probably reject the Masonic interpretation.

People buried in Bohemian National can be Catholic, Protestant, Freethinking, or agnostic/atheist.  We cannot assume a wholly secular or totally religious interpretation of the tree.  The sleeves are clearly secular.  The use of multiple symbols of fruitfulness/prosperity and of long life lean towards a more secular interpretation of the tree.  The family was proud of its success and lived long, productive lives.  The ceramic photograph and the tree (rather than a traditional headstone) suggest that the Prinz family had means.

A cautionary note:  acid rain has eroded the limestone, so other symbols may have evaporated or become indistinguishable.  Our next tree from St. Adalbert is undoubtedly religious.

Three Cross Tree

There may be 6 crosses on the tree.  The acid rain melted some elements on the Vachulka tree.  Jesus lost his head on the crucifix, too.  The inset crucifix scene, profusion of ivy, multiple Latin crosses, oak wreath, and rose on the right hand side all lend themselves to a 100% religious interpretation.  Christians believe that oak is one of the woods used to make Christ’s cross, and the rose either symbolized martyrdom or purity.  Given the crucifix scene, martyrdom is the more probable interpretation.  The Vachulka family stressed their piety and faith in their limestone tree.  Their own personal traits or values are subservient to their Catholic faith.

In each of these trees, the Prinz and Vachulka families memorialized their most important beliefs.  Ivy is the common element, used by both families to represent their individual interpretations of immortality.  The other design elements perpetuate the reasons why the families chose their respective cemeteries, perpetuating their beliefs into eternity.  Bohemian National Cemetery and St. Adalbert preserve these gravemarker weapons from an intra-ethnic conflict now forgotten.

*I used Douglas Keister’s Stories in Stone to interpret the design elements.

Deco Spirits

During the original Great Depression, Art Deco and Art Moderne were popular art/architectural styles.  Their futuristic tone encouraged people to believe that a better future would happen.  The current glass and steel Mies van der Rohe is a bit too sterile prison for inspirational purposes.  Let’s enjoy some decorative motifs from downtown Chicago and bemoan the current sad state of architecture.

The Burnham Brothers rebuke to Prohibition (Carbon & Carbide Building)  is now swamped by the glass Smurfit Stone Building.  The slashed diamond of the Smurfit Stone is quite stunning, so the brothers would probably be more upset that their building is now a Hard Rock hotel.

The obsession with glass is usually excused because the glass reflects the river and water.  Or you could go with seahorses on your building:

You get a tree and sailboat, too!  On the downside, there are a few creepy faces:

Let’s cleanse the palate with the Crain’s archway:

The Michigan Avenue bridge tower is pretty snazzy, too.

The prohibitive cost and the lack of artisans ensure that Chicago and other major cities will be glass and steel cages for another 100 years.  When you walk in your own downtown or visit other cities, appreciate the small artistic details that are forever lost.

For the cemetery fans, I will have another round of BNC photos soon and some St. Adalbart.  The battle of the limestone trees will occur next week.  I should also have some finished needlework photos.  I really need to finish some pieces into wall quilts and other items.  Next weekend is a holiday weekend for me, so the odds are good.

Let’s end with a contemplative Preston – trying to understand why he wasn’t selected for the Celebrating Greyhounds 2012 calendar.

Celebration Time

Yes, the new school year has begun.  I’ve already attended two of my three classes and found a little cubby hole in the library.  To truly memorialize the occasion, I felt I should post my list of Top Five Favorite Historical Sites.  The selection is wickedly subjective.  I have visited most of them multiple times, and each represents a different reason why I enjoy history.  Starting with #5:

5.  Lincoln-Tallman House

I never became a huge Lincoln or Civil War person, but this house kickstarted my interest in history/historical sites.  As a wee lassie from the Midwest, this house was the most exotic building I had ever seen.  I haven’t visited in 30 years but am still grateful for its inspiration

4.  Tombstone’s Historama

Vincent Price narrates, while a metal diorama depicting the various historical eras in Tombstone rotates.  You have to see it to believe it.  Then enjoy some sarsaparilla.  Yes, you have to drive a bit to reach basically three streets.  You will thank me after you view the Historama.

3.  The JFK Library and Museum

Jackie was first class all the way and a devoted student of history.  Even if you aren’t particularly interested in the Kennedys, the library is a beautiful building; the exhibits are exquisitely displayed, and the ocean view is calming.  The library also contains the Hemingway archives for the literary fans in the crowd.

2.  Salem

From the Witch Museum to the House of Seven Gables to the Peabody & Essex Museum, I have spent months in Salem.  I dream of spending a week at the Hawthorne Hotel.  I love Finz restaurant, Colombo Yogurt, the historic homes, the graveyards.  Everything.  Standing in the garden of the House of Seven Gables is transporting.

1.  National Czech and Slovak Museum

I love my Czechs, especially when they are old and ornery.  The guide here made sure I revisited the first few artifacts on the tour that I missed because I arrived late.  The ticket gal said I should just join the tour.  She should have known better.  The more remarkable story is the recovery from the floor and upcoming re-opening of the museum.  The Czech, Iowa, and US governments all donated money to preserve the museum.  The Czechs were first and have been very generous with a number of US-based institutions.  The museum is located near the river (hence the flood) and is surrounded by Czech businesses.  If you like old time downtowns and ethnic enclaves, highlight Cedar Rapids on your map.

The Art of Cemeteries

Cemeteries aren’t the first place that springs to mind when looking for art, especially nowadays when tombstone design is expensive.  Finding stonecutters can also be problematic.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, renowned architects and sculptures did create works to memorialize a client or themselves.  These memorials were also a way to show that a family was prominent and deserved respect even in death.  Each cemetery can restrict the type of monuments or memorials allowed.  The art in Bohemian National Cemetery and Rosehill Cemetery reflect their founders intellectual and artistic beliefs.

Born from a battle where the Catholic relative of free thinkers was denied burial in a Catholic cemetery, Bohemian National maintains an inclusive attitude towards memorials, tombstones, and mausoleums.  The memorials contain examples of limestone statuary, photography, Art Deco imagery, and Chicago Cubs logos.

The limestone trees are the most striking memorials in Bohemian National.

Each tree is unique, although certain symbols are repeated.  A cluster of houbys appears at the bottom.  The bent branch references a life ended.  The oak leaves symbolize strength.

The mausoleums tend to reference Art Deco.  The most famous person buried at Bohemian National is buried in one such mausoleum:  Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago assassinated in 1933.

The torch imagery references a life snuffed out, as well as an eternal flame.  Bohemian National is replete with dual life/death images.   Clasped hands can mean “together forever” or “good-bye”.  A broken branch means a life cut short, but oak leaves and acorns symbolize life.

Porcelain ceramic photographs are also prominent on Bohemian National tombstones.  As long as the photographs are not broken, they withstand the elements quite well – better than the limestone statues.

Rosehill is a bit more staid.  Developed by Masons, Rosehill does contain its share of obelisks, including the legendary John Wentworth memorial.  If he could have created a monument larger than the Washington Memorial, he probably would have.

The sculptor Leonard Volk, known for his Lincoln life mask and hands, is buried alongside a statue of himself.

Rosehill was proud of its celebrity clientele, starting with General Thomas Ransom, killed in the Civil War.  Prominent Chicago families like Peck, Dick, Lill, and Kedzie have impressive plots.  One of the more unknown but arguably more consequential is George Bangs who created the post office mail train car.  George went with a limestone tree that included a train carving.

Before city parks existed, people would picnic at cemeteries.  The rolling lawns, peaceful settings, and beautiful sculptures are a prototype for the parks created by Olmstead and others.  Sculptors and architects like Thomas Boyington, Leonard Volk, and Anton Heller produced stunning works that are not trapped in museums or private collections. These are works meant to be appreciated and seen through the generations.

Twisted Sisters or How I Spent National Women’s History Month

So March is National Women’s History Month.  I don’t have any particular celebrations but did note that my recent cultural activities involved female protagonists.  Thus my latest random cultural events roundup will cohere around that theme.

WildClaw!’s Carmilla and Lookingglass’ Ethan Frome explore women’s power via manipulation.  Readers are probably more familiar with Ethan Frome, the Edith Wharton classic, foisted upon high school students in a misguided attempt to introduce them to great literature.  No, I am not an Edith Wharton fan.  Her “woe is me” heroines excel in their passivity.  Their falls aren’t tragic; they should have learned that sloth is one of the seven deadly sins.  When Wharton wrote, the West beckoned to men and women who lacked opportunity in the East.  A “poor relation” in the East could have moved West as a Harvey Girl – if she was ill-suited to being an adventuress.

Why did I go see Ethan Frome?  I subscribe to Lookingglass (because they are awesome).  Only Lookingglass could compel me to endure a Wharton.  Phillip Smith (Ethan) and Louise Lamson (Mattie) have been excellent in other productions, so I hoped they could give me a reason to get on board – the stage, not the sled.  While Smith and Lamson were top notch, the Whartoness was too much for me.  Having lived in New England, Wharton’s attempt to portray the lower class/poor did not ring true to me.   Zenobia, Ethan’s wife, Ethan, and Mattie are each too cowardly to act on their dreams or to admit their failures.  Zenobia manipulates Ethan and Mattie; Ethan clumsily attempts to manipulate Mattie, and Mattie winds up manipulating Ethan and Zenobia after the accident.  Yawn.

Carmilla was much more exciting on stage and in prose.  Written by JS LeFanu in 1872, Carmilla is the first vampire story and has a female as its vampire.  Born as a result of suicide on her wedding night, Carmilla lures women away from their husbands, gives them vampire power and strength, and then destroys her harems as she moves to new targets.  The men in Carmilla are the confused and mentally weaker sex.  Ultimately the strength of a man is required to actually kill the female vampires – after their betrayal by women.

Like Wharton’s female characters, Laura, the latest vampire victim is the only child of a once-wealthy family that is descending into poverty.  The family lives on an ancient estate in the woods.  The mother was already seduced and stolen by Carmilla.  Unlike the Wharton females, the Carmilla females manipulate from a position of power.  Laura may be the prototypical ingénue, but she becomes suspicious of Carmilla and instigates the vampire’s downfall.  Carmilla fights physically and mentally to retain her power.  WildClaw! created a vigorous production with lots of blood, fights, and sharp performances.  The final act of Carmilla is a dance macabre where the women lead.

The supernatural theme continued in Yuja Wang’s piano recital at the Chicago Symphony.  A Chinese prodigy, Wang is a mere 24 years old, playing with emotion and sophistication.  Her program began with Rachmaninov and Schubert, impressing the audience with her virtuosity; the second half explored the mysterious and dangerous with selections from Scriabin, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Scherzo, and Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre Op. 40.  The Scriabin selections pulled the audience into a mystical and playful dream that became sinister as the devil danced on Bald Mountain.  Shakespeare’s impish fairies chase the devil off the mountain for a short while, but Old Scratch returns to remind us that “death at midnight plays a dance tune” (Dance Macabre – Jean Lahor).

Wang attacked each piece, delightfully frightening the audience with pounding bass lines and intricate treble dances.  Eschewing any kind of orchestral support, Wang challenged her audience as her fingers manipulated the percussive and string power of the piano.  She could easily have played Ethan and Mattie to their destiny with the tree.

Lectures by Jennifer Homans, the author of Apollo’s Angels, and Liesl Olson about Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry magazine remind that women have always exercised power either directly or through manipulation – if they had courage.  Ballerinas embody the strength and fragility assigned to women.  Monroe used her editorial powers and friendships with wealthy donors to establish modern poetry in the United States and arguably the world.  While some ascribe influence to Ezra Pound, it is worth remembering that Monroe edited Pound – creating the power of “In a Station of the Metro” through her spacing, from Poetry Magazine, April 1913.

The apparition       of these faces       in the crowd   :

Petals      on a wet, black    bough   .

EGA Finishes

Within 6 months of class end, I have finished both projects from the EGA seminar in September.  The first finish is a goldwork piece designed by Michele Roberts:  California Golden Vine.  The leaves and tendrils are gold.  The grapes are two shades of purple and are padded with differing elevations.  The photograph is mediocre – doesn’t capture the dimensionality of the piece.  I went with natural light to avoid the weird shines from flash, which does give some sense of the layering.

California Golden Vine - copyright Michele Roberts

California Golden Vine - copyright Michele Roberts

The piece has a very rustic feel with the brown-gold duponi silk background.  I am not a fan of the Pearsall silk used for the grapes.  A bit too fine for my tastes.  The snagging was a nightmare.  Eterna is shinier.  My preferred silk vendors remain Eterna, Needlepoint Inc, and Soie d’Alger.  I fear the tendrils will be too tempting for Phoebe.  Safe display will a challenge.

The design is stunning, and Michele is a wonderful teacher.  Quite the Southern lady and very dedicated to teaching.  Both of my teachers this year were very good.  Phillipa Turnbull designed the second piece:  You Can’t Catch Me, based on old bedhangings.  Phillipa graciously showed us the original bedhangings and other historical pieces from her collection.

As some of you know, crewel is my first love.  I have seen Phillipa’s designs in UK magazines and was thrilled to see her teaching at the EGA seminar.  She was a blast.  Here is a photo of the finished piece, which should also remind you of a certain special greyhound:

You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

(It’s still on the blocking board – thus the pins.  I’ll turn it into a pillow.  Good Friday is going to be a finishing weekend.)  That’s right:  the dog is Preston.  During class, Phillipa suggested that we customize the dog to our own puppykins.  Great fun!  I really should have changed the butterflies to squirrels, but creating a flying squirrel is a bit beyond my skills at the moment.  The brindle was tough enough.  Let’s enjoy a close up of the real thing:

Preston's Brindle

Preston's Brindle

The brindle can be very strong or very faded.  To recreate the look, I wove the black thread underneath some of the champagne threads.

Dog Closeup - You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

Dog Closeup - You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

I am pleased with the results. The piece was great fun to stitch.  The rhythm of crewelwork is so relaxing.  While the Tree of Life designs are classic crewel, I do enjoy the animal studies.  Furry beasts look good in wool.

Now I have to dedicate myself to WIP slaying.  I still have a few military family kissing pillows to complete.  I also need to finish the Chatelaine Misty Morning Vineyard and the Mirabilia Christmas Couriers, which will become a wall quilt.  Those two projects are quite large, so I’ll throw in a few smalls for a sense of accomplishment.

Yes, I am still waiting for my notification letter from Loyola.  Should arrive within the next week and a half.  Still on pins & needles.  Ha, ha, ha!  In the meantime, let’s chill with Serena:

Serena Snoozing

Serena Snoozing