Precious Papers

August 17, 2015

A museum curator’s job includes studying, preserving, and interpreting historical objects. When I worked at Old World Wisconsin I thought a lot about objects immigrants used in their New World homes. As I was writing  A Settler’s Year, I thought a lot about the things immigrants chose to carry on their journey.

A few years ago I enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the artifacts in storage at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. Chief Curator Laurann Gilbertson showed a collection I’d never considered—immigrant wallets.

A drawer full of wallets.

Wallets carefully preserved.

As she talked about them, I realized how important these wallets were for those traveling from Europe. Immigrants painstakingly calculated expenses, and money had to be meted out with care.

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In addition to money, these wallets often held precious papers. According to a museum exhibit, these papers might include a “passport” giving a traveler permission to leave, a statement from the local church attesting to his or her good standing, and certificates of vaccination for “cow pox” or other diseases.

Document on display at Vesterheim.

Travel document on display at Vesterheim.

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Travel document on display at Vesterheim.

Given the importance of what was to be carried in these wallets, it’s not surprising that some show real craftsmanship.

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They conjure images of immigrants carefully tucking away their precious documents and money. I imagine men patting their pockets from time to time, reassuring themselves their wallets were still there. I imagine women slipping wallets under their pillows at night for safekeeping.

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Immigrant literature includes many tales of theft, or swindlers waiting in every port to take advantage of newcomers. But with good planning and some luck, the wallets and their contents would see the immigrants safely to their new homes.

Old World Wisconsin: A Photographer’s Paradise

August 11, 2015
I am delighted to welcome Loyd Heath to Sites and Stories today!
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Most of the photographs in Kathleen Ernst’s latest book A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons were taken by me at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor living history museum located in Eagle, Wisconsin. Kathleen invited me to write this post about my interest in Old World, some of my thoughts about photography, and how I got involved in this project.

Loyd Heath

Although I have lived in the Seattle area for over 50 years, my late wife and I are originally from Wisconsin. When we retired in 1998 we took a road trip to Wisconsin to revisit some of our old haunts. Old World was not one of them because it didn’t open to the public until 1976, long after we had left Wisconsin. But after discovering Old World on the web we decided to stop. Our visit was brief but when I discovered the ten working farms, the Yankee Village, the farm animals, and the interpreters and farmers dressed in 19th century period costumes going about their daily activities, I said to my wife “this is a photographer’s paradise, I’m coming back.” I did, and I’ve been coming back to photograph several times every year since.

Kathleen used many of my Old World photos in A Settler’s Year to provide a glimpse into pioneer life but I have many that didn’t make the cut for various reasons.

Although I have photographed all of the farms at Old World, I probably have more shots of the Fossebrekke farm (located in the Norwegian area of the museum) than any other. Several of them are included in the book but the Fossebrekke farm is so photogenic that I have taken hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photos there. The one room cabin is small and spartan but it tells much about how early immigrants to Wisconsin lived and is located in such a beautiful setting with so much activity that I return to Fossebrekke again and again.

Fossebrekke farm in the Norwegian area.

Fossebrekke farm in the Norwegian area.

An interpreter cooks a pancake in the 1845 Fossebrekke (Norwegian) cabin.

An interpreter cooks flatbread in the 1845 Fossebrekke (Norwegian) cabin.

Friends often ask why I keep returning to the same place. They want to know whether I get a “been there/done that” feeling at Old World. They don’t understand that the museum is not a static place; it is a living history museum. Activities are constantly changing, the people and animals are constantly changing, and the light and colors are constantly changing. A photo taken today is different from one taken at the same place on another day – or even another hour or minute.

Photography requires great patience. I spend much of my time just observing what is unfolding before me so I can snap my shutter when the elements in my viewfinder appear “just right” to create the image that best conveys what I want it to say. This is what the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson dubbed the “decisive moment” i.e. the moment when the elements of an image are best aligned and the action is at its best or peak.

Although the farms and 19th century architecture are great subjects for photography, my camera often leads me to children visitors and their activities. The site is filled with school groups on weekdays and families with children on weekends.

A group of schoolchildren on a field trip enjoy a tug of war with Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen while their teacher and parent chaperone watch and photograph the event. Photo taken in the German area at the at the 1860 Schulz farm.

A group of schoolchildren on a field trip enjoy a tug of war with Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, while their teacher and parent chaperone watch and photograph the event. Photo taken in the German area at the at the 1860 Schulz farm.

A young boy befriends the farm animals.

A young boy befriends the farm animals.

Windows provide many opportunities for photos. They often provide interesting frames. Here’s a shot I used on the cover of an on-demand photo book I designed featuring the windows of Old World.

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Windows also provide beautiful soft light for interior shots. When I first started photographing at Old World I used film. Since most of the buildings are quite dark, I often encountered situations where there was not enough light to shoot without a tripod and tripods are not permitted in the buildings. Flash is a poor alternative because it produces harsh contrasty light that destroys the ambiance of those old structures. It also tends to distract subjects who are engaged in some activity. It makes them look up and “smile for the camera,” another look I generally try to avoid.

But photography has changed. Modern digital cameras are far more sensitive to light than film so I am now able to capture high quality handheld images that would have been impossible just a few years ago. Here are a couple of shots I captured recently using only available window light and no tripod.

Windows provided the Kvaale family with light for doing household chores. Here a window provides light for showing a school group how things were done in the "old days."

Windows provided the Kvaale family with light for doing household chores. Here a window provides light for showing a school group how things were done in the “old days.”

An interpreter prepares food in the kitchen of the Kvaale farmhouse.

An interpreter prepares food in the kitchen of the Kvaale farmhouse.

Special events provide great opportunities for photos at Old World. A Civil War encampment is held each year with reenactors portraying events that occurred during the war. Several years ago the Civil War event included a funeral of a Yankee soldier. His casket, surrounded by flowers, was displayed in the parlor of the Sanford House in the Village and the following day was carried to the church where a funeral service was held and the casket was buried with a 21 gun salute.

Civil War Collage copy

Since I switched from film to digital, I now shoot everything in color. But I love the nostalgic or “antiquey” look of black and white or sepia and it seems appropriate for a 19th century living history museum so I often convert selected images to monochrome. Here’s an example that illustrates the different “feel” I can achieve by converting an image from color to monochrome or “grayscale” as it is now often called. I like both the color and the black & white renditions of this image, but they are very different. The color emphasizes the lusciousness of the spring foliage whereas the B&W draws the eye to the shapes of the main elements of the image, the farmer, the oxen, and the wagon.

Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, haul a load of hay through the German area of Old World Wisconsin on a wet spring day.

Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, haul a load of hay through the German area of Old World Wisconsin on a wet spring day.

Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, haul a load of hay through the German area of Old World Wisconsin on a wet spring day.

Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, haul a load of hay through the German area of Old World Wisconsin on a wet spring day.

Old World is a great place for portraiture. I like my portraits to have a candid look so I sometimes have to ask interpreters not to pose, but that is never true of the animals. Some of them “moon” me when I approach, but this pig went right on with his bath.

Cooling off on a warm summer day.

Cooling off on a warm summer day.

When organizing my photos I have labeled some of them “artsy.” These are creative images that are often somewhat abstract. They tend to be architectural scenes that I find aesthetically pleasing . Here are a couple of examples:

Mary Hafford's bedroom as seen through her bedroom window.

Mary Hafford’s bedroom as seen through her bedroom window.

Grotelueschen blacksmith shop on the left and Peterson wagon shop on the right, both in the heart of Crossroads village.

Grotelueschen blacksmith shop on the left and Peterson wagon shop on the right, both in the heart of Crossroads village.

Note the different shapes in this image, the triangles, the squares, the rectangles, and even a couple of circles. It is these shapes that attract your eye and make the image interesting.

Friends often ask me what type of camera I use at Old World. High quality images can be captured with almost any type of equipment. When I used to judge the Old World photo contest we often awarded prizes to images shot with “point and shoots,” (sometimes dubbed PHD cameras as in “Push Here Dummy”), and even a few with cell phones.

Yet nevertheless I have to admit that I use high-end equipment (professional single lens reflex cameras and high quality large aperture lenses) because it enables me to be more flexible in my shooting and increases my chances of capturing high quality images.  But that also has a downside.  I am often approached by people who comment on what a “beautiful” camera I have.  I know they are just trying to be friendly and mean well but I have difficulty knowing how to respond because in my world cameras are useful but not “beautiful.”

When one of my photographer friends receives a comment of this type, he often responds by relating the story of a magazine publisher who threw a cocktail party for contributors to a recent issue. During the festivities one of the authors approached one of the photographers and commented somewhat haughtily, “I really enjoyed your photographs; you must have a very fine camera” whereupon the photographer retorted “and I really enjoyed your article; you must have a very fine typewriter.” Moral of the story: although a good camera can help, serious photographers believe there is far more to making a good photo than a good camera.

And I use the term making rather than taking because I believe that post processing (i.e., adjusting color, tonal values, cropping, etc.) of an image after capture is frequently as important as clicking the shutter. He didn’t have the digital tools we have today, but Ansel Adams, the famous landscape photographer, was famous in part because of his post processing of images. (He did it in the darkroom, not on a computer.) He once jokingly said that dodging and burning (i.e, adjusting tonal values) is the photographer’s way of correcting the mistakes God made when He established tonal values.

Old World encourages visitors to bring their cameras (SLRs, point and shoots, cell phones or whatever) and it sponsors an annual contest with significant monetary prizes and publicity for photos taken on site. For more information about the contest click HERE.

And for more information about my photography see  www.Loydheath.com.

Immigrants And The Erie Canal

August 5, 2015

When thinking about the journey undertaken by 19th-century European immigrants, my mind instinctively conjures pictures of life aboard ships crossing the Atlantic. But when travelers bound for the Upper Midwest reached North America, their journey was far from over. Many traveled to Albany and boarded a boat headed west on the Erie Canal.

Erie Canal Packet Boats -- from: American Traveller, Boston, May 30, 1828

(1828 advertisement)

The canal, which was completed in 1825, linked the Hudson River to Lake Erie. Although originally intended to haul goods and freight, immigrants soon discovered that traveling west was faster and cheaper on the canal than by carriage.

Opening of the Erie Canal, in 1825  / [drawing by] A.R.W. ; [engraved by] Swinton So. -- From an unidentified history text, p. 167 ; approx. 1890?

(Drawing by A.R.W., c. 1890.)

Many Europeans, and Yankees leaving New England, boarded packet boats.

The Packet Boat -- from: Marco Paul's Travels on the Erie Canal / Jacob Abbott (Harper & Brothers, 1852) p. 44

(Marco Paul’s Travels on the Erie Canal, 1852.)

Deck space was limited, so passengers often passed time on the roof when the weather was fair. They had to duck, or even flatten themselves on the planks, when passing under low bridges.

Bridge [with packet boat] / by W. Roberts (from:  Marco Paul's voyages & travels, Erie Canal / by Jacob Abbott. -- Harper & Brothers (New York), c1852. -- p.71)

(Marco Paul’s Travels on the Erie Canal, 1852.)

Some accounts of travel on the Erie Canal are idyllic, with passengers noting pleasant scenery and conversation. Those with extra cash might pay the ship’s cook to prepare their meals. Some men chose to walk along the towpath between one stop and the next, which gave them time for some extra sight-seeing or shopping.

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(Sunday on the Canal, Paul Frenzeny, colorized version of woodcut printed in Harper’s Weekly, 1873; Erie Canal Museum)

But poor immigrants most likely found themselves on crowded boats, in conditions no better than the worst steerage on ocean vessels. Frederika Bremer, a Swedish travel writer, spoke to two young Norwegian immigrants who “complained of uncleanliness and the want of comfort in the canal-boats.”

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(source unknown)

Poor immigrants ate cold food they brought on board, or cooked on deck. “Try to find a clean boat that is not too crowded,” Karl Brünhuber advised his brother. (Exhibit, Erie Canal Museum) As many as one hundred people might travel on a packet boat.

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Exhibit, Erie Canal Museum.

Immigrants hauling bulky tools of their trade or other large cargo chose work boats, which were slower but less expensive.

Lumber Boats on the Erie Canal -- from: Forest Preservation in the State of New York / by Cuyler Reynolds.  In: The New England Magazine (Boston : Warren F. Kellogg), New series, vol. XIX, no. 2, Oct. 1898

(“Forest Preservation in the State of New York,” by Cuyler Reynolds; The New England Magazine, Oct. 1898)

“America letters” advised prospective immigrants to plan carefully. “When these sharpers say that it is much cheaper to ride on the canal from Albany to Buffalo, they are perfectly right; but that the freight for goods on these canal boats is shamelessly high—of that they say not a word.” (“Letters and Diary of John Fr. Diederichs, 1848,” WI Magazine of History, March 1924.)

Grain-Boat on the Erie Canal -- from: America Illustrated / edited by J. David Williams. (Boston :  DeWolfe, Fisk & Co., c1883) -- p. 88

(America Illustrated,  c. 1883)

Passengers paid by the mile. When they reached the end of the line, those headed to Wisconsin and beyond paused once again to arrange passage on a steamship that would take them through Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and finally Lake Michigan and on to Green Bay, Milwaukee, Kenosha, or another port.

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Many of the immigrants discussed in A Settler’s Year:  Pioneer Life Through The Seasons traveled on the Erie Canal.  You can learn more about this part of their journey at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, New York.

Erie Canal Museum

In downtown Syracuse, a statue of a mule and his young tender gazes across Erie Boulevard to the Erie Canal Museum.

The museum preserves the only remaining weigh lock building in the US.

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A weigh lock checked the freight load a boat carried. The captain was charged accordingly. (Erie Canal Museum)

Today visitors can step aboard a line boat (work boat) in what was once the lock.

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Erie Canal Museum

Notice how narrow the boats were. Passengers had to walk on the roof to get from bow to stern.

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Bunks like these were lowered after the evening meal. Curtains separated the women’s quarters from the men’s. Often the floor was packed with sleepers as well.

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Travelers weren’t permitted in the crew quarters at the back of the ship.

And inside the formal museum, exhibits tell the story of the Erie Canal—how it was built, who built it, how it changed over the years.

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Model Packet Boat.

You can also learn more at the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, and The Erie Canal website.

The Erie Canal was a commercial success, allowing merchants to get their goods to growing Euro-Yankee settlements west of the seaboard, and farmers to send their produce to market.

But perhaps even more dramatic was how the US population spread after the canal’s completion, when thousands of immigrants boarded canal boats, headed for their new homes.

Immigrant Trunks

July 6, 2015

A Settler’s Year:  Pioneer Life Through the Seasons focuses primarily on newcomers’ experience after reaching their destination. But many of the European immigrants’  diaries, letters, and reminiscences included poignant descriptions of their journey from old world to new.

Museums and historic sites like Old World Wisconsin preserve not only the stories, but bits of the travelers’ surviving material culture. And there is, perhaps, no other object more closely tied to the immigrant experience than the immigrant trunk.

Some were plain, and purely functional.

Chest, trunk. CL*314563.01.

This trunk was constructed of pine, with simple iron fittings, c. 1880.  (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

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This one was used by a Dominican sister from France in 1880. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History.)

Schulz House, Old World Wisconsin

This plain wooden trunk has beautiful ironwork details.  Some immigrants chose trunks with rounded lids, hoping it would keep them from being buried on the bottom of towering stacks of trunks packed in the hold. (Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin, Eagle, WI)

Many trunks were painted with the owner’s name.

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(Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus, WI.)

Add a description…Elk Horn Iowa

(Museum of Danish America, Elk Horn, IA)

Some had a bit of painted decoration…

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(Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus, WI)

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Swedish Immigrant trunk, 1867. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison,

Trunk used by Halvor Anderson Lovaas on his trip from Norway, 1860. (Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, WI)

And some, such as these Norwegian immigrant trunks, were exquisitely painted.

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(Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA)

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This might be my favorite.  (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA)

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

Rosemaled trunks in open storage. ((Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA)

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Detail on trunk visible in preceding photo. Painted by Ola Eriksen Tveitejorde, Voss, Norway. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Deborah, IA)

Artistry aside, any immigrant trunk is valuable because it represents the people who struggled to fit their old lives within its confines. How many times did a family pack and repack it in the weeks leading up to departure? What was the most efficient way to pack?

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

This exhibit at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum suggests the difficult choices immigrants had to make. What would fit? What had to be left behind?

First must come the essentials: food for the journey, warm clothes, seeds, necessary tools. People didn’t always have accurate information about what was available in America, or how much it would cost.

And surely treasured mementos of home were squeezed in, too.

Kathleen Ernst, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

Many ale bowls (which inspired my first Chloe Ellefson mystery, Old World Murder) made their way from Old World to New. Since bowls like this one wouldn’t have been easy to pack, they must have been treasured keepsakes. (Artifacts in storage at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum)

Wisconsin Historical Museum

This trunk, originally brought from Ireland, is shown with items both practical and, perhaps, “for best.” (Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, WI)

For the earliest immigrants, trunks served as furniture and storage in the New World.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin depicts a family which had only been in the US for a few years, so furniture was relatively spartan and basic.  A huge trunk provides storage and, perhaps, a place to leave a shawl or book if needed.

But in time, trunks often ended in attics or outbuildings, filled with old clothes or pressed into service as grain bins. Gorgeously painted trunks were once so common, I’m told, that even museums with a focus on immigration had to decline many offered donations.

Wisconsin Historical Museum

This lovely trunk got a second life when Per Lysne, who many credit with the revival of rosemaling in the US, painted it in the 1930s or 1940s. (Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, WI)

Every trunk saved is a tangible reminder of the often anguished choices people made about what they might carry, what must be left behind.

Fortunately, hopes and dreams took up no space at all.

(Kay Klubertanz photo)

(Kay Klubertanz photo)

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Want to see more trunks?  Vesterheim has a fabulous collection of rosemaled trunks online.

Why A Settler’s Year?

July 5, 2015

As the launch date for  A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through The Seasons approaches, I’ve been thinking about the journey I’ve taken with this book.  Why did I spend two years living with this project, and why was I confident that readers would care?

A Settler's Year

My interest in the topic goes back to 1981, when I first toured the fledgling historic site called Old World Wisconsin.

Schottler Farm, Old World Wisconsin, 1981

The Schottler Farm was raw in 1981—no gardens, no fences, no summer kitchen.

I was so captivated by the stories, the setting, and the museum’s mission that the following spring I packed up, moved to Wisconsin, and went to work as an interpreter in the museum’s German area.

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That’s me in the Schottler doorway, 1982.

After two years on-site I moved behind the scenes, and was hired as curator of interpretation and collections. For the next decade I worked closely with Marty Perkins. You can read more about Marty here.

Kathleen Ernst & Marty Perkins

On one of my visits after I’d left the site, Marty told me he’d been working with a photographer named Loyd Heath, and showed me some of Loyd’s incredible photographs. “You’d love Loyd,” Marty told me. “He’s a great guy.”

LoydHeathAtOWW

Loyd in action.

The last time I saw Marty, he told me about a book proposal he was developing for the Wisconsin Historical Society Press about pioneer life in Wisconsin, featuring Loyd’s photographs. Marty was happy to be working on a topic so near to his heart, and delighted that the book would bring Loyd’s work to a bigger audience.

Marty died suddenly two weeks later.

Some months after that, my friend Kathy Borkowski, publisher at the WHSP, asked me if I’d like to pick up the project. “I couldn’t possibly,” I said. “Just think about it,” she said. We went through that routine several times over the next month or so.

Finally I sat down with Kathy and Kate, the senior editor. “I can’t write the book Marty would have written,” I said. “Nobody can do that.” They said they understood. I talked with Marty’s wife about it. She said she and the kids understood, too.

One of the many articles Marty wrote for the Old World Wisconsin Foundation's newsletter.

One of the many articles Marty wrote for the Old World Wisconsin Foundation’s newsletter. (April-May, 2006 issue)

Finally I realized how much I did want to pick up the project. It was something I could do in honor of my former friend and colleague.

Marty Perkins 2012

Marty doing what he loved: giving a tour at Old World Wisconsin.

In addition, there are few topics I feel as passionate about as the lives of early immigrants. I’ve spent the last three decades thinking about them, interpreting them, writing about them, creating museum events and television programs and poems and books about them. The immigrant experience is, at its essence, about people searching for a new home, in a new place. That journey has meaning for almost all of us—whether in our own lives, or in our ancestors’ lives.

LC - [Four immigrants and their belongings, on a dock, looking out over the water; view from behind] Created / Published c1912 Oct. 30.

Immigrants, c. 1912.  (Library of Congress)

And as frosting on the cake, I was delighted with the opportunity to work on such a visual book. Loyd takes gorgeous photographs, and the WHSP produces gorgeous books.

WHSP catalog

I’ll always wish I could have read the book that Marty would have written, but I’m enormously grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved. Reading the immigrants’ accounts, and pairing their stories with Loyd’s photographs, was a healing, rewarding, and often moving experience.

I hope that you, too, are moved as you experience A Settler’s Year:  Pioneer Life Through The Seasons.

Hands-On Wycinanki

June 30, 2015

Readers have been wondering where they can try their hands at wycinanki, the art of Polish paper cutting featured in Tradition of Deceit. (Learn more about wycinanki here.)

If you live in Wisconsin, try contacting the Polish Center of Wisconsin, the Polish Heritage Club of Madison, or other local Polish heritage groups. (Similar groups in other parts of the country can probably also provide information.) I’ve taken several workshops with Kasia Drake-Hames.

wycinanki class

Kasia (in the tan sweater) holds workshops and classes that are low-key and fun, most often in the Milwaukee area.

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My very first wycinanki project. Yes, it is just like making snowflakes.  I took a class on wycinanki Christmas cards at the Polish Center of Wisconsin.

If you can’t find a class, don’t despair. It’s easy (and inexpensive) to get started.

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Materials needed: paper (I use origami paper), scissors, glue. Tweezers can be helpful for placing pieces, and Q-tips work well to spread glue.

I wanted to feature symmetrical flowers from central Poland’s Łowicz region in Tradition of Deceit, and I’ve learned a lot about this type of wycinanki on my own. Ornate flowers are made by layering different colors of paper.

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After gluing, I put the flowers between sheets of waxed paper and press them under heavy books. This keeps the flowers from curling as the glue sets.

When you’re starting out, it’s easiest to use printed patterns.  I’ve found posts at Papermatrix particularly helpful. I also picked up a couple of vintage books.

wycinanki books

After you’ve used someone else’s patterns for practice, it’s pretty easy to start experimenting with your own. Google wycinanki, study examples, and see what appeals to you.

When I design my own flowers, I use graph paper to help keep the diminishing sizes in order.

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Patterns show half of a flower layer. Fold the origami paper in half, place the pattern against the fold, and trace around the pattern. (Trace on the back side, so any pencil marks that remain after cutting don’t show.) Use the fold line to help you align each new layer right in the center of the one below.

I started small by making simple wycinanki cards.

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wycinanki KAE

My big goal was to create a piece like one described in Tradition of Deceit, described as “Two very pretty chickens, flanking a bouquet of flowers, printed in vibrant colors.”

Roosters are very common, but I needed to create my own chicken pattern. I started by making a simple drawing, and then sketched in layers.

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Then I transferred the layers to origami paper.  You can see how some of the details evolved.

KathleensChickenWycinanki500w

I wanted to have this piece finished before Tradition of Deceit was published.  I wanted to have it finished before putting this post together.  It’s still not complete…

Tradition of Deceit wycinanki

In process!

That’s OK, though.  I started with a very simple flower bouquet, but kept wanting to add more blossoms. Then I decided that the open space above and below the chickens needed to filled. The two flowers above the chickens haven’t been glued down yet because I’m still playing with ideas.

I’m sure more experienced paper cutters would have prepared a complete pattern layout before beginning.  My piece has been growing more…shall we say…organically. (Hey, I don’t outline before beginning a novel, either.)

I’ve had a lot of fun with wycinanki, and if you’re so inclined, I hope you do to. And if you do try it, I’d love to see the results!

Urban Anthropology in Milwaukee’s Old South Side

June 26, 2015

I discovered the wonderful work being done by Urban Anthropology while working on Tradition of Deceit.

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The organization’s museum and programs began when a group of cultural anthropologists in Milwaukee decided to apply their skills—cultural research, museum curation, cultural land-use, neighborhood oral histories, film-making, and others—to the city.

About half of Tradition of Deceit takes place in Milwaukee’s Old South Side, where my cop character, Roelke McKenna, began his career. I wanted to feature historic places, including the Basilica of St. Josaphat,

Basilica of St. Josaphat

The Basilica was built by Polish immigrants in a working-class neighborhood. What a testament to their faith!

Basilica of St. Josaphat

Visitors are welcome.  See the website for more information.

Kosciuszko Park,

Kozy Park

Note the blue police call box. Such boxes are locked and disused now, but a few decades ago they were essential.

Kozy Park

Statue of General Thaddeus Kosciuszko in Kozy Park.   This location played a key role in Tradition of Deceit.

and Forest Home Cemetery.

Forest home Cemetery

The Landmark Chapel, 1892. Forest Home Cemetery dates back to 1850. It includes a small museum,  walking tours and other programs featuring the historic area are offered periodically. The historic area of the cemetery is fascinating to wander.

Forest Home Cemetery

Side view of the Landmark Chapel entryway.

And right in the heart of this vibrant area, Urban Anthropology maintains the Old South Side Settlement Museum.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

The museum is in a lovely old home.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

The local community has always been culturally diverse, and the museum portrays change over time.

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Rooms in the front part of the house reflect the Polish immigrants who settled here in great numbers.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

The story of Polish immigration to Milwaukee includes a chapter about a community of fishing families.

Artifacts on the display help tell the story.

Artifacts on the display help tell the story.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

Although there are still many Polish-Americans in the Old South Side, other cultural groups have found a home in the area.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

The back part of the museum depicts more recent Mexican arrivals.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

Carefully chosen objects help convey this part of the story.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

I loved having the opportunity to compare and contrast. While many things changed in the presentation between the Polish and Mexican portions of the museum, it also becomes clear that many cultural traditions—such as the importance of faith and family—remain the same.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

I couldn’t resist showing a bookshelf that includes Little Town on the Prairie, The Settlement Cook Book, and A Child’s Garden of Verses.

If you want to walk in Roelke McKenna’s footsteps, and see some of the Milwaukee locations featured in Tradition of Deceit, you can easily visit all of these places in a single trip.

Important note:  The Old South Side Museum, 707 W. Lincoln Ave,  can only be accessed by prearranged tours. Call for reservations (414) 271-9417. $10 Adult, $8 seniors, students, and children.

From June – October, Urban Anthropology also offers walking tours on Saturday afternoons.  “The Cultures and Architecture of Lincoln Avenue” features the historic area, its ethnic groups, artists and architecture.  A tour of the Basilica of St. Josaphat is included.  Please call (414) 335-3729 to reserve a tour or for more information.

My Cookbook Shelf

June 12, 2015

I’ve spent the last year having fun with old recipes from Minnesota’s flour milling history.

photo

The Wheat and Flour Primer

And I had fun celebrating The Washington Island Cook Book and The Settlement Cook Book.

As I was thinking about a final post for cookbook week, I decided to see what stories my own cookbook shelf can tell.

I grew up in Maryland, and inherited this volume.  I never use it, and I’d never get rid of it.

Maryland's Way Cookbook

The dedication reads, “To the generations of Maryland Cooks who, since 1634, have blended the fruit of bay, field, and forest into Maryland’s way”

Although I didn’t know Betty Crocker’s history, her cookbooks were popular in my house when I was a kid.

Betty Crocker Cookbooks

Top:  1978; and bottom, 1950 editions.  I think these actually came down in my husband’s family, but the older edition is the same as my mom’s. This one was so well use the binding had to be repaired!

When I was a young woman the go-to cookbook was Joy of Cooking, first published by Irma S. Rombauer in the 1930s. I rarely use these anymore, but can’t imagine not having them.

Joy of Cooking

Mass market paperbacks, 1964 editions.  These were the first cookbooks I owned.

My other beloved classic is the Moosewood Cookbook, written by Mollie Katzen in 1974. This one I still use. A lot.

Moosewood Cookbook

I started collecting cookbooks with historic themes when I was in college…

Vintage cookbooks

as well as cookbooks from historic sites.

historic sites cookbooks

When I moved to the Midwest and began working at Old World Wisconsin, I purchased a copy of The Ethnic Epicure. The price penciled inside is $6.95, and when I was living on an interpreter’s salary, that was a serious splurge. But the book helped introduce me to the ethnic food traditions of my new state.

Ethnic Epicure

The cookbook was published in 1973—three years before Old World Wisconsin even opened.

Ethnic Epicure 2

All proceeds from the book, compiled and edited by Mary Joanne VanCronkhite, were “used for the development of Old World Wisconsin by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.”

Ethnic Epicure3

I scribbled some OWW recipes on blank pages.

Since I began writing the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, which are set in the 1980s, I’ve had fun collecting vintage Wisconsin cookbooks, especially those with ethnic flair.

Vintage Wisconsin Cookbooks

And of course I look for cookbooks and recipes that celebrate the ethnic groups featured in the mysteries. You can check the Foodways link at the right of this page if you’d like to explore featured recipes.

Dusting off some of these old books brought back special memories. I hope you also have a shelf full of food traditions and memories too!

The Settlement Cookbook

June 10, 2015

My dear friend Lynn recently shared a photo of a family treasure—her mother’s copy of The Settlement Cookbook.

Settlement Cookbook

My mom was married in the 1920s, and I think in those days ladies didn’t have the wealth of cookbooks available that we have now. This was my mom’s “go to” for everything.  I remember her having the pages open and making the best meals for all of us.  She and my dad used everything from their huge garden, and she canned all summer long. This cookbook was her treasure.  I think she must have had it from the very beginning of her marriage, as it is so worn out. When she made a cake from the cookbook (cakes were for birthdays and special times—not an every day thing as now), we all waited with anticipation because we knew it was going to be fabulous.

Lynn’s husband notes that the best recipes can be found on the most stained and thumbed pages.

I love exploring food history because food is one of the most tangible connections we have with the past. Just a glimpse of Lynn’s cookbook suggests a wealth of stories.

Settlement Cookbook

There must be many treasured copies of The Settlement Cookbook still in kitchens. First published in 1901 as a fund-raiser, over two million copies have been printed.

The cookbook was compiled by Elizabeth “Lizzie” Black Kander of Milwaukee. Kander had long been involved in civic work, including helping newly arrived immigrants adjust to life in America. She served as president of the organization that founded a Settlement House, and taught cooking classes. But she thought the her students wasted too much time copying recipes from a chalkboard.

To solve that problem—and to help fund the Settlement House programs—Kander suggested publishing a cookbook. She requested $18 to fund the project.  When the Board of Directors refused to finance the project, she worked with a local printer and raised money by selling advertisements.

All the copies printed sold within a year. The cookbook was reprinted again and again, with Lizzie making updates and corrections as needed.

Settlement Cook Book

1924 edition.

In addition to helping immigrants learn how to prepare American dishes, the book contained recipes from some of the ethnic groups represented in Milwaukee.

Settlement Cook Book

Settlement Cook Book

A whole chapter on kuchen!

Settlement Cook Book

Lizzie and her colleagues were so successful in attracting immigrants to their programs that more than once, they had to move to a bigger space.

Abraham Lincoln House - exterior

The Abraham Lincoln Settlement House ( 601 Ninth Street in Milwaukee) opened in 1912.

I was not really aware of The Settlement House Cookbook until I moved to Wisconsin in 1982. To my surprise, however, I found a copy in my maternal grandmother’s small collection of cookbooks after she died. My grandmother was born and bred on New Jersey’s Atlantic shore—daughter of an oysterman—but this cookbook, compiled by a Milwaukee woman of German-Jewish descent, had a place on her shelf.

Settlement Cook Book

1965 edition, published by Simon and Schuster.

Partly in her honor (and in honor of women like Lynn’s mom), I couldn’t resist including a brief mention of the Settlement House and Lizzie Kander’s cookbook in Tradition of Deceit. It fit perfectly with the themes of urban immigration and food history.

Tradition Of Deceit Cover

Has The Settlement House Cook Book been part of your family’s food traditions? I’d love to hear about your favorite stories or recipes!

* * *

And if you’d like to learn more about Lizzie Kander, I recommend A Recipe For Success:  Lizzie Kander And Her Cookbook, by Bob Kann, part of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Badger Biographies Series.

Lizzie Kander and her Cookbook

Washington Island Cook Book

June 8, 2015

I was thrilled to receive a copy of this community cookbook from a thoughtful reader. It’s a first edition, copyright 1947, compiled by the Trinity Lutheran Ladies’ Aid.

Washington Island Cook Book

“At long last your requests for favorite recipes of discriminating hostesses have been compiled in a ‘Washington Island Cook Book.’ The Island has been known for its outstanding homemakers, who specially (sic) delight in serving coffee to all who cross their thresholds.” (From the Preface)

Several scenes from The Light Keeper’s Legacy are set on Washington Island, and the rest are set on Rock Island—visible in the upper right corner of the map on the cover. Both are off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula.

Light Keeper's Legacy by Kathleen Ernst

My husband and I have served as volunteer docents at Pottawatomie Lighthouse, in Rock Island State Park, for the past seven summers.

Pottawatomie Lighthouse

The lighthouse has been restored to its 1910 appearance, when Charles and Mollie Boshka lived there with their two children.

Charles and Mollie Boshka

This cookbook is a treasure for several reasons. First, it includes a number of recipes submitted by Mollie Boshka. Each one is a  tangible link back to that lovely woman in the photo.

Ice Box Rolls

MB's Sour Cream Cookies

MB's Corned Beef

It also reflects the families who settled on Washington Island in the mid-late 1800s and early 1900s.  Many of the women’s surnames are still common on the island today. Many of the recipes reflect Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and Icelandic heritage.

Swedish Tea Ring

Icelandic Pancakes

Toward the end of The Light Keeper’s Legacy, a Washington Island friend makes Icelandic Pancakes for Chloe.

The recipes also capture an era when old traditions were blending with new.  The cookbook includes recipes for things like head cheese and vinerbrod (Danish pastry), and many include little or no instruction. The assumption was that anyone using the cookbook would just know how to put the ingredients together, or how hot the oven should be.

But the book also includes recipes for dishes like Texas Hash (which calls for 3 Tbsp. of something called “Spry”), Spanish Noodles, and several versions of Chop Suey.

Chop Suey Cake

In addition to several main dish recipes for Chop Suey, this one caught my eye. I have no idea how it got the name.

Finally, the book tells a story about the woman who once owned it.  I’ll never know her name, but I’ve got glimpses of her. She received the book from for Christmas in 1848; the inscription is Norwegian.

Washington Island  Cook Book inscription

And she used the book a lot.  Pages are dog-eared and sometimes stained, and she added notes by some of the recipes. It’s fun to imagine her flipping pages, deciding what to prepare for family or friends.

Pineapple Salad Cream Ring

This one made me smile because I grew up eating similar Jello salads.

I’m so grateful that this particular cookbook got saved, and passed from hand to hand…and ended up in my kitchen.

* * *

To read more about the Boshkas, see Making Jam for Mollie.  To learn more about Pottawatomie Lighthouse or Rock Island history, follow The Light Keeper’s Legacy link on the right side of this page.


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