Sunday, October 31, 2021

Space Oddities and Spirits of the White Mountains

Submitted for your approval...

... in the spirit of the season, a painting by local artist David Baker based on a description from alien abductees Betty and Barney Hill. The site of this celebrated event is even documented with a New Hampshire state highway marker. 

For more info on this topic see the link here

Saturday's Conway Daily Sun featured several recent programs held at the Conway Public Library - Ghost hunters of Conway with Luna Paranormal and Ghost Adventures with Jeff Belanger. 

A search for the word "halloween" in our online collection of The Reporter News here finds over seven hundred results and yields insight into the ways in which the holiday was celebrated in the past.

Cemeteries take on a special meaning during this time of the year and recently we had several library patrons looking for the location of their ancestor's graves. 

A sense of both beauty and mystery can be found while walking through some of our local cemeteries.  Some of the graves are marked with special medallions. 

A watchful all seeing eye at the top this marker overlooks the initials FLT which stand for friendship, love and truth.  

The letters IOOF stand for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, one of a number of secretive societies such as the Knights of Pythias, Fraternal Order of the Eagles, and the Grand Army of the Republic. 

We use the codes and symbols employed by these groups to help learn more about the history of the people buried beneath the markers in our patron's searches for their family history and genealogy. Can you guess what the one below reveals?  

While cemeteries play a spooky role in October's events, the mood changes in November to a more positive, patriotic role as we will explore in a future blog. 

Have a Happy Halloween and if you want to learn more about any of the topics in this blog contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Friday, October 22, 2021

An Apple Bee

I recently attended a fantastic program on apple diversity hosted by Eleanor Jenkins' Uplands Apple Farm in Eaton NH, led by Jared Kane, Executive Director, Branch Hill Farm Preservation Orchard, Milton Mills, NH with support from Catherine Dufault, District Manager, Carroll County Conservation District in Conway NH. 

It was not quite the raucous crowd depicted in a print by Winslow Homer below (more on that later).  

After a welcome and history of the orchard from Eleanor, Jared explained the history and taste profiles of each variety as we passed the plates around ...

... and enjoyed the beautiful views with heirloom apple trees planted all along the stone walls.  We tried over fifteen varieties of apples (for our previous blog on Ashmead's Kernel follow this link here). 

We were able to compare the taste with the unique look of the apples side by side. The chalk board in the cider room indicated it was a pretty good harvest this year. 

The numbers next to the apple variety names indicates the number of bushels harvested. For more on this year's harvest and local apple history see this issue of the Conway Daily Sun here

Now to the Winslow Homer print I mentioned above. It was published in Harper's Weekly Magazine in 1859. For more info on the print itself in various museum collections see these links here

The title Fall Games - The Apple-Bee can be seen at the bottom of the print (click on images to enlarge them). 

During the period the term "bee" referred to a social activity where work and play were combined. Other examples are the quilting bee, husking bee and scutching bee. Think of the insect bees and how they dance while they work. 

The print includes numerous vignettes that provide several sets of interesting comparisons and contrasts to explore. 
Let's start with the top of the image. Hung along the ceiling are several strings of sliced apples drying over the fireplace. 

Drying apples preserved food calories in a time before refrigeration. Today we can get fresh apples from around the globe any time of the year. They could not. 
Dried apple slices were (and are) a tasty snack that could be enjoyed as well as the main ingredient in New England's famous dried apple pie (for breakfast with sharp cheddar cheese). For our previous blogs on that tradition see these links here and here

On the left section of the print a young man demonstrates an example of technological innovation to a group of older folks who look on attentively and somewhat bemused. 

This machine peels and cores at the same time resulting in both labor saving and an increase in productivity. Notice the pile of processed apples on the table. You can still purchase essentially the same design today. 

Here is a copy of an ad from 1895. 

Also note the "White Mountain" potato parer (click on images to enlarge them). 

They were made in a wide variety of styles. We have a number of versions in the collection of the Conway Historical Society. For more on the topic see the Virtual Apple Parer Museum here

On the right of the print can be seen the more traditional hand peeling method. 

Speed and productivity do not seem to be the main concern of the young couple depicted here. They may be more interested in the lingering and longing of courting. Compare the the pile of apples yet to do at their feet with the processed pile seen before. Also note the successful courting of the couples in the back ground behind them. 

More romance can be seen in the central figure...  

... who tosses an apple peel over her shoulder with the belief that it will spell out the initials of person she is destined to marry. For more on this tradition see the links here and here

Seen below the young man working the mechanical peeler/parer (and the old folks watching him work) are a pair of children playing with a carved pumpkin.  

Almost obscured in the background is a liquid contrast to the solid examples of apple products. This vignette is but a small portion of the print, however, as Jared explained during the program, this apple product played the largest role in the actual history of apples in this country before the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Prohibition). 

A nicely dressed older gentleman raises a glass of cider poured from a barrel seen over his left shoulder. Jared explained that "cider" refers specifically to the alcoholic drink and therefore the term hard cider is redundant. 

David Tatham here (p. 87) points out how unique this print is in Homer's body of work. He argues that "Nothing in his work as a painter remotely recalls the electric, hot-blooded relations among young men and women that he recorded with such evident relish in these country frolics. In hardly any other of his drawings for the pictorial press did he depict such free and unselfconscious displays of emotion between individuals." 

For a taste of more on the autumn harvest see our current display at the Conway Public Library and its related blog here

To further explore this and many other historical topics, we offer free outreach programs to local schools and community groups. We can also provide programs via zoom. Please contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room for more information.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Fall for Autumn

Our current display greeting you as you enter the Conway Public Library focuses on "the art of the autumn harvest" and its seasonal traditions.  The top shelf features the foliage that brings in buses full of visitors during this time of the year. The "centerpiece" of course is a bouquet of autumn colors, a final blaze of glory before the white of winter.

The image featured at the right of the exhibit label is by Maxfield Parrish who was once a NH summer resident. 

It is a self portrait of the artist as Jack Frost, with golden pots of paint to color the leaves all the different tints of autumn. The painting was featured on the cover of Collier's Magazine on October 24th, 1936. The original oil on board is in the collection of the Haggin Museum, Stockton, CA. The library has a number of books on Maxfield Parrish that illustrate his many New Hampshire works and explain in detail his unique approach to art and illustration. 

In the back right hand corner of the shelf is a hand-made corn husk doll. The doll is a good example of the old Yankee thrift ethic embodied in the motto "use it up, wear it out, make do or do without!" Corn husks are one of a number of by-products from harvesting a main crop this time of year. 

Corn cobs are another by-product of harvesting corn and innovative Yankees found ways to make use of those as well. Like any good artwork, this 1864 painting by Eastman Johnson works on a number of different levels. 

A black and white version allows us to examine the details more clearly.  

The image compares work and play, young and old, and the subtleties of silent interaction between the two. 

More information on the painting can be found here. Eastman Johnson had ties to the local area. He was born in nearby Lovell, Maine and grew up and painted in Fryeburg.  

The next shelf down continues to explore many of the same themes. 

On the left is an engraved powder horn. It is a by-product of the butchering process. The powder horn was made from cow horn and used to provide a water proof and spark proof container for gun powder. 

To the right of the powder horn is a small promotional magazine called the New Hampshire Troubadour with a cover showing a hunter with his dog in an autumn setting. 

A similar image is scratched into the horn itself. 

Above is the hunter with his rifle. Below is his dog. 

Presumably, the name of the powder horn's owner was Jess? 

... and perhaps he did not even know how to properly spell his own name? This was not uncommon during the period. 

The tip was carved to enable a leather shoulder strap and a wooden stopper to be attached to the powder horn. 

Jack o' lanterns are another carved seasonal artwork. This painting by Norman Rockwell also explores themes seen in the Eastman Johnson painting above such as young and old, work and play.  

The painting was printed in the 1952 Four Seasons Calendar published by Brown and Bigelow. A charcoal on paper study for the painting is in the collection of the Hofstra University Museum and helps us explore the relationship between a study and a finished work of art. You can learn more about that here.

The tin object shaped like a rocket ship on the right of the shelf is actually a sausage stuffer. 

It is missing it's wooden plunger. It works like a large hypodermic needle. While the cow horn is a by-product, the main purpose of fall butchering was to harvest the meat. 

Reasons for butchering in the fall include not having to feed as many livestock over the winter and the cold weather helps in the preservation process. Making sausage allows one to combine meats, spices, even apples, improving the taste to one's liking and then by smoking the sausage it can be preserved over the winter. 

In front of the sausage stuffer is a scoop made from cow horn. Behind the sausage stuffer is a photo of a corn maze. Farmers of the past would be amazed that today we pay good money to walk through a corn field. To them they only did that as part of their work. 

The next shelf down features more seasonally popular produce. On the left is a dipper made from a dried gourd.  

Behind and to the left of the gourd is a 1950s era Coca-Cola ad illustrating the game of snap apple. 

Here is an earlier depiction of a snap apple party from 1845. 

For more information on this painting follow this link here.

The apple theme is continued on the right hand side of the shelf with Winslow Homer's 1859 print Fall Games - The Apple Bee

Published in the November 26, 1859 edition of Harper's Weekly, this print features vignettes illustrating the role of apples in romance, technological change, alcoholism, and supernatural divination. For more information on this print see this link here

While this painting by William Sidney Mount may seem to only be a convincingly captured common moment in rural life, it actually has an interesting background as political propaganda. For more info on this painting see this link here


The chapter on "The Doughnuts" in this book from my childhood has now became part of our fall family traditions. 

A similar machine can be found at the White Mountain Cider Company in Glen, New Hampshire. 

The bottom shelf focuses on flax and linen. 

A number of tools and techniques used to process flax into linen can be seen in this painting from 1885 entitled Flax Scutching Bee at the National Gallery of Art. For more info on this painting see this link here

For more on flax see our previous blog here

We will leave you with this lethal looking device is a heckle, or hackle used in processing the flax plant to linen. 

We have only touched on the tip of a tall stalk (metaphorically speaking). 

To further explore this and many other historical topics, we offer a free outreach program to local schools and community groups. We can also provide a program via zoom. Please contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room for more information. 

Did you get the point? 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Cole in Conway 193 years ago today

It was a dark and stormy night 193 years ago today when Thomas Cole and his traveling artist companion, Henry Cheever Pratt spent the night in Conway, New Hampshire.

This loose pen and ink sketch over graphite pencil on a torn and stained piece of paper is evidence of this visit. 

It is now in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. You can read more about this sketch here

The tale is narrated from notes written by both Cole and Pratt.  

Cole wrote "After a long lonesome walk through a dark gloomy forest - after dark we arrived at Conway -"

Pratt wrote that they stayed at "Abbot's" which Catherine Campbell suggested may have been Thomas Abbott's Pequawket House in Conway where Kennett Middle School is located now. 

While their travel was difficult with rain, winds, washed out bridges and the like, Cole and Pratt found many scenes they deemed “worthy of the pencil." Cole felt that "These views were well composed for pictures -”

In the bottom right hand corner of the sketch are a series of mysterious scribbled shapes and below the scribbles is the label "Root fence." 

A similar, if not the same, view point and perhaps the same root fence, was painted by the artist Charles Herbert Moore in 1872, forty-four years later now at the Princeton Art Museum. 

Here is the overall view. 

For more information on this art work see this link here

The Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown New York has recreated a stump fence as part of their living history program. 

Conway was the inspiration for a sketch that later were turned into a print and was then adapted for a transfer printed ceramic plate. Look for the log cabin in each image (click on images to enlarge them). 

If you are interested in learning more about Thomas Cole in Conway contact us at the Conway Public Library’s Henney History Room. We offer free outreach programs to local schools and community groups on this subject and many other historical subjects.