Monday, May 4, 2015

Clothing the Renaissance Child: It Takes a Guild...

I feel like I need to apologize because I have had so little time to sew, craft and create historical stuff. What I can do is profusely thank all the wonderful people in my life who are making it possible for me to continue reenacting and participating in Living History as a family.

A few weeks ago Stephen, Percy and I went out to Ft Wayne, Indiana to a “Pike & Shot era” LH event. It roughly covers the 1500s through 1600, maybe a bit beyond. There are so few of us who do this time that we travel long distances to get a group of any size. This was my third year are the event (read about 2013 here) but the first year with Percy. We’ve been doing this long enough that Stephen and I have a fairly well established kit (i.e. our clothes, eating gear, bedding, personal items) but Percy had grown out of the stuff he wore at faire this past fall, and now needs toys and solid food, and shoes… he needs his own kit! I never would have had the energy to assemble a full (if very small) kit for another person, but lucky we have a guild full of friends who all chipped in without us even asking.

Some of the clothes made by my guild mates for little Landsknecht

Tom and Amanda have a daughter who is about 4 years old now, who has been participating with us since she was born. Amanda made all the clothes for her daughter Lilly, and has since passed them down to us so Percy can wear them. Once Percy has grown out of them, we’ll pass them along to the next baby in our group. Tom and Amanda also gave us a lovely baby shower gift of a wooden box full of historical tidbits: a horn bowl and spoon, hand hemmed linen cloths for baby messes, a bag of marbles for when he is older, cloth covered pacifiers for when he is tired. Such a thoughtful gift, I am still discovering all the useful things packed into that box.

Along with the hand-me-down clothes was a fleece hood that Brittney made for Lilly. There was also a pair of little shoes that Brittney had gotten, slashed up the toes, and added little puffs of fabric to make baby-sized kumal shoes! Brittney and Marc had also given us a lovely little bowl they bought on their honeymoon in England.

Percy is rich in eating gear. Rhiannon, a newer member of our group, had gone to a paint-your-own pottery place and done up a lovely little bowl with historic motifs. We all think it is amazing but she was not as happy with the design, so she gave it to Percy; if he bangs it up or breaks it she does not mind. He was given a wooden spoon by my mother, and he was given a lovely reproduction pewter one (lead-free of course) that our friend Julie bought. She ordered the spoon hoping it would be one she could use, only it turned out to be a miniature spoon, way too small for an adult, but perfect for Percy! Rhiannon and Julie also helped out by allowing me to make repairs to my shirt during a recent sewing session: they amused Percy while I stitched furiously, and when he needed mommy time they picked up my shirt and finished the seams while I bounced or fed him.

Bowls and spoons, toys for tots.
My main concern for the weekend was toys to keep him amused. Amanda had given him some wooden beads to teeth on, and all the bowls and spoons are great fun, but he likes rattles. There are quite a few rattles in renaissance portraits, even one surviving silver one! I cannot afford to get Percy a silver rattle, but I did go out and buy little silver bells. I went to a hardware store and got a turned wood stair baluster that Stephen chopped down. Then I attached the bells to it using jump rings and staples. I was really pleased with the way it turned out, until I went to Pier One and found a red painted wand of bells that was much nicer than the one I had created. Ah well, now he has options.

I added a few other things to his kit, a wooden ball, a linen sling to carry him around, a wool blanket to wrap him up, a little ceramic pot of diaper cream. Plus all his modern diapers, bottles, wipes etc.. I packed it all in a pack basket that mom had given me many years ago, so I could sling it on my shoulder and carry it around the fort; if he needed a toy or a change I would have it all with me whether I was in our room, the yard, or the infirmary.

Percy did great all weekend long. The folks at the event were super welcoming, and all my guild folks took turns playing with Percy when I needed to run around for a bit. He played with the other baby in attendance, and smiled at everyone who came to visit. He napped through the firing of guns, but woke when the drum called everyone to muster. I am really lucky with my healthy, happy baby, and I am so thankful for my generous, helpful guildmates.
Percy makes friends at Fort Wayne
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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Good First Impression

I’ve brought this up before, but I’ve been thinking about it again. Upon meeting someone we only get a short time to make a first impression. As someone educating about a different time and place the first impression is doubly important. Here are the things that I consider important in a LH introduction:
1.    Something about the time period you are representing
2.    Something about the person you are portraying
3.    Something to engage your audience
I like to try to do all that in just a few short sentences.

When using first-person interpretation we have to be clever to get the most important information out there since we are talking from the long-ago, to an audience of modern individuals. It is a challenge, but a good one. Even when using third-person it is important to avoid giving just a name and a date. Most people don’t have the historical knowledge to put dates into any kind of context. Event smart people who should know dates often don’t. and names have a fairly low educational factor.

So what does a good introduction sound like? Stephen delivered one of my favorites here at the museum with his 1870s coachman character, it went something like:
“Welcome to the kitchen! I hope you don't mind if I don't stand, Mr. Goodwin gave us the evening off. We’re having a bit of a party to celebrate Christmas eve, and to celebrate that we’re one year further away from that dreadful war.”

I love this intro because although in this particular iteration the character is unnamed and the date is not given, there is so much an audience member can get from the intro:
1.    The speaker is an employee, and a fairly formal one (usually they stand when a guest arrives)
2.    He has identified the place: the kitchen of the home owned by Mr. Goodwin
3.    The day itself is something special: a party of Christmas eve, and at the end of a war.
4.    Because he does not specify the war, he has left an opening for his audience to ask. Though they could ask any number of questions based on his statement, the one hanging in the room is: “what war is that?” which can lead to quite a good discussion about the era, about the character, about the audience member’s own experience of war.
"George Rose" chats with a visitor in the kitchen at Goodwin House
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Getting Restless

Things are gearing up here for opening day at the museum. The seasonal staff have been in training all week, getting reacquainted with us full-timers, learning about the new programs, and introducing new staff members. The costumes are coming back out, the cook stoves are being fired up, the houses have been aired out and dusted off. I am so jealous of those who are stepping back into the shoes, cracking open the cookbooks, and greeting the houses once again.
I love my job, it is so much fun to bring special days to the museum; but I miss actually acting out the daily tasks, and portraying the fabulous women of this neighborhood. I did get into costume last weekend at a very cool reenactment, but it has only slightly diminished the pangs as I see the aprons and skirts go whisking by.

I think I need to plan a tea party for May, so I can get dressed up. The renfaires seem very far away.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Next Era

When browsing around the internet I came across this Dream Regency Wardrobe. There are way too many pieces to this wardrobe for me, but oh goodness wouldn’t I like a dream wardrobe full of historical clothes! Actually, I do have a closet full of historical clothes, but they represent eras from the 12th Century through 1945. And the itch has struck me again, I think I need to take up a new time period!

What with a baby, job, house, and the eras I already play in I probably do not need another time period, but remember the link that started this crazy train of thought is about dreams, and my current daydream is about the next era that I would undertake, if I were to undertake another era. But which one? Well there would have to be local events at which I could take part, and it would be a bonus if I could bring Percy along. There would need to be something about the era that I was interested in researching. Oh and the outfit. Is there a specific outfit that I would like to re-create?

Here are my three top choices of the moment:

1812: Proper Young Lady
Oh how I would love to reenact the era of Jane Austen. The crisp white dresses, the romance, the dancing! And I could take part in the Regency Ladies' Wedgie Society! But really, I’m not a young lady any more, and Jane is so far across the pond. How does the era stack up against my list?
Events: There is an awesome, if somewhat early (year 1800) event that takes place down in Providence RI called: What Cheer Day. I’m not sure I’m up to their standards, and it is very far, but I do dream of taking part one day. Commonwealth Vintage Dancers do have a Regency dance weekend, I’m busy that weekend this year, but maybe next year.
Research: The museum where I work has a house furnished to the late 18teens, I could certainly start there. I might even continue just looking at Portsmouth history during that time, there is a rich history that involves African Americans, neighborhood fires, the start of industry, and the blossoming of the neighborhood known as Puddle Pock.
Outfit: I actually already have a few dresses and spencers that could go in this time, but I’ve really always wanted to make a military inspired wool pelisse. I love the long lines, and the warm look in the face of all the flimsy cotton!

1912: Suffragette
Cast off the shackles of yesterday! But seriously, we’re still fighting these battles, and what better way for a reenactor feminist to do so than by honoring the suffragettes of our past? That and I’ve wanted an early 1900s suit forever.
Events: Well, now that the anniversary of the titanic is past, I don’t actually know of any events where I could wear this. Maybe just out to tea? A few years ago a friend hosted a fancy tea in Concord, MA, and a few years before that we went to dress-up tea on Cape Cod. Maybe it is time for me to host one not too far from our new house.
Research: I am intrigued by the time right before World War One. I even have a couple of books on this era just waiting to be read. I wonder when I’ll have time to read a whole book.
Outfit: Did I mention that I already have the design picked out? I’ve wanted a traveling or walking suit for a very long time. I think they are elegant, yet practical, and I think the style would fit my frame so well. Oh, and I already bought the fabric, it is a white wool with red pinstripes. Oh, how I want to make this!

1920s Leisure Life
Oh the dancing, the picnics, the croquet! Actually this time appeals less to me than some of the others, but there are plenty of events, right in my area.
Events: This one is very event heavy. Last year we attended the “Jazz-Age Lawn Party” down in Ipswitch Mass, and now I find there is a similar one here on the seacoast of NH that involves a boat ride out to the islands, and a picnic by the old hotel. Blankets on the lawn on a summer afternoon are perfect places for toddlers, I think these sorts of events fit the family for this summer.
Research: I think what most interest me about the 20s is the dance. I’d love to learn the Charleston, foxtrot, and I bet I could learn a lot about daily life by studying dance trends.
Outfit: Last year I just bought some stuff from TJ Maxx to attend our first event, but I would be way too embarrassed to do that two years in a row! Besides, one of my favorite bloggers shared this post about a new pattern she tried. It is a modern pattern, but from a very retro company and looks like I could easily make a few modifications to make it even more twenties, but still be able to wear it out and about an no one would know it was not a modern dress. Plus I have a lovely pink and green striped linen in my stash that is just begging for a dress like this.

So while I'm not sure any of these project will get done this year, a gal can dream, right?

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Visual Thinking Strategies

Back in November I attended the New England Museum Association's conference in Boston. I still have mixed feelings about the conference, mostly because November is so busy with my job, and spending two days away from the office seemed like a waste of valuable time. The conference was so crowded I did not get to attend as many sessions as I wanted to, and some of the ones I did attend were not too useful for me in my current position. What I did get out of it was a chance to connect with people who do what I do, and that is what makes the trip worth it. It also really makes me want to host the FPIPN conference in Portsmouth next spring.

One of the sessions I did attend was on Visual Thinking Strategies. Although I was unaware of the term as it was meant in the session, I have inadvertently been teaching using VTS since I was in college. Thinking back on it, someone must have taught it to me, just never used the term. I'm not sure if it was my parents while they dragged me to museum after museum or if it was in college classes on art history or museums but someone must have used visual thinking strategies on me. The session at the conference basically went through the kid's program at one of the mill museums in Northern Mass. They showed photographs of child mill workers from the early 20th Century and asked the kids what they think about the photo and why, then showed them modern photos of child labor around the world, and did the same. While the presenters were walking us museum folks through their kids program I was flashing back to an experience just out of college when I put together and ran a summer camp.

I was working at Historic Northampton, the director had given me a chance right out of college and I was so overwhelmed. But I did manage to put together a one week summer program for kids teaching about life in the year 1875. Every morning when the kids arrived we all hunkered down on the carpet in the tiny classroom behind the gallery, and I would bring out a stack of images: photos of New York and Boston in the 1870s one day, greeting cards the next, advertisements the next. We would look at the images and I would ask the kids what they thought about the kids in the photos, about the products advertised, about what things were considered beautiful, or cool or … My questions were much more leading than the actual VTS questions, which are just: “What is going on in this picture?” and “What makes you say that?” but we used the images to spark some really good discussions. The kids did not have to know a lot of history going in to the discussion, they just had to look at the image and they could take part.

Last week we were talking about a new summer camp program here at the museum that would focus on food. We brought up food in art and in advertising, and wondered how to incorporate that into the camp program, well that is easy! Giving a kid an image and asking them what is going on in the picture can be a fantastic way to establish a shared vocabulary, a jumping off point, a reference for all the other crafts, recipes, garden tours that take place over the week. I don’t get a lot of chances to work directly with visitors any more,  but sitting in on the camp planning session was a lot of fun, and reminded me how much I like visual thinking strategies. Read this entry on entry page