Wednesday, July 26, 2017

DAY EIGHT, Homestead National Monument

 (Above:  The Freeman Brick Schoolhouse at Homestead National Monument.  Click on any image in this blog post for an enlargement.)

This is Day Eight as an artist-in-residence at Homestead National Monument in Nebraska.  I've been blogging every day:  First, something about this unique place.  Second, what I've stitched.  Today is a little different.  Why?  Well, today I went to the Gage County Fair ... which officially opens tomorrow.  Today was "drop off" day ... as in bring the chickens, canned goods, roses, 4-H entries, quilts, etc. and have a BBQ dinner.  Plus, antique cars!  So ... after I've shared my own creativity, I'm sharing the County Fair!

 (Above:  The interior of the Freeman Brick Schoolhouse.)

Less than a quarter mile down Route 4 (and still part of the Homestead National Monument), stands the Freeman Brick Schoolhouse.  It opened in 1872 and served as a center for education, the township's polling place, where First Trinity Lutheran Church met, and a location for other clubs and community functions.  That's all pretty normal.  What isn't quite so normal is the fact that this school was in continuous operation until 1967.

One of the placards displayed a photograph from 1967.  Eight children were playing in the yard while a teacher looked on.  At first this seemed like "ancient history".  After all, the desks and globe and room are all so "antique".  Then I realized, I was eight years old in 1967.  More than half the kids in the photograph were younger than eight.  I never really thought about the possibility that I would have ever gone to a one-room-school house, but I would have had I lived here!

While my elementary schools (I went to two) weren't anything like this, there was a place for coats ... with the same sort of hooks.

We did carry lunchboxes ... though not quite this old (and I doubt the kids in 1967 used this one either!)

One of the best reasons for art residencies is the time for contemplation.  From the outside looking through the windows, I got the best reflections ... old fashioned desks with power lines, the road, the National Monument marker, and a street sign.  Yesterday and today.

From the other direction, I got the prairie with the desks.  I've been thinking quite a lot about my own life, dreams, and the direction in which I want to take my artwork.

(Above:  Waste Not Fresh Tears V.  14" x 18".  Xylene photo transfer on printmaking paper fused to fabric.  Accented with water soluble crayons.  Buttons and beads.  Hand stitched.)

 So ... my artwork!  Today I stitched Waste Not Fresh Tears V.  I tried not to be so dense and overlapping with the buttons.  I also added a few beads. While stitching I thought about why these angels seem so appropriate to me while here at Homestead National Monument.  I've been thinking about my elementary school days when I first learned about America's westward expansion.

 (Above:  Waste Not Fresh Tears V, detail.)

I was in the fourth grade.  We were studying various aspects of pioneer life ... including an attempt to hatch an egg in an incubator.  It was supposed to require a certain number of days, but nothing happened.  Mrs. Shaw, our teacher, explained that such things weren't precise.  As a class, we waited a few more days, maybe a week.  Finally, Mrs. Shaw decided to crack open the egg ... on my desk.  Now, I don't know what she thought was going to happen.  Surely it crossed her mind that a half-formed baby chick would end up dead in a puddle of slimy liquid.  Perhaps not ... because that's what happened.  Of course, this was disastrous.  Everyone was upset.  We were all told to return to our desks (which meant I was still sitting with the dead bird).  Mrs. Shaw quickly disposed of the mess, wiped the surface, and announced that we would have a movie about pioneers!  Everyone was thrilled.  Movies were a big deal.

   (Above:  Waste Not Fresh Tears V, detail.)

The projector was set up.  The film showed a large family traveling in a covered wagon.  It showed their clothes, food, tools, and other sorts of thinks about homesteading.  It focused on one of the daughters during the winter.  She got sick and died.  Her name was Susan.

Now anyone growing up in the late 1950 and 1960s probably had at least one "Susan" in their class.  I can't remember a time when there wasn't two of us.  The other Susan got totally hysterical.  The movie was stopped, and poor Mrs. Shaw had to take the other Susan to the principal's office in order to call Susan's mother to come take her home.  As they left the room, Mrs. Shaw gave strict instructions to the rest of us.  "Put your head down on your desk and don't move!"

I can remember thinking to myself, "I don't know why the other Susan is upset.  It was just a movie, and she doesn't have to plaster her face on a desk where a dead chick lay less than an hour ago."  So, for me the reality of "death" and homesteading were always intertwined.  Later, Laura Ingalls Wilder's books reenforced the notion of "death" being a risk when seeking The American Dream.  (I remember crying for poor Jack, the dog, when lost in a swollen river.)  Danger, peril, and loss are truthfully part of this history.  

Here at Homestead National Monument, I've learned that only 40% of the initial claims were ever "proven".  Unproven claims reverted to the government.  Sixty percent of those hard-working, big dreaming, hopeful people weren't successful ... generally because of forces beyond their control.  Thus for me, the specter of Death is ever present.  Yet, it is not a deterrent and it does nothing to squelch my.willingness to take risks, make art, travel, and experience new things.  For me, Death is a fascination because it is a companion to Life.

Later in life, I had a miscarriage.  When it started, I said to my husband, "Don't worry!  After all, what did they do in pioneer days?  They lived through it."  I believed that right up until the time I was wheeled into an operating room for a D&C.  Though my elementary school experience should have taught me that they also "died through it", I remain an optimist.

While I'm stitching buttons to images of cemetery angels, I am aware of Death.  I am thinking about the sixty percent of the homesteaders would didn't succeed.  I am thinking about their hardships and loss.  Yet, I am also thinking about the risk being so worth taking.  That's why I titled this series Waste Not Fresh Tears.  The rest of the Euripides quote is Over Old Griefs.  In the face of Death, life must go on.

 (Above:  Staking Her Claim, in progress.)

Life must go on ... and so must stitching!  I couched the selected phrase on this piece and started seed stitching the background.

 (Above:  Staking Her Claim, detail in progress.)

I am trying not to be so dense with the stitching.  More isn't necessarily better, it is simply against my normal inclinations.

Now ... the Gage County Fair!  I love fairs.  In fact, I started stitching after visiting the Ohio State Fair with my husband Steve back in the 1980s.  We walked through the arts and crafts building looking at the needlework on display.  I kept saying, "I could do this" and "I could do that".  Steve said, "Put your money where your mouth is."  I went to the library and repeatedly checked out the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework ... and taught myself!

The Gage County Fair buildings all have quilt blocks.

I have NEVER before seen anything for sale at a fair with a six-digit price tag!

All the open entries were being dropped off ... including the flowers ...

... and crafts ...

... and these ladies getting their "ducks in a row".

There are antique tractors ...

... and lots of antique cars.  I especially like taking creative images of car details ... most particularly the hood ornaments (even if I accidentally got my own reflection in the chrome).

The superintendent here at Homestead National Monument gave me a ticket for the BBQ dinner.  I think I was in line with the entire county!  It was wonderful!  (Thanks, Mark!)

Here's another hood ornament.  I took well over one-hundred pictures but culled the number down to just thirty-one.  To see them, CLICK HERE.  I put them on a Flickr album!  Enjoy!  Tomorrow I'm going to Lincoln, Nebraska to visit the International Quilt Study Center.  Check back!

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