I wish I knew what kind of tree this was. I don’t. I think it’s something ornamental, something you’d find in a garden. Thoughts?
I ended up doing lots of storytelling and photoessays this week, but man oh man, writing is hard. So. Takin’ a break from long-winded Harvest Festival stories today. (And the blogosphere collectively breathes a sigh of relief, I know.)
The Master Gardeners were very proud of their bug display. Apparently, their previous bug display was over 20 years old, and dead bugs don’t age very well. So a gardener’s husband started assembling a collection of new dead bugs to show around. The new bugs still have most of their color, as well as their legs and wings and antennae.
Just painting pumpkins. Does glitter paint make you nostalgic? I had three small pots of Crayola glitter paint when I was a kid— one pink, one purple, and one blue. In retrospect, it was silly for them to include purple in the package, ‘cos I could’ve just mixed pink and blue, right?
George C. Pierson showed off his tinsmithery. Apparently it’s getting harder and harder to find “bright tin” (which I think has a higher tin:lead content than most cheap tin that you find nowadays). Why did I care? Because I was apprenticed to a tinsmith when I volunteered at Historic Allaire Village in high school.
Also there was a scarecrow-building contest. Where you build scarecrows. For a contest.
(As ever, the following dialogues have been paraphrased from memory, as faithfully as possible to the actual quotes, but they are not actual quotes.)
At the Harvest Festival, I spoke to a multigenerational family who builds boats— Dick Christie, senior builder; his daughter Susan Christie, who’s been building boats for 2-3 years*; and his granddaughter Laura (Susan’s niece), who’s had a year or two of boat-building experience under her belt. Everything is crafted by hand: the paddles, for example, are planed with a custom-designed tool (Laura let me try it, and I was terrible at it).
“Of course, this could all be done with power tools,” grinned Ms. Christie, “but where’s the fun in that?”
As part of their Harvest Festival demonstration, they tucked some long strips of wood into a long steamer box, and waited for the wood to soften enough to be bent into ribs for building a hypothetical new canoe. (Anecdotally, the steamer box doubles as a lobster cooker, if you have a lobster handy.)
“You know what,” said Mr. Christie, “I have a friend who’s from Canada, so he had me to build a canoe for him out of white birch**. I’d never worked with white birch before. It wouldn’t bend! I was breaking 85% of the ribs. You know what I did?”
I stared at him blankly.
“Add fabric softener to the box, when you’re steaming the ribs— I went from breaking 85% of the ribs to using 85%. Wonderful stuff. I don’t know how much softener you’re supposed to use, but I do my best guess and it seems to work all right.”
Finally, the ribs were deemed sufficiently steamed. Mr. Christie slipped on some work gloves, and his daughter handed him a pair of pliers. He flipped open the end of the box and extracted a long slender twig.
There’s only a 20-second window to remove the rib from its steam-box and clamp it into place before it becomes too stiff to bend anymore, so you need to work quickly.
The first rib snapped anyway. The second one went smoothly, though.
If you don’t already have a finished boat to bend ribs around, you can just build the rest of the canoe and add the ribs last, as Mr. Christie did when he built this particular canoe in 1994.
* Ms. Christie learned boat-building from her father, but remotely. She lives near Philadelphia, while Mr. Christie is all the way up in Wayne, NJ. While she was learning, she visited her father once a month (a two-hour drive each way, if traffic is clear); he critiqued the work she’d done over the past month, and gave her a new assignment to complete over the next month before her next visit. This continued for a full year. What a way to learn a craft! I think it’s pretty amazing.
** My memory is faulty, and the wood may not have been “white birch.” I’m going with it because (a) I’m pretty sure the wood we discussed was something “white,” and (b) “American white birch” is also known as “canoe birch.” I also have no idea what the connection is between being Canadian and needing your canoe to be built from a particular kind of wood.
I’ve never seen a lot of Native American culture around here. We’re taught from an early age that the Lenni Lenape were the original people in New Jersey, but Europeans chased them west in 1758 with the Treaty of Easton. That was before the U.S. even became its own country!
A lot of town and road names in New Jersey are derived from Lenape words, and most park systems will include historical educational exhibits on the mundane aspects of Lenape life, but the people themselves have been displaced from this area for so long that we rarely see active aspects of native culture in New Jersey.
With this in mind… watching the Red Storm Drum and Dance Troupe perform at the Harvest Festival was something I’ve never seen before.
As with everyone in this Big American Melting Pot, different nations have commingled for years and years— just as I’m German and English and Irish and Swedish and who knows what else, most of the performers who were introduced came from at least three or four different heritages. Robert Boldeagle (featured in the top photo, and the one below), for example, is of Mayan, Taíno, Cherokee, and Natchez descent, according to the troupe’s website.
Without aligning themselves with any specific nation, the Red Storm Drum and Dance Troupe offers an opportunity for Native American people to celebrate their own culture and share it with the rest of us.
I’m glad they did!
(The following dialogues have been paraphrased from memory, as faithfully as possible to the actual quotes, but they are not actual quotes.)
I had the opportunity to meet Omi Gray during the Harvest Festival this weekend, and I regret that I can’t transcribe the entire 20-minute conversation here. Omi is a New York-based artist who lives through weaving, felting, and jewelrymaking, and loves it. Art, she says, saved her life; beading and silver clay are her first loves, but felting and weaving are excellent for mind-clearing therapy too.
“My first loom was a manual loom,” she said, “but it was so hard to set up and actually weave, I just never did it. It sat around collecting dust. This one, I saved up and bought for myself as a retirement gift. Best money I ever spent!
“It’s so easy to use, doesn’t require a lot of training. That big one, behind you,” [I turned around and faced a fifteen-foot woven banner, draped across her tent] “some Saturday afternoons, in Central Park, I go and set up my loom. The public can come and just sit down and weave, just create art, just take turns producing something long and beautiful and colorful in a few hours. It’s that simple.”
“Wow!” I said.
“…I use all kinds of materials. I have a machine that can cut any material into 5mm strips… hold on, let me see.” Omi stood up and walked over to the long woven Central Park banner.
“Here,” she said after a few moments. Sure enough, a portion had been woven from slender strips of fabric.
(That’s her own peyote beadwork on her ring, by the way.)
“Over here,” she continued, “I had some yarn that got tangled. So I just threw it in the loom and wove it right in!”
“I like metal, too, so I wove some wire into it, over here,” she pointed. “I think it’s kind of fun! You can sculpt it however you like.” We stood there for a moment, pinching folds into the wire.
“So… do you just do photography for yourself?” she asked.
“Yeah, yeah, just for me, mostly.”
“Are you any good?”
She shot me a Look.
I laughed. “I’m still learning. I’ll be good someday!”
The Union County Harvest Festival was today! I’ll be posting my photos from the event over the next few days.
Mr. Keller learned his craft in Japan, he says, where students don’t start at the bottom and work their way up— they start below the bottom. He wasn’t permitted to touch the clay until he’d paid his dues, learning the other odd jobs around the studio. It’s an understandably frustrating process, but it isn’t until you understand that aspect of the craft that you can appreciate how all the cogs of the art— the small but important aspects that you might otherwise ignore— fit together to form a whole.
Although Mr. Keller has been creating ceramics for twenty years, in recent years he’s started instructing at Plainfield’s duCret school of Art, the oldest private art institution in New Jersey.
The closer you are to Manhattan, the more people you can find who were directly affected by September 11, 2001.
At the time, I was living about two hours south of Manhattan. I personally didn’t know anyone who was killed, but— six degrees of separation— it seemed like everybody knew somebody who’d lost a spouse, a brother, a mother, a son.
Near New Providence, every day the commuter trains are crammed with what I call “Wall-Street-types.” Eleven years ago… I wonder what it would’ve been like. I’m glad I don’t know firsthand.
Today, there is a memorial ceremony being held at Echo Lake Park’s September 11 memorial, where these photos were taken. The memorial’s two rusty monuments were created from twisted steel girders from the World Trade Center itself.