Just a quick post today about something I saw and thought my audience would, likewise, be interested to see. You may remember I did a post a while back on how the 19th century feather hat industry decimated bird populations and galvanized the masses into the early conservation movement. Well, this was just a small part of a larger movement sometimes called naturalism; where people tried to bring the splendor and perfection of nature indoors. The most recognizable examples of this trend are preserved birds, posed as if alive, under glass.
I have always had a fascination with this style not only because of the cultural consequences of this particular movement but also because it is so inherently morbid. I think it’s pretty ghastly to have a whole bird arranged on your head (however much I appreciate the historical context), and there is something so counter intuitive to destroying and romanticizing what you admire. And while I have seen hundreds of examples of gaudy and perfectly laughable hats featuring the most absurd arrangements of birds and bird parts, I have never seen anything like these beautifully preserved earrings.
Gold Hill is, now, a little known village about 40 miles east of Asheboro, but in the mid-19th century it was a boom town. Gold was discovered in 1824 on a farm and by the 1840’s the Carolina Gold Rush was on in Gold Hill. At its height Gold Hill could boast 23 Gold Mines including the Barnhardt and Randolph mines and was considered the richest mining property east of the Mississippi. The Charlotte mayor purportedly once said he hoped “one day Charlotte would be as big as Gold Hill.”
My family and close friends have recently been made aware of this, and now I share it with you: Reader, I have re-read Jane Eyre. I first encountered this novel back in middle school: WOW, so much of this book was lost on my little 13-year-old mind. One of the many themes I caught this go round, which I did not my first, was the theme of phrenology that repeatedly inserted its head, most obtrusively to me a modern student of Victorian literature, into the narrative of this story. It is a little remembered pseudoscience (ehm- I use this word lightly) today, but in its day it was kind of a big deal. I thought, dear Reader, it might be fun to throw some light on the countenance of this lately unappreciated discipline and briefly look at how it has changed since the days of Bronte.
Today words like ‘countenance’ are understood in a sort of general way but are not in common use. Like, for example, the word sensibility (as in Sense and Sensibility), it doesn’t make much sense these days but in the 19th century it described someone who was exceptionally sensitive. It is easy for us to gloss over words like these as we have a general idea of what they mean, but we fail to appreciate the full cultural context. Let me return to countenance; judging it (as is often done in Victorian novels) was more than just gauging what mood a person was in- it is the tell tale signs of physiognomy manifest, the study of someone’s personality based on their outer appearance, particularly the face.
When my brother was an art student at UNC Greensboro he once staged an impromptu art display at the Senior Art Shows at the Weatherspoon Art Museum (he was not a senior at the time). He crumpled up a few pieces of paper and piled them casually in the middle of a gallery and waited to see if anyone would remove his exhibit. UPDATE: Jonathan asked me to clarify that it was a graduate art show and he used a brick AND crumpled up paper. For visual aide I have provided the below artists conception of Jonathan’s project:
It took the curators several weeks to realize that his “Balled Paper: 2000: Paper and ink” was not intended to be legitimate art… But is it art in spite of itself you may ask…? No, that is not where this article is going- I bring this up because I am reminded that art criticism takes all forms by the recent Picasso vandalism.
Just for fun here is a picture of my brother.. okay so not my brother- but rather my brother’s cat:
Okay, so first of all, I am sorry I haven’t posted in a million months, it was a hard winter and a busy spring. But I am finally getting around to feeling like writing and reading again. With that said, I haven’t been idle; I’ve had several fun projects that I cannot wait to share. However, for my return to blogging I wanted to talk about some big news I read about today on my personal blogging hero’s website, Austenonly authored by J Wakefield. Ms. Wakefield is well read and researched about all things Austen, and her knowledge base really comes through in her writing. Her blog posts cover everything from Austen’s contemporaries, Georgian and Regency England, culture, medicine, fashion and other interesting tidbits even loosely associated with Jane Austen. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Austen there is something to glean from each and every post.
But what caught my eye this morning was her blog post about the disputed Rice Portrait. Please, please, please follow the link to read the full article. Ms. Wakefield presents a very nice paraphrase of the portrait’s history, along with an argument for its authenticity. However, the short of it is this (the paraphrase of a paraphrase if you will):
The portrait was purportedly painted by portrait artist Ozias Humphry, and was commissioned while Jane was visiting her great-uncle, Francis Austen, in 1789. She would have been 13 at the time. It was passed down in the Kent Austen family until 1817 when it was given to a close friend of Francis Austen’s grandson, Thomas Harding-Newman, as a wedding present. Harding- Newman incorrectly credited painter Johan Zaffany with the execution of this painting. Unfortunately, this caused problems for the painting’s eventual owners, the Rice family, further down the road when they tried to authenticate the painting in the 1940’s. Since that time the painting has been a source of controversy and debate.
R&F has turned one!!! It was about this time last year that the blog made its debut with the now legendary chocolate heart post! Don’t remember the original symbol of love and affection? Check out the post here.
It been a crazy year, most notably because of the loss of my townhouse in a fire, but this blog has been such a fun little outlet. Below are some of my favorite moments, in no particular order, from my first year in blogging:
Halloween is upon us once again! I love this time of year, so festive and fun! My brother and I usually throw a party with decorations, costumes, movies, food, beer tastings and such- but with my house being a singed, drenched mess since August- well here I am writing about bloodletting. So lets get to it- shall we?
What is cupping you may ask. Well essentially cupping is the drawing of the blood to a specific location using a vacuum. There are two primary forms of cupping: dry and wet. Dry cupping involved vacuuming the air out of a cup and drawing the blood to the surface of the skin without breaking the skin. Think of a really nasty hickie. This was usually done by lighting a wick to exhaust the air, but could also be accomplished by sucking out the air by mouth or with a hand pump. The cup was then placed on the skin which would draw blood into a sort of nasty bruise.
I like footnotes that link one seemingly unrelated thing to another; in this case Ptolemy XIII to Dante’s Inferno.
You know, I bet if Ken Burns directed a documentary on mulch it would be riveting. Everything I’ve ever watched that had the name Ken Burns attached to it I have thoroughly enjoyed. Culture, religion, politics and centuries worth of primary documents are all considered and beautifully built into a narrative. Then, it is all packaged with an exceptional collection of photos and amazing, often obscure, quotes.