FH and FAG

FH and FAG

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Emperors, walls and money

There are no Roman emperors in Kentucky, even if we must endure politicians who act like ancient despots (or just idiots). We can, however, claim miles of beautiful drylaid stone fences and walls. Scots-Irish stone masons immigrating to the Americas brought their craft for drylaid masonry to Kentucky, constructing fences from quarried limestone, and shaping the cultural landscape in a way that is celebrated now some 200 years later. The Bluegrass has the most quarried stone fences in the country; as you move out from the Inner Bluegrass, fences made from field rock are just as common as quarried stone.

A drylaid stone fence in the Outer Bluegrass

Fence along a roadway in Franklin County, Kentucky

Emperors and stone walls were not at the top of my agenda when my sleep fogged brain registered the NPR story on the radio this morning, about Hadrian’s Wall and the loss of funding that has shut down the Hadrian’s Wall Trust, which maintains this incredible feature of northern England. I realize this story also plays heavily on the upcoming Scottish vote for independence, but my thoughts instead focused on the ramifications for this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hadrian's Wall, between Housesteads and Once-Brewed (or between my sweaty exertions and a pint)

When I look back on the adventures of my holiday in 2013, my most memorable time – and I saw many incredible buildings and gardens – was spent hiking along Hadrian’s Wall. It was one of those experiences you drink in like air, and are barely able to register the meaning and beauty of it in words. I posted about it last year, but mainly through a series of photographs - I didn't feel equipped to assign words to how the walk made me feel, what I saw, and what I thought.

As a professional in the field of historic preservation, I consider myself slightly inured to the lack of concern and funding for our historic sites. Our land fares a little better, with organizations like the Bluegrass Conservancy and Fayette Alliance helping to save thousands of acres of valuable Bluegrass – but a land ethic, alas, is not widespread across our Commonwealth. As you move away from the few urban centers in Kentucky, property rights are scared, and many farmers and rural residents depend on the sale of their land – for development – as their only reliable retirement option.

Detail shot of Hadrian's Wall

Do I expect better things in England? I suppose I do. The relative youth of our country often seems to be both our greatest strength and weakness. Our history is too recent, our monuments still evolving, and contentious. But to be able to follow the line of wall that the Roman empire constructed to defend their territory – to gaze out on a landscape both magnificent and forbidding – to sink into the evocative mood of the surroundings, which is surely enhanced by the very air you are breathing – it defies the petty issues that cloud our lives and blind us to the fabric of the world to which we belong.

I remember when the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) lost federal funding. The NTHP did not fold, though the growing pains of becoming self-funding were difficult. It can be a good thing to not have all of your eggs in one basket, and diversification behooves all organizations, not just businesses. Can the various councils that will now share the responsibility of caring for Hadrian’s Wall (see story here) work together to protect and promote this very special landscape?

Drylaid stone walls line a road in Central Kentucky

 The real issue, of course, goes beyond the meandering curves of Hadrian’s Wall. The challenges facing English Heritage and its re-focus (and lack of government funding) will impact all of England, and the consequences will shape the tourist experience of the future. I’m not too worried about seeing residential subdivisions cropping up along the route of Hadrian’s Wall – (indeed, many of the houses and buildings one sees and admires along the wall were constructed with robbed stone) but I am uneasy about what this signals for the next generation of heritage protection, management and interpretation in England.

Hmmmm...I wonder where they got that building material? 

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Bus Collisions and Discoveries on the Interwebs

One of my favorite stories from my time spent in London during college was the day I was almost hit by a bus. Not that I relish the adrenaline rush of narrowly avoiding death from such an ignoble source, but that it was me hitting the bus, rather than the other way around. I was on foot - and given that my hair had been sheared away in the basement of one of the Vidal Sassoon schools in London (only £5 if you used the coupon from the back of Time Out) - I couldn't blame the encounter on the cloud of hair obscuring my vision.

Shoreditch is not the land of John Nash homogeneity.

As usual, I was in a hurry. My normal energy levels (they tend to be high) propelled me a furious pace from Regent's Park to Shoreditch - not very far as the crow flies - but the combination of tube and bus resulted in what seemed a journey of a million miles. My destination was the Geffrye Museum, which none of my friends had heard of, nor cared to visit - we were 20 years old, after all. Mental congratulating myself on reaching approximately the right area, I looked one way across the street, and stepping off the curb, I...smacked into the side of a very slowing moving bus. The damage to my body was non-existent. The wounds inflicted upon my pride were absolved only by weaving the incident into a humorous story with my eagerness to visit the Geffrye blinding me to potential dangers in the streets.

I revisit this memory, and the Geffrye Museum (which is one of my favorite museums) because a website I stumbled across this summer...a website that mentioned me! The Displaced Nation is a blog created in 2011 by three individuls with a "passion for what we call the "displaced life" of global residency and travel—particularly when it leads to creative pursuits, be it writing, art, food, business or even humo(u)r."  Every week, the Displaced Nation presents an "Alice Award" to a writer "
or other kind of creative person who we think has a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager. Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement to their advantage, as a spur to greater creative heights." (I am quoting to ensure accuracy. I haven't had the necessary amounts of tea today for fail-proof paraphrasing.)

The Geffrye Museum.

Apparently I received an Alice Award in November 2013 for a post I wrote on my very favorite blog Smitten by Britain. What a pleasant little gift to discover in the heat of July! The link to the page bearing  this fortuitous and unexpected revelation is here, but I've also posted the details below.

2) Architectural historian JANIE RICE BROTHER, American expat in UK and blogger at FH & FAG

For her post: “The Geffrye Museum and the History of the Almshousefor the Smitten by Britain blog Posted on: 22 November 2013 Snippet (after noting that the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch occupies the building and grounds of a former almshouse, or poorhouse):

The Geffrye is the only museum in the United Kingdom dedicated to the history of the domestic interiors of the urban middle class. . . . [I]t took an excellent collection of buildings—home for many people over the generations—and preserved not only the structures themselves but the fleeting and changing sense of home and its traditions over the years.
Citation:  Janie-Rice, we love the sense of wonder with which you approach this almshouse-turned-museum. It reminds us of Alice’s excitement when showing her black kitten, Kitty, the “little PEEP of the passage in Looking-glass House”:

Oh, Kitty! how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking-glass House! I’m sure it’s got, oh! such beautiful things in it! Let’s pretend there’s a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty.
A Looking-glass House, an almshouse, a museum of houses…whatever floats your (house)boat and spurs your creativity, we heartily approve.

And to think that usually my discoveries wait behind the closed door, or through a thicket of brambles...but to find that someone DOES read my posts, and enjoys them...hidden within the recesses of the web...it makes this rainy day alright. 

In the garden at the Geffrye - no rain, but lots of lovely blooms.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

There's more where that came from...

Just in case anyone DOES look at this blog besides my dearest and nearest, and you don't already arrive here from Smitten by Britain - you can find more stories of England, written by yours truly, here!

My talents as a writer do not extend to composing blog posts as I am shepherded to three country houses and two lectures a day. But now that the idyll that was Attingham is over, and I feel the outlines of reality settling back around me...I will update this more often. I promise.

Country Houses (of the Bluegrass and Beyond)

I grew up in a country house. To be more accurate, I grew up in a house in the country, as my family doesn’t have an urban townhouse to which we decamp for most of the year. Instead, I spent the first 18 years of life on a farm in the Outer Bluegrass of Kentucky, surrounded not only by tree-lined creeks and rolling hills, but also by the stories attached to a beloved landscape.

The house itself, built by my parents in 1970, is a re-imagining of the 1830s home in Mercer County, Kentucky, which my mother called home. Serene on a hill with clusters of trees, its red brick exterior and traditional form causes it to be mistaken as a historic house many, many times, underscoring its membership in a timeless vocabulary of architecture and landscape. 

Great Uncle Harvey

As I went through graduate school, the “historicization” of modern buildings was consistently lambasted as a negative, but I always viewed my childhood home as an organic part of the our family farm, as much a part of the landscape as the black tobacco barns and the catalpa trees that my great-uncle Harvey planted in the 19-teens (in a get-rich quick scheme to corner the market on fence posts and railroad ties. It didn’t work out as he planned). 

Some of Uncle Harvey's catalpa trees

My mother taught history and my father farmed the land that had been in his family since the 1820s. Family trips centered on historic sites and house museums, where I invariably got in trouble for sneaking up the closed-off staircase to the attics or basements, or opening shut doors when the docent turned around. I knew even then that the best stories were usually hidden away, sometimes literally in a closet. 

I soaked up my parent’s appreciation of history, and from an early age I vaguely understood that I was part of a cycle. My story was only the latest layer. Farming drilled this point home, as life and death could not be avoided. Becoming fond of a calf I raised on a bottle led to trauma and tears when he was sold along with the other steers…but I remained an equal-opportunity eater. 

Stories informed me and comforted me. In school, I naturally gravitated toward both literature and history. Kentucky’s story was my family’s tale as well – from the late-18th century when brothers came to the Bluegrass on a military expedition, and then moved the entire extended family from Virginia to Fayette County. I could point to chairs in the front hall of my house that came through the Cumberland Gap during this journey. Material culture asserted itself at an early age…

My great-grandparents.
Westward migration repeated itself on a local level in the 1820s when the younger sons moved eastward in search of cheaper land, and began to purchase the land we farm now.  These men built houses as shelter and as symbols of their place in the agrarian economy, providing fertile ground for me 150 years later, as I wrote my master’s thesis about their architectural and agricultural choices. Their stories intertwine with the landscape of my childhood, always tugging, always remembering. And yet these roots, for the most part, I’ve found liberating rather than constrictive.

The lure of the true English country house then, echoes for me, rather than being something new and unknown. All evidence points to my ancestors leaving England one step ahead of the law, so I doubt the existence of a “genetic memory” that provides me with the connection I feel with the rural countryside of England. Rather, it is the interconnectedness of house, land, and outlying rural communities - combined with a landscape that sparks sudden and tight pangs of longing for the one I’ve known since birth – that pulls and propels me toward the country house. 

Petworth House in West Sussex, England

And it is also, perhaps, the feeling of obligation – of belonging to something weightier and more important – and occasionally draining and overpowering – than your own daily concerns. Responsibility and stewardship perhaps not sought, and grudgingly accepted. The English country house, of course, carries the weight of these emotions much more so than my own “country” background.  But the basic connections remain intact – and the use of house as a statement of power and prestige is one well-known in antebellum Kentucky, and even in the 21st century power plays of the thoroughbred horse farm world.

Delighted, then, doesn’t even begin to express my feelings upon learning that I had been accepted to the 2104 Attingham Summer School. Ear-splitting, shrieking and a spontaneous jig better illustrate my reaction this spring (thankfully, my co-workers are quite familiar with the impressive range of my voice, both in octaves and decibels). 

Founded in 1952, with the initial goal of introducing American curators to the “fabric and contents of the British Country House,” the Summer School has “enjoyed outstanding success and is highly regarded by museums, universities and historic preservation societies throughout the world for its careful selection of members, and sustained academic standards.” (It’s much better for me to quote from the website than to subject readers to multiple exclamation points along with a stream of sentences most profound, such as “the best 18 days ever.” “Brilliant.” “So awesome.” “I loved it!!!!!!!!!!! Whoops. Those just crept in somehow.)

Sheep grazing at Chatsworth in Derbyshire

Helen Lowenthal, of the Education Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Sir George Trevelyan, a pioneer of adult education and Warden of Attingham Park combined forces to create the summer school. The summer school’s moniker stemmed from Trevelyan’s place of employment, the 18th-century country house in Shropshire, England, which was an adult education center from 1948-1971. 

Eighteen days in England, with behind the scenes access to around 30 houses, with the following purposes (again, I borrow from the Attingham website to best describe this):

To EXAMINE the architectural and social history of the historic house in Britain and its gardens and landscape setting.
To STUDY the contents of these buildings – their paintings, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, silver, textiles and other applied arts – as well as the planning, decorative treatment and use of the interiors.
To STIMULATE debate on problems relating to the conservation and presentation of the country house and its contents.

Did I mention that it was absolutely wonderful? And that 48 scholars (24 Americans and 24 Europeans), traveling together on an un-airconditioned coach (bus) became friends and conspirators as we flew lightning fast from house to lecture to meals, all according to a highly planned and timed schedule, and feasted our eyes on art collections that museums covet, architecture with inspiring rhythms and use of materials, and landscapes that would cause any self-respecting southern belle to fall into a fit of vapors over the joy of it all? I saw and learned so much – and the reflection that will cause these lessons to become a permanent part of my mental fabrications (I hope) will stem from writing about the marvels of the country house in England in July 2014. Stay tuned. And stay tuned as well as my blog gets reworked. Who knows what will happen? A new name (unless you scroll to the very first post, it makes no sense and is offensive), new design...and most importantly, new stories.


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Monday, May 26, 2014

Cemeteries, stories and memory

Growing up, I spent a good deal of time visiting cemeteries and graveyards, both those established sites with their neat rows of markers and stones, and the wild, neglected and mostly forgotten spots scattered across my family farm.  I never found them spooky or macabre – they were just another element of the landscape. (And it is interesting how many central Kentucky towns have cemeteries perched high on hills overlooking the downtown. The dead truly have the best views in town.) 

High on a hill above the town-
 A handful of tombstones, including a few around which a tree had grown, were near one of our barns, in a small copse of trees. They are now all gone, knocked over by cattle and farming activity – vanished much like the family that once carved out a living on that land. When I was very young,  I was fascinated by the stones, three of which belonged to children, who died around the Civil War. One of the girls was named “Sarilda Jane” which I found particularly evocative, given my own confusing double name. 

A child's grave

We go the cemeteries twice a year – at Christmas, to place wreaths on the graves, and again during the Memorial Day weekend.  The cemeteries come alive during the latter occasion – with cars backed up, folks visiting, and a cornucopia of flowers, flags and poppies decorating the markers. “Decoration Day” of course, was the original name of Memorial Day, observed in the southern states to honor the graves of soldiers. For a long time, I didn’t really make the connection between veterans and our practice of cemetery visiting, because our tradition was to remember everyone – and it was a time of stories and remembrances. I treasured my trips to Macapelah and the cemetery in Owingsville with my father, as I hung on every anecdote or tale he would offer about my great-grandparents and my great-great-grandparents and their kith and kin. We’re a family of stories, and sometimes I catch myself telling someone about “Nelson” or “Jimmy” as if they were a contemporary, instead of my great-great-great grandfathers. 

The cemeteries in Mercer County, my mother’s “country,” offered up their own passionate, funny, and moving vignettes. Lucy Renfrew, who borrowed a horse and rode after the Confederate soldiers to reclaim her own stolen horse…(all the way to Mt. Sterling, we think) -- and she got that horse back. My “Low-Dutch” ancestors, buried at Old Mud Meeting House, and the tiny stone lambs and carved lilies gracing the stones of babies and children, including the two children my great-grandmother buried, who died of milk fever. (When I was young and heard that sad story, I used to worry that something would happen to me if drank too much milk.) Sometimes even accessing the rural cemeteries proved challenging – fording creeks, pulling back vines and getting lost all added to the sense that I was connecting with people I never knew. 

When I read about Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, an installation commemorating World War I at the Tower of London, my mind flashed between the beauty of the exhibit and what I know of the horrors of the Great War. During the WWI, the Tower’s moat was used to swear in over 1,600 men who had enlisted by the end of August 1914 at the recruitment station in the City. They formed the 10th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – “the so called ‘stock brokers battalion’ who fought for the duration of the war.”Ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper have collaborated on an exhibit that will entail the installation of over 800,000 ceramic poppies in the dry moat around the Tower. The poppies are being hand-made by 50 potters in Cummins' studio, and will be placed in the moat in July. Each poppy represents the 888, 246 British and Colonial soldiers killed during the war.

One of the ceramic poppies that will be placed in the Tower of London moat. Image from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/10814268/Tower-of-London-moat-to-become-sea-of-poppies-to-mark-WW1-centenary.html

Red poppies are the emblem of Remembrance Day (known here in the states as Veterans Day). Popularized by Lt. Col. John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Field, the poppy has become the symbol for those killed in war.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

The terror of modern warfare, epitomized by the thousands of dead lying in field in Flanders, where poppies later bloomed, was captured by many writers turned soldiers. So, so many died and never came home – a whole generation of young men disappeared. I still remember sitting secure and privileged in a college classroom, the warm afternoon sun seeping into the room, and reading a poem (Anthem for a Doomed Youth) by Wilfred Own, and turning cold.  

I hope that I would be affected by the violence and slaughter of World War I even if I didn’t have a personal connection to it. But I do. My paternal grandfather, whom I never knew, fought in France during WWI. He died before I was born, and he, unlike my grandmother, was apparently not a passer-down of family lore. He was born in 1895, in Bath County, Kentucky, and grew up in town, not on the farm that his mother owned just outside of town. His father owned a store, and he would later become a banker. Tall and handsome, according to photographs, with a penchant for fishing and taking photographs of lily pads, he remains  a mystery to me.

My grandfather's draft card

My father has very little to contribute about my grandfather’s experience in WWI – he didn’t like to talk about it. He was in the field artillery, and they hauled the large French guns with horses - afterwards, he hated the smell of tack and horses. He was also determined that his son would avoid being an enlisted man, and so years after WWI, my father went through ROTC at the University of Kentucky and was a lieutenant in the army. 

I never expected to discover anything new about him. His contemporaries are long gone, and my grandmother died when I was only 13. But recently on a trip home, as I rifled through old photograph albums,  a very small two inch by four inch ledger book fell out of an album. 

It belonged to my grandfather.  I can't really describe how I felt when I realized what the small ledger contained, and to who it had belonged. I hugged the knowledge to myself, feeling like I had received an incredible and unexpected gift. Lined pages, filled with a neat and quite lovely script, recount his journey to France in the summer of 1918. He left Camp Zachary Taylor on May 30, 1918. On Monday, June 10, 1918, he left Camp Mills on Long Island, NY,  headed for Philadelphia. 

“Left Camps Mills, LI, NY, about 4 o’clock on the Pennsylvania Line. Came through NY City, Trenton NJ, arrived at Philadelphia, PA about 9:30 am. Were given coffee, rolls and cigarettes by the Red Cross and boarded the English ship ? [Can’t decipher name]  about 10:30.

(question marks are mine – occasionally there is a word I can’t quite decipher)

Thursday June 13, 1918

Still lying in New York harbor waiting for our convoy. Weather pretty hot rather windy . Gets rather tiresome just staying on the boat, but we have two band concerts a day which helps relieve the monotony. Expect to leave tonight. The skyscrapers of NY City in plain view – 

Friday, June 14

Have been traveling all day, nothing exciting has happened other than the appearance of several whales, on the starboard side. Except for being a little dizzy am standing the trip fine so far.

Saturday, June 15

Nothing unusual only still sailing. Was put on guard for a 24-hour shift. Nothing unusual happened. Saw the moon go down at one o’clock an, certainly was beautiful. 

Sunday, June 16

Arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia about twelve o’clock today. Anchored in the harbor which looks to be right in the town. Beautiful scenery but from here can’t tell much about the town. Several more ships anchored in the harbor among them two other transports and two gunboats. 

Monday, June 17

Left Halifax about 2 o’clock, accompanied by eleven big boats and a gun boat and few submarine chasers. Weather cold. Food some better. 

My grandfather

Tuesday, June 18

Very foggy this morning and very disagreeable. Have no idea how far out we are but we are several miles out, possibly 200. Feeling good. Was with Harry,  Clarence  R, and Granville C, last night. Not on detail today. 

Wednesday, June 19

Slept well last night. Nothing exciting happening only the monotony of sailing. Has been raining all afternoon and the wind blowing very had. Have not been the least seasick even tho the boat has been rocking considerably. 

Thursday, June 20

Beautiful morning. Nothing exciting happened during the night. Weather beautiful all day and everything GC. (?) Am feeling fine. Been in in the army 7 weeks 2 days. 

Friday, June 21

Am thoroughly acquainted with slum guilliore (?)/ Now on duty to carry same for one week. Sea very rough. Today the longest day in the year. 

Saturday, June 22

Sea has been rather rough today with waves splashing on the deck. Feeling fine. Coming into danger zone tonight. Captain addressed us tonight to endeavor to ascertain who had been stealing canned beans, beef and peaches from the hold. 

Sunday, June 23

Weather very rough and disagreeable all day.

Monday, June 24
 Has been a very beautify day. The only exciting event happening was the cruiser firing a shot. Am feeling fine. 

Tuesday, June 25

Today sighted a submarine, the cruiser fired one shot, and one other boat one shot and another two as yet we have seen no other traces of it, but they are on the alert.

Wednesday, June 26

Voyage continued uneventful. 

Thursday, June 27

Sailed all day along the Irish coat accompanied by a convoy of six submarine chasers.

Friday, June 28

Lying in the harbor oat Liverpool, England. Anchored about 9:15. Left the boat about 1 o’clock and marched around the city. Greeted by two bands (one of kids and the other ours) and the Kenya Magistrate. Then we took a train over the London and Great ? Historic RR and reached ---------about ? o’clock. Marched to camp arriving about 2 o’clock. Ate a lunch of preserves (?) coffee, bread and butter and cheese and rested.

At home, after the war.

Saturday, June 29

About all I did today was to wash clothes, take a bath, and buy cigarettes, chocolate, etc. at the Canteen. Handling the English money was at first confusing. Slept this morning until 9 am, a rather unusual experience. 

Sunday, June 30

Day beautiful. Reveille at 5:45 am. Mess 8 o’clock. Muster 11:20 am. Rest of the morning loafing. Mess about 2 pm. Went to town about 3 pm and saw the Cathedral, second largest one in Europe, about 545 feet long. Built about 1000 years ago, supposed to have taken 400 years to build it. Most beautiful building I have ever seen. Burial place of several English kings, one grave supposed to have been buried in 1300. Also one of the early Puritan leaders was buried here and they Pilgrims thought if they should touch his tomb their sins would be forgiven. Had to build a fence around it to keep them away. The west window of the cathedral composed of fragments of a former glass ceiling of the building is exceptionally beautiful. Claimed to be the most perfect in existence. 

Monday, July 1

Left 10:45 am. Arrived about 11:30. Left at 7:00 pm. 

Wednesday, July 3

Leaving this afternoon at 3 arrived at Maurne and then on to Loheac.

My grandfather came home from France, married a beautiful girl called Tish, and had a daughter named Pattie, who lived for eight days in February and March of 1931. I plant flowers on her grave every Memorial Day. Seven years later, they had a little boy, who became my father. My grandfather traveled many places in the United States, but he never went back to Europe.

 Every time I hear something about World War I, I think about the man I never knew, who went to France, and came home again –  and all of the men who were over there with him, that never did come home. I’ll always go to the cemeteries, armed stories that make real people out of names and images, and with my flowers, I’ll remember.