Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Amish Quilts: How 'Ugly' Quilts Became High Art and Changed Quilting

Amish Quilts: Crafting and American Icon by Janneken Smucker was a revelation.

My quilt life began in 1991. I was aware of quilts, and my mother-in-law quilted in the 1980s. I saw quilts being sold at Philadelphia's Head House Square in the 1970s. I taught myself to sew, and dabbled in macramé and needlepoint. But it was that first quilt that changed my life. I quickly became interested in quilt history and antique quilts, which meant reading books because I was too poor to collect, and making quilts inspired by antique quilts.

Over the years I learned about the quilt revival, how quilts became 'art' and not just 'craft'. I saw the names of people whose books I have read (Roderick Kiracofe, Julie Silber), and who now I follow on Facebook. I thought I was pretty savvy about the history of quilting in the 20th c. But Smucker's book on Amish Quilts took all I knew and put it in a narrative that enlightened me and broadened my knowledge.

The book begins with an introduction to the Amish and their life and values. She tells how antique Amish quilts, relegated to closets as old fashioned and ugly, suddenly were valued for their simple 'modern' minimalist design and deemed worthy for walls and art galleries. Pickers and dealers went door to door buying the quilts, which they resold for increasingly higher prices.  The demand for affordable quilts for home decorating brought in cottage industries, and the cottage industries hired out to non-Amish, including the Hmong people who settled in the Lancaster, PA area. (Read about the Hmong here.)
1990s cheater cloth quilts which I hand quilted
Oddly, while the black and solid color minimalist quilts were becoming identified with the Amish, the contemporary quilters were using new fabrics and designs for their homes. Quilts were created for the market. The Country Bride Quilt, developed by Rachel Pellman of Lancaster's The Old Country Store, was in the popular country rose and blue colors and had an appliqué design of hearts and birds.
'Amish' made 1990s quilt owned by Diane Little
My Disselfink, a pattern from a 1990s Old Country Store publication
With 100 color photographs of Amish quilts, this book on quilts, art, and economics is a must-have for anyone interested in the history of quilting in the 20th c.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Amish Quilts
Janneken Smucker
John Hopkins University Press
Hard cover $36,95
ISBN: 9781142141053

Monday, July 25, 2016

Happy Birthday, We Miss You

I have been thinking about last things and family.

My mother Joyce Adair Ramer Gochenour passed away in 1990 at age 57 of cancer. Tomorrow would have been her birthday.
Mom as a teenager
My mother was an oil painter, a life time reader, a generous soul who made lifelong friends. She was stubborn and didn't give in.  As a girl she was a real jitterbug queen. My friends all liked her. Mom also suffered with psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis, her joints crippled and deformed, her skin condition involving long soaking baths and applications of various creams and ointments. She worried about living into an old age of dependency.
Painting by my Mom
When I was a little girl Mom had long blond hair that she often wore in a pony tail. I realized Mom was younger and prettier than my friend's mothers. I was an adult when Mom asked if I had ever been embarrassed by her condition. I was amazed. No, I said, you were the prettiest Mom around.
Mom about 1960
My dad Eugene V. Gochenour's birthday is August 13; he died of cancer 8 Decembers ago. I have been and will be continuing to share stories of his early years.
Dad at work at Chrysler
And my 'baby' brother's birthday is also coming up next month!

My brother circa 1961
Our son moved into his own home last Saturday, a huge step and we are happy for him, but I have been grieving for days.
My dad and our son
Today we took our Kamikaze to the vet and learned her heart is very enlarged and is the cause of her breathing problems, coughing, and lethargy. She spent five to seven years in an Amish Ohio puppy mill before Safe Harbor Animal Rescue rescued her and we adopted her. She suffers frequent inter-digital cysts and has cataracts. She was like a puppy when she came home with us, playful and joyful and adventurous.

Kamikaze five years ago. 
Kamikaze lived with our son for months at at time. Our Suki and Kamikaze have become great friends. We all dearly love her.

Kamikaze and our son five years ago
Kamikaze and Suki looking for trouble
This week also marks my birthday.
Baby Nancy with Mom and Dad
I am immensely happy. Reviewing books and getting books FREE is a dream come true. Making quilts and sharing with quilt friends in my weekly group is a joy. My husband and I are retired and finally have our own house after years of parsonage living.

But suddenly I realize that life passes with the speed of a bullet and I need to be more conscious of living in the moment and not the future. The future is here.
Gary and I at Adrian College 1971
Living in my parent's house, which I inherited when Dad passed with my brother's agreement, I see our folks everywhere, memories of Mom blotting her red lipstick in front of the bathroom mirror, long talks into the night sitting in the living room, family games of Michigan Rummy at the kitchen table, Dad racking up autumn leaves with our son.
Dad and our son racking leaves
I have memories of our son playing in the swimming pool Mom set up in the yard, the swing she hung from the birch tree, long gone; I see him banging on her pots and pans and playing with the old decks of cards Mom gave him. I recall walking him to the local playgrounds. And visits when he was older, after Mom passed, and Dad trucking us to Belle Isle.

Life will continue to bring change. The ghosts will again become happy thoughts. I am grateful for a wakeup call.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

The "battle between the transcendent" and the "memory of death and destruction" is eloquently shared through the life of Urbain Martien, the author's grandfather, in War and Turpentine, a book called a "future classic" by the Guardian.

Thirty years after inheriting his grandfather's papers Stefan Hertmans finally read the memoirs. Urbain's early life in poverty drove him into the Ghent steel mills as a teenager. Then came the sudden epiphany that he, like his father who restored church murals, must be an artist. Urbain joins the Flemish Military Academy and is called up to service and into the horror of The Great War.

"How far I have strayed from what I once hoped to become."

Germany wanted a quick route to Paris, and neutral Belgium was in the way. When Belgium resisted, the German army invaded, murdering whole villages. The Rape of Belgium left 6,000 civilians dead, 1.5 million refugees, and 120,000 civilians used as forced labor. The military lost 100,000 or more dead.

Hertmans' retelling of his grandfather's story is in three sections: the author's personal memories and his grandfather's early life; the brutal war years; the post-war years as Urbain cobbles together a life. The war section, for me, was most powerful with its vivid descriptions of death and suffering, the piles of human waste in the trenches, Urbain's honorable bravery and multiple injuries, the absurd carnage of human lives.
                       "We're all cannon fodder together."
And yet there are moments when Urbain sees nature's beauty, the artist's eye still seeking out the inspiration of color and form and association.

After the war Urbain cobbles together a life: love, loss, and loneliness; the frailty of the body; and the accomplishment of one great original painting.
"What mattered most to him was something he could not share with others. So he painted trees, clouds, peacocks, the Ostend beach, a poultry yard, still lifes on half-cleared tables--an immense, silent, devoted labour of grief, to put the world's weeping to rest in the most everyday things. He never painted a single war scene."
The novel is an international best seller.

I received a free ebook through Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

War and Turpentine
Stefan Hertmans

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mini Reviews: Sagas of the Handicapped, the Chinese, and the Apache

Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg was my Book Club selection for June. It was the Great Michigan Read selection in 2013-14. After his mother's funeral Luxenberg discovered a secret aunt and set on a quest to discover Annie and why she was kept secret.

The immigrant experience, the Holocaust, the Depression, and Detroit's Eloise Asylum are revealed in his search. Luxenberg discovers more than one family secret.

My book club enjoyed the book and identified with the concept of family secrets, but several found the book at time repetitive and lacking in focus.

Shanghi Girls by Lisa See

I borrowed this book from the library after seeing it was the 2016 Everyone's Reading pick for the Detroit Public Libraries.

Pearl was born in 1916, the fourth year of the Republic of China, in Shanghai. Women's lives had changed for the better; foot-binding was forbidden, arranged marriages were replaced by free love and marriages for love. Pearl attended the Methodist Mission, posed with her younger sister May as a Beautiful Girl immortalized on calendars and advertising, and stayed out late clubbing. When her father gambled away everything the price was selling his daughters in marriage to two brothers, one a fourteen-year-old with brain damaged, the other a 'paper son' adopted to inherit the business. The girls are to travel to the US with their husband's family but 'miss the boat'.

With the Japanese invasion the girls and their mother flee their home town. They meet with tragedy that alters Pearl's life forever. Finally managing to arrive in the US to go to their husbands they are delayed for months living in prison-like isolation until proving they are legit. Life in America turns out to be hard, jobs scare and Chinese forced to live in ghettos.

Shanghi Girls tells the saga of Chinese immigrants in America from the 1920s into the Communist regime and McCarthy era. Told in first person by Pearl the novel lacks emotional depth and deep characterization, although the experiences she undergoes are harrowing. We learn more about the girls clothing than what they are feeling. The book's appeal is learning about the broader history of the Chinese in the 20th c. and for those who are not familiar with how America treated these refugees the story will be a real eye-opener. See's research included taking oral histories, some of which appear nearly verbatim in the novel.

The follow up novel Dreams of Joy takes Peal and her daughter to Communist China. Readers will learn about life under Mao, with the characters secondary to the greater picture.

The Apache Wars by Paul Andrew Hutton was my Blogging for Books choice. It was a subject I knew almost nothing about.

At nearly 500 pages this book offers a complete and detailed history of the relationship between the Native Americans of Apacheria and Americans whose expansion encroached into their traditional homelands. This is not a book for the fainthearted, and I rued not making a list to keep track of the ever changing major players. The publisher description calls it a "sprawling, monumental work" about the "two decades of the last war for the West through the eyes of the men and women who lived it." Because the book is encyclopedic it can be overwhelming.

I moved by the stories and quite disgusted (once again) by the horrible choices American government has made concerning those we fear--or those just plain in the way of 'progress,' which mostly means making money. It was very interesting to learn details of the Apache culture.

When I was a kid in the 50s watching the TV and movie westerns there were several cliches, one being 'white man speak with forked tongue.' Well, that is about it in a nutshell. Treaties and promises were broken with impunity, and the Apache who sought peace were treated badly and barely trusted. And there were leaders who tired of war and just wanted peace with the White Eyes. Not giving them a fair deal lost their trust Even when President Grant endeavored to change how the Apache were treated by sending Dutch Reformed agents did not improve how the Apache fared.

Hutton's knowledge is incredible and his treatment of this war fair and unbiased.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bee-autiful Blocks and Books

I have been working on quilting my Austen Family Album and embroidering the MODA Quilt-A-Long Bee-autiful blocks. These are such cute patterns and great fun.

A lovely lady in my weekly quilt group is downsizing and brought in ALL of her fabric and books to share. There were close to 30 out on Tuesday, but we all brought home armfuls.

When I saw that black repro print fabric I pounced on it as I have used every last inch of what I bought when it came out!

 I wrote several writing family history posts, and plan to do more, based on the huge interest in Tonawanda, NY history on the Growing Up In the Town of Tonawanda Facebook page. The post about the Sheridan Park Volunteer Firemen brought me photos of my grandfather's memorials
at the fire station.
But his name was ALGER, not Alfred! They called him Al.

I had a real shock when these flowers were delivered to my door. I was sure they came to the wrong house. The company who installed our new furnace and A.C. sent me flowers in thanks! That is class.

I have been drowning in books-- and helping our son pack and move into his first house. I have ebooks books from NetGalley, Edelweiss, and First to Read.

I won a book from First to Read! And I won the Siracusa audiobook by Delia Ephron through First Look Book Club!

Ohio U Press sent me Suzi Parron's Barn Quilts and Following the Barn Quilt Trail to review.
And from Blogging for Books I chose The Gap of Time, a retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Dad's Memories of the Sheridan Park Volunteer Firemen of Tonawanda NY

Alger Gochenour
Emma Becker Gochenour
My dad Gene Gochenour wrote a memoir of his life from 1935 until 1963 when he lived in Tonawanda, NY.

My grandfather Alger Gochenour, father Gene Gochenour, Uncle Dave Ramer, (and perhaps other family) were part of the Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Company during the 1950s.

My Aunt Alice wrote me saying, she remembered the firemen would practice first aid on her, wrapping her arm or legs in bandages. And even I remember going to the field days and parades the firemen held.

Al Gochenour, Fire Chief at his Military Rd house

Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Co. Dist. 4
Town of Tonawanda NY
Here is an excerpt from Dad's memoirs called Volunteer Fireman Stories: 

"I belonged to the Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Company during the fifties.

"One day as I was working at the station a huge explosion happened less than a half mile away. A plant called The Lucidol Corporation blew up. They made epoxy resin there and the dust in the plant exploded.

"I was at the scene in a few minutes and saw a fireman I knew. He worked at the plant and he was spraying the fire with a small hose. I went up to help him but just then the first fire truck arrived and I went with them to hook up the truck to a fire hydrant. The fire hydrant was on the far side of another building, and when we got there there was another explosion. It blew out all the windows in the building we were standing by. The fireman I almost joined was hurt during the second explosion and went to the hospital. Had I been with him, I would have gone to the hospital too! The first explosion killed thirteen people. It blew off the end of a nearby house, and the wall of a steel warehouse a quarter of a mile away was cracked in several places.
"One day the fire siren went off and I drove to the fire station to find where it was. Both fire trucks had left by the time I got there, but there was bulletin board at the fire hall with a message telling late arriving firemen where the fire was. A 50,000 gallon gas tank was on fire at the Richfield Refining terminal on River Road.

"When I got there I saw an above ground storage tank burning. The flames reached high into the sky. The fire was so hot that even with our rubber coats and boots and steel helmets, we could not get close.

"The only way we could put out a gas fire was to spray a fire retardant foam on it. While we were hooking up the foam making device we saw a burning truck come driving out of the burning garage. It must have been parked in low gear, then the starter shorted, causing it to drive itself out of the garage. Once the foam device was set up, we could work our way close to the fire and put it out.
"On another occasion we were called to a steel mill where a huge cupola full of molten iron had spilled into a subterranean room. We took turns spraying water on it to cool it. As we sprayed the water, it turned to steam so we had to take turns handling the hose. Many hours later it was decided there was no more threat, and we left. It took many days for it to completely cool, and I don’t know what they did with all that iron on the floor!
"One of the calls we had was to go to the housing project [Sheridan Park war time housing, or The Projects] where a house had blown up. When we got there, we saw that one end of a duplex house was not burning, but the wall had been blown off. The story was that the lady who lived there had put gasoline in her washing machine thinking it would take the grease out of her husbands work clothes. We will never know if it worked, but luckily she was at the other end of the house when it blew and did not get hurt.
"A gasoline tanker caught fire right under the Grand Island bridge. The flame was coming out of the last compartment of the tanker. Had the fire spread, it could have been a disaster. But one smart and brave fireman climbed up the ladder on the tanker and closed the cover of the compartment, extinguishing the fire. The truck was only a few blocks from the terminal where it had just been loaded. How the cover got left off and the fire started we did not know.
"There were many field fires during the spring and fall. Most of them were caused by railroad steam engines or people burning leaves or trash. We had a small fire truck that was used at field fires. It had a large water tank and it carried many brooms. The truck would be driven to the field, then the driver would drive along the fire line, upwind of the flames, and another fireman would spray the flames using the water hose on the truck. The rest of the firemen followed, stamping out the remaining flames using the brooms. That was a hot, smoky job on a hot day!"

The September 23, 1953 Lucidol explosion is well known in Tonawanda history. Eleven people were killed and 17 injured. The plant was situated at 1740 Military Road at Sheridan Park Drive.

Read the 1953 Tonawanda Evening News headline article here.

The explosion knocked out telephone service and the Sheridan Park Fire Department siren!

I found an account of the incident written by a local pastor here. He wrote,
"...a distant explosion broke my peace. It was followed by a resounding impact against the outside wall. My window shook with the force of the impact. I jumped to my feet and ran to the window. Off in the distance, in the direction of our church property, a high mushroom-like cloud was forming in the air. I moved quickly out the door, pulling on my jacket as I raced down the stairs. I jumped into our car and headed in the direction of the cloud. The cloud hovered in the air against a clear blue Fall sky. As I drove down Sheridan Drive toward Elmwood Avenue, the cloud was spreading out over the Military Road area. I turned onto Elmwood and stopped at Homewood Avenue leaving the car at our property site. I hurried down Homewood.
""What happened?" I asked Mare Krauss. "There was a terrfic explosion at the Lucidol plant. It shook everythg in our house. We lost some windows." Marie Krauss told me. Elva Graf added: "There are bodies all over the place." I ran toward Military Road, which was at the end of Homewood. Military Road ran north and south. It was dotted with industrial plants built to access the cheap electric power of Niagara Falls.
A crowd had already gathered outside the chain fence of Lucidol, one of the many chemical plants which dotted the Military Road. The police began moving people back to the other side of Military Road away from the fence. Fire engines were on the grounds of the plant inside, some were still arriving. The sirens of ambulances from the Kenmore and Buffalo hospitals could be heard coming in all directions. The police continued cordoning off the area around the plant and moved the crowd to the other side of Military Road. 
 "One glance showed the extent of the destruction. Crumpled steel, and loose boards and brick were strewn across the ground. One building had been blown apart - the site of the explosion. The Lucidol plant had been a low level plant, probably no higher than two or three stories. Smoke and low level fie were still coming out of several buildings. One could see bodies lying in disarray across the plant property. It was difficult to tell how many people had died in the explosion." 
An article about the explosive material that caused the blast is found here.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Quilts of Cumberland County

Organized by the LeTort Quilters, The Cumberland County Quilt Documentation project documented over 900 quilts dating before 1970. The documentation database is housed at the Cumberland County Historical Society. 170 of the quilts documented appear in The Quilts of Cumberland County.

Cumberland County, Pennsylvania included 500 square miles west of the Susquehanna River. As the area became more populated Cumberland was divided, creating the counties of Bedford, Blair, Centre, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin, and Perry.

The project revealed some interesting facts. Many of the heirloom quilts originated outside of the county, indicative of the migration of peoples through the area. Many of the quilts were in the hands of collectors who had culled their collection nationally. Consequently, the provenance of the quilts was often lost, or was incorrect.

The book includes a history of Cumberland County with maps showing its changing boundaries and the story of a typical Cumberland County quilt and its travels. The photo gallery of quilts documented is divided into design types:

  • Whole Cloth and Simple Designs
  • Strips, Squares, and Triangles
  • Stars
  • Diamonds, Hexagons, and Curves
  • Appliqué
  • Mixed and Variety
  • Embroidered Quilts and Sunbonnets
  • Signature Quilts and Special Events
  • Crazy Quilts

Collecting and caring for antique quilts is covered.

This is a beautifully presented book, nicely designed to showcase the 485 color photos of the quilts. I love how the full photo of the quilt is overlaid on a close up photo as background. The closeups allow readers to see the fabrics used in the quilt. Documenting ephemera is shared when available.

I am very impressed with this book overall for the background information, the gorgeous presentation, and the variety and beauty of the quilts. 

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Quilts of Cumberland County
Schiffer Publications
$34.99 hard cover
ISBN: 9780764351099

On a Personal Note:

My grandfather Lynne O. Ramer was born in Mifflin County; his grandfather moved there after the death of his first wife. He married Barbara Rachel Reed. Their daughter Esther Mae was Lynne's mother; his aunt Carrie Viola Ramer Bobb raised Lynne after the death of his mother and grandmother. Carrie was a quiltmaker. Read about Aunt Carrie and her quilts  here and here