Sunday, February 22, 2015

"The sunflower is mine,

in a way. 
 ~ Vincent Van Gogh

For many of us in the colder climates around the country, we are anxiously awaiting spring so I thought just a burst of color today, and what better color than the yellow of sun.  Then, once I think sun, I think sunflower as I have been constantly filling my bird feeders with pounds of sunflower seeds.   Sunflowers originated in the Americas in 1000B.C., where for centuries they were cultivated as a valuable food source. The sunflower is the Greek symbol of Clytie (a water nymph) who turns into a sunflower after grieving over the loss of her love Apollo.  Clytie (in the form of a sunflower) is always facing the sun, looking for Apollo's chariot to return so she might be joined again with her love. The sunflower is also a symbol of Daphne (another Greek nymph). Today, sunflowers continue to provide a resource for commonly used seeds and oil, but they have also become recognized as a floral symbol of great significance, but the well-known sunflower king is Van Gogh.  

The tale of his sunflower series is interesting.  Having been invited to show work alongside Les Vingt, an avant-garde group of 20 artists in Brussels, in January 1890, Van Gogh consulted his brother Theo as to what he should send. Theo recommended the sunflowers and explained why. "I've put one of the sunflowers on the mantelpiece in our dining room. It has the effect of a piece of fabric embroidered with satin and gold, it's magnificent." 
Van Gogh's stark simplicity and strong color did not appeal to the others in the show.  The artist Henry de Groux threatened to remove his own work from the 1890 exhibition if he found it in the same room as "the laughable pot of sunflowers by Mr Vincent". As Van Gogh's artist friends Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Signac were present when this was said, the evening ended in chaos, and a fight was only narrowly avoided. The next morning, De Groux resigned. To the critic of Le Journal de Charleroi, it was understandable: this artist had been "very justly exasperated" by Van Gogh's sunflowers.
Flower painting has a long history, but no other flower, Martin Bailey, the Van Gogh expert and journalist,  argues is so strongly associated with a particular artist as the sunflower is with Van Gogh. He painted his first ones soon after arriving in Paris in 1886. The apartment he and Theo shared was in the Rue Lepic, a steep road that leads up to the top of Montmartre. At that time, it had three windmills on its summit, allotments on its slopes and, among the vegetables, a scattering of flowers. Initially, sunflowers appeared as small details in Van Gogh's landscapes. Then in 1887, in a series of four oils, he made a close study of them, discovering the Fibonacci spiral in the whirling pattern of their seeds, and using their cut heads as a form of still life.
It was in Arles, France,  that the great sunflower period began. It coincided with his move into a small yellow house on the edge of the square. He got the landlord to repaint it so that the outside walls became the colour of fresh butter, and its shutters a green. Inside, the red-brick floors were offset by white-washed walls. It was five months before he could move in, but it inspired his great plan. He told Emile Bernard: "I'm thinking of decorating my studio with half a dozen paintings of sunflowers."

So, as when you think of sunflowers, think of Van Gogh ignoring the critics and doing his own thing.  If you cannot wait for the real flower, we have some wonderful paper sunflowers to give you a burst of color for the final days of winter.

"The sunflower is the favorite emblem of constancy"
     ~Thomas Bullfinch

Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Collecting is not really about

art, or Pez Dispensers, or whatever.  Collecting is about collecting.
~David Blanchard

From a recent Kovel newsletter:   Collecting tips: "Out" today are manufactured collectibles like Christmas plates, souvenir spoons, new figural bottles (Avon, Beam), empty cereal boxes promoting TV, movie and radio stars, and linens that have to be ironed. "In" are hand-embroidered guest or kitchen towels, vintage printed children's handkerchiefs and silk scarves by name designers like Herm├Ęs - these scarves are quite dramatic.

OK...but the one I have to chuckle at is this one..."out" are linens that have to be ironed, yet "in" are hand-embroidered guest or kitchen towels.  Say what?  Anyone who deals in antique or vintage linens can tell you that is  pure paradox.  I know there are people who love to iron, but in my 25 years in the business, I have not come across an old guest towel or kitchen towel that was permanent press.
Women of earlier days were judged by their housekeeping skills.  The lady of the house had to know how to make a good starch for ironing linens, curtains, lace, and some clothing.  Books were written for the newlywed to refer to for managing the household as well as entertaining guests.  The home needed to reflect domestic bliss. What is interesting is that many are returning to some of the old ways that are more eco-friendly, and simple housekeeping skills are becoming popular.  

Washing old linens can be challenging.  Although those textiles are sturdier and more colorfast, they still can develop age or storage stains.   Some suffer from dry rot, destructive rust stains, or even mouse reworkings.  If you tug on 2 sides of an old linen and it rips, dry rot has set in.  Mourn it, toss it, and move on.  Sometimes you must let go!
Over the years, I have used this brew for laundering:
1 Scoop* Biz
1 Scoop* Oxyclean
1 Gallon Hot Water
§  Soak in the hot water for up to 48 hours, then rinse and launder as usual.
§  *Use the oxyclean scoop
§  After washing linens, give them a good vinegar rinse to remove as much of the soap as possible. Use one cup of white vinegar per gallon of water. After the vinegar rinse, rinse again with plain water a time or two.
Although you can buy quality starch, any box of cornstarch will create a homemade product that can be made as needed. I found some interesting information online about making your own.  For heavy starch, start with 3 tablespoons of cornstarch. Add enough room temperature tap water to make a smooth cream. Pour the cream into 2 to 3 cups of boiling water and remove from heat. Stir until all starch dissolves. Allow to cool to room temperature before pouring into a spray bottle. Spray directly on dry fabric before ironing. A spray bottle with a fine mist setting is best, but any clean spray bottle will work in a pinch.  Make sure to shake it well before each use.
You can store unused starch spray in the refrigerator although for best results you should only make enough for each batch of ironing. For a lighter starch, simply reduce the amount of cornstarch used. A ratio of one tablespoon to two cups of boiling water makes a light starch.

For antique lace or truly crisp linens without an iron, you can also use a a fine starch bath or dip. Use the above recipe doubled, as the cloth will absorb more water. Once the water reaches room temperature, submerge the cloth in the dip. Rather than wringing out excess water and creating wrinkles, roll the cloth tightly as you pull it out of the bath. Hang on curtain rods or spread the fabric out on a folded bed sheet to air dry. Be sure the fabric is smooth when you hang it or lay it flat as it will be very stiff once it dries.
Just in case you want to be "in" in the collector's world, there are some linen tips!  

“O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure! Of no one has less been expected and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than... a collector. Ownership is the most intimate relationship one can have to objects. No t that they come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them.”  
~Walter Benjamin

Sunday, February 8, 2015

“I love bright red drinks, don’t you?

They taste twice as good as any other color.” 
~L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables
RED is energizing! At least that is what the research says; it excites emotions and motivates us to take action...but I would not follow that advice at a stop sign or a red light!  It also signifies a pioneering spirit and leadership qualities as well as promoting ambition and determination. 
With Valentine's Day looming this week, it is better known as the color of sexuality (forget grey) and is the love color if you read the color symbol information.  Another interesting tidbit is that it can stimulate the appetite and is used in restaurants for that purpose.
Valentine's Day originates from the ancient Roman celebration of Lupercalia which was held on February 15 and was a fertility festival.  When the Romans invaded France, they introduced this festival in which Roman boys drew names of Roman girls out of an urn (to determine their partners), and then the couple exchanged gifts on the festival's day.  This was considered a pagan celebration, so in 469 C.E., Pope Gelasius decided to put a Christian spin on this celebration by declaring that it was now to honor St. Valentine, a young Roman who was martyred by Emperor Claudius II, and who was said to have died on February 14, 270 C.E. for refusing to give up Christianity.  Rumor has it that St. Valentine was a priest who defied the emperor's ban on marriages by marrying young people in secret.  He was discovered and put to death.

Originally the word Valentine meant the person whose name was picked from a box to be chosen as your sweetheart up until the 1500's.  Then around 1533, it meant the folded piece of paper with the sweetheart's name on it.  By 1610 it then became the gift given to this special someone and by 1824 it then became a poem, letter or verse to a sweetheart.
Another early variation of Lupercalia sounds like a pilot for a reality TV show with the Kardashians.   Two Roman youths (who were blessed by their priest) would run through the streets swinging a goatskin thong called a Februa, the Latin word is Februatio (the act of lashing with sacred thongs), and was believed to be for purification.  From this word comes our word "February".  And the belief is that if a woman was touched by this thong, she would be able to bear children better.  According to the legend, they did this to honor their God Faunus, the god of crops.
Another theory about Valentine's Day doesn't begin with the Romans but with Norse.  The Normans had a St. Galantin, which meant "lover of women."  Now the "G" is not pronounced like a "Gah" in the English language.  It is pronounced like a "V" and so the word is like "Valantin" in sound.  They believe that their St. Galantin's Day is part of the confusion over St. Valentine's Day .
St. Valentine's Day did not come to America until 1629 with the Puritans, and even here went against some of the church elders.  But love prevails, and the church could not hold back love and passion even in the New World.  About 100 years passed before the first Valentine Cards appeared in the United States.  
Margery Brews (England) wrote the oldest known valentine in letter form dated 1477, sent to John Paston.  For Valentine once meant "sweetheart" it grew to represent "message of love."
On 2-14-1667, Samuel Pepys in his diary described a valentine that he got from his wife.  It was a sheet of blue paper in which her name was written in gold letters. This became the forerunner of later valentines.  But the custom didn't grow quickly.  It took 100 years before it was common to leave a valentine love letter at the doorstep of your sweetheart.
So however you will celebrate Valentine's Day, whether you are looking for a flying thong or simply a love letter on your doorstep, remember as Robert Fulghum wrote in True Love...
“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.”   

Sunday, February 1, 2015

"The proof of the pudding

is in the eating.”    
                                    Miguel de Cervantes,   Don Quixote de la Mancha

Across America today the Super Bowl is the entertainment focal point in the neighborhood.  It is the second biggest day for food consumption in the U.S. - first is Thanksgiving.  An average of 5000 hot dogs are sold in the stadium, and, across the country, 1.23 billion chicken wings are eaten (a lot of chickens sacrificed their lives!).  50 million cases of beer are sold to go with 8 million pounds of guacamole and 14,500 tons of taco chips and 4000 tons of popcorn.  4 million pizzas are ordered, 14 billion hamburgers, 11 million pounds of potato chips, 4 million pounds of pretzels, and a mere 2.5 million pounds of nuts consumed.

Now that you are stuffed just reading those numbers, consider a dessert dish from the early 20th century when we did not eat huge portions of food, even snacking - which has replaced regular meals for many even - was not a common activity.  These small custard dishes which hold 1/2 cup illustrate the change in portion size.  Anyone going to be satisfied with one of these for dessert?  Snack size, right?  These are Glasbake custards.
"Glassbake" was originally referred to as "Glasbak Ware" An early product brochure advertises "Glasbak" as "A Sanitary Baking Ware and Serving Ware Combined" which is made of glass.

In 1917 the McKee Glass Company introduced "Glasbake Ovenware" to compete with Pyrex ovenware which was made by Corning Glass Works.

Glasbak was the original spelling for McKee's ovenware, but was changed to Glasbake in 1951-1961.  McKee was sold to Jeannette Glass, and they produced the line from 1961-1983.
The beauty of "Glasbake" was that it was designed to be able to be used for cooking, serving and storing. More and more, returning to the use of glass in today's kitchen is becoming popular on environmentally conscious homeowners.
Glasbake made by Jeanette after 1961 usually have a J prefix followed by a number...the photo above shows the pre-Jeannette glass mark and below is the Jeannette mark.

I also have some Hazel Atlas custards that are similar in style.  When I looked at the photos, I thought they resembled candle votive holders!  Have to think about how an early 20th century dessert cup as morphed into a candle holder!

But as Erma Bombeck wrote, "Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart."