Are you familiar with Krampus, the chain whipping, cloven hoofed companion of Saint Nicholas? If you’ve ever been on the naughty side of Santa’s list, be warned: you’ve got a lot more than coal to worry about in your stocking (like being carried off in a basket to the depths of hell). Read more about this demonic Christmas cryptid on the Etsy Blog.
I am from Iowa; not a farm, as many have assumed, but a series of small towns in the Eastern half (so, in short, I’m familiar with the FFA, tractor day at school and pigs, but not in the butchering sense). I was born in a village of less than 100 people that contained a bar, a general store, a handful of houses and a jaw-dropping, massive Catholic church where my parents were married; no police station, post office, or banks existed. My family progressively moved to larger towns, though never with more than 5,000 people in total. I’m a small town girl at heart, though I was itching to get out as soon as I realized that there was more out there to see and do. Going to college really put the nail in the coffin on leaving the state and running away from everything that seemed “provincial,” “ignorant” and too close for comfort for my highfalutin, cocky younger self.
Now that I live in New York, going back to Iowa is something I relish, and I try to visit as much as I can. I appreciate my state, the food, and its citizens’ quirks ever so much more now that I don’t live there — funny how distance is necessary to make you appreciate those things. Besides going to see my family and friends, I go to soak up the atmosphere (and go thrifting). Not only is it beautiful — fields and open sky as far as the eye can see — but everyone is so earnest, helpful, polite, friendly and nice to a fault. People honestly care how you are, will stop to help you fix a flat, start a conversation about your lovely rose bushes and always wave from behind the wheel of their vehicle, regardless of the fact that they probably don’t know you. Farming may be a dying way of life, but the positive attitudes and hardworking people remain. It’s the little things.
This series of photos by Neil and Susanne Rappaport documented the citizens and oral histories of Pawlet, Vermont, a small town that seems quite familiar to my own experience. Known as the Pawlet Visual Census and Community History Project, “The idea for the project grew out of Neil’s desire to broaden his visual record beyond landscape studies and documentary narratives of a vanishing way of life. He wanted to achieve a portrait of the whole town. Life in Pawlet at that time revolved around the fewer and fewer remaining dairy farms and a growing influx of newcomers whose numbers had increased considerably in twenty years. The goal was to photograph everyone who was willing, seen in as many groupings that make up a community as possible, to create a precise image of the community as it entered the decade of the eighties, an image of great value for the generations to come.
“Each of the approximately seven hundred portraits coming from this project over ten years is a collaborative endeavor. The participants made the choices about how to be seen, what to include in the picture, and where it should be taken. Neil acted as a guide toward the final moment when all the pieces came together. With his camera he focused the eye of the future, creating a “time capsule” for the resident of the twenty-first century to ponder. The images are individual messages of great variety, but when viewed collectively validate a shared identity and sign of continuance.”
[Via Nothing is New]
Love these painted buffalo hides. According to the Prairie Edge Trading Company and Gallery:
It was traditional in some ancient Plains Indian cultures for women to render geometric patterns and men, pictographic design. Historically, a robe was worn with the head to the left when it was wrapped around the body, and the painting would be displayed on the outside with the fur next to the body for warmth.
[Via Cold Splinters]
My continued fascination with the American South has led me to the aesthetically pleasing tradition of bottle trees. Though they primarily function as garden ornamentation today, their original purpose, as brought to the U.S. by African slaves, was to catch evil spirits.
“Glass bottle trees originated in Northern Africa during a period when superstitious people believed that a genii or imp could be captured in a glass bottle. Legend had it that empty glass bottles placed outside the home could ‘capture’ roving (usually evil) spirits at night, and the spirit would be destroyed the next day in the sunshine. This practice was taken to Europe and North America by African slaves. While Europeans adapted them into hollow glass spheres known as “witch balls” the practice of hanging bottles in trees became widespread in the Southern states of North America, where they continue to be used today as colorful garden ornaments.” [Via Squidoo]
Everything about Eastern Europe, Russia and Eurasia fascinates me — Rasputin, our mutual Levis obsession, religious icons, Communist propaganda, The Master and Margarita, a dim worldview, Futurism, vodka…lots to love, no? However, all of these interests are trumped by the primitive vibrancy of extremely rural Russia (seriously, look at those colors — reminds me of Latin America). Photographer Olya Ivanova ventures to villages across Eastern Europe to photograph dwindling societies that may soon die out in the face of a homogenized, Western world. I’m held by their potent gaze, the painted-over decay and random ephemera taped to the walls, as well as the towering stand of trees — the trees! Argh, to be there now…
The old lady is definitely my favorite, because she reminds me of my grandmother. I’m also fond of the man with the crooked nose and the cat on his shoulders. Adorable.
I just finished Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, a fascinating look into the world of taking up serpents, getting “caught up in the spirit” and the remote, intense Holiness and Charismatic Pentecostal churches of the American South. I think it’s pretty hard to turn away from snake handling, knowing that, under a brush arbor in the middle of nowhere, folks are going into trances, drinking strychnine and putting their lives in the maws of timber and rattlesnakes.
Known as “testifying,” taking up serpents and drinking poison represents the congregants’ trust in Jesus, and if you “lose the spirit” while doing so, you will most likely die. (Going to a traditional doctor post-snake bite implies a lack of trust in the Lord.) Needless to say, the mortality rate for these precious few mountain folk is decidedly high, and after 100 snake bites, one might eventually take.
The interesting part of the book (man, this is starting to feel like a book report, but a fun one!) is the author’s personal connection to his own religious beliefs, and that he eventually begins snake handling himself. The way that he writes about the energy in the room, the almost orgasmic experience of handling, and the resulting “cheating death” feeling that comes with a successful night at church — well, it sounds pretty good, actually! I’ve never been a snake lover (you know I prefer kittens and pups), but their symbolism throughout history and artwork is what really gets me. I’m actually seriously considering a snake tattoo, believe it or not.
I’m not sure where my Appalachian obsession came from, but I’m not letting up just yet! Salvation and the Foxfire series have whet my appetite for further revelations about slaughtering pigs, building cabins and drinking out of Mason jars (but not strychnine).
American photo historian Edward S. Curtis may have single-handedly documented vanishing Native American tribes of the early twentieth century. Aren’t these portraits just ridiculous? The costumes, the hairstyles, and deep, knowing stares are haunting. However, these are more than documents of a lost generation. The history of how these photos came to be is pretty incredible, too:
In 1906 J.P. Morgan offered Curtis $75,000 to produce a series on the North American Indian. It was to be in 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs. Morgan was to receive 25 sets and 500 original prints as his method of repayment. 222 complete sets were eventually published. Curtis’ goal was not just to photograph, but to document, as much American Indian (Native American) traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared. He wrote in the introduction to his first volume in 1907: “The information that is to be gathered … respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost.” Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indian language and music. He took over 40,000 photographic images from over 80 tribes. He recorded tribal lore and history, and he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs. He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only recorded history.
What an incredible opportunity to document a culture in decline. I’m quite impressed that someone in a position of wealth was cognizant that Native American life was quickly disappearing and took action at the time.
Skull Mosaic from Pompeii
Skull Mosaic from Pompeii (House cum workshop I, 5, 2, triclinium).30 B.C. — 14 A.D. Inv. 109982. Mosaic Collection Naples of the Naples, National Archaeological Museum (inv. nr. 109982).
The mosaic represents the Wheel of Fortune and reversal of fortune. When turned it can make the rich (symbolized by the purple cloth on the left) poor and the poor (symbolized by the goat right) rich. It also marks precariousness, death lurks in every age, and life is hanging by a thread: if it breaks, it flies from the soul (symbolized by the butterfly), making all equal.