August 31st, 2011

What a week. And it’s only Tuesday…

I feel just like this painting (Flaming June, by Lord Frederic Leighton) looks — warm and sleepy and ready to curl up on a divan somewhere.

Flaming June

As you may have gathered from recent posts, I’ve lately been helping to arrange a monumental series of photo shoots for artist Hal Hirshorn (which will be shown in an upcoming exhibit that I am curating). The final shoot was today, in the New York City Marble Cemetery. Here’s a sneak peak, as posted on an East Village blog, with snapshots taken by some folks who just happened to be wandering past while Hal was shooting.

Then tonight, after standing around all day in the hot sun, wearing 19th-century mourning clothes, I ran over to the Hudson Park Library to supervise a lecture about the restoration going on at the Merchant’s House Museum, given by one of the City’s architectural conservators.

Last evening, we had a meeting of the New York Nineteenth Century Society. Everyone was encouraged to bring something to show and tell, so I dragged my cello to Madame X (our de facto clubhouse) and led everyone in singing “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.” It was a grand moment, despite my very limited musicianship. Other impressive offerings included Cherry Bounce, a Bartitsu demonstration, an embroidered Regency gown, a Victorian inspired jacket, a Puccini aria, to name a few.

I made this a while ago, and am sharing it now to give you an idea of what you missed. Picture 15 slightly tipsy people singing along in the back garden of a “vampire bordello” themed SoHo bar…

Let’s see, what else? I’ve nearly finished my crocheted edging. And I’ve starting hand-sewing the tucked petticoat to which it will soon be attached. I recently finished The Mayor of Casterbridge, and am now working on The Last Chronicle of Barset. Not sure what I’ll pick up next, but a good friend assures me that Jude the Obscure is among Hardy’s best, and by far the most depressing. Which is really saying something, if you ask me!

Well I think that’s about it, at least for things that would be likely to interest you. Hopefully I’ll settle back into a normal routine soon, and start sharing some less frenetic posts.

Memorial Day

May 30th, 2011

The first Decoration Day (the original name of our modern Memorial Day holiday) was held in May of 1868, to commemorate those who gave their lives in service during the Civil War. It was a day for laying flowers and wreaths on the graves and monuments that represent our fallen warriors.

Despite an existing 19th century-precedent, the New York Nineteenth Century Society — of which I am a co-founder — decided to celebrate Memorial Day with a salute to Lord Byron. I can’t explain it, I know it makes no sense, but there it is. So we organized an excursion via railroad to Wave Hill, a botanic garden in Riverdale on the Hudson River. We called our gathering “Hours of Idleness: A Neoclassical Picnic.”

The company was motley and merry, some traveling by train, others by car, none by ferry boat. After a jolly picnic in the appointed area, we strolled about in smaller groups, equipped with some of the shorter poems from Byron’s Hours of Idleness, though I’m not sure how many bothered to read them — the views of the Hudson being all engrossing. When the heat became too much for us, we gathered on a shady lawn to loll about a while. That’s where I painted this atrocious watercolor.

Wave Hill Watercolor

I have lately begun to revolt against the constant use of digital cameras. It’s all too easy to let the documentation of a good time take over the very thing it is trying to record. So I brought my watercolors along instead. Of course, I am still grateful to the photographers — particularly since I would have other way of showing you my completed Empire dress. But that is for another post.

Until then, Happy Memorial Day, and deepest thanks to all who have served our country so bravely over the past century and a half.

Lines, Written Beneath an Elm…
By Lord Byron

Spot of my youth! whose hoary branches sigh,
Swept by the breeze that fans thy cloudless sky,
Where now alone, I muse, who oft have trod,
With those I loved, thy soft and verdant sod;
With those, who scatter ‘d far, perchance, deplore
Like me, the happy scenes they knew before;
Oh ! as I trace again thy winding hill,
Mine eyes admire, my heart adores thee still,
Thou droopi ng Elm ! beneath whose boughs I lay,
And frequent mused the twilight hours away;
Where as they once were wont, my limbs recline,
But, ah! without the thoughts which then were mine:
How do thy branches, moaning to the blast,
Invite the bosom to recall the past,
And seem to whisper as they gently swell,
“Take, while thou canst, a lingering, last farewell!”

When fate shall chill, at length, this fever’d breast
And calm its cares and passions into rest,
Oft have I thought ‘twould soothe my dying hour,
If aught may soothe, when Life resigns her power;
To know some Humbler grave, some narrow cell,
Would hide my bosom where it loved to dwell,
With this fond dream methinks ‘twere sweet to die,
And here it linger’d, here my heart might lie,
Here.might I sleep where all my hopes arose,
Scene of my youth, and couch of my repose:
For ever stretch’d beneath this mantling shade,
Prest by the turf where once my childhood play’d;
Wrapt by the soil that veils the spot I loved,
Mix’d with the earth o’er which my footsteps moved;
Blest by the tongues that charm’d my youthful ear,
Mourn’d by the few my soul acknowledged here,
Deplored by those, in early days allied,
And unremember’d by the world beside.

Sherlock Revisted

April 13th, 2011

It’s been more than a decade since my last serious foray into the adventures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective. In my far-distant (at least it feels that way) youth, I was quite the enthusiast for anything and everything related to Sherlock Holmes. I read and re-read the stories, even attempting to employ Holmes’s methods, though I was usually stymied by the homogenizing effects of modernity.

I secretly enjoy listening to reruns of the Sherlock Holmes radio programmes (particularly the American version sponsored by Clipper Craft Clothiers or Roma Wines). But I could never quite bring myself to watch the movies or TV shoes. The old ones portray Watson as so elderly, pompous, and unattractive. The latest attempt was much too stylized for my taste  — at least based on the posters that were plastered across the City when it came out. If they’d cast Adrien Brody as Holmes, I might have been tempted. Not that I am such a fan (I rarely like living actors), but he really would have been perfect.

My great love will always be Doyle’s stories, with the original Paget illustrations. What a world they created! If newspapers today published such things, I might consider subscribing. Are you listening, New York Times?

I just downloaded the collected Sherlock Holmes stories to my digital book. They’re all available for free from Google Books. What, you may be asking, has reawakened my ardor for the great detective? A friend and comrade in the New York Nineteenth Century Society is planning a weekend Bartitsu (the lost martial art practiced by Holmes) seminar in late July. I’ve signed on to help organize an evening lecture and reception at The Waystation in Brooklyn. You can read more about Bartitsu on my friend’s web site.

And of course, I will post details soon about how you can register to learn Bartitsu (or purchase a raffle ticket to win a free seat at the seminar) as well as information about the evening event — which will include a lecture, film screenings, and a costume contest!

Sewing School

April 10th, 2011

Last night, my hand-sewing partner (and co-founder of the New York Nineteenth Century Society) and I taught an introductory hand-sewing class at Trade School on the Lower East Side. The concept of Trade School is very close to genius — people with unusual skills are invited to propose classes. People who want to take the classes promise to bring barter items (based on a list provided by each teacher) in lieu of payment. They’ve had two semesters so far — this time around, the classroom was in a building owned by Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was an old schoolroom, so there were wonderful chalk boards, bookshelves, and those wooden and metal chairs with desks attached.

When our hand-sewing class was announced, we planned to accept 15 attendees. Those seats “sold” out within the first weekend! In the end, 9 lovely people showed up for the class. We sat around in a circle, and talked about some of the social history of hand-sewing while learning basic stitches. Some of our class were experienced sewers who wanted to learn new techniques, but even those who had never used a needle before did a wonderful job sewing their sample seams. It was also exciting to hear how each person planned to use their new skills.

Because we only had 90 minutes, we stuck to sewing and felling, as demonstrated in this video that we produced in advance of our very first hand-sewing class last year (taught at The Old Stone House in Brooklyn).

I’m now thinking about an instruction booklet for hand-sewing stitches; about making my own hand-sewing sampler; and about organizing an ongoing class where people could learn all the various stitches and techniques required for garment construction. We are on a crusade to bring back hand-sewing!!

Distracted Again

April 6th, 2011

I’m still working on the final stages of the Civil War exhibition at the Museum where I work — boy, wait till you see this one! It’s probably the most unusual Civil War tribute that is being mounted in New York. Truly. I will explain as soon as I am able. Until then, consider yourselves tantalized.

I’ve also been hard at work on the Nineteenth Century Society website. You can take a peek at nineteenthcenturysociety.org. And please don’t judge too harshly — it’s still a work in progress. We’ve yet to add much content, and you would shriek in horror if you could see the sloppy, un-commented, presumptive PHP that I’ve used to animate the Google Calendar event feed. The important thing however is that it works. I will make it neat later on. And add all the neat little javascript tid-bits.

I’m particularly excited about the Nineteenth Century Society forum…

Aside from a few half-hearted stabs at my neglected broderie anglaise, I haven’t been sewing at all. Just working all day and hacking the Google Calendar API all night. I am eager to get back into my stays again though, and see if this latest pattern tweak will do the trick. More soon on that, including a big vote of thanks to the lovely folks on The Sewing Academy Forum for their brilliant fitting suggestions.

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