Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

The Monday Book: GNOMELAND by Margaret Egleton

Many thanks to Jeanne Powers for this review!

gnomelandGnomeland:  An Introduction to the Little People

 

First off, this is not a sequel to Gnomes by Wil Huygen, the marvelous and charming “natural history” of the shy Holland gnomes.  No, this is a book about garden gnomes.

 

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, garden gnomes seem to pop up everywhere.  Travelocity even has a spokesgnome, possibly inspired by a rash of gnome-nappings a few years back, in which a person or persons would swipe a garden gnome and take photos of it in various settings, sometimes sending postcards back to the owner from the gnome to illustrate its travels.

Egleton devotes the first few pages of the book to a very brief overview of gnomes in general, noting that there are several variations and tracing the origin both gnomes and their appearance. Then she delves specifically into the evolution of the classic garden gnome.

The earliest statues of the “classic” garden gnome apparently were created in the late 19th century when a large ceramic industry met an enthusiasm for garden decoration. The early figures were more of the bearded and wizened little old man variety before morphing into bright and merry little figures, which Egleton attributes to Disney’s cute little dwarf characters from Snow White.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was about the early creators of garden gnomes. Philipp Griebel added the figure to his factory shortly after opening in 1874, causing Grafenroda, Germany to lay claim to being the birthplace of the modern gnome, though there are those who would challenge this.  August Heissner apparently began creating hand-painted clay gnomes for sale around 1870.

But all of this pales beside the glorious photos of gnomes of all sorts. There are bathing beauties, politicians (there are several versions of George W. Bush), athletes, naughty gnomes, and smoking and drinking gnomes.  “Mobile Joe” is a gnome with a cell phone who crashed the Chelsea Flower Show, despite the “no gnomes” rule.  There are some astounding photos of “gnome gardens” with large collections.  One woman took inspiration from George Harrison, who had posed with the Friar Park gnomes for two albums, and created a gnome garden in tribute to the Beatle.

Gnomes are a world-wide phenomenon: they can be found all over Europe, North and South America, and even Antarctica.  Australia seems to be particularly fond of gnomes, harboring several large gnome gardens and organizations dedicated to preservation and proliferation of gnomes. “Gnomesville” in Australia has become quite the tourist attraction, despite a lack of parking and toilets.

Even if you think gnomes are tackiness personified (the book says they’ve “been restored to their rightful place of kitsch honor”) you’ll smile at some of the creative ways people have used gnomes.  It may just inspire you to add a gnome or two to your own garden. Or not.

 

Note:  this review is written by a person who has pink flamingos in the garden

 

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A River runs through it – –

As we continue with our house move, Jack writes – –

Every now and then a strange and magical figure enters your life. Such was the case when River came down here from New York State to live with her brother Mark Cooperstein and his wife Elizabeth a couple of years ago.

river

River wasn’t her birth name, of course. She adopted the name River Lightwomoon many years ago, and if I tell you that she also lived in Woodstock then I think you probably begin to get the picture.

She was the archetypal hippy and also a wonderful musician, specializing in percussion, and any adjacent surface was a drum for her.

She told me the amazing story of how she was already beginning to play drums and went to a club where the world-famous Jack DeJohnette was appearing. At some point one of his drum sticks ended up at her foot and she returned it to him. She met him some time later and asked about lessons, but they were going to be far too expensive her. However he remembered her and the returned stick, they got chatting and he found out she was expert at tax forms. So, in return for handling his tax stuff she got her lessons!

I was intrigued by the complex rhythms she’d set up whenever she drummed and she explained that she had worked with a mainly female group that played South American influenced original music. A short bit of on-line research and there she was listed on a number of albums!

When our good friend and wonderful singer Barbara Dickson came here to perform, she was completely entranced by River and they shared many a musical moment. But more than that – Barbara also experienced what I had – a very rare and special connection!

RIP River – you will definitely be remembered.

 

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Miss McLeod, meet Uncle Joe

Jack missed his Wednesday deadline again – –

We have a pretty disparate group of friends that have many different interests, some of which I share. One of these, of course, is music. Every now and again some of us find some overlapping time when we can get together and can do some picking and singing.

Today was one of these days, and it was glorious!

For a couple of hours all the cares of the world disappeared and three of us threw everything else aside, forgot our cares and lost ourselves in bringing together our very different music to a common ground.

Tony had just heard that his brother had suffered a heart attack (but was recovering), while Leroy is still dealing with the death of his beloved Jenny and Tyler is trying to balance the life of a professional musician with balancing his budget. Me? I’m just juggling all the logistics of buying a new house and moving there while keeping my marriage on an even keel!

Tony is our guitar playing Presbyterian Pastor buddy who is seriously into ‘middle-of-the-road’ anything goes kind of music. Tyler is our local deep down traditional and very well informed banjo playing expert on the local music. I sing Scottish songs and ballads and play a pretty odd guitar style.

But the dark horse in all this is Leroy.

He’s very capable at playing everything from Simon and Garfunkel to James Taylor and everything in between – and he does it very well. He talks about things like diminished minor 7ths and such like.

So, for two hours we shared songs and did our best to follow each other as we sang, and every so often really got it together. We chatted about our musical preferences and veered off into lots of other things. We laughed and got more serious sometimes. And we got some renewed energy for life’s challenges.

I have to admit that I wondered if getting together at eleven on a weekday morning in the bookstore with a group of folk I’d never played music all together with before was such a great idea. But in the end it was just what we each and all needed.

One of the customers that came into the bookstore as we were getting started spent a long time “browsing” and finally said he expected to pay extra for the excellent entertainment.

Nah—we got more out of it than we put in, and that’s worth everything. Take a look here.

 

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The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

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Why do we do it?!

Jack’s on time again – Musht be shome mishtake – – –

Ah! – the aftermath of our annual Celtic festival! The post-mortems and memories; what went right and what went wrong.

Actually not much went wrong, but I’m always a nervous wreck in the run-up thinking what might. This year our hard working chairperson Darinda moved home out of the area so the rest of us had to regroup and strategize. We had already had to accept that we couldn’t avoid a calendar clash with another big, but non Celtic, music festival just a couple of hours away. The weather forecast began to look more and more ominous right up to the night before.

In the end the forecast of all day thunderstorms didn’t materialize, the bike race was well supported, the parade wasn’t rained on, the vendors were happy, the sheepdogs starred, the music venues worked well and everyone had the opportunity to sample haggis, Cornish pasties, cock-a-leekie soup and apple crumble.

We probably did lose some attendance to the other festival, but not as much as I feared. We probably also lost folk due to the terrible weather forecast. But we still provided custom to the local B&B and the local hotels from folks who came from a distance and that’s partly what it’s all about.

Another perennial worry is whether we’d raise enough financial support to run the festival to our projected budget. Some regular supporting businesses and organizations had to cut back a bit this time but we got there in the end.

For me, the icing on the cake are the late night sessions back in the bookstore on Friday and Saturday. This year they were exceptional, in no small part because our good friends Tim and Eileen were over from North Carolina. Friday night saw great instrumental music while on Saturday I was transported back to the wonderful experience of being in the company of exceptional singers and harmonizers that I remember from years gone by.

I’ve helped organize many festivals and folksong clubs over the years and there’s always a constant tension between the satisfaction and pleasure when things work out and the worry that things will fall apart.

This time it mostly worked –

pipes

bikes

caber

sheepdogsigean

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“It was Twenty Years ago Today”

Jack’s post is a day early for once – –

Twenty years ago today Wendy and I tied the knot. We had known each other just two years and when I asked ‘the question’ I immediately said “take time to think about it’! After all, I was foreign and older and she wasn’t as impulsive as me. Actually that’s not true – time has proved that she’s the impulsive one and I’m much more resistant to change.

But when we were introduced by our mutual friends, Wayne and Jean Bean, in Greeneville Tennessee I was the impulsive one for once.

wedding

We were married in the beautiful old stone house of Aileen Carr in Auchtermuchty in Fife. August 14th 1998 was a Friday (you can check) and was the day before the annual traditional music festival. That was an incentive for our storytelling and singing friends to come from ‘a’ the airts’ and come they did. Some of them have passed on now, but most are still around and in particular – Aileen Carr who provided the house, George Haig who was best man, Donna-Marie Emert who was best maid and Linda Bandelier who officiated as well as Jean Lockhart who laid on the wonderful food.

invite

I marvel at the last twenty years, starting with Wendy’s ‘run of the arrow’ as an American interloper into the Scottish storytelling scene and then our move to Lancashire in England where we were both a bit out of place, then Florida where we were VERY out of place and finally here to Big Stone Gap where we’ve made our home for twelve years, running Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore and becoming part of a real community.

It’s sometimes been difficult and there have been times when she has had to ‘explain things to me properly’, but that’s probably true of every meaningful relationship. We’ve been lucky and fortunate to have each other and to have so many good friends to help us along the way.

biltmore

She watches after me and makes sure I’m OK in every way – –

I loved her the first minute I saw her and still do!

 

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The Monday Book: THE SOUND OF HOLDING YOUR BREATH by Natalie Sypolt

breathThis book is out from West Virginia Press and I received a review copy for the Journal of Appalachian Studies. (I’m their book editor.) If anyone would like to review it for the Journal, please drop me an email or PM.

The short stories in Sypolt’s fiction debut are engrossing character studies. Most have wonderful characters who drive the plots around them. Siblings who see through each other’s deepest weaknesses. Young people who find reasons to stay or go. Nasty and nice Christians. In many ways, it’s like Sypolt took a classic Appalachian problem and wrote a “what if” story about it: what if you were gay and couldn’t tell your parents, but your elder sister knew because you fancied her husband? What if you were young enough to leave home and old enough to know you’d take your upbringing with you wherever you went?

Although you might be able to read the slim volume in a couple of hours, I recommend savoring. The prose is well-crafted, the words backlit with mountain sunsets. If it sounds like these are bib overall hayseed stories, think again. Stereotypes exist to be played with not to make the stories go. For instance, in one story of summer lake holidays, a boy aware of his beloved elder brother’s proclivities to violence suddenly finds himself seduced by the girl he thinks is pure. These are not easy straw characters. A preacher’s daughter finds nothing redeeming in her dad, but the way the story goes down gets complicated. Nobody gets off easy in a Sypolt short story.

If you are interested in Appalachian politics, culture, and families, you will find much to chew on here. If you like short stories that are well-written and character driven, you’ll love Sypolt’s debut. And remember, order it from your favorite local bookstore, not Amazon.

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