A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, August 19, 2011

The Povey Brothers: Harbingers of Art Glass in the Pacific Northwest

Part of a window in the Elsinore Theater in Salem, Oregon.
Since there were no design notes found, it is unclear whether
this is depicting Macbeth or Hamlet (the Elsinore Theater
was designed and named for Hamlet's Danish castle.)

The Pacific Northwest is a Mecca for art glass.  Oregon has perhaps more than their fair share of glass artists and glass producers.  Nor is this a recent thing.  One of the most famous and largest art glass companies in Oregon was a bustling force in the years 1888-1928.  The Povey Brothers Studio, also known as Povey Brothers Art Glass Works or Povey Brothers Glass Company, was making windows for customers throughout the West.

Circa 1890 trade card.  Image courtesy of eBay.

Portland, where the Povey Brothers Studio was based, at the time had a population of 42,000.  Today Portland's population is closer to 585,000, and is home to many art glass businesses, and two well-known glass manufacturers, Bullseye and Uroboros.  In their era, Povey Brothers was known as the "Tiffany of the Northwest", and many of their windows can be found in historic buildings as well as in homes, businesses, and churches.  These are of incredible beauty and quality.

Oregon State Seal skylight in the courtroom of the Oregon Supreme Court
Building in Salem, Oregon (detail).  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

David Lincoln Povey founded the company.  His family had been in the stained glass business for generations and his father had immigrated from England.  David Povey formed the company with his brother John, who was the main craftsman while David did the designing.  Another brother handled the business end, and they had two sisters who also worked with them.  At their height they had 25 employees.

Top:  Detail of Lady Macbeth.  Bottom:  Detail of Polonius.
Both from the Elsinore Theater.

When David died in 1924 his sons took over.  They hired Albert Gerlach, who remained with the company when it was later sold to W. P. Fuller in 1930.  John Povey died in 1917.  Portland architect Polly Povey Thompson, David's daughter, had planned to write a book on the Poveys but died in 1994 before completing it.

Window from Old St. Peter's in the Dalles.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Windows from the Deepwood Estate in Salem.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The studio used a variety of glass - rippled, crackled, machine-rolled - buying much of it from Europe, but also from Kokomo in Indiana.  They used a lot of small, faceted pieces, known as "jewels", which is one of the distinctions of their style.  Many of their windows, particularly their religious ones, had painted glass pieces.  They also used a lot of clear glass for backgrounds, to allow what light was available to enter the building, as the Pacific Northwest is known for being overcast.

Top:  detail of Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern.  Bottom:  detail of the
Merchants of Venice.  Both at the Elsinore Theater.

Patrons at that time used stained glass windows as a show of wealth and status. Arts and Crafts style motifs were common, as were Art Nouveau.  One of the signature items in the studio's windows was dogwood, a popular selection for those styles.  David Povey designed almost all the studio's windows.  Residential designs were mostly of standard size, but the ones commissioned by businesses and churches were often imposing and so huge they had to be done in panels.

From the First Congregational Church in Portland.
Image courtesy of www.portlandoregondailyphoto.com.

At first none of their windows were signed, leading other glass artists to imitate and impersonate the studio's work.  In 1923, David Povey began signing the windows with the year of completion and "Povey Brothers Studio" on them.

Top and bottom from the First Congregational Church in Portland.

Many of their extant works are in buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is quite a distinction to have a Povey window, and they are frequently available for purchase for buyers who wish to obtain a piece of history, and a beautiful one at that.

This Povey window is available for purchase for $4,200 from this site.

Because of the workmanship involved in a well-done piece, and the price of materials and the time required, stained glass windows are still a luxury item.  The Poveys brought their craft from England and solidly established themselves in the U.S., carrying on and retaining a tradition that is still respected.  If you are in Oregon, you should visit these gorgeous works of art.

Images from the Elsinore Theater courtesy of this site.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gamelan - the Music of the Gods

A Javanese gamelan ensemble performance during a wedding in Indonesia.
Image courtesy of Gunkarta/Wikipedia.
A gamelan is a musical ensemble.  The name refers to a set of instruments as one entity, instruments that are made to be played together.  The word comes from the Javanese gamels, which means to strike.  Featuring a variety of instruments, and sometimes vocalists, it is a native Indonesian art form, commonly from the islands of Java or Bali.

A gamelan circa 1870-1891.  Image courtesy of H. Saltzwedel/ Tropenmuseum, Netherlands.

According to one myth, Sang Hyang Guru, a god who ruled as king of all Java in 230 CE, needed a way to summon the other gods.  He invented the gong, and when he needed to send more complex messages he added two more gongs.  This was the first gamelan set.  The role of the gong in gamelan is to keep the beat, although there are few craftsman that can make the large gongs that were once used.  Some of the oldest gongs are so revered that they are not played, and only approached through an established ritual.  In fact, all the instruments are sacred and treated thus.

A set of gongs at the Indonesian embassy in Australia.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The earliest known image comes from 8th century central Java.  The temple of Borobudur has a bas-relief of musicians playing drums, bamboo flute, gongs, chimes, and a lute.  This is perhaps the ancient form of the gamelan.  Today's gamelan would typically include metallophones and xylophones.

The bas-relief at Borobudur.  Image courtesy of Gunkarta/Wikipedia.

There were once varied styles, two of which were termed "loud" and "soft", related to certain traditions.  By the 17th century, these styles had mixed, albeit in different ways, allowing for regional distinctions to be recognized by listeners familiar with the genre.  No two gamelans are the same, however, and each is distinguished by what instruments, voices, and tunings are chosen.  For the most part, styles are categorized by geographic areas - Balinese, Javanese, and Sudanese.  Outside these main areas, gamelans have spread to Malay, Suriname, and the Philippines.

Gamelan often accompanies rituals, ceremonies, dance drama and puppet performances.  It is very important in rituals.  The music is so pervasive that there are some gamelans that are used in Catholic ceremonies in Indonesia.  Some pieces are recognized by the audience as starts and ends; when an ending piece is played it cues the audience that the concert is concluding.

A Balinese gamelan.  Image courtesy www.seasite.niu.edu.

Groups constantly revise their pieces, in keeping with the concept that music should grow and change, except for certain songs which are considered too sacred to improvise with. Most gamelan is performed in a concert setting, sometimes in an open pavilion with a roof or an open-walled community center on a platform that enhances the acoustics.  Traditionally, men and women play in separate groups, except female singers sometimes perform with male groups.

Tuning the gamelan is precise and particular to each one.  Instruments are often paired and tuned a bit apart to produce an interference beat, where the sound waves superpose each other, which affects the amplitude.  The intention in religious ceremonies is to lead listeners to a meditative state or to feel God's presence.

All bamboo Gamelan performs in Bali, circa 1989.  Image courtesy Samuel Wantman/Wikipedia.

Originally, gamelan was like an oral tradition and was not written down, but in the 19th century in some areas a distinct notation was developed.  This is only to officially record pieces, not for reading them.  Today a cipher system is used that was developed circa 1900 in Surakarta, called kepatihan notation.  This notation, and others based on it, record only part of the music, the rest relying on memorized patterns.

An example of a gamelan notation system.  Image courtesy of this site.

Many western composers and musicians have been influenced by gamelan. Although Claude Debussy heard a Javanese gamelan play the 1869 World's Fair in Paris, there is no evidence of influence in his work.  However, his contemporary, Erik Satie, who also heard it at the same venue, incorporated it into his composition Gnossienne.  Others, such as John Cage, Béla Bartók, Pierre Boulez, and Philip Glass to name but a few, also show its influence.  Even modern Indonesian groups blend it with jazz and even bossanova.

A Western gamelan ensemble.  Image courtesy of West Carolina University.

Gamelan is one of the rich treasures of Indonesian culture, and as more of the world becomes exposed to it, its influences promise to be an enriching experience for music lovers everywhere.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Up in the Nosebleed Section

"Mulligan drives the ball.  It's going, going and caught
by the shortstop.  Mets lose again.  Man, I haven't
seen play this bad since the days of Bob Uecker!
This is Bob Uecker, saying thanks for watching!"

Robert George Uecker

The farthest seats from the action in arenas and stadiums are called "Uecker seats". There is even a section of $1 seats at Miller Park, Milwaukee, where the view is obstructed called "Uecker seats".  This appellation comes from a Miller Lite commercial, where Uecker is told by an usher that he's in the wrong seat.  He states he must really have a front row seat, but it's in the nosebleed section.

The Uecker seats at Miller Park.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Called "Mr. Baseball" by Johnny Carson, Uecker was a former Major League Baseball player, first for the Milwaukee Braves, then the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, returning to the Braves who had moved to Atlanta.  He was just a mediocre hitter, finishing his career in 1967 with a .200 batting average. He was considered a sound defense player, and as a catcher committed only a few errors, ending his career with a .981 fielding percentage.  He is on the top ten list still for most passed balls in a season.

Images courtesy www.baseball-almanac.com.

He left his baseball career and went on to host two syndicated TV sports shows, "Bob Uecker's Wacky World of Sports" and "Bob Uecker's War of the Stars".   "Wacky World of Sports" became "The Lighter Side of Sports" and still continues, albeit with a different host, and is the longest syndicated sports show in TV history. He also wrote a book, The Catcher in the Wry, about his baseball career.

Uecker has also made a number of commercials, played a continuing role in the "Major League" film series, and was a father and sportwriter in the sitcom "Mr. Belvedere" in the 80s.  Although he remains most popular for his Miller Lite commercials, he famously made one for the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team where he designed new uniforms from a loud plaid pattern (as in the sports jackets he's fond of) for the team.  In 2006, the Admirals played a special event wearing those uniforms, which were later auctioned off for charity.

His big break in TV was in 1969.  Al Hirt arranged for him to appear on the "Tonight Show".  Uecker became one of Johnny Carson's favorite guests, and made over 60 appearances before Carson retired in 1992.  He also appeared with Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin, on Letterman's "Late Night" show, and as a host on "Saturday Night Live".

Last year he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame's Celebrity Wing.  He has been a ringside announcer and backstage interviewer for WWE events, and was the ring announcer for a pay-per-view match between Hulk Hogan and André the Giant.  In WWE's intro to each of their televised events Uecker's intro of André the Giant can be heard.

He was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998.  In 2001, he was also inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.  He won the annual Ford C. Frick award in 2003, given by the Baseball Hall of Fame to a broadcaster for contributions to baseball.  His speech has been called by the Milwaukee Brewers as "one of the most memorable speeches in Hall of Fame induction history".  In 2005, which was his 50th year in pro baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers placed a number 50 in their "Ring of Honor" for him.  Four years later his name was added to the Braves Wall of Honor, along with Hank Aaron and Bud Selig, among others, at Miller Park.

Uecker is also known for his philanthropic work.  He chairs a celebrity fishing tournament for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and helps raise funds for the United Performing Arts Fund, the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Fund, the Milwaukee Symphony, and is an advocate for organizations that fight cystic fibrosis and heart disease.

Famous for his self-deprecating sense of humor, the man has delighted so many.  As he puts it:  "Anybody with ability can play in the big leagues.  But to be able to trick people year in and year out the way that I did, I think that was a much greater feat."


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Newton's Mathematical Bridge

Punting on the Cam, approaching the Mathematical Bridge.
Image courtesy of Alan Fleming/Wikipedia, 2005.

The University of Cambridge, or Cambridge University as it is informally known, was founded by scholars in 1209, who left Oxford after a dispute with the townsfolk.  Graduates have won 61 Nobel prizes, more than any university in the world.  The university is composed of 31 colleges which are self-governing and independent, each having their own property and income.

Queens' College, Cambridge.  It is called the Queens' College (plural) because it was
founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou (Queen of Henry VI) and refounded in 1465 by
Elizabeth Woodville (Queen of Edward IV).  The full name is The Queen's College of
St. Margaret and St. Bernard, but it is commonly called the Queens' College.

Among the many esteemed alumni is Sir Isaac Newton.  There is a story about a wooden footbridge that links two parts of Queens' College over the River Cam. Legend has it that Newton designed and built the bridge without using any bolts or nails.  Further rumor is that at one point students and Fellows disassembled the bridge and tried to rebuild it, but were unable to do so without any fastenings - nails, bolts, screws.

Oldest known photo of the bridge, ca. 1853.  Taken by Thomas Craddack
while he was an undergrad at Queens'.  Image courtesy the Queens' website.

Despite facts to the contrary, the story persists, especially as a favorite to tell tourists.  The bridge is one of the most photographed scenes in Cambridge.  But the most blatant problem with the story is that Newton died in 1727, and the original bridge was built in 1749.

The original bridge in 1865.  Note the railings are leaning inward, and the
timbers are showing wear.  The repair only lasted 40 years.  Image from here.

The original bridge was built by James Essex the Younger to the design of William Etheridge.  It was repaired in 1866, and rebuilt using the same design in 1905, with one change.  The original bridge was stepped.  The rebuild was sloped to accommodate trolleys (this now makes it wheelchair accessible).  The college still has an old model of the bridge (with screws at the joints), which is presumed to be Etheridge's model from 1748.

Image showing sloped ramp, courtesy of www.bluffton.edu.

In the 1905 rebuild, teak was used instead of oak.  The work was done by local builder William Sindall.  The joints were fastened by nuts and bolts passing right through the joints, with the bolt  heads on the inside, thus visible. Since the original bridge had the fastenings visible only on the outside, that may have given rise to the rumors that none were used.

Easy to see why it is a popular subject to photograph.  Image courtesy of www.kaplan.com.

The timbers are arranged in a series of tangents with radial members to tie them together and triangulate the structure so that it is self-supporting. A tangent and radial trussing, technically, it is an efficient use of timber and has also been used for the supporting arches when building stone bridges.

Photo with tangential timbers highlighted.
Amazing that this rumor has lasted so long at the second oldest university in the English-speaking world, and one with an impeccable reputation.  But that says more about humans than it does the institution.  ;-)

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Yunnan Baiyao

Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks balance.
Image courtesy of this site.

We were driving through east Washington one August, spending the day trying to get to the Oregon coast, which we finally did.  But my sinuses were not happy with the change from dry air to moist, and I started bleeding.  As we passed a strip mall we saw a van with people taking huge boxes of shitaki mushrooms into a Chinese grocery.  As we were heading back to So. California the next day, we stopped to check them out.

Image courtesy of www.chinancient.com.

As we were examining the wonderful little store, which had an eclectic selection of all things Chinese, my husband inquired about my nose.  I told him the bleeding had stopped for now.  The little female proprietor grabbed a box from a shelf and ran over and thrust it at me, claiming that I needed it.  It turned out to be Yunnan Baiyao, a Chinese herbal medicine famous for stopping bleeding, among other things.  We spoke with her for a while, bought the inexpensive pills (and a lot of mushrooms) and have since become firm believers in its abilities.  It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to stop bleeding and heal wounds.

The man who developed this herbal formula was a practitioner of Chinese medicine.  He lived in Jiangchuan County of Yunnan province.  Yunnan is a province of China in the far southeast of the country, bordering Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.  It is a mountainous area that is rich in natural resources, and has the largest diversity of plant life in China, some 17,000 of the 30,000 species of higher plants.  ("Higher plants" are vascular plants that have lignified, or woody, tissues for conducting water, minerals, and the sucrose from photosynthesis through the plant.)

Yunnan Province is in red.   Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Qu Huangzhang explored the entire Yunnan region, and tasted the hundreds of herbs.  In 1902 he formulated "Qu Huangzhang Panacea".  He donated more than 30,000 bottles to the Chinese army when they fought the Japanese in 1938, and the reputation of the compound spread.  After his death, his wife donated the secret formula to the government.  It became known as Yunnan Baiyao, which means "white medicine from Yunnan".

Qu Huangzhang.  Image courtesy of Yunnan Baiyao website

It was used by the Vietcong to stop bleeding during the Vietnam war.  According to a recent edition of the Materia Medica, a very old body of work on the therapeutic properties of healing substances (which has been translated and updated continually through its history), captured Viet Cong and Vietnamese prisoners were often found with a small bottle of it.

A very old edition of the Materia Medica in Chinese, written by Li Shizhen
 1593 (Ming Dynasty).   Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The main ingredients are steamed and raw ginseng (used to normalize blood flow, enhance poor circulation, and heal internal bleeding in injuries and bleeding ulcers), and Rhizoma Dioscoreae, a plant related to yams.  The two ginsengs are combined with astringent herbs that absorb excess bleeding and invigorate the blood,  which include myrrh and dragon's blood.  Myrrh is a natural gum, a blend of essential oil and resin, and is used in many different medicinal traditions for circulatory problems.  Dragon's blood is a resin that can come from a number of plant genera, and helps heal wounds and stop bleeding.

Drying ginseng.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The exact formula is a closely guarded secret.  It is produced now by the state-owned Yunnan Baiyao Group in Kunming, a company that researches, develops, and manufactures mostly traditional Chinese medicinal products, as well as handling the wholesale and retail business.  There are 13 teams that make up the separate herbal ingredients, none of which know what the others are mixing. The components are then combined by yet another team, who have no knowledge of what is in the parts, but just the correct proportions to use.

Image courtesy www.hudong.com.

The herbal concoction is not habit-forming.  It can be taken internally or sprinkled directly on a bleeding wound, followed by pressure.  Some veterinarians suggest its use for animals.  A small red pill comes in some packets, which is for shock, but only severe cases.  Some doctors and practitioners suggest swallowing the red pills before surgery, along with regular doses of the regular pills.  They do not interfere with anesthesia or antibiotic drugs.
Red pill shown on top of packet.

It should not be taken or given to people or animals with cancer, however. Although not proven, there is a danger that the increased blood circulation that the pills provide could spread cancer cells.  It should also not be taken by pregnant women.  It is best to leave a two-hour margin before or after eating cold or raw foods, since they require extra digestion which would slow the action of the herbs.

Image courtesy of www.chinancient.com.

Yunnan Baiyao can be found in Chinese herbal shops, some health food stores and pharmacies, and online.  It also available in aerosol spray, powder, tincture, and plasters, as well as the capsules.  A trial at Kunming Medical College showed that the efficacy of the product was 99.2%.

It's pretty common knowledge that a lot of drugs have their roots in plants. Ongoing searches for new drugs generally start with plant derivatives.  Here's a safe and beneficial way to use plants, without the often outrageous costs of pharmaceuticals.