Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Daub A Cabin

From Julie Herczeg, historical interpreter:

We are so close to finishing the little 1740s Settlement cabin! Thanks to the whole slew of new part time folks, we've finally had the staff to complete the project we began four years ago. All we have to do is build up the chimney a few feet higher, and make a front door.

So how do you daub a cabin? Today, many historic homes with modern residents have long since replaced their daub with a concrete mix in between their logs instead of mud. We won't tell you which ones, but some historic sites cheat and do that too, because the walls don't need constant maintenance, and it helps keep a more comfortable temperature inside for visitors or collections on display. Daubing is also a dirty process, and there aren't many folks like ourselves out there willing to live in a mud pit for days on end.

Before you can daub, you need to cut up small slats of wood to place between each log. This is the chinking process. They should be set in on an angle, which you'll see in some of the later pictures. This is a very important step, as the chinking works as a support frame for the mud. 

If you want to do a proper historic daubing, you'll need to gather up some materials. First, find a bucket to carry water, and a sturdy pick or shovel. Don't use ones you like a lot, because they will get caked in mud. Make sure you clean off your tools at the end of the day, and be prepared to hide them quickly during the day, in order to prevent your curator from having a heart attack.
Next, find a nice spot to dig a pit, where you can get some good dirt with a high clay content. Straw is useful for binding your mud daub, so put a pile next to your pit.
Get some dirt loose in your pit, throw in some of your water, top off with a handful of straw, take off your socks and shoes, and you are ready to jump in! Just be careful, there may be sharp rocks. You can sift your dirt with a screen if you have a fear of cutting up your feet, or plan to have children/visitors jump in too. Sifted or not, hop in and start mixing that mud!
We are much indebted to the Augusta County Militia, a quality Revolutionary War living history organization, for volunteering and helping us work on this cabin. They generously came and built our chimney last Oktoberfest, and then stayed on an extra day after the 4th of July to start the daubing. They also kindly helped train one of our new part timers, whose first day in costume coincided with their visit.

You can probably start anywhere, but we started with the chimney. We plated the mud on some old broken wooden shingles. It's best to have at least one person working inside and one person working outside opposite the other, because some of the chinking or stones may not be as tight as when you first put them in.
 Pick someone who isn't claustrophobic to go inside the chimney to daub.  It helps if they're tall, they'll be able to reach higher.
The Augusta County Militia guys chose Will Gore, who also is a volunteer at our museum. Notice below, where he employs the "Smash and Smear" method of daubing.
 The ACM got our chimney half finished, but taught our interpretive staff some valuable tricks to getting a lot done in a day. We learned to embrace the mud.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Drew (my co-worker) and I continued the daubing, except for the top part of the chimney. We had some summer campers help us on a couple days, too, and while they happily figured out the "smash" part, we found that we needed to jump in and help with the "smear" part. But Drew and I carried onwards.

We got the entire front face of the house done in a day, the back face done another day, and the reachable portions of the north and south facing walls done too. This left us with the top of the gables, in the high unreachable areas.

Luckily enough, we just happened to have enough coverage on other farms to pull our blacksmith, Andy Perry, who built most of the Settlement Cabin four years ago, and another one of our new part timers, to complete the gables. It is necessary to have two people while you daub the reachable spots, but once you get ladders involved, you'll need to double your numbers to four- someone has to hand up the mud.

Now, if you know anything about period clothing, you'll notice we've all stripped down to our underwear. Your clothes will get caked in mud, and it was common back then in situations of intense labor or dirt for people to take off coats, waistcoats, jackets, etc. And the less that gets dirty, the less laundry you'll have to do in the morning!

Our system worked well for the south face wall, but we had to make some adjustments to get the outside north face daubed because of the chimney. Andy made himself a nice little seat, and got started. The two boys inside continued their system successfully.

The Frontier Culture Museum is a living history farm that believes in hands-on participation. We invite visitors to help us do flax processing, grinding oats, cooking, gardening, woodworking, and all sorts of other activities. Throughout the daubing process, I invited many visitors to jump in and join us! Surprisingly, no one ever took me up on the offer. In fact, most people laughed at us, in our mud-encrusted state. Nobody wanted to embrace the mud.

Nobody, until a young a fearless Jonna Reczek arrived! As usual, I invited some visitors to join us, expecting heart break once more, but alas! Imagine my surprise when one girl threw off her flip flops and hopped in the mud! We even warned her of the danger of rocks underfoot, but she trooped on. She not only embraced the mud, she became one with it. Thank you, Jonna!

 We finished daubing the cabin shortly thereafter. Once you finish your cabin, go inside, and take a few minutes just to enjoy the view.
Until next time.

Monday, July 23, 2012

From Julie Herczeg, historical interpreter:

Exciting news! I had been all ready to blog about us finishing up the Settlement cabin, but we've had some other surprises lately. There are new baby lambs!

We breed our English Cotswold sheep so that they all give birth in early/mid April. This way, we can shear off their wool afterwards, at the arrival of the hot weather. Every year, like clockwork, wobbly little baby lambs enter the world by the end of April.

Occasionally, one of the ewes may be late, so we give them until May before we give up hope. This year, we had two sheep who never gave birth. We sheared them, and moved them to a separate field with another sheep who lost both her twins. And we shook our fists at Ben the Ram for not doing his job very well this year.

Ben, we're sorry. Better late than never, right? Imagine our surprise, in mid June, when our blacksmith, Andy, was walking to the forge in the middle of the day, and saw a teeny tiny head peaking out of some tall grass. Baby lamb!

Little Oakley was born on June 11th. What a surprise! Although Daisy, our bottle-fed lamb, was still popular amongst the visitors, Oakley soaked up a ton of attention, too, especially once we moved him and his mother to the English cattle shed.

A month later... Our English farm interpreter, Sally, was filling up the water tubs for the other sheep left in that field, and discovered TWO little heads! The final sheep gave birth to a little ewe and a ram.

Unfortunately, the mother rejected her baby ram, Alfred. This happens for many reasons. For example, Daisy had gotten rejected after another mother licked her clean when she was born. Luckily, our interpretive supervisor has a lamb-loving family at home, and his house becomes a nursery for rejected lambs. His two young children are more than happy to bottle feed and play with the fuzzy guys to bring them back to good health. So Alfred is living with them right now, and hopefully the next time you hear about him, it'll be when he's recovered and brought back to the fields to become a sheep again.

Here are some photos of the baby ewe a couple days after her birth. I also got some of Oakley, and all the other April lambs. They grow up quickly, and the April lambs are nearly the same size as their mothers now. There may be some more photos on our flickr page.

Here's the little ewe girl, maybe 3 days old. 
Our little Oakley, at about 3 weeks.
For comparison, here's one of the lambs about 3 months old, standing in front of a mother.

Oh, hi!

That's all the lambs for the Cotswolds. No more surprise bundles of sheep-ly joy until next year!

Later this week, we'll show you a step-by-step instructional on how to daub your 18th C backcountry cabin. Prepare to get muddy. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Independence Day

From Julie Herczeg, historical interpreter, and reenactor coordinator for 4th of July:

A lot of things have been happening here at the Frontier Culture Museum! Summer is a busy season for us, and we are in the middle of grain harvests, summer camps, and exhibit construction. But we took a break from all the hard work last week to celebrate the 4th of July with festivities, games, and tasty foods down on our American farms.

In previous years, we've invited a small group of reenactors to come participate in our 1812 militia, but we added more this year for all the other farms too. They came from as far away from New Hampshire to Ohio to North Carolina! We had so many activities happening that it was near impossible to photograph them all for you!
 There were Cherokee on the hill of our new American Indian exhibit, and colonial traders set up with their trade goods out on blankets. I never did find out what kind of meat they ended up cooking. Deer? Bear? Groundhog? Yum.

The Augusta County Militia set up in the Settlement cabin, interpreting their role in the American Revolution and local military history of that era. They stayed the night on straw-stuffed mattresses, trying to avoid our resident skunk. No one smelled out of the ordinary the following day, so I assume they were successful. (photo by Dana Shoaf)

Floating around was young George Washington, fresh in his profession as a land speculator, even before his role in starting the F&I War. Humble and dignified, he spoke to visitors all day about his life, and posed for many photos with youngsters. (photo by FCM)

Most of the action happened on the 1820s farm, sometimes lovingly referred to as the Bowman Farm by our staff. Due to the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812, we chose to represent a 4th of July celebration in the early part of the war. The 1812 version of the Augusta County Militia did firing demonstrations, mended uniforms, and drilled. At noon, signaled by the blow of a conch shell (the Bowmans have one listed in their inventory!) our esteemed 1850s schoolmaster, John "Pogue" Pagano, began the reading of the Declaration of Independence, which was followed by a series of period toasts. The 1770s Augusta County Militia guys even came up and joined their later counterparts for the ceremony, and fired off musket volleys throughout the toasting. (photos by the FCM and Jill Pesesky)

For the rest of the afternoon, visitors played games and held competitions. There were graces, hoop & stick, sack races, pie eating contests, watermelon seed spitting contests, and sawing contests. (photo by FCM)
 Visitors enjoyed the music of our own FCM band, Wilderness Road, on the porch of the 1820s farm, and joined by our friend, Cheryl, of the band Shen Fine. It was bittersweet, because it was the last day of work for our fiddler, Russ, before moving off and starting a new life in North Carolina. He assures me he'll be back for special events! Russ' son came in on the banjo for part of the day. (photo by Cheryl Tobler)

Down at the early American schoolhouse, we featured story telling and school lessons. I recall hearing a few brief moments of the school lesson, in which John Pagano told the students he did not appreciate the drawing of him next to a pile of animal dung on one of the slates, and called up the offending student for punishment.

There were many things occurring on the 1850s farm across the road. Visitors first met Mark Bingham, a period photographer, taking ambrotypes and tintypes. Many people took advantage of the opportunity and got their image struck. I had mine struck on three occasions that day! (photos by Julie Herczeg)

The Atlantic Guard Soldier's Aid Society and the Liberty Rifles portrayed civilians during the American Civil War up at the house. The FCM staff pulled down a bunch of hams from our meat house for them to cook up for the other reenactors. Best ham EVER! They cooked up a feast inside the house, too. One of the folks acted as a phrenologist. He measured people's heads, and made guesses about their intelligence, cleanliness, and character. We also had three Federal soldiers and one Confederate portraying various regiments involved in Jackson's 1862 Valley Campaign for the 150th anniversary. (photos by FCM)

There was buck dancing down at the barn too, and there may be a video of them floating around the FCM facebook or flickr page.

The big excitement for me was my tableaux vivants show. It is a 19th Century form of entertainment, in which a narrator describes a scene, and the curtain opens to the actors frozen in place. The translation is "living picture." In between scenes and narration, Marc Hermann and I sang shape note songs, and a couple times we featured Russ on the fiddle. Posted below is a scene from Cinderella, The Boston Tea Party, Dolly Madison Saving the Portrait of George Washington, and Noble Virginia Leads the Way.

While we rehearsed earlier in the day, a photographer from the Staunton News Leader took a couple pictures of Taylor Shelby and Paul Luks posing for the Dolly Madison/George Washington scene. The photo got picked up by the AP Press, and has now been featured around the United States!
Here we are on CBS:

Overall, we had 1,789 visitors come out, despite the blistering heat. Everyone had a fantastic time, and we can't wait for next year! Thank you to everyone for coming out and celebrating a historic 4th of July with us!