Decoding Creativity:
Final Project December 2008
Penny R-C
i am that
extraordinary photographs of ordinary beauty

Objective

Right outside my door, up the road, along the stream or into the woods; the natural world, in all its perfection, is on display. It exists regardless of if I am there to observe it or not. A morning, in all its glory births a day whether my eyes are opened or closed. However, when I am observing, deeply seeing and attempting to capture light, color, form, the beauty contained in the perfection of even the most common or “simplest” expression of nature’s grandeur I have only myself and my feelings to guide me. As I look, I become. As I see, I am…that.
Art feeds and nourishes us. The natural environment can do the same. We, together with this planet, are at a critical point. Ellen Dissanayake addresses the survival and evolutionary purpose of art in her book, “What is Art For?” She states that since it has been a part of human evolution from the beginning it can’t just be for pleasure. Art has purpose and it is essential to our evolution and perhaps at this juncture, our survival.
It is my objective to create through the public presentation of compelling aesthetic images of the natural world an inner dialogue, transcendent of consciousness which allows the viewer an experience of opening to the humbling realization that simple, perfect, beauty seen outside is a reflection and therefore deeply connected to that which is inside. When I see beauty, when I am in awe of some magnificence, it is something within me that allows for that recognition. I want my art to close the disparity between “I” and “that”, to make the connection between that which is inside and that which is outside. I work with the principle that we cannot know what we don’t know. And conversely, we can only know what we know. We can know beauty but can we claim it and, more importantly, our connection to it?
In a local financial institution I will be installing windows to this connection. I wish to spark a remembering of our inherent unity. Art, ritual, and self-realization--now more than ever--are essential to discovering what we need to know, but more precisely, need to remember. This connection, this process of identification will invariably guide us down the path of sustainability and toward the regeneration that is essential to our survival on this planet.
I am printing small cards, half the size of a business card with an image on one side and contact information on the other. I hope to hang a piece of sheer fabric along the length of the wall. These elements are meant to add a tactile and textural component, deepening the invitation to feel something. I want bank patrons, children, adults, old and young, bank employees and cleaning people to step forward to see, to look…I want them to understand, feel the beauty, the complexity amongst the simplicity of the natural world and ultimately their connection and relationship to it. I want to mirror this intention on the internet by expanding the depth and breadth of blogging to reach into the internet communities.
As part of this objective, the opportunity for my personal self-realization cannot be underestimated. I have struggled to validate myself as an “artist.” In the recent past I have come to claim this description and identity. With this project I claim it in the world outside.

Design

The design of this project is composed of three parts. First is the exhibit of my photographs at the Bank of America in Bradley Meadows, Woodstock. Secondly is the expansion of my blog “Light with Love.” Lastly, with a look to the future, a list of marketing and outreach ideas that would expand the showing and distribution of my images in ways that support my experience as a photographer.

Photo Exhibit

· Decide on wall plan
· Select and title 10 – 12 photographs and develop
· Matt and frame prints
· Write artist’s statement
· Business cards with contact and blog address
· Book or pad for comments
· Hang show
Questions:
1. How shall I hang the fabric? Will it add or distract from the images?
2. How shall I present the business cards? Ideally I would like them to hang in a “nest” from the wall. I want them to be something that is alluring and needing to be ever-so-slightly reached for.
3. How can I make the leaving of a comment more inviting than a book on a table? Can there be a board? Is there a way to post it so comments are added to and seen?
4. How can I inspire other “amateur” photographers to approach non-gallery wall space to show their work?

Light with Love: Blog

  • Expand profile information to include philosophy and artist’s statement
  • Blog the process of hanging the show
  • Explore other photography sites to create wormholes and links
  • Complete other blog site (my trip to Mexico) and look for relevant wormholes expanding this blog, ultimately connecting both
  • Write comments about each of the images, as well as identifying location, species, etc.
  • Input tags for increased access to search engines
  • Build a myspace page to include my blogs, other interests and activities
  • Send email to my elists about my activities. Include friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, students
  • Find an “exchange” photographer of similar interests from somewhere outside of this continent to share photos of our neighborhood and life

Further & Next

For each of these ideas I need to explore my target audience and feasibility of project
  • produce and offer screen saver downloads from blog
  • approach businesses to offer the use of my images on their websites, in their offices, apartment lobbies, restaurants, hotels
  • approach local environmental organizations with proposal to use framed prints as gifts to donors. For example Hudson River Playback Theatre has given framed prints to people who have gifted $100 or more
  • approach organizations that send out daily “inspirational” e-messages to offer use of my images
  • reprint “i am that” a self-published book of images adding text describing my philosophy and inspirations
  • enter local and national photo contests, i.e. Scenic Hudson, Saugerties Times, National Geographic
  • talk to other photographers about what they’re doing
  • learn Photoshop and explore other photography training opportunities

Outcomes

Possible Negative Outcomes

I may not make the money I invested in framing.
Response is negligible and I have difficult feelings.

Positive Outcomes

I’m interested in selling my work and inspiring future exhibitions.
I share something profound to me in a way others can recognize something themselves.
I can use this experience to learn. There is always a first.
I have more time to take photos and work with images.
I continue to hang photos at public places and galleries.
I inspire others to take a walk with a camera and look at nature more closely.
I am invited to make contributions to benefit fund raising activities for not-for-profit organizations.
In the spirit of systems-thinking I selected as my final project a project I needed to engage in anyway. Immediately there was a dramatic expansion of the scope of the show when put against the final project criteria. I see that by making this choice I have saved time, energy and increased a level of commitment to something ripe and needing of attention. I am already happy for this choice and the enhancement this project has lent to the show and my experience of showing. This is “permaliving!”



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This is the link to Tasha's final project, Woodstock P.E.A.C.E.


My intent with my final project is to bring together the community where I live, in a way that would be beneficial to us all. At a time of great change and environmental urgency I feel strongly that we must ban together and try to help shape the future. I created a community weblog called:
Woodstock P.E.A.C.E. (Progressive, Environmentally, Aware, Community, Endeavor (OR: Eco-Revolution, Eco-Efficiency: doing more with less)

I created Woodstock P.E.A.C.E. to encourage conversations and community planning around the shaping of our local town. Such as; community gardening and green waste.
Intentional urbanism (or suberbanism) by planning bike lanes, community solar grids and car-pooling.

I now have a broader plan to create a website, in 2009, that would include a link to the blog. I think it will be important to aid with the growth of our community to have a central dynamic site that will support this movement.

Starting where I am, locally, is a great launching point. I dream that we can successfully lead and model for America a progressive town of the future. This medium (blog) is new to me and I enjoyed learning more about it as the class progressed. It seems to be a great way to organize and communicate with a group of people. The Interdependence Revolution is here!

This is from Diana:

SOAP MAKING
Diana Passante 12/4/08
Introduction:
One of my goals in life is to become a more ethical human being. Our culture teaches us to consume mindlessly. We don’t think about what we are consuming, how it may affect us in the long run, and how our consumption affects those around us. I made the decision to become a vegetarian based on health reasons as well as ethical reasons. I’ve read a lot about factory farming and am disgusted at the way animals are treated just so we can buy a hamburger cheaply. I’ve also done extensive reading on personal as well as household cleaning products and how they pollute our environment. Our soaps and shampoos are tested on animals and are also polluting. In general, I think learning to make soap based on vegetables will be useful as well as ethical, and will fulfill my desire to be creative.
In line with the principle ‘to be the change we want to see in the world’, I am trying to change the culture of our home and other parts of our life. My daughter has suffered from inflammatory eczema all her life, and now she is pregnant. Due to hormonal changes, her eczema has flared up. A while back, we attended a farmer’s market where hand made soap was being displayed and sold. When I found out that we could make our own soap using all vegetable fats, I was fascinated. When we originally spoke about our final project, I thought I would talk about our creativity as it relates to our dietary changes. However, between my daughter’s condition, and my wish to be a more ethical human being, I have decided to teach myself how to make soap. Learning how to make soap using vegetable products is a skill I have wanted to develop for a long time now.
This fulfills many purposes; I am learning to be more self-sufficient, making something that is aesthetically pleasing, and making a useful product that is healing for my daughter’s skin. With Christmas right around the corner, I think scented hand made soap will make a lovely gift. Most of all, by using vegetable oils, I am making a useful object that is not animal based, and is not tested on animals, which fulfills my desire to be an ethical human being. The main targets are my family members, but as potential gifts, many more people I know can be included. Eventually, I would really like to learn enough to make soap products that could possibly be sold at craft fairs and farmer’s markets. That would be so much fun!

Project Plan
Phase I
In my plan to learn to make hand made soap, I decided to start by using a pre mixed casting soap base. The purpose of starting with casting soap is to enjoy the exercise of making soap at home without having to gather the special equipment that is needed when making soap from scratch. This requires equipment that I don’t have at home at this time and will take time and money to gather. Also, from my research, I have learned that to make the soap base you must use lye which can be dangerous to work with. I’ve decided that, although I am determined to learn how to make soap from scratch, due to its potential danger, I am not going to rush the process. Using phases I and II will help me to learn slowly, while I gather all the necessary equipment. It will also allow me the time to find out if I actually like to make soap, and what I like and don’t like about this new skill.
Phase II
After I have learned various techniques using casting soap, I am planning on learning how to make soap from scratch using lye and different oils. Once I have mastered the technique of mixing my own soap base, I would also like to learn to make liquid soaps. If I learn this skill, perhaps I can segue into making shampoo. Eventually I would like to develop a soap that is healing to the skin, as well as fragrant and visually appealing. Some day, as a long term goal, I hope to make soap fine enough to offer up at craft fairs.

The Goal of this Project:
As I was doing the research on soap making, I was keeping my daughter and her needs foremost in my mind. Usually she can use soap that is sold commercially as pure glycerine soap. I was reading The Everything Soapmaking Book ,by Alicia Grosso, and I found a simple recipe using casting soap with oatmeal that I think will work well. The recipe that I am going to use in my first attempt at soap making is called Lavendar Oat Float. This recipe uses lavender essential oil and rolled oats that have been finely ground; although we are going to use baby oatmeal cereal as it is less abrasive. Oatmeal based soap is used widely by people with skin conditions and is considered very healing. Along with the oatmeal, I think the addition of lavender is a good choice because it is very fragrant and it has astringent and antiseptic qualities.

Timeline:
For the first few days, I read as much as I could about making soap. I used books and websites to get a general knowledge of how I could go about learning to make soap for the first time. I started on a Monday, and completed this task on Wednesday.

As mentioned above, I decided to use the Lavendar Oat Float recipe. I went shopping to get the following ingredients on Thursday:

Silicone cupcake pan to use for molds
Baby oatmeal (less abrasive than regular oatmeal)
Lavendar & peppermint essential oil
A package with 3 different soap colorants
Blocks of glycerine casting soap made from vegetable oils
We already have Christmas ribbon
Small binder with loose leaf paper to use as a soap making journal.
Spray bottle with rubbing alcohol.

On Friday and Saturday, I spent time going over my notes and visiting websites to see if I found any more information that I thought would be helpful. We chose to make our soap on Sunday because it is a quiet time in our house, and my daughter and I both had a whole afternoon that we could use for soap making.

The plan is to use a silicone baking pan as a mold, as well as a mold my daughter purchased. We will make 6 blocks of soap at first. For the first 2 I am going to make pure oatmeal blocks; I would like to be cautious about using essential oils and colorants until I see how my daughter’s skin reacts. For the next 2 I am going to add the lavender essential oil. For the last 2 I am planning on the addition of a colorant just to see how it looks. Once the first batch is done, we will be making up a second batch using peppermint essential oil, and red and green colorant. This second batch will be soap on a ribbon using Christmas ribbon. Considering the season, I think these can make great gifts!

Over the subsequent week, and before our last class, my daughter and I both plan on using a sample of the soaps, and recording our impressions. My hope is that the soap on ribbon comes out so nicely that I can bring them to class to display as my final project.
Notes and Outcome of soap usage:
We found out that you have to work quickly. The soap cools and becomes hard to pour. After adding the essential oil, don’t inhale the steam; it’s very strong. The oatmeal in the casting soap sinks to the bottom and gives the soap a tan hue. The spray with rubbing alcohol is used to spray the soap after pouring to get rid of bubbles. Spraying the soap with alcohol works well and if forgotten, you get big bubbles on the finished product. Working with peppermint turned out to be a little overwhelming, and I got tired of the scent after a while. My daughter loves everything peppermint, and as usual I loved the lavender. The soaps that we completed were a bit sticky, so even though casting soap is supposed to be wrapped in air tight wrapping, we placed the soaps in red tissue paper so they could dry out a bit. I have a bright green cookie tin that I placed the soaps in; the red tissue paper in the bright green tin is a nice look for presentation and is reflective of the season. One thing I learned is that you need storage and labeling well planned out. Once the soaps are mixed up, it’s hard to separate them and the scents start blending in together. My father was visiting from Florida the whole time I was working on this process. He was very interested and helped me with the last batch. The process of making soap is something that is easy to share and can be fun for a whole group of people. Actually, having more than one set of hands is probably the only way to get all the necessary tasks done on time.

Observations:
Soaps 1 & 2 Pure oatmeal
Very little lather
No dry feeling after using
Satisfying to use a soap that I made
Stephanie reported that this bar was not irritating to her skin, and her boyfriend Chet really liked it. He thought it felt nice on his skin.
She felt that her eczema did not really get better, but was not worse
I think she needs more than the oatmeal; she needs a soap with more emollients, especially now with winter rolling in.
Soaps 3 & 4 Pure oatmeal w/ lavender essential oil
I really love this one (lavender is my favorite).
I gave a bar of this one to my son and his girlfriend. Liza said she could smell the lavender on her skin all day and loved it. Derek said he liked the soap; he felt is was right in between ivory soap (very drying) and dove soap (leaves a layer of cream behind).
Stephanie liked this one and felt the scent was lovely. So far no reaction to the scent, which is great; she usually has to buy non-scented and non-colored soaps.
Soaps 5 & 6 Oatmeal w/lavender essential oil and colorant
My skin has no problem with colorants and I found the lavender shade aesthetically pleasing. As usual, the scent of lavender is so soothing. Steph said that the scented and colored soaps did not cause any problems with her skin. In fact, at this point, after several days of use, she said that her skin is starting to clear up. I still think she can use soap with more emollients in it, but it’s great to know that this first step has been helpful.
The overall experience was very positive. I already have a colleague that is asking for oatmeal soap for her daughter who also has eczema. She offered to pay, but since I am still learning with these first few batches, I think I will make some plain oatmeal bars for her and see how she likes them. After that, I am planning on my next experimental batch already.

Batch # 2 Plain Oatmeal bars that can be used by anyone. This can be accomplished in one afternoon.

Batch # 3 Clear base with Mica colorant to make a sparkly soap.

Soap Base –Bramble Berry Melt and Pour Base
1 lb. each of Clear, Plain white, Hemp, Aloe, Honey, Shea, and Goatsmilk (although this one makes me feel that I may be contributing to the mistreatment of animals).
A great way to try out different bases $20.00

Colorant – Mica colorants color to be determined
Possibilities: Honeyed Beige 1 oz. $4.50
Bronze 1 oz. $4.00

Scent – I am sticking to Lavendar right now, but I may try a honey scent next to use in a honey and oatmeal based soap.

This is a very exciting project. While perusing catalogs of supplies, I began thinking about making skin care products such as lip balm, mineral foundation powder and soothing lotions. My kids were laughing at dinner the other day when I told them I have already copied out several tooth care recipes for pastes and powders. They were laughing, but they were also putting in their orders for the first batches. This whole process highlights the fact that there is just not enough time in the day. If I hadn’t taken this class, I don’t know if I ever would have attempted this project on my own, but now that I have, I am so excited by possibilities; I can’t wait to start!

From Donna:

Donna launder able

Decoding Creativity-Final Project Paper


‘The Journey To, and Through the Slip Covers‘

As you may know, my final project idea has changed several times. It finally landed on making new slip covers for my living room furniture; and I love that Keiko encouraged us to "kill two birds with one stone," so I got to benefit my art, my home and my family, as well as present it as a final project for this class.

I want to begin by telling you that my home has always been a big part of my creativity and my favorite canvas for expressing myself. Our home is a pre-fabricated house. We are blessed to have a home, and I love interior design. ...I wanted to create a home that looked old and lived in like an old cottage, so I looked on to this prefab house as a blank canvas. The first thing I did was to create a fireplace by taking apart and reassembling an old table, an old bookcase and joint compound. (See photo). I created the picture over the faux fire place with my kids crayons during day power outage.

My interest in changing interior design keeps my housework interesting (when I get to it lately) I like being surrounded by things I love. It makes housework fun. You get to appreciate and caress your things as you clean them. ...Lately I rotate "things" instead of having everything out at once. It strengthens my appreciation for them and keeps my home spirited and alive for me (and hopefully my family too).

I have a few reasons for choosing this for my final project. Timing is that my old slip covers were worn and dirty. They are launder-able, but have endured so many launderings, that the seams are beginning to pull apart and they are faded. Secondly, the color scheme in my home is changing. Last year at this time I wall-papered a "portion" of my wall using upholstery fabric with ferns and shades of green. I covered over a wall-paper that was a tiny floral print with mostly burgundies and purple on a stark white background. I loved it, but we had been looking at it for 15 years so it was time for a change; and my husband loves the new room. He said it is his favorite incarnation of it since we lived here (since 1993) I think I agree with him; especially since I also got rid of of some extra furniture and opened up the space. It is more light and airy. ... I moved that furniture to a newly created family room that was a bedroom. Through my children moving out and moving back in, we were somehow able to salvage an extra room to spread out or read in.

To further explain the design of the room, I referred to covering a "portion" of the wall with upholstery fabric, and by that I meant the top 3/4 or so because the bottom portion of the outer wall is faux stone.

Since I have always loved stone walls and fire places I decided to create them. When I created this wall, I designed it and thought of it on my own. I have since seen similar designs on the home designs shows. ...I created a paper pulp with newspaper and water in the blender. I poured it into a bowl with some plaster of paris, and quickly ladled the pancake like batter onto old sheets and rags to create grey pancake like globs. On some I sprinkled just a little clear glitter to mock conglomerate type stones. When I had enough rock pancakes to cover my wall, I smeared joint compound on the wall and squished the "pancakes" into it, purposely letting the joint compound ooze out a little around the faux rocks creating a mortar effect. When this was done I wallpapered to the ceiling and and added a wooden slat of molding (that creates a little shelf) to finish it off and hide the seam.

When we purchased our furniture years ago, we wanted something practical. As much as my husband and I both love the look and feel of the overstuffed furniture, we wanted something kid and pet friendly, so we decided on the wooden slated mission furniture. It worked out well because it is very sturdy, and I can have new furniture any time I want just by covering it; AND, if I want that overstuffed look, I can add big bolsters and lots of big throw pillows.

In planning the design, I wanted to use the same fabric on my furniture that I used on my wall. I thought that would be a nice country look; but (and this is a big "but") I was afraid it would be too much print in the room; so I decided to cover the furniture with two different fabrics and make it reversible; using the matching upholstery fabric on one side of the couch cushions and a solid color on the other.

Not really consciously, but it seems the color scheme in my home goes through phases. It was once blue tones, then purple, now it seems to be taking on a country green. What I like about green is that it can be a backdrop for anything. I came to that notion by looking at nature. There are so many variations of plants, but in all of it’s shades of glory, green is always the backdrop for the blooms. It’s kind of like blue-jeans. Everything goes with blue-jeans. ...

I went to the fabric store at the perfect time. Everything was 50% off; still upholstery fabric can be quite costly, so I made a decision to buy the upholstery fabric I loved and a less expensive fabric for the solid color I mentioned; and it worked out perfectly. The upholstery fabric was marked down to $10.00 a yard. The solid green fabric was $1.99 a yard. I got 4 yards of each. There was exactly enough fabric left on the upholstery bolt that I needed. If I had wanted to cover the whole couch with it, there would not have been enough. To cover the matching chair I got 2 yards of a solid green fabric; same color and material blend (cotton/poly) but with a faint little fern embossing. It was also $1.99 a yard. It’s not a print. You have to be close to see the embossment; but I wanted that chair to be a little different while still being a good match. In all I spent about $55.00 on this project. (I already had a large stock of thread, so I didn’t have to buy any. )

I used the old covers as patterns; measuring cutting and and sewing. On the seat cushions I used old elastic for closure at the back. On the back cushions, I used quilter’s pits for closure at the bottom. If my mom had done it, she would have made zippers and such, but I create my own shortcuts and it works out fine. It stays in place and removal and replacement is easy. If I set out to use zippers, I would never finish them. ...The elastic I used was old, so I didn’t depend on it’s elasticity to hold it, so I made them long enough to use as a drawstring tie. My mother was seamstress, and since I also sew, I was the daughter to get her sewing machine and all of her supplies; so the elastic I used may have been older than I am.

It took me a full Saturday (8-9 hours) to measure, cut and sew covers for 8 large cushions, 2 bolsters, 2 small throw pillows and 1 large throw pillow; plus about 1& ½ to 2 hours spent purchasing the fabric on the previous Friday evening. I very much enjoyed the journey and the outcome. These covers are better made than the last ones I made; and I know that is because this one was for credit. For one thing, I reinforced all of the seams and raw edges with a zig zag stitch (though my mother would have used seam binding); but I am glad I had the inspiration of the grade to do it better than before because I am happy with the outcome. It will wear and launder better, and hopefully we will enjoy it for years to come. It feels good to have new furniture. I think my family appreciates my efforts and the love that surrounds them when they enjoy the room. I think my friends do to.
From Linda:
HOW TO BE POOR
And Lead a Rich Life

Preface

About a year ago, while making small talk with some young, single and male corporate accountants, I discovered that they were deferring indefinitely basic social activities, including dating, because they were convinced that it wouldn’t fit into their budgets. I couldn’t believe my ears. Severe hormone deficiency aside, why would healthy, attractive, intelligent, educated, and socially-adept twenty-somethings willingly forego normal, desirable social activities?
I asked them to explain. They responded by itemizing the cost of a typical urban dinner-and-a-movie date. By their detailed reckoning, an early evening’s entertainment could easily cost in excess of $100. I had to agree that the figure was exorbitant and would probably deter me from dating, were I solely responsible for bearing the cost of said date. Unsure of yuppie dating protocol, I raised the possibility of the woman shouldering part of the expense. “Dinosaur arms,” they said in unison. I looked perplexed. They demonstrated the dinosaur arms phenomenon: arms too short to reach into pockets. Apparently yuppie women are reluctant to bear any portion of the financial burden of romance.
As I began a stern lecture on the art of inexpensive romance, I saw the eyes of my audience glaze over and their faces assume that look of pity and contempt reserved for species on the verge of extinction. I knew that my pearls of wisdom were falling on deaf ears, so I devised a devious way to impart some wisdom; I promised them that I would send them one e-mail message per week, each describing a time-honored courtship activity that, if not actually free, could be pursued on a shoe-string budget. They agreed to this plan with all the enthusiasm that Ivy League-educated twenty-something professionals could muster for unsolicited advice from an old battleaxe office manager whose sole academic credential was a high school diploma.
But the e-mails found their mark. Some weeks the accountants received from me a voluminous e-mail describing courtship rituals used to success in wooing several generations of women. Some weeks they received e-mails detailing various other aspects of life among the income-challenged. Intended to be both informative and entertaining, they were presented in a light-hearted style laced with humor and illustrative anecdotes. It became a game. I composed the e-mails in my office down time, and sent them each Friday morning.
The accountants would reply from their various outposts in the field, some from the other side of the city and some from the other side of the globe. Most of the time, their replies were wistful, expressing sincere regret that they did not live in the era from which my advice was gleaned. Implicit in their replies was the notion that what had worked in another time and place would not necessarily work in our own time and place. Truth to tell, most of it probably would not. “Retro chic” was what one of the accountants called my advice. He had missed the point: it was never intended to be taken literally and applied wholesale to contemporary life. It accurately depicted rural American community life in the first half of the twentieth century. Although some of it could certainly be adapted piecemeal to Digital Age urban and suburban communities, it was meant merely to serve as a springboard for creatively shaping contemporary life. It offered a glimpse of a lifestyle unlike that of today’s mainstream consumerism, in the hope that the timeless principles underlying that lifestyle would guide present generations into the future.
Eventually my down time at the office became so scarce that I was forced to abandon my episodic e-mail advice. When I did, there were howls of protest from the field. My charges felt abandoned. One of them suggested that I incorporate the existing e-mails and those that I would have composed had time permitted into a book-length document for publication. With the current resurgence of interest in permaculture and the prospect of prolonged economic hard times, maybe this is the time to look back as we move forward. What follows is the first draft of a book outline. Because of the time constraint of our presentations, I’ve included only an abstract for the first few chapters.


Chapter I: Setting The Stage
The culture described in the following chapters is culled from my memory and those of family and friends, and is only as accurate as those memories. They recall key aspects of rural life in a Western Catskills hamlet of less than one hundred inhabitants, circa 1900 to 1965. It was an agricultural community comprised predominantly of both commercial dairy and poultry farmers and subsistence farmers, most of whom were related to each other by either blood or marriage and sometimes both. This made for a tightly-knit community sustained by the omnipresent beauty and bounty of nature. Although median household income was well below the national poverty level, not one of those inhabitants would have described himself as poor. They lived, as my father was wont to say, off the fat of the land. But it was also, in many other respects, a self-sustaining community where limited resources translated into abundance as they were multiplied, stretched, and shared by all through generous and inventive stewardship. The overarching aim of that stewardship was to provide essential goods and services at minimal cost to all within the community. Some details of that stewardship are summarized in the chapters that follow.


Chapter II: The Romantic Stroll
On the occasion of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, my paternal great-aunt and great-uncle shared with the gathered celebrants the story of their courtship. He would walk the two miles from his father’s dairy farm to his girlfriend’s parents’ dairy farm. Then he and his girlfriend would walk together two miles through the woods from her parents’ farm to a nearby resort town on a sizeable lake. At the lake they would take in the sights (high-spirited and fashionably-dressed New York City tourists swimming and boating). Then he would buy her an orange, and they would walk together the two miles back to her parents’ farm. Someone asked how long the entire date took. His reply: from milking to milking, which meant all day. Someone else observed that they must have walked damned slow. At the recollection, my great-uncle smiled slowly and my great-aunt blushed profusely. More need not be said.
The day he proposed to her, he surprised her by renting a rowboat when they reached the lake. My great-aunt rebuked him for such an outrageous extravagance. He assured her that he would never do it again. Then he rowed to the center of the lake and asked her to be his wife. Fifty years, four children, and eight grandchildren later, my great-aunt still maintained that the boat, though a nice touch, was an unnecessary expense. The walk, she said, would have been enough. And to this day, some variation of the romantic stroll remains the activity of choice for lovers on a budget.


Chapter III: Penny Socials
The penny social was one of the most common and popular methods of raising money for community projects and causes. Like most community events of the hamlet, it served a multiplicity of purposes. Since it has lately fallen out of favor, a brief description of the penny social is here provided. Members of the community (or sponsoring organization) donate prizes, which are then placed out for bid. Bidders purchase a card full of tickets (at a penny a ticket) with the same number printed on each ticket. The bidders then place tickets in cups beside the items they would like to own. Once all tickets have been placed, a master of ceremonies dumps the tickets for a given item into a cookie tin and shakes it well. A second person reaches blindly into the tin and draws out one ticket. The master of ceremonies reads aloud the number printed on the ticket, and the happy winner comes forward to collect his prize.
What made the penny social such a versatile and indispensable community activity was the nature of the prizes donated, which was limited only by the donors’ imaginations. They were almost always home-made (pickles, preserves, jellies, breads, and baked goods, or knitted, sewn, or crocheted clothing), home-grown (fresh corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, etc.), home-based services (from babysitting to wedding cake making to typing to housecleaning and carpentry), or, (most valuable of all) - intellectual property (heirloom recipes, original construction design blueprints, and family histories in story and/or diary form, to name just a few). Houseplant enthusiasts donated cuttings of their favorite exotic plants. Amateur botanists and horticulturists frequently offered one-of-a-kind plants derived from grafting, cross –pollination, and other forms of botanical experimentation.
The penny social was also a free publicity forum for businesses and prospective businesses. In a time when few married women worked outside the home, the penny social launched many a cottage industry by introducing the products and services of the fledging business to the community at large. In addition to being a sure-fire fundraiser and both a showcase and networking event for artisans, craftsmen, and business people, the penny social was an intergenerational fellowship affair. After the prizes had been awarded, cake and coffee was served as people caught up on neighborhood news. Above all, the penny social was a favorite evening of entertainment that literally cost just pennies.


Chapter IV: The Covered Dish Supper
Dating back to the pilgrims, the covered dish supper was ostensibly no more than a social gathering. The community came together for supper in the parish hall, each household contributing a home-made covered dish containing either an entrée, side dish, or dessert for which the lady (or man) of the house was known. The result was an all-you-can-eat buffet followed by an evening of spontaneous entertainment. Musicians sang and/or played instruments. Raconteurs told stories. Comedians told jokes. The food was guaranteed to be good; the entertainment was hit or miss. But, at the end of the evening, regardless of individual economic circumstances, all had been nourished by both food and fellowship. An economical date night, the covered dish supper was really an inexpensive and joyful form of welfare.


Chapter V: Flea Markets, Rummage Sales, & Peddler’s Fairs
Known collectively to the locals as “the sales,” weekend flea markets, church rummage sales, and seasonal peddler’s fairs are one vestige of the past that has not only survived but thrived. PBS recently ran a superb documentary that examines flea markets as a significant and enduring cultural phenomenon whose popularity can be explained in large part as a fortuitous union of eclectic buyers and sellers that traces its roots back to the open-air markets of classical antiquity.
The sales fuel the local economy while raising money for churches, schools, hospitals, charitable organizations, and voluntary community services that include the fire department and ambulance corps. Although organization of the sales can vary, the sponsoring organization usually sells space to vendors for either a flat fee or a percentage of the vendors’ sales. The sales give buyers a chance to find diverse one-of-a-kind items, from antiques and collectibles to gently-used clothing to original art and artisan-crafted goods, at bargain basement prices. Sellers find both free publicity and a ready-made marketplace for their goods and services.
As the PBS documentary notes, flea markets appeal to the masses and the reasons for that appeal are many and varied. Buyers interviewed shared their thoughts on the subject. Among their reasons for patronizing flea markets were: bargain hunter’s paradise; inexpensive adventure; opportunity to network with fellow hobbyists and enthusiasts; chance to discover new artists, artisans, and craftspeople. Sellers interviewed cited the availability of a relatively large marketplace at modest cost and the opportunity to network with vendors and public alike. In fact, the documentary concluded that, buying and selling activity aside, flea markets are social occasions where people from all walks of life can rub shoulders and have a good time; and it doesn’t have to cost a cent.


Chapter VI: Scavengers and Freegans
In her infinite wisdom, Mother Nature has recognized the need for, and value of, scavengers. Scavengers relentlessly perform their vitally important cleaning duty on land and in the sea. Yet their contributions to the well being of the planet go largely unheralded. And they are often viewed as unattractive, frightening, and disgusting creatures. So it is with freegans, the scavengers of human society.
Freegans are people who have a moral objection to purchasing goods and materials from their original makers and sellers. In fact, they have a moral objection to purchasing. Almost everything they need they get secondhand. Their “shopping” expeditions range from “borrowing” items left on the curb for pick-up by the sanitation department to shameless dumpster diving. Salvage is their middle name. Following their natural inclinations, many go into the salvage business. Their calling is reusing, recycling, and repurposing goods and materials discarded by others.
Elevating scavenging to an art from, Freegans are the ultimate green consumers. With incredible ingenuity, Freegans have their needs met with some of the finest garbage around. The planet is healthier for it and they are considerably richer for it.