Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Wedding Photo: Lidoriki Object 116

In Summer 2016, a team of students photographed 136 objects from the Lidoriki Folklore Museum. Lizzy Wood, among the students, is currently working up this collection into a digital exhibition and catalog. Our process of writing up an academic catalog entry for each object involves an open-ended on-line conversation about what makes these objects interesting. Lizzy has given me the challenge of writing down some first thoughts. Here it goes.

A wedding photograph signifies the penetration of technological mediation in the lives of rural Greece. Portrait photography became a fundamental medium in late-19th-century socializing, through visitation cards, wedding or funeral images. Photographic studios opened in Athens but their story in provincial towns (like Amfisa) is less known. Photography played an additional pre-wedding role in Greek life through the phenomenon of “picture brides” during the
 great emigration of the 1890s-1920s. Single male immigrants in the U.S. had no access to eligible females. Co-patriots would send photographs of eligible brides from back home. These arranged long-distance marriages were the subject of a 2004 film Brides. This, of course, is not unique to Greeks and continues to play a courting role in migrant laborers across the globe (digitally).

But this is not a photo-bride, but a commemoration of the wedding day. It was most likely not taken on the actual wedding day, so it repeats the dress-up of that momentous event. The long exposure required in early photography necessitated the special lights that only a photo studio could make possible. Most of the early portraits are staged at the photo studio. Without electricity in homes, you could not have domestic interior photography until much later. Photo studios became both the place and the artistic agent for photography. In this process, the photo became an advertisement of the studio, which is why the studio is so prominently marked on the photo. Isn’t it interesting that the names of the wedding couple are not commemorated (and hence forgotten) but the name of the studio that photographed them is?

A few words about the studio. The studio of Euthymios Macheras was a prominent (perhaps the only) photographic studio in Amfissa, the closest city to Lidoriki. The Hellenic Literary and Historical Archive contains a number of the studio’s photographs of couples, children, urban scenes (available digitally here). We have no date for the wedding photo, but it fits in the 1910-1930 range. If we did a thorough stylistic analysis of the wedding fashions, we might be able to narrow the range. 

The “Euth. Machairas. Photographic Studio, Amfisa” label at the lower right corner is interesting as a work of graphic design (my sketch left). It uses cursive, ornate letters for the name of the proprietor, but technocratic capital letters for the declaration of function. Graphically, it is a hybrid of artistic flair (top) and bureaucratic regularity (bottom).

Rather than looking at the most obvious – the objects, clothes, insignia of ceremonial dress – I look at clues on the architectural setting. My sketch (left) is a projected ground plan of the photographed space. Looking at the lower part of the portrait, one sees two courses of stone and a carpet. This is clearly not an indoor studio setup up but a photo in front of an actual house, and, even more, a house with a side-walk, so an urban house. What is puzzling is that there is no vertical house wall on the background, which is white. It seems to me that the photographer draped a cloth over the front of the house to create a blank slate. Now this is interesting in that it turns the street into a studio. The photo looks like a professional studio installation, but it was taken outdoors. A close look at the ground information also shows a textile draped over the sidewalk and placed right in front of the couple’s steps. During the ceremonial walk of wedding couple from their homes to the church, villagers used to drape the streets with carpets so that they never stepped on anything but a domesticated soft surface (think red-carpet at the Oscars). The striped fabric in front of the couple is such a carpet. Its striped design is visible, showing the parallel mechanism of the loom production. Although the carpet is traditional, the form of commemoration (photography) is modern as are the shoes that will step on the traditional carpet, most fashionable white high heels for the bride and shiny dressy black shoes for the groom. How does this help us reconstruct studio practices in Greece. First, it suggests that urban photo studios travelled outside of the studio and took wedding photographs in-situ. If the photo was indeed taking in Lidorki, then it would have been taken along its main street that would have included a side-walk. Second, the itinerant photographer brought along a fabric that they hang over the front of the house to disguise its architectural specificity, focus attention on the figures, and make it look as if they stepped into a studio.

Paradoxically, this is exactly how we took photos of our Lidoriki objects. We hang a plastic sheet that was backed with a photographic white fabric. Here, you see, our impromptu photo studio from the Lidoriki Folklore Museum.

Finally, I am intrigued by the frame. It is divided in two complementary zones, a smooth lacquered wood inside that transitions smoothly into the glass, and a carved wood outside that comes from the world of painting. The outer frame is not machine made but carved. It includes patterns of roses, florets, and leaves (detail sketch above).

Monday, January 25, 2016

My Karkavitsas Year 2016

The rural landscape of Greece was articulated as a literary category by the demotic writers of the 1880s. Before them, the landscape was monopolized by the thick lenses of the western travelers. Obsessed with the classical polis, new Greece spent its early energies in building an enlightened cosmopolitan metropolis. Greek intellectuals made a very delayed discovery of their rural culture. In contrast, European Romanticists had made folk culture a prime subject of research half a century earlier. Paradoxically, French antiquarians recorded Greek folk songs in advance of the native intellectuals. The systematic turn towards the peasantry in the 1880s was more than an aesthetic maneuver, but an ideological historical world-view rooted in a new scientific discipline. The writing of fiction, short stories in particular, was integrated into an ethnographic methodology. The short story emerged as a genre whose mission was to capture the psychology of this newly discovered rural Greece. The journal Estia issued a short story competition in 1883 with the objective of capturing the psychology of the this other undiscovered rural Greece.

The intellectual history of 1880s demoticism and its relationship to genre writing and ethographia has been well written (see Roderick Beaton, Introduction to Modern Greek Literature; Gregory Jusdanis, Belated Modernity and Aesthetic Culture; Artemis Leontis, Topographies of Hellenism, and others). Beyond the better known Generation of the Thirties, the generation of the 80s is the most noteworthy moment in literary history. 

I've always wondered how this generation of realist writing intersects with the contemporary landscape and architectural reality. If the short-story writer of the 1880s was also a hybrid scientist, then fiction becomes partial recording. But even if those factual recordings are completely fictional, they are worth a second look because they constructed the literary imagination that informed the ethnograhic work carried out by a well-knit group rallying around the cause of a demotic language.

For a long time, now, I've been thinking about reading Modern Greek fiction systematically to extract the particulars of the 1880s idyllic imaginary of the Greek landscape. As I try to reconstruct that late-19th-century landscape archaeologically, the literary excursus would be an interesting comparison. The interplay between fact and fiction, or base and superstructure, might achieve in modest ways what Raymond Williams accomplished in The Country and the City (1973). Williams demonstrated that the British's novel's representation of an idyllic landscape was integrally connected with the exploitation of that landscape, particularly the shift from agrarian to capitalist economies. Literary historians have tended to see the Greek landscape more statically, as a simple binary of traditional/modern and rural/urban. Historians (like Tom Gallant), anthropologists (like Sue Sutton), and survey archaeologists have complicated Greek landscape history. How does this nuanced history of the 19th-century landscape changer our readings of 19th-century literature?

Three writers come to mind as the best choice for systematic reading. First, Kostis Palamas, as the first naturalist, and the earliest Greek author to share John Ruskin's analytical interests on the landscape. Second, Alexandros Papadiamantis, the most prolific of vernacular short stories. And, third, Andreas Karkavitsas. This year, I have decided to focus on Karkavitsas. I am not starting wtih Palamas because his poetics are too grandiose and not specific enough for specific fruits. And between Papadiamantis and Karkavitsas, I've chosen Karkavitsas because I am more familiar with his geography (Peloponnese, Central Greece) than Skiathos Island. Karkavitsas grew up in Lechaina, Eleia, whose villages I have surveyed with the Morea Project. His corpus of short stories is shorter than Papadiamantis, too, which is a good thing. So, in 2016, I hope to read all of his 70-some short stories.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Greek Arts and Crafts Digitally Curated

Greek villages have been experiencing a continuous (and occasionally dramatic) process of abandonment since 1893. Intellectuals of the 1920s (Angeliki Hadjimihali, Antonis Benakis, etc.) responded to this crisis by collecting Greek arts and crafts, establishing museum collections, and writing the first scholarly monographs. The Benaki Museum, the Ethnographic and Folklore Museum of Athens, the Stathopoulos Room at the American School of Classical Studies, the Nauplion Folklore Museum and many others testify to this first wave of scholarship.

In the 1960s, Greek village communities began their own efforts to save their arts and crafts by establishing local village repositories. Taking stock of what happened to prestige villages like Metsovo or Monemvasia, these communities imagined their folk heritage as a possible generator for small-scale tourism. Prestige villages are the product of capital investment and philanthropy by particular patrons (whether Greek or non-Greek). That magnitude of operation is rarely an option to every Greek village.

Although there is no official count, there are hundreds of these repositories, lovingly curated by village elders and intellectuals. They typically occupy a room of a "community" or "cultural center" (πνευματικό κέντρο) often a preserved abandoned house. These ad hoc museums are the most interesting manifestations of local curation and civic engagement in Greece. What is sad about them, of course, is that they will never function as proper museums. First, they have no financial resources or staff, and second, they are too remote and ordinary to solicit tourism. It's important to note that since cultural heritage is managed predominantly by the Greek state, there is little know-how on the interworking of heritage management by the Greek citizens (no educational programs, or vehicles for experimentation outside an increasingly bankrupt state). As a result, the citizen curators of village museums tend to range from idealistic to impractical or fatalistic. The passion for this civic philanthropy, moreover, is ending with the current generation of retirees. There are no indications that anyone under 50 shares their passion or the local links to a particular village. Younger Greeks tend to think more globally, about the environment, globalization, a multicultural Europe, neoliberal economics, etc. 

So what will happen to these local museums?

In the last few years, a group of American and Greek students have been studying late medieval and early modern villages in the area of Lidoriki. In Summer 2016, we turned the Lidoriki Folklore Museum (above) into a photographic laboratory. A group of students from Maryville University (St. Louis), Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster), and the National Technical University (Athens) inventoried 138 objects. The objects were photographed professionally, and a smaller sample (about 12) were photographed three-dimensionally. The students presented their research at the Annual Meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America in San Francisco this month: Shelby Beiermann, Sara Loynd, Austin Nash, Nicole Thompson, and Elizabeth Wood, "Artists at Aigition: Documentation, Design, and the Investigation of Rural Villages."

Following the first scholarly presentation of last summer's season, we proceed with the next phase to curate a digital museum for the 138 objects that we have recorded. Franklin and Marshall student Lizzie Wood was one of the two students that photographed the objects of Lidoriki. The picture at the top shows Lizzie brainstorming on how to photograph a wool military coat. This semester, Lizzie is embarking on an independent study to create a digital museum of the 138. Shelby Beiermann has already processed some of the images into 3D models. See, for instance, two wool spindles [here] and [here], a tsarouchi [here], a scale weight [here], and a bugle [here].

Lizzie will have to sort the material and write informative entries for each piece, while also learning the software Omeka with which she will design a digital exhibition. If this works well, we hope it becomes a model for other local folklore collections throughout Greece. Next summer, we hope to also tackle some of the more established folklore museums with this technology. We plan to 3D-model objects from the Angeliki Hadjimihali House, a folk arts museum operated by the city of Athens.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

From Greek Village to the American City: Archaeology of Immigration

Franklin and Marshall College has a generous policy for faculty and student collaborative research. Every summer, I bring 1-3 students to do archaeological fieldwork with me in Greece, Philadelphia, Lancaster, or North Dakota. Building on such work with students, I propose the following plan of research for this summer. Here is my Hackman Faculty Grant application. See my report from two years ago, last time I applied for funds [here]

The image [R] is the inscription on a 1908 house in Leontio, Peloponnese, marking the American journey that its proprietor took to build the house.

From Greek Village to the American City
The Archaeology of Immigration

The Deserted Greek Village Project is an archaeological survey of late medieval and early modern villages whose abandonment began in 1893, after Greece's first major economic collapse. Between the 1890s and the 1920s, one in every four Greek men of working age migrated to the United States as a result of this economic crisis. These immigrants created new “Greek towns” in American cities, while also sustaining the villages back home through remittances. The study of material culture (objects, buildings, urbanism) of this phenomenon is by necessity a transnational project. This summer, we will turn our research to the study of both deserted Greek villages and the American Greek towns of the early 20th century. The fieldwork is divided into two parts: Two weeks of fieldwork in Greece, and four weeks of fieldwork in Pennsylvania. The team will include two F&M students, Elizabeth Wood (’17) who participated in last year’s field season and Cassandra Garison (’19). Wood will investigate domestic objects and Garison will investigate the houses of the project. Although working together, the two students will diverge in primary sources and methodology, a digital museum exhibition for Wood’s objects and a GIS database for Garison’s buildings. Both students were in my House Archaeology (ART 279) seminar last semester and have demonstrated both excellence and the desire to collaborate.

All three of us will travel to Greece and work collectively for two weeks. We will continue our documentation of the Lidoriki region with drone aerial survey, 3D modeling, GIS mapping, oral histories, and museum curation. Last summer we targeted the deserted village of Aigition and its objects and presented the results of this research at the Annual Meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America in San Francsicso. Our student Lizzy Wood ('17) presented a separate co-authored poster session at that meeting. This summer, we will submit an article for review in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology. While in Greece, we will also discuss contemporary migration by visiting refugee camps established for Syrian asylum seekers.

The Pennsylvania component of our research will take place at the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia, and the Digital Harrisburg project at Messiah College. We will target three Greek towns in southeastern Pennsylvania: Harrisburg, Lancaster, and Philadelphia. With the assistance of Digital Harrisburg (that has already mapped its Greek town), we will map the Greek towns of Lancaster and Philadelphia by linking census data from 1900-1940 to individual properties. While identifying the buildings into which Greek migrated, we will also catalog contemporary objects and records from the Philadelphia diaspora (housed at the Greek American Heritage Society museum and the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies). The questions we will ask are how did rural Greeks from mountainous villages transition into row houses of eastern Pennsylvania? What kind of material culture did they bring from Greece, and what kind of material culture did they send to Greece? Most ethnic groups migrating to the United States did not leave extensive textual sources. The first generation of immigrants, even if literate, spent its resources as laborers rather than intellectuals. Material culture, thus, offers a unique window into a transnational experience.

I initiated the Deserted Greek Village Project in 2014 with the support of a Hackman Research Fellowship and the assistance of students Joel Naiman ('15) Hackman Fellow and Joanna Radov ('16) Summer Research Fellow. Elizabeth Wood joined the research as a Summer Research Fellow in 2016. Based on those experiences, Naiman is currently pursuing a Master’s in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania, and Radov is exploring graduate studies and scholarships post-graduation. Wood’s co-authored poster at the Archaeological Institute of America was the first time an F&M presents research on this national forum. This semester, Wood is taking an Independent Study, where she will design an online exhibition for the 136 objects that she recorded in the Lidoriki Folklore Museum last summer. Garison has already done demographic mapping of Lancaster census data for my House Archaeology seminar and will be learning GIS this semester.


Biermann, Shelby, Todd Brenningmeyer, Sara Loynd, Miltiadis Katsaros, Kostis Kourelis, Austin Nash, Nicole Thompson, Elizabeth Wood. 2016. “Artists at Aigition: Documentation, Design, and the Investigation of Rural Greek Villages,” Poster Session, 117th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, San Francisco, January 7, 2016.

Brenningmeyer, Todd, Kostis Kourelis, and Miltiadis Katsaros. 2013. “The Lidoriki Project: A Historical Topography,” Sixth Annual Congress, Science and Technology for the Safeguard of Cultural Heritage in the Mediterranean Basin, Athens, Greece, Oct. 25, 2013.

Brenningmeyer, Todd, Kostis Kourelis, and Miltiadis Katsaros. 2015. “The Lidoriki Project - Low Altitude Aerial Photography, GIS, and Traditional Survey in Rural Greece,” Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) Annual Conference, Sienna, Italy, Mar. 30, 2015.

Brenningmeyer, Todd, Kostis Kourelis, and Miltiadis Katsaros. 2016. “Drones and Stones: Mapping Deserted Villages in Lidoriki, Greece,” 117th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, San Francisco, January 8, 2016.

Kourelis, Kostis. 2008. “The Archaeology of Xenitia: Greek-American Material Culture, 1873-1924,” in Archaeology and History in Roman, Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece: Studies on Method and Meaning in Honor of Timothy E. Gregory, ed. Linda J. Hall, William R. Caraher, and R. Scott Moore (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 411-453.

Kourelis, Kostis. 2008. “From Greek Revival to Greek America: Archaeology and Transformation in Saint George Orthodox Cathedral of Philadelphia,” New Griffon 10, pp. 28-36.

Kourelis, Kostis and William R. Caraher eds. 2010. The Abandoned Countryside: (Re)Settlement in the Archaeological Narrative of Post-Classical Greece, special issue of The International Journal of Historical Archaeology 14:2 (June 2010)

Kourelis, Kostis and Vasileios Marinis. 2012. “The Immigrant Liturgy: Greek Orthodox Worship and Architecture in America,” in Liturgy in Migration: Cultural Contexts from the Upper Room to Cyberspace, ed. Teresa Berger, pp. 155-75, (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press), pp. 155-175.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Leon Von Ossko: Part 2

Who would have thought that Lancaster, Pa. is a haven for Orientalist drawings? Back in February, I had posted about the Hungarian baron Leon Von Ossko, who fell in love with a prominent Lancasterian in Florence and moved to Pennsylvania. Franklin and Marshall College's Phillips Museum has one of his drawings in its possession, through the college's Breneman/Peart/Brockius family donations.

The beauty of blogging is that it allows you to be a temporary expert on a topic that little has been written about. While cataloging her art and thinking about framing some pieces, Bettina Heffner of Lancaster came across a drawing that a friend had given to her family in the 1970s. Since the artist's signature was hard to decipher, Bettina asked her friend Joanne Stephen, a calligrapher, to help her out. Joanne made out most of the letters of Von Ossko and simply googled the name to get more information, and lo and behold my posting "Leon Von Ossko: Lancaster's Orientalist" came up. Bettina then contacted me and we started communicating over email.

Today, we finally had a chance to meet. Bettina came to the Phillips Museum with Joanne to see the Von Ossko in our collection and brought her Von Ossko to show us (shown above). This chance meeting turned into a fabulous art-historical seminar, joined in by Lindsay Marino (the museum's collections manager). The Heffner Von Ossko is vividly similar to the Phillips Museum Von Ossko. Both depict a street scene in Cairo although illustrating a different mosque. The style is similar (pencil drawing and water color) and clearly belongs to the same group. The ingenious Ben Anderson, professor of art history at Cornell University, has identified the monument as the mosque of Amir Aytmish al-Bajasi. When I asked Ben, how he identifies these Mamluk mosques so well, he modestly said "every dome is different."

Whereas only a few months ago, we had an odd Orientalist work at our museum, we now how a family. Two drawings do not a show make. Nevertheless, they give promise of a line of Orientalist inquiry to be further developed in Lancaster studies.

Thank you Bettina and Joanne for sharing your work. 

Monday, November 02, 2015

Keat's Fancy Mantel

The Anglo-American fireplace is tightly intertwined with literature. It locates the act of reading while dislocating the domestic belonging. A collegiate fireplace at the University of Pennsylvania inscribes that tension in stone. Two youngsters William C. Hays and Milton Medary designed the oldest American student union with their professor Frank Miles Day. Houston Hall is a Tudor Revival building (modeled on the 17th-century Peacock Inn, Rowley). Its main hall is flanked by two large fireplaces carved in limestone. A band runs over the eastern fireplace that contains a running stanza from Keats 1820 poem Fancy.

"Sit thee by the ingle, when
The sear faggot blazes bright,
Spirit of a winter's night"

The heavy mantel becomes a didactic device for escaping the home through fancy. "Ever let the Fancy roam, Pleasure never is at home" is the poem's central message. Stuffy as this collegiate gesture may seem today, it contains an element of dislocation. The meaning of faggot has greatly changed over the last century from its original medieval French import into the English language. A bundle of sticks burns below a bundle of ripples. The blazing reality around which the readers bundle generates a conversation or an exit strategy.

The inglenook (literary "a corner of fire") became an obsession in British domestic architecture. Is it possible that the British hearth imaginaire could be transported to Greece? This blog, remember, explores the vernacular associations of Greek villages. If not directly, British domestic ideals would have passed to Greece through Germany, specifically through Hermann Multhesius. Published by Wasmuth press in Berlin in 1904, Multhesius's monograph The English House put British vernacular at the center of modernism. Just five years later, Wasmuth would publish Frank Lloyd Wright's famous folio that made him an instant celebrity among modernists (while still hated by Americans). While admiring the English house immensely, Multhesius cannot help himself but make fun of the British for insisting on fireplaces even as they all understand how totally inefficient they are.

I could not resist making a quick sketch of this literary marriage in stone at Houston Hall, a space that I have passed a thousand times. For more information on the building, see George Thomas and David Brownlee, Building America's First University (Philadelphia, 2000), p. 171.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Holman Bible Iron

Steel Beam Vernacular has been generally interested in the incorporation of metal into vernacular architecture. With Frank Furness as a pioneering figure, Philadelphia is well endowed. But I think I have ran into the grandest iron installation. It carries the masonry load of the whole facade (four stories) and opens up the first story in order to reveal the merchandise to the viewer. In this case, the merchandise is .... bibles. Philadelphia used to be the publishing capital of the U.S. before New York took over in the 20th century. The most profitable best seller was naturally the Bible, and Andrew J. Holman was one of its manufacturers. The Holman Bible Factory was designed by the Wilson Brothers in 1881 and located at 1222-26 Arch St (see here for details). The cast iron piers incorporate decorative elements from the brick facade (rosettes, mouldings, rustication, etc.) and dramatically express the pneumatic forces (notice Furness's trick of double-piled columns that refer to steam machinery). The iron facade is unique also in that they taper in at the base, making the building tilt towards the street. I had to stop for and take stock of the piers' complex elements.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Texas (inside) versus North Dakota (outside) man camp insulation

The North Dakota Man Camp Project had a productive research trip a couple of weeks ago, where we documented evidence of abandonment and scaling-down (see here). This phenomenon corresponds with other oil fields, where the decrease of oil prices, exaggerated further by the Iran deal, has caused a clear decline. It's in this general context that Karnes County, Texas, made the news this Sunday: Clifford Kraus, "Sinking Oil Prices Are Lowering Boom in Texas," The New York Times (Aug. 15, 2015), A1, A3.

The article included a photo of an oil worker walking out of his RV. See photo hereThis has become a standard oil boom image, partially canonized by Kyle Cassidy (landscape view, right frame cuts through the middle of RV, resident walking or standing at entrance). 

Beyond its human content, the New York Times photograph highlights strategies of vernacular architecture. I did a sketch above to illustrate a subtle detail from the photo, the use of reflective insulation on the windows (marked in black). Whereas in North Dakota this material is placed on the outside of the RV, in Texas it is placed on the inside of the RV. The same material (available at any construction store) insulates against the cold in North Dakota and the heat in Texas. This is one among many regional variations.

I quote some relevant passages by Clifford Kraus below that make the man camp situation in Texas similar to that of North Dakota.

Workers whom migrated from far and wide to find work here, chasing newfound oil riches, are being laid off, deserting their recreational vehicle parks and going home. Hey farmers who became instant millionaires on royalty checks for their land have suddenly fallen behind on payments for new tractors they bought when cash was flowing. Scores of mobile steel tanks and portable toilets used at the ubiquitous wells are stacked, unused, along county roads. 'Everybody is waiting for doomsday,' said Vi Malone the Karnes County treasurer.

Just five years ago, Karnes County was a speck in the oil patch, its production a rounding error in a state historically tied to oil. Then came hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and teh sure in oil production it unleashed. Crumbling towns here reinvented themselves with new restaurants, markets and hotels as money and jobs poured in....

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ouranis Fireplace

After surveying many fireplaces in deserted Greek houses, I have been thinking about the representation of desertion in Greek literature. After the iconic fireplace of Papadiamantis (see here), I turn to one of the clearest expressions of fireplace nostalgia from a posthumously published piece by the poet Kostas Ouranis. I had blogged on Ouranis's poem "Frangissa" back in 2009 (see here). "The Fireplace" was written sometime in 1928-29. At that point, Ouranis had spent a large period of his life abroad, at Davos Switzerland recovering from tuberculosis, or as Greek Consul in Lisbon. In "The Fireplace," he revisits his locked up paternal home in Leonidio, Arcadia. In some ways, the fireplace of his youth is the same as the hundreds of abandoned fireplaces in our survey. The essay was published posthumously by his wife (under a pseudonym) in 1956, and I give the original Greek below. Below I translate it loosely in English. The piece confirms a sentimental reading of this architectural feature. As a modernist poet, Ouranis' expresses the great space that separates the space of the rural Greece of his youth and the alienated cosmopolitanism of his modern Greek existence. The essay is sentimental and it offers a reflection of an eloquent poet who returned to the space of his youth. 

The Fireplace

It's winter outside, and I sit by a miserable stove that is stingy with its heat. I reminisce nostalgically over the fireplace, the heart of happy houses and the source of tranquil joy.

The fireplace belongs to my paternal home in provincial Arcadia! Long winter nights, the rain burst on the paving of the courtyard, a mad wind shook the windows, and the terrifying sound of the flooded river could be heard outside. But the fireplace shone brightly, illuminating with its luster both my face and my soul. Cross-legged, I once sat by the fireplace and listened to my grandmother's fairy tales, while the chestnuts crackled on the fire. By its light, I read my first Arabian Nights full of fear and seduction, as I grew older. In its flames, I saw genies and Sinbad come to life. 

Poetry woke my soul next to the fireplace. I lamented the withering flowers in the garden, the dead cicadas, and the poor who felt cold throughout the world. I had my first dreams at the fireplace, always dreams of migration. I pondered large hyperborean seas, always deserted and turbulent. I pondered distant lands that had green and rosy borders in my geography. I pondered snow covered forests where fairy princesses hunted deer with golden horns. And I pondered foreign ports, where I would one day embark as a ship's captain, pipe in mouth and a tame red-green parrot perched on my shoulder. 

Years later, every time that I returned from aboard, I would bend over and stir the hearth of the paternal house. And I would stir those early memories and stir the melancholy felt earlier. I would feel the warmth around me as an armor protecting me in life, or as a forgotten pier in the seas, where the waves serenaded the boats into sleep.

The grandmother who once told those tales and the mother who once kept the fire are now buried underground. The house is locked and the fireplace is extinguished forever. I remember those old days of warmth as the winter now rages outside. The wind outside stirs my heart like a scrap. I am cold. I ponder my life that has passed, the closed house, and the dead under the snowed earth.

Το τζάκι (1928-29)

Χειμώνας έξω κ΄ εγώ, μπροστά σε μιάν άθλια σόμπα που φιλαργυερεύεται τη ζέστη της, συλλογιέμαι νοσταλγικά την ψυχή των ευτυχισμένων σπιτιών, την πηγή της γαλήνιας χαράς : το τζάκι ...

Τζάκι του πατρικού σπιτιού, στην αρκαδική μας επαρχία! Μεγάλες χειμωνιάτικες νύχτες, όταν στις πλάκες της αυλής έσκαζε με δύναμη η βροχή, και τράνταζε τα παράθυρα ο φρενιασμένος άνεμος κι ακουόταν η τρομερή βοή του πλημμυρισμένου χειμάρρου – και το τζάκι φεγγοβολούσε, φωτίζοντας με τις ανταύγειές του το πρόσωπο και την ψυχή μου ... Καθισμένος σταυροπόδι πλάϊ του, είχα ακούσει τα πρώτα παραμύθια της γιαγιάς, ενώ τρίζαν στη χόβολη τα κάστανα που ψήναμε. Αργότερα, είχα διαβάσει στο φως του, όλος τρόμο και γοητεία, τη Χαλιμά – κ’ είχα δει να χοροπηδάν στις φλόγες του τα τελώνια κι ο τζουτζές του Σεβάχ Θαλασσινού.

Πλάϊ σ’ αυτό ξύπνησε η ψυχή μου στην ποίηση, ενώ θλιβόμουν για τα μαραμένα στον κήπο λουλούδια, γιά τα πεθαμένα τζιτζίκια και για τους φτωχούς που κρύωναν μέσα στον απέραντο κόσμο. Από κει ξεκίνησα τα πρώτα μου όνειρα – όνειρα αποδημίας πάντα. Συλλογιόμουν τις μεγάλες υπερβόρειες θάλασσες, έρημες και φουρτουνιασμένες· τις μακρυνές χώρες, που είχαν πράσινα και ρόδινα σύνορα στη Γεωγραφία μου· χιονισμένα δάση, όπου παραμυθένια πριγκιπόπουλα κυνηγούσαν ελάφια με χρυσά κέρατα – και ξενικά λιμάνια, όπου θα ξεμπάρκαρα μιά μέρα καπετάνιος με την πίπα στο στόμα κ’ έναν κοκκινοπράσινο, ήμερο, παπαγάλο στον ώμο...

Χρόνια αργότερα, κάθε φορά που γυρνούσα από τα ξένα και, σκυμένος μπρος στή φωτιά του πατρικού τζακιού, ανάδευα, μαζί με τη χόβολη, τις αναμνήσεις μου και τις μελαγχολίες μου, ένοιωθα τη ζεστασιά γύρω μου σα μιά πανοπλία ενάντια στη ζωή και τη φωτεινή του ειρήνη σαν ένα λησμονημένο από τους ανέμους μώλο, όπου νανουρίζονται απαλά τα θαλασσοδαρμένα καΐκια ...

Σήμερα όμως η γιαγιά που έλεγε τα παραμύθια κ’ η μητέρα που φρόντιζε τη φωτιά κείτονται από καιρό μέσα στο χώμα και το σπίτι είναι μανταλωμένο και το τζάκι σβησμένο – γιά πάντα. Και γι’ αυτό, τώρα που έξω είναι χειμώνας κ’ εγώ συλλογιέμαι περασμένα εκείνα, νοιώθω να κουνάει σα ράκος την ψυχή μου ο αέρας και να κρυώνω – και για τη ζωή μου που πέρασα και για το σπίτι που έκλεισε και για τους πεθαμένους κάτω από τη χιονισμένη γη ...

Ouranis, Kostas. 1956. Αποχρώσεις, ed. Eleni Ouranis[= Alkis Thrylos], Athens: Estia, pp. 148-149.

Monday, August 03, 2015

O Young Building, Grand Forks ND

Cast iron transformed commercial architecture in 19th-century American cities. Affording greater span for less footprint, they increased the space for windows and window-shopping. In corner properties, the iron column was capable of supporting the entire weight of the residential upper floors and open up the corner to the public, placing the entrance diagonally to the corner, and allow passage and view from both streets. Cutting the corner gave back space to the public street (experientially but not legally) and literally syphoned the shopper into the store. Decorative detail on the prefabricated iron post, moreover, attracted attention the store.

The "corner store" is, thus, an iconic installation in any19th-century American city. But since this paradigm does not work anymore, many of the old corner stores have closed their original public offering to increase their private real estate. When American cities went into depression in the 1960s, the iron posts stopped being maintained, rusted, and generally proved inefficient. So few of them actually survive in situ.

This morning, I took a walk through Grand Forks' beautiful main street (3rd Street) to see a beautiful iron corner post on 2 S 3rd Street and Demers. Originally the "O Young Building" it sat on a prime location with Demers Street crossing the Red Rive into Minnesota. The post had no information about the foundry that produced it (sometimes they are stamped) but, I would guess, it was manufactured in Minneapolis. It is divided into two parts with triple fluting, a base, capital, and a simple middle block decorated with disks. The pier is decorated on only two of its four sides, which suggests that originally the corner was not fully open but must have had some adjacent framing.
The entrance to the upstairs residential floors is on the other side of the facade and it is framed by decorated piers that match the iron post. From the distance, it looks like they are iron, too, but they are not. They are made out of wood, but carved so to match the iron prototype in the corner. This is pretty interesting. The carpenter (surely local) is completing here an architectural composition whose vocabulary was established by the foundry. Painting both white makes them indistinguishable. I was excited to discover this bi-materiality. On the East Coast and other midwestern cities, decorative details of this period are made in pressed zinc and do away with the carpenter altogether.
The Young store had an iron post on its other back corner, but it has been replaced with a newer steel column. A staircase leading to the basement on Demers Street features another iron element, a beautiful post for the railing, most likely manufactured by the same foundry (below):

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Papadiamantis Fireplace

The fireplace is a central component in Greek vernacular architecture. The Deserted Greek Village project surveyed many fireplaces constructed in stone (left, from Aigition, Phokis) or plaster (Penteskouphi). Hearths are typically found on the second floor of a house, dedicated to human residence as distinguished from mixed usage (storage, livestock) on the first floor. This internal distinction of upper and lower floors corresponds to the increasing specialization of domestic space throughout Europe and the U.S. in the 18th century. In contrast, the medieval Greek house would have had unitary spaces of mixed usage without fireplaces. 

The centrality of the fireplace in the social imagination of rural Greece is evident in how it is discussed in literature, particularly in the short stories of the late-19th-century school of Folk Realism. At another level, the village fireplace takes on a higher topical significance representing literature. This is a common topos in European literature, since most people actually read books in front of their fireplace (up until the advent of forced air heating in 1885). The Greek fireplace began to represent the location of oral culture. Kostas Ouranis, for example, describes his childhood memories of sitting by the fireplace and listening to his grandmother's tales.

I have begun a more systematic survey of 19th-century literature for its architectural references. The survey begins with the stories of Alexandros Papadiamantis. The edition of Papadiamantis that I have access to is the 1970 edition of Seferli (thank you University of Pennsylvania libraries for not [yet] taking Papadiamantis to off-site storage). Right at the opening of the first volume, we have a woodcut of Papadiamantis's own fireplace drawn by Nikolas Paulopoulos (1909-1990).

Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911) spent most of his life in his native island of Skiathos. He lived in a house built in 1860 that has been transformed into a popular house museum. For the many literati (like Stratis Myrivilis) who would have visited Papadiamantis, the fireplace would have remained as an iconic image. I don't know when Nikolas would have made his woodcut, but I would guess in the 1950s or 1960s. The print of the woodcut illustrating the Papadiamantis edition belonged to Myrivilis. Nikolas' woodcut follows the Expressionist tradition charging the space with high contrast psychological tension. The provenance of the image connects the contemporary reader to Papadiamantis via Myrivilis and a chain of tradition. The Seferli edition becomes itself a visual document, as each of the stories is illustrated by a woodcut commissioned by the press. Nikolas's woodcut makes a nice introduction to the literary spaces of Greece's deserted villages.

It will be difficult to escape the sentimentalism surrounding the Greek fireplace. I hope it is still possible to excavate beyond the nostalgia and assess its materiality. Can we do a history of the Greek countryside in the footsteps of Raymond Williams?  Peter Mackridge has paved the way for such a study in "The Textualization of Place in Greek Fiction, 1883-1903," Journal of Mediterranean Studies 2 (1992), pp. 146-168. And I suspect that Ecocriticism will eventually have an impact on modern Greek literary studies.

Monday, July 27, 2015


Last summer, I made a pilgrimage to a house that served as an epicenter of the Anglo-American avant-garde, the house of Eva Palmer and Angelos Sikelianos in Sikya, 25 km west of Ancient Corinth (see here). Last week, I've been having terrific web-conversations with Artemis Leontis and Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan about this house. What I didn't know in last year's visit is that Kostas Karyotakis also had a summer house in the area. I have a little theory I'm developing in an upcoming essay that, in the 1920s, Corinth became a topos for the Greek avant-garde, in par with better known sites like Delphi, Mistras, or the Aegean. I argue this through poetry, Angelos Sikelianos's "Acrocorinth," Odysseus Elytis's "Drinking Corinthian Sun," and through paintings, Georg von Peschke's "Acrocorinth."

This summer, I spent two weeks with my students surveying ruined villages in Corinthia, Argolid, and Phocis. After an intensive week of surveying at Lidoriki, we spent a night at Delphi with the students, where I showed them the location where Greek folk arts (like the ones we studied) would have first been displayed to an international audience (at the 1927 Delphic Festival, curated by Angeliki Hadjimihali. The next day, we continued our research collecting comperanda for our museum study at the Hadjimihali House in Plaka. Looking at a map of the Gulf of Corinth, it became clear to me how close Sikya and Delphi are. They are not visible to each other because Mount Helicon blocks the view. By boat, however, Xylokastro to Itea are only 45 km apart, a distance that could be travelled by sailboat in one or two hours. The vista below, taken from the terrace of the Sikelianos house shows the proximity of the two coasts and Mount Helicon. Hotels from the 1970s that crowd the beach have unfortunately blocked the vistas of the Sikelianos house.

After last year's visit, I put my photos and notes of the Sikelianos house aside, but Artemis is helping me make sense of them now. After posting Karyotakis's poem "Sleep" on Facebook, Artemis had me completely hooked. The poem inspired the title Green Shore, one of the best recent novels about Greece by Natalie Bakopoulos. The poetic conversation (thank you Facebook!!!) sent me to the library to revisit Sikelianos's poem "Thalero," named after an agricultural village just 5 km upland from the coastal Sikya. It would have taken Sikelianos less than 45 mins to walk there. He took that walk in the middle of summer, accompanied by a shepherd dog. He was offered lunch by a hospitable family and took a siesta.

In "Thalero," Sikelianos explores the erotics of a Greek village, expressed in the crops, the house, the clothes, and most importantly the body of a young girl that served him food and wine. It is a loaded and powerfully erotic poem, you can listen to it here, read it here, and find its translation here. Rereading this poem after a year, it dawned on me that Sikelianos was responding to a place very similar to the nearby village of Penteskouphi that we surveyed this summer. The survey of Penteskouphi will be featured in the paper "An Abandoned Mud Brick Hamlet at Penteskouphi near Corinth: Its Condition, Educational Potential and Natural Environment," by Guy Sanders, Isabella Sanders, and Miyan Yoo at the 2016 annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America

The village house in Greece has been described and poeticized by writers as early as the mid-19th century. I have this crazy idea of surveying Greek literature and sampling those architectural descriptions. The natural place to start is in the folk realist prose of Alexandros Papadiamantis. I say this is a crazy idea because Papadiamantis's short stories alone number to the 300s. Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pine Door 1770

Pine, painted decoration, iron
Made in Pennsylvania
Titus C. Creesy Collection
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Summer is here, tenure has been granted, I rush to finish a sleuth of over-due articles, while also getting ready for another season of The Deserted Greek Village Project. After a hiatus, I feel compelled to return to blogging.

I have been thinking a lot about vernacular culture across Pennsylvania and Greece. This year has been the year of Pennsylvania fraktur with three exhibitions, Drawn with the Spirit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, A Colorful Folk at Winterthur, and Framing Fraktur at the Philadelphia Free Library.

What has also become clear to me is that Franklin and Marshall College had been a pioneer in the study of Pennsylvania fork arts, a specialty that we have mostly left to the wayside. Before moving on to the University of Pennsylvania and establishing the discipline of Folklore and Folklife, Yoder was teaching at FandM. Generally speaking, the study of American folk arts seems to have become co-opted by heritage. Pennsylvania German art has been co-opted by the heritage industry most aggressively. Walking through the fraktur exhibition, it becomes clear an elderly white Christian group is the target audience. In engaging younger contemporary artists, the Free Library has tried to break that mold. In similar ways, Greek folk arts have lost the critical edge that they had in the 1960s.

The most important story to be (re)told about the arts of the Pennsylvania Germans is that it's radically different from the art of the English Protestants. What the Germans brought to Pennsylvania is the rich visual culture of the Baroque. Their Quaker hosts (William Penn, etc.) had a fundamental mistrust of art and architecture. Even if some of the German groups were radically anti-art, a great majority of them brought continental visual traditions to the U.S. German Baroque is absolutely wild and has nothing to do with the reserved nature of its British equivalent.

I strongly recommend Don Yoder's 2001 “The European Background of Pennsylvania’s Fraktur Art,” and “The Fraktur Texts and Pennsylvania-German Spirituality,” in Bucks County Fraktur (Pennsylvania German Society 23) [I can send you PDFs]

The door above is in the permanent collection of the PMA. I sketched it because I wanted to figure out the parts and sequence of its construction. Note that the two vertical boards are primary with the three horizontal boards as secondary and the painted panels are tertiary. The panels are painted and decorated by curved shaped that stand out in such a way as to negate the architectonic logic of the door. The painted panels, in other words, float into space. They are served by the door as frames. Within each panel, we have the figure of the heart. Iconographic scholars have beaten the symbolism of the hear to death, as a reference to Christianity. What I see instead, is a smart game of transformations. What might look like a heart at the first upper panels is flipped in the second upper panel to create a dual composition. The heart stops being a "heart" and it becomes a formal game that can lead to imaginative connotations. The upside-down heart, for instance, begins to look like a fruit. It touches its parent shape at the tip adding a sense of visual tension and fragility. At the lower panel, the shapes melt into a third shape. I don't know about you, but to me the final derivations is suggestive of the human body. I see a torso and a posterior with the breast or shoulder shapes above. Anatomically suggestive of the human body, I interpret this as a sexual transformation.

The architectural challenge of any door is to counteract the weight of its material, greater at the bottom than the top. The two iron hinges act quite differently, the top hinge is in tension, the bottom hinge is in compression.  The shapes at the lowest panel, it seems to me, hint on the horizontal striation of any door. The concave and convex shapes address gravity towards the earth and the aspiration of ascent above.

One group of people that loved Pennsylvania folk arts were the Modernists. The 1770 door makes it clear why someone like Charles Sheeler used Ephrata Cloisters as a source of inspiration in the 1930s. Looking at folk art with fresh eyes, even through the spectacles of modernist formalism, makes them provocative once again.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Leon von Ossko: Lancaster's Orientalist

View of Funerary Complex of Qaytbay, Northern Cemetery, Cairo

By Leon von Ossko (1859-1906)

The Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin and Marshall College is a treasure-trove of artifacts that we are in the process of cataloging. 

In December 2012, our then collections manager Maureen Lane discovered a drawing in the vaults with obvious orientalist subject matter. As I was teaching Islamic Art, she naturally asked my advice. This year, I teach Islamic Art again, our collections manager Lindsay Marino is installing the work for public view and has asked me to include some scholarly context. So here is the story of this fabulous drawing.

Leon von Ossko (1859-1906) was a Hungarian nobleman. The baronial title was bestowed on the von Osskos, interestingly enough, for fighting the Ottomans in the Ottoman-Habsburg Wars. Although Hungarian, Leon was raised in Germany and attended university at Heidelberg. After his graduation, he traveled through the United States for two years with a cadre of European aristocrats, exploring the Wild West. Between Denver and the Pacific Ocean the group encountered conflicts with native American tribes and von Ossko was wounded. During that American journey, von Ossko met Ella Louisa Breneman, the daughter of Christian Herr Breneman, a prominent citizen of Lancaster county. Their courtship lasted for two years across two continents. They were married in Florence in 1884. 

Von Ossko became an accomplished artist studying in Florence and at the Academy Julian in Paris. After his marriage to Ella, he moved to Lancaster. Little is known of his artistic production. In a biographical note (Breneman 1912), we read that his oils and water colors were exhibited widely across New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Cincinnati. The drawing found at the Phillips Museum has an orientalist subject, the Mamluk funerary complex of Qaytay, in the Northern Cemetery in Cairo (15th century). I thank Emily Neumeier and Christy Gruber for making the precise identification. I also thank Benjamin Anderson for identifying a particular fascination of this monument by German viewers. In his blog post "A Piece of the Orient on the Elbe,” Stambouline (July 17, 2015), Anderson offers a similar view published in  Émile Prisse d’Avennes, L’art arabe (1869-77), shown left.

It is so intriguing to think of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as an epicenter of German Romantic Orientalism through some newcomers, like von Ossko. The drawing is dated 1901 at the bottom right. As early as the 17th century, Germanic colonists in Lancaster County had direct exposure to the Islamic world through the Ottoman Empire, which reached Vienna. A current exhibition on Pennsylvania German Fraktur at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, for example, includes a drawing depicting Ottomans drawn in Pennsylvania. Some of the iconographic motifs in Pennsylvania German art (tulips, etc.) have Ottoman origins. But this larger question of German orientalism transplanted in Pennsylvania is a fascinating unstudied topic.

It is interesting to note that Lancaster's current City Hall (left) makes references to Islamic architecture (the Alhambra). Originally designed as a Post Office by Philadelphia architect James Windrim (1891), Lancaster's City Hall would have gone up just ten years before Von Ossko had done his drawing [On Lancaster City Hall, see here, p. 8]

Unfortunately, there is very little historical coverage on Lancaster's orientalist painter. We do not even know how Franklin & Marshall College ended up with this drawing. The Brenemans were related to Caroline Peart, a little known but important American Impressionist. Our college has received Peart's archive and von Ossko's drawing might have come as part of that package. On the subject of Caroline Peart, make sure to see her painting currently hanging at the Nissley Gallery of the Museum and look forward to a massive retrospective curated by our Kate Snider

In trying to put together the urban topography of Lancaster and its prominent citizens, I did some research on the house where this drawing might have originally hung, the house of Leon von Ossko and his wife Ella Louisa Breneman. It is a beautiful Greek Revival townhouse built in 1852, located at 47 North Lime Street (SE corner of Lime and Orange).

The house's most outstanding feature is its marble porch with classically correct decoration that stands out among the Palladian wooden porches common to Lancaster. The house has its original iron work.

Von Ossko died in 1906 in Saint Augustine, Florida, where he had moved for health reasons. He was survived by two sisters that lived in Florence. One was married to a Count. I have not done any research on Anna Louisa Breneman and the Breneman family. The house seems to have been sold in 1937. In 1987, Tabor Community Services bought the house and converted it into Beth Shalom, or "House of Piece," an interim housing facility for women in need. 


Marble neoclassical porch with Tuscan capitals and acanthus frieze

Neoclassical iron work on exterior fence

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States