Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Archaeology of Refugee Crises in Greece: Diachronic Cultural Landscapes

Since we returned from the field in the summer of 2015, a number of archaeologists have been brainstorming on the appropriate response to the refugee crisis in Greece. Since March 2016, when the northern borders closed, Greece has been creating camps scattered throughout abandoned sites. Effectively, we have the transformation of archaeological sites of abandoned modernity converted into residential camps of postmodernity. Survey archaeologists have been studying Greece's contingent countryside through a variety of methods (remote sensing, surface survey, ethnography, etc.) Greece's new camps should now be submitted under the scrutiny of this cultural geography. In my little sketch, for example, you see the juxtaposition of Camp Koutshochero and Mandra, a village built in 1922 to house Greek refugees from Cappadocia. Koutsochero is being evacuated as we speak, as the United Emirates have committed to building 200 permanent houses. There has been a lot of unrest (once again) with the relocation of the 1,000 current residents. Although a moving target, shifting day-to-day, I have been trying to apply remote sensing and some rudimentary research to document some of these sites. I am not sure if this is going to work. 

The conversation over camps will continue at the 2017 Annual Conference of the Society of Historical Archaeology in a session organized by Chris Mathews, "The Archaeology of Care: Rethinking Priorities in Archaeological Engagement." I have submitted this abstract: 

The Archaeology of Refugee Crises in Greece: Diachronic Cultural Landscapes

The escalation of the Syrian Civil War caused a refugee crisis in Greece as thousands of people crossed the Aegean, leading to tragic loss of life. When Balkan neighbors closed their borders in 2016, some 50,000 migrants and refugees were trapped in Greece. The country responded by a dispersing this population throughout the country in new camps over abandoned sites like army camps, tourist resorts, commercial spaces, gymnasia, fair grounds, and even archaeological sites. Using lessons from the archaeology of the contemporary world, we apply remote sensing, media analysis, and limited field observation to document camps in real time and to address ephemeral urbanism. Refugee camps have been a permanent reality in Greece for a century. The paper also considers camps from the 1912-14 Balkan Wars, the 1922 Asia Minor Catastrophe, World War II, and the Greek Civil War and outlines a comparative archaeology of crisis.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Philadelphia Greektown

Greektown is an interesting term. It seems to have come into usage when Greeks were beginning to abandon their urban neighborhoods on their way out to the suburbs. A few Greektowns--most notably Chicago and Toronto--used the designation to create a marketable commercial area promoting a Greek experience (culinary, etc.) If you ask anyone in Philadelphia were was its Greektown, they will look at you like you're crazy. Urban redevelopment wiped out Philadelphia's Greektown in the 1960s. White flight coupled by the expansion of medical centers encouraged Greeks to leave their original neighborhood and found new communities at Elkins Park, Broomall, and Cherry Hill. Saint George, one of the two original churches, remained in its original location mostly because it served as the Cathedral of the Bishop of New Jersey. A Greek retirement home right behind the church also guaranteed the maintenance of an elderly community. 

What were the limits of Greektown in the 1920s? Well, that's one of the things we hope to establish in our research this summer. We begin with a provisional demarcation of Greektown as it was defined by oral histories in the 1960s, an area between Walnut and Lombard and Twelfth and Eighth streets. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Greek Philadelphia. Stephano Residence

If you have ever seen a pack of Camel cigarettes, you would have undoubtedly noticed the Egyptian iconography. Egyptian tobacco was considered most elite and coveted as superior to Virginia tobacco. Few appreciate that Egyptian cigarettes were actually manufactured by the Greeks of Egypt who brought the product to the United States. Stephano Brothers was one of the best known manufacturers of Egyptian cigarettes and major players in the Greek community of Philadelphia. The company's Rameses II cigarette brand was so successful that they built a grand Beaux Arts factory on 1014-16 Walnut Street, designed by Ballinger. The photo below shows Stephano Bros (demolished in the 1960s), courtesy of Temple University Urban Archives. More photos of the building can be found at the Athenaeum in the Ballinger Archives (see here).

The Stephano family is one of the subjects of this summer's Hackman research that I am conducting with two undergraduate students. We will be studying the materialities of ethnic communities, particularly through buildings, spaces, and objects. Preliminary archival research has lead me to Constantine Stephano's naturalization papers of 1904, ten years after his arrival from Greece. He lists 317 S 12th Street as his residence. 

According to oral tradition, the Stephano Brothers began their cigarette empire at the basement of their house. If this is correct, we have established a locus of domestic manufacturing. We have written to the owners of the property and hope to gain access inside. The house belongs to a development stretching from 309 to 323 S 12th and sandwiched between older townhouses. The block is best known by two 1970s landmarks of gay life, Giovanni's Room to the south and the Alexander Inn to the north. With some further research, we will establish the construction date of this house and add it to the architectural narrative of Greektown. Although this part of the research might not be possible, I would like to compare this post-immigration residence in Philadelphia with the pre-emigration residence in village Dikorfo, Epirus, where the Stephanos originated.

The Stephano Bros. introduced their most successful brand, Rameses II, in 1895. Its early packaging (see here) featured images of Ramses II and Amenhotep. In the 1910s, the company highlighted aristocracy; this 1918 print ad deploys Washington's Mount Vernon residence up on a hill. By connecting the architectural dots, we hope to articulate an important modality of trans-nationalism in the early 20th century mitigated by the Greek diaspora. There has been little scholarship on the Stephano Brothers cigarette empire. But I suspect that their source of tobacco might have been Thrace and Macedonia. In Kavala, for instance, the American Tobacco Company had established an outpost in 1901.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Archaeology of Care: Refugee Crisis in Greece

Bill Caraher posted a challenge back in September. An Archaeology of Care generated a flurry of conversations mostly off-line on how the archaeological community might respond to the refugee crisis in Greece. Archaeologists of the contemporary world have provided the theoretical and methodological framework for action. Caraher's challenge was even more pronounced among his collaborators of the North Dakota Man Camp Project. For the last four years, we have been surveying itinerant camps associated with the oil boom (see Bakken Goes Boom publication here)

Incidentally, many of the Man Camp collaborators work in Greece and Caraher's challenge was the following. How do we take the methodology from studying encampments of prosperity to studying encampments of suffering? We haven't answered the question, but we all know. It is going to be impossible to go to Greece this summer and not tackle this challenge. My fieldwork in Deserted Greek Villages tackles a related phenomenon, when masses of Greeks migrated to the US after the 1893 economic crisis. Refugees and refugee management is central to the history of my foreign school, the American School of Classical Studies, who in 1932 excavated the Athenian Agora because of refugee encampment (above) -- see Nikki Sakka, "The Excavation of the Ancient Agora of Athens: The Politics of Commissioning and Managing the Project," Yannis Hamilakis, etc.

Over the last six months, Bill Caraher, Richard Rothaus, and I have been initiating a number of conversations with as many people as possible to figure this one out. Our first conversations was with cultural anthropologists with deep roots in the study of asylums in Greece. The Modern Greek Studies Association has been an incredible forum for these conversations, particularly in the 2015 conference in Atlanta. Under the leadership of Despina Lalaki, the MGSA drafted a selection of volunteer organizations and made it part of our official website. The MGSA Occasional Papers (edited by Neni Panourgia) has also been an important platform of discussion, see Katerina Stefatos, Dimitris Papadopoulos, and Chloe Howe Haralambous, "Notes From The Border: Refugee Lives and Necropolitics In The Aegean, August-November 2015" (MGSA Occasional Papers 8), Heath Cabot, "The Banality of Solidarity" (MGSA Occasional Papers 7), and Theo Rakopoulos, "Solidarity, Ethnography, and the De-instituting of Dissent" (MGSA Occasional Papers 6). Heath Cabot's book, On the Doorsteps of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece is an important starting point.

What makes the refugee crisis academically exceptional is that the Island of Lesbos houses Greece's only department of cultural anthropology (here) and has already produced critical scholarship. Katerina Rozakou's research is crucial here. This semester, I am using The Biopolitics of Hospitality in Greece: Humanitarianism and the Management of Refugees in an International Studies course. So, Bill and I spoke with Katerina in the Fall to get a better sense of what the fieldwork possibilities might be. Katerina sobered us up. The number of NGOs that have gathered in Lesbos is staggering, and this was before Susan Sarandon, Weiwei, or Angelina Jolie arrived. Bill and I had hoped that there might be a research team already on-the-ground collecting ethnographic data onto which we could attach and supplement material culture or landscape documentation.

Six months after Bill's initial call for an archaeology of care, we have not formulated a clear plan. What has emerged from these conversations, however, are a few ideas of how to tackle the refugee crisis even in a preliminary way. Below are some specific strategies.


The goals of this project would be to record the material imprint of this historical event of great magnitude. We have a bunch of research questions formulated by the historiography on camps more generally (e.g. Charlie Hayley, Camps: A Guide to 21st Century Spaces) and our fieldwork in ND Man Camps specifically. Our collaborator Richard Rothaus has participated in archaeological relief work in Turkey (after the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, see here) and is helping us formulate short-term strategies. Our primary goal is to document a social process through physical documentation. We come to the project without a hypothesis but an urgency to capture material realities for future analysis.


As in the case of the itinerant worker camps in North Dakota, the refugee camps are temporary. Once the crisis abates, these sites will return to oblivion. But they would have captured the material imprint of their refugee biography. The long-term perspective is one of committing to returning to the sites after the populations have departed. The refugee camps are off limits now, unless we find a way to participate through a relief organization. If we plan to return post-abandonment, our goal for the archaeology of occupation is to establish a datum. We can accept that our role now might even be counter-productive, standing in the way of relief organizations.

In just the last six months, the number of formal and informal sites has been increasing in great numbers. As archaeologists of the contemporary past, we can assemble the data as it comes, whether from news coverage, or from on-ground experiences of volunteers. We are intrigued by the plethora of video coverage as part of the new landscape of activism and the possibility of using those videos as documents of physical reality. The inventory will help strategize on how to proceed with micro-analysis, mapping, and direct observation.

3.  MAP

We take inspiration from remote sensing as an important mapping tool in contemporary archaeology. This methodology has been used in the archeology of Guantanamo Bay (see, Adrian Meyers) and more recently in documenting cultural heritage destruction in Syria and Iraq. High resolution satellite imagery and other geo-spatial data can make the mapping of refugee sites possible without stepping foot on Greece.


Even without a coherent method of data collection, it is possible to streamline some ground rules on how to prospect on the ground. The collection of this kind of data will have to be collaborative. Could it be a set of guidelines, or scripts that we can follow consistently? What is the role of video or photography?


By its very precarious nature, this kind of data collection can only be managed collaboratively. None of us has the budget, time, or access to prospect everyone of Greece's sites. Using a model of collaborative data collection, possibly online, we can slowly build a significant body of data. It has become clear to me that many of the traditional summer programs in Greece are beginning to reorient their curriculum around the crisis. College Year in Athens has already formalized their response with a class on The Global Governance of Migration: Emerging Responses to Irregular Migration. I already know half a dozen of fellow academics who are volunteering their Spring Break and have gone to Greece to volunteer. September 2016 will be a very important month, as we all return from varying experiences of ad hoc investigation. That might be the time of formulating. 

Friday, February 05, 2016

Karkavitsas: HIS FLUTE

Andreas Karkavitsas, “Η Φλογέρα του,” [“His Flute”], in Διηγήματα [Short Stories], Athens: Estia (1892), reprinted in Άπαντα, ed. Georgios Valetas, vol. 1, pp. 133-155. There is a digital (but slightly different) version of the text here.

"His Flute" is the story of a newlywed Stathis and Smalto. Secretly, Smalto is thrown into disarray by her inability to resist a repulsive shepherd who seduces her by his flute-playing. Smalto's inner voice that tells the story struggles ethics of aesthetics. The affair is put to rest only when Smalto shatters the instrument of seduction. "The flute was small and golden with five black holes in its mouth and one more on the opposite side." Ήτο τω όντι η φλογέρα του Μήτρου. μικρά, χρυσίζουσα, με πέντε τρύπας μαύρας εις τα χείλη και άλλην μίαν εις το αντίθετον μέρος.

Seduction takes place in the fields where Smalto herds her ducks and the shepherd Mit herds his sheep. But the village plays an important role with its “numerous houses scattered here and there along a low hill.” At first, the houses resonate with life in celebration of its patron Saint Nicholas. But when the festival is over, and the workdays begin, the village is abandoned by its inhabitants working in the fields. “All the doors were shut and through the small windows one could see the darkness and abandonment inside.” οι ευάριθμοι οικίσκοι του, εδώ κι εκεί επί χαμηλής λοφοσειράς σκορπισμένοι, είχον τας θύρας όλας κλειστάς και από τα μικρά παράθυρα των εφαίνετο εντός το σκότος και η ερημία. [134] This is a helpful insight to consider. A Greek village would have been entirely empty for most of the day. Men, women, and children would be out in the fields.

In this silence, only the Melopoulos house stands out. Its newlywed bride Smalto is still inside. She refuses to go to work, to leave the village because she wants to avoid the shepherd’s temptation. Looking voyeuristically from the outside, the readier, captures this view. “The light of day entered already in abundance through the open door and window, from which Smalto was seen in the shadow with still sleepy eyes. With a heavy body, she turned the bedspreads one-by-one from the ground over a turned-over basket." Το φως της ημέρας εισέδυεν ήδη άφθονον από της ανοικτής θύρας και του παραθύρου, από του οποίου εφαίνετο η Σμάλτω εν τη σκιά με νυσταλέους ακόμη οφθαλμούς και βεβαρημένον το σώμα, εγείρουσα νωθρώς τας στρωμνάς μίαν – μίαν από του εδάφους και αποθέτουσα επί μιάς ανεστραμμένης κοφίνας. [134]

Karkavitsas uses architectural detail to articulate states of mind. And Smalto is not an ordinary villager. First, she is of Vlach descent -- like the shepherd. Second, and more importantly, she is a transparent medium of sensational experience. Her optic centering turns those experiences to fire. "She was a perfect mirror of a wild existence. Her person was extremely curious of sensing natural phenomena. She collected experiences and centered them within her as a lens centers the ray of light." Ήτο δε τέλειος καθρέπτης μιάς αγροδιαίτου υπάρξεως. Το άτομόν της ήτο υπερβολικώς περίεργον εις τας εντυπώσεις της φύσεως και τα υπέμενε και τας συνεκέντρου εντός της όλας, όπως ο φακός τας ηλιακάς ακτίνας. [137]

Then there is a wonderful description of the landscape, when Smalto goes out into the fields (too long to translate right now)

Ο ήλιος είχεν υψωθή αρκετά εις τον ορίζοντα, κολυμβών μέσω αργυρού αιθέρος πυκνοτάτου και περιέλουε τους θερισμένους αγρούς, τας πρασίνας σταφιδαμπέλους, τους βυσσινίζοντας βουνούς του Χελωνάτα και τα πέριξ όλα δι’ αφθόνου φωτός . τα χωρία κατέκειντο εδώ κι εκεί , με τας υπομαύρους στέγας και τους λευκοκιτρίνους τοίχους των οικίσκων των, εν αμόρφη όγκω, ως χορταριασμένα ερείπια. Ποίμνια έβοσκον παντού και βοών αγέλαι και ίππων εν συμβιώσει, ενώ ωρθούντο πλησίον αι σκιάδες των φυλάκων, με την [138] πιμήκη εκ ξηρών χόρτων στέγην και τους λεπτούς και στεβλούς στύλους των, ως μεγάλα καψαλά πτηνά, ορθούμενα επί των κατίσχνων ποδών των. Από πολλα μέρη ανέβαινον λευκοί καπνοί, ταχέως εξαφανιζόμενοι, και υπεφαίνοντο κάποτε γλώσσαι φλογών, ενώ αντήχει ο τριγμός του ξηρού χόρτου, καιομένου επί των αλωνίων. Τα βουνά προς ανατολάς εκρύπτοντο μέσω πυκνής ομίχλης και μόνον τ’ ακροβούνια ασθενώςν διεγράφοντο εις τον ορίζοντα, ως κομμένα χάρτινα συμμπλέγματα όπισθεν γαλανής υάλου. Κι εν τη νεκρική εκείνη της πεδιάδος ησυχία μόνον τα ξηρά χόρτα και τα φύλλα εψιθύριζον κινούμενα υπό του ανέμου, όστις έπνεεν από της θαλάσσης δροσερός – δροσερός. [139]

Smalto abandons herself in this landscape. Lying on the ground, her hands immersed into the clots of dirt, she shakes from the weight of her own body, as the muscles slowly relax. Karkavitsas' description is so somatic. Η χείρ της λυγερής επόνει τρυπωμένη επί των βώλων του χώματος κι έτρμεεν ελαφρώς απηυδηκυία υπό το βάρος του σώματος, χαλαρουμένου ολονέν. [140]

One of my favorite things about the story is also how Smalto herds her ducks, with the words Πίκιο, πίκο. το γαλί, γαλί, γαλιό [144]

A few words about location. Karkavitsas tells us that the story takes place in the village of Troumpé, which was renamed Demetra in 1953 (Location, 37°53'11.21"N, 21°13'16.01"E). The village is in the flat plains of Vartholomio and Gastouni. When Smalto goes herding, she seems to be heading east towards Kastro Chlemoutsi, where the terrain gets hillier and closer to the beautiful coast. The area presents an interesting topography (see Kourelis 2003, p. 254). Kastro Chlemoutis is the only landscape feature visible across the plain which it commands. Demetris Athanasoulis describes this area as the triangle of power in the Frankish Middle Ages (see Athanasoulis 2013). It has unique landscape sensibilities. I vividly remember stoping at Karkavitsas' village nearby and having a coffee with Demetris. The kafeneion was in the main street thoroughfare. It was such a unique feeling.

Another interesting location is referred to briefly, when the shepherd Metros narrates his story to Smalto. He is an outsider, an orphan, herding other's sheep for a living. His point of origin is from the lagoons around Kotychi, a different ecology altogether (a series of lagoons used for fishing but surrounded by forest). Μίαν ημέραν ο Μήτρος διηγήθη την ζωήν του, με δύο λόγια. Κατήγετο από τους Κατσαπαίους, οικογένειαν βλαχοποιμένων, κατασκηνούσαν πλησίον του ιχθυοτροφείου του Κοτυχιού. Οι γονείς του αφήκαν αυτόν ορφανόν πολύ μικρόν, εις την νάκαν ακόμη. ο πατήρ του απέθανον από τύφον, πριν γεννηθή αυτός. η μήτηρ του αμέσως μετά την γέννησίν του. ... κι εμισθώθη εις ένα κτηνοτρόφον εκ Σουλεϊμάναγα, του οποίου τώρα έβοσκε τα πρόβατα. [143]

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):

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States