Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Greek-American Vernacular 1: The Coin

While proceeding with some long-overdue home improvements in Philadelphia, I've had opportunity to contemplate the transmission of architectural ideas through immigration. The house in Philadelphia (which I continue to call "my parents' house" although it now belongs to me and my sister) is located in West Philadelphia, an early garden suburb. It is a typical Philadelphia row house from ca. 1896 with some of its original decoration surviving. Unlike many of its neighbors, the house was never converted into apartments. My parents bought it in 1989. My father was extremely diligent in the building's maintenance. Most poetically, he was carrying a bag of concrete when he had his fatal heart-attack in 1993. Once my father passed away, the house lost its vigilant care-taker; my mother carried out some necessary repairs but lacked the overall vision. As a result, the house started to look shabby.

Now that the house has passed on to the children, I can no longer avoid it. Keep in mind that through the years of growing up I explicitly avoided any involvement with the house; from an early age I did everything possible to escape any of my father's handy projects. Like every inheritances, it comes with new responsibility towards both the future and the past. The real reason for home improvement is very similar to my father's. Issues simply needed to be taken care of in the most economic fashion; so one learns. Working on the house has become a laboratory. While taking the original fabric apart and repairing it, I am learning about 19th-c. building techniques, but I am also discovering my father's interventions. Archaeologically, it is a time capsule with messages from multiple periods.

Through his own craft techniques, my father has left an interesting (if not amusing) testament of migratory practices. The first archaeological message came in the form of a foundation coin. In Greece, it's common to insert a coin within the construction of a new house. This ritual gives the structure "iron strength" (siderenio) and good luck, but also commemorates the monetary sacrifice involved in building. In North of Ithaka, Eleni N. Gage discusses the discovery of a coin in the corner of her grandmother's house in Epirus, the famous Eleni from the 1983 documentary book. The coin was brought to the U.S. and deciphered as 1856 by a grocer in Worcester, Mass., where Eleni's family had immigrated.

While removing the base of a column, I exposed the concrete steps of our house and found a penny dating to 1992. I remembered that my father had the concrete re-poured around that time. The coin took my by surprise. What a fabulous ritual to transplant to a new context even for a humble operation of making new steps. Knowing my domestic reluctance, my father would surely never had imagined that his foundation coin would be discovered by his own son. Tragically, this was his last home-improvement and the concrete he was carrying for some future project likely contributed to his heart attack.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Medieval Settlements: Morea Itinerary 2008

For a variety of reasons (the Euro, pending parenthood, need to write, nestle, scrape-and-paint old house), I'm not doing any archaeological fieldwork this summer. This means that I couldn't be in the Peloponnese when friends and colleagues will be passing through. In early June, I wrote up a little itinerary for sight-seeing medieval settlements and domestic architecture. A couple of friends have asked me advice, so I've decided to post this itinerary on my blog. It was written in a stream-of-consciousness flow so it's all over the place. Hopefully it is a little useful.


This is a great time for me to mentally travel to the Peloponnese, as I try to finish up my book manuscript Stones of the Morea: Medieval Village Architecture. Unfortunately, you won’t get to see the Morea Project exhibit that was on display at Kastro Chlemoutsi from 2004 to 2007 (more about Kastro Chlemoutsi later). At least the book, Houses of the Morea: Vernacular Architecture of the Northwest Peloponnesos (1205-1955) ed. Fred Cooper (Athens: Melissa, 2003) should be on sale through Oxbow/David Brown. In my book manuscript (and dissertation), I go through all the settlement sites in the NW Peloponnese and gives a comprehensive description of the evidence; it contains more information than any traveler would ever need. The GPS coordinates should can navigate one to all the sites quite precisely. I have used UTM coordinates (in meters) rather than the U.S. standard of Latitude/Longitude.

Regrettably not much has happened in the field of domestic architecture in the Peloponnese in the last few years, at least not in terms of standing, articulated buildings. The Palace of the Despots at Mystras, of course, has been restored into a conference center and more of the tower houses in the Mani have been spruced up, and this has helped here and there in scholarship. Most of the European Union funds given to Ephorias in the last 5-some years have been ear-marked for restoration expenses, which explains the recent flurry of activities in site-improvement, but it has also forced Greek archaeologists to commit more on paper. First there was the Byzantine Hours exhibition (and catalogue), split between Athens, Thessaloniki and Mystras with its attention on daily life. In addition, there is a nice short book on the Mani with lots of pictures by Koukouris et al (2004) and a collection of papers edited by Kardara on more archaeological evidence (for wine presses, etc.)

But enough of bibliography, back on to the itinerary. Some of the Peloponnesian restoration resources have been put on castles, which may not be what you’re looking for, but at least they have revealed more domestic features. Kastro Chlemoutsi on the NW tip is a good example. Here, the Ministry of Culture is restoring spaces to house a new Museum of Frankish Antiquities. The museum hasn’t opened yet, but Demetris Athanasoulis (now Ephor of the Korinthia and Argolid) has been overseeing the project. You should also visit the nearby site, Glarentza (5 km SW, right on the coast, next to the Kyllene, the port for Zakynthos). I’ve started a Clemson project here, documenting the city’s walls. Glarentza is built over ancient Kyllene, founded by the Franks in the 13c. Demetris has excavated the Cathedral and has produced amazing stuff, frescoes, burials, multiple phasing with good archaeological contexts (which he will present at next year’s Dumbarton Oaks conference). My interests on the site is that it’s one of the few ex-nuovo cities in the Peloponnese. Excavations at the citadel and the structural chronology of the architecture, moreover, reveals that the Paleologues in fact rebuilt parts of it. According to the Chronicle of the Morea, they destroyed it completely to set an example; the archaeology shows this to be not true, plus it means that much of what was heralded as a 13c city is in fact a 15c city. At the citadel we have a Frankish palace underneath a Byzantine palace. Unfortunately, this is all trenches and covered up. There is very little above ground (the site is farmed) and no visible domestic architecture.

Another urban site that has become very very hot is Ancient Messene, because a “Dark Age” settlement has been excavated here. Last time I was at the site (5 years ago), the houses were still visible (only about a meter above ground). They are located right next to the Early Christian basilica, see Elias Anagnostakes and Natalia Poulou-Papademetriou, “Η πρωτοβυζαντινή Μεσσήνη (5ος-7ος αιώνας) και προβλήματα της χειροποίητης κεραμικής στην Πελοπόννησο," Συμμεικτά 11 (1997), pp. 229-322. If you go to Messene, check out a fabulous gender-bending 4c statue in the Museum: an ancient Diana converted into a Late Roman general (it’s one of my favorites, similar to those published from Aphrodisias, etc.) Petros Themelis, the site director, has been doing lots and lots of rebuilding (Fred Cooper and Peter Brucke are working on a restoration of the Heroon at the tip of the stadium). The Costopoulos Foundation (Costopoulos is the owner of Alpha Bank) is financing part of the restorations. Costopoulos’ patronage is better known in the U.S. through the support of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Make sure you also go to Corinth and meet with Guy Sanders, the assistant director Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst, and the project architect James Herbst (archaeology’s jewels). The American School has started digging a new plot of land called “Pietri.” This is only the second season, and last year they were still on topsoil and 19c/20c layers. Guy has chosen this location precisely for its domestic architecture. It basically connects up to the houses excavated by Henry Robinson S of the South Stoa in the late ’50s, see Hesperia 31 (1962), 95-133. The Corinth excavations serve as the training ground for ASCSA students; there is a two-part training session going on now, so it might be a little hectic and crazy. And of course, make sure to check out “Carpenter’s Folly,” which (unfortunately) has been roped off and you can’t climb up around and through it. Make sure to also see Charles William’s Frankish excavations; they’re fairly domestic, too, a hospital, tavern complex. They are next to Temple E; they are roped off, but if you’re with someone from the School you’ll be able to walk through. They are very well published by Mr. Williams in Hesperia . Speaking of Corinth, I thought that Guy Sanders’ and Michael Boyd’s paper “Moving Homes: A Resistivity Survey of the Late Antique City Wall East of the Forum at Corinth,” at the 2008 Annual AIA Meetings in Chicago has incredible repercussions. Guy has been talking about this theory for a few years but seeing Michael provide proof was great. For over a century, people assumed that the core of the Byzantine city would overlap the core of the ancient city. It seems that the Byzantine core was further E and the ’20s/’30s excavated houses were in the periphery. The Byzantine city survives only in the excavation notebooks. Few visible remain from the 1930s include the Central Area Tower Complex (very deep foundations right on the Roman Forum, now serving as backdrop for Roman senatorial statue) and the fabricated “Carpenter Folly" (see Kourelis 2007)

Most of the excitement from Peloponnesian archaeology comes from the countryside and surface surveys (I’m very biased). But, as you know, very little is visible. Now that all of the heroic surveys of the 1980s are being published, I think we have a pretty good idea about what happened: shrinking of towns, boom of Early Byz villa rustica’s, Dark Ages slowly coming into focus, dispersed 8c-11c villages, and nucleated 12c-16c hilltop villages. I believe that mortar was rarely used in non-religious and non-fortification structures before the 14c which makes bad survival rates. Add to this mudbrick construction (like the house in Eleian Pylos excavated by John Coleman), and the tectonic plate that runs under the western Peloponnese, and you have low monumental visibility. Moreover, the churches (often monastic) are not in the same place as the settlements. And credit goes to Marylee Coulson for first discovering this phenomenon: monasteries unprotected in the plains with settlements further up the hilltops. So, architectural historians have been looking at the wrong places.

Nevertheless, there is a little bit to see. And here is my list of greatest hits. Probably the most accessible pile of rocks in my study area is the site of Santomeri, named after the Frankish Saint-Omer, who had a “palace” in Thebes. In fact, if you find yourself at the Thebes museum, the medieval tower is attributed to him. Despite the obvious toponym, I don’t think any of these settlements are particularly Latin or Greek, actually I believe that the urbanistic boom had occurred before the 1206 conquest. Most of my sites are off the road network and require hours of hiking. Luckily, Santomeri has been exploited by a local ex-mayor who has built (with EU money) a hotel for poets! Since no poets showed up, he rents it to Austrian paragliders, who come to train every summer. To find medieval Santomeri, head to the modern village of the same name (a lovely 18c/19c village) but veer left driving up towards a chapel and the bungalows of Mr. Kostantakopoulos. You can park there and walk up to the top of the mountain (about 20 mins walk). Mr. Kostantakopoulos has even built some steps -- before that the climb was treacherous. The site extends over a few killometers. The view is spectacular, you can see all the way into the peaks of Arcadia (many other medieval villages in view) and the coast of Patras. Believe it or not, it’s bigger than Mystras. All you can see is the pile of rubble marking (once your eyes get used to discerning them) the house outlines, corners, doors. The best way to get to Santomeri is to take the road heading S near Theriano (between Patras and Kato Achaia). Marina Maritsa is an interesting convent nearby, but you must be there at visiting hours. MountSkollis (and Mount Skiadovouni, the next range to the SE) is peppered with interesting cave architecture, but I would have to take you there (lots of hiking impossible to find on one’s own). Caves are something I’ve been thinking about as a normal component of the domestic landscape. Seen from the point of view of a pastoral cycle, they were seasonally inhabited. They are predominantly discussed as monastic, because of the occasional chapels founded within them, but I think the story is more complex. Pastoral cave sanctuaries were also common in antiquity (Pan sanctuaries have been documented throughout this area; e.g. Pieter Brucke's Master's thesis). But I believe the sacred function presupposes a secular function; in other words, those holy monks were far from secluded, they were surrounded by both hilltop settlements and other seasonal (summer-pasture) cave dwellings. As far as I know, no-one has looked at the cave architecture in the Peloponnese (for sure not in my study area with the exception of frescoes). There is evidence of quarrying as well as masonry structures within natural caves. The only easily accessible example of cave architecture is the site of Petrochori/Dragano. Orlandos published an article on the standing church, but didn’t mention anything about the caves further up the slopes. Cave architecture in the Peloponnese is unexplored because it takes hours and hours of hiking; which is good from the preservation stand-point. There is also an interesting technological interest. The medieval hilltop settlements are quarried on-site. The houses are sunken into the limestone outcropping; so you have a mutual process of hollowing out and building up (very efficient). Although the geology is limestone, and much harder than Cappadocia etc., I’m imagining a mental/conceptual continuum that links piled-unworked-blocks (remember, no mortar) to the quarrying of caves. Building on stone (and I think they chose the hilltop outcroppings specifically for its material) creates an additional interesting problem: where to bury your dead. In my only two examples of cemeteries, it seems like they brought their dead further down the slopes where they could find alluvial soil. Although not visible today, Santomeri has evidence of a cemetery. This came up when they were cutting the road that leads up to the site.

If you do make it to the western Peloponnese (Chlemoutsi, Glarentza, Patras Castle, Santomeri), make sure you go to Olympia, too. The famous Slavic pottery excavated in the 60s is now on display, inside the spiffy restored museum exhibits (thanks to the 2004 Olympics). It’s really quite wonderful now. The old neoclassical museum has been restored and there is also a nice exhibit of the history of the German excavations (a little museum next to the Old Museum). The domestic architecture of Byz Olympia (published by Dörpfeld etc, in the 1890s, has also received further scholarly attention). Along the road to Olympia, as you drive through the pine forest (birthplace of the Centaurs), you will see some restaurants advertising roasted piglets on the side of the road. These are the best. The “-poulos” ending of so many Greek names demarcates Peloponnesian origin, local dialect for “son of.” So, for piglets, just look for “γουρούνι” (pig) and “πουλο” (son of) = “γουρουνόπουλο” Although, the final Peloponnesian gourounopoulo is had at the site of Ancient Stymphalis.

You might also want to stop by at Pyrgos. Look for the “Agora,” the neoclassical market, a Ziller building, which will house the new archaeological museum. The area around the market has been landscaped. Although not properly carried out by the city, the urban/landscape design around the museum are based on Miltos Katsaros' and Damianos Abakoumpkin's winning Europan competition). If you head to the SW Peloponnese towards Tripolis, or the Mani, make sure you drive up the Castle of Kyparissia (medieval Arkadia). There is a little café, where I’ve had the most enjoyable ouzos of my life, thanks to the view over the bay. Right before the entrance to the castle, there is a little square. A famous Greek poet lived in the corner and the house next door contains the remnants of a mosque.

Last summer, I left Greece before the horrific fires. So, I haven’t seen the devastation, but from pictures it seemed almost lunar. I hope driving through these burned out areas is not horrible depressing. Perhaps I'm glad not to be traveling this year and not have to see the decimated landscape.

Leaving the NW-Peloponnese, I would recommend the site of Geraki. The architecture was published in DChAE 15 (2004) 111-125, and it’s difficult to inspect. Although one can see the many churches (illegally published by Moutsopoulos and Demetrokalles) on the plains, the settlement is fenced and locked. If you have not been to Monemvasia, of course, it’s a MUST and nice treat especially is Harris and Alexandros Kalliga are in town.

If there were a site that I would like to investigate outside of the NW study area, it would be Mouchli in Arcadia (UTM coordinates: 34S 633664, 4154806). Effie Athanassopoulos has discussed a future project. It’s in the middle of nowhere, right by the side of the road and easy to visit. Once again, don’t expect much beyond wall foundations. Moutsopoulos published a couple of house plans in Vyzantina 13 (1985) 321-353; see also Eugene Darkó, Eugene. 1933. “Η ιστορική σημασία και τα σπουδαιότερα ερείπια του Μουχλίου,” ΕpetByz 10 (1933), pp. 454-482, and “Die Gründung der Festung Muchli,” in Εις μνήμην Σπυρίδωνος Λάμπρου (Athens, 1935), pp. 228-231.

Returning to the Corinthia, on must connect with Tim Gregory and Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory. If they are not in the village of Ancient Corinth, they must be doing fieldwork in Kythera. At some point (I don’t have their dates), Bill Caraher and Dave Pettegrew, will be investigating a new site, a village near Sophiko. It was part of the East Korinthia survey (EKAS). Next summer, inshallah, I hope to join them in a new project, the Lakka-Skoutara rural settlement. Bill and Dave are now finishing up their survey in Cyprus (the Pyla-Koutsopetra Archaeological Project--PKAP), and I don’t remember their dates for Lakka-Skoutara. If you overlap, they would be a great guide for the hinterland. While in the Corinthia, you might also check out a little-known medieval settlement that Tim Gregory worked on (part of EKAS), Agios Vasileios; it’s only been published in Archaeology 50 (May/June 1997), pp. 54-58.

Speaking of Tim Gregory, he was an NEH Scholar at the American School this last year working on a new book, an archaeological history of medieval Greece. And Bill Caraher was the Carpenter Professor. Bill has been very instrumental in the Medieval and Post-Medieval AIA Interest Group, and one of the things we’ve been playing around with is podcasting events sponsored by the group. For instance, we put our Chicago AIA session (on the archaeology of Greek immigration) on-line. Bill has also been uploading lectures from the ASCSA, including Tim’s presentation, three case studies from his book, “A New History of Byzantine Greece: An Archaeological Perspective,” Gennadius Lecture, Athens, April 8, 2008. You probably don’t have time to listen to the whole thing before your leave, but maybe you can download it here.

Another interesting project in the Corinthia is the Sikyon Survey, directed by Yannis Lolos; a very international collaborative. So far, they haven’t hit the areas with the medieval material (overlapping the modern village of Vasiliko), but they are producing some great stuff on the historical geography of the site. Their field season is in July, so you’ll probably miss them. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in the area, check out the Sikyon Museum. It had been closed for years, and just reopened. The building itself is interesting, it was designed by Orlandos on top of a Roman bath he had excavated (must have been influenced by the contemporary ClunyOrlandos’ role in Sikyon is very interesting. He excavated the site in the 1930s and then suddenly never returned. Although I haven’t verified this, it seems that he was the subject of a homophobic hate-crime. According to Yannis, the story goes that someone killed his lover, who was a local. Orlandos was so upset that he vowed never to return to the site. Yannis did his dissertation at Berkeley, taught at Michigan for a little bit and is now at the University of Volos; the project is co-directed by Ben Gurley, who teaches at York and is also field-director in Stymphalis. Hesperia Supplements Series is publishing Yannis dissertation this year, which looks at the entire territory. There is no secular architecture at Sikyon beyond some walls, but there is interesting material in the area (churches, medieval aqueducts, etc.) Like many other sites, Sikyon hopped around from period to period. museum).

In my opinion, the greatest museological development in Greece during the last decade has been the Open Air Water Power Museum 1.5 km from Dimitsana, in Arcadia. It’s a private museum operated by the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation. It consists of a restoration/reconstruction of 17c mills once owned by a monastery. It really is amazing. So much so, that the American School trip occasionally stops here every Fall. If you find yourself in Stymphalis (and the Canadian excavations, dir. by Hector Williams), you’ll see a new Piraeus Bank museum under construction, the Museum of Traditional Crafts and Environment of Stymphalia.

Finally, for your Peloponnesian journey, I highly recommend a fold-out map published by “ROAD.” You can get it at Eleutheroudakis bookstore in Athens and it’s invaluable. I wish there were a Tabula Imperri Byzantini volume for the region. The National Research Institute in Athens has been working on one, but it sounds like Vienna hesitated publishing it because it stops at 1204 (in a proper nationalistic way). The best maps are produced by the Greek Army's Core of Engineers at 1:50,000. They are available for sale at the Γεωγραφική Υπηρεσία Στρατού (GYS) at Paidion tou Areos in Athens.

Although not in the Peloponnese at all, an exciting new field project to watch out for is the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP). Brendan Burke, Bryan Burns, and Camilla MacKay have to be the three most delightful people to ever visit with (look for them in Dilessi). Camilla is studying the medieval remains. Although still early to make any conclusions, it seems that the site is low on Byzantine but high in Frankish/Ottoman scatters. EBAP focuses on ancient Eleon and its environ. The study area contains two incredible medieval towers.

Bon voyage to all

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Philly T-Shirts & Hipsters

In an earlier posting, I discussed Street Art as urban vernacular. While having some delicious split pea soup for lunch, I watched Martha Stewart, mostly because nothing good is on TV at noon. This week, Martha is featuring various crafts, and today she hosted "crafter Stacy Monakey," whom she thanks "for sharing this fun and creative craft." Monakey and her husband, Mark Lyon, run 1girl1boy, a T-shirt company for children and toddlers. Watching Monakey's demeanor on the show, I detected a counter-cultural mode, maybe even a liberal-arts college background much different from Martha's domesticly neurotic universe. I was happy to discover that Monakey is a Philadelphia hipster and a graduate of Tyler. This confirmed the visual affinities I suspected (Space 1026, etc.)

Martha doesn't seem to be the only one that is catching up with the art world. Last month, the GAP produced a series of T-shirts designed by 12 artists from the 2008 Whitney Biennial. My personal favorite was Hanna Liden's design consisting of a diagrammatic sparrow (bottom right). Liden is a Swedish-American photographer and recent graduate from Parsons. Her surreal photographs are much less abstract than her GAP T-shirt, which suggests other vernacular influences (like street art). Both Martha Stewart and the GAP are catching up on an underground art-craft culture modestly peculating in the sewing machines of urban hipsters, such as the makers of R.E. Load Bags in Philadelphia. What might this all mean in terms of counter-culture bleeding into corporate-culture? I'd rather not speculate, but simply affirm Kerry James Marshall's ambigu0us "Everything will be all right, I just know it will," displayed on his GAP T-shirt (top right).

And I can't help but be supportive of all the craft initiatives, like Crafty Bastards, Trenton Avenue Arts Fair, Pile of Craft, which are listed in 1girl1boy's Myspace page. What children's clothing company serenades with "Have Love Will Travel" by the Sonics? Drool, Martha, drool!

After lunch, I walked over to my 40th-Street post office. Sitting on the teller's desk, I saw a beautiful new stamp issue, commemorating Charles and Ray Eames. The series was just released yesterday (June 17, 2008) in San Diego. Come to think of it, the Eames's are the graphic grandparents of street art aesthetics, particularly their designs for children: Molded Plywood Animals (1945), The Toy (1951), House of Cards (1952), The Little Toy (1952), the film , Giant House of Cards (1953) , and the films
Parade, or Here They Come Down the Street (1952), and Toccata for Toy Trains (1953). The U.S. Post Office has produced the most stunning set of stamps, making their 2 cents postage increase fully acceptable. Like the art for children, street art (and its T's) must elicit quick and memorable experiences, but must also be twisted enough to allow room for fantasy. Children's fantasy is quite different from consumer fantasy in that it relishes contradiction. Consumer art (the kind that Martha commonly endorses) must be non-confrontational, nice, therapeutic, another orderly space to escape the life's tensions. The art of children, the Eames's, street stickers, and Philadelphia hipsters does not brush over. I don't want to sound like a snob, but the Frankfurt School's critique of popular culture is absolutely relevant. See Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York, 1972). Too bad the Frankfurt School condemned jazz, and by extension all that Philadelphia is about.

What makes Philadelphia so great for me can be summarized in the following two experiences: 1) The postal worker who helped me at the counter already knew who the Eames were. Her only misconception had been that they were brothers, since Ray is more of a man's name. She was surprised how popular the stamps had been after their first day of issue. After the P.O., I walked over to the Metropolitan Bakery to get a fresh loaf of bread, and a young hipster working the counter saw the stamps through the translucent envelope. "Wow!" he cried out, "what is that?" So I showed him the stamps, leading to a short discussion on design.

Philadelphia's visual literacy does not surprise me, nor do I think it's simply a result of prosperity. Rather, it's a magic combination of low and high, life and education, institutions and the street. Artists like The Roots, or King Britt (and old high-school friend) , only make sense in Philadelphia. I'm not sure if there is a Philadelphia School (like the Philadelphia sound of the 1960s and 1970s), but there's certainly a Philadelphia vibe. Good for you, Martha, for tapping into it.

Sunday's New York Times Magazine had an interesting article on a vintage T-shirt company called Destee Nation. I thank Kat Lewis for this tip. This Seattle company sells "real shirts from real places," T-shirts from independent stores, the type that was vibrant as late as the 1970s and 1980s, but is now more difficult to find. These places are not the usual replica of historical brands (like CBGBs) but actual places. "Destee Nation is not selling nostalgia or hipster kitsch but romance — the romance of the American small business, the neighborhood diner, the old bar, the mom-and-pop shop that has managed to linger into the era of big-box chains." Although an interesting idea, the company's ultimate audience are posers shopping at Nordstrom's and not quite the "been there done that, got the T-shirt" audience. That being said, the graphics are very good and certainly beat the awful pseudo-reality prints from the big sellers, like American Eagle or Old Navy. If the business model works, what Destee Nation will achieve is the distribution of home-grown design to a general audience starving for the types of experience limited to places like Seattle or Philadelphia. The company's website, moreover, makes the connection between T-shirt logo and commemorated independent business. Plus, there is a blog tracking expeditions in search for cool logos from small places.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Buried in Bottles

Eleftheria Kourelis, the fearless lady that was my mother, loved to save bottles. This would drive my sister and I crazy as kids, a familiar source of embarrassment with parents or grandparents raised during the Great Depression or the World Wars. Now, of course, bottle hoarding is socially acceptable, hip and ecological. Elie, as Mrs. Kourelis was known to all her American friends, passed away in December, 2006, but some of her recycled bottles, filled with spices like eucalyptus or oregano, survive in our kitchen cupboard. We fondly look a these bottles now with the meticulous marking by her own hand. A bottle of oregano, for example, notes "8/18/05, brought by Popi." The spice had been bought by our Aunt Popi at the "Ecologists,"an organic store on Omonia Square, Athens, and brought in her suitcase during her last U.S. trip before it was jarred by my mother in an airtight reused container.

At the beginning of summer last week, Celina and I visited my mother's grave at Fernwood Cemetery in Landsdowne, PA, on the edge of Philadelphia. We went to water the flowers planted last spring, light the candle and simply say hello soon after our arrival in Philadelphia. Fernwood Cemetery contains two sections belonging to Saint George and Saint Demetrios, the two major Greek Orthodox Churches in Philadelphia and Upper Darby. the previous summer, we had observed that adjacent Section 186 was being surveyed for expansion. This time around, it was booming with burials. Out of curiosity, we approached two of these newly prepared graves plots (their funerals took place on June 1, 2008). The excavated heaps took us by surprise. Mixed with the dirt was a massive array of bottles, plates, iron objects and other pieces of historical garbage. Clearly, this section of Fernwood Cemetery was a dumping ground during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This must also have been the case with the area around Elie's grave, and it dawned on us that Elie was buried in bottles. Her tomb, pictured here, is located at 39°56'48.9"N, 75°15'17.4"W and can be seen with these coordinates in Google Earth.

Fernwood cemetery dates to 1870 with sumptuous tomb stones along its earliest paths. Once an idyllic suburban cemetery along Cobbs Creek (of Fairmount Park), it was encroached upon by an expanding city. Unable to suppress our archaeological training, Celina and I became fascinated by the historical potential of all the bottles sticking out of the fresh dirt piles, such as the blue Milk of Magnesia bottle from the 1940s (left). We thought it would be fitting to clean them up, photograph them and see what kind of information they might yield about the archaeological history of Elie's graveyard. As with Philadelphia's better known cemeteries (Laurel Hill, Woodland), Fernwood has beautiful tombstones of prominent families, Civil War heroes and famous Philadelphians. My favorites are social reformer Wiliam Sylvis (1828-1869) and Major League player "Yaller Bil" (William Harbridge, 1855-1924). Far from its original rural beauty, Fernwood now has a distinctively inner-city flavor with adjacent basket-ball courts, lower income houses and urban blight. In order to get to it from Center City, one has to process along Baltimore Avenue from 38th to 63rd Streets, which is a grounding and deeply humbling experience. The Greek section is onthe northwest corner and visually stands out through the liberties taken while investing the Protestant grounds with Greek iconographies and rituals. As with cemeteries throughout Greece (or Spain and Italy, for that matter), the Greek section of Fernwood is bustling with social activity. We have never visited when some family member was not tending a nearby grave. When we first asked the cemetery officials about the rules for monuments and landscaping at Fernwood, they conceded that none of the cemetery rules mattered at the Greek section. The tone in the officials' voice suggested exacerbation; the Greek did not follow the cemetery rules, they built monuments, planted cypress trees, brought in gravel, built grave boundaries. Celina enjoys serving the funerary duties of a Greek bride, but also enjoys discovering similarities with the Ancient Greek cemeteries of her scholarship. In our last visit, for instance, we noted that many graves had planted mint, which may be connected to the myth of Hades and the nymph Menthe. During the 2007 Annual Meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America in San Diego, Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory gave a fascinating paper on her fieldwork and Ph.D. thesis on East Korinthia and Cythera, "Remembering and Forgetting: The Relationship between Memory and the Abandonment of Graves in 19th- and 20thCentury Greek Cemeteries." Lita's paper gave us incredible insights (and analytical tools) in understanding the modern Greek cemetery from an anthropological point of view. Discussions with Lita about grave maintenance, grieving rituals and diaspora communities, moreover, was personally therapeutic. Elie had been buried in her Fernwood plot only a few days before this conference. The paper will be published in a special issue of the
International Journal of Historical Archaeology that I have just finished editing.

Especially since Celina and I are not going to Greece this summer for fieldwork, the bottles of Fernwood put us in an archaeological mindset, while we both work on our books and get in touch with Philadelphia history. The rapid growth of the new cemetery sector is striking. It does not appear to be ethnically Greek. The Greek sector seems much slower, which is perhaps indicative of the shrinking Greek community in Philadelphia and its dispersal into the suburbs.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hercules: The Water Jug

When two people marry, according to Late Byzantine customs, they should be given a ceramic plate symbolizing their union into a new domestic unit, wishing blessings of fecundity and dining bliss (or it's just an early form of the registry). Many such plates survive from Cyprus, Corinth and other Byzantine sites. The most beautiful specimen (right) is an incised sgraffito plate excavated in Corinth during the 1930s (Charles Morgan, Corinth XI: The Byzantine Pottery. Cambridge, Mass., 1942, pl. LII). Alison Frantz (Hesperia 10, 1941, pp. 9-13), James Notopoulos (Hesperia 33, 1964, pp. 108-133) and others have tried to connect the scene with Digenis Akritas, wishing to heroize a modest representation. I think it's just a wedding plate no different in spirit than the ceramics illustrated in the ad (left) from April 25, 1940. In early 1940, Westinghouse held a letter-writing context with 10 refrigerators given away each week to the bride with the best answer to "I should have a Westinghouse Refrigerator because ..." In the middle right of the page, the conjugal refrigerator has been opened to show four complimentary ceramic gifts: a blue water jug at the top tray, two left-over dishes (green and yellow) and a yellow butter dish at the bottom tray (see below for detail zoom). The set constitutes the Hercules line produced by the Hall China Company in East Liverpool, Ohio between 1940 and 1941, as a complementary gift accompanying the purchase of a new refrigerator. On purely formal terms (color, shape, line, texture, etc.), the Hercules water jug is one of my favorite objects of 20th-century design.

On the occasion of the marriage between Elias Markolefas and Iota Vassilopoulou, I explore one particular vessel that brings modernism and archaeology into harmonious cohort. Preferring the aquatic metaphors of wedlock (refrigerated in the hot months of summer), my gift is a cobalt blue Hercules water jug, which I acquired on eBay. Now that it has safely arrived to Athens in one piece, I can write a few words without the threat of jinxing it. When the vessel arrived, it had a distinctive smell, suggesting that it served its las owner as a cigar box, making it additionally appropriate for the smoking room introspection that philosophical Elias continuously accommodates.

Hercules was designed by J. Palin Thorley (1892-1987), a fascinating individual of diverse skills and a pioneer in combining modernity with the material past. The first Hercules water jug I ever saw belongs to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and was featured in American Modern, 1925-1940: Design for a New Age, an exhibit that came through the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2002 (exhibition catalog, J. Stewart Johnson, New York, 2000, p. 155). Thorley also designed the “General” water jug (1939), which I saw for the first time at the Victoria and AlbertMuseum, London. It’s possible that Thorley also designed the “Phoenix” collection (1937-1939), but I haven’t found any proof of this. I began collecting Hall pottery in 2004, after seeing a stunning red “Ball Jug” (introduced in 1938) in Hamilton, Ontario. Since then, I have spotted Hall ceramics in antique stores throughout the Carolinas and on eBay. It’s quite an affordable habit. The moment I heard of my friends' marriage, I set out in a quest to find a Hercules jug for them. Given how cheaply-manufactured plastic containers have taken over our domestic lives, I find it especially apt to celebrate the ceramic containers of early modernity and recycle them in use, hoping that their ethics of production and their exceptional aesthetics will guide domestic life.

Thorley was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, considered to be the home of England's pottery industry. He studied art in the Hanley School (1902) and apprenticed in the drawing department of Wedgwood (1906-1913), where, among other projects, he worked on Theodore Roosevelt’s and William Taft’s china service for the White House. As America began to dominate the industrial ceramics market, opportunities and demand grew; in 1927, Thorley immigrated to East Liverpool, Ohio hired as artistic director of booming local pottery firms, including the Hall China Company. A notable chapter in his career included a position at Colonial Williamsburg (1941-1956). In 1937, Thorley entered academia founding the ceramics department at the University of Pittsburgh, soon after the completion of the fabulous Cathedral of Learning (see, Lucia Curta, "Constructing 'Imagined Community': The Romanian Classroom at the University of Pittsburgh, 1927-1943," Studies in the Decorative Arts 5:2 (Spring-Summer 1998), pp. 40-68). By 1942, Thorley is no longer listed as professor. The trans-global designer and short-lived academic was also an archaeologist. He took part in the excavations of Tell Beit Mirsim and Bab ed-Dra', collaborating with William F. Albright (John Hopkins) and James L. Kelso (Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary).

Most importantly, Thorley pioneered methods known today as "experimental archaeology." Reviewing Thorley's chapter in W. F. Albright's, The Excavations of Tell Beit Mirsim 3: The Iron Age (New Haven, 1943), Herbert G. May writes, "For the first time we have a definitive analysis of the texture and manufacture of Palestinian pottery, based on experimentation and collaboration between ceramic expert and archaeologist. Other institutions may follow suit" (H. G. May, Journal of Biblical Literature 63:2, (June 1944), p. 194). There is no doubt in my mind that Thorley's direct archaeological experience influenced his design and craft. We know of his early love with archaeology following the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb; Thorley joined the British Army in World War I with the the hope of making it to Egypt. Thorley's Hall pottery for Westinghouse has streamlined ribs that, on the one had, remind us of machine age aesthetics but, on the one hand, speak of ribbed amphoras from the Late Roman Mediterranean.

As was the case with many archaeologists of the 1920s and the 1930s, the past was usable. The line between archaeological research and modern design was porous. For Thorley, the ancient potter was contemporary, a colleague invested in the challenges of synthetic material. He writes, "We live in a day of synthetics--synthetic rubber, synthetic gasoline, synthetic perfumes, and countless others. The first synthetic to be discovered in mankind was pottery, an artificial stone produced by firing clay shapes to a temperature sufficiently high to change the physical and chemical properties of the original clay into a new substance with many of the characteristics of stones."(Kelso and Thorley, "Palestinian Pottery in Bible Times," Biblical Archaeologist 8:4 (December 1945), pp. 88). Thorley and the ancient potter were engaged in a common agenda, the creation of a synthetic world. The industrial challenges of modernity were historicized with the origins of civilized society. Similarly, free enterprise found its precedents in craft production: "Pottery represented one of the major manufacturing industries of the ancient world and the Israelite potters belonged to what we call today 'up and coming business men'." (Ibid, p. 81).

From the designer's point of view, ceramic vessels are conditioned by common functions. Thorley's Hercules water jug fits snuggly next to the freezer of the Westinghouse refrigerator (ad detail). It stores water, cools it and finally pours it. Its job is related to that of ancient jugs like one described by Albright, Kelso and Thorley: "The spout of this jar is excellent designing. The problem of drip is handled by giving the lower surface of the spout a sharp upward cut back so that the drop cannot follow the contour of the spout and smear up the face of the jar. Furthermore the spout, although a short one and placed high on the jar, reaches beyond the body of the jar and thus prevents any drops smearing the jar ... The flat top of the spout depresses the liquid as it passes through the spout, thus making a better stream for controlled pouring. Furthermore, this almost flat surface gives variety and contrast to the well-rounded three-dimensional volume of the pot--a principle of design used in the best modern teapots." ( "Early-Bronze Pottery from Bab ed-Dra in Moag," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (Oct. 1944), p. 13).

From a historiographic point of view, Thorley is all but forgotten. His papers were acquired by the College of William and Mary in 1996 and can be found at the Special Collections of the Earl Gregg Swem Library. The best secondary literature is two articles by John Austin in Ceramics in America (2005 and 2006). I thank my friend and colleague Mike Vatalaro for the inspiration in contemporary ceramics. Mike is Art Department Chair and Professor of Ceramics at Clemson University. Born, raised and educated in Akron, Ohio, he knows all about the Ohio ceramics industries. As an MFA graduate student at Alfred University, moreover, he witnessed the discovery of terra sigilata's material constitution. I wish I could put Mike Vatalaro and Guy Sanders (dir. of Corinth Excavations and world authority on Roman/Byzantine ceramics) in the same room (or kiln) and sit back to watch the sparkles fly.

For more research on Thorley, I offer a preliminary bibliography below.

Mazel tov to Elias and Iota (and an overdue gift)

Albright, William Foxwell. 1943. The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim (Joint Expedition of the Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary and the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem), v. 3, The Iron Age. (The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, vols. 21-22, for 1941-43), New Haven. Chapter by James Leon Kelso and J. Palin Thorley.

Albright, William Foxwell, James Leon Kelso, and J. Palin Thorley. 1944. “Early-Bronze Pottery from Bab ed-Dra’ in Moab,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 95 (Oct., 1944), pp. 3-13.

Austin, John C. 2005. “J. Palin Thorley (1892-1987), Potter and Designer: Part I,” Ceramics in America 2005, ed. Robert Hunter, Hanover and London, pp. 160-201.

Austin, John C. 2006. “J. Palin Thorley (1892-1987), Potter and Designer: Part 2, Williamsburg Ceramics in America,” Ceramics in America 2006.

Bowman, Raymond A. 1944. Rev. William Foxwell Albright, The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim. Volume III, The Iron Age, in The American Historical Review 49:4 (Jul., 1944), pp. 691-692.

Kelso, James Leon, and J. Palin Thorley. 1945. “Palestinian Pottery in Bible Times,” The Biblical Archaeologist 8:4 (Dec. 1945), pp. 81-93.

Kelso, James Leon, and J. Palin Thorley. 1946. “A Ceramic Analysis of Late-Mycenaean and Other Late-Bronze Vases from Jett in Palestine,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 104 (Dec., 1946), pp. 21-25.

May, Herbert Godon. 1944. Book review of Albright 1943, Journal of Biblical Literature 63:2 (Jun. 1944), pp. 191-195.

Thorley, J. Palin 1938-1941. “Pottery Fundamentals” in Pottery, Glass and Brass Salesman, starting May 1938 and at least to June 1941.

Thorley, J. Palin 1942. “The Ceramic Designer in Wartime” Crockery and Glass Journal, two part article, June and August.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States