Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Greek-American Vernacular 1: The Coin
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
DOMESTIC ARCHITECTURE IN THE
Regrettably not much has happened in the field of domestic architecture in the
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
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
Make sure you also go to
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
If you do make it to the western Peloponnese (Chlemoutsi, Glarentza,
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
Last summer, I left
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,
Returning to the Corinthia, on must connect with Tim Gregory and Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory. If they are not in the
Speaking of Tim Gregory, he was an NEH Scholar at the
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
Finally, for your Peloponnesian journey, I highly recommend a fold-out map published by “ROAD.” You can get it at Eleutheroudakis bookstore in
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
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
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
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
Thorley was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, considered to be the home of England's pottery industry. He studied art in the
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
Albright, William Foxwell, James Leon Kelso, and J. Palin Thorley. 1944. “Early-Bronze Pottery from Bab ed-Dra’ in
Austin, John C. 2005. “J. Palin Thorley (1892-1987), Potter and Designer: Part I,” Ceramics in America 2005, ed. Robert Hunter,
Austin, John C. 2006. “J. Palin Thorley (1892-1987), Potter and Designer: Part 2,
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
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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