Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

I survived a beautiful night that included fireside chats, reindeer, tasty food, lantern lit walkways, historic goodness, Christmas carolers and ice-skating.

I know, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Based on the fact that Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village has sold out most nights during this year’s annual program, I’m not alone.

From experience, I can share a few survival tactics to help others make the most of the event. It took me a while to get it right, maybe because the weather changes the experience so much. It’s winter – in Michigan. (I don’t think I need to add much to that.)

Tip one: Dress to stay warm and dry

We’ve attended the event in temperate weather – running around with coats open and hats off. We’ve also survived some pretty freezing weather decked out in snow pants and facemasks, scurrying from house to house eager to warm frosty noses and icy toes.

This year, a misty rain greeted us early in the night, but it was gone soon enough. I closed my umbrella shortly after arrival and didn’t touch it again. Outside of a little extra mud, it was very comfortable.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Staying warm and dry is key to enjoying the event. I’ve often told my older girls that cozy wins over cute. (That’s not always an easy adage for teenage girls when their vision of strolling through the fire-lit village doesn’t generally include two pair of socks, snow pants and long johns. Or – oh no – when last year’s warm gloves don’t match this year’s new coat.) But it’s a long event, and there’s so much to do. It’s one thing to be warm for an hour or so, but Holiday Nights is a three-and-a-half hour gig.

Fortunately, there are many warming fires throughout the village. They’re great for relieving the chill, and meeting and greeting other visitors to the event.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Tip two: Arrive early

There’s so much to do at Holiday Nights, we like to arrive early with a plan. We used try see every element of the night – visit each house, workshop, etc. However, now that the kids are older, they want to DO everything at Holiday Nights. That means skating, wagon rides, carousel rides. Even our youngest wants into the action, and sitting in a stroller isn’t much of an option.

When the event is sold out, there can be some waiting involved. The lines for rides on horse-drawn wagons, Model Ts and the carousel (turning to the tune of Christmas carols) were somewhat lengthy during our visit. (That’s another reason to dress warmly.)

Upon our arrival this year, we headed directly to the skating rink since that was a top priority for everyone. I confess, I didn’t actually skate this time, but I enjoyed watching our children don the borrowed blades and make their attempts. It was a first try for our six-year-old, and she enjoyed it thoroughly. Near the end of the night, three of the kids went back for a second visit to the ice.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Tip three: Bring your appetite

There are some great concession stands to add flavor to the night. There’s nothing quite like standing outside eating a hot fire-roasted beef sandwich smothered in caramelized onions. Or roasted chestnuts. Or steaming stew. Or any of the other yummy delights special to the event. We grabbed a cup of hot cocoa at the same place we usually grab a cool summertime treat, since frozen the custard stand was converted for more appropriate cold-weather fare. We’ve never done the dinner package at Eagle Tavern (which sells out lickety split). Maybe someday we’ll make that happen.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Tip four: Visit Santa

Whether you have children with you or not, it’s quite a joy just standing back watching the reactions of little ones as Santa calls their names from atop the balcony of the Stephen Foster house. We made a sweet memory again this year, since our littlest is three and just ripe for the fun magic of Santa.

Just before I caught up with my family to see Santa, my husband texted me that old jolly guy had just aided in a marriage proposal.

Where was I? Our oldest daughter needed a band-aid, so I sought out security to get one. While I was waiting for a band-aid, my family was ooh-ing and ahh-ing with folks privy to the event. I unsuccessfully tried to track down the newly promised couple - after the fact - with hopes of snapping a photo, but I was met with conflicting reports from my apparently not-too-observant entourage.

Tip five: Bring bandages

See tip four. (Bah humbug.)

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Tip six: Stay late

Even in the cold, there’s nothing bitter about the end of this sweet night out. A Christmas carol sing-a-long with fireworks is just the perfect icing for a great time and a fitting finale to a night that always makes me feel I’ve stepped inside a classic Currier and Ives Christmas illustration … but with the added bonus of glitter.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Christmas, Holiday Nights, holidays

Mummer's the word

December 19, 2012 Think THF

Mummer may be the word, but if you ask my three-year-old, it’s a little more like “freaky.” He shied away from the costumed men parading in down Main Street during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village. He asked me if the men suited in traditional Mummer-finery thought it was Halloween. (I think his exact words were: “What the? Halloween?”)

Mummers and the practice of Mummering were popular through the mid 1800s in the northeastern United States. Although the custom has ancient origins, most of the men participating in the pageantry in the U.S. weren’t aware of that fact, according to Jim Johnson, who is senior manager of creative programs at Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Young men in villages dressed in costumes and masks, and went door to door. They would sing and dance, ask for food and drink, and if they weren’t given any, they’d come in and take it. Costumes were elaborate, often outlandish and grotesque, and to add to the fun, people pretended they didn't recognize each other.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Jim said that it was a practice primarily among the lower class, and a premise of the activity was role and class reversal.

Mummering reached a pinnacle in the years before the Civil War, but at that time, Christmas in general was celebrated very differently compare with what we know of the holiday today. In some areas of the country, it was a rather raucous holiday celebrated by men taking to the streets.

“If someone from that era was dropped into today's New Year's Eve celebrations in larger cities - with people gathering and shouting in the streets - they would indeed recognize that kind of holiday celebration,” Jim explained.

Mummering died out before it made its way to Michigan. “By the time we were celebrating Christmas here - Mummering was something that was not a part of it,” Jim said.

Mummers

The costumes worn by the Mummers in Greenfield Village are inspired by

illustrations and written accounts from the middle 1800s. Jim shared the above

image of costumed paraders marching; it’s from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper,

Jan. 18, 1862.

To get a flavor of the fun and spectacle of the custom, the description from the paper offers more detail of the practice and of the dress donned by the participating Mummers:

The 44th New York was encamped around Hall's Hill in present-day Arlington. The men found an interesting way to celebrate the holiday by organizing "a burlesque parade":

All of the officers gave over their commands to the men. Bob Hitchcock, a member of the band, whose avoirdupois was about 300 pounds, was duly promoted and mustered as Colonel of the parade. He was dressed in a manner becoming his high rank. He was mounted upon a horse that surpassed in inferiority the famous Rozinante [Don Quixote's horse]. He rode with his face turned toward the horse's tail so that he might at all times watch his command. The horse was embellished with a pair of trousers on his fore legs, and a pair of drawers on his hind legs. . . The men were uniformed in most dissimilar and fantastic garbs. As a whole the rank and file easily surpassed Falstaff and his famous command. The commands given and the manner of their execution were unprecedented and quaint. The tactics of Scott, Hardee and Casey would be searched in vain to find precedent for those impromptu evolutions. The dress parade which followed was unique in its dissimilarity from anything promulgated in army regulations. No words can describe it. Frank Leslie's Illustrated paper only faintly depicted a short section of it but it lingers in the memory like a bright spot in that winter's experience of army life. (Nash 56.)

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village Mummers

You can see the cage-like skirt on the Greenfield Village Mummer on the right was inspired by the 1862 illustration.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Mummer costumes were creatively made with whatever household materials available. The gentleman pictured above uses a quilt for a cape.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village

Inspired by the rowdy reputation of Mummers of days gone by, the village masqueraders boldly address visitors to Holiday Nights and aren’t the least bit camera shy for those who want to take home a souvenir of their encounter.

Philadelphia still honors the Mummering tradition with an annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parade – the oldest folk parade in the country. The glamorous and elaborate costumes for the parade have evolved greatly and bear little resemblance to the historic Mummer costumes represented at Greenfield Village.

Christmas, Holiday Nights, holidays

Design lovers have been celebrating the 100th birthday of Ray Eames, one half of the renowned Eames design duo, the past few days, bringing her role into the spotlight once again.

Ray and Charles rose to prominence in an era and an industry where men stood out with their achievements, often ignoring the accomplishments of their female counterparts. However, Charles always found a way to include Ray and highlight her work. At the end of the day, Ray was crucial to all components of Eames.

Ray was trained as a painter and sculptor. She loved pattern and design - her office at 901 Washington Boulevard was filled with drawers of colorful papers as inspiration for the next project. Every design element was purposeful for Ray. Whether it be a fabric selection for a chair or the flower arrangements she placed on her own dining room table at home, every choice had been scrutinized. Ray didn't do things just to do them - she did it as part of a grander vision.

Attention to detail was just one of Ray's well-known traits and was a critical element within their work. You see that with every piece of furniture they created. When you evaluate their portfolio over time, each model was better than the previous as the two tried to find just the right combination of materials in the finished products to make it, finally, perfect by their standards.

As such a detail-oriented person, Ray's work was her life and her life was her work. Both she and Charles weren't the types of people to use "free time" to watch television or "hang out." Free time was time to start the next project or research new inspiration.

It's impossible to fully disentangle Charles' and Ray's contributions to the overall Eames design achievement. Theirs was a creative partnership so completely entwined that teasing it apart only muddies their legacy.

Eames

The following post was originally posted on Herman Miller's Discover blog on Dec. 13, 2012. We're pleased to share this story here on The Henry Ford's blog. Many thanks to our friends at Herman Miller for their permission to post this for our readers to enjoy. - Lish Dorset

By Mindy Koschmann

In a 1980 interview with Ruth Bowman for the Archives of American Art, Ray responded to a question about her chosen vocation:

“I never thought of myself as an artist and couldn’t bear the word.”

She objected to the generality of the label, but her comments about her interdisciplinary approach to art and design provide an intriguing contrast:

“It was natural for me not to separate them, you know—now you study history, now you study dance, now you study music, or now you study pottery or whatever it is— it all seemed to be one thing. “

Of Ray’s many artistic pursuits—painting, film, textiles, fashion, and furniture design—perhaps the most personal was her proclivity for making interesting arrangements with found objects. Of her curious habit, she said:

“Almost everything that was ever collected was an example of some facet of design and form. We never collected anything as just collectors, but because something was inherent in the piece that made it seem like a good idea to be looking at it. “

It’s always a good idea to revisit the work of Charles and Ray Eames, especially in light of the 100th anniversary of Ray’s birth on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. We celebrate Ray’s life and work as a painter, collector, and designer.

Eames

This Saturday, Dec. 15, marks what would have been artist and designer Ray Eames' 100th birthday. Design is an important topic at The Henry Ford, so over the next few days we're pleased to share a few posts dedicated to Ray's spirit and contribution to the Eames design name.

Posting with us today is Cheryl Oz of Cheryl Oz Designs, a metro Detroit illustrator and designer. Cheryl is a past Maker Faire Detroit participant and recipient of an Editor's Choice Award. - Lish Dorset

I studied design and advertising at the College for Creative Studies. During an art history class, I was introduced to the work of Charles and Ray Eames and from that point on I never looked at art and design the same way again.

At the time I knew very little about the designers, so what I loved the most was what I saw in their work. I loved the clean lines, color choices and movement in their pieces. Their furniture was so different from the furniture I grew up with in my family's home.

From that point on I feel like my work has been influenced by the Eames aesthetics. It wasn't until years later when I decided to start focusing more on illustration, that I then remembered how inspired I was by the Eames duo and imagined others most likely were, too.

I have always been inspired by everyday things. I loved the notion that when the first Eames chair was in the production process, it was meant to be a mass-produced, affordable chair that anyone could own. I like to think of my artwork in the same manner. I feel that everyone should be able to afford art that they love for their home. Surely, I thought there were other people that felt the same way that I do, and still wanted a bit of Eames in their home, so I started painting a few of my favorite pieces of their furniture.

Besides being a painter, Ray was the woman behind the scenes who gave insightful input to her husband Charles, who appreciated her talents and held her opinions in high regard. Her input was almost unheard of for a woman of her time. She had an incredible sense of color and with Charles, they both led a colorful life in their amazing world of art and design.

Happy 100th birthday, Ray!

Eames

Image ID THF208776

One of the great pleasures of being archivist at The Henry Ford is the continuing ability to receive interesting collections and to meet the donors. One such person was Edward Gies, who called to ask if we would be interested in some photographs of presidential vehicles. Since we have a number of presidential vehicles in our collection, but not a large amount of support material, I said I certainly was. He said he and his wife were planning a trip to the museum and he would bring the material along. When Mr. Gies arrived, he brought a small but very rich collection not only of photographs but also of ceremonial flags that had flown on a number of our vehicles.

What made the experience even more exciting was to discover that the collection had been gathered by Mr. Gies’ father, Morgan Gies. Morgan Gies was a member of the United States Secret Service and the man in charge of the White House vehicles. He held that position for 27 years, serving five presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson. In addition to overseeing the White House fleet, he was often the driver of the presidential vehicle or the backup car.

Morgan Gies designed the special ramps that allowed presidential vehicles to be transported quickly and efficiently by air to distant locations.

ID THF208770

The 1950 Lincoln Bubbletop when then Princess Elizabeth visited the United States in 1951. She is seated next to President Truman and Morgan Gies is the driver. Elizabeth was crowned Queen two years later in 1953.

The donation also contained three American flags and two ceremonial flags flown on the front of presidential vehicles: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (1882-1945) Sunshine Special, Dwight David Eisenhower’s (1890-1969) Bubbletop, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s (1917-1963) 1961 Lincoln, all of which are in The Henry Ford’s collection. Other special flags include one for Princess Elizabeth (before she was Queen) flown on the Bubbletop and a special flag for Pakistan that was flown on the Bubbletop when President Eisenhower visited that country while on an eleven nation trip through Europe, Africa and Asia.

Presidential Limo

Image ID THF208758

Presidential Limo

Image ID THF208764

The Ferdinand Magellan rail car was named after the famous explorer. It was identified as U.S Car No.1 and was used by presidents from 1943 to 1958. A custom built wheel chair elevator was installed to lift President Roosevelt up onto the rear platform of the car. The elevator was removed after Roosevelt’s death in 1945.

The two queens mentioned above are not individuals but the two backup cars used in parades. They were named after the two luxurious ocean liners of the era. At that time the President’s car was the Sunshine Special, named so because the top folded down to allow the President to enjoy the sun and open air.

Image ID THF208824

The Morgan L. Gies presidential vehicles photographs collection has been cataloged and most of it has been digitized, too. You can browse the collection online or come in to the Benson Ford Research Center reading room to look at it in person.

Terry Hoover is the Chief Archivist at The Henry Ford.

limousines, presidential limousines

We were creating a lot of delicious fall-inspired food items the past few months as we celebrated Fall Flavor. With all that food, we're sure more than a few of you got a bit thirsty. Take a look at how we make pumpkin ale, a welcomed beverage at the end of a long day.

beer, Food, pumpkins

If you’ve visited Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, have you ever seen our presenters canning jams, jellies, and other delicious pantry staples? If not, you’re in for a treat.

This fall we got a firsthand look at what goes into canning. While canning is a food preservation technique first experimented with more than 200 years ago, it’s gaining a resurgence among foodies and families looking to eat local as much as they can each year and enjoy favorite flavors all year long.

When we visited Firestone Farm in September, our team was working with some fresh products from our farms almost every day. Our presenters make everything from bottle pickles to cucumber catsup. If a recipe doesn’t set quite right, it doesn’t go to waste - when peaches don’t seal, they become a tasty pie filling.

As you’ll see in the video, presenters Becky Goodenow and Larissa Fleishman start out by sterilizing the jars they’ll use for canning that day. You can’t touch the inside of the jar, as you might contaminate it, so a clean cloth is used to wipe it down. A metal spoon is most important because it helps disperse the heat from the hot liquid. This helps to prevent the cooler glass jar from cracking as you pour in the boiling liquid.

Today there are a variety of products to choose from when it comes to canning. You can even purchase your very own jam and jelly maker to take a lot of work out of the equation. Ball Canning brand offers a community and resources website to enthusiasts, too. Or look for the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving Recipes the next time you’re at the book store.

Watch this video to see Becky and Larissa in action making a batch of chili sauce from Buckeye Cookery. You can make it at home, too. You can also visit The Henry Ford’s library of historic cookbooks for inspiration.

Chili Sauce, Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, 1880, p. 132.

  • 12 large, ripe tomatoes
  • 4 ripe or three green peppers
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3 cups of vinegar
  • Peel tomatoes and onions, chop (separately) very fine, add the peppers (chopped) with the other ingredients, and boil one-and-a-half hours. Bottle it and it will keep a long time.

    Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

    Food

    I never really gave much thought to the idea of someone being a LEGO visionary until visiting the LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition exhibit at Henry Ford Museum.

    With one glance, it’s clear this isn’t your kids’ LEGO exhibit. It’s not that they won’t enjoy it, because they most certainly will. My 11-year-old son and his friend will attest to that. Their jaws were dropped in awe walking through the exhibit space. They were officially blown away. So were the adults.

    I found the exhibit much more of an art exhibit than a toy display. We took the kids to the LEGO Castle Adventure exhibit in the same space just a few years ago, and although I wasn’t expecting a repeat theme, I certainly wasn’t imagining dramatic structures of this detail, beauty and scale.

    A visitor captures a photo of the Burj Khalifa with her iPad

    LEGO artist Adam Reed Tucker takes the familiar building brick out of the box and uses it in some not-so-familiar ways to create remarkable replicas of some of the world’s architectural icons. Some buildings included in the exhibit are the Empire State Building, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the Sky Needle, Transamerica Pyramid, Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

    LEGO Certified Professional and artist Adam Reed Tucker works on a LEGO rendition of Ford Field

    Also part of the exhibit is Detroit’s Ford Field. The completed structure will be moved for unveiling and display at the field on Thanksgiving then returned to Henry Ford Museum the next day.

    Tucker explains to visitors that he uses architectural drawings and photographs for planning each structure, but that most of the work is in his head as he is “free building.”

    Tucker was on hand the opening weekend of the exhibit. He continued work on the Ford Field replica, took time to answer questions, sign autographs and even gave an impromptu tour.

    LEGO Artist Adam Reed Tucker shows visitors the architectural drawings of Ford Field he used as inspiration during the planning and creating process.

    An architect by trade and in practice, the tough economy put Tucker in a position of reconsidering his life’s work. After years of working with computer renderings in the business side of architecture, he had a desire to create with his own hands and inspire others to do the same. That’s where building with LEGO came in.

    Tucker came up with a plan to use LEGO to recreate some famous buildings and sell them. In an effort to get reacquainted with the building bricks - he hadn’t built with them since before high school – he said he went to Toys R Us and filled 13 baskets with LEGO kits. (There was an audible gasp from the children present.)

    Adam Reed Tucker demonstrates creative repurposing of a standard LEGO piece.


    Tucker said the reason he chose LEGO was simple: to inspire others. “I wanted to teach people about architecture and encourage them to build models with just LEGO pieces. Using LEGO doesn’t require glue, putty or any special skills or tools.” He said the only difference in skill is in how you use LEGO. For many of the buildings in the exhibit, he creatively repurposed parts by at times using them in ways not originally intended.

    LEGO artist Adam Reed Tucker demonstrates how he transports the large structures. He uses no adhesives or putty.

    Tucker came up with the concept of “artitecture” and his work eventually led him to an association with LEGO as a creator of LEGO Architecture sets.

    Replicas of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the St. Louis Gateway Arch and Transamerica Pyramid.

    Playing with LEGO as a child fed Tucker’s interest in architecture, and now in some ways he has come full circle. I asked him if he ever in his wildest dreams thought he’d be doing this, he laughed and said, “No, I didn’t.” But he also said he plans to continue doing it for the rest of his life.

    Tucker is working on a bridge exhibit slated to open in 2014 at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

    I can honestly say, I will never look at a LEGO quite the same. I’m not sure if that means I won’t howl quite as much when I step on a wayward piece, but I will recognize the piece for the possibility, potential and inspiration it can bring to the minds of the young and old.

    The exhibit includes a very large LEGO play area for visitors of all ages to put some of their newly found inspiration into practice. My son and his friend spent nearly two hours creating some architectural gems that they eagerly added to the growing LEGO city display table.

    Andrew and Henry create in the LEGO play area of the exhibit.

    LEGO, lego bricks, toys

    Growing Up LEGO

    November 2, 2012 Archive Insight

    It seems like LEGO has been a part of my life since as far back as I can remember. What started as a few simple sets, like this basic building set from the collections of The Henry Ford, from friends and family has turned into hundreds of boxes sprawled over a customized workshop in my own house.

    I was always good at entertaining myself as a child and took to LEGO early. The collection was initially stored in a small tub, but eventually graduated to a chest of drawers. I removed my clothes and found a less suitable storage solution for them. LEGO was far more important and this allowed me to hover over the drawers and build my creations on top of my dresser.

    My parents somehow put up with this and continued to feed the obsession. Before I out grew my bunk beds, they were an ideal surface to create towns, space campus or medieval battlefields. I have a pretty strong imagination and LEGO helped grow and develop it.

    To this day, when asked what I would like for Christmas, I always respond, "LEGO."

    LEGO bricks are such a fascinating medium because you can visualize 3-D objects simply and effectively. It works best for creations that are angular with straight edges. It's also a great medium for prototyping simple machines and casting moulds.

    So just how important are my LEGO sets? I designed and built a LEGO workshop in the basement of my house. Having a space like this has helped me tackle new projects, like picture mosaics and 3-D logos.

    "Nick Brickly" on the set of Brick Challenge

    Were you at Maker Faire Detroit? If you were, than you might have seen me as Nick Brickly, host of my Brick Challenge game show. It's a LEGO-based game show similar to Double Dare. We ask questions and challenge contestants to mini games. Join the fun on stage Saturdays in January 2013 at Henry Ford Museum.

    I can't wait to see LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition when it opens its doors tomorrow. Just like Brick Challenge, the LEGO Architecture series and the work of Adam Reed Tucker are great examples of how LEGO is more than a toy - it's a medium for creation and communication.

    Nick Britsky is Royal Oak-based LEGO lover and maker. A participant of Maker Faire Detroit since 2010, you can catch him on stage at Anderson Theater this winter as part of LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition's Saturday programming.

    LEGO, lego bricks, toys