On any given day inside the Pottery Shop in Greenfield Village you’ll find our team of potters and decorators creating a variety of different handmade items, from mugs for Eagle Tavern dining to new-baby birthday plates and even Christmas tree ornaments. But right now in the snow-covered shop our artists are taking on a new challenge that’s all about creativity and exploration instead of out-of-the-box, obvious function.
Senior Manager of Program Operations Tom Varitek issued a challenge to potters Melinda Mercer, Alex Pratt and John Ahearn at the beginning of the year to each create a piece of pottery that best reflected their interpretation of the studio pottery movement. It didn’t have to be functional and it didn’t have to look like something you’d see on the kitchen table inside the Ford Home. There could be revisions and further exploration along the way; it didn’t have to be perfect after the first firing. It just had to reflect who they are as potters.
Studio pottery is work created by artists that isn’t mass produced, either by a large pottery or factory. The pieces can be functional, but tend to lean more toward the artistic, individual expression side of design. Simply put, factories equal function, studios equal art.
The studio pottery movement took hold of America in the early 20th century, most notably in the 1930s and 1940s as large factories began to consistently produce pottery in masses. Artists looked for creative outlets in their work; those opportunities were often found in smaller potteries and studios across the country. Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery is one example of the transition the Arts & Crafts Movement reflected in the early 1900s. As founder Mary Stratton said:
“It is not the aim of the Pottery to become an enlarged, systematized commercial manufactor in competition with others striving in the same way. Its idea has always been to solve progressively the various ceramic problems that arise in hope of working out the results and artistic effects which may happily remain as memorials....or at least stamp this generation as one which brought about a revival of the ceramic arts and prove an inspiration to those who come after us."
Getting a chance to see what the potters have been up to with their challenge assignments so far this winter, my visit to the pottery shop this week was met with smiling faces and enthusiastic displays of their work made so far.
For lead potter Melinda, the assignment has been a great chance to depart from the production pottery the team is responsible for throughout the year. However, its this background in producing goods visitors see across the Village and for sale in our shops that gives the team the confidence to let their creativity lead the development process this time around.
“Doing production work is invaluable,” Melinda said. “It builds your skills so that you can achieve whatever it is you want to make.”
Alex echoed similar sentiments. He feels his production work here at Greenfield Village has strengthened his own skills and gives him a greater understanding and appreciation of well-crafted work, no matter its function.
“I appreciate a really, really nice piece of pottery now,” he said.
When given such a big, open-ended assignment like this, I was curious how the team got started in the research and design process of their pieces. For John, his development process began with a lot of reflection of his craft and the work of artists before him.
“During the Industrial Revolution, things were just made so quickly. Some potters couldn’t keep up,” he said. “With studio work, they could take a step back and think, ‘What’s the purpose? Why should I make it if a machine can do it faster than I can?’ I’m using a piercing motif in my piece; I’m not worried about the function right now, I’m worried about the production. I’m literally piercing into my piece, almost into its soul, and evaluating it to determine what it should be.”
Alex also spent time thinking about artists from the past, especially those working during the 1950s. For his collection of vessels, he’s experimenting with transferring images to them and trying new glazes. One piece could turn into a teapot, another into a coordinating sugar bowl.
“I’m taking my inspiration from the world around me. Colors and lines in the city, colors and lines in the country.”
An appreciation of nature and a longing for Spring were the source of Melinda’s inspiration.
“I looked at seeds, seedpods, nuts and vegetables to explore ways to create an interesting surface. I’m thinking about the texture of the natural world, of water and plants.”
Her colorful sketchbook is a collection of nature-related drawings, from large bowls meant to serve big salads at a dinner party to serving platters that look like peapods for a potluck. She’s even making her own collection of stamps to add texture and pattern to her pieces.
Next to Melinda John is creating as he goes. His tall vessel is covered with perfectly carved holes, both created by hand and, believe it or not, a Dremel rotary tool.
So far, Tom likes what he sees.
“Greenfield Village is all about telling stories with ‘stuff.’ We want to create some new ‘stuff’ to show this transition in form. I wanted to give our potters a chance to express themselves and show off.”
What will Melinda, Alex and John discover next in their work? You’ll have to check back to the blog next month to see how they’re moving along with their pieces as Greenfield Village gets ready for opening day.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford and a wannabe potter.
Sunday is – at long last - the day we head to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village. I say “at long last” because the countdown to the next Halloween pretty much starts while our kids are inspecting their candy haul from making the neighborhood rounds.
Our littlest goblin can’t wait to see the “gary gelletons.” Those glowing and dancing skeletons in the gazebo near the covered bridge made a quite a lasting impression during last year’s visit. I recorded a bit of their performance on my phone, and hands-down that clip is the most revisited video in my mobile library. Clifford, now three, has watched it countless times. Whenever he sees it, he feigns frightful shivers, and as much as he enjoyed the video, we enjoyed his reaction. (So thanks to The Henry Ford for that little gift that just kept on giving.) Whenever we pass that gazebo during summer visits to the village, he reminds me of those bony, xylophone-playing dancers.
I took my son Henry to the village Saturday to watch the plowing with the 1904 Port Huron Steam Engine and Percheron horses at Firestone. It was chilly, so we decided to head to Eagle Tavern to get warm and have lunch. (I’m always ready for an excuse to stop in for Squash Soup and an order of Bubble and Squeak.) Henry pointed out some of the decorations already in place for Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village.
“These look different in the daytime,” he said looking at the headstones arranged on the Village Green. Then he noted that the coffin looked “too new.” He said he thought it should look more worn. When I explained to him that a fresh pine coffin meant a fresh body, I learned that even in broad daylight a fake cemetery can move a shudder through the shoulders of a 10-year-old boy.
With each year, even as the older kids know some of what to expect, they seem to anticipate it with excitement and a little nervousness.
We have so many fond memories. Our 20-year-old still tells the story of when she was little and was so mesmerized by the huge bonfire that she completely missed the silent Grim Reaper - until he was right in front of her. Her ridiculous reaction was anything but silent, and we still laugh about it.
We also look forward to being inspired by some of the more 900 jack-o-lanterns that light the village since we’ve yet to carve ours.
Our kids are good historians of our visits over the years. They always keenly look for their favorite things, seeing what’s replaced what, what costumes are new, what vignettes are different or have been moved, etc. It seems someone always misses something, since there is so much to see. I look forward to the discussion on the ride home.
I know, my daughter looks slightly petrified in this photo – but have no fear – she can’t wait to see the Headless Horseman again this year. She’s determined she won’t be the slightest bit frightened.
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity sit down with Jim Johnson, senior manager of creative programs at The Henry Ford, and learn about a few changes in which I’m sure my kids and others will delight. I can’t wait to see what he described and see my children’s reactions.
But until then, mum’s the word. Or maybe even Dracula is the word. Who knows? Should be exciting with just the right amount of spooky and not-too-scary fun.
I always enjoy the unique scent of Greenfield Village: the Model Ts, the trains, the farms, flowers and horses. But I especially delight in the aromas that seem to lead me through the village during Fall Flavor Weekends. As activities in the village celebrate food and flavors – there’s the extra-added bonus of some really wonderful smells, too.
I followed my nose to the cooking demonstrations at seven of the historic homes. During the weekends, the homes display many prepared period dishes, and each has one featured recipe printed on a card for visitors to take home.
This recipe card at Firestone Farmhouse calls for smaller squash – but the ladies at the farm supersized it with a beautiful Hubbard squash. The farm kitchen feeds all the workers throughout the farming seasons – not just during the Fall Flavor Weekends, so the women who cook there are accustomed to making large meals.
My next stop was the Fall Farmers Market situated in the Pavilion. Plants, produce, dairy items, meat, soaps, syrups, candy, kettle corn, fibers, herbs, pies and much, much more filled the open-air building.
Above, Laura Cuthbertson from Aunt Bea’s Place demonstrates spinning natural yarn at the Fall Farmers Market. It is the sheep farm’s first time participating in the event.
Doodle’s Sugarbush’s display had samples, samples and more samples. The Blanchard, Mich., maple syrup and confections’ company drew quite a crowd.
I didn’t know that a sugary tuberous root could be featured in so many delectable recipes until I read the product list for Detroit-based Sweet Potato Sensations.
There were handmade brooms, lovely and fragrant soaps, some charming little sculpted mushrooms and so many other curiosities and niceties to treat the senses.
After the market, I made my way around the village to see what else was cooking in the historic homes.
The presenters in small kitchen in the Adams Family Home were busy preparing the featured recipe for apple cake – following the same recipe card that visitors take home.
The 1800s recipe for the cake was published in a 1990 compilation: a reminder that good recipes stand the test of time.
Smothered pork was the featured fare at the Mattox Family Home. That recipe and the peach cobbler looked (and – no surprise - smelled) fantastic.
Next up was a walk to the Edison Homestead. The presenter there shared with guests the wonders of that (then) new kitchen staple: Crisco.
The featured recipe there is a bean soup. The presenter explained how the recipe would have been made in an 1800s kitchen, but also how the soup could easily be adapted using some of today’s convenience products – such as canned beans and tomatoes.
The Daggett Farmhouse is one of my favorite buildings in Greenfield Village. I love the simplicity of the 1750s house and the large fireplace in the center of the home.
This year’s featured recipe at the Daggett Farmhouse is a potato pudding. The rich but simple recipe is from The First American Cookbook, 1796.
After leaving the Daggett Farmhouse, I stopped by the Susquehanna Plantation to see what was cooking there.
The featured recipe is a baked shrimp dish, but when I was there, the ladies in the kitchen were working on dark baked biscuit, sharing with guests some of the challenges of baking over a fire.
I made my way back up to the Ford Home to see what was cooking and found a nice pumpkin fritter.
My last stop of the day was to get a closer look at the 1904 threshing machine in action. Ryan Spencer – the manager of Firestone Farm – shared some great details on the machine in a post last week.
A crowd gathered to see it in action. Next Saturday, visitors will get a chance to see some plowing with steam and horses.
The good news is that Fall Flavor Weekends is plural. Meaning, if you missed it last weekend, you’ll have another opportunity this weekend. Check out The Henry Ford website on the event to get the details.
Last year I confessed my desire to be a historic reenactor. The blog post made the rounds in the encampment during the inaugural War of 1812 Muster in Greenfield Village, and at the event when I revealed in conversation that I was the "wannabe," many participants generously shared with me some of their stories and why they reenact. I got some great insight that isn’t often revealed when walking though as an observer at such an event. For visitors, the reenactors faithfully remain in character - teaching us through living history. And over the years, through the Civil War encampment, the dramatic performances at the village and museum, and now through this 1812 event, I know my family and I have learned so much. (This year’s War of 1812 Muster is Aug. 18-19.)
After last year's 1812 muster, I received a nice note from a woman who participated as part of the First Regiment Volunteers:
I am so glad you came (back) out to see the GFV 1812 premier! I had read your “Reenactor Wannabe” blog the week prior and wanted to share an insider’s view with you. I thought that perhaps you had considered mostly the more superficial aspects of it as a hobby.
I have re-enacted on the coattails of my husband these past 16 or so years. He deeply loves late 18th- and early 19th-century American history and has a passion for sharing it with others. Now our two pre-teen sons are also involved. I have been in two different groups and found them both to be wonderful communities. I say “community” as I really feel that when we come together, we recapture that sense of small town support and interdependence that goes way back and often feels to be missing today. This community will gently nudge you not to be “farby” (unauthentic). They will share their patterns, stories, accounts, antique finds, historical tidbits and camaraderie with you. They share the clothes off their backs (hand-me-downs for the kids or an extra cap when you forget to pack yours!). They teach you and your children period card games, how to use historic tools, play a fife, make lace or rush a chair for example. They work together on the demonstrations (like the kids’ recruiting station) and cooperate on projects such as making reproduction wooden boxes or shingles to give back to the host historic site. Community members reach out to each other in order to overcome - as you said - “the logistical feat it must take for those involved to be there.” They help each other put up tents or work to save them from rising flood waters. They potluck communal meals and share fire pits. I could go on. I have learned much and look forward to my weekends with my community of dear friends. Nothing else propels me to research historic recipes and then to eagerly iron clothes for a couple hours like a reenacting weekend on the horizon!
I was grateful for her perspective, and her note prompted me to dig a little deeper and learn more. During the Civil War Remembrance this year at Greenfield Village, I had the opportunity to talk with some of the reenactors while they were preparing their camps for the annual Memorial Day Weekend event. (Reenactment groups from near and far participate in the event. They register in advance and are required to meet certain authenticity guidelines to ensure historical accuracy is presented to visitors.)
“Can I fire a musket?” Ken Giolando told me was the first question his then 15-year-old son Tommy asked when in 2004 Ken proposed the idea of participating in Civil War reenactments.
And, since the answer was "Yes," Tommy's reply was an enthusiastic, “I’m in!”
Ken, his wife and children joined the 21st Michigan Reenactors, after years of wanting to reenact - but just not knowing how.
I met Ken and his family as they were setting up camp for the annual Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village. It was an unusual sight for me: The village filled with present-day trucks and trailers.
Patty Giorlando demonstrates a spinning wheel, a skill she recently acquired participating in reenactments.
As an annual attendee of the remembrance event, I’ve always marveled at the detailed camps built by reenactors. My appreciation of the event grew tenfold as I witnessed all of the effort the participants put forth sharing their love of history with those of us who walk through. I think it really hit home when I saw cannons and horses unloaded.
Since I continue to toy with the idea of participating as a reenactor some day, I asked Ken how he got involved in reenacting.
“I used to go to events and think, 'Oh, we can't do this.’” He suspected you had to have all kinds of money to buy "all the stuff," or the people who did it must be part of some special club or professionals or something.
“Then one year, I was organizing a living-history event in the city that I live," he said. He went online to find some Civil War reenactors and came across 21st Michigan. “They came out to the event and were great.” The members who participated learned of Ken’s interest and - just like that - they asked him if he wanted to join.
He said the group was so welcoming and encouraging – and getting involved was not as hard as he thought. “We had never really inquired because we just assumed." He said there's a good lesson in that: Do not assume.
Dave Tennies portrays Senator Jacob Howard, and Ken Giorlando is the Postmaster.
Ken portrays a Postmaster of the mid-19th century. He uses period correct stationary, stamps, pen and ink and a desk to accent his presentation. Letters written by the many members of the living history community are actually sent and picked up through his post office.
Ken and his family - like other reenactors - are motivated by their passion for history. The Giorlandos are very active and participate in 20 or more reenactment events each year. Some are events that the 21st Michigan puts on for its members – such as a Civil War-era Christmas gathering. He and his family pitch their tents and interact with the public at some events (like at Greenfield Village), and at others, they have an opportunity to stay in authentic period housing.
Ken, his wife, daughter and one son are members of the Civilian Contingency of the unit, while his other two boys are part of the Volunteer Infantry – and that’s where the musket firing come in.
“The 21st Michigan’s view is to get you going, get you in some clothes and have you come out to see what it’s all about. If you have a love and a passion for this – we want you to do it.” Ken said the group strives for authenticity, not wanting visitors to see anything farby. “We work hard at that and encourage each other to do the same.”
Ken explained to me the different levels of reenacting - mainstream, progressive and what he called hardcore. Mainstream reenacting is where there is a lot of interaction with the public. The more progressive events may include public interaction, but in an overall environment that offers greater authenticity. He said the hardcore events are where there is no public, and reenactors are doing it for their own experience – like going off into the woods, setting up camp and reenacting battles, etc.
Andy Assenmacher, also a member of the Civilian Contingency of the 21st Michigan, added that the group has all levels of reenactors, its members are very encouraging and don't criticize. “We have lots of families,” he said. They also freely pass around clothes for the children since they are quickly outgrown
Dave Tennies (pictured above with Ken) got involved in reenacting by default. His son wanted to be a reenactor, and he needed a parent. That was 15 years ago. His son isn’t reenacting anymore, but Dave portrays former Michigan Attorney General and eventual United States Senator, Jacob Howard. During the Civil War, Senator Howard worked closely with President Abraham Lincoln in drafting and passing the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.
I talked with Lorna Paul, a long-time participant in the Civil War event at Greenfield Village. She's a member of the 4th Michigan Co A Voluntary Infantry Reenactors, which also has civilian and infantry contingents. Lorna was encouraging and explained to me how her involvement grew. Like Dave Tennies from the 21st Michigan, it was Lorna's children who prompted the family's involvement in reenacting years ago. Her children are now grown and don't participate often, but her two-year-old granddaughter enjoys accompanying her to events. Lorna is a seamstress, and she often makes and repairs period clothing for other reenactors. (I actually met quite a few reenactors what are able to incorporate their love for history with their work.)
Jeff Sinclair is a member of the 102 Colored Troops. He's been reenacting for 16 years with the 30-member group that includes story tellers who portray Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Their group also has a display of medical supplies and implements, and they set up numerous educational boards.
Jeff said he had come back to the states after working overseas and was looking for some fellowship. In his work, he came across some people who were reenactors; he was intrigued so he tried it out. He said it's a great group of people and that participating at the event at Greenfield Village is one his favorites. "It's always so joyful," he said.
Larry O'Donnell acquired a pre-Civil War transit made by Henry Ware of Ohio, which seemed to prompt his involvement. He's been reenacting for five years and was at Greenfield Village as part of the 4th Texas. Larry portrays General Jeremy Gilmer who was a topographical engineer. Surveying equipment was an essential tool during the Civil War. It was common for troops to build a bridge, retreat across it, then blow it up so opposing troops couldn't follow. In real life, Larry is a member of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors, a group that has an educational component that allows Larry and other members to borrow historic equipment to share with the public at events. He had some of that equipment at the event, too.
Many reenactors I spoke with told me of the sense of community they experience at events, that they have gained cherished friendships and made priceless memories. I can say after talking to many, many friendly people who were so willing and eager to share with me their stories, I realized that although how they got involved in reenacting is unique to each person - the reason they got involved is universal: They all have a deep passion for history, want learn about it by experiencing it for themselves and are moved by the desire to share it with others.
With greater insight and appreciation, I'm looking forward to learning even more at the War of 1812 Muster and want to say on behalf of those of us who visit as observers and students:"Thank you!" Thank you to all you reenactors out there for sharing your knowledge, your energy, your artifacts, your time and your passion for history with so many strangers. You are an inspiration to many.
Kristine Hass is a mother of five and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs about coming events and visits to America’s Greatest History Attraction.
This photo of Grimm Jewelry Store at 613 Michigan Avenue in Detroit was taken in 1926. Engelbert Grimm's store was moved to Greenfield Village in 1940.
There was a Grimm celebration at Greenfield Village today when descendants of jeweler Engelbert Grimm came from near and far to meet in front of his store to kick off their family reunion. The actual reunion is tomorrow, but many had the opportunity to meet today at the well-love artifact for a photo opportunity in front of "great-grandpa's" store. The charming little building, designed by architect Peter Dederichs, Jr., was built in the late 1880s and moved to the Greenfield Village in 1940.
Engelbert Grimm was a German immigrant who ran the store for 45 years. He offered mass-produced, inexpensive jewelry and watches to Detroit-area residents. He and his family resided on the second floor. Henry Ford enjoyed visiting the store and talking to the store owner about fixing watches and working with machinery.
The family members meeting today were related to Engelbert's daughter Marie. Marie had eight children, the seventh and only surviving is Josephine (née Lefevre) Smith, who will soon celebrate her 95th birthday.
It was fun watching some family members introduce themselves because they either hadn't yet met, or it had been years since they laid eyes on each other. As one told me with a wink, "After 50 years, some folks look a little different."
Some had photo albums in hand and were eager to show Josephine to share or learn more family history.
Family members came from California, Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey and Michigan.
Josephine's daughter Cheryl Koeh said at her mother's 90th birthday, the discussion came up that it would be nice for family to come together for an occasion other than just weddings and funerals. They began planning for the reunion far enough in advance to give time for out-of-state relatives to arrange to make the trip. This is their largest family gathering.
More than 60 relatives met for the fun and a the photo op. They even welcomed the knowledgeable presenter at the shop to be part of their family photo.
In addition to the big group photo, families captured their own mementos of the event.
Colette and Dick Sheridan had last visited Greenfield Village 55 and 60 years ago, respectively. They are both Michigan natives and used to come to the village quite frequently. Colette said when she was young, her mother always sent her for visits to the village when company came to town. The Sheridans said that the village had changed a lot since their last visits, but they also agreed there were so many parts that seemed the same. They've long been California residents and were happy to travel to Michigan for the reunion. Four of their eight children were able to make the trip, too.
Even the youngest of the family enjoyed a look through the store. The displays show items that would have been sold in the shop near the turn of the century.
This little guy, Jonathan, decided to see if he knew the combination to the safe.
The weather was just right, and the mood was festive. By the smiles and laughter I heard, I'm sure many of the family would agree, it was a great day to be a part of the Grimm family.
In explaining Mr. Ford's interest in the past, I think that in every person, after they reach a certain age, they begin to reminisce...in Mr. Ford's case, he was able to carry it further than the average person.
- Ernest Liebold, secretary to Henry Ford, in the book Reminiscences
In the beginning of the 20th century, the American elite were collecting European and English paintings, sculptures and decorative arts...but as cities began to grow and rural areas grew more and more scarce, those same people began to long for fine American furniture, glassware, porcelain, rare books and more.
That is, except for a handful of people like Henry Ford.
To him, humble machines were an expression of the "genius of the American people" and a reflection of American progress. He believed that everyday objects told what wasn't recorded in written histories and reflected a way of life that was quickly slipping away.
As early as 1912, Ford was collecting "relics" that represented American industrial progress, such as wagons and threshing machines - but it was this progress that prompted him to his first restoration and renovation of a building.
In 1919, a road improvement project in Ford's hometown of Springwells Township, Michigan (now the city of Dearborn), meant his birthplace would need to be either moved 200 yards from its original location - or destroyed.
Ford decided to move the house and restore it to the way it looked at the time of his mother's death in 1876, when he was 13 years old. Ford personally took charge of the birthplace restoration, meticulously recreating the details of the house down to the original or similar furnishings.
For example, Ford remembered sitting by a Starlight stove in the dining room as a child. After 18 months of searching, he discovered the exact make and model on a porch in Stockbridge, Michigan, which he purchased for $25 and loaded into his car for the journey back to Dearborn. And when he couldn't find the precise pattern of dishes his mother had used, he had the original site of his birthplace excavated and had replicas made from the pottery shards found.
Ford dedicated the restoration of his childhood home to his mother's memory and her teachings, particularly noting her love of family, her belief in the value of hard work, in learning "not from the school books but from life," and her belief in trusting one's intuition. His mother had encouraged his early tinkering and youthful inventions, and he felt sure she had set him on his unique path in life.
When the restoration of his childhood home was completed, people were awestruck by its authenticity. It seemed remarkable to him, and others, how a recreated environment could catapult one into another time and place.
This was the beginning of Ford's interest in preservation of historic buildings, and after several other restorations of buildings at their original sites, he began looking to create a village that would represent the early days of America up to the present. Working with Ford Motor Company draftsman and architect Edward L. Cutler, Ford began laying out plans for Greenfield Village.
It wasn't meant to represent any specific place in the United States, or even serve as a particular town - Ford created Greenfield Village primarily from buildings that he had purchased and moved to the site, organizing them around a village green with a courthouse, a town hall, a church, a store, an inn and a school. He placed homes along a road beyond the green. He brought industrial buildings, such as carding mills, sawmills and gristmills to the village and made them operate.
Today, Greenfield Village is organized into seven historic districts, with real working farms, a glassblowing shop, a pottery shop and more...so that, just like Henry Ford when he surveyed his preserved birthplace, you, too, can be transported to another place and time to learn about the ordinary and extraordinary people who shaped America.