Saturday, September 24, 2011

It Must Be Fall--Wilson's Back

Every fall, I enjoy creating a fun Halloween decoration out of a wonderful reproduction Victorian jack-o-lantern bucket and dried items from my garden.

Jack came with a detachable metal handle, which I remove to begin his transformation to Wilson II. My husband and I fondly refer to him as Wilson because he reminds us of the transformed volleyball in The Castaway.

His makeover consists of stuffing one of my many large flower frogs with dried plant material from my garden:  seed heads of feather reed grass, dwarf fountain grass, coral bells and black-eyed Susan. I generally throw in a few dried hosta scapes for character. This year I toyed with adding a few wild turkey feathers (see Postscript: Turkey Talk), but decided that might be going overboard.


A whimsical, fun and fast addition to the fall decor.
Make it a great day!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Swept Away--The Artful Broom

The instant I entered the Broom Factory at the Wyoming Territorial Prison, I was swept away. By the color and texture contained in this wonderfully restored space. By the patterns and placement of the beautiful broom-making materials. By the earthy, sweet aroma of the magnificent broom corn. And by the ethereal light that streamed through the windows.

As part of the rehabilitation process at the territorial prison, inmates were employed at various tasks. In 1892, they began construction of the the broom factory adjacent to the prison. The structure was restored to its original state in 2009 and showcases the antique equipment prisoners used to make brooms, which were sold as a means to generate income for the prison.

When the factory was at full production in 1900, inmates were producing up to 720 brooms a day. They were sold and shipped throughout the United States and Japan. Today, trained volunteers produce the brooms in the same style as those created by inmates nearly 120 years ago.

Bales of broom corn were brought in from southeast Nebraska. What a pretty pattern!

Clouds of wispy materials hang from the ceiling.


Inmates artfully made brooms of many shapes, sizes and colors.

Each broom bore (and still does today) a label with one of these three original Victorian-era designs. The labels are as beautiful as the brooms.

After seeing this wonderfully restored facility and learning the story of these simple works of art, I know I'll never look at my old-fashioned broom in the same way again.

Make it a great day!

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Friday, September 16, 2011

BYOB With Label

Our friends, who own a small graphic design firm, have started what I hope will be a tradition for years to come. "Unwined," they call their casual and fun get-together. Guests must bring a bottle of wine sporting a label they designed. At the end of the evening, each guest walks away with someone else's label--and the bottle of wine it's attached to, of course.

Here's the inspiration for my label:

Yep. That's me with my grandpa. A shovel-totin', mud-caked little farm girl. For you city folks who may be unfamiliar with such a scene, we'd just finished the messy job of  leveling irrigation pipe--an irrigation method that preceded the current center-pivot systems.

"Helping" Grandpa in the fields and doing chores around the farm with Grandma comprise some of my most precious memories. As an adult, I'm certain my love for the outdoors and getting my hands dirty in the garden stems, in large part, from those warm summer days spent with my wonderful and hard-working grandparents.

Over the years, friends have referred to me as earthy, down to earth and an earth mother (among other things). So, I took a cue from those references and named my label "Earth Angel."

If you've never used Picnik, you gotta give it a try. This user-friendly site made creation of my label--and my husband's--an absolute snap. It has everything needed: special effects and editing tools, a wide variety of fonts to choose from and a good menu of framing options. It also offers many features I didn't need for this project.

My husband chose a fun vintage image of two guys in Victorian-era prison uniforms from The Graphics Fairy. A master punster, he titled his label "Zinful," as his bottle of wine was a zinfandel.

For a little panache, I created special hang tags for each bottle. Each featured a toast taken from a sweet little 1909 book I found at an estate sale.

Here are the final products:

It could probably go without saying that my husband chose the toast to mediocrity with its silly-looking donkey for his hang tag. Me--I chose one a little more down to earth.

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Tuesday's Treasures

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Butch Cassidy Slept Here

Are you the spontaneous type or, when you travel, do you have a need to plan nearly every minute of your trip? Personally, I like to go with the flow, but during our years of traveling with children, I was forced to do more planning than comes naturally to me. Now that we're empty nesters, though, travel is more to my liking--a bit more free flowing.

On our recent trip to northern Colorado, my husband and I, on a whim, drove north an hour to Laramie, Wyoming. After a great lunch at a fun establishment across  from the University of Wyoming campus, we spent an entire afternoon engrossed in the story of the Wyoming Territorial Prison.

The Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historical Site is exceptional, as is the self-guided tour, which features a small number of the male and female prisoners who were incarcerated at the prison during its 30 years of operation. Built in 1873, it continued to operate as a penitentiary until 1903.

Records indicate that about 1,000 men and 12 women were incarcerated here. Among the most famous outlaws was Butch Cassidy, who served 18 months for stealing horses. He was released early for good behavior. Apparently, the worst was yet to come.

This camera photographed Butch Cassidy.

Prisoners often were transported to the prison in a horse-drawn wagon. They began their prison stay in the processing room, where they were photographed (a sample of a prisoner number is on the chair) and given a uniform. As you can see, the prison stripes were real. And, wool for year-round wear!

Two separate wings, north and south, contained 42 cellblocks each, with 14 cells on each of three levels. The guards also had quarters in the prison structure, on the second level.

Over the years, male prisoners were employed in many types of endeavors including laundry, cutting ice from the nearby Laramie River to sell to local businesses, digging clay that was used in brick making and quarrying stone to be used as building material. They also did leather work, bread baking, candle making, shoe repair, taxidermy and some incredibly detailed and beautiful furniture carving. But, the rate of prisoner escape, much of which occurred during these activities, was a whopping 25 percent!

The prison was surrounded
by a 14-foot fence with guard towers
 in the four corners.

Prisoners ate well, unless they were in solitary, they received medical and dental care on site when needed and the male inmates exercised during manual labor. Females prisoners were segregated from the males and, in general, were confined to their cell block, participating in only minor activities such as mending uniforms.

The prison kitchen

View of the back of the prison
from the window of the original kitchen.

On-site dental chair & equipment

After Wyoming became a state and the prison was closed, it was used as a stock farm and experimental station for the University of Wyoming for many years.

I hope you enjoyed this brief history and these photos, which give a small glimpse into life at the Wyoming Territorial Prison. The restoration of this facility is remarkable, the tour information is compelling to the point of being gripping. But, beyond that, I found the building itself and the prison artifacts to be a beautiful, if not somber, form of art in their own right. I'll leave you with the following photographs--small teasers of a couple of future posts also inspired by this remarkable historic site.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Postscript: Turkey Talk

If you saw my earlier post, Turkey Crossing, you've read about the adventures with our wild turkey flock. This is a postscript to that story.

The past few weeks, the turkeys appear to have been molting. Barney and I have found a number of feathers in the yard. Barney wants to fetch and chew them up, I want to gather them up.

So, I've been gingerly collecting them and spraying them with overpowering shots of Raid to kill any mites  or other microscopic insects. And, I have given more than a passing thought to the potential for bird flu and any other disease they might carry. But, so far that hasn't stopped me from collecting these beautiful specimens.

My collection of feathers isn't large, but I have enough to put to good use in my early fall decor.

The large feathers are a nice complement to a beautiful art deco Gonder pottery vase I picked up for a couple of bucks at a garage sale this summer. The striped feathers are from the wing, the dark feather with the bronze edging is a (shake a) tail feather. This sparse, but striking, arrangement now sits on our hearth.

The smaller feathers, with their fluff and iridescence seemed perfect for one of my vintage amber vases. I accented this arrangement with a couple of blue jay feathers I found in the yard. This pretty collection started out on the distressed sofa table, along with the frog princess lamp and a vintage clock. The personality of the small bouquet seemed to tie in nicely to the whimsical setting.

Ultimately, it ended up in the center of the dining room table atop a gorgeous handmade cake plate and under a cloche. This presentation pairs with a stack of three amber cake plates on the dining room buffet. I wish I could have provided photographs of the final groupings, but my photography skills aren't good enough to compensate for the heavy glare of all the glass and mirror in the dark red dining room. Here's the best shot I got.

At the end of a summer in which the heat and humidity took a tremendous toll on my cutting garden, it was fun to create a couple of little bouquets that look fresh and colorful and will last for years to come.

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