Thursday, January 29, 2009

Soap Making Now and Then

Have you ever considered the history of a home made bar of soap? In days of olde soap making was a necessity and part of life. Lye was made by leaching ashes. The ashes were placed in a barrel. Water was added to the ashes and the lye would
leach out from slits cut into the bottom of the barrel and collected in a basin
or tub. This was dangerous work as the caustic liquid burned the skin and even the fumes would burn their lungs. Grease was added so the final product
wouldn't burn the skin. For bathing they usually added fragrance in the form of wild ginger or bayberry and for laundry soap they added borax or resin. The hot
and laborious work was chosen for a cool day as it necessitated building a huge fire and setting a cast iron kettle to boil. Each household had their own secret recipe. Some women preferred harsher grades for heavy duty cleaning and laundry washings. And milder soaps were concocted for bathing. Now days home made soaps are the ultimate in luxury and skin care.
If you have never tried a sumptuous bar of goats milk soap you simply must treat yourself. Soap makers guard their secret recipes and take much pride in offering the best quality they can achieve. Essential oils and fragrance oils in every scent imaginable, fresh and dried herbs, pure goats milk, wholesome oats all designed to beautify and heal. They provide important nutrients and care for the skin that store bought soaps can't offer. Manufactured soaps contain ingredients that dry and dull your skin and can be harmful and aging.

WSOAPP is lucky enough to have two very fine soap makers in our Market Street Shoppes. Be sure to click on the images here to take you directly to their shops!
Birchberry Farms and Sweet Meadow Farms both offer excellent and much
recommended varieties. We invite you to try their wares as many loyal and
repeat customers can attest to their benefits.

Photos provided courtesy of Sweet Harvest Farms and of Birchberry Farms. Images are copy written property of their owners.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Now open for business; Wsoapp has added pattern sellers to their site!!!

Great news for all of you who love patterns and excellent, prim supplies! Wsoapp has just added a Patterns and Supplies link page to their web site. This is an exciting opportunity for everyone, as we are extending this page to non members too. Contact Wsoapp management if you would like to take advantage of this opportunity, or, if you just want to browse and shop, this will soon be the hot spot for you. This link page will assist you in finding your favorite suppliers.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The rise of American folk art: a quick look at The Pennsylvania German influence and Fraktur

It may come as a bit of a surprise to some to learn that the humble beginnings of folk art in America first arose, and were for a long time almost exclusively carried on by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Germans. It is historically clear that these people were virtually the only culture in Colonial America who possessed a strong, imaginative feeling for color and design and for creative art in their households; so that even their barns, fences, wagons and weather-vanes were not exempt from decoration. Even in death, they took their love of their artful decoration to the graves, as their tombstomes were often inscribed with ornate carvings like the image depicted on the plate above. They were a deeply religious, simple, hardworking people. The folk art that arose from their culture reflected the practicality of the life they lived and the culture they brought with them from their native Swiss and German cultures. Most notably the folk art that we can accredit to the Pennsylvania German culture are: pottery; slip-decorated ware (sgraffito ware), furniture, glassware and Fraktur work. Shown above, the typical Pennsylvania German "Blooming Heart" motif is done in a sgraffito technique on Redware. This plate was dated 1816 and the artist is unkown.

This month, we are going to highlight Fraktur work. Fraktur documents played a primary part of the life of the Pennsylvania German and Dutch household. They had a myriad of uses, serving to record births, baptisms, marriages, and important sacraments and celebrations. For nearly two centuries this art flourished in Pennsylvania; the art being usually practiced by schoolmasters clergymen or the occasional freelance artist who would create these items as a means to add to a meager income. These people had become highly skilled artisans in a trade, producing this decorative “Fraktur”.

Strictly translated, Fraktur is an ornate type of written or printed German, similar to Gothic lettering in English. Fraktur is used in older German books and printed documents. The word comes from Latin and means "broken script" (Bruchschrift), so called because of its ornamental curlicues that break the continuous line of a word. When a writer was finished with his work, he would then finish it off by decorating it with naïve watercolor drawings that included animals, angels, mermaids, flowers, birds, and hearts. The work of the Fraktur scribes and artists ranges from downright primitive to quite marvelous. From this tradition springs a rich source of the symbols we see commonly used in our folk art of today.

Common symbols today such as the heart or the tulip were a central theme in much of Fraktur work. The blooming heart is a combination of the heart and the lily-tulip or the rose of Sharon . It was common for the Pennsylvania Germans to write about, and envision, their hearts being the home of, and blooming with, their faith and belief in a promise of life after death. Like the heart alone, the blooming heart appears frequently on Fraktur and other Pennsylvania German arts and crafts. The vases of blooming flowers had the same meaning as the blooming hearts, only here the heart was replaced with a vase. This symbol shows up on all different aspects of Pennsylvania arts and crafts but rarely, if ever, is referred to specifically in their writings. One other very commonly seen symbol is the unique parrot-like bird that often appears in pairs. It is called the Dinklefink and it represents luck.

Certainly, religious overtones may be found in nearly every aspect of the Pennsylvannia German piece of Fraktur, but it also can be reasonably argued that the Fraktur artists drew many of these motifs for aesthetic rather than religious reasons. After all, the tulip was balanced, colorful and easy to draw.
Featured above, a Fraktur work by schoolmaster Hans Jacob Brubacher. A religeous text dated March 14, 1799. Hans Jacob worked in Province township, Lancaster County PA. This Fraktur piece comprises 10 verses from the book of Psalms and was created for Johannes Schenck, a well known and prominent Mennonite farmer of the area. Hans Jacob was the Schoolmaster of Johannes Schenck; who also created fraktur works of his own.

Bibliography and books of interest:
Pennsylvania Dutch Cookery, J.George Frederick, 1936
Mennonite Arts, Clarke Hess, 2002, Schiffer Publishing LTD. ( An EXCELLANT source for folk art and Pennsylvania German history)
The Pennsylvania Barn; it's origin, Evolution, and Distribution in North America, Robert F. Ensminger; published thorugh Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Living In The Days Considered "Primitive"

At the start of this New Year, our theme will be living in the days often considered primitive. Nothing helped me to ponder this concept more than back around Christmas time when several massive ice storms ripped through our area, leaving us with out power for 5 days. On day number 3, I sat with my family on our sofa, huddled under a pile of quilts staring at the walls after our generator had stopped running; no t.v, no running water, no heat, and no bathroom....NOTHING! Nothing but the hissing crackle of the logs in the fireplace and candlelight. We did something as a family that we have genuinely not done in a very long time....even over dinner; we were having a conversation! Now I'm not saying that we don't communicate, but here, we were actually communicating with out the hum and the buzz of our modern life in the background. It is amazing how much clearer one can hear without background noise from the refrigerator, furnace or computer fan. (I will add that my teeth had started to chatter loudly at this point as the temperature in the house dipped below 30 that was noisy!)

The truth is, our ancestors, though they may have been living in what we consider to be primitive or simpler days, their lives were not lacking. And, they certainly were ingenious inventors.
This month we will show, in a special edition of the recipe section, just how many of our modern day recipes still have their roots in recipes from the colonial and early Victorian era. We will also show some of the unconventional recipes too; like candied Violets. We will have a "Guess That Antique" section of the blog, where the first person to accurately guess and describe the functionality of a really odd looking antique will win 20% off in the artisan shoppe of their choice.Did you know that our "modern" invention of the apple corer and peeler has it's roots in medieval times? That certainly floored me when I had learned that....and here I had thought that my shiny, new, stainless steel corer/peeler from Pampered Chef was the height of modern convenience. Also, watch for our article on soap and it's amazing history. We invite you to join us!

The first image in this article is of Swedish imigrants who settled in Kansas and lived for the first few years in a mud dugout. This photo had been taken around 1856 inside that dugout....note that they still whitewashed the wall and kept it meticulously clean. The second image is of the same family years later after they had built their first timber structure on the homestead. These photos come from Mary at Oak Hollow Primitives.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mystery Antique

Wsoapp has found this unusual piece and we have decided to make a fun game out of it. Everyone, including members of Wsoapp are invited to join in on the fun. So far, we have had some really great guesses, but no one has hit it right on the mark. Posted below are some of the guesses from our readers and from group members and the answers to those guesses. I have been periodically posting hints on the front page of the blog right beneath the picture of the mystery antique. Good Luck!

Hint #1 : That is George Washington's face you see and cast just over the handle.

1. Is it a door knocker or a money clip?
Lynnie D.

No, it is not either.

2. This is a device to make a wax seal.
Cindy H.

No, sorry it is not that. Great guess though.

3. Hi; it looks like it is a handle and latch to open a trunk? Mona.

No, it is not that either.

4. Is it an official seal? Marcy

Great guess, but nope! It is not a seal.

5. Is it a door latch? Stephanie B.

No, it is not a latch of any type.

6. This is a combination peephole/door knocker used on doors. Danae.

Sorry, it does not go on a door.

7. It's a seal press, used to put seals on documents and envelopes with hot wax or something.....Patrick.

Nope, it does not get used with hot wax. It does have a pressing type action to it though

Clue # 2: Although originally created after the war of the revolution, this handy little item was patented in the late Victorian era. Around 1879 to be exact. A Victorian housewife would have found this item a wonderful luxury to own for her kitchen.