Thursday, August 17, 2017

Color it Red

 I like bright clear colors. I often wear red, because when I go shopping for clothes the offerings are rows of blacks, dull browns, stodgy grays, and faded greens that dominate the showroom floors. It makes no difference if I' m in Lord & Taylors or Wal Mart.
   I get the feeling buyers and manufactures do not like women and work to have them fade into the woodwork. That's being cynical, but anyway, when I see a garment that is red I'm drawn to it.
   This article is not about my taste in clothes, but the color red itself and it's fascinating history.
    First off, in ancient times it was one of the first and easiest coloring agents available - it was obtained from ochre, a clay impregnated with iron oxide. Archaeologists, in 2000, found evidence of it being scraped from the walls of a cave in South Africa 170,000 to 40,000 years ago. They theorized it was used to color human skin, similar to a blue later used by the Druids, of the British Isles, for religious ceremonies.
   A cave painting in Spain (15,000-16,000 BC) shows a bison painted with ochre. The planet, Mars appears red because of iron oxide on its surface. A local example of red staining from clay can be seen in the vertical striping of horizontal layers of rock, on fresh road cuts between Burkesville and Thompkinsville, KY.
   Red covers many shades, from the pink of flowers to the deep burgundy of wine. The color for dyes and paint today is derived from plant, insect, and mineral sources besides clay.
   Red used in paintings has staying power reaching back to the frescoes or murals in tombs and on pottery of Ancient Egypt and the lava buried city of Pompeii. The Roman emperor Charlemagne, the first to adopt Christianity, painted his palace red.
   Red used as symbolism or to convey meaning has a duel personality. The robes of the Catholic cardinals are red to indicate the blood of Christ, while at the same time it is the color of the garments assigned to Satan, the devil.
   When you "roll out the red carpet" it is a form of a salute to the status and greetings accorded to individuals of importance. It denotes power, victory, and wealth. But again, it also symbolizes sin, promiscuity, and decadence of females.
   When "you're seeing red" you are angry, while if you "painted the town red," you had a merry ole time. In Eastern (China & Japan) countries today and in Victorian times in the US, brides wore red as a symbol of happiness.
   Red clothing can easily be seen in a crowd, hence its use in military uniforms through out history from the ancient Greeks to the US Marines dress uniform.

   This began not with my clothes, but when a salesman told me that white was the most popular color for motor vehicles. Maybe elsewhere, but it wasn't what I was seeing locally.
   There were very few red vehicles sitting on car lots, but I counted fifty-one on the road from town to home one Saturday morning. They included every type, from an eighteen-wheeler, a bus, a SUV with a matching canoe to an electric car, plus my own red Jeep.
  Oh yes, I also saw two red wagons. Do you remember having one of your own? I'd say red is the most popular vehicle color in South Central Kentucky according to my unofficial survey.
Nash Black, author of Games of Death.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wicker Summer

   Nothing spells a southern summer like white wicker furniture sitting on the porch. It gives an illusion of comfort and coolness, even during the 'dog days' of August.
   The use of wicker or rattan for furniture, chests, tables, and baskets goes back in history to ancient Egypt. Its light weight easy to obtain materials fostered a rapid spread to Persia, where during the Achaemenid Empire (500 - 350 BC) it was used in battles for shields.
From Persia it spread to Rome. The period of history, referred to as the Iron Age began about 1200 BC and ended around 400 AD, near the time of the adoption of the Christian Bible. This period saw the use of wicker for furniture spread across Roman conquered lands throughout the then known world.

   The construction and early patterns may have been instrumental in the development of what is recognized as Celtic Art, with the twists and turns, like the famous Celtic knot, that expresses undying love.
   By the 16th and 17th century, it was a common household item across Europe, England, and what became the United States. There is a rumor a piece of wicker furniture came over on the Mayflower.
   The great seafarers brought back a new material to add to the manufacture of wicker, a species of palm, rattan. The rattan fibers were tougher and harder than the previously used cane, Later someone opened the stalks and extracted the softer core to make wicker. The process was much like those used to acquire fibers from a flax plant for the weaving of linen that had been used for eons the make the ancient fabric.
   Cyrus Wakefield began manufacturing wicker furniture in the United States during the 1850s. At first, he used rattan discarded on the docks from flying clippers arriving from the Far East. Bundles of rattan were used for ballast on the merchant ships. Later he began importing his own materials. He merged  his company with a rival firm, which continued to build wicker products until 1979.
   Wicker, in our country, became popular with the Victorians, who believed it was more sanitary than upholstered furniture. It does not harbor fleas, which were a common household pest. It was sturdy and withstood the outdoor elements.
   Over the years, the popularity of this ancient home furnishing has waned and gained, depending on fashions of the time. Today the materials used are mainly plastic twisted around wire and then wrapped around an aluminum frame, never touched by human hands. Catalogs refer to it as 'all weather' furniture.
   Some years ago, when wicker was a hot collectible on the antique market, it wasn't safe to leave your old pieces out overnight on the porch.

   A friend told me about having her chairs stolen, going to a barbecue at a friend's home, and being shown the lovely wicker patio furniture the friend had purchased at a flea market. She didn't have the heart to tell the friend, it was her furniture.
   I have the pattern book my father used to make wicker pieces for his mother around 1920. The famous one is the floor lamp, no one wanted it and I ended up with it. To us, it was ugly and difficult to keep clean when we were using a wood burning stove for heat. Sold it at the 127 yardsale. On the way home, I saw it sitting on a neighbor's front porch. It didn't travel far, maybe it's haunting me.

Nash Black, author of Cards of Death. 


Friday, August 4, 2017

The Pencil

   Reading last week's newspaper about the school supplies fairs and wondered whatever happen to the basic item of my childhood - the pencil.
   My hometown's single industry was Mallard's Pencil Factory. When one entered the first grade, every student was given a #2 pencil, compliments of the company. They were yellow, with an eraser and embossed with a Mallard duck. The number indicated the hardness of the lead, which is actually graphite.

   This lowly instrument provided employment for our local citizens, and the same for others of different lands who contibuted the raw materials for production.
   The tin for the furl to fasten the eraser to the wood came from Bolivia. The 'rubber' for the eraser was a synthetic created to replace raw rubber, an ingredient, for which may have been produced at Old Colonel Distillery at Stamping Ground, KY. The graphite for the 'lead' was mined in Canada. The wood to encase the core was harvested and processed on our own shores. The availability of materials within the Americas aided the manufacture of pencils, when supplies from the Far East were cut off by the conflict in the Pacific.
  This brief paragraph does not include all those who were involved in transporting the materials to get the pencil into the hands of eager, long ago school children, but it does provide the foundation of basic global economics.
   The analogy is not original, I condensed it to 78 words, from memory, with the aid of Google to pinpoint sources of the raw materials during the 1940s, for the purpose of the article. It belongs to Milton and Rose Friedman, from their book, Free to Choose. The book was compiled from their acclaimed Public Television series of the same title.
   The late Armand Hammer used his business, family, and political connections to keep open a thin dialogue for peace between seven Soviet Generals and five United States presidents on the strength of a pencil concession. The Soviets, of the time, were able to duplicate the manufacturing process for many common US items, but never for the pencil.
   Our best goes to each student, who may discover a pencil is adequate to put words  and sums on paper. It's not subject to dead batteries or power outages, and is cost effective to replace.

Nash Black, author of Games of Death.