Tuesday, November 29, 2011


While researching annotations for my great-great-grandfather Charles' Civil War diary, I followed up on his reference to Brandy Station, Virginia, where he was sent in April of 1864 for medical care ("a rather poor place for a sick man," he declared).

It turns out the building in which he would have received treatment is now known as the "Graffiti House", because the walls of the second floor contain inscriptions, drawings, messages, and signatures of Civil War soldiers that were concealed under wallpaper, etc. for many years.  The graffiti, according to the Brandy Station Foundation website,  "could have been made by soldiers recuperating in the hospital, by other soldiers posted at Brandy Station, or by soldiers passing through the town."  There are signatures, drawings, and of particular interest to engrossers (check out that shading!), the "Maryland Scroll".  At one point the scroll was removed from the house and acquired by a private collector, but later returned to the Graffiti House in its frame.

"Maryland Scroll", Graffiti House, Brandy Station VA

"Maryland Scroll" detail, Graffiti House, Brandy Station VA

The building changed possession from the South to the North, and a Union soldier made his mark thusly:
"Army of the United States of America", Graffiti House, Brandy Station VA
Love the flourishing!

About a year ago, a stabilizing process was begun on the plaster walls and lo and behold, another signature was uncovered.  This is what Michael Sull might call "pedestrian Spencerian", but I think the "F" and "E" caps are pretty cool!  I'm guessing they are about a foot tall.

  I find it inspiring that at one time, handwriting was a skill that many could do so beautifully, even in pencil on a plaster wall.  By the way, here's what the building looked like when the Foundation acquired it:

Cheers for the preservationists!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Saga Continues

One of the highlights of October was my third visit to Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio for the Spencerian Saga.  The sunset over Lake Erie the first night could not have been more welcoming.

This year it was the Engrossers' Saga--a once-every-five-year occurrence--and the 25th anniversary of the annual workshop.  I've already said plenty about the Saga here, but this one seemed to bring together a lot of things I had been dabbling with and helped me see how I could put them to use in a cohesive piece.  Stay tuned for that one...

From Ohio I went to meet my sister at my beloved Findley Lake, New York, to stay at the Blue Heron Inn bed-and-breakfast...in the Lakeview Room, of course!

I decided to put some of my new-found skills to work as I signed the guestbook.  Maybe no one will ever see it, but I love knowing that it's there!

Back home, while messing around on the internet I discovered that my son had been named "Mr. November" at his college back East.  Not sure what that's all about, but used it to adorn the 3 X 5 card that will be enclosed with his exam-week care package:

Onward to December...!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Finding Light in the Darkness

Photo by Steve Johnston

At the little school where I am Director (i.e., administrative staff of one), we have a wonderful annual tradition called the Lantern Walk.  In the weeks leading up to the event, the teachers help the children craft beautiful little square lanterns out of watercolor paper with tissue-paper star-shaped windows.  A little tealight is glued into place and the families search for a Y-shaped stick to hold the lantern.  We practice our four traditional songs (which the children are usually too awestruck to actually sing at the festival) and then all of the families gather just after dark on a Sunday evening as we approach the Winter Solstice.  They are greeted with several hundred luminarias (candles set in sand in white paper bags) showing the pathway.  Being as quiet and reverent as possible with three-to-five-year-olds in attendance, we proceed with our lighted lanterns to a large field, where we stand in a circle around a small bonfire and sing.  Simple, short, meaningful and memorable.

It is my job to "make the call" if the weather is questionable, often a source of agony and stress.  Sometimes I have decided to go ahead, only to be greeted with a downpour moments before the families arrive.  Other years it has been so windy that there was no hope of keeping the lanterns lit.  Usually we manage to get through it with whatever weather northern California provides.

But every once in a while--and this was one of those times--it is absolutely perfect, and just magical.  The night before, there were torrential rains--I mean drenching downpours--and there didn't seem to be any chance it would be happen tonight.  BUT...the weather was progressively clearer, and by the time I had to decide (2 pm) it felt right to say yes, yes we will go ahead.  It turned out there were a few clouds, and a little wind, but a lovely bright three-quarter moon and a little nip in the air.  One of the best years ever.

The last time it was this special,  one of our parents was inspired to write a poem, and I was moved to letter it.  

Poem by Daniel Polikoff
Artwork by Jody Meese

Poem by Daniel Polikoff
Artwork by Jody Meese

Poem by Daniel Polikoff
Artwork by Jody Meese

This was done some years ago, so I don't remember much about the details. I believe it was Doc Martin's bleed-proof white, and I recall sponging on the moon and sprinkling salt on the blue paint to make the starry night.  The little yellow blobs, of course, are the children's lanterns in procession.


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