Royal School of Needlework has an ongoing project that allows individuals to “sponsor” a stitch for their “stitchbank.” It’s a fantastic resource for historians and of course, for those who are learning to embroider. RSN correctly points out that embroiderers throughout history have rarely signed their work. We have many, many examples of this beautiful art from antiquity all the way up to the present, but rarely, very, very rarely do we know the names of the (mostly) women who created them (1). This stitchbank is preserving these stitches with the names of either those who sponsored them or those for whom a stitch has been sponsored. I think that is pretty cool.
There are lots of things that we can do to honor our ancestors. I think it’s important to remember though that until the 20th century, a huge portion of our female ancestors’ time would have been taken up with textile production: spinning, in some cases weaving, sewing, knitting or crochet, and for those who had the time, embroidery – adornment. Depending on the period of history about which we’re speaking, one couldn’t just go to the store and purchase thread. Thread started with sheep. You had sheep, you cut off the wool, carded and spun that into thread and then that thread could be dyed, woven, etc. etc. One could trade for these goods, I suppose, but in the end, anything one wore began with an animal or a plant and a terrifying amount of work. Whenever I embroidery, mend, or select clothing, I think of my female dead and the valence such things must, of necessity had for them (2).
So, and my point to all of this, is that I decided to sponsor a stitch for my maternal grandmother Linnie Shoff Hanna (1909-1987). She got assigned the cloud stitch (not posted yet that I saw) and I am delighted. She was the one who first taught me to embroider. I remember how hard it was to learn French knots. She took a piece of nice linen, drew a rabbit holding a carrot and had me make his eye out of a French knot. That was my reward for learning how to do it and when I’d outlined the whole thing and satin stitched the carrot, she made it into a pin cushion for me. Whenever I embroider now, I am inevitably beginning and ending the process with prayers to my maternal dead. It is a way to feel closer to them, to keep them in living memory, as I go about my daily work. May the names of our dead always be remembered.
- The exception, I think, are samplers. Young girls would sometimes sign their samplers. Also, in colonial America, very little boys were sometimes given samplers to do as punishment (the annoying thing is that some of these samplers are better than anything I can do today lol).
- This is one of the reasons that I try to wear clothes made only of natural fibers (wool, cotton, linen, silk, etc.) and, when I can afford it, handmade. I don’t sew well enough to make my own clothes, but I’ve been outsourcing a few things to a terrifyingly gifted seamstress and it is so much better, better made, and longer lasting than clothing purchased off the rack. It’s expensive and I acknowledge that this isn’t something everyone can do (and I can’t afford it for everything) but if you can sew, give making your own clothes a shot. If you can afford it, try getting a bespoke suit once in your life. It changes one’s relationship to one’s clothing, to production, craft, and it really, really makes one aware of the attitude of disposability and planned obsolescence that so define our modern purchasing experience.
I don’t usually share things like this, but I am so excited about a recent acquisition that I cannot help myself. Y’all know that I venerate the castrati as a family of ancestral spirits (yes, I know, but it doesn’t matter that they’re not technically my blood ancestors; I love them and they are spiritual ancestors for me). Well, being the tactile person that I am, when I am learning how to honor and engage with a new family of spirits, it often helps to have physical objects. If I am learning proper veneration to a new Deity, I’ll set up a shrine for the same purpose(1). If I’m engaging with an animal spirit as a spirit worker, I want a tooth, claw, or bit of fur, and likewise with my ancestors whenever possible, I like to have a photo or some item that belonged to them. Is this a bit reductionist? Yes. Is it absolutely necessary? Not at all, and in fact, I’ve been honoring the castrati both as a group and as individuals for close to a decade now without having anything approximating a physical object, unless one counts the music they once sang.
Well, today I can happily say that I now own a scrap of music handwritten and signed by one of the last of the great vocal castrati: Girolamo Crescentini (1762-1846) (2). He was equally regarded as a singer, teacher, and composer and what I acquired today was a bit of music written by him for a correspondent or friend (It is unclear from the provenance for whom he originally wrote the piece). Crescentini was a favorite of Napoleon, (who otherwise despised castrati) who knighted him in 1809.
What is pictured here is an autographed six bar musical quotation of an arietta, in Crescentini’s own hand. Since he signed it ‘cav. (cavalier) Crescentini,’ we know it must have been written after 1809. There is a little note: Due note sol da mi fibra mi! Assai di piu assai di pire tene do no (You wish to receive just two notes from me, I give you more and more of them). Signed: carattere, e compisizione del Cav. Crescentini (Character and composition of Cavalier Crescentini).
I never expected to find something like this and in fact, last year I had an antique dealer who specialized in autographs and musical scores tell me it was nearly impossible to find anything written or signed by the castrati (a Meissen teapot owned by Senesino (1686-1758) came up for auction last year, I believe, but it was way, way, WAY out of my price league omg). I do have a couple medieval manuscript leaves. I pick up inexpensive ones here and there, usually at the medieval conference at Kalamazoo – their book room is heaven and the MSS dealers always have at least a bit priced low for grad students–because they are helpful when I teach. I find students become really engaged when they can actually touch a piece of history and hold it in their hands. It brings it alive like nothing else. None of leaves approach this 5.24×6 inch scrap of music. This is a personal connection to a family of spirits, to one particular spirit that I never, ever, ever expected to find and I am grateful to the Gods and ancestors that I happened to stumble across it (and that it was both relatively inexpensive – it’s small—and within my budget).
Look. Look at the pretty thing. ^___^. (I’ve very inexpertly blurred my address bc I liked the photo and didn’t want to pull everything out to take it a second time when I realized my home addy showed).
musical notation, inscription, and signature of G. Crescentini. Personal collection of G. Krasskova
- At least, that is part of the purpose. The other part, of course, is that this is a space for veneration and a visual sign of welcome for that Deity into one’s home and life.
- The very last of the great operatic castrati was Giovanni Velluti (1780-1861), a younger contemporary of Crescentini.
What a beautiful thing! Someone did a bit of guerilla art: this person put up a shrine to Hermes in the Brooklyn subway. My friend M. sent me the link yesterday and you can check it out here. I think this is just wonderful (and I particularly like that it looks like some offerings have been made). We need more of this! May Hermes and all our Gods ever and always be loved.
Here are some pictures from the link above of the shrine. May Hermes smile upon whoever did this. Bravo/a.
One of the amazing artists who has contributed to my prayer card project, Halldora, has a new project in the works: a tarot deck (which looks *amazing* omg) and game. She’s just got it to the point where the kickstarter is up and going (for the next 16 days).
Check that out here.
If you like her art or just want to support one of our own, or think this project is awesome, head on over to kickstarter and consider sponsoring the deck and game. This is a way you can become part of the project too ( also the tiered sponsorships look pretty cool). Check it out and feel free to share the link around.
Here is an example of her prayer cards. This is the Freya card she graciously did for us:
Today is the anniversary of my most obscure book, comprised of a collection of my artwork.
Numinous Places is a visual record of those places in which, over the past few years, my heart has unfolded. It’s a journey of how I learned to root myself and find joy in the world. It’s how I fell in love with places and their stories and learned to accept the spiritual nourishment such stories bring. It’s how I learned to reverence the spirits of places, animist that I am, and how I came to recognize their sustaining power.
Available on Amazon.
If any of you are in the NY area, and interested in things Bacchic, or if you just have an interest in good theatre, for the love of the Gods go and see The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s current production of “The Bacchae.” It’s phenomenal. We just got back from seeing the production. Here is the letter that I wrote to the theatre company.
“My husband and I attended last night’s performance of the Bacchae and I wanted to reach out to you. It was absolutely fantastic. There is no other way to describe it. I’ve taught the play, read it in the original Greek, written about it, and tried my own hand at translating it (serious kudos to the translator of your version, btw). More to the point, both my husband and I are devotees of Dionysos (He has His worshippers in the modern day), so for us, this is a mystery play, a ritual experience and oh, it was. It really, really was.
Neither of us had ever had the opportunity to see it in person, only on youtube clips. We were excited but approached the performance with some trepidation. It is such a sacred thing for us, what if y’all messed it up? what if you missed the core of the story? What if you portrayed Dionysos wrongly? What if….but almost from the beginning, we knew we were in for something special. By the time the chorus began singing “Go Bacchus, Go Bacchus, Go. Bring Back Dionysos” I was crying.
I”ve known for years that theatre was sacred to Dionysos. It never hit me how and why (and I was a ballet dancer professionally until my early twenties. It *should* have been ingrained in me). I”d just never seen this particular play done, the whole thing a glorious invocation to Him, and oh it makes so much sense now. He was so present throughout. That theatre became a temple.
Mr. Brown did a truly phenomenal job. I was particularly moved by the interactions between him and Mr. Foster…the moments after the latter dons female garb and shows such fragility ‘Can you make me beautiful?’ and Dionysos embraces him and says ‘you are beautiful’ and presses his forehead to that of Pentheus…and there’s such compassion for this broken man, and a chance there for Pentheus to heal and embrace who he truly is, for a different story and yet Pentheus turns away from it and back to hard headed and cruel impiety. It was so clear that when he spoke of wanting to tear the women apart, it was that fragile, fey part of himself that he wanted to truly destroy. It was heart-breaking but so few productions (of the snippets I”ve seen online) capture that.
The militancy of the Bacchantes was really well done and the music…the songs to Dione, to Eirene (“Queen of Heaven”) were beautiful hymns of praise. I really love the way the chorus was handled throughout — and usually I’m dubious about modernizing things, but this worked beautifully (and I especially liked the references to the Hudson and East Rivers instead of the Dirce and Ismene Rivers). it made it strikingly relevant. Opening it by an announcement honoring the Lenape people, the ancestors of those originally indigenous to the land where the theatre stands, slipping in an ‘Ashe’ during one of Dionysos’ monologues were particular touchstones for us. At the end, where Agave raves that she needs no Gods…it was so ugly, so impious, so stubbornly resistant to seeing her own part in all that had unfolded…she had learned nothing and it became obvious where Pentheus and his cousin Actaeon had acquired their foolishness. It really showed how we’re all just one step, one decision away from the road she chose to walk.
Oh thank you for such a powerful performance. That is all I wanted to say. I made a donation when I was there, but my household donates to various places quarterly and now you will be one of those places. It is a fitting offering to Dionysos.
The production runs through July 28. Bring water. Bring bug spray. And bring tissues.
Now that my thesis is mostly done (and my defense date scheduled), I decided to take the weekend off. A couple of really awesome opportunities arose that I just couldn’t pass up: Royal Danish Ballet dancers doing a Bournonville retrospective at the Joyce theatre, and Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Bacchae (the latter is free, which is lovely). I saw the ballet last night with a couple of friends and it was utterly delightful.
I’ve always loved the Bournonville style. It emphasizes ballon (the ability of dancers to jump with such ease that it almost seems as though they’re floating in the air), and quick footwork. It is elegant, precise, and this particular style never advocates contorting the body to achieve a higher extension. The emphasis is on artistry not acrobatics and it was a breath of fresh air to see a company that hadn’t given itself over to the colorless, broad blandness that so characterizes so much of modern ballet. It really fed the soul.
The performance opened with an excerpt from La Sylphide. The original version of this ballet was created for Marie Taglioni, a 19thcentury ballerina who pretty much ushered in the era of Romantic ballet ( culminating in ballets like Giselle, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty). Bournonville had danced with Taglioni in his youth and wanted to stage the ballet in Denmark. Apparently, he faced so many challenges from the Paris Opera Ballet (where the original had been performed) in doing so that he decided to choreograph his own version and it is this version that survives. It tells the story of James, a man who is engaged to a young woman of his village but who becomes enamored (and obsessed) with a sylph, an otherworldly creature of air and magic. Unfortunately for James, he pissed off the local witch by showing a regrettable lack of hospitality during his engagement party and his obsession with the sylph provides the opportunity for his undoing. He tries to capture this creature, which is rather obscene in and of itself: he’s taking this amazing wild thing and trying to tether it to mundane humanity, and the witch tricks him by providing him with a magic scarf. She tells him that if he wraps it around the sylph’s neck and arms it will enable her to remain with him. What it does is kill her and James is left with nothing, all the more so since his fiancée has long tired of his bullshit and gone off to marry his best friend. Last night’s performance showcased the section of the ballet where James kills the sylph. It is classic Bournonville, but was actually not my favorite part of the evening’s performance.
I much preferred the second half of the show which highlighted excerpts from the ballet Napoli, and other lesser known ballets. It was just delightful and the technique and artistry of the dancers, across the board, was high. It was a satisfying performance, and I particularly loved the rapport between the dancers. This review is correct: they were performing as much for each other, and delightfully, as for the audience. I was particularly impressed with the technique of principal dancer Jon Axel Fransson and soloist Stephanie Chen Gundorph. I have never seen such clean, effortless jumps as Mr. Fransson’s and Gundorph’s footwork was a thing of razor precision and beauty. I could have happily watched them for hours. Truly though, every dancer there was just amazing, including a performer that I can’t believe is in the corps: Tobias Praetorius. He had such a gift for comedy in his performance as a street singer that I found myself laughing out-loud. I also wish they’d done an encore of the Jockeydance, which was a hilarious variation depicting two jockeys competing to show off their skills. Seriously, all the dancers were quite lovely and if I could, I’d go to every remaining performance.
As a former ballet dancer, I was surprised to note that Bournonville style has preparations for turns in a small second position, not fourth. One of the more surprising elements of the choreography also involved a woman on pointe doing a series of bourrees or similar steps while the man holds onto her shoulder promenading in arabesque or attitude…usually it’s the woman doing that! The female dancers also darn the tips of their pointe shoes. I used to do this, though it’s not that common in American companies. It helps the shoe keep its shape and adds stability to the box. I was happy to see it being done (some of the shoes were signed and on sale so I got a good look at them).
I firmly believe art elevates the soul. It also represents the best that our human cultures have to offer. It crosses all boundaries and unifies like nothing else. We need more of it!
Tonight, it’s off to see the Bacchae, which for me is a deeply religious experience. I cannot wait to see what the Classical Theatre of Harlem is going to do with the play. It looks amazing. There is a review here.
(ballet photo couretsy of this site, where you can see more images of the dancers participating in The Bournonville Legacy show at the Joyce).
I am heartbroken about Notre Dame. As we were going into class tonight we learned about the fire. I believe it’s been put out by now, but the damage is horrendous. At least, from what I heard earlier, the relics and statuary were removed days ago because of the renovation being done. This church is a work of art, a treasure, beyond price. How much has been lost of that legacy that we will never recover? It’s just sickening. Apparently the fire was due to the renovation, a potential problem with renovating very, very old structures.