Date this photo

by Meredith McGovern, Art and Culture Collections Manager

I don’t know about you, but my family has several photo albums filled with beautiful, old photographs. Unfortunately, in many cases, the images are undated and the subjects are unidentified. However, a little knowledge of costume history can help you narrow the date range and possibly learn more about your photo. Two books that I have found really helpful are Joan Severa’s Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840–1900 and My Likeness Taken. Severa points out identifying characteristics, such as hairstyle, the shape of a subject’s sleeves or the length or shape of a woman’s skirt, that can help date an old photo. Let’s put Severa’s methods to the test and try to learn more about an unmarked image from the Indiana State Museum collection.

In this cabinet card, two young women pose against a painted backdrop. The woman on the left is seated; the second woman stands at her side. What does their clothing tell us about when this image was made? Look at it this way, if the subjects were wearing acid-washed jeans and zippered jackets, we’d presume their likenesses were taken in the 1980s. Bell-bottom pants and a tie-dyed shirt? Probably the 1960s. However, the two women each wear dark, wool dresses with short, close-fitting bodices that close with small buttons. Their collars are high and round and trimmed with white linen bands. The woman on the left wears a floor-length, pleated skirt; her full bustle puffs out on the seat behind her. Her friend or relative on the right wears an ankle-length skirt that allowed her better mobility; the apron front drapes from hip to hip. Both women wear their hair in a roll on top of their head with frizzed bangs.

We can immediately determine that this photo was taken between 1870 and 1890. The women do not wear the 1860s crinoline or hoops that would have pushed their skirts out in huge bell shapes ala Gone with the Wind. The bodices lack the 1890s puff shoulder; trust me, some 1890s shoulders are as round as balloons — the wearer might float into the air! Based on the frizzed bangs (consider this style “The Rachel” of the 19th century), we can narrow the gap even further and date this photo 1875-1890. The tight, tight sleeves set high on the shoulder coupled with the draped overskirt pushes the date back even further. I think we can safely say that these two women curled, combed, primped, buttoned, and styled themselves for a studio photograph sometime in the 1880s.

Are you ready to try to date some of your old photographs? Let me know how it goes!

Getting crafty in Corydon

by Laura Van Fossen, Program Developer at Corydon Capitol State Historic Site

In September, 75 lucky women will descend on the historic town of Corydon, Indiana, armed to the teeth with hot glue guns, beads, buttons, glitter and all the unique crafting accessories you can think of. They will be participants of the first annual Hot Glue Gun Girls event, a girlfriend getaway at Corydon Capitol State Historic Site on Sept. 16 and 17.

For these two days, women of all ages will participate in three different crafting workshops, sip cocktails at a Moroccan-themed party, have lunch with keynote speaker Debba Haupert of Girlfriendology.com and enjoy fellowship and shopping. Additionally, the historic Corydon downtown square will be transformed into a vendor fair on Friday and Saturday. Open to the public on Saturday, the fair will showcase the unique creations of vendors from near and far. Vendor applications are still being accepted if you are a purveyor of unique goods or supplies!

Download the registration information, holster up your hot glue gun and gather some of your closest girlfriends (or come prepared to make some new ones!). You won’t want to miss this fun girlfriend getaway and crafting weekend!

Searching for context

by Jeff Tenuth, Science and Technology Collection Manager

[Continued from What is this stuff?]

Digging at New Harmony's Dormitory #2

What do archaeological artifacts tells us? What do they mean? These are the most important questions a museum historian can ask. The reason is because if we don’t relate the past to the present, then our artifacts just amount to a lot of stuff without any real meaning. Without the relationship between the past and the present, then the past exists in isolation, without context and without meaning. In the case of New Harmony’s Dormitory #2, we’ve found thousands of artifacts that reflect the daily lives of people who lived and worked there between 1817 and 1940. This is why these artifacts are so important — because they tell us about people. What we find is that people then were just like people now — they worked, they played and they lived their lives with an eye on a better future for their families.

So who were these people and what were they like? The first settlement at New Harmony was founded in 1814 by George Rapp and his group of Lutheran separatists who had first lived in Harmonie, Pennsylvania, the previous decade. Believing that Jesus Christ would return in their lifetimes, their goal was to live a pure life that would prepare them for the Second Coming. With self-sufficiency necessary to survive in the wilderness, the Rappites bought 7,000 acres of land along the lower Wabash River and set about the task of creating a religious based utopian community. They established orchards, vineyards, farms and began to build the town that still exists today. Within the town they established a sawmill, a brickyard and various shops and businesses to serve the needs of their growing population.

Dormitory #2

One of the buildings the Rappites (or Harmonists, as they are sometimes called) built was a community building called Dormitory #2.  Dormitory #2 is the focus of our decade long archaeological dig. Built between 1817 and 1822, it was framed in heavy wood timbers and then finished out with bricks fired on the property. Dormitory #2 served as a community building for the Harmonists while also sleeping between 40 and 60 people on the first floor. As this was a celibate community, there was little concern with men sleeping in the same building as women. Discouraged with the lack of adequate trade with eastern cities, the Harmonists sold their community to Robert Owen in 1825 and returned to Pennsylvania.

Robert Owen was a Welsh social reformer and an early advocate of socialism and the community movement. His main goal was to continue the development of a utopian community with education as the basis rather than religion. During the next century, the building was used for many purposes. Its first use was as a school and Masonic lodge, both established in 1825. In 1826, the famous “Boatload of Knowledge” arrived and headquartered in the building. Organized by Robert Owen and William Maclure, scientists and educators traveled down the Ohio River to New Harmony in the winter of 1825 with the idea of organizing a utopian socialist community based on an educated population that placed the needs of the community ahead of the needs of the individual. The community failed for a variety of reasons and, in the late 1820s, Robert Owen deeded the entire town to William Maclure.

Maclure continued to use the building as a school but also set up a print shop, one of many that would exist in the building over the next several decades. At about the same time, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop and a shoe store were also established. By the 1830s, the building began to be used as a hotel and a rooming house. Prince Maximilian Neuwied, the German explorer and scientist, and a group of scientists even set up a laboratory in the building in 1832. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, various businesses moved in and out, constantly providing an array of shops and services for the town, including everything from taverns to churches to schools. Other businesses included a telegraph office, a post office and a Knights of Pythias Hall. Prominent local officials and businessmen also lived in the building from time to time before the building was sold to the state in 1940. Since that time, the state has used the building for a variety of purposes. Currently, we are renovating Dormitory #2 to accommodate a climate control system and an elevator. When the renovations are complete, there is no reason why the building won’t be around to welcome visitors for the next 200 years or more!

A mouse in the house

by Meredith McGovern, Art and Culture Collections Manager

Recently, I stumbled upon a couple of mice while reorganizing artifacts in one of our storage rooms. As a collections manager, this would normally count as one of my worst nightmares. However, these were not the kind of mice that smuggle crackers, peanuts and other snacks from the pantry! These were toys, two little windup rodents.

Toymakers have used steam, cranks and clockwork for hundreds and even thousands of years to make toys move, whether it be a leaping jack-in-the-box or a twirling ballerina en pointe inside a jewelry box. During the 19th century, toymakers started mass producing coils and keys, the parts that make windup toys move. They were able to make toys easier and cheaper; more children had the chance to own a windup, in many cases a toy mouse.

Meet this little guy from the Indiana State Museum collection — a gray suede mouse with black beady eyes and a string tail. The Schoch sisters who lived with their parents on the south side of Indianapolis played with this mouse, probably using it to torment their mother. When the key on its back was wound, a clockwork mechanism inside turned the brass wheels and sent the mouse scurrying across the floor. I can only imagine the Schoch sisters’ poor mother screaming bloody murder the first time the mouse raced between her feet! The sisters played with this toy sometime in the 1930s, but it might have been manufactured as early as the 1880s.

And here’s our somersaulting mouse, clearly an early knockoff of Mickey Mouse, made in the 1920s. This mouse features a brown velvet body and sports a pair of red felt shorts. When wound, his long, mechanical arms rotate, sending him tumbling head over feet! Advertisements for acrobatic windups from the late 19th century describe these toys as “exceedingly laughable and comical.” This little mouse sure knows how to put on a show!

Be sure to check out the museum’s collection of toys and other objects here .

What is this stuff?

by Jeff Tenuth, Science and Technology Collection Manager

[Continued from Uncovering the truth]

There are two questions that a historian asks at this point: What is the material I’m looking at and what does it mean? In other words, what does this material tell me about the world of the past? How does it help me to understand how people lived their lives? By retrieving and analyzing this material, we can learn how people lived, what they ate, the kinds of materials they made and used, the kind of work they did and how they played. Science finds the material and history tells us what it means. And you would be surprised at what we’ve found over the years.

Bone fragments tagged and bagged.

What we find generally falls into five different categories: faunal, glass, ceramic, metal and (what I call) “everything else.” Faunal material consists of various animal bones, teeth, snails, mussels, egg shells, seeds and anything else organic. This material helps us understand what people ate nearly two centuries ago. Diet might not seem very important, but by analyzing what people ate, we can determine part of the general state of their health. Continue reading

Uncovering the truth

by Jeff Tenuth, Science and Technology Collection Manager

I’ve always loved history. As a little boy, I would read history books and go to museums with my parents because I wanted to see cool things and I wanted to learn about the past. Even then I realized that the past must have something to do with the present. I went to college, got two degrees in history and learned how to be a professional historian. It’s no surprise then that I ended up spending the last 27 years working in museums. But it is a little odd, or so I’m told, that I would end up being the Science and Technology Collection Manager at the Indiana State Museum. Many scientists and historians don’t think they have much in common; but they actually do because they both seek the truth. They just do it in different ways. Nor are the differences that big. If this sounds simplistic, well, it is.

To me it is simple because we all seek the same truth. Whether we’re talking about 50 years ago, 5,000 years ago, or five million years ago, both scientists and historians want to know what happened and why. One of the reasons we do it differently is because scientists, especially archaeologists, use the human made remains of the past such as buildings, pottery or personal adornments. Historians use primarily the writings of the past. So our source material is different, but there is nothing wrong in using each other’s raw material if we’re both going in the same direction. That is what I try to do here at the Indiana State Museum.

Continue reading