Archaeology sculpture . . . .   Leave a comment

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In 2008, my husband and I decided to raise our house to a two-story.  The house was jacked up, the old 1930s slab pulled out, and an 18×18 trench was dug around the periphery of the house and up the middle for a new foundation.  I knew that the house was built in 1892, in an area along the Mississippi River bank first developed for the workers of the 1885 World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Expo right next door, a block upriver.  It was a cozy neighborhood of little Victorian cottages raised on 2-ft brick piers (square pilings) with Eastlake gingerbread at the porch columns and roof eaves, much as it is today except for the fact that some of those cottages now sit at the top of what are now 2-story houses.  In 1895 the levee broke, causing the neighborhood to raise their houses about 7 feet off the ground.   When my husband bought the house, he had torn out the dilapidated apartments that had been carved out of the 1st floor of the house, but been turned down for a permit to close it back in unless he raised it another 2 feet.  So when the crew pulled up the slab and started digging new foundation trenches, I knew I’d be doing as much excavating as I could for as long as they were digging.

Cut crystal bowl

Cut crystal bowl, in 9 pieces

The crew was Nicaraguan and at first didn’t realize why they’d come to work in the morning to find the piles of soil they’d dug the day before shifted a few feet over, but eventually I told them, “Soy una archeologista” and they left me alone.  But after their shovel found a shard of ornamental cut crystal, and then another and another, they started bringing them to me and asking, “Esta viejo?”  But by the time they brought me their 9th piece, and saw that I’d cleaned the others and laid them side by side, showing that every one of them fit together, and that they now formed half of a very ornamental bowl, they were mine.  From then on, I’d go down in the evenings and see that they had left things for me, placed neatly on top of the mounds.

pottery shards

pottery shards – some delicate china, some heavy crockery, teacup handles

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In those evenings, sifting through the dirt with clamp lights, extension cords and mosquito repellent, I found the usual mix of things.

glass shards

glass shards – bottle necks, a liquor decanter stopper, decorative feet and handles

glass pieces, whole

whole bottles, a mason jar lid & drawer handles

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iron, tools and hardware

iron hardware, wrench, broken pickaxe head, heavy nail & horseshoe

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The joint and horseshoe were found in the back yard where a buried foundation with features dating to 3 different periods indicates an out-building, possibly a barn-turned-garage or toolshed.

bone

bone, some butcher-cut, joint of cow or horse

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hints at domestic life

hints at domestic life.

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My favorite things are those that give you a glimpse of family life.  For the man of the house, several kinds of pipes; corncob, terra cotta, and the old white clay kind with the long skinny stems, usually from the 1800s.  Also a liquor decanter stopper.  For the woman of the house, a cold cream cosmetic pot, a picture frame, lipstick tube, skeleton key, shell button, curler pin, toothbrush, ink pen, table knife,  and a Delft scuttle handle.  For the children, a slate chalkboard marker, the foot of a porcelain doll, a bunch of marbles in glass, glazed ceramic and bisque, Mardi Gras doubloons and a king cake baby, a checker, and a Scotty dog pendant.

A civil war bullet (under the king cake baby) predated any building that was on the land, probably, and a glass hypodermic ampule would have been brought into the house by a doctor.

A thing doesn’t have to be old to be interesting – the tin ashtray is from the 1980 visit Pope John Paul made to New Orleans, when he officially designated St. Louis Cathedral as a Basilica.

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Square nails

hand-hammered square nails

roof slate

roof slate

wallpaper

wallpaper

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chimney summer front

chimney summer front

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I also kept artifacts that were part of the house.

doorbell

doorbell on segment of discarded floor joist

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1940s newspaper, map of German-Russian border

1940s newspaper, map of German-Russian border, stuffed in crack between fireplace and wall

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Something immobile that I wanted represented, so included a photo of, was the base of the old cistern, a 7 ft wood barrel for collecting rainwater.  It had once been behind the house, connected by a pipe to gutters on the roof, but was now half covered by a 1930s extension to the rear of the house.  The old meter box, once outside on the corner pier of the back wall, was still on the wall, long abandoned, both it and the stuccoed pier left as is as a column inside the new back room.

lid of old meter box

lid of old meter box

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Base of cistern

base of cistern

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The Civil War bullet got me thinking.  I had an 1883 map that showed a house on the property in a different place than ours; that ours was the second house on the site, not the first.  But the area had been wilderness just before then, so why would a bullet from the 1860s be here?  Where the 1885 Expo was, though, a few blocks further inland nearer the train (now the St Charles streetcar), there had been a Civil War training camp; I’d seen a photo of it, and I could see those guys walking to the river, up and down the banks, hunting and fishing.  Plus, the Expo site had been chosen because it had been the late 1700s plantation site of Etienne de Bore, the man who revolutionized the refining of sugar, land that was nicely cleared and laid out, and still big, having yet to be subdivided divided.

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By the end of ’08, so much stuff had accumulated that I put it all together into a “P” shape, for my husband’s name, mounted it as a wall sculpture and gave it to him for Christmas.

Original archaeology sculpture, 2008

Original archaeology sculpture, 2008

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But . . . if I thought that I could file this project under the “done” heading, I was sadly mistaken.

I kept finding things.

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Dug out a sunken segment of old brick sidewalk hidden beneath the grass outside the fence? . . found an old Western Union jacket button and a 1930s Green River Whisky token.

Cleaned out the rubble of the outbuilding foundation at the back of the property, where the horseshoe and joint bone came from? . . . found a horse tooth.

Put a potted plant in the ground? . . .  dug up a belt buckle, a woman’s rouge compact, a piece of a pierced porcelain food container (vege crisper, steamer?), and a hand grenade that Irv said he’d gotten at an army-navy surplus store with the kids when they were little.

Pulled up weed saplings from the slab of the demo-ed carport? . . . found a metal accordian-arm extender, strings of unused hook-and-eye eyes and nut-and-bolt nuts still bound together on their corroded wires, a rubber furniture wheel, drawer pull, barn door hinge, and a fishing leader with weights and hooks.

beadboard wall and door hidden by sheetrock of kitchen wall

beadboard wall and door previously hidden by sheetrock of kitchen wall

Even inside.  Tore out a wall? . . found a wire soap dish and a chandelier crystal inside the studs, and under the sheetrock a pre-existing beadboard wall.  Turns out, it had once been an exterior wall inside a screen porch, long and skinny,  that ran along the side of the house from the middle to the back, what we call a dog-trot.  I numbered the boards, took them down and put a seal coat on them, and ended up being able to put them back up after the structural changes to the room had been made.

"Where was Moses? And where was somebody else?

envelope

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But the best was when I took out a doorframe header, and an old bug-eaten letter, still in its envelope, came fluttering down from where someone had hidden it.  I’ll let it speak for itself.

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“Where was Moses?  and where was somebody else?”

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"My dear Choirmaster

pg.1

 – – – – – – –

“My DEAR Choirmaster –

See I am living up to my promise?

First of all I want to thank you for coming to church the famous first Sunday, second for coming up to the choir when I sent for you – and third for staying next to me – and GETTING NEXT.  have enjoyed being with you, have enjoyed all you have said to me – ‘cep once – that was Wednesday night when you got cross with me. I didn’t think you liked me one bit, but then when the lights went out!  O gee – I thought and thought, and then some – that night.  

pg.2

pg.2

You have been so good to me and to think of the 12th of May! Gee didn’t we have just lots of fun? Bet you didn’t tell “Kay” about putting the lights out. So men don’t tell every thing, do they? Well I am glad they don’t – I have been the happiest girl …”  

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“… (old maid) since you told me you were going to Communion.  I can’t help but think I aided it.  It’s going to be MY day.  I also got Vera (Mrs. de M) to be christened.      

Am crazy to get your answer if they are like your little toasts and poetry, and OTHER THINGS, I know they are allright.      

Say I like you awfully.   I have a “crush” on you, very strong.  I am going to try not to show it, now can I?  I mean to other folks..

Well here’s to you!  May your prayers ever be answered, and you won’t forget the twelfth of May, or how to put the “lights out” – Thank you for all you have done for me, and may you live happy ever afterwards!  With all that you say I have, I am yours.      

‘May 12’    .     .     .     .     Saturday night, 8:30″ 

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By 2011, I not only had found all these pieces, but a plethora of new glass and pottery shards, porcelain doll parts, pipe stem pieces, marbles, buttons, king cake babies and beads, etc.  So I took the whole sculpture down, reconfigured it to fit everything in such a way as to keep the essential “P” shape intact, and this is what came of it.

2nd version, 2011

2011 version

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How I wish I could say that this were finished.

But I have a bowl that’s filling up with stuff again, and I think it’s about time for a third incarnation of this living sculpture that just grows and grows.

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  In fact .  . . . . . . .

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 ———————————————————————

iron

iron

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The makings of the third incarnation.

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glass, including a Lea & Perrins stopper

glass . . .

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. . . including a Lea & Perrins bottle stopper

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Domestic collection, including a drawer bin pull, a Gumby figure, and . . .

Domestic collection, including a drawer bin pull, a Gumby figure, and . . .

Pottery . . .

Pottery . . .

. . . including a Wedgwood-like fragment

. . . including a Wedgwood-like fragment of jasperware

. . . a switchblade knife

. . . a switchblade knife, a bit of its wooden handle still intact

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Thanks for joining me for one of my little creative adventures.

© Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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