October 26, 2021

Going, Going, Gone: A Recap of Season #8!

My Grandma used to say that there were only two days in the year: Christmas and 4th of July.  I laughed then, as I knew that it was supposed to be a joke, but now I understand that she was only half-kidding.  The 2021 museum season flew by; and though it seems like only yesterday that it was opening day, we closed two weekends ago.  An entire summer and another season, number 8 for me, gone, in the blink of an eye and the turn of a calendar page. 

Back in March when I began my blogging (and social media) hiatus, we were right on the cusp of the brand new season.  I had just accepted the position of Manager of Community Lifeways, and hit the ground running.  From May to the beginning of October, it felt like a marathon with special events and after-hours programs just about every weekend, as well as field trips and tour groups to round out daily interpretation.  With general admission closed down for the remainder of the year, we can finally catch our breath - so it seems fitting to take a little time to reflect upon all of the excitement and to recap the whirlwind of the 2021 museum season! 

Weaving on the counterbalance barn loom at the Humphrey House

For those unfamiliar with the Genesee Country Village & Museum, it's the largest living history museum in New York State - and the third largest in the country - featuring a working, 19th century village with 68 historic structures, costumed interpreters, live trade and domestic demonstrations, heirloom gardens, heritage breed livestock, and so much more.  I've had the pleasure and privilege of calling the village my own for seven years now, with this being the first season in a managerial position.

I was hired as a historical interpreter in 2014, and have since worn a couple of hats, including a costuming intern (2014-15) and the Interpretation Office Assistant (2016-2019).  It was an honor to be asked to return in a new role, as the Manager of Community Lifeways, for the 2021 museum season, which is number 8 for me.  In this position, I am responsible for overseeing and developing interpretive programming; creating themed and select after-hours events; managing the shared team of historical interpreters and volunteers across the village; and other collaborative efforts across the interpretation department.  I am also actively advocating for sitewide diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion advancements, and have already drafted and presented several documents to the CEO, Senior Director of Interpretation, and DEAI committee members for consideration and implementation.

2021 Weaving Project at the Humphrey House:
A reproduction "dog track" overshot coverlet for the Jones Farmhouse

I like to divide the buildings and programs I manage into four categories: 

1)  Historical Houses, featuring stories and activities centered around daily, 19th-century life and experience: these include the Humphrey House (1790s-1830s, weaving demonstrations); Foster-Tufts House (1830s, with three, rotating themes on birth, marriage & death); MacKay House (1830s); Hyde House (1870s); and Hamilton House (1870s)

2)  Business, which were instrumental to any settlement and growing town: the Altay General Store (1850s); Hosmer's Inn (1830s); Dressmaker Shop (1820s-30s); and Tailor Shop (1850s)

3)  Textile Arts Programs: this includes the spinning, weaving (see the 2021 weaving project, above), dressmaking, and tailoring programs.  

4)  Historic Dining Programs: this includes the popular, historical dinner programs (MacKay and Hosmer Dinners - unique dinning experiences that serve 3 or 4 course fares, respectively, from period receipts (called recipes, today), complete with first-person entertainment and a private tour of the village by lantern-light); as well as other period luncheon, tea, and dessert programs.  

My position also oversees select children's games & entertainment programs; staffing select education programs; and some office administrative work.  I also tried to staff buildings in the village 1-2 days a week to keep my interpretation skills in current practice, and enjoyed regularly demonstrating both weaving and flax processing regularly throughout the summer.  

In the summer months, I gave a timed talk called "From Plants to Pants"
and regularly demonstrated flax processing for visitors


And now, for the highlights of the season...get ready for lots of pictures!  Please note that not every event will be represented, just some favorite memories (of which I happen to have pictures)! 

2021 Museum Season

My first weekend back was actually in March, which deserves an honorary mention in the season recap!  It was during the second week of the annual Maple Sugar Festival, and I spent the day demonstrating tallow (beef fat) candle making: 


Tallow candles in various stages of completion


May - The museum opened for its 45th season on Mother's Day weekend! 

Shortly after opening, the Spring Dinners, hosted at Hosmer's Inn for social distancing purposes, began with six dinners over three weekends. In the past, I've played both hostess and tour guide, but this was a first managing the historical dining program. The MacKay Dinners offer a charming, Georgian-style dinning experience with dishes prepared from early-19th century receipts (called recipes today) and the chance for first-person interactions with members of the MacKay family.

Spring Dinners at Hosmer's Inn

This Spring's Bill of Fare was specifically selected to reflect the MacKay's personal reminiscences of settling the early Genesee Country, as well as their family's proud Scottish heritage. Traditional Scottish dishes, like freshly-baked barley rolls and potatoe rock, two ways (sweet and savory), were served alongside dressed asparagus, spring fruit (rhubarb) soup, and a variety of seasonal pickles and preserves.

For the main course, stewed trout, stuffed, in a white wine-butter sauce, was appropriately plated, as John MacKay himself reminisced on how "abundant" and "comparatively tame" the trout were when he first settled in Caledonia in 1803.  According to John MacKay: "When we wanted [trout], we used frequently to catch them with our hands as they lay under the roots of the cedar trees that grew along the banks. There would be occasionally one weighing as high as three pounds." (Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase by Orsamus Turner):

Stewed trout, stuffed, in a white wine-butter sauce

As for the dessert course, almond maids of honor (tarts) decorated with candied lilacs were arranged at the center of the tables on towering glass cake stands. Footed glass dishes were filled with crystallized ginger, candied orange peel, walnuts, and comfits; and hot coffee and tea were poured into delicate china teacups for the guests returning from their private tour of the village:

Candlelight dessert course: almond maids of honor, crystalized ginger, candied orange peel, walnuts, and comfits

We really have a wonderful historical dinner team, and I'm thrilled to get to work with each and everyone of them!  Especially Ariana, my museum-twin, who could run these dinners with her eyes closed - here she is busy lighting tapers with both hands:

Lighting fresh tapers for the dessert course
 
As for what I wore to work the dinners, it was usually some variation of this outfit - though I did occasionally switch up the kerchief, cap, or apron, just for some variety: 

Working wear for Hosmer Dinners!


June - During the next month, we introduced our first Honoring Juneteenth event!  Cheyney McKnight of Not Your Momma's History was onsite for the week hosting both sitewide and small group trainings.  On Juneteenth and during our event, Cheyney, Noah, Andy, and Sharon presented a moving living history scene, which included a reading of General Order No. 3; capturing the first moments of hesitation and confusion; and then a joyous reaction to the news of freedom: 

Juneteenth living history scene featuring: (from left to right) Sharon, Andy, Cheyney, and Noah.

A toast to freedom!

It was such a pleasure to spend time some time with Cheyney again - and to call her friend, champion, and interpreter advocate means the world to me:

Cheyney & me (in a museum uniform since I was staffing behind-the-scenes)

Later in the month of June, the weaving began on the 2021 project at the Humphrey House!  This season, we reproduced an overshot coverlet (the original is held in collections) to replace the faded one (which was woven by the weavers in 1970) at the Jones Farmhouse.  (So it's essentially a reproduction of a reproduction, if you will!)  Anyways, the coverlet features attractive, wide borders with a repeating "dog tracks" pattern across the body.  

Holding a shuttle in hand and treadles under my feet again just felt right! 

Once a weaver, always a weaver!



July - cue the fireworks!  For our 4th of July and Independence Day celebration, I made a patriotic apron and marched in the village parade: 

Marching in the Independence Day parade around the village square!
Photograph by Ruby Foote, museum photographer. 

I finally got to wear my candy-pink striped, sheer summer dress
complete with a new, patriotic apron and silk parasol!

The following week was Virtual History Camp at The Castle, a historic house museum in Marietta, Ohio!  I had the privilege of presenting a session called: "That Chinese Girl": How Mamie Tape Won the Right to Go to School

Advertisement by The Castle Museum

Here was my session's description: 

The United States has often been described as a nation of immigrants, promising freedom and opportunity to those who arrived in America – but not everyone was welcomed. As early as the 1850s, Chinese immigrants were treated unfairly, with laws that made it difficult to enter the country, and restrictions on where they lived, worked, and educated their children. 

In this presentation, students will learn about the lives of Joseph and Mary Tape, who were Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco; as well as the struggles of their daughter, Mamie Tape, in getting to attend a public school in 1884. Referred to as “that Chinese girl” in the newspapers, Mamie Tape’s perseverance, and the winning decision in the Tape v. Hurley (1885) case, made history in the rights of all children to public education. Several primary sources, including court documents, a letter from Mrs. Tape, and photographs of the family, will be used to explore how the Chinese community fought for their civil rights and equality. 

Tape Family Portrait, including (L-R) Joseph, Emily, Mamie, Frank, and Mary Tape, 1884-85.
Image in public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The next two weekends at our museum were busy with back-to-back special events!  The first weekend was Celebrating Chocolate weekend throughout the village; followed by the first Civil War Living History weekend, which took the place of the usual battle reenactment.  We were joined by public historian, Marvin-Alonzo Greer, who can be found on Instagram @magthehistorian.  He is a wealth of knowledge and an excellent speaker, as well as just being lovely to meet in person.  Both David Shakes, who portrays Fredrick Douglass, and Fritz Klein as President Abraham Lincoln, returned, and were greeted with a full house, or rather Brooks Grove Church - not an empty seat in sight! 

A conversation between Fredrick Douglass (David Shakes) & President Lincoln (Fritz Klein)
presented to a crowd in Brooks Grove Church, during the Civil War Living History Weekend. 
 
As if July wasn't busy enough, we ended the month with our "Paint the Village Red!" theme week, which featured a variety of activities around the color red.  From offering historical red candies (like French burnt peanuts and cinnamon comfits); to red work embroidery demonstrations; readings of the Grimm's fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood; and more - the week had us seeing red, in a colorful way! 

Judy demonstrating red work embroidery -
these blocks were the beginning of a reproduction quilt, which she's since finished!

To add a featured activity at the MacKay House, I set up a small dress display to show off a reproduction Balmoral petticoat (while the original was on display at the gallery).  Balmoral petticoats were named after Balmoral Castle in Scotland, which is the connection to the MacKay family's heritage.  These petticoats were commonly made from red wool flannel with bands of black trim at the hems, and popularized across Europe and the United States for fashionable cold-weather wear by Queen Victoria:

Balmoral petticoat display at the MacKay House, featuring both a reproduction red wool petticoat and fashion plates.

Dress display: the reproduction Balmoral petticoat was on loan from the gallery,
while the dress, coat and accessories were made/sourced by me.

And last, but not least, there was a fashion show!  "All Dressed in Red" featured red-colored fashions from the 19th century, modeled by live models (many thanks to Carly, Rhonda, and Janus Mary), or displayed on dress forms.  I had to make a new 1810s dress, of course, and am pleased with the results.  The fabric is a soft cream and orange stripe with little, red flowers, and the design features short, puffed sleeves (that will eventually have detachable long sleeves).  To complete the look, I wore a frilly chemisette to fill in the neckline and coral jewelry to emphasize the red theme!

All Dressed in Red Fashion Show: (from left to right) 1800s half robe, 1810s day dress, 1830s (Carly),
1840s/early-1850s (Rhonda), 1860s with a Balmoral petticoat, and 1870s (Janus Mary, on Sunday only).


August - The month began with managing the after-hours Ghost Stories tours, which for me was mostly remembering to set props, sneaking around to light candle lanterns (at least 15k steps a night), and unlocking and relocking buildings.  The guides were the stars of the program!  

The month ended with another theme week - Fiber week!  Luckily we have thriving fiber arts programs - spinning, dyeing, weaving, quilting, and sewing - and had fun incorporating "fibrous" foods in the historic kitchens.  Other special activities, particularly appealing to younger audiences, included coloring pages of silk moths, hands-on rope making, and daily readings of Rumpelstiltskin (another Grimm's fairy tale) spinning straw into gold!  

At the Dressmaker's Shop, both Rhonda, the dressmaker, and Kaela graciously agreed to discuss silk, and its uses in ladies' clothing and accessories.  I had set up a small table display (visible from behind a barrier) for the week, including some examples of silk from the stash, a bonnet, and various accessories; however, it was really brought to life when Kaela and Rhonda were staffing the shop.  Both friends brought additional examples of silk and interpreted a fiber perhaps less familiar (or less available) to clothing-wearers today!

Kaela in the Dressmaker's Shop: featuring silk, and its uses in ladies' clothing & accessories
(Kaela, my friend, it was such a pleasure to see you again!)
 
I also gave my "From Plants to Pants" talk and flax processing demonstration daily from the MacKay porch.  I recall on one for the days having a few ladies from a local spinning/fiber arts guild, who were a lot of fun, and I was really impressed with the audiences' questions overall.  Hopefully people feel inspired to go out and buy some linen cloth and clothing now!

The set-up for my "From Plants to Pants" talk & flax processing demonstration


September - Somehow it was Fall, and September brought both the Hop Harvest Festival and The Whirl, which is our museum's major, annual fundraising event.  From all accounts, the Whirl was a wild success!  I was one of the "pod captains" - playing hostess (mainly serving alcohol and chatting about museum programming) at the Foster and MacKay Houses - and, later in the evening, a "tour guide" for a candlelight stroll around the village.  

I'm borrowing this picture of the night from the museum's Facebook album...although I'm not exactly sure of the context, it's quite the candid and deserves a caption:

A photograph from the Whirl, via GCVMuseum on Facebook

As for my outfit, I did make a new, wide-collared chemisette and matching cap.  A neat detail is that the whitework frill has little, embroidered bows along the scalloped edges: 

Outfit for the event: including a brand-new chemisette and cap with whitework frills just for the occasion!

As for the rest of September, the Fall Hosmer Dinners were completely sold out - again!  This was five nights, over three weekends, featuring an elegant, 4-course dinner in the historic inn, served by characters from the Hosmer family.  Some might say that there are characters on the historic dining team too...but I can neither confirm, nor deny the statement ;) 

A behind-the-scenes shot of Hosmer Dinner set-up
...and I promise, with Ariana as my witness, I didn't spill a drop of the soup, Lori! 
(Photograph courtesy of Lori)

The Fall Hosmer Dinners celebrated Malinda Russell, author of A Domestic Cook Book, which is considered the first authored by an African-American woman and published in 1866.  By using Malinda Russell's receipts to create the Bill of Fare, we pay tribute to her life’s work, her unbreakable spirit, and lasting legacy.

The little that is known of Malinda Russell's life comes from the first pages of her cookbook, in which she offers a "Short History of the Author."  Her story was one of suffering, of "hard labor and economy," and of survival.  She was robbed of all of her property, twice, and eventually forced to leave the South under threats to her life.  At the time of writing her cookbook, Malinda was living in Michigan as a "widow with one child" to support, and "hoping to receive enough from the sale of [her book] to enable [a] return home."  Whether she ever made it back to Tennessee is sadly unknown.  

Fall Hosmer Dinners, a Tribute to Malinda Russell.

From Malinda Russell’s years of keeping a pastry shop, many of her “receipts,” or recipes today, are actually for breads, cakes, puddings, pies, and confections of all kinds.  To acknowledge that history, the Fall Bill of Fare featured a variety of freshly-baked goods, including hop rolls to complement the beef soup; a boiled whortleberry pudding with madeira sauce and glazed ham for the main course; onion custard and Irish potatoes as the sides; and a delightful lemon pie for dessert.  Three types of seasonal pickles were also prepared according to Malinda's instructions: pickled cauliflower, sweet (tomato) pickles, and pickled plums.  

A sampling of the Fall Hosmer Dinner's "Bill of Fare":
Glazed ham, a boiled whortleberry pudding with madeira sauce, and freshly-baked hop rolls.
(Image by Deanna, via GCVMuseum on Facebook)

For the third course, (a different offering than with the Spring MacKay Dinners), a seasonal salmagundi with Hosmer House dressing is served alongside a heaping cheese platter with cheddar, quince, and heirloom grapes.  Dessert featured the delicious lemon pie and strawberry cordial toast, with a platter of almonds, walnuts, and raisins to pass.

The dessert course featured a delightful lemon pie from Malinda Russell's A Domestic Cook Book,
which was published in 1866 and considered to be the first authored by an African-American woman.


October - Winding down the season with two more, big events: the Agricultural Fair and Apples, Apples, Apples themed day!  

During the annual Agricultural Fair, we transformed Hosmer's Inn into our first ever Historical Coffee House!  We served both hot and cold beverages, as well as three types of historical cakes: gingerbread with caramel icing, maple 1234 cake, and vanilla 1234 cake.  Along with piping hot coffee and tea, refreshing apple cider and American Heritage drinking chocolate were our most popular choices!

Hosmer's Coffee House: serving a variety of seasonal beverages with a slice of historical cake!
(Photograph via GCVMuseum on Facebook)

Also, I had the chance to have my silhouette cut by Lauren Muney of Silhouettes By Hand (Instagram @silhouettesbyhand)!  She was a visiting artist for the weekend, and watching her freehand cut a portrait from paper was such a unique and memorable experience - thank you, Lauren!

Lauren Muney of Silhouettes By Hand was a visiting artist during the Agricultural Fair!

Double portraits and mirror images, freehand cut by Lauren Muney, 
left side on a white background and right on cream.

My portrait, freehand cut by Lauren Muney

On the final day of the season, we celebrated Apples, Apples, Apples themed day!  I thought it would be a nice touch to offer fresh apple cider and historical cakes (both gingerbread with caramel icing and vanilla 1234 cake) for sale at the MacArthur House.  Who knew we'd go through 12 gallons of apple cider?!  It was quite the event to end the season: 

Selling fresh apple cider and historical cakes at the MacArthur House during Apples, Apples, Apples themed day - 
We went through 12 gallons of apple cider!

Judy, my partner-n-crime, and I made sure to wear our apple-green dresses just for the occassion:



And that, dear readers, is the ending to the 2021 Museum Season recap!  I'd write a more spectacular conclusion if I wasn't so tired from typing this ridiculously-long post...perhaps I should have divided it into multiple parts?  Anyways, now you know what I've been up to during the months of silence on the blog - high-five if you made it all the way to this part of the blog post! 


Farewell to the 2021 Museum Season!
Thank you for all of the memories, and 'till the next season 

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