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May 24, 2007

Glass Bottle Trees

Filed under: Blogroll — Tags: , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 8:34 pm

Glass Bottle Trees- Is it just a Mississippi thing?
We have received inquiries about the glass bottle trees, which will be available on our website soon. Thought we might share some history and reading material for those interested.

Slaves from the Congo in Africa brought the idea of the traditional bottle trees – live trees with colored bottles on the ends of branches – into this country. Bottle trees protected homes from evil spirits by trapping spirits inside the bottle, where they could do no harm.

Recently, the bottle tree has seen new life as a tree-like metal structure with a steady base and branches (where colored bottles are placed).

Today's Bottle tree

It was the perfect song for Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon knew it. The song was still fresh and Muddy learned it quickly from Dixon while taking a break between sets at Chicago’s club Zanzibar, where he was playing a regular gig. The year was 1953 and Muddy was at the height of his power, both artistically and commercially.

When he tried “Hoochie Coochie Man” on his band and the club patrons moments later, he knew he had a hit. The crowd went nuts. Muddy growled and swaggered, imbuing the song with sexual power and menace. Muddy gave voice to the defiant pride of his audience, a pride long held in check in the segregated South, now finding a new freedom in the urban North.

But it wasn’t just the sexual swagger and electrified sound that connected Muddy to his fellow exiles. Muddy was openly acknowledging the power and influence of Hoodoo in the lives of his fellow African Americans.

The laundry list of magical talismans and beliefs in “Hoochie Coochie Man” serve the song primarily as metaphor for virility and sexual power, but they also serve as a powerful connection of his audience to a shared African past, the evidence of which still exists today, hiding in plain sight.

The shared past of African American history begins along the African coast from Senegal and Gambia to the North, through Sierra Leone and down to Nigeria and the Congo. Most slaves brought to the Americas came from this narrow coastal region, a region culturally diverse in language, religious practice and musical traditions. To maintain control over the slave population, the Africans were stripped of most of their cultural identity and forced to take on the religion of the master, Christianity. For survival, most eventually succumbed to the oppression of the white masters, or so it appeared on the surface.

But the history of Africans in the New World is that of a people who knew how to adapt, innovate and maintain their spirit even under the most brutal of conditions. Noticing similar characteristics in the pantheon of Spirits from the Yoruban religions to those of the Catholic Saints, the apparent Christian conversion of many slaves was little more than a mask that allowed them to maintain an African cultural connection through the process of adaptation. Thus, the West African religions became Vodun in Haiti, Obeah in Jamaica, Santera in Cuba, Shango Baptist in Trinidad, Voodoo in the Deep South, and elsewhere, its lesser-known cousin “Hoodoo.”

Unlike Voodoo, which maintains a connection to the Orisha, or African Pantheon of Spirits, Hoodoo is not a defined belief system but rather a gumbo of African-American folk magic, Indian herbalism, root work, European folklore, traditional Christianity and personal rituals. Practitioners of the craft are known as root doctors, two-headed men (and women), hoodoo doctors and conjurers, among others. Though derided by mainstream Christianity as, at best, naive superstition and at worst, devil worship, many practitioners of Hoodoo consider it a practical, ritual-based form of folk Christianity, a white magic.

In many ways Hoodoo represents the flip side of Christianity, sharing similar goals and aspirations but doing it through practices that utilize the collective memory of African culture, therefore being exiled to the shadows of mainstream religion. Similarly, the blues is Gospel’s earthier, secular cousin, speaking similar truths but doing it in a voice unfiltered by Christian dogma. It’s hardly surprising then that a reviled and misunderstood form of African-based religion would find voice in a music similarly condemned by the church.

The history of the blues, both in recorded lyrics and in the personal beliefs of some of its greatest musicians, is rife with examples of Hoodoo. And despite the fact that most practitioners of Hoodoo make outward claims of it being an extension of Christianity, much of the Hoodoo referred to in blues lyrics is decidedly of the darker variety.

Perhaps the most pervasive and powerful myth in blues lore is that of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for guitar prowess. Aside from the fact that it was singer Tommy Johnson and not Robert Johnson who actually made this claim, the crossroads myth is nevertheless a belief that cuts to the heart of Yoruban religion.

In Africa, the god of the crossroads is known variously as Legba, Eshu, and many others. Although Christianity regards any trickster god as being synonymous with Satan or his lesser demons, the beliefs of the Yoruba hold that it is only through this trickster God that you can gain access to the higher Gods. Thus, a crossroads is the best place to gain access to spiritual forces that will allow the believer to gain one of many different skills, be it gambling luck, dancing ability, various work skills or the ability to play music better than one’s rivals.

The good/evil duality of Christianity has no allowance for a more complex polytheistic system like those found in Africa, so Legba becomes Satan and a rather benign ritual is equated with eternal damnation. Robbed of the original context for what was a partially remembered ritual, many African Americans came to accept the equating of Legba with Satan, further exiling the bluesman, or anyone else beyond the Christian mainstream, from respectable society.

Many blues lyrics reference the spells or talismans of Hoodoo, such as “goofer dust,” or a “black cat bone,” but the most commonly used and misunderstood of all is the concept of “mojo.” Mojo has become a ubiquitous cultural buzzword, incorporated into the title of dozens of commercial products. Through cultural references by rock band the Doors (“Mr. Mojo Rising”) and the satirical British spy Austin Powers (“Blimey! I’ve lost my mojo!”), mojo is often understood to be nothing more than sexual virility or a euphemism for the male organ.

Derived from an African word meaning “spirit” or “life force,” mojo in the context of Hoodoo and the blues refers to one of various types of flannel bags containing secret magical ingredients obtained from a Hoodoo conjurer and designed to assist the believer in either love or money interests.

Evidence of Hoodoo and other African cultural retentions also can be found in African-American material culture, although the original meanings of the objects have often been forgotten. Most of these objects were traditionally used to keep “evil spirits” out of the home, but they also served a decorative function and it’s in that context that most still exist.

The most well-known is the horseshoe nailed above a threshold for “good luck.” This is but one of many objects African Americans used to keep evil from entering the home. Others examples included tacking a bible verse above the door, painting doors and windows blue (called “haint blue” in South Carolina), hanging “ghost mirrors” beside the door (evil is repelled by its own sight), flanking the door with vessels of water, and hanging a colander or sieve over a keyhole (evil spirits are obsessive compulsive and must count the holes before entering).

Yesterday's Bottle tree

© Eudora Welty Collection

Mississippi Department of Archives and History

This photograph by Welty, of a home in Simpson County, reflects a folk belief that “bottle-trees” trees on whose limbs bottles have been placed will trap evil spirits that might try to get in the house. Welty used bottle trees in her short story “Livvie,” which was set near the Old Natchez Trace, a famous colonial “road” used by Indians, merchants, soldiers, and outlaws between Natchez and Nashville, Tennessee. This photograph, like many others taken by Welty during her work for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, appears in One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression: A Snapshot Album (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996).

The old methods of repelling evil that still commonly exist are mostly found in yard art or yard shows. Surrounding any living plant or tree with rocks, a discarded tire, or small wire fencing acts as an encircling charm of protection. Similarly, encircling herbs planted around the home serve as a botanical protection. “Swept” yards containing no grass were thought to prevent the devil (i.e., snakes) from having protective cover. But the most dramatic of all art objects designed to repel evil has all but disappeared from the Southern landscape: the bottle tree. In this belief, reaching back to the Congo of the 9th century, colorful bottles (traditionally cobalt blue) are placed on branch ends to catch the sunlight. When an evil spirit sees the play of light, it enters the bottle and, like a wasp, is thereby entrapped.

Remnants of African culture and religion are woven into the fabric of American culture in so many ways, they often remain hidden in plain sight. Hoodoo is alive and well, both in the rural South and in the urban North, evincing the resilience of these beliefs to survive in the face of continued prejudice and misunderstanding. Like the blues, Hoodoo and other belief systems of African derivation will never die but will continue to adapt for survival into the 21st century.

Glass bottle trees are no longer just a Mississippi thing – the popularity has grown into a national interest. Everyone wants a bottle tree to protect their garden. 

May 16, 2007

Save the Seeds

Filed under: Bird Talk — Tags: , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 7:18 pm

Heirloom gardeners preserve the plants of the past. 

While driving along a country road, most people only notice the meadows filled with colorful wildflowers. It takes an heirloom gardener to distinguish a hard-to-find plant such as Dame’s-rocket from the common weeds surrounding it.

Heirloom gardeners – those who enjoy searching for and planting old-fashioned non-hybridized plants – don’t hesitate to hit the brakes and park alongside grassy embankments to get some cuttings or a few seeds.

The time they spend tramping through open fields or across cemeteries is their contribution to the preservation of seemingly rare cultivators. They also share their knowledge – and ofentimes, a few plants – with other gardening enthusiasts.

Heirloom Gardener

Betty Perry, 81, is one such gardener.

“I just love to collect plants,” said Perry, a former volunteer and garden curator at Mordecai, a historic home, garden and park site in Raleigh. “You see, they’re taking the old plants that were big and rangy and all, and making them into little [plants], for people who have little gardens. I don’t like them. I like the old plants. I didn’t like seeing plants destroyed.”


After volunteering in Mordecai’s garden, which she helped install in 1973, and having amassed several plants, some of which had been in pots for more than 20 years, Perry got to work creating her dream garden at the 1820s North Carolina home place of her husband’s family.

“I wasn’t getting any younger,” said Perry, who is assisted three days a week by her gardener Ed Sessoms. (Her husband, James, mows the lawn.) “I should have started earlier because I have so much I want to do.

What is an heirloom?

Most definitions for “heirloom plants” are highly subjective. Some believe true heirloom plants are strictly open-pollinated – plants pollinated naturally or ” in the open.” Others say an heirloom must be at least 50 years old or introduced in the United States in the 1600s to the mid-1950s. Others call an heirloom a plant that has been passed along throughout the generations or simply an old-fashioned plant. But most agree that heirlooms are not hybrids – plants bred through cross-fertilization.

Perry is not alone in her quest for preserving plants. The N.C. Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill is a founding member of the Center for Plant Conservation, which actively preserves seeds or plants of endangered species.

Old Salem, restored Moravian community in Winston-Salem has one of the best-documented gardens in the country and supports plant preservation through seed saving. It is a member of Seed Savers Exchange, founded in 1975 whose membership has grown in popularity as the interest in heirloom plants has grown, according to Keyes Williamson, Old Salem’s director of horticulture. 

“Enormous number of old varieties of plants have disappeared in the U.S. in the last 100 years,” said Williamson, who cites a USDA statistic that 97 percent of vegetables available in the 1900s were not available in 2000. “They were lost because commercial growers focused on certain plants, and the rest just disappeared.”

Individuals are also doing their part to preserve the plants of the past. Lee Calhoun of Chatham County has gained national fame as “the apple man” for his efforts to preserve old-fashioned varieties of this all-American fruit. Several are farmers provide heirloom varieties of tomatoes for the Carrboro, North Carolina’s Farmer’s Market annual tasting, selling them to customers throughout the year. And countless other unsung heirloom plant gardeners are gathering seeds and cuttings – and the stories behind them – every day, like Betty Perry.

Cut-and-come-again Flower

Sentimental journey

Perry’s “old country garden” is a little more than 5 acres that is broken into several flower beds with a colorful hodgepodge of flowers, ornamental grasses and old garden roses. One of the oldest is a 1540 musk rose (Rosa moschata). She got it from a cutting that was growing in a cemetary in Charlotte. The only other known cultivators have been spotted in Hillsborough at the Burwell School for Girls, a historic site, and at Chatwood Gardens, she said. When Perry began searching for native plantings for Mordecai’s garden, she discovered that the best specimens were only a few blocks away. During the 1970s and mid-1980s in downtown Raleigh, buildings on Blount, Hillsborough and Willimington streets were being demolished. Before grading began, Perry asked the property owners for permission to get the plants.

“I got a lot of my choice plants that way,” Perry said. “A lot of these plants [in the garden] that I saw were in yards and they were destroying them. I knew that they were not readily available and I would probably never see them again.”

Walking through the garden, Perry enthusiastically explains where she found each plant – oftentimes stopping in midsentance to pick a weed or to check on the condition of a seed pod. Perry found the mush-sought after Dame’s-rocket (Hesperis matronalis), growing in a field in Chapel Hill. This fragrant perenial with clusters of purple flowers that resemble phlox, can grow about 3 feet tall. Its seeds will self-sow, but some suggest treating it as a biennial.

One of her rarest finds is a fig tree (Ficus carica), which bears black fruit. She got a cutting from a yard in Oakwood when a home was remodeled and the tree eventually destroyed., she said. 

Perry also claimed wildflowers when I-40 was being built, in the area where Cary’s Crossroads shopping center is. In her many years of collecting plants, she has been “caught” only once.

“One time in Maryland, I was down under a bridge, and I had my four little kids in the car and a policeman stopped and he asked, ‘Are you having trouble?’ No, but there’s a plant down here that’s a weed, and I need to get a start of it because I take care of a historic garden and I need this plant. It’s called Lunaria,'” Perry recalled. “It was a yellow thing that looked like a snapdragon and he said, ‘Well, can I help you get it?’ He was so nice.'” Perry chuckles.

Trials and tribulations

Even though the largest obstacle to heirloom gardening is finding the seed or the plant, heirloom gardeners must also harvest seeds and cuttings to keep the species in existence. This task has proved challenging in the last few years because drastic weather conditions – like the current rainy spells and last year’s drought – can make collecting seeds difficult.

“In this rain, I’ve lost more plants,” Perry said. “And the weeds. The weeds!”

Unlike hybrids, which Perry describes as being high-maintenance, heirloom plants tend to be hardy and resilient. “For a plant to make it through so many years, it’s got to be tough,” said Perry, who doesn’t believe in babying plants. Perry doesn’t irrigate and only waters new plants.

She is also an organic gardener preferring to fertilize with chinchilla and rabbit manure. She enriches the soil with compost and suggests using pine straw or decayed leaves as a mulch  to retard weeds and to keep in moisture. Perry strongly advises against using pine bark mulch, which can harm plants, she said.

Perry collects seeds – “when they’re ready” – dries, sifts and places them in medicine bottles or in envelopes. She doesn’t own a greenhouse and sows the seeds in trays inside her house every March.

Future of heirlooms

In a way, through Perry’s work with Mordecai and its popular plant sale, which was the event in the gardening community back in the 1980s, she has fostered the preservation of several heirloom plants. With sun beaming down upon her blue garden hat, Perry also explained that gardening has kept her in shape despite her bouts with arthritis, cancer and two knee replacements. “I know I would have been in a wheelchair by now,” said Perry. “But I plug along.”

And though she’s not completely satisfied with her garden, Perry looks back on her plant rescues with great pride.

“I do believe that through heirloom plants we are preserving a lost history. I really do.”

May 15, 2007

Home grown & hand-painted birdhouse gourds.

Filed under: Home Stuff — Tags: , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 9:12 pm

Article from Tennessee Southern Living – July 2006

Southern Living Article - July 2006

Bird lovers would be out of their gourds to pass on these hanging habitats. The natural nests attract small birds such as wrens and chickadees. Detailed designs range from flowers to barns. Grown on a family farm and hand painted by Johnson City artists, the inexpensive gourds add both feathered friends and intrigue to yards. To order, call (866) 637-5223 or visit Backyard Birds & Discovery Center.

H & K Sculptures

Filed under: Yard Stuff — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 1:23 pm

H & K Steel Sculptures

Created by artist Guenter Scholz, each sculpture has been individually handcrafted by cutting, bending and welding recycled steel to effectively portray the subject. Guenter Scholz first demonstrated his aptitude for his craft as a mechanical engineering student. Building upon a 1930’s art form, he’s combined his technical background with a love of art to create unique and original sculptures. Made of recycled steel with copper trim, Scholz’s art is easily identified by the signature “washer” eyeglasses his subjects wear. Scholz’s unique sculptures allow you to personalize your home and office decor. His whimsical renderings of Sports, Professions, Musicians, Lifestyles and modes of Travel capture the unique essence of his subjects and add warmth and individuality to their surroundings. In addition to the sculptures are Wine Bottle Holders and recently released Stompers.

The collections are only limited by imagination, which is why new creations are forever bringing a smile to someone’s face. These original sculptures that are hand made in Germany were first brought to the United States in 1997. Since their introduction, the collection has been carefully redesigned to reflect the American lifestyle and sense of humor.

The wine bottle caddies were first introduced in the U.S. in 2000 and have grown from 2 designs to over 100 unique styles, with several more on the drawing board. The H & K design team has created a truly unique collection. Existing designs are constantly being improved, while new ideas are being developed.

H & K steel sculptures provide a very personal gift. Also because of the creative and handcrafting facilities in Europe they encourage custom designs for corporate premium and charity events.

The moment you hold an H & K Steel Sculpture, you’ll feel the weight and solidity, see the craftsmanship and appreciate its’ quality and value.

YardBirds Animals

Filed under: Blogroll — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 1:20 pm

Unique Cast Iron Sculptures by YardBirds

Unique cast iron sculptures can be very entertaining and bring life to any home and garden.

Rich Kolb and his father created the first Yardbird sculpture nearly ten years ago in Jamestown, Kentucky. The first bird came about from tinkering with scrap materials. People instantly loved them! Today, Yardbirds are still hand crafted in Kentucky (now, Louisville) by a group of artisans and the flock of birds has grown from one to over sixty.

In making the unique cast iron sculptures, they use recycled materials – scrap and rejected garden tools, farm machinery, bicycle and auto parts. Buying a Yardbird reduces solid waste destined for a landfill, and they estimate that so far they have re-used over 2 million pounds of scrap.

Each bird has its own personality. While there are certain designs produced, no two birds are exactly alike. Whether it is a turn of the head, the placement of the eyes, or the variation in the hand-painted (or rusted) finish, each Yardbird has a delightful disposition all its own.

Rich Kolb says “The things that make us happiest in life when we obtain them are not always the necessities of life, but usually the things that we do not need make us the happiest.”

Bandana Yardbirds unique cast iron sculptures will liven up your home and garden! These unique cast iron sculptures include yard birds, cats, critters, dogs, kittens, puppies, wild animals, clocks, coat racks, keyholders, pet feeders, pot holders and unique wine holders. Each Yardbirds sculpture creation is unique, whimsical, and guaranteed to bring pleasure to you the owner. A Yardbirds sculpture is a great conversation piece; many people have fun identifying the parts cleverly used to make them and they marvel at the way a simple tilt of the head can give a sculpture so much personality.

Scrap metal and recycled parts are mostly used for these unique cast iron sculptures of a yard birds, cats, critters, dogs, kittens, puppies or wild animals. These creations are thought as a good way of contributing to the environment as well, saving rejected metal parts from ending up in the landfill. They do wonders for improving the looks of your homes or yards. We have recently added unique cat, dog and horse wine holders to our collection. All Yard Birds and Junkyard Dogs and Cats are proudly handcrafted in Kentucky!

The medium is metal sculpture. Some of the materials used include garden tools, car parts, farm implements, bicycle parts and mufflers.

We believe that the things that make us the happiest in life when we obtain them are not always the necessities of life, but usually the things that we do not need make us the happiest. And that’s what Yardbirds sculptures are all about – happiness!

Start now! Bring some fun and happiness into your home and garden by browsing the unique cast iron sculptures and pick one that fits your personality.

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