Reading Blog 1

Week 5  Sep.26

This week our reading focused on the pattern and the meaning in the material culture. The pattern may come to the first priority to do the research on objects, such as form, function and data. Because it is the basis for students of folk material culture to describe objects accurately and get involved with them directly. After all, objects themselves have particularly rich data waiting for us to learn from and get formal sequence of artifacts. Also, we need to pay attention to the meanings of the objects, not only the physical environment, but the mentality of people in that certain period of time.


Henry Glassie gives us some instructions about the pattern in the material folk culture in details. Not introducing the pattern in the first place, he just defines the “folk culture” and “folk” as his beginning. For example, “Anything–customs and material as well as oral traditions is folk culture” (01, Material culture history) What’s more, “the folk thing should be traditional and nonpopular” (06, Material culture history) And the same way is used in Kenneth Ames’s Meaning in Artifacts. So, we can see that the definition of an object is very significant. Because this is the first pattern that we need to know if it is the certain one which is worth for our endeavors before we eagerly look into the sequence of an artifact. As Henry Glassie said, “A guitar manufactured in a Kalamazoo factory is not folk even when played by a bluesman from the Mississippi Delta.” (12, Material culture history) After the identification of an object, then to move inward to have a better focus on the item itself can set up a firmer connection with it rather than to search outward. Compared with Jules David Prown’s Mind in Matter, this paper is like the preface of former and is further detailed in the section of relationship between human activities and objects.


With regard to the second reading, Kenneth Ames’ Meaning in Artifacts shows us the rigorous demonstration and scrupulous observation which serve as the cornerstone of his credibility of works. “Artifacts mirror a society’s value.” (02, Hall Furnishings in Victorian America) just as he said, through the description of the item, the deep connection among people and objects could be deducted in a proper way. Take the mirror of the hallstand as an example. Kenneth Ames stirs the readers’ illusions of how people used the mirror to fix their appearance and as a sign of wealth. Therefore, we not only know people’s physical behaviors, but some mental activities. Through the artifacts, the history becomes a little bit clear in front of us. So, to make a brief scan of the organization of his paper, the writer has a great combination of human performance and objects.



Object Exercise 2

No: 84.92.2

Subject: Brant Goose Decoys

Address: Bristol, PA

Material: wood

Description: Profile of the Brant Goose Decoys. Dark grey feathers on the top. Black small stubby duck bill, breast and tail. Spotted neck with white feathers. White and grey under feathers extends from the breast to tail. Brown and dark eyes.  The duck places its head back on the body. On the bottom, a leather buckle in the front is attached with one brass screw. The body and the tail are one piece of wood and grooved

Dimensions: 41cm L*16cm W* 17cm H

Prior Marks: on the bottom, curved “RCW”, and the name “John Baker”.

Deduction: There are some questions to think about.

1.Why does the Brant goose decoy look like so restful compared to the bufflehead decoy?

A: In the first place, the restful look seems more vivid to attract a real one. “Lazy, well-fed decoys like this one must have been irresistible to their passing brethren, with carved tail and wing feathers…” (140, America Bird Decoy) So, the style of duck decoys changed a little and became a trademark of them in the Delaware River in the 19th century. Further, with regard to the function of entertainment, the look of it seems to have a higher attractive of animation for audiences to appreciate. Because, in the Decoy Auction, a lively decoy could have a higher price than the one from the same designer in almost the same century.


2.In the time of hunting, how did people come up with the idea to use woodwork as decoys?

A: People, especially famers and hunters have many experience about the law of the nature to gain harvest. For example, famers started to set up a scarecrow in the field to expel wild boar, rats or vultures. Also, they know how to catch animals’ attention. For instance, in the countryside, children often feel interesting to put a paper towel on the setaria to imitate the butterfly and attract them to fly together. We may assume that the imitation is the key point to a decoy. Other people concerns why not put some food at their habitat to attract them. First, it might cost a lot of time to prepare the food and pay much money on it to attract ducks each time. And sometimes, the food would be wasted if there were no ducks. Second, to spread the feed might disturb ducks which might eat the food fast and escape away. Therefore, it is a very convenient way to use duck decoys to attract preys’ attention.

NO: 84.92.12

Subject: Bufflehead

Address: Unknown

Material: Wood

Description: Profile of the Bufflehead Decoys. Drake bufflehead. Its feather strikes black and white, with a large white patch behind the goldeneyes. White duck bill is attached to the black neck. The body and the tail are one piece of wood and grooved.


Prior Marks: stamped “RLW” and penciled: “Tom Gaskill. A price tag: $250, and another one is “B45C2?”


1.Why did the decoys have such a high pice?

2.Did people depend on the making decoys for a living because of the high price?


NO: 89.21.4a, b, c.

Subject: Decoy (black duck, oversize) with birch stake


Address: Pitman, NJ

Material: Birch, Cork

Description: Profile of the Decoy with birch stake. Dark duck bill is attached with a black line on the top of its head. Some wavy lines are on its neck with brown eyes. Grey or dark body is made from low-density cork. Some crack in the cork showing corroded trace. The tail is dark and grooved. On the bottom, a leather buckle in the front is attached to a yellow line which connects to a birch stake. And a heavy weight iron is attached to the line.

Prior Marks: on the bottom, curved the name “Jos Liener”.


1.Why did Jos Liener use cork to make the duck decoy?

The material of this decoy is very different from others’. As we all know, cork block is light weight and buoyant with slightly larger grains than the high-density blocks. It is easy to carve though due to its low density, does not allow for the same high degree of detail achieved with the high-density cork blocks. Hence, this one is highly assumed for the practical use. Also, there is an assumption that the cork might come from the nature, and the row material was picked up by Jos Liener who found it was perfect for the body of the decoy. This could give a good interpretation for the oversized body.

Object Exercise One-Ying Chen

Basic record: O=observation Q=question A/S=answer or speculation.

The sketch of Lesley

O1.Material: Lesley was made from wood which smells like cedar.


Q1. What are the advantages of using this kind of wood to build Lesley? Were there any other materials such as plastics used as the main material?

The structure of the spoon-shaped bottom (like the keel)

A/S: In regard to the lumber, the main material for sneakbox was Atlantic white cedar, known by many as Jersey cedar, which was once plentiful throughout the mid-Atlantic states. (from Wiki) Therefore, Lesley is assumed to cost low expense and could get raw materials to build its body easily. What’s more, the light weight and durable feature of cedar may be of greater importance to enhance the stability and adaptive capacity to resist bad weather than other materials. Though someone may argue that the stability would slow down the speed of racing, it is not necessarily mutually exclusive because the structure (a little bit like the fixed keel) of Lesley requires counterpart weight to sufficiently support itself to keep stiff and race fast.

The structure of keel

When it comes to other materials, advanced materials were unaffordable and thus not that common in 1930’s. In 1939 Russia was reported to have constructed a passenger boat of plastic materials. (Notable Progress – the use of plastics, Evening Post, Wellington, New Zealand, Volume CXXVIII, Issue 31, 5 August 1939, Page 28) Hence at that time, plastics were not as popular as cedar.

O2.Color: red, white and blue

Q2. What do the three colors represent?

white and red are in the front
blue is at the back

A/S: Maybe it is the color of the Stars and the Stripes and represents the nation of the boat. (No basis in fact, just speculation)

O3.Volume: 2 benches (which can contain 8-10 persons)

Q3. Is this a group racing or just an individual competition?

The bench of Lesley (each can seat 4 persons )

A/S: The sneakbox was conceived as a seaworthy hunting craft that one man could easily handle in any of the weather conditions likely to be encountered in the Jersey marshes. (from Wiki)  But this statement assigns more significance on the function of hunting than racing. In my view, the racing sneakbox may be larger than the hunting one because the design of two long benches suggests the possibility of multiplayer racing. In addition, an individual is not so likely to handle Lesley and finish the competition on him/herself since the structure of Lesley is a little complicated and it is a hard work to operate the sails and rudder at the same time. There may be some possibilities that these 2 benches serve for other purpose such as carrying judges or passengers, so further research is needed.

O4.Method of racing: 2 engines are lying on both sides.

Q4. How did people race in 1930’s? By human power or engine?

A/S: I maintain that people race with human power. First, there is a principle that many yachtsmen still adhere to that the purpose of yacht racing is to experience the joy of fighting nature. So, they will not use the engine unless they have to. Second, if the hypothesis of group racing(Q3) is true, those people may compete for the group’s skill, power and intelligence. Thus, there is no meaning to race by using engines. Third, the two engines being right here have its own task. When no wind and waves come across the sea, this kind of situation can make a sailing boat difficult to move. Hence, one built-in engine can work in such an environment. And this is the time that yachtsman have to use the engine.

O5.Damaged Condition: left side is more damaged than the right side. (3 pieces of planking were broken)

Q5: How did it get damaged?

A/S: It could be assumed that Lesley was hit at the left side in a racing game.

Q6: What’s the key point of the changing of sneakbox’s function from hunting to racing?

A/S: Some folk customs always have a deep connection with human activities, especially some changes. As for the sneakbox, it might be the main vehicle to transport things. When people celebrated one festival, had a gambling or wanted to entertain themselves, they might begin the sneakbox racing. Under those circumstances, the function of sneakbox gradually changed and became a part of folk customs. For example, the dragon boat in ancient Chinese agricultural society was first used to load rice and fish. Once some people rushed out on the water in their fishing boats to the river and tried  to save a famous Chinese poet Qu Yuan who waded into Miluo river and suicided. Therefore, dragon boat races were traditionally held as part of the annual Duanwu Festival in China to memory Qu Yuan. And the sneakbox might be done in the same manner.