Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Mesopotamian Seal: Around The World From 80 Countries

Some of the oldest and smallest man-made objects in the Benton County Historical Museum collection are these cylinder seals from ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq).  Originally people sealed containers, placed a glob of clay over the opening, and stamped it with a flat stone with a simple design which identified the owner.  As population and bureaucracy increased, more complex seals were needed.  Beginning about 3500 BCE, people found they could include more symbols by carving a design into a cylinder which was rolled across the wet clay to create a long, frieze-like impression. 

Using mostly copper chisels and pointed gravers, the seal maker would carve a design into stone, bone, or ceramics.  Then, when the seal was rolled across the wet clay, the carved portions would appear as raised figures. Making the seal required a lot of skill as the craftsman had to imagine the design in reverse and then be able to carve the very small figures. The elaborate, often scenic, designs could refer to their specific family, their specific administrative job, their occupation, or the goods they traded.  Holes were drilled through the center of the seals so that it could be worn on a cord around one's neck or attached to a pin so that it was always handy.

After writing was developed, people also used the cylinder seals to sign clay tablet documents or to identify themselves. Owners would immediately report any loss to the government to prevent fraudulent use, just as we would report ID theft.

The use of cylinder seals diminished after 300 BCE but the idea is still around in the form of the seals notaries and governments use. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Artist Louis Raymond: Around The World From 80 Countries

In addition to all his professional accomplishments which I described in the last post, Louis C. Raymond was also a storyteller and self-taught painter. As a boy, he'd watched his father draw a complete picture without lifting his pencil from the paper.  Ina statement for an exhibition of Self-Taught Painters and Sculptors at SUNY Oswego, Raymond wrote. “One of my first attempts to make painting was after I bought from a “fire sale” a box filled with contorted and leaky artists' paint tubes that were all stuck together as a result of the heat from the fire.  These colors cost me thirty-five cents.  Without any training I set about to render a bird dog in action.  My first attempts won some approval.”

Later, “When I started to travel in different parts of the world, I couldn't resist sketching.  I would make sketches of things that would make an impression on me, send it home to my wife and the kids. When I got home on a rainy day I'd paint some of the scenes.” The Raymonds also used some of his sketches on their Christmas cards. 

The following is a self-portrait from 1976, showing Raymond sketching in the lunchroom of a underground mine, with his tools behind him.

Raymond not only painted scenes from is travels but also wrote about his experiences in the places he painted such as this account to accompany his painting titled “Diamonds in the Rainforest.”

Searching for diamonds and gold in and along the turbulent and muddy streams of the rainforest offers many unexpected experiences to the exploration crew.  A ride in a native bark-canoe is a sensation never to be forgotten wether [sic] the experience is amusing or tragic.  Sheets of bark pulled off a large native tree and roughly shaped and “sewed” at the ends makes a most treacherous craft to maneuver in swift waters.  Combine this with the endless numbers of toppled trees, submerged logs and limbs that clutter the streams, the traveler has all the thrills of a Coney Island chute-the-chute.  The “gringo’s” price of admission is almost sure to be a capsizing into the warm, brackish and silty waters.  A native riding alone down the current is stoically confident with swift dips of his crude paddle.  But with the “gringo” aboard his craft, he has a fiendish look of anticipation in his eyes.  If the warped canoe fails to go over or under or around the next log or snag, the gringo must be sure to come out of the water with a grin too; that is, if he wants to be accepted as passing the test and as a true companion of his guide.”

Raymond also donated a manuscript entitled Samples from 50 Years in the Mineral Industry which includes this selection describing British Guiana in 1947.
“The exploration site was reached by a six-week long difficult navigation up the flooded, muddy streams in a dugout canoe powered by a big outboard motor.  The dense forest growth shed endless uprooted trees into the streams....   

Rain, rain, rain, – always dripping through the thick rain forest cover, dim because of the lack of light, dismal from the wetness and the overpowering smell of decay.  The jungle trails were, I large part, swamp crossed with many swollen streams. The major rivers offered no simple passage for dugout canoes.  Twisting channels, shifting currents, fallen tress, and submerged logs....The rain forest was like a giant greenhouse, except that the traveler seldom could see the “windows” or the sky.  One seldom say birds or animals of the forest.  They either lived in the higher tree-tops near the sun light or were nocturnal creatures that crawled in the night.

Everywhere the traveler looked there was decay.  Even the rocks were buried at great depth under lays of decay, making it difficult to observe the geology.  Nor was it possible to escape the smell of day.  What a sentence it would be to have to spend a lifetime in this land of decay!...”

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Louis C. Raymond: Around The World From 80 Countries

The bird whistle (last post) and many objects in the current “Around The World From 80 Countries” exhibition were donated by Oregon State University alumnus, Louis C. Raymond. Fortunately, Mr. Raymond also provided a lot of information about them and about his fascinating and accomplished life.

Although Raymond was born in Vancouver, Washington in 1906, he spent most of his boyhood in Astoria, Oregon.  Even at an early age, he demonstrated wide-ranging interests.  During World War I, he earned money selling the furs of the muskrats and other animals he trapped on his grandmother's property along the Trask River. Later he played semi-professional baseball, traveling to various towns along the Columbia River by boat, entertaining the passengers by singing while teammates played the piano, violin, and saxophone. He also had jobs in the salmon and logging industries.

During his youth, a frequent guest at family dinners told tales of  packing supplies into the Yukon in return for gold nuggets.  In an interview with Horner Museum staff, Raymond said, “ I think that telling me about the gold rush days probably got me interested in geology and mining. So when I went out to college I went to the School of Mines.”  He went on to earn a degree in mining engineering from Oregon State College (now University) in 1930 and then a master's degree in geology from MIT. 

Raymond worked for Mountain Copper Company until World War II when he joined the Federal Trade Commission to help locate and obtain strategic minerals. After the War, his work for Ford, Bacon, and Davis involved exploring, evaluating, and developing various mineral properties. To do this he traveled to Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, British Guinea (now Guyana), Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guinea (now the Republic of Guinea), Honduras, Iraq, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, Turkey and Venezuela, as well as many sites in the United States and Canada. Getting to the remote sites was sometimes quite challenging, as he described in the following :
“Our exploration camp was situated on top of a high mountain ridge at the edge of the rain forest of Colombia.  Supplies had to be hauled 125 miles by truck and then loaded onto mules for the 20 miles of mule track leading to our camp....Most of the mules had been accustomed to a great deal of freedom and resented being required to earn their living, particularly by being saddled and carrying man around.

Unfortunately, the six best riding mules were also the most adept at trying to dissuade a potential rider.  Each had a personality of her own.  One would suddenly swirl as you were mounting.  One would wait until you barely got seated before the first violent bucking.  One would try to back up as you were trying to mount.  One would swell her belly while the belly strap was being cinched and then deflate promptly as you mounted, causing the saddle to slip to the side after a few galloping paces.”

Sometimes, however, they were able to use jeeps as in this photo.

"Eastern Andes, Bolivia, L. C. Raymond near door of Landrover"
During the trip to Colombia, Raymond acquired this capel or capelling cup found in an old gold mine. Capellation, a process which has been around for centuries, is used assay the contents of ore.   The cup, made of bone ash, holds the ore which is then heated.  Lead and other minerals are oxidized and absorbed into the cup, leaving gold and silver in the center cavity. 

Raymond estimated that this capel dated around 1900.  Working near the sites of ancient civilizations, Raymond became intrigued with old crafts and gradually began acquiring some of them.  As he noted in a letter to the museum, “...word  would get out that I was interested in collecting certain types of craftsmanship, such as old mining artifacts, wherein people and friends would give me such items as miner's lamps, candlestick holders, ...old utility utensils made of copper....I didn't want such artifacts to be destroyed so I bought them.”  His interest in archaeology grew.  When he retired from mining business at age 67, he took courses in archaeology at Pace University in New York and then spent the next ten years working on digs in the Hudson River area.  He wrote “I got hooked on the interpretation of symbols of ancient people of the New World as found on early artifacts.”  This second career led to a book on spindle whorls (the small disks attached to the shaft which makes the spindle turn faster).  

This second career is only one part of his story.  The next blog will tell about Raymond's hobbies.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bird water whistle: Around The World From 80 Countries

Birds (the subjects of the last two posts) provide a common motif in many cultures.  The odd-looking vessel with the bird head pictured below is from the Moche Valley along the coast of northern Peru.

Peruvian ceramic bird water whistle

During the period 900 A.D. to 1470 A.D., this area was home to the ChimĂș people. Much of their pottery was, as this is, black with incised lines and a strap or stirrup handle. Bird, animal, or human forms were common features. But this object is more than a container for water.  It's also a whistle!  The two round chambers are connected near the bottom.  As water enters the side with the vertical tube, it pushes air across the edge of a whistle in the bird's head.  Tilting the vessel from side to side causes the air to swirl, making a bubbling or warbling sound. There are no graphic representations of them being used so archaeologists do not know whether they had domestic uses, were played as musical instruments, or used in spiritual ceremonies. 

Although such vessels made throughout Central and South America during the pre-conquest period, there use seems to have died out until the idea reappeared in the form of small plastic warbling bird toys. 

This object was one of many donated for our museum collection by Louis C. Raymond.  Others, which are included in our 2017 "Around The World From 80 Countries" exhibition include the shawl and silver mining objects from Bolivia, the barley popper from Chile, the chocolate pot from Brazil, the spindle from Colombia, the drawing from Honduras. 

My next blog will tell about the fascinating life of this museum donor.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon