Saturday, November 3, 2012

Day 60 - Stephen F Foster Culture Center State Park, FL

It was another warm day in Florida.  After weeks in the desert it is nice to feel humidity again.  It does make for foggy mornings too.  I took a photo of the view from the back window.  I’d say that Florida is a bit overgrown in some places.

Brett was out working on the bicycle again this morning.  He fixed the flat tire last night but when he took it for a test drive it was flat again.  But overnight he got to thinking that maybe it was flat because he hadn’t filled it all the way up again after he’d fixed it.  Sure enough, a little more air cured that.  But this time after the test ride he said that the brakes needed a bit of work so he got busy with that.  Finally all was repaired and we pedaled off to see the museums and the exhibits at the Rural Folk life Days.

We got to the Carillion first.  Carillion is the bell tower.  Carillon is the bell.  This is a tubular bell tower that has clock controlled chimes every quarter hour and every hour during the day it also chimes a short concert of Stephen Foster songs.  We could not hear the bells while in the tower but they scared the bejeepers out of me whenever we heard them outside.  The sound does carry very well.  

A few words about Stephen Foster.  He was born in Pittsburgh in 1823 and died in 1864.  He came south of the Mason Dixon line only once in his lifetime when he spent a month in New Orleans with his wife.  I always thought the man was from the south!  He wrote hundreds of pieces of published music (mostly songs) and two of his songs were chosen to be state songs.  Florida’s state song is “Old Folks At Home” (way down upon the Swanee River…) and Kentucky’s is “My Old Kentucky Home”.    When he was writing the words to Old Folks At Home, they originally said “way down upon the Pedee Ribber” but he didn’t think this was musical enough.  So he searched through an atlas and found the Suwanee River which he changed to Swanee to fit the cadence of the song he had written. 
People started coming to White Springs to visit the Suwanee River after Foster’s song became popular.  The people in Florida decided to do something to memorialize him since he’d helped with their economy and all.  In the 1950’s the bell tower was built and there is also an entire state park in his name (which is where we are staying).  That state park has the bell tower and also a museum.

The museum features quite a few beautiful dioramas.  Each of these represents the story behind one of Foster’s songs.  They are quite beautiful, built with perspective and several have little moving parts (wagons being pulled along, riverboats moving down a river, somebody playing a piano).  We spent quite a bit of time just admiring all the little details.

There is also a fabulous collection of the most beautiful pianos (the ones with mother of pearl keys and inlay were gorgeous).  There was also the most wonderful Steinway Grand with a keyboard like none I’ve ever seen before.  I didn’t make a note of the name and will try to find it tomorrow if the exhibit is open.  Update:  We did go back and the name is the von Janko’ keyboard and it is very rare.  Von Janko’s object was to simplify piano technique.  The chromatic scale is played by simply alternating between the successive keys on any two adjoining rows.  The fingering of all major scales is uniform and all minor scales are fingered alike.

Every year the Culture Center conducts the Jeanie Competition.  This is a contest where the winner receives a $2000 scholarship to pursue their voice studies.  Since 2006 they have also had a separate completion for men.  The museum has many photos of the winners over the years.  All the ladies are dressed in their Jeanie ball gowns and are a sight to see.

Folk life days were being celebrated on the grounds as well so we also had to have a look at those exhibits.  This is an annual event.  In previous years it has been on Thursday and Friday (well attended by school children).  This year they extended it to Saturday as well.  Hardly any people were there today so we were able to spend as much time as we liked talking to the various presenters.  The two days prior they had been inundated with 1100 and 1300 kids!  

The lady doing the leather punching let us each make a little decorated square of our own.  I got to do two of them because my first one came out blurry.  Brett wanted to pound too hard (blacksmith training coming to the fore).

Then there was a lady making lye soap.  She was giving the recipe to a gentleman who asked his granddaughters to each remember one of the ingredients.  Brett complimented her on the nice kettle which she said she got at a yard sale for only $35.  I laughed a bit to myself when the traditional soap maker stopped her talk to take a cell phone call.

Brett had an excellent time visiting the cow whip maker.  These things break the sound barrier when swung properly.  Anybody who wanted to could give it a try.  Though he didn’t quite get that loud “crack” he did handle the whip in a respectable fashion.  They were for sale at $10 a foot but he was able to resist the temptation.

Also very interesting was the long pine weaving.  We talked to the artist for quite a while.  She told us that she is teaching this skill at the Joseph Campbell School.  This is a well-known crafts school in North Carolina.  It would be the first of three times today that we heard about the Campbell School.  I’d really like to take a course there some time.

Since he cannot resist a barbecue set up at any sort of function, we made our way to the food for a long chat and some excellent hot sausage sandwiches for lunch.  At the end of the day, Brett went back over in hopes of another sausage but they were all gone.  So instead he got four hotdogs for $5 (they were closing up for the day).  

There was also a nice gift shop on site.  I had to take a picture when I walked up the stairs to admire the art work and came face to face with a water color of Portland Head Light.  It’s everywhere!  We admired all the handiwork and bought a CD of Stephen Foster songs (of course).

Finally we explored the crafts area.  I had a long talk with a weaver and then Brett and I talked at length to a mother and daughter who were carding and spinning wool.  The mother is a recently retired teacher who just got her Master Gardener certification.  The daughter and her husband are Civil War re-enactors.  

Across the way was a gentleman who was milling corn.  We’d spent so much time talking to the spinners that we missed his presentation.  Everybody was packing up to go home.  But Brett started a chat and ended up helping to get things folded up.  He had a very ingenious packing system for his van and told us that a friend had said he wanted him to help load a barge but decided that he’d probably sink it given his skill at packing so much stuff into so little space.  

A man using a scroll saw caught Brett’s attention so we also visited with him. 
Home finally where we listened to the CD, had a glass of wine and got the laundry done.  Now it is dark, we can hear the low voices of conversation from other campsites and smell the smoke from the camp fires.  A day worth having!

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