Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Tipp City Finds 4

Crossroads Consignments in Tipp City, Ohio, has no peer. Owner Becky Peura’s passion is to offer items of lasting value and to display them artistically. I have made so many purchases from Becky’s shop that I must exercise discipline to limit myself to one “find” for this blog. I have chosen an unusual object: an oversized wreath made of oversized wooden acorns. For Christmas, I hung the wreath above the living room fireplace. My cousin, artist Sally Arnold, made the lovely bow and attached it to the wreath.

Oversized Acorn Wreath from Crossroads Consignments

Having grown up on a farm, I enjoyed early exposure to meadows, creeks, and woods. I quickly developed a deep and lasting love for nature. Acorns fascinate me perhaps as much as they fascinate squirrels.

In 1830, Scottish author Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) wrote, “When the oak tree is felled the whole forest echoes with it; but a hundred acorns are planted silently by some unnoticed breeze.” (Surprisingly few websites name the source of the quotation: Carlyle’s essay “On History.”) Carlyle suggests that the course of history arises from an infinite number of tiny, often random, actions. I like to think that whoever made my wreath knew the famous quotation from Carlyle and showed that countless capricious actions can form perfection in the same way that the acorns are twined in a perfect circle. Even if the builder of the wreath did not have Carlyle in mind, a circle formed of acorns affords a pleasing aesthetic.

I wonder how Becky can bear to part with such lovely items as the acorn wreath, yet her shop with its rapidly changing inventory is always packed with attractive objects from furniture to decorations (and everything in between). While I do not know Becky well, I suspect that she sees her mission as bringing joy to her customers.

On the farm where I grew up were two ancient oaks. Tall and elegant, they stood beside each other, supporting one another. To this day, my memory of the oaks reminds me of my parents, whose unshakable love for one another had grown with the years. My father and mother, who led upstanding lives, remain my principal inspiration. Faced with dilemmas, I ask myself what they would have done under similar circumstances, and I never regret choosing what I am confident would have been their answers.

A wreath of acorns, then, serves as a lovely ornament for Christmas. Thanks, Becky, for selling it to me!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tipp City Finds 3

In 1818, Romantic poet John Keats (1795–1821) wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: / Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness; but still will keep / A bower quiet for us, and a sleep / Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.” The Hotel Gallery in Tipp City specializes in things of beauty, and I bought one that increases in loveliness each day.

Vase by Sally Watson of Tipp City, Ohio

And I do admire it daily! It is a vase by artist Sally Watson. Sally’s pottery is so exquisite that I should put “artist” in capitals: ARTIST!

Sally Watson and husband Steve oversee the artistic shops and the musical concerts of the hotel, which was built in 1852.

Drawing comparisons, Keats implies that things of beauty resemble daffodils beside streams, sheep, shade trees, the sun, and the moon. When I read Sally’s statement (linked above), I understand that she is so well grounded that the beauty of the universe flows through her hands into her pots. Another potter once told me that it is nearly impossible to throw a calming pot if the potter feels stress. As an author and an illustrator, I took to heart the lesson that stress produces stressful art, and, not wishing to produce stressful art, I must relieve stress before attempting to write or draw.* Such excellent advice! (I think we do well to listen carefully to others every day because we never know when a gem of advice will be forthcoming!) I try to find an inner calm before I compose anything, including this blog.

I know that the vase I purchased from Sally Watson came from a stress-free potter’s wheel and kiln; in fact, the vase helps ground me, relieving my stress while I view it.

As I am not a potter, I lack the proper terms to discuss the technique Sally employed in creating my vase. I can only say that I appreciate the colors of the glazes; they remind me of mosses, earth, and sky. The shape of the vase suggests reaching upward to clasp hands around a part of heaven. My feeling for the vase extends so deeply, broadly, and highly that, ultimately, it surpasses description. Every day, when I glance at the vase, I relax.

I want to thank Sally for bringing such tranquility!


*I recognize that stressful art has its place. Many of the greatest works of literature convey dismay, anxiety, and horror. I happen to feel that life already presents plenty of distress; for that reason, I seek to eliminate and avoid such tension. An inner calm is my goal. For me, celebrations of peace can be just as great as outcries of pain.     

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tipp City Finds 2

The Iron Dog Salvage & Antiques in Tipp City, Ohio, has awesome stuff! Rough wood and factory iron in all shapes and sizes are displayed for sale. I found a mythic eagle that I could not pass up!

Bronze Eagle from Lane & Bodley Sawmill

The moment I saw the eagle, I knew what it was, even though I had never seen another 3-D one. I had seen a 2-D one: in an old-time illustration. People who know me know that I love reading about and studying the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, especially with reference to America’s agricultural heritage. Well, the eagle appeared in illustrations advertising sawmills sold by Lane & Bodley of Cincinnati, Ohio, shortly after the Civil War. The bronze birds came to roost as ornaments atop the saws.

Cut Showing Bronze Eagle Atop Lane & Bodley Sawmill

My guess is that Lane & Bodley did not pour the cast eagles but obtained them from the famous Miles Greenwood Foundry just up the street in Cincinnati. After all, the Greenwood plant had a giant eagle casting on the roof! In the mid-1800s, American bronze casting was in its infancy, particularly for purposes of ornamenting objects such as sawmills. The 1870s witnessed a burgeoning number of bronze objects cast in sand.

Detail of Eagle in Cut (Above)

The Lane & Bodley eagle appears to have been cast in coarse sand and was made in two sections bolted together. In recent times, someone has replaced the original bolts and has brazed over the ends that protrude through the back of the bird; otherwise, the eagle is original and in great condition for its age.

As the national bird, the eagle lends a patriotic look to Lane & Bodley sawmills. I like the way the artist captured the eagle in a natural pose that suggests alighting shortly after flight just before the wings fold. The bird’s stance could also imitate that of an adult eagle feeding hatchlings, even as sawmills feed sawyers’ families. Whatever the artist had in mind, the Lane & Bodley eagle does not conform to the symbolic configurations of many bronze eagles made in the century and a half since it was poured.   

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Tipp City Finds 1

My father raised Chester Whites. What are Chester Whites? They are a breed of pig. Originally, Chester Whites were known as Chester County Whites because, in the early 1800s, the breed was developed in Chester County, Pennsylvania, between Philadelphia and Lancaster. To the untrained eye, Chester Whites look like the more numerous Yorkshires, a different and more popular breed. The ears speak volumes about the difference between the breeds. Yorkshire ears point up. Chester White ears flop down.

A Grinning Pink Chester White Piglet
Carved and Painted Wooden Folk Art
From Tipp City, Ohio

In an earlier blog, I described the excellent shopping in Tipp City, Ohio. Many years ago, I found a carved folk art Chester White piglet smiling on a shelf in an antique store in Tipp City. He was life-size and adorable, so, of course, I bought him.

Whenever my father’s sows were ready to bring a litter of piglets into the world, he coaxed the mothers-to-be into individual hog houses, which were portable structures. Built on skids, the houses could be pulled behind a tractor to any desired location. Particularly in the winter, my father dragged the hog houses within reach of extension cords that were plugged into the electrical system of our human house. The extension cords led to heat lamps within the houses. The heat lamps provided warmth for the piglets and light for us to see the litter.

How often have I knelt within the circle of reddish light from a heat lamp while awaiting the birth of a piglet! As soon as one was born, I swabbed its mouth with a gloved thumb to ensure that nothing blocked its breathing and handed the piglet to my father, who carefully placed it in a basket filled with hot, dry towels and whisked it away to our house. My mother kept the piglets in two more baskets beside the heating stove in our kitchen. Once the entire litter of nine or ten piglets had been born and the sow had rested from her exertions, the litter was returned to its mother so that the piglets could begin nursing.

Obviously, we were raising Chester Whites in the days before pigs were grown in vast confinement buildings (where nearly all commercially raised pigs are held today). Our hogs roamed in pastures, ate corn, wallowed in mud after spring showers, and worshiped the sun all summer long.

Occasionally, litters included a runt, a piglet too small and, therefore, too weak to survive. Runts were mercifully disposed of, rather than permitting them to suffer. Once, I asked my father if I could raise a runt. He explained that the piglet most likely would die, but I begged and he relented. I named my runt Heathcliff after entertainer Red Skelton’s seagull, and I hand fed the piglet until he was strong. He became a pet. Throughout his relatively long life, he followed my father around the barnyard as if he were a favorite dog.

When I spotted the pink wooden pig in Tipp City, I thought of Heathcliff when he was a pup … er, piglet. Whoever carved the Chester White knew how to arrange the cute wrinkles above the friendly nose.