Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The Barnacle Goose Tree

My business name, Barnacle Goose Paperworks, derived from my fascination with the story of the Barnacle Goose Tree, which I first read about in my work with rare natural history books at the Australian Museum Research Library in Sydney. I came across strange illustrations of trees with unusual fruit, usually overhanging water of some kind, on which swam ducks or geese. It wasn't too hard to find information on this phenomenon and I soon discovered that a fascinating story unfolded.

During medieval times it was noticed that the Arctic bird, the Barnacle Goose, arrived annually on migration in England and Scotland at about the same time much timber was washed ashore, the timber being heavily populated with goose barnacles. A legend arose, which continued from the 12th to the 17th centuries, that the geese had actually hatched from the barnacles.

Here Conrad Lycosthenes [1518-1567], in his volume Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon, quæ præter naturæ ordinem, motum, et operationem, et in superioribus & his inferioribus mundi regionibus, ab exordio mundi usque ad hæc nostra tempora, acciderunt … Basil, 1557
illustrates barnacles growing on a tree (alongside some other wonders of nature which I'll write about another time). I'm sorry my illustrations aren't great but you can just see the geese in the water at the foot of the tree. This amazing book is a chronical of the known world, describing unnatural, strange and portentuous happenings. Beginning with the Garden of Eden the narrative follows chronologically to the year of publication, 1557. The book is illustrated with 1540 woodcuts, depicting comets, floods, fire, monsters, and pestilence of horrible proportions.

Just to put the Lycosthenes illustration into perspective, this is the full double page spread showing the terror and wonder of the seas. It always gives me a touch of satisfaction that the rather innocent barnacle goose tree made it into such an amazing depiction of wonders.

In this more complicated illustration Ulysse Aldrovandi clearly demonstrates the life cycle of the Barnacle Goose, not only showing the tree but the progression of the shellfish to the fully fledged goose. Illustrations such as this continued in the literature for centuries as did many other fanciful stories which sat quite comfortably alongside stories of actual fact.

At one time the Irish clergy were guilty of eating the flesh of the geese during their fasting periods on the grounds that the birds were not flesh, but having originated in the sea could be safely eaten as fish. The Church hierarchy was quick to put a stop to that. And the Dutch, thinking the English and Irish were very gullible, were quick to decry the whole story, insisting that geese hatched from eggs like other birds.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Scraps, swaps, oblaten, German die-cuts - a forerunner to modern scrapbooking

One of my earliest and most vivid memories of school is the tiny corner shop where Mr and Mrs Stagg made lunches (a meat pie or sandwich in a brown paper bag), sold sweets in tiny white paper bags (10 for a penny), and, for me, the greatest joy - their large wooden tray of scraps. I can't remember how much they cost but I imagine I must have been able to buy a few tiny ones for a penny, and larger ones were perhaps a penny each. This was 60 years ago and a small child got quite a lot for her penny or threepence. I feel quite certain this where I developed my collecting habit which I've never been able to shake off. This illustration of individual scraps is part of my collection bought from the Stagg's tuck shop so many years ago.

Scraps are a Victorian phenomenon, first produced in the form shown here from about the 1820s in Germany. They go by many names, one of these being Oblaten, and the little illustrations were sometimes pasted onto wafer type cakes which are still made and known as Oblaten. The chromo-lithographed scraps were embossed, die-cut, often in very complicated designs, with small ladders of uncoloured paper between the pictures to hold the sheet together. They were used on Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day cards and became very popular when decoupaged onto screens and room dividers. Scrap books still exist with the most intricate designs devised from the separated scraps.

There are scraps being made today from the original dies and templates of over 100 years ago and I have many of these new versions in my collection along with those of the past 60 years. The new ones don't quite have the charm of the old, though at all times in their production there has been a shameless sentimentality running through many of the designs. However, it's not all flowers, angels and cute children. There are sheets of animals, transport and occupations, even if the girls all seem to be teachers, nurses and mothers while boys can be firemen, policemen and ambulance drivers.

For a long time I searched almost in vain to add to my collection because suddenly stickers became innovative and popular and to my horror I found that many of the scrap designs were being produced as self adhesives. I seemed to be forever asking uncomprehending shop assistants did they have any scraps, and then had to explain what a "scrap" was. The only time I got a glimmer of understanding was when the shop assistant was of my vintage and suddenly remembered buying scraps as a child.

Now there is the wonder of e-bay and there are scraps out there as long as you have the money to buy them. Some are expensive. Some, the very old ones are very, very expensive. But now that I've found them on e-bay, and I can see how freely available they still are, I no longer have the driving need to collect - well, most of the time.

I have them in full sheets mostly, and I haven't yet found a way to display them to my satisfaction. I know, I make books, so this is something that shouldn't be beyond me, and it probably isn't. It's just something I keep putting in the to-do-another-day-basket. I don't want to break up the sheets, though if I did I could make a traditional scrap book, so that's worth thinking about. If anyone has any unusual ideas about what to do with several hundred embossed, die-cut scraps, that I'm quite passionate about, then I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, 3 March 2008

A Kind Heart Award

Many thanks Wendy for giving me a Kind Heart Award. Actually it's Wendy who deserves it for all the help she patiently gives in answer to my questions. I need to pass on this award to up to five other people. It's hard to choose from amongst the generous book artists who give so much of their time and knowledge so this is just a smattering of the people I appreciate.

Judy, just for sharing and listening. Actually, these are all for sharing, especially those who freely give step by step instructions for books and materials and certainly give me a lot of inspiration to keep making books. So Kind Heart Awards also to Tulibri, Rhonda, and Bookgirl. And I must mention Marloes, who makes the most beautiful books. See her flickr site here.

I wish everyone could be in Sydney right now. This is the first week of autumn and the weather is just magic. Not too hot, a mild breeze and a deep blue that encompasses the entire sky. Down at the beach the waves are thunderous and only the intrepid are daring the surf today. After a cooler than usual summer (except for those days when the heat combined with humidity to take your breath away), it will be interesting to see what winter has in store. Gosh, now I'm talking about the weather. Time to go.