I shouldn’t have an excuse for blog abandonment, as I retired from my position as the Director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on March 1. It was an amazing time – both the 27 years I worked there and the retirement. I surprised many friends and colleagues with the decision to jump off this particular cliff. The honors and attention and gifts I received were meaningful. I probably had the only reception ever held in the State Office Building to feature both sushi and Norwegian goat cheese (gjetost). Here I am holding the photo of me that now hangs in the Library in my absence.
And since then? I spent two weeks in the north of Maine with my new granddaughter Coralie. My son noted one day that every child needs a special stuffed animal, and that he’d like a sock monkey for his daughter. I can do that! It took a bit of time to hand-sew the seams multiple times to ensure a lifetime monkey. Here is the result.
I’ve spent some time at my loom. I was bored with the prospect of my monk’s belt warp. A couple of months ago at work I cut some strips from an old Journal of the House of Representatives. What if I inserted historical text as weft in the linen warp? I experimented with the strips, which merely disintegrated. The idea lingered. Recently I picked up a disintegrating copy of the Minnesota Laws of 1899. (I rescued the broken old book from a sentence to the recycling bin a while back.) It’s fun to read through the laws passed by the Legislature more than a century ago. Some laws seem sweetly archaic, dealing with issues and nomenclature that are outdated, like laws about cartways or binding twine. (Note: there have been whole legislative committees dealing with binding twine.) Some laws deal with perennial issues, like banking or insurance. Some have a “ripped from the headlines” relevance to today’s news. How about an “act granting reward for killing wolves”?
So for my second attempt at using historical text as weft, I chose interesting laws, laminated them to another piece of paper to strengthen the crumbly original paper, and cut 1/4″ strips. The strips were laid into the weaving. The full text of the laws was not included, just introductory paragraphs. Many words are obscured by threads, leaving only tantalizing fragments of text.
The areas of text-weft are divided by narrow bands of another dead media, reel-to-reel tape of a performance of Der Rosenkavalier, purchased in a used record store in Santa Monica, CA. While my husband Mike searched the bins of blues LPs, I was captivated by old “worthless” 45s of holiday and cowboy songs with crazy illustrations on their fraying paper sleeves. I bought the Rachmaninoff tape for 92 cents.
Here is a detail from the weaving. I will post photos of the entire piece soon.
Here are the 1899 laws that caught my attention and were incorporated into the piece.
Chapter 146, “An act granting reward for killing wolves.” A wolf carcass brought $7, a cub $3. A person bringing in a wolf to the town clerk had to make and “oath that the animal so exhibited is the animal killed by such claimant, stating the time and place and where such animal was killed by him and that the claimant did not spare the life of any wolf within his power to kill.”
Chapter 253, “An act to appropriate the sum of eight hundred (800) dollars for the relief of Cass County, Minnesota, and other citizens of said county in account of extraordinary expenses incurred in defending the border settlement at the time of the Pillager and Bear Island troubles and threatened outbreak of the Chippewa Indians in Minnesota in the year 1898.” Information about this situation can be found in “The Battle at Sugar Point – A Re-examination,” by William E. Matsen, Minnesota History, Fall 1987.
Chapter 286, “An act declaring certain dogs to be public nuisances, and providing for their destruction.” “Section 1. A dog that habitually worries, chases, or molests teams, bicycle riders, or persons traveling peaceably on the public highway are [is] hereby declared to be a public nuisance.” I think the use of the word worries is interesting. My friend Catherine is worried by ANY dog in her vicinity.
Chapter 1, “An act to appropriate money for the expenses of the present session of the Legislature.” $150,000 went a lot further in 1899.
Chapter 72, “An act to amend section 235 of the Penal Code of the State of Minnesota relating to the crime of rape.”
Chapter 244, “An act to prevent the adulteration of and deception in the sale of white lead and mixed paints.” Because it was important to keep that lead paint pure.
An adopted amendment, passed at the election of 1898, gave women the right to vote at elections relating to schools and libraries. A suffrage first step.
Chapter 16, “An act providing for the reimbursement of counties in which insane persons are examined or committed to a state hospital and whose residence is in another county of the state.” Chapter 44, “An act providing the the care of property of persons committed to a state hospital for insane.” It seemed like there were so many laws dealing with the insane. Looking in the index, I saw there were only three – it must be just the terminology that caught my attention.
Chapter 257, “An act to prevent the use of chemical agents as preservatives in milk, cheese, cream and butter.” The dairy industry has always been important. If you search for the word dairy in the session laws from 1849 to the present, 1,315 laws come up. That’s a lot of dairy discussion on the floors of the Minnesota House and Senate over the years.
Chapter 163, “An act to prevent the desecration, mutilation or improper use of the flag of the United States, or the flag of Minnesota.” This is a recurring issue that has always made me feel guilty for not feeling whipped up and patriotic.
I have more ideas now for pieces in a historical series. Time to step AWAY from the computer.