Object: Mask

i-0581a

I-0581a
Opera Mask
Chinese
Unknown date, likely 20th century
Materials: Paper Mache

This is a Chinese Opera mask depicting  Jian Wei, a character who appeared in the The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This traditional Chinese drama combines historic events, and legends, from the third century AD and the civil wars after the fall of the Han Dynasty. The wars between the Shu, Wu, and Wei kingdoms spawned stories of violence, betrayal, heroism, and romance.

Jiang Wei is represented with a red, white and black three tiled face with a taijitu, or yin yang, symbol on his forehead. The colors and symbols on the face of an opera character give the audience insight to the personality of the character. Red represents loyalty and courage in Chinese culture. Because his face is mostly red, it suggests an overall positive character. The taijitu on his head tells the audience that he is a Taoist master and has an immense knowledge of the universe. Jiang Wei was a historical figure who was originally a general for the Wei kingdom but his authority was not respected so he became a general of the opposing kingdom of Shu. He later became the successor to the famed Zhang Liang, however, he betrayed the Shu kingdom by manipulating them, allowing the Wei kingdom to overthrow the Shu.

Beijing Opera "Qiujiang." Photo by KIMURA Takeshi, via Wikimedia Commons.

Beijing Opera “Qiujiang.” Photo by KIMURA Takeshi, via Wikimedia Commons.

Masks such as these have several purposes, they can be used for ceremonies, protection, festivals, and theater. In this case, the mask would be worn by an opera performer, today actors typically wear face paint rather than masks. Using paint is more difficult and requires skill, but it allows the actor to better convey emotion.

In the Chinese Opera there are four different types of roles. The first is the female role or dan usually young a maiden, elderly woman, or warrior woman. Second is the male role or , which refers to a young man, elderly man, or sheng combat warrior. Then there’s the clowns or chou which can be either male or female, the clowns are comical characters that can act as the villain or simply provide comic relief. Finally there’s the painted face roles, called jing, which are powerful male roles. The painted face characters usually include generals, villains, gods, supernatural beings, or other powerful characters. The singing style is different for the painted face roles, it requires a deep nasal voice. Their costumes are big and demand attention, with large shoulder pads and heavy fabric these characters take up a lot of space.

Actors of the Chinese Theater in Costume. Beijing, 1874. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Actors of the Chinese Theater in Costume. Beijing, 1874. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Tales like these have been an important part of Chinese literature for centuries with the opera being a form of historical education for many common, or even illiterate, Chinese peoples. However exaggerated and whimsical the operas appear, many of the  stories contain historical fact in the events and characters. The legends told in the Chinese Opera have influenced the identity of the Chinese culture and people. During the mid-nineteenth century, China was in increasing contact with Europe though many western explorers. Europeans journeyed to China to learn about and study the Chinese culture, spread religion, or secure trade routes. The Chinese identity was challenged by the sudden and immense exposure to western society. The traditional tales performed in the opera encouraged and reinforced the Chinese identity. On an international level Chinese Americans brought the Peking Opera to America when there was an increase in immigration in due to the 1849 gold rush. The Chinese have used opera to continue and spread their legends and history. Today the Chinese Opera can be found in countries across the world and has influenced modern media. Chinese themes, stories, and characters play parts in video games like Dynasty Warriors, novels like Journey to the West, comic books, and some have been adapted into full-length feature films. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Don’t forget that the Asian Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures will be February 4th!

Additional Resources:

Lei, Daphne Pi-Wei. Operatic China: Staging Chinese Identity Across the Pacific. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Mackerras, Colin. Peking Opera. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Siu, Wang-Ngai, and Peter Lovrick. Chinese opera: images and stories. Vancouver : Seattle: UBC Press, University of Washington Press, 1997.

Museum views

dsc_0011

Object: Wagon

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I-0120a
Conestoga Wagon
American
San Antonio, TX
1976
Materials: Wood, Canvas, Leather, Paint

Bicentennial Logo Commissioned by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, via Wikimedia Commons

Bicentennial Logo Commissioned by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, via Wikimedia Commons

This object is a reproduction of a 19th Century covered wagon.  It was gifted to the museum on November 20, 1976 by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Texas. It was the second wagon in line as part of the Southern route wagon train for the Bicentennial Pilgrimage.

In 1976, the United States celebrated its 200th birthday with festivities across all fifty states.  In a monumental effort to bring the nation together, an idea was created that would involved every state, a year-long nationwide wagon train pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey in search of moral or spiritual significance.  For the Bicentennial Celebration, it was a way to reaffirm the founding morals of the country.  Each state sponsored an authentic covered wagon, which would be represented on a wagon train to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Bicentennial Wagon Train, Summer 1976. Image by bob_u, via Flickr.

Bicentennial Wagon Train, Summer 1976. Image by bob_u, via Flickr.

In total, there were five separate trains, recreating five distinct historic routes in westward expansion– the Northwest route, the Southwest route, the Southern route, the Great Lakes route, and the Colonies route.  The Texas covered wagon was part of the Southern route, along with nine other wagons. The Pilgrimage represented a replay of history in reverse, with all of the wagon trains meeting up at the birthplace of the nation in Valley Forge, on July 4, 1976.

During a time when the country was frustrated and tired from government scandals, the Bicentennial wagon train was designed to reach out to communities and rededicate the country to the founding ideals and principles of the United States.  This was a way to bring people together at every level- federal, state, local, and within communities.  Participants could commit themselves to the entire duration of the wagon train, or they could join for shorter periods of time.  The idea was particularly to get entire families involved- some families even pulling their kids out of school to participate.

The wagon now housed at the Institute of Texan Cultures was a gift from that pilgrimage.  It is the original Texas wagon, which was driven by Hazel Bowen, a native Texan and horse-handling expert.  After the Bicentennial celebrations ended, Hazel drove the wagon back to Texas, and a few months later, was able to drive it once again through the streets of San Antonio. On November 20, 1976 Hazel, escorted by the 1st Cavalry of the United States Army, drove the wagon from Freeman Coliseum, through the streets of downtown San Antonio, and parked it on the grounds of the Institute of Texan Cultures.  This historic covered wagon has been on permanent display since then.  [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Bicentennial Wagon Train Pilgrimage. Kenosha, WI: Jem Publishers, 1977.

Cirincione, Dominick J., and J’Nell L. Pate. Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Pub, 2011.

Gabriel, Ruth, Harold Gabriel, Bicentennial Commission of Pennsylvania.  Trails and Tribulations: The Great Wagon Train Trek of 1976.  Livermore, CA: Alameda County Bicentennial Commission, 1976.

Kartman, Jean, Bicentennial Commission of Pennsylvania.  Wagon Trains East 1976.  Deer Lodge, Montana: Platen Press, 1978.

Museum views

dsc_0009

Object: Cigar box

 

i-0046q
I-0046q
Cigar Box
Early 1900s
American
Materials: Wood and paper

The use of tobacco is centuries old, thought to have been discovered by the ancient Maya. There is evidence of smoking on Mayan pottery going back as far as the 10th century. In the 1600s, tobacco smoking became popular in Spain and was a symbol of wealth. Ironically, tobacco use was initially thought to be a cure for many illnesses. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the negative health effects of smoking began to be known, and it was first proven to cause cancer.

Employee hand rolling a cigar. Image from the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Employee hand rolling a cigar. Image from the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

In cigars the outer layer, or wrapper, holds the tobacco together into its signature shape. This outer layer also determines much of the character and flavor of the cigar. The exterior leaves were picked while still green and go through a special aging process depending on the color and cigar type desired. Cigars today come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, with tobacco produced in many different countries and regions. The tobacco leaves filling the cigar need to be arranged in a way that forms air passages, the size of which is important to the quality of the cigar. If the airways are too small, the cigar will not burn, and if they are too large the cigar will burn too fast. Prior to the 1950s all cigars were hand folded, and getting the correct arrangement of leaves took a skilled worker. Today machines have taken over that task, by replacing the painstakingly folded inner leaves with smaller pieces of chopped up tobacco.

Henry William Finck was raised in New Orleans where he worked in the cigar making industry and learned the trade. He managed a cigar factory in New Orleans until he came to San Antonio in 1853 and started his own business with $1,000, borrowed from his life insurance.

 Groundbreaking ceremony for Travis Club, northwest corner of Pecan and Navarro Streets, San Antonio, Texas, ca. 1911. Photo via UTSA Special Collections Library, Digital Identifier CD# 529; 075-1165.tif.

Groundbreaking ceremony for Travis Club, northwest corner of Pecan and Navarro Streets, San Antonio, Texas, ca. 1911. Photo via UTSA Special Collections Library, Digital Identifier CD# 529; 075-1165.tif.

The Finck Company made special “private label” cigars for the Travis Club, a private men’s club, founded in 1890. In 1906 the private label cigars were made only for the club, but during WWI the club members began inviting young military officers and trainees in San Antonio to join the Travis Club. These military men enjoyed the cigars so much they demanded they be sent to other military related men’s clubs. It became a widely popular brand and is still a top seller today, with an image of the original building printed on the label as a tribute to the history of the brand. Today the Finck Cigar Company is the only automated cigar factory in Texas. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Anwer Bati, The Cigar Companion: The Connoisseur’s Guide. Third Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 1997; pg. 27

Finck, Bill, and Mary Locke Croft. 1991. Interview with bill finck, 01-30-1991University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Our History – About – Finck Cigar Company – World’s Best Cigars.” Parscale Media. 2016. Finck Cigar Company.

Rogers, Kara. Substance use and abuse. Britannica Educational Publishing, 2011.

Museum views

dsc_0008

Object: Cookie iron

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I-0099c
Krumkake Iron
Norwegian
Late 19th- early 20th Century
Materials: Metal, Wood

 Krumake panorama in a Minnesota home. Photo by NorskPower, via Wikimedia Commons.

Krumake panorama in a Minnesota home. Photo by NorskPower, via Wikimedia Commons.

This object is a Norwegian krumkake iron.  Not to be confused with crumb cake, this Norwegian cookie is pronounced kroom-kai-kuh, and means bent or curved cake.  The plural is krumkaker. Krumkake is a traditional Norwegian Christmas cookie.  Krumkaker are made from flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and cream.  They look and taste very similar to waffle cones, and are made in a device that looks similar to a waffle iron.

Krumkake irons are decorative two-sided iron griddles, with intricate patterns that vary based on what region of Norway it’s from.  Older irons were designed to be held and turned over an open fire, and had wooden handles to be able to turn them without getting burned.  Newer versions are electric, and allow bakers to make more, in a shorter period of time.

Once the batter is poured onto the griddle, it’s baked to a light golden brown.  While still hot, it’s rolled into small cones with the use of a conical rolling pin.  Krumkaker can be filled with virtually anything- from whipped cream, to chocolate, to berries, or can just be sprinkled with powdered sugar.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the term “Christmas cookie” became popular, possibly due to the fact that ovens became popular household appliances around that time.  However, cookies in Norway were categorized as one of three types: those baked in an iron, those that were deep fried, and those baked in ovens.  Cookies baked in irons- like krumkaker– can be traced back at least a thousand years.

In the pre-Christian Viking tradition, during the dark afternoons of the Winter Solstice, children would go from house to house looking for treats.  Because Norway is so close to the North Pole, darkness came by 4 o’clock during the months of December and January.

Before Christmas began being celebrated in Norway, around 1000- 1100, Norwegians celebrated Jul (the English tweaked this to yule) a time to celebrate the last of the harvest, and a way to look forward to spring.  It was a celebration of light manifested through the yule log thrown on the fire.

Norwegian Christmas is a celebration of more than a thousand years of beliefs and traditions, all tied together in a month-long celebration.  The baking, the solstice, the celebration of light, and Christian faith, all come together for the holiday season.

Seven Sorts – Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies. Photo by www.mylittlenorway.com

Seven Sorts – Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies. Photo by http://www.mylittlenorway.com

Perhaps this explains why krumkake has endured.  Today, it is a featured element in the tradition of “seven sorts,” which is a Norwegian holiday baking custom.  Per tradition, seven traditional cookies are to be baked and served during the holidays.  Although which cookies are included in the seven are disputed, krumkake is the most widely accepted, along with pepperkaker (gingerbread).

Norway’s holiday traditions are still honored by Norwegian immigrants and their descendants across the American mid-west, and communities in Texas.  The krumkake is just one of many elements of Norwegian tradition that interlock the past and the present. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Cornelius, James M.  The Norwegian Americans.  New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

Mellbye, Anne-Lise, Dana Fossum.  Christmas in Norway.  Oslo, Norway: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1996.

Stokker, Kathleen.  Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land.  St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio.  The Norwegian Texans.  San Antonio: University of Texas, 1970.

The TARL Blog

Experimenting with collections access since 2013

Museum Anthropology

Experimenting with collections access since 2013

Center for the Future of Museums

Experimenting with collections access since 2013

TAMEC

Experimenting with collections access since 2013

Smithsonian Collections Blog

Experimenting with collections access since 2013

Digital Scholarship in the Humanities

Exploring the digital humanities

ethnology @ snomnh

experimenting with social microexhibitions since 2007

%d bloggers like this: