Monday, January 25, 2016

Folk Legends: Inventors

 Inventors who are folk legends

Those folk legends who are inventors have made our world what it is today. Entrepreneurs from all walks of life for all kinds of reasons have been coming up with ideas that can change our course. Intended or not, these devises, systems, and services take us to the next step of our evolution.

Sometimes the transition is so smooth that we hardly notice it or the person responsible for making it possible. These unsung legends, unlike their more notorious or more celebrated colleagues, such as Albert Einstein and Florence Nightingale, have not become household names. Sometimes because they were too far ahead of their time and sometimes because were a bit out of step.

Nonetheless, they deserve our attention and appreciation just the same. 

Here are four of them:

Dutch inventor Cornelis Jacobszoon Drebbel (1572-1633) contributed numerous advances to the fields of chemistry and optics. Some suggest his most impressive achievement was the construction of the world’s first navigable submarine in 1620.
His third version was an oar-driven contraption. It was built in 1624 out of wood and leather, and could carry 16 passengers 15 feet below the surface for three hours at a time.
Records report that he took English King James I for a test dive beneath the Thames. 

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was the daughter of British poet Lord Byron. From an early age she was noted for her mathematically talent. When she and fellow mathematician Charles Babbage joined forces they created what today is considered to be a mechanical calculator.

After Baggage introduced her to his “Analytical Engine,” idea, her thoughts burst forth into an algorithm for the engine that computed Bernoulli numbers. These numbers – a sequence of signed rational numbers that can be defined by the exponential generating function – made her the one of the first computer programmers.

Unfortunately the machine she conceived of was not built in her lifetime.

Paris printer and bookseller, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (1817-1879) was considered to be a shorthand and stenography expert. Focused on this, he sought to find a way to record and transcribe the spoken word. 

His 1857 patented phonautograph was able to translate the vibrations of sound onto a hand-cranked cylinder. 

His invention preceeded Edison’s creation of the phonograph two decades later. 

Italian immigrant Antonio Meuccci (1808-1889) migrated to Staten Island, in 1857. His tenacity and creativity allowed him to create an electromagnetic telephone that linked his basement laboratory to the second floor bedroom where his bedridden wife lay.
His invention, the “telettrofono”, was buried beneath a sea of patents and financial burdens almost twenty years before Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patent was issued.
They folk legend inventors all deserve a place on the list of those who made contributions to the world.

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Antonio Meucci

Monday, January 18, 2016

Circus Toys Folk Art

 Circus Toys Folk Art

Circus toys like all other toys reflect the times in which they are made. Circus toys -a very special niche of American folk art – are no exception.

Made primarily of wood, cast iron and tinplate with some mechanical moving parts, they represent a special time in American history. A time before televisions, radios (long before cell phones and video games).

Think rural America, a century ago, traveling shows and circus tents that captured the attention and imaginations of children and adults alike from miles around.

Those same traveling troupe shows were the basis of some popular circus toys treasured today by both collectors and historians.

For example the Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty circus collection, created in 1903 by Albert Schoenhut, were intended to replicate in doll form some of the more common circus character, such as ring masters, lion tamers, elephants, bears, and band members. This particular collection was also based upon a 19th century play written and performed by George Washington Lafayette Fox.

It was not uncommon for child photographs and portraits of the time to feature one or two favorite circus toys.

Circus toys are included in the ongoing Toys and Childhood exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

This American History Museum exhibit showcases a range of toys dating from the 1870s to the 1950’s. The display includes a variety of vehicles, such as boats and horse-drawn wagons, to American circus clowns and miniature Ferris wheels. 

Considered old-fashioned by today’s digital standards, these simple, made to last toys still have the ability to spark one’s imagination.

To learn more about the Toys and Childhood exhibit, click here.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Flamenco Folk Dance

Flamenco Folk Dance

The Flamenco folk dance has its origins in Spain. Considered a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity, its humble roots now span the world.

The genre itself is said to be closely associated with the Romani people of Spain who occupied the Andalusian (Southern Spanish) region. These gypsies, unlike their Eastern European counterpart, developed the folk music and folk dance traditions of what once was a cultural melting pot that included Andalusians, Moors, Romanis, Jews and a few others.

First recorded in the late 18th century it has managed to evolve over time as have most folk arts. In fact, this ability to ‘keep up’ with the culture in which it exists so that it remains relevant is a hallmark feature of folklore, in general. 

Originally passed down from generation to generation, between family and community members living at society's edges it is comprised primarily of three elements. Music, dance, and guitar, and all have evolved from rural, folkloric tradition to elaborate staged productions. Virtuoso guitarists and elaborately dressed dancers have helped to make it so popular today.

To celebrate its journey from Spain’s old world to the New World, the Museum of International Folk Art is hosting Flamenco: From Spain to New Mexico. The exhibit runs through September 11, 2016 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Along with costumes, paintings, lectures, films and performances, the exhibit will also explore Spain's ferias and fiestas. Topics will range from their introduction to the southwestern US to the individuals who helped to make flamenco a popular art form in this country. 

To learn more about flamenco which was declared to be one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2010 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) click here.

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