Taking A Walk Through History


We recently spent some time with friends in Virginia.  While there we visited the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, VA.  We are big fans of historical restorations and have visited many of them.  The Frontier Culture Museum is different from any that I’ve been to.  It traces the routes of early America from where the settlers originated and then follows development through the nineteenth century.  There is an emphasis on sharing both the conditions that existed in the various locales as well as how the people from each location contributed to the growth and development of America.

The walk through history starts in the “old countries”.  One thing that makes this museum special is that the first origin is in Africa to document what home was like for those who were forced to come here.

Picture of an 18th century west African family house

This house is part of a walled family compound.  They’ve had some problems with the wall as the weather in that part of Virginia is quite different from Africa.  You can see some black plastic covering a part of the wall in need of repair.  The guide here was not in period costume.  She was very well informed and I learned plenty form her.  She was actually cooking time and place appropriate food on a small fire when we were there.  We found the same in several other locations.

From there we moved to an English farm from the seventeenth century.  The building looks to be a cross between ramshackle and sturdy.

Picture of an 18th Century English farm house

We learned that this house would have belonged to a reasonably successful person.  The unusual color is from some of the local building materials and pigments.  The room on the second floor with the window is the master bedroom.  It was a bit cramped to get a good shot, so I ended up taking three and stitching them together in my first pano.

Picture of the master bedroom in the 18th century English farm house

The English farm included some sheep, a pond with ducks and some other livestock.  From there, we followed the path to the Irish section.  First we cam onto the Irish Forge.  This is also an eighteenth century building.  the style of architecture and overall affluence are very different.

18th century Irish forge

This is a working forge.  Unfortunately the blacksmith was on a break when we got there.  I’ve long been fascinated by the way the old smiths worked and what it took to make things that we consider cheap and disposable.  Just up the path from the forge is the Irish farm house.  Again, this is typical of the conditions for most Irish farmers of the period.  This house consisted of just two rooms, one where the family lived, worked, ate, slept, etc. The other had a loom where they wove flax into cloth.

Inside the Irish farm house

Yes, I’ll admit it, I did “play” with some HDR on this shot.  The character interpreter in this house was very interesting.  He explained how a combination of weather and greedy landlords forced many an Irish farmer to come the “the colonies” out of economic need.  This farm had cows, pigs and sheep among other animals.

The final Old World farm was the German one.  This is another eighteenth century farm.  The farmers in this type of farm were again more affluent than those we saw in the Irish farm.  This house had several rooms.

The 18th century German farm house

The very friendly “hausfrau” explained how the inheritance laws in Germany resulted in many Germans needing to come here.  In those days, each of the heirs got and equal share of the farm.  After a couple of generations, that would divide a farm into parcels that were too small to support a family.  Notice the difference in the quality and style of furnishings here as opposed to the Irish farm.

We then, symbolically, crossed the Atlantic.  The first family settlement we came to was native American.  This settlement had suffered from weather and fire damage.  I was very disappointed with the shots I took there, so I’m not including any.  The representative there, while not in costume was very knowledgeable about the native Americans in that area and was directing the rebuilding efforts.

The first American-European exhibit was from the 1740s.  This log cabin reminded me of the Irish farm in terms of the simplicity and rustic nature.

1740s American log cabin

Another part of me also thinks of Abe Lincoln studying by the fire…yes I know he would have done that in Illinois.  Either way, this house looked to be strictly functional with few luxuries.  Notice, no windows!

The final exhibit was a grouping of three buildings, two farms from the mid nineteenth century and a school house.  These last two farm houses were much larger and showed how far people had come both technically and economically.

Picture of the 1820s farm house

This is the 1820s farm house.  We were told by the character interpreter that it was actually built in two parts.  Regardless, it is quite large and spacious. The rooms inside are larger and more open than the older farms.  The final farm is from the 1850s.  We did not see that much change in the thirty years between the two.  At that time, the women were still cooking over an open fire.

Picture of a woman cooking over a fire in the 1850s house

This lady was really cooking!  The food smelled very good.  I thought it interesting that with all the other advancements at these farms, they didn’t have a cooking stove.

This was a quicky preview of what there is to see.  It is far from all encompassing.

The museum has a very nice visitor’s center which includes an informative film describing the various exhibits.  There are numerous artifacts from the several periods on display in the visitor center.  For those who must have a souvenir, yes there is a gift shop too. The gift shop sells some of the best fudge you’ll ever eat.

The Frontier Culture Museum is one of those jewels that more people should know about.  They do a terrific job of showing where ALL Americans come from.  If you’re going anywhere near there you should seriously consider a visit.

Full disclosure… I have no interest, financial or otherwise in the Frontier Culture Museum.  I am not being paid to write this.  For that matter, they don’t know that I am writing this post about them!

Yes, It’s Okay To Play!


When I was in school, the great sage advice was to find a job/career where you can do what you love.  That way you’re not working but having fun.  It sounds good, but jobs like that are very hard to find.  I did try.  The mattress companies told me that they weren’t looking for testers!

I have worked at jobs that I really enjoyed.  Somehow, those are the jobs that were transitory.  If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I am currently working at being a photographer.  Yes, I love photography, and have since I was a kid.  I don’t have delusions that I will be the next great photographer.  I do think that I can bring some joy to others with my images and would like to make that self supporting.

I recently started working freelance doing real estate photography.  You know those shots that are now standard whenever a home is for sale.  I’ll be honest, this is not they type of photography I aspire to.  It is photography, I do get paid for taking pictures and learn some new tricks and techniques.

One of the requirements for doing the real estate work is that I need to shoot with a 10mm lens.  If you’re not seriously into photography, 10mm is an extreme wide angle lens and can be prone to distortions.  I ordered the new lens (Tamron 10-24) and it came very quickly.  I’ve been shooting through the same camera long enough that it didn’t take any time to put everything together and have the lens ready to go.

I decided that before doing any real estate work I should take the new lens out for a spin.  To put it another way, go out and play for the afternoon.  I didn’t have any specifics in mind.  I just packed up the camera, etc. and went to one of our local towns where I haven’t done much shooting.  This was to be a walking adventure so I left the tripod at home.

When I go out shooting, I’m not constantly checking my images in the camera.  Yes I do check the built in histogram periodically to be sure I’m getting good exposure.  On this little outing, I spent more time checking images to see how the lens worked.  The widest lens that I had used was 28mm, so I figured how much of a difference can 18mm make?  An amazing difference.  I’m used to the idea that if I’m shooting and there is a pole or some other “truly meaningful” thing to the left or right, no problem.  The Tamron has a 109 degree angle of view.  That’s pretty close to anything in front of the camera, so I had to adjust how i position myself relative to the subject.  The other thing I noticed immediately is the distortion.   I’m used to my Nikon lenses that are very accurate in terms of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).

image looking down a street with converging buildings
Tunnel view

I’ve always wondered how to achieve this effect.  After taking some shots elsewhere, I came to this pedestrian plaza and took a few shots from one knee.  I really like how the pavement and buildings all seem to converge to the back/center of the image.  I do so love the law of unintended consequences!

As kids, the reason that we play is because we have fun.  Of course, while doing that we learn all kinds of things.  Clearly I was getting the maximum benefit of my play.

I continued walking.  I soon came on the county courthouse.  The original building is one of those great classic court buildings.  Again, I was amazed at how close I had to get to the building to only get what I wanted into the image.

Courthouse straight on view
Courthouse straight on view

On this image, I did use Photoshop to take out the distortion.  I’m totally amazed at how much is in the image.  In another few weeks the trees will be in full bloom making a shot like this impossible.  I was fortunate that it was a fairly sunny day so I got the nice blue sky and some interesting clouds.  I suspect that the lens had something to do with the clouds appearing to be focused around the top of the courthouse.  With my Nikon 28-300 lens a shot like this would have needed two or three exposures stitched together as a pano.

There is the obligatory artillery piece outside the courthouse, just off to the right of this image.  Feeling emboldened by the early results, I decided to go to the corner to take a three quarters shot.

Courthouse three quarters view
Courthouse three quarters view

Okay, I admit it, I need some more practice straightening some of the distortion.  I still like the result.  There is so much captured in this image, I’m amazed at what this lens can do.

I’ll spare you the step by step descriptions.  Eventually I found myself at the railroad station.  I took some shots as I went up to the platform.  What I really wanted to play with was the long view down the tracks.  My earlier shots had me thinking that I could get some really interesting shots.

color image on the railroad platform
Looking west on the railroad platform

Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.  The building rooflines, the tracks and yellow warning strips provide some great leading lines.  I didn’t do much with the distortion on these images.  Having taken the shots under the station roof facing west, I went to the other end of the platform to take some shots looking east.

Black and white on the railroad platform
Looking east on the railroad platform

Once again I got some really “neat” effects.  The light poles start to create that leading line into the station.  If you look carefully, you can see a very full parking lot off to the right and of course the tacks going off into infinity.

I wish I could spend more time playing and getting these results.  To be honest, there were also a lot of images that did not come out nearly as well as the ones above.  That’s the thing about playing, sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t.  The real fun is in the trying and learning.  My advice to you, go out and play, it’s fun and can be very rewarding!