You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Novel Cassia and Colonial Medicine

       
picture of a medicine chest
 courtesy of http://www.herbalremediesinfo.com/best-herbal-remedies.html
        Sometimes doing research for my colonial era novels can be amusing.
        A couple of months ago, I saw my family doctor for a problem I’d been having. The night before, I’d been reading a resource book for my upcoming novel Cassia. The name of it is Indian Doctor – Nature’s method of curing and preventing disease according to the Indians.
        I took the book with me to show the doctor the Indian cure for my problem. What a hoot! We had such fun looking through the book. Seems as if every cure involved mixing something with wine, ale, beer, or liquor. We came to the conclusion that with enough of the “cure,” even if you still had the problem, you wouldn’t care anymore.
        Here’s what the book says for my problem, “Take some pounded panic (panic is another name for powdered corn), and give it to the patient to drink with wine, and he will recover. The same panic, being boiled with goat’s milk, and eaten twice a day, morning and evening, will operate the same.”  
        Seriously, knowing the right herbs and natural cures was extremely important in an era where there were very few, if any, doctors available. And, most of the time, those doctors weren’t classically trained.
        Lilyan Xanthakos, the heroine of Cassia, is not only a portrait and mural artist she is a healer who carries her medicine kit wherever she goes. In Cassia I mention an incident in Swansboro, NC, where pirates blockaded the port not for money or other booty, but for medical supplies (which were worth their weight in gold.)
There’s also a scene where the ship’s cook, because there is no doctor on board, applies a camphor-based ointment to the scratches on Lilyan’s face.
       While she's being cared for, Lilyan checks out the cook's medicine kit that has: jalap for purging, mercury salves for the Foul Disease, autumn crocus and meadow saffron for gout, and St. John’s Wort for insomnia, all carefully wrapped in oil-soaked paper.
       Lilyan, along with most colonial women, maintained a medicine kit that might have included the following: (Some of the items in this list that may seem misspelled come directly from Nicholas Culpepper's The English Physician, Enlarged in 1653.)
  • Valerian root, combined with hops and lemon balm; a sedative for sleep disorders, insomnia
    valerian root
  • Sweet gum bark, boiled; for sore eyes, wash eyes three times a day
  • Rum or brandy; for a burn apply a wet rag doused; Two or three swallows of cold water before breakfast; for heartburn
  • Feverfew; for headaches/migraines, body aches, and fever
  • Southern Wood; for upset stomach (also used as an insect or moth repellent
    southern wood
  • Calendula, dried, ground and mixed with animal fat; for cuts
    calendula
  • Tansy; for indigestion, cramps, sunburn, and to remove freckles
  • Basil; draw poison out of animal bites
  • Black Cohosh; for menopause
  • Boswellia; for arthritis
  • Chamomile tea; for digestive problems
  • Flaxseed; for menopausal discomfort and osteoporosis
  • White Willow Bark; for back pain
  • Ginger; for nausea and vomiting
  • Lavender flowers; for anxiety
  • Fleabane; for venomous bites, smoke from it kills gnats and fleas; dangerous for women and children
  • Hellebore root snuffed up the nose; for sneezing and melancholy and to kill rats and mice
  • Penyroyal; for vomiting, gas, and vertigo
  • Fox’s tongue softened in vinegar; applied topically, draws out a thorn or splinter
  • Rose petals steeped in vinegar; applied topically for headache
  • Chalk; for heartburn
  • Calamine; for skin irritations
  • Cinchona Bark (contains quinine); for fevers
  • Garden celedine, pile wort, or fig wort; for boils
  • Cottonweed, boyled in lye; it keeps the head from Nits and Lice; being laid among Cloaths, it keeps them safe from Moths; taken in a Tobacco-pipe it helps Coughs of the Lunges, and vehement headaches.
  • Take howse leeke Catts blod and Creame mixed together & oynt the place warme or take the moss that groweth in a well & Catts blod mixed & so aply it warme to the plase whare the shingles be; for the shingles.
        Oh, two weeks after I saw my doctor, who prescribed medicine that cured my original problem, I had to see him again for a terrible earache. We looked at the Indian cure that involved lily onions, marsh mallows, oil of violet and, of course, taken with wine. And then, bleeding.
       I’ll stick with the antibiotics.

The Xanthakos Family Trilogy


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Limners, Portrait Painters



 A 1765 oil on canvas by Matthew Pratt (1734-1805).
Pratt sits at his easel, and his teacher and friend, Benjamin West,
stands at the far left holding paint brushes.
 
         By the early 1700s, wealthy American colonists hired painters, called “limners,” to paint portraits of their families. These limners, mostly self-taught, generally unknown by name, turned out na├»ve portraits in the Elizabethan style, the Dutch baroque style, or the English baroque court style, depending upon the European background of both artist and patron.
        Many limners painted miniatures -- tiny watercolor portraits -- on pieces of ivory, often oval-shaped. These were commonly worn as jewelry.
        Limners also painted on paper and canvas and earned, on average, $15 per portrait.
        Like most artisans of their time who found it difficult to support themselves with paintings only, they also worked in pewter, silver, glass, or textiles or took jobs doing ornamental painting of clocks, furniture, signs, coaches, and landscapes.
        Portraiture was the most important form of painting during the Colonial period, but rather than a true portrait, the paintings were idealistic and did not present a true representation of the personality of the sitter and were often two dimensional.
        Artists focused on the material wealth of the subject, giving much attention to their clothing and accessories. Some artists painted only the faces of their subjects, explaining that they need not bother with tedious sittings, and that they would paint the bodies and clothing later. They would show their subjects English and French prints from which to choose whatever costumes they preferred. Limners Samuel McIntire and Duncan Phyfe became celebrated painters of furniture.
        Famous portrait artists included Joseph Blackburn, Peter Pelham, John Smibert, John Singleton Copley, John Trumbull and Charles Wilson Peale. An American painter, Benjamin West, became painter to the king and president of the Royal Academy in London. American painters flocked to his studio to learn under his tutelage, including Gilbert Stuart.

Gilbert Stuart, a portrait by Sarah Goodridge
        Colonial limners kept supplies of pigments which they mixed to create watercolors, oil, and tempera paints. Watercolors consisted of pigment and chalk. Oil paints were a mixture of pigment and linseed oil. Tempera paints were a mixture of pigments, lime, and milk. Pigments were derived from white lead, zinc oxide, mercuric sulfide, iron oxide-containing clay and Paris green, a poisonous compound made of green copper and arsenic. Artists also used Prussian blue, a blue iron pigment.
        Limners sometimes made their own brushes, but could buy them from merchants as well. Brushes were made of quills from geese, ducks, and crows. Red sable-tipped brushes were often used for watercolor paintings, as were squirrel-hair quill brushes. They would have afforded limners working on a miniature the ability to create fine lines. Boar's bristles, widely used for a variety of tools, were likely used for paintbrushes, as they are today. Boar's bristle paintbrushes are most commonly used for oil paintings.
        Artists stored their pigments and paints in color boxes a sort of antique backpack--wooden boxes with hinges attaching the top to the bottom. The bottom half of the box served as a storage place for paint materials, and the lid served as a palette. A leather shoulder strap was attached for easy transport.
        In 1754 in British colonial New York, an artist took out the following ad in the Gazette and the Weekly Post: Lawrence Kilburn, Limner, just arrived from London with Capt. Miller, hereby acquaints all Gentlemen and Ladies inclined to favour him in having their pictures drawn, that he don't doubt of pleasing them in taking a true Likeness, and finishing the Drapery in a proper Manner, as also in the Choice of Attitudes, suitable to each Person's Age and Sex, and giving agreeable Satisfaction, as he has heretofore done to Gentlemen and Ladies in London. He may at present be apply'd to at his Lodgings, at Mr. Bogart's near the New Printing-Office in Beaver-Street.