Thursday, 5 July 2012

Fox Talbot Would be Proud   

One of the most interesting challenges of living history museums is to find ways to take our visitors back to earlier times and places.  Interestingly, sometimes one of the most effective ways to do this is to bring the past into the present day.  David White is just one of our volunteers who has been doing just that with remarkable success.

David is passionate about photography and works almost exclusively in historical processes.  He's a notable figure in the village, most often seen partially obscured under the black cloth hood of his large format, 1890s wood and bellows view camera.  Carefully composing his subject on a ground glass screen, he exposes the film onto a simple silver-chloride emulsion; one remarkably similar to that used at the dawn of photography.  His home brew developer recipes go back almost as far.

For David, the most exciting magic of his process is in the making of paper prints from these negatives.  He makes his paper in exactly the same way W. Henry Fox Talbot did in 1839, when he invented photography.  Ordinary paper is brushed with salt and silver solutions, making them light sensitive.  The negatives are then placed in contact with the paper and, at a leisurely pace, and right before your eyes, sunlight turns the negative into a positive.  To halt the process, and make them permanent, the images are fixed, washed and dried.

Talbot's salted paper printing method produces photographs of a surprising tonal range. David can control the final outcome by choosing papers of varying textures, and altering the salt compounds used.  With so many variables, a final, successful print is all the more precious, and the handmade nature of the printing paper means that no two prints will ever be the same.  David says, "Talbot's own photographic prints from the 1840s remain as some of the most beautiful ever made." 

In a fun project this spring, David engaged long-time Westfield volunteer and woodworker Al to custom build a large format camera that takes negatives up to 20 x 24 inches in size.  The beautiful monster has been christened Queen Victoria.

Below are just some of the beautiful images David has recently produced at Westfield.  We sincerely appreciate the enthusiasm and unique skills that David brings to our site, and are very excited about what is to come.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Canajun, eh?   

Civil War Re-enactment Explores Canadian Connections

Did you know that more than 53,000 Canadians fought in the Union army during the American Civil War?  During this conflict, twenty-nine Canadians were awarded the Medal of Honour for gallantry.  Four Canadians, Henry Benham, Jacob Cox, John Farnsworth and John McNeil, attained the rank of General in the Union Army.  William Winer Cooke joined the 24th New York Cavalry in 1862.  Fourteen years later, while serving as General Custer's adjutant, he perished at Little Big Horn, and is buried in Hamilton, Ontario.  Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott, born in Toronto in 1837, completed his medical degree in his home city at the age of 23, becoming the country's first black doctor.  Offering his services to the Union Army in 1863, he was appointed surgeon.  Abbott was later given responsibility for Camp Baker and Freedmans' Hospitals in Washington, DC, where he met and became close friends with Abraham Lincoln.

More than eighty Civil War re-enactors and historians set up camp at Westfield on Sunday June 24th, allowing visitors the opportunity to learn about some of the the Canadian connections to the war.  Authentically dressed and equipped Union and Confederate re-enactors, sleeping in canvas tents and cooking over campfires, allowed a glimpse into the life of soldiers, camp followers, merchants and civilians during this tumultuous time.  Exciting and dramatic demonstrations of artillery and cavalry were topped off by a battle in the meadow.  The day was a great opportunity for photographers, who snapped away happily.

Rare Vehicles and Steam Engines a Hit   

Engines were chugging, whirring and whistling during Westfield's Steam and Machine Show during our special Father's Day programme on Sunday June 17.  Steam traction engine rides ran throughout the day, offering visitors a one-of-a-kind tour of the village.  Car enthusiasts enjoyed the classic and vintage automobiles, and the antique farm machines wowed with their beautiful, functional design.  A delicious ploughman's lunch in the Ironwood was the perfect accompaniment to this fun day.

A Day in the Country   

Westfield Welcomes Students for Special Spring Programme

On Tuesday June 12, Westfield was humming as more than 450 students, teachers and parents visited the village for A Day in the Country.  Combining the best of our public and education offerings, this new day-long programme gave students the opportunity to visit as many buildings as they wished, while also offering a range of hands-on activities.  The kids danced up a storm at the barn, rolled up their sleeves and did laundry at the Lockhart farm, visited furry and feathered friends at the barn, put their dramatic skills to work at the puppet theatre, took in a Charlie Chaplin film, and many other activities.  Despite alarming weather predictions, the sun was shining, and many groups were able to enjoy their lunch on the village green or in the picnic area.  We were very grateful to the many volunteers who helped make this a special day for all involved.  We look forward to planning our next Day in the Country!