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Topping it off

by techno Wed Mar 19th, 2008 at 04:30:47 AM EST

[editor's note, by Migeru] Originally published on March 10th

Our little historic preservation got a finishing touch last Thursday.  We placed the finial atop the little church building at Valley Grove.  This building was erected with hand tools and local materials by the people that Thorstein Veblen would immortalize in his 1914 opus Instinct of Workmanship.


It's not bragging if it's well-deserved - Promoted by Migeru


Because I am one of those secular humanists the religious Right so loves to hate, I occasionally wonder why I am part of this restoration project.  But the answers are always the same;

  1. There are very few historical sites dedicated to telling the story of the migration of the Nordic peoples to North America.  This one is on an especially beautiful site.
  2. The preservation society is easily the best-run volunteer organization I have ever encountered.  It's FUN to get things done well (the essential argument of Instinct of Workmanship.)

The Project:

This is the site.  The flowers are a part of our prairie restoration.  The wooden church on the left was built by Thorstein Veblen's younger brother Orson in 1894.  The stone church on the right was built by the pioneers in 1862.  Necessary repairs of the wood church were completed in 2004.

This was our starting point.  It may look in reasonable shape, but there was a LOT of rot .

This was the only picture we had of the original building.

This was my effort to illustrate what the restored building would look like.

Steeple repair.

Complete with finial.  Copper is VERY inauthentic but the original final probably lasted less than 35 years.

Both finials against the sky.  They will both be the same color in a few years.  You would be astonished how much research went into determining the shape of these decorations.


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Lovely diary techno. I don't understand where the second finial came from.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 05:25:14 AM EST
From "the wooden church on the left" in the first picture... :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 06:30:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks. They look very close together in the last photo, that's why I was wondering. It's somewhat an illusion.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 07:11:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The "compressing perspective" effect of a tele lens, surely :-)

One looks almost Russian to me (could be also Innsbruck style) while the other looks definitely french (rooster and al)...?
As it seems, some thought went with the designing... Maybe we could have some details on that part ?

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 07:22:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely correct about the compression from the lens.

As for the styles involved.  The 1894 finial was probably purchased out of a catalogue--the only important factors were cost and for theological reasons, the fact that it did not employ a cross (TOO Catholic).  We KNOW we got that one correct because we had the old, but damaged, parts to copy.

The one we just put on was much harder to get "right." We had a picture but no old parts.  The height and so on were pretty easy to get right, but the rooster (vaerhane in Norwegian) was a problem because of perspective problems in the picture.  We used high-definitions scans.  We actually found a sketch of the finial during the reconstruction of the steeple but it wasn't very detailed.  We got a scholar from Norway named  Jens C. Eldal, a church historian that has used Valley Grove's 1894 church in his studies, to weigh in with his opinions.  In the end, we had a retired art professor from St. Olaf, the college Valley Grove helped found, draw us a rooster.  I converted his drawing into a vector file using Illustrator, and after one more debate, we scaled it up to what we think was full size and gave it to the metal-benders.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 10:11:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the rooster feels right ! :-)
Thank you for the story ! I always thought we were the only ones to have one up there, often showing wind directions, to discovers that it applies further north :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 01:56:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the rooster has theological implications.  I can look all this up again (Google steeple, rooster) but essentially, a pope in the middle ages dictated that a rooster should sit atop a steeple.  In the reaction following the Protestant reformation, the Catholics decided that in a burst of devotion, they would top their steeples with a cross.  This left the rooster as a symbol of the Protestants (especially the Lutherans).  All I know is that our Norwegian scholar sent us dozens of pictures of magnificent roosters atop Norwegian churches--and taught us the special term they had for them.

The practice did not survive the trip to USA very well.  Perhaps it was because by the mid 19th century, there were already thousands of weathervanes on barns, etc. that used roosters.  This would explain why the folks off the boat put a rooster on their church but a generation later, their children would probably think the practice corny.  By the time I came along, the practice was virtually unheard of.

When I was first in Europe in 1970, I was so surprised to see a rooster on a church in northern Germany , I actually asked how a barnyard animal came to represent religious devotion.   That was the first time anyone had explained to me how a rooster would symbolize which side of the 30 Years War one found oneself at the end of hostilities.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 03:26:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fascinating, I just had a look at it and it seems that the rooster is an ancient  symbol linked to divinity (prescience of the dawn)n then used as a metaphor for the Christ (the new dawn). Many painting of the crucifixion has a rooster on a column in the background (resurrection).
The rooster of Notre Dame of Paris had bones hidden inside, relics of a saint of the city...!

Even though we mutually slit our throats for years in our "parpaillots" vs "papistes" quarrels, we kept the roosters because of the gallic symbol that was just as strong as the christian one... The french revolution choose the rooster as a national symbol and while Napoleon replaced it with the eagle, the "restauration" put quickly back the rooster as a major french figure...

I expect a rooster to be on the field in Wales/France :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 08:22:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did not know about the French attachment to the rooster.

I also know that there is also a theological connection to Peter's denial of Christ (Matthew 26:34, 74, 75).  The idea is that the rooster reminded the great saint of his human frailty.

I love it when a revolution appropriates a symbol of folks they defeated.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 08:49:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ahem... While the french revolution killed a lot of priests as nobles, it didn't suppress them, it broke the ties they had with Rome or other big european nations and mostly the advantages and privileges they had on laymen!
Today, a noble title (coat of arm and all) is still recognized by the french republic (if authentic) and shifting it to a surviving branch of a family is validated by the Prime Minister...!
For the priests and pastors it was more about links to Rome and Germany (and also about philosophy :-) )!

The roster was there since the romans, Gallus, the rooster, was the same word for the "Gaulois" and while most of the gallic tribes preferred the boar, many had the rooster as an emblem.
In the middle ages, the rooster was everywhere, catholics as local sorcerers or druids or shaman. I think it's really old around here :-)

There's a legend about Peter spitting a rooster because of the reminder of his failed oath, and all the others staying silent...It was common lore in the middle ages, but not of great influence, I believe, either in the french rooster or the ones on the spires of churches :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 09:13:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well.  You are WAY ahead of me on roosters.  Everything I know about them I learned in the last year--and that was directed from a Norwegian Lutheran perspective.

Obviously, you French have this symbol MUCH further ingrained into your culture.  When we went to purchase our rooster, we found a southern weathervane maker and not much else.  The one we had made was produced by a HVAC company.  Since MOST of the work those folks do winds up buried in walls, they were VERY pleased that the rooster was the crowning touch of restoration project.

I will do some catch-up on French roosters.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Mar 11th, 2008 at 06:27:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have just seen an article about roosters atop a Lutheran church in the north of Sweden.  Where was  info when we needed it?

http://www.thelocal.se/10590/20080319/1/

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Fri Mar 21st, 2008 at 10:21:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is this the project completed? or is the Inside the next step?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 05:34:34 AM EST
Yes indeed, the inside is the next step.  It is nearing some sort of completion as well.  The structural damage has been repaired so now we folks who are concerned about such things will step aside and allow those who concern themselves with decoration to make the decisions.




"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 09:40:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is what the interior looked like before we began.

This is how bad the rot was under the floor.

This is how the interior looked in 1876

And this is part of my contribution to this project--a 3D illustration I made into an animated DVD we have used for fundraising. The software used was a low-end, but wonderful program called Strata 3D CX.

Obviously, we still have a LOT of work to do.  But as you can see, it is mostly decoration.  Right now, we are attempting to make good decisions about the arch.  The rest is details like painting, plaster repair, and fixtures--all things I don't even pretend to know anything about.  This space has been used as a reception hall for over 100 years but we can foresee it being used for small concerts because of the intimate acoustics.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Wed Mar 19th, 2008 at 01:57:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Brilliant, techno.

I'm not sure exactly what governs the beauty of a spire - I guess to some extent it's in the eye of the beholder, but no doubt ratios and geometries enter into it.

Here's my favourite...



"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 07:33:05 AM EST
Spires meant a visible center and focus to a village when all other village buildings would be max 2 level - pre-Industrial Revolution. Also it was a nice pointer for the sinners as to where they should be aiming to get to ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 09:26:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
More then the "axis mundi" part, the higher the bells were, the further they would reach... :-)

The shift between the roman style to the gothic one, was more on the separation with "nature" and relationship to another plane ! (more of a political statement).

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 09:38:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Goodness, how lovely!

Our project is not nearly so grand.  You will notice that the spire of the 1894 building is much taller and more graceful than the 1862 version.  But that is part of the charm of the 1862 effort--it was built by amateurs.  These folks were barely off the boat, the USA Civil War was raging, the new land had a harsh climate with a short growing season and farming required new methods, few of the settlers spoke English, etc.  Ole Rolvaag wrote a book about these settlers called Giants in the Earth.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 09:51:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's Salisbury, isn't it?
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 11:55:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your starter for 10.....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 11:59:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Salisbury spire is glorious, but not quite perfect in its engineering.  The corner supports are visibly bent under the strain, and I think there's a false ceiling too, hiding some additional retrospective strengthening.

However, the only one that was taller was Lincoln-and that did fall down.  There's something rather heroic about the way these builders pushed their craft to the limits, as evidenced by some of the corrections they had to make later.

Another example, though not of a spire, is the West Front of Peterborough Cathedral.

If you think the porch looks like an afterthought, you'd be right.  From the right angle, you can see quite clearly that it's propping the whole thing up.

by Sassafras on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 12:38:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That idea pops its head up every now and then. The porch itself is a raised Library, and is not in to support the building. there are victorian Iron rods pushed through the face to supposedly support the front which you can't quite see in that picture, but a recent investigation by structural engineers came to the conclusion that the west front was deliberatly built with a very slight lean outwards to make it look more impressive to people standing at the base of the front.

If I remember right, an extended tower in the middle did collapse, but that's a vague memory from 20 years ago and I could be thinking about another cathedral.

If you ever get the chance get to the top of the center tower there.  the view to the east is fairly spectacular out across the fens.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 12:55:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's visibly bent...and I'm sure it was cathedral literature I got this from.  It might even say so on the noticeboard outside.

Still, I did give up on the idea of ex cathedra being infallible a long time ago...  :)

by Sassafras on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 01:06:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is something that has been put out for over 100 years, but every time that structural experts go up there they always come back with the same answer, that the front is stable  and appears to have been built like that.  Knowing them they probably still are using the same Literature from the 70's.

looking in various places there is the story that the porch was built as support, but I'm sure I was told that it isn't true.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 01:21:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Current "conventional wisdom", as evidenced by the
cathedral website
says it was built to prop up the portico.

However, I have a feeling I first saw this on the (sufficiently antique to warrant its own restoration) information board on the cathedral greens, and it's entirely possible that a mistake on there could simply have been endlessly repeated.

Interesting...

by Sassafras on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 01:32:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have a view of the porch of the building from another angle

(my head is between the fourth and fifth heads in the front row on the left hand side)


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 03:04:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does this mean you know how to sing liturgical music?

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 03:41:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In great detail.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 03:42:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
where's the zoutube?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 04:54:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd have to visit my father to get it from vinyl

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 06:10:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Me too.  I was in choirs until I was 27--the last being the Minnesota Bach Society.  A good Lute believes that there may not be a god, but if there is, Bach was his official composer ;-)

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 06:11:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmm....

I've been out this evening, but I've traced the porch-holding-up-the-West-Front argument back as far as 1859:

The porch ...materially injures the uniform effect of the front; but its insertion seems to have been rather a question of necessity than of taste. It was probably erected "as an abutment against the west front, which, by a bulging outward of the pillars or a settlement of the foundations, was falling forward toward the west. It was, in fact, overweighted by the stone spires and pinnacles of the flanking towers, which those structures, having no proper buttresses, were ill adapted to bear. The construction of this elegant little edifice is extremely scientific, especially in the manner in which the thrust is distributed through the medium of the side turrets, so as to fall upon the buttresses in front. These turrets, being erected against one side of the triangular columns, on the right and the left hand, support them in two directions at once, viz. from collapsing towards each other, and from falling forward. The latter pressure is thrown wholly upon the buttresses in front, which project seven feet beyond the base of the great pillars."

Handbook to the Cathedrals of England, 1862, quoting F. A. Paley, "Remarks on the Architecture of Peterborough Cathedral", 2nd Ed, 1859.

On the other hand, the definitive modern book seems to be An Architectural History of Peterborough Cathedral  by Lisa Reilly .  At a mere £165 on Amazon, I don't suppose I'll be buying it any time soon. However, it could be significant that, although every review and excerpt I've found mentions the porch, none has referred to its supposed structural function.

I wonder if the library has a copy....

by Sassafras on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 07:07:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have to admit that my source is a half remembered conversation with my father, about a discussion he'd had with the Dioscesan architect. and a similarly  dimly remembered conversation with cathedral heirarchy at a meal 25 years ago.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 07:30:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You could well be right, though, because, apart from this out-of-print book, the level of (net) published comment since 1859 seems to consist of variants on "s'obvious, innit?"

And if you are, that would make this an interesting example of how good stories win out over boring facts.

And...cough...I might also...possibly...have emailed the cathedral architect to ask whether he thinks it's structural or not.

I wonder if he'll reply?  :)

by Sassafras on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 08:01:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Even if it was put in for structural reasons, that dosn't mean that it is necessarily structurally required. it might have been built, because it's obvious that it's needed.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 08:46:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My head hurts.  Can you run that by me again?  :)
by Sassafras on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 08:50:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
techno!  Mazel tov!  : )
by keikekaze on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 at 04:46:37 PM EST
Thanks.

The workmanship is courtesy of another board member.  Normally he builds very expensive home for the rich ($14 million was a recent one).  He has a crew that can do all this fancy stuff.  But with the collapse of the housing market, he is just hanging on these days and is looking for work to keep his crews together.  So he did the spectacular job and changed our preservation society bargain rates.  The guy is a living embodiment of the Instinct of Workmanship.  He does good work because he literally doesn't know any other way to do things.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Mar 11th, 2008 at 08:12:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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