Friday, January 28, 2011

Homestead's Artist in Residence: Mel Mann talks about the process (Part 1)

Mel Mann talks about the application process for
Artist in Residence program at
Homestead National Monument of America (Part 1)

During my time at Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP) I realized that simply seeing something different was only part of the artistic journey, that bringing meaning to the vision is an integral part of connecting the viewer to the story of the image. It was with that challenge in mind I decided to apply for one of the artist-in-residence (AIR) spots offered by the National Park Service.

I learned about the program from a 2009 RMSP classmate, did research on which parks were offering (around 29 in 2009), selected a few I wanted to learn more about through my camera and began the application process. The AIR programs offer an individual the opportunity to immerse in a park’s environment, history, community, etc. in ways that casual visits just can’t satisfy. Most programs provide accommodations in the park that run from one to three weeks during different parts of the year. Rarely is a stipend provided although some consideration may be made for materials required for the final work; the contribution of an original piece to the park on a non-exclusive, royalty-free basis is usually part of the program requirements. Other aspects usually include public presentations or involvement in park educational activities where the artist’s work enhances the public’s experience.

What did I need to apply? Most of the parks required submission of an artist statement outlining what the artist expected to gain from the residency and how the park would benefit from their work. All wanted to see samples of your work but rarely more than six images, usually printed or on CD. And of course they wanted an artist resume outlining experience, prior residencies, awards, shows, etc. The descriptions of the requirements made the whole process feel daunting – who was I to want to be considered among all the other wonderful artists from all media who would certainly apply?

Remember the first time you prepared for a portfolio review or decided to show some images to an audience or simply put together an album for friends? If you’re like me your feelings run through a cycle that starts with “I’ve got so many images to choose from,” moves quickly to “Wow, most of my stuff is just crap,” transitions to “Is this all I’ve got to show for all these days/months/years of making pictures?!” followed by “Why did I get into photography in the first place?” and lands on a very few pictures you hesitantly decide might be good enough to share. It was with these feelings I finally picked images for my AIR applications, put together a very brief resume, wrote up an artist statement and bundled them all into envelopes destined for the various parks I’d selected.

Most parks have enlisted local artists to judge the applications along with staff members of the park, balancing the interests of portraying the park’s features with a sense of the type of artists who will benefit the most from the experience. It’s easy to think of such a panel of steely-eyed critics as a formidable barrier but in reality they are looking to help artists as well as the park. Many of the artists on the panels were in the AIR program at one or more National Parks. The judging and announcement times are all outlined in the application process and I found their responses to be right on schedule.

Several rejections later (all by gracious letter encouraging me to apply again later) I got a call from Allison La Duke, the AIR coordinator at Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, NE informing me I’d been selected for one of their 2009 artists, and wanting to know when I wanted to schedule my time there. Outstanding! Not only did I get selected but by one of the parks at the top of my list (I’m still learning about the Great Plains) and one near home as well. I selected two weeks in the spring and a week in the fall so I could get different perspectives on the park and started planning my summer.

[Photos by Mel Mann; taken during his residency.]

Friday, January 21, 2011

Homestead Animals Adapt for Winter

Homesteaders were a hardy bunch of people. They endured snowstorms, drought, locust swarms, tornadoes, loneliness, failed crops and illness. If they weren’t survivors, then they probably were not successful in staying on their 160 acres for 5 years. They had to adapt to the conditions around them in order to get through many types of weather conditions and tough circumstances.

Not unlike the homesteaders, the animals that inhabit the tallgrass prairie have to find ways to survive, especially in winter. Prairie animals have a couple of options. They can stay and tough it out, leave, or miss the whole thing by sleeping it away. What would you do if you were an animal on the prairie? Who would you prefer to be: the woodchuck, who hibernates, the white-tailed deer, who remains active, or a migrating bird?

If you are an animal who hibernates, you have the ability to slow down your breathing and heart rates and your body temperature can significantly drop. In the late summer and fall, you prepare by building up fat reserves by feeding heavily. Hibernators typically spend their winter underground, by making or finding underground burrows to reside in through the winter months. Some hibernate alone, while others do so in groups.

Dickcissel at Homestead Monument. Photo by Mel Mann
 If you are an animal who migrates, depending on how far you must fly, you have to store enough energy or have places along the way to stop and refuel. Prairie birds like the dickcissel winter in Venezuela and other South American countries, but western meadowlarks only go as far south as they must to find the weather and food to survive. They go where they find the food and weather conditions that are right for them.

If you are an animal that remains awake and alert all winter, you have to be resourceful to find enough food. Your diet changes fairly significantly because the ground can be covered by snow and frozen. Birds and mammals that eat insects in the summer switch to eating seeds in the winter. Squirrels and other small mammals collect food during the fall and live off that through the winter. Cottontails and deer, who eat green leaves and stems in the summer months, eat any tender twigs and buds they can find. Mammals will grow a thicker coat, but much of their survival is dependent upon the environmental conditions and the food that they find. It’s a bit tougher for them, don’t you think?

Who would you rather be on the prairie in winter? Much like the homesteaders, the prairie animals today have strategies and adapt to the winter conditions each year to survive.

Friday, January 14, 2011

How to Legally Acquire 480 Acres from the U. S. Government

Claimants utilizing the Homestead Act of 1862 usually proved up on their basic 160 acres [quarter section] of land. This was the intent of the United States government land policies. But was it possible for one man to claim three separate quarter sections? The answer is “Yes.” Some men managed to legally acquire ownership of 480 acres.

There were three major acts passed by Congress to provide free or cheap land to settlers. The acts were designed to encourage development of newly acquired public lands:

• The Pre-Emption Act of 1841 permitted a settler to file for 160 acres [a quarter section] for a $2.00 filing fee. This privilege was open to citizens and those who had filed for citizenship. After the claimant resided on the land for six months and had cultivated and improved the land enough to show he intended to live there and farm the land, he could “prove up” by paying $1.25 per acre [$87.50].

In practice the terms were not quite so restrictive. The claimant was required to build a claim shack at least 8 feet by 10 feet, dig a well, plow five acres, and live their at least one night each month during the six months. This lenient residency requirement enabled a man to live and work somewhere else while fulfilling the legal stipulations of the pre-emption claim that he visited only periodically. After he had “proved up” and paid the fee, the land became his and he could sell it. The Pre-Emption Act remained in effect until 1891.

• The Homestead Act of 1862 was designed to encourage immigrants to become permanent settlers. Any person who was a head of a family or 21 years old and a citizen of the United States or had filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen could claim a quarter section. He or she was required to live on and cultivate the land for five years. At that time or within the next two years the claimant filed proof that they had fulfilled the legal requirements and received title to the land. If the claimant died during that time, his widow or children could continue the claim.

The settler was required to dig a well, build a house of prescribed size with a door and glass windows, put in fences, and cultivate twenty acres. This regulation also permitted a delay of six months after the initial filing before the residency requirement had to begin. During the residency, there could be no absences of more than six months per year. This type of homestead could be purchased or “commuted” after six months by paying $1.25 per acre.

Later the residence requirement before commutation was lengthened to fourteen months. Double Minimum Lands were public lands within the alternate sections granted to railways and therefore considered more valuable. The minimum price on Double Minimum Lands was $2.50 per acre.

• The Timber Culture Acts of 1873, 1874, and 1875 encouraged the planting and growing of trees on the prairie. After filing a claim on 160 acres, the claimant was required to plant forty acres of trees and then tend them for eight years, achieving this goal within thirteen years of filing. No residency on these acres was necessary. The 1878 Act reduced number of acres of trees from forty to ten.

Thus we can see how a man could legally gain three homesteads by first filing for 160 acres under the Pre-Emption Act, proving up in six months, and paying $87.50. Then he could file on a second quarter section, prove up by living on and cultivating this claim for five years. Thirdly, he could file a timber claim, plant and cultivate the required acres of trees for eight years, thus gaining an additional 160 acres. A surprising number of enterprising men accomplished this and became owners of 480 acres.

Although a man was supposed to file for only one claim at a time, the laws were loosely administered; and in some cases a man filed on all three acreages at once, moved onto the homestead claim, and then planted trees to hold the third 160 acres.

Adapted from the article Was It Possible for a Man to Legally Acquire 480 Acres from the U. S. Government? by Pamela Schwannecke Olson


Fanebust, Wayne. Where the Sioux River Bends Freeman, S. D. 1984 Pages 97-99
Potter, James E. “U. S Land Laws in Nebraska 1854-1904.” Heritage Quest July/August 1986 Pages 27-46
Schell, Herbert S. The History of South Dakota Lincoln, Nebraska. 1975 Page 174

Friday, January 7, 2011

William Holmes McGuffey and His Readers

Two of the best-known school books in the history of American education were the 18th century New England Primer and the 19th century McGuffey Readers. Of the two, McGuffey’s was the most popular and widely used. It is estimated that at least 120 million copies of McGuffey’s Readers were sold between 1836 and 1960, placing its sales in a category with the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary. Since 1961 they have continued to sell at a rate of some 30,000 copies a year. No other textbook bearing a single person’s name has come close to that mark.
By Nancy Marie Hoppe

The author of the Readers, William Holmes McGuffey, was born September 23, 1800, near Claysville, Pennsylvania, and moved to Youngstown, Ohio with his parents in 1802. McGuffey’s family had immigrated to America from Scotland in 1774, and brought with them strong opinions on religion and a belief in education. Educating the young mind and preaching the gospel were McGuffey’s passions. He had a remarkable ability to memorize, and could commit to mind entire books of the Bible.

McGuffey became a “roving” teacher at the age of 14, beginning with 48 students in a one-room school in Calcutta, Ohio. Between teaching jobs, William McGuffey received an excellent classical education at the Old Stone Academy in Darlington, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Washington College in 1826. That same year he was appointed to a position as Professor of Languages at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In 1827, McGuffey married Harriet Spinning, and the couple eventually had five children. Very little is known about the early lives of these children, although one daughter’s diary reveals that perfect obedience and submission were expected. William McGuffey spent his life striving to instill his strong convictions in the next generation. He believed religion and education to be interrelated and essential to a healthy society.

While McGuffey was teaching at Oxford, he established a reputation as a lecturer on moral and biblical subjects. In 1835, the small Cincinnati publishing firm of Truman and Smith asked McGuffey to create a series of four graded Readers for primary level students. McGuffey was recommended for the job by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a longtime friend. He completed the first two Readers within a year of signing his contract, receiving a fee of $1,000. While McGuffey compiled the first four Readers (1836-1837 edition), the fifth and sixth were created by his brother Alexander during the 1840s. The series consisted of stories, poems, essays and speeches. The advanced Readers contained excerpts from the works of great writers such as John Milton, Daniel Webster and Lord Byron.

The McGuffey Readers reflect their author’s personal philosophies, as well as his rough and tumble early years as a frontier schoolteacher. The finished works represented far more than a group of textbooks; they helped frame the country’s morals and tastes, and shaped the American character. The lessons in the Readers encouraged standards of morality and society throughout the United States for more than a century. They dealt with the natural curiosity of children; emphasized work and an independent spirit; encouraged an allegiance to country, and an understanding of the importance of religious values. The Readers were filled with stories of strength, character, goodness and truth. The books presented a variety of contrasting viewpoints on many issues and topics, and drew moral conclusions about lying, stealing, cheating, poverty, teasing, alcohol, overeating, skipping school and foul language. The books taught children to seek an education and continue to learn throughout their lives.

Even though there were originally four Readers, most schools of the 19th century used only the first two. The first Reader taught reading by using the phonics method, the identification of letters and their arrangement into words, and aided with slate work. The second Reader came into play once the student could read, and helped them to understand the meaning of sentences while providing vivid stories which children could remember. The third Reader taught the definitions of words, and was written at a level equivalent to the modern 5th or 6th grade. The fourth Reader was written for the highest levels of ability on the grammar school level, which students completed with this book.

McGuffey’s Readers were among the first textbooks in America that were designed to become progressively more challenging with each volume. They used word repetition in the text as a learning tool, which built strong reading skills through challenging reading. Sounding-out, enunciation and accents were emphasized. Colonial-era texts had offered dull lists of 20 to 100 new words per page for memorization. In contrast, McGuffey used new vocabulary words in the context of real literature, gradually introducing new words and carefully repeating the old.

McGuffey believed that teachers should study the lessons as well as their students, and suggested they read aloud to their classes. He also listed questions after each story, for he believed in order for a teacher to give instruction they must ask questions. McGuffey desired to improve students’ spelling, sharpen their vocabulary and redevelop the lost art of public speaking. In the 19th century, elocution was a part of every public occasion, and McGuffey was responsible for creating a generation of gifted orators and readers.

Although famous as the author of the Readers, McGuffey wrote very few other works. He was athletic, loved children, had a sparkling sense of humor, and enjoyed a good joke. McGuffey left Miami University for positions of successively greater responsibility at Cincinnati College, Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and Woodward College in Cincinnati (where he served as president). He ended his career as a Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Virginia. Through the hard times of the Civil War and following, McGuffey was known for his philanthropy and generosity among the poor and African-Americans. William McGuffey died in 1873, a success as an educator, lecturer and author.

McGuffey was remembered as a theological and conservative teacher. He understood the goals of public schooling in terms of moral and spiritual education, and attempted to give schools a curriculum that would instill Presbyterian Calvinist beliefs and manners in their students. These goals were suitable for early 19th century America, but not for the nations’ later need for unified pluralism. The content of the readers changed drastically between McGuffey’s 1836-1837 editions and the 1879 edition. The revised Readers were compiled to meet the needs of national unity and the dream of an American “melting pot” for the world's oppressed masses. The Calvinist values of salvation, righteousness and piety, so prominent in the early Readers, were entirely missing in the later versions. The content of the books was secularized and replaced by middle-class civil religion, morality and values. McGuffey’s name was continued on these revised editions, yet he neither contributed to them nor approved their content.

Other types of schoolbooks eventually replaced McGuffey’s. The desire for distinct grade levels, a changing society which sought less moral and spiritual content in their schoolbooks, and publishers who realized that there was greater profit in consumable workbooks, helped to bring about their decline. McGuffey’s lively texts never entirely disappeared, however, and are once again enticing children to learn and become avid readers. Schools use them frequently today to strengthen reading skills and cultivate a sense of history in young students.

McGuffey Readers played an important role in American history. Most prominent post-Civil War and turn-of-the-Century American figures credited their initial success in learning to the Readers, which provided a guide to what was occurring in the public school movement and in American culture during the 19th century. The mind and spirit of William Holmes McGuffey were most fully expressed through his readers and the moral and cultural influence they exerted upon children. The success of McGuffey’s vision is evidenced by the fact that the reprinted versions of his Readers are still in print, and may be purchased in bookstores across the country, including at Homestead National Monument of America.