Here’s a new twist on an old Japanese folk art – painting kokeshi doll faces on matches. The original kokeshi figures, introduced a couple centuries ago, were inexpensive souvenir items that visitors to the onsen (spa) villages of northern Japan would buy to give to friends back home. (Even in California, we used to have a half dozen kokeshi, along with snow globes from New York, native American trinkets from the Grand Canyon, and seashells from Hawaii – don’t know what happened to any of them.) It’s the kind of gift that would merit a T-shirt that read: “Grandma went to the onsen and all she brought me was this wooden kokeshi.” Kokeshi dolls were distinguished by their simple rectangular torso, lacking arms and legs, and their enlarged round wooden heads, minimally painted to indicate eyes, hair and maybe a mouth or nose. (Think “Hello Kitty,” who is also missing a mouth.)
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The occasion of America’s Independence Day on July 4th offers a good time to reflect on how the Star-Spangled Banner became the official flag of the nation. It all started back in 1777. A ragtag army of American colonists was engaged in a fierce battle for independence from Great Britain. Designing an aesthetically pleasing flag to represent themselves was the last thing on their mind. Outnumbered, outspent and outmaneuvered, the Continental Congress had more urgent matters to deal with.
But an emissary from a pro-colonist Native American tribe forced Congress to act by requesting a banner of sorts to display so that scouts would not come under “friendly fire” while on missions for the Continental Army. To prove they were willing to “pay” for such a flag, the emissary included three strings of wampum. Congress hastily put a flag design on its agenda, and 11 days later: “RESOLVED: that the flag of the United states be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be 13 stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” This resolution was one of many passed that day. The committee obviously didn’t give the matter much thought, but “borrowed” liberally from several sources, including the Sons of Liberty red-and-white “stripes of rebellion” banner and the 13-star blue canton of the New Hampshire Green Mountain Boys and Rhode Island Continental Regiment.
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