|Cover image on Harper's Weekly, February 13, 1869|
Vince and I have been having an ongoing discussion into whether any aspect of the sub-hobby of making miniature buildings for model railroads has any folk art roots - it came up again in a discussion about Samurai Crafts. Folk art miniature buildings isn't an established category, and I must admit to basing my thoughts about this on a single book, American Folk Art Buildings: Collection of Steven Burke & Randy Campbell, which isn't a good thing to do, but I find they make a compelling argument, and it's a good starting point for some investigation.
In the Burke & Campbell book they mention a story that appeared on the cover of the February 13, 1869 issue of Harper's Weekly. The magazine's cover shows a picture of man, surrounded by his family, making a model of a house. Under the picture it says, MODELING A HOMESTEAD - [See Page 105.]. It turns out that 151 years later, page 105 can be found in Google Books. I was hoping to find some instructions on how to build the little model, maybe giving some fodder for the folk art argument, but here's what I found,
The group represented on our first page is very suggestive. During the long winter evenings what occupation can be more interesting to the family gathered about the fireside than that of "modeling a homestead?" The first question with birds - the first problem they set about solving - is that of nest-building. With every frugal lords, or shall we build for ourselves, and upon our own plans, such as our several necessities and our tastes suggest?
The freedom from thraldom of rent is in itself a great end to be secured. But this is by no means all. The homestead, which is the outward and material symbol of the spiritual significance of home, should become ours no simply by legal possession; it should be an outgrowth from our own souls, stamped with the impress of our own thoughts. The robin can not build a nest for the swallow; and why should Mr. Boodle or Mr. Coddle build a homestead for you or me?
Of course we may need to consult those who are more experienced than ourselves as to materials best adapted to certain ends, as to cost, or as to the practicability of our plans, considering the means at our disposal. But every good housewife knows exactly what sort of kitchen or pantry would suit her best. Every family can agree as to what would be the nicest kind of parlour for itself, or what kind of sitting-room would precisely meet its ideas of comfort and cheerfulness. Even the hall can have a sort of individuality impress upon it, so that the first entrance of a stranger would disclose some hint as the taste of the occupants. The size of the bedrooms and the character of their finishing; the convenience and abundance of closet-room; the number, arrangement and shape of the windows; the style of portico or piazza; every thing, in fact, from the floor of the cellar to the chimney-top is a subject for mature deliberation, and the exercise of individual tastes. The house we live in, not less than the garments we wear, should furnish some indication of our predilections.
The first thing is the determination to build; such a purpose will furnish an additional motive to economy and thrift. The comes the planning - the delicious occupation of many pleasant hours spent in family consultation. Even the youngest members of the household are interested, and may participate in the work.
The outlined sketches of plans on paper are by no means satisfactory. Therefore our group in the illustration prefers modelling. This may be done either by the use of wooden blocks or of cardboard; the latter being more convenient, because more easily managed. In this way a perfect model can be shaped of the future homestead. It is a happy little fireside company, which we recommend to our readers. Let us hop that the house will not only be modeled but built, and that it will shelter those who will always be as ready to co-operate with and help each other as they do now in this "modeling of a homestead."