Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Utilitas & Venustas

After reading Elizabeth Royte's Garbage Land recently, I have been thinking about ways in which refuse has been used in new ways. The Oxford (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom) City Museum collection includes a portion of early municipal paving that made use of slaughterhouse waste, oxen bones, primarily vertebrae (detail, shown above left).

Then one finds much later (stylized) appropriations of the visual form of the vertebrae sections, as ornamentation in Oxford, such as those seen on the engaged columns at the entrance to Queen's College (shown below).

Of course, other animal discards were employed for the building trade. The protein collagen, derived from fish, animal bone and skin, was utilized in baroque-era Poland as the binding compound in faux-marble stucco. In New Orleans and elsewhere in the United States, old plasterwork frequently contains horse hair as additional reinforcement. To read the National Park Service Preservation Brief on repairing historic flat plaster walls and ceilings, click here.

Aunt Aggie's Bone Yard in Lake City, Florida was a popular tourist attraction for families in the early twentieth century. Aggie Jones (died 1918) was a former slave who created this natural history and botanical garden on property she and her family purchased after emancipation. Bones supported by wires were used to create archways and trellises ornamenting a white sand pathway. The garden was demolished after her death, and a school now stands on the site.

Dr. Paula Lee has edited a new interdisciplinary book addressing 19th-century slaughterhouses, titled Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse (U New Hampshire Press, 2008). Lindgren Johnson's chapter, "To 'Admit All Cattle without Distinction': Reconstructing Slaughter in the Slaughterhouse Cases and the New Orleans Crescent City Slaughterhouse" will be especially of interest to readers here.

Oxford images above taken 07.2007 by K. Rylance. Aunt Aggie's Boneyard, c. 1915 from Images of Florida's Black History/Florida Memory Project of the State Archives of Florida. Click here for more.

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