Category Archives: BOLLI Writers

A showcase for members’ writing, including selections written for classes, Writers Guild, past issues of both BOLLI’s “Journal” (literary magazine) and “Banner” (newsletter). Pieces may be fiction or nonfiction and written in any genre.

MEET MEMBER QUINN ROSEFSKY AND HIS WESTERWALD CHAMBER POT

BOLLI Member & SGL Quinn Rosefsky
BOLLI Member & SGL Quinn Rosefsky

“A visit to the Robert S. Peabody Archaeological Museum in Andover on the occasion of my fiftieth reunion at Phillips Academy sparked an interest I never knew existed. The museum has a select number of exhibits dealing with North American Indigenous Cultures, but its primary purpose is the education of students from the Academy.  It didn’t take long before my wife, Susan, and I began commuting once a week to act as volunteers. Over the 6 ½ years we have been going to the museum, the scope of what I do has varied widely.  A sample of the tasks I have performed includes: sorting out the correspondence of the museum’s benefactor; cataloguing large numbers of photographs of archaeological sites; bagging 10,000 year old artifacts (arrowheads, gouges, scrapers, etc.); inventorying one percent of the entire collection of 500,000 artifacts; hunting for missing books in a library of over 10,000 volumes; and assisting with online searches. I have also been asked to contribute to the museum’s newsletter.”  Quinn contributed this item to the museum’s blog in February of this year.

 

A WESTERWALD CHAMBER POT

by Quinn Rosefsky

As a Peabody Museum volunteer for the past 6 1⁄2 years, I have had the rare opportunity to help staff members with a variety of unique and exciting tasks. Today, I was introduced to a bit of our Colonial history. The object in question is a rather attractive example of its kind, a chamber pot that survived intact from early Colonial days, preserved in a drawer in the Peabody’s basement storage. See the full catalog record online at http://bit.ly/1XVnQd3. Aside from the intrigue of its nearly pristine condition, there is the question of date of manufacture. The Boston City Archaeologist, Joe Bagley, points out that the chamber pot may be from a 1630s well on Boston’s Congress Street. Several avenues of inquiry are open, including details of the well’s exploration and if the well was ultimately used as a privy and refuse dump, a common trajectory for such a feature. But in order to take a stand on the dating issue we need to have an appreciation of the phases of use and manufacture of such pots.

The earliest chamber pots date from at least the sixth century B.C. in Greece. In the past four to five hundred years chamber pots were found in nearly every household, usually stored under beds but sometimes in dining rooms. English and Colonial lead-glazed earthenware chamber pots came in a variety of colors: brown, green, red, orange, tortoiseshell, gray, and black. There were also stoneware pots, and some of the more striking ones are known as Westerwald or Rhenish Gray (1575-1725), followed by Debased Westerwald (1725-1775), and then American Westerwald (1730s). In the eighteenth century, these pots were mass-produced.

Not to be ignored were chamber pots made of metal, the earliest example being from 1545. It was possible to assess a person’s wealth by whether or not they had silver or pewter chamber pots. But the English Civil War of the 1640s temporarily spoiled this method because the Royalists conscripted silver and pewter to make silver coinage to fund their war efforts, a practical, if unhygienic way to pay off debt using dirty money without resorting to taxes.

A chamber pot might have a tame inscription, “Break Me Not I Pray in Your Hast for I to Non will Give Destast.” Some showed less decorum, “Oh Dear Me What Do I See.”

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The chamber pot at the Peabody is gray, salt-glazed stoneware with cobalt blue cordons beneath the rim and above the base. In remarkable condition, the pot measures 6 3⁄4” wide at the opening and 6” high. There are no pithy inscriptions, but two cobalt blue bellicose lions, each one crowned, and three stamped rosettes, each filled with four spades and a central diamond, are eye- catching. These lions and rosettes have been “sprigged on,” meaning attached with separately molded designs. The rim tapers upward to a narrow “seat.” For dating purposes, it appears that mid-eighteenth century pots had wider rims. Extending out from the rim is a ribbed handle attached in a manner so that the pot won’t tip. There are no “makers” marks or dates. But comparing the chamber pot under examination with a very similar Westerwald example dated 1632 found in Ivor Noël Hume’s 2001 book, If These Pots Could Talk: Collecting 2,000 Years of British Household Pottery, we see many similarities, including the tapering of the opening, rosettes, and the sprig-applied crowned lions. A valid case can be made for a 1630s date given the similarities with Noël Hume’s text and its preservation in the Congress Street well. But there are other dating possibilities that need to be considered.

With the accession to the throne of England of William and Mary, whose reign spanned the years 1689 to 1702, they brought with them a passion for what was called the Rhenish or Westerwald chamber pot, originating in the Rhineland district of Germany. The style and patterns were very close to what we have at the Peabody, examples of what were called “grès-de-flandres.” By 1710, large supplies of these gray stoneware chamber pots with their sprig-mounted lions and rosettes were being shipped to England. Over the next fifty years, this style of chamber pot was found in most British and Colonial homes. Eventually variations were produced on both sides of the Atlantic, satisfying a combination of hygienic, commercial, and political needs. Later versions of Colonial chamber pots had variations in the rosettes, including a profile relief of George III sprigged onto the side. What better way to pay daily homage to the monarch?

So which date do we choose? In order to settle the debate, I would be happy to fly to Amsterdam with the Peabody’s Westerwald chamber pot tucked under my arm (in bubble wrap) to compare it with the one from Noël Hume’s book. As there is no inflammatory profile of George III, I doubt I would have any difficulties in case the plane had to make an emergency landing at Heathrow Airport. But budget constraints are likely to apply to such a trip and less costly research methods would pertain, such as having a debate amongst archaeological scholars. Whatever the outcome, we have the satisfaction of knowing that this chamber pot, however humble and utilitarian, played a role in the origins of Congress Street prior to its transformation into a thriving financial district.

Quinn says that “Membership at BOLLI since the fall of 2012 has been a wonderful opportunity to study and make new friends and acquaintances. The courses I have taken have all been fascinating. It’s fun to try new things and be part of groups interested in exploring and discussing a variety of topics. I have especially enjoyed The New Yorker Fiction Salon, which, for me, served as a springboard for developing and teaching two courses and acted as a strong incentive to get me to write fiction. It has also been highly rewarding to serve as a liaison from the SGSC to SGLs. And for someone like myself who has been perplexed and stymied by world events, the Current Events meetings have been an excellent way to experience clarity if not solutions.”  

 

MEET MEMBER MAXINE WEINTRAUB: Technology Gotcha?

Maxine Weintraub reading
BOLLI Member Maxine Weintraub

 

“Ever since I first fell for books,” Maxine says, “I have been a lover of short stories.  My father had a huge collection, and I was tortured with nightmares from reading “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell Tale Heart” while still in grammar school.  My older brother was a terror, so I understood “The Ransom of Red Chief” well.  And I read the complete works of W. Somerset Maugham in a small, third floor walk-up apartment in the early ‘60s when I was home alone with a newborn baby as Nikita Khrushchev was placing missiles in Cuba and aiming them at the United States.  I devoured short stories for years and then started writing my own some forty years ago.”

Stories by Maxine appear in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 editions of Maine’s Goose River Anthology available on Amazon.  She wrote “Technology Gotcha?” for an assignment in Betsy Campbell’s Fiction Writing course during BOLLI’s 2015 fall term.

TECHNOLOGY GOTCHA?

By Maxine Weintraub

Due to severe thunderstorms in the area, the flight from Phoenix to Dallas had been diverted to an Air Force base in Texas.  Tons of huge, commercial airliners were lined up on the runways, like elephants standing in a row before entering the circus ring.  Finally, the log jam opened, and they were airborne, Dallas bound.  Bumpy, but who cared? Life was going to begin for her now. She knew it.

Barbara rushed off the plane in Dallas, hurried to the nearest airport store, and purchased a throw-away cell phone.  Then, she went directly to the American Airlines waiting area until it was time for her Boston flight. The waiting area was fairly empty—two young couples sitting quite far away and one pleasant looking, middle-aged man sitting across from her on the usual uncomfortable plastic seat. He nodded and looked like he might strike up a conversation in order to pass the time.  She was not interested.  First of all, she had a most important call to make.  She had waited months for this.  And secondly, he was too young.  Probably mid-fifties.  Way too young.

She fiddled with the unfamiliar, cheap phone and dialed the number she had memorized two weeks earlier.  The time was now.

“Hello? Hello?”  The gruff voice asked for her identifying name.

“Charlotte,” Barbara told him.

“Okay. The job is done,” he growled,  “and you owe me the balance. Cash. Now.”

“Currently,” she said,  “I am stuck in the Dallas airport.  Bad weather. I have the cash with me and will give it to you when I get to Boston. Or I can drop the envelop in a mailbox.  What do you want?”

“Listen, lady. Your old man is dead.  He’s in the alley behind Beacon Street, between Clarendon and Dartmouth,  just like you ordered. Near his car.  Looks like robbery.  You owe me, and I want it now.”

“Okay, okay.”   She was shaking.  The miserable son of a bitch was dead.  No more skirt chasing for him.  No more humiliating nights for her.  And she had his money.  The hell with the prestige of being wife of the Chief of Surgery at Boston General Hospital.  She had the bucks now, and her new life could officially begin. “Okay. I’ll be in Boston in a few hours and will follow through as arranged.”

“You better, lady, or you’ll be lyin’ in the morgue next to your old man.”  He hung up.

Barbara was still shaking, both from terror and relief.  It was done. Over.  She had dealt with the under-scum of Boston to find a hit man—my God, had she really done that?—and had pulled it off.

She looked up, in a daze, at the man across the aisle.  He had been on his cell too.  Suddenly, two armed Dallas policemen were walking swiftly toward her.  “Madam, please come with us.”

“What?  What is happening?”

“Lady,” said the man from across the aisle.  “You had that phone on speaker.”

*

In her capacity as BOLLI Matters’ literary editor, Maxine is in regular touch with the SGLs who offer BOLLI writing courses, with the Writers’ Guild Special Interest Group, and with the editor of “The Journal” to solicit material to feature in our BOLLI WRITERS column.   Fiction and/or nonfiction in any genre is accepted.