Thursday, March 10, 2011

Zither Music

This past Sunday we had a very special guest here in the Amana Colonies. Tomy Temerson, master zither player from Hanau Germany gave a performance at the Community Church Museum in Homestead. This was Tomy’s third visit and performance in the Colonies. Tomy is a young guy, but has played the zither for nearly twenty years, having been trained at the German State Academy for Musical Education.  He owns and operates a music publication business in Hanau, Germany, and is a performer and teacher of the zither around the world. Tomy is here in the Midwest as part of the North America Zither Gathering and will be performing for the public again Saturday March 12th at at St. Ambrose in Davenport.  When he plays here in Amana there is always a big crowd. Zither has a long history in Amana and residents are always eager to hear it perform, especially by a master like Tomy.

The Amana Colonies’ relationship with the zither began in the very early 1900s, during communal times, when music clubs began to form. In the evenings men in these clubs would gather to play zithers, guitars, mandolins and other instruments. Through the 1920s and 1930s the zither became even more popular, there being upwards of 40 people in the Colonies who played. These musicians would mostly just get together to play for each other or play for small groups of friends.  In the 1970s Willie Dietrich and his “Singing Zither” were popular in local restaurants. Willie even produced records and tapes of his zither playing that were sold in the Colonies. Today popularity in playing the zither has dwindled.

 In the past few years we have been lucky enough to form a relationship with the Davenport German American Heritage Center Zither Ensemble and rekindle interest in the zither in Amana. The people of the Amana Colonies still love to hear the zither, whenever Tomy or the Davenport Zither Ensemble performs in town we have good attendance. After the performance there is always talk about the old days, about who performed what and where.

 Though much of the zither music performed in the Colonies is German music, on Sunday Tomy performed music from Latin America and American jazz music. It was really interesting to hear the range of music types on the zither. If you missed the concert here are two video clips of Tomy playing (so you can hear what you missed out on).

The Davenport Zither Ensemble will be performing at the Homestead Church on May 15 if you would like to see the zither performed in person or go to Davenport this weekend and see Tomy and the Davenport Ensemble perform together!

Humming along in My Town: Amana Colonies

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Breakfast in the Amana Colonies

Knowing your neighbors is one of the great things about living in a small town. Being able to wave to them on your walk, say hi at the post office or here in Amana, sit down to breakfast with them. Last Friday I invited myself to eat breakfast at a local restaurant with these four local guys, who meet there every Friday morning.

The Amana Colonies is known for its great food. If you haven’t had breakfast here you are missing out. Plate sized pancakes are served with hash browns, ham or sausage or bacon, fried eggs, fruit, and English muffins with fresh jam. A huge breakfast to start your day out right! Now whether you choose this large breakfast or just a doughnut and coffee at the local gas station, where ever you go you will usually find a group of local guys (just like my four pals here) sitting around, chatting and enjoying their breakfast also.

This past Friday I listened as these guys talked about old school days, local gossip, and the Amana Society Bulletin (a local weekly, where you can find all the news you want to know about the Colonies), along with giving each other a hard time. They sure are a fun bunch of guys! George was on the original Amana Refrigeration factory crew. Bruce is the Amana Society insurance guy. Bill is the town tin smith and was a long time sheet metal worker at Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids. Norman is a woodworker who owns a furniture shop in South Amana. They all grew up in the Amana Colonies and have tales to tell. Being able to hang out with them is just another fun thing about living here in the Amana Colonies.

Eating giant pancakes in My Town: Amana Colonies

Friday, March 4, 2011

Is It Spring Yet?

Almost! Here in the Amana Colonies the majority of the snow has melted and the oxbows are starting to melt, bring all sorts of water fowl, including about two dozen bald eagles. Someone reported seeing red-winged black birds, a sure signs of spring. I even heard rumor that the Dairy Queen in Fairfax is now open for the season. I can't wait to start seeing those little bitty green rows of corn sprout up!

Warming up in My Town: Amana Colonies

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The New Guy In Town

Up until this last September the Amana Heritage Museum has been running without a curator for a while. What is a curator exactly, you might ask. Well, it depends on the institution.  At the Amana Heritage Museum the curator is the person who processes and takes care of the artifacts, archives and photographs in its collections, creates exhibits, and takes care of the museum buildings. It’s a big job!  Not having a curator at the museum has meant a little more work for everyone here and that we have had a little pile up of new artifacts that had been donated to the museum, but we have been managing for the most part.

Luckily though the Amana Heritage Museum now has a new curator. His name is Zach Row-Heyveld. He’s Dutch. His family is from Pella, but we try not to give him to hard a time about that.

 Zach is originally from Peoria Illinois, and currently lives in Iowa City and drives into Amana three days a week. Zach walked into a big job, I hope he is not too overwhelmed. Right now he is working with our artifact collection, securing and bring up to date all of the storage for it. Zach has been doing everything from putting away artifacts, sorting artifacts to making padded hangers for our clothing collection. Before he came to work here in Amana he worked at the University of Iowa Natural History Museum doing exhibit design and maintenance. So we should be getting some great new exhibits at the Amana Heritage Museum in the near future.

I asked Zach if he had found any really interesting artifacts here at the museum as he is familiarizing himself with the collection. Like a true history buff Zach likes items that show how people of the past dealt with everyday problems that we still struggle with. He finds the clothing collection interesting, for it shows this kind of problem solving. He also found a collection of 1930s glass slides that were used in a class room. They are of images from all around the world. Zach finds it interesting to look back and see how places still familiar to us today looked back then.

I also ask Zach what his favorite thing about Amana is, being a fan of architecture he said the old houses, though Millstream Brewery is also pretty high on his list too.

Zach is a big asset to the museum. Each year the Amana Heritage Museum gets hundreds of items donated that need to be taken care of. The artifacts that you see on display are just a tiny percentage of what we have here. As Zach get to know our collection better, I’m sure that you will see some fun new exhibits here at the museum. So make sure that you come on by. Not to be bias, but I think it is the first stop you should make if you ever visit the Amana Colonies.

Working hard in My Town: Amana Colonies

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hot off the Press a New Amana Novel

Have you seen the new novels that have been written about Amana? Well if you haven’t you are a little behind because this month the third book in Judith Miller’s Daughters of Amana series is coming out. A Bond Never Broken is set in South Amana during the First World War.  For Ilsa Redlich, who helps her family run the South Amana hotel, the world as she knows it turns upside down with the coming of the war. This is a tale of intrigue, friendship and faith.
Judith Miller is a prolific writer of Christian historic fiction, mostly writing for Bethany House. Many of her novels have appeared on the CBA best seller list. Recently I interviewed Judith Miller about her choice of setting her new series in the Amana Colonies and what she loves about the Amana Colonies.

Why did you choose to write about Amana?
I am really drawn to setting. I liked the idea of community, and Amana being its own world that has its own history. I was really fascinated by the communal history. I also like that the community is so open, and is willing to share its history.

How did you learn about Amana?
I have a friend that is a quilter who comes to Amana for the quilt shops. She asked me if I had ever been and when I said that I hadn’t, but always wanted to, she suggested that I visit. That I might find stories there.

What do you like best about visiting modern Amana?
The bakery! We visit both of the bakeries when we are there. We also like visiting for the festivals. I really enjoyed the history play at the Amana Heritage Museum when we visited for Prelude to Christmas. We always take home rhubarb wine. I have taken many bottles of Amana rhubarb wine to author functions.

Thanks for talking with me today Judith! Do we have any more Amana books to look forward to?
I hope to write three more books about Amana. I want to write about all seven villages, but they (Bethany House) like to publish the books in threes so, two villages will be put together in one book. I might even do a prequel.

In honor of Judith’s new release I am giving away one copy of A Bond Never Broken. All you have to do is comment on this post. Make sure that you have a link to your contact information or leave your email. The give away ends on Friday February 18 2011 at Central time. Good luck! (This give away is in no way connected with Judith Miller or Bethany House. It’s from me to you.)

Reading about My Town: Amana Colonies
This giveaway has ended. Thank you to all that entered. Our winner is...Betty! Congratulations!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Blizzard 2011: A report from South Amana

I don’t know if you heard, but we got a wee bit of snow here in Iowa last night. Looks like we received about 10 inches of snow, though it is hard to tell with all of the drifting.  At my place snow was up to the doors of my car and the lawn furniture was barely visible. Early morning was time for snow removal here in town, and I sure all around the Midwest.  Lucky for me I have a kind neighbor with a snow blower who dug out our sidewalk and my car, so I only had minimal shoveling.
 Despite the wind and the cold after my shoveling was done I decided to walk to the post office to get the mail and to see how the rest of South Amana fared the storm.  Crunching through knee deep drifts I saw a lot of people with shovels and snow blowers trying to dig out their drive ways. Around the corner from my place I ran into neighbors who were supposed to be on a flight to Texas last night. Obviously their plans were change and they spent the first day of their vacation with shovels in hands instead of drinking margaritas in the shadow of the Alamo. (They didn’t tell me their plans in Texas, but if I was going to Texas, that’s what I would be doing).

 At the post office I had a nice talk with the Postmistress. She described an adventurous ride to work on a snowmobile. I don’t think she would have made it any other way since the drive to the post office was drifted in.  Apparently there were quite the snow drifts on highway 6 early this morning and snowmobile was the only way to get into town from out in the country.

After a night of watching snow fall and hearing the wind howl it was nice to see my little village a busy little hive of snow removal. The snow has stop and so has the gale force winds, hopefully life will be back to normal tomorrow.

Digging out in My Town: Amana Colonies

Monday, January 31, 2011

Made in the USA

These days people are trying to buy American and keep it local to support local economies. I try to do my part by buying eggs from a friend here in town, shopping the farmer’s market in the summer and this year I bought all of my Christmas gifts here in town. It is amazing to think that in a town of about 1,700 people I can find such a variety of things that are made right here. Here in Amana we produce refrigerators, woolens, food, art and furniture, just to name a few.

The other day I went down to one of the places here in town where they make furniture, the Amana Furniture Shop. In the Furniture Shop’s show room I met up with the shop’s manager, Bruce. Bruce gave me the nickel tour of the shop and shared with me what they do.

Amana has always been known for fine handcrafted furniture, there are even books written about it. In the early days of Amana the cabinet makers brought designs and techniques from Germany, but eventually evolved their own style influenced by their new life in America. The Amana Furniture Shop is an extension of that tradition. Today they are housed in the old calico factory, where Amana people used to print the famous blue Amana calicos. Here there are show rooms filled with handcrafted Amana furniture and clocks. As I look through the showroom I like to think about how some of the pieces of furniture are made from trees that Larry and Tim cut down. And, as I learned on the tour, a few of the clocks are even made from wood recycled from Kinnick Stadium, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes!

My tour started out in the wood prep area. This is where they store the lumber that is used to make all of the furniture. The craftsmen in the shop use Walnut, Cherry, Oak and Maple. Poplar is also used in the millwork operation where they make trims. All of the lumber is already kiln dried and ready to use. 

 It is also here that raw lumber is cut down to specific sizes for certain projects. Gregory was running a big machine that cuts down the pieces of lumber in their proper sizes. He worked quickly and precisely, but was tricky to photograph with all his moving around. I also met Karolee here. She seems to be the renaissance woman of the shop, running around doing all kinds of different tasks, from dealing with lumber to screwing doors on to a cabinet.

As I travel through the operation there are a lot of pipes on the ceiling. Bruce tells me that these pipes are taking wood chips and wood dust that is created in the shop outside into a bin where it is collected and then given to the Amana Society farm to use. It’s full circle at the furniture shop.  I also notice that hanging in the wood prep area are pattern pieces. All pattern pieces that are used are cataloged and stored. Some of these patterns go back to the 1950s.

From wood prep we head into the area where the wood is fitted together and glued so it will make nicely patterned large piece of wood. After the wood is dry and the glue is sanded off the top it goes into the shop area. This is the area that has that yummy cut wood smell that reminds me of high school shop.  It is here that each craftsman has his own area to work in with his own tools. I was able to snap a few photos as the guys worked. David, Gary, Rudy and Ron were all on hand and were nice enough to let me take their picture. They worked busily away and tried to ignore me. I thought about letting them know about my new expertise with saws and asking if they would let me use one in the shop, but they seemed very busy and I didn’t want to slow them down.   

Each piece of furniture is made totally by one craftsman, no assembly lines here! They are even still using old world methods like double mortise and tenon joints. About half of what is made here is custom work for people around the country and around the world. The other day a clock was shipped off to Tasmania.

After the craftsmen are finished with a piece it goes off to be finished. Layers of finish are put on by Debbie. It seems to be quite the process. All pieces getting multiple coats with sanding and drying in between. After that they are all done and go to the customer, the show room or into the stock room.

Of course all tours end at the gift shop, and for me so did this one. Back in the showroom the furniture took on a different glint for me. Running a hand across a traditional walnut drop leaf table I am reminded of Amana heritage. Of pioneers seeking freedom in the American dream and how that dream still continues. With most manufacturing going off to other countries and small towns becoming ghost towns as the jobs leave, we are lucky here in Amana to still be vibrant. To be able to enjoy the benefits of living in a small town where you know who brews your beer, who grows your lettuce, and who makes your kitchen table.

Buying local in My Town: Amana Colonies