French Revolution of Wine

189daae5-8765-4670-922c-53577a0ad86c5796911151789985896.jpgTo truly understand how the regions of France first began, we have to go way, way back before even Rome.  The land which came to be called “Gaul” by the Romans and is now known as modern day France, was inhabited by Celts who were cultivating the first grape vines (Vitis vinefera)(1).

Regions of France share a lot of the same sort of climates that Rome and Greece had.  So when the Romans showed up and started establishing outposts, they saw the potential.  The grapes that Rome grew shared the same sort of environment as both Olive and Fig Trees.  So when the Romans came to Gaul (France) and saw that Figs and Olives were growing in what is now the French Rivier (Mostly between Montpelier and Nice), they knew they had a huge potential for income in the wine trade.  Another indicator that grapes would grow in this region was the shared existence of the Evergreen holm oak.  A tree that grew both in Rome and France in the same climates.

Remember that Rome hadn’t been doing any invasions of Gaul yet. At this point it’s merely 60BC. Romans are establishing outposts along the coast and see the potential for more income.  When Caeser finally invades in 57BC, they really start planting all of the South of France and over time, the demand for wine back in Rome increases. (2)

By 3 AD demand is so high that new regions need to be planted and planting moves into the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions which aren’t ideal.  The regions are wetter and colder but they take the risk and it pans out.  The Gauls and Romans suffer a few lost harvests but the results far outweigh the losses but eventually, Rome collapses and Germanic Tribes start moving South into the Region.  Wine is a new concept to these tribes because normally they are far above the beer/wine line.  Wine is a difficult crop and treasured and esteemed beverage of value.

I’m not going to go through all the details of the Medieval Era but suffice it to say that wine became more developed and further increased in various Regions of France.  Wine Markets become prosperous and help distribute the interest of wine across the country and into neighboring countries.

Sharecropping was a common occurrence where landowners were approached by farmers intending to work the land and pay rent.  The Roman Catholic Church has huge tracts of land starting in 6 AD.  They derive wine for masses as income from rent and then also tax the wine sales.  Wealthy owners of private estates would pay poorly to work the land, then overcharge for supplies so that the sharecroppers were always in debt to the estate and had to continue to work.

The eventuality is that these vineyards were owned by large landowners who in turn bought up all the desireable wine regions.  The Aristocracy gained the upper hand in either taxes or ownership/wealth and as a result the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.  There was no middle class (Sound familiar?).

Well by 1789 it was Serfs Up! and after a few restructures in Upper management where some heads rolled (literally).   The remaining Aristocracy were forced to sell their parcels of land while the Roman Church escaped France all together leaving more vineyards open. (3)

Here’s the clever bit:  The revolutionairy victors broke these parcels of land into such small pieces that it guaranteed no one would ever be able to takeover again.  Some estates are so small that they only own 3 or 4 rows of a vineyard of planted grapes.  There are regions where the taste of the wine differs by merely a 100 yards apart due to the microclimates or “terior” as the French call it.  Even some of the biggest vineyards only own one side of a hill and these estates are referred to as “Monopoles“. (3)

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When the Somniers speak of wine coming from the same valley but they can tell the difference in flavor because it had grapes from the East or West side of the river, they’re not boasting.   These small plots allowed an unusual experiment to happen.  The small plots could be differentiated by mere feet, on taste and aroma alone.   The quality of the soil, the lack/abundance of sun, the lack/abundance of water, the air temperature and even if limestone was packed around the roots to maintain warmth, all affected the taste of the wine.  The batches of grapes were pressed and vinted in seperate containers.  Some vineyards wouldn’t produce enough wine beyond their own household’s needs.   So now the chemistry of the wine becomes a unique aspect.  Wines with particular subset flavors/aromas become more valuable.   These micro-vineyards can be differentiated by the nuances found in the wine.

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Earthiness may indicate it was closer to the river.  Chalkiness may be higher on the hill.  Sweetness could be dryer air at the top of a grotto vs the rich full body of the wine showing that it was in the shade of a hill.  If you know enough about the region the wine came from, you can pinpoint that bottle’s origin down to 100 ft.

Vineyards here in the New World are large sprawling endeavours and the grapes from all these vineyards tend to be thrown in together and you get this amalgamation of wine which hides many flaws but at the same time dulls the high points as well.  Thinking further in, the wine is easier to create a consistent product with when such large volumes of grapes a crushed together vs the small batch wines you’re more likely to see from East Coast Vineyards (due to the smaller sizes/”terior”)  against the large Mondavi Sprawling Vineyards of the West Coast.

In the Paneling process, we should be asking the origin of the grapes to find out if it came from a grape coop or a specific small vineyard.  +1 Points for Small Vineyard Wines that can be origin certified (smalle vineyard source/small grape collection from specific source like a neighbors grape vine or environment of the grapes from a vineyard itself).

To Be Continued……

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

  1. History of French Wine  / en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_French_wine.
  2. https://www.grapesandgrains.org/2017/06/french-wine-regions-and-history.html
  3. N.Plack, ‘Liberty, Equality and Taxation: Wine in the French Revolution’ Social History of Alcohol and Drugs 26:1 (2012)

Results of the 2020 Hop Replant

Hello Followers,

Hope none of you are suffering from the Covid Virus which is still floating around on the cusp of our 2nd wave. We’ve barely scratched the surface but hopefully things will start straightening out in another six months. Who knows.

But that’s not why I’ve posted today. As I’ve mentioned previously, this year we brought the Hops back to Year One by removing the old roots, re-invigorating the ground, clearing the weeds and then replanting the rhyzomes. We got some interesting results.

First we had a little problem because I didn’t realize my wife and daughter had planted Sunflower Seeds next to the hops between the Sun and the Trellis. This led to a delayed response in hop production. We got a lot of early morning sun due to the trees being cut but the later day sun was blocked by the growing Sunflowers which did fantasticly

Bees collecting next years Mead ingredients

I knew we’d get a bad selection of hops this year to start off with but it was a mixed bag. Each hop I got was as fat around as a quarter but the bulk of the production was only 3 of the 22 plants.

10.9 oz of hops

Pretty impressive crop for 3 plants. I’m curious why the other 18 didn’t produce (although a couple of them were devistated by japanese beetles) we can probably acredit some of the missing production to the drought we had. Although I was rigorous with the water, it seemed the ground was very dry all the time. I’d wait till end of day in the hopes that more moisture would be retained by the soil but those 95F degree days would evaporate it again.

When the heat wave finally broke, most of the plants only stood about 4 feet tall at best. The 3 that produced were closer to 8 but still sprouted very low. We are now at the point where the sun is lower in the sky and thus more of the house shadow is covering the garden area. I may relocate the hops again toward the back hill once my bar project is done.

You can see how the sunflowers are blocking most of the direct sunlight. Those plants will have to go next year. The hops are barely as tall as the Sunflowers. Look at how much rope is still available.

If the hops do stay in they’re current location, I will probably be killing the weeds with a thick layer of cardboard between plants and a good refill of composted soil and sheep dung to help keep more moisture and nitrogen near the hops. No matter what, the Sunflowers are going to be relocated.

Should the hops be relocated, it will probably be to the back yard where the hill will need some major landscaping to keep the dirt around the roots/rhyzomes. It will afford more sun during the summer time as long as none of the trees expand thier coverage to the West of my property.

SINGLE LOOPED HANDLE ROMAN GLASS PITCHER — Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection

31R Single Handle Pitcher of Allaire Collection Remark: The natural color of blue-green glass used on this delicate pitcher has virtually no weathering and appears as it would have looked just after being manufactured in the First Century. The simple ovoid body is accented by a ring base. The precise looped handle is beautifully […]

SINGLE LOOPED HANDLE ROMAN GLASS PITCHER — Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection

Brewing beer may be an older craft than we realized in some places — Ancientfoods

Grain cell changes from malting help identify which ancient populations crafted local brews By Maria Temming Science news.org Microscopic signatures of malting could help reveal which prehistoric people had a taste for beer. Ancient beer is difficult to trace, because many of beer’s chemical ingredients, like alcohol, don’t preserve well (SN: 9/28/04). But a new […]

via Brewing beer may be an older craft than we realized in some places — Ancientfoods

SQUARE ROMAN GLASS BOTTLE — Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection

Square Roman Bottle of Henk-Martin Goldschmidt collection Date: 1st century AD Dimensions: Height: 10.4 cm, 5.4 cm x 5.4 cm, Weight: 89 g Description: Bottle or jug of translucent sea-green glass. Square body with horizontal shoulder, rounded to the four straight walls. Cylindrical neck. Flaring mouth with inwardly folded rim. Solid and very wide strap […]

via SQUARE ROMAN GLASS BOTTLE — Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection

Hop Redesign 2020

My posting has been reduced a bit due to the Coronovirus issues around us.  Access to places which carry supplies for brewing are considered “Non-Essential” thus some of my projects have been pushed to the background.  On top of this, I have all the alcohol beverages made last fall filling kegs that normally are available by now for new product.  Some of that batch is turning because I don’t even have enough containers to move it into secondaries.  Fall was very prosperous, Spring, not so much.
So we move into my prep phase for this next year’s brews.  Case in point, i’m going to talk about new trends with the Hops (yes, I know this is like getting Rick Rolled every year).

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2012  Batch (The eventual goal again!)

Roughly 20 years ago, my friend Magnus welcomed me to town with a couple of rhyzomes from his hop plants in his yard.  He told me they were Tettnanger (one of the 4 noble hops) and I immediately planted it in the corner of my garden that year with sticks for it to climb.  I had a small crop but over the following years it kept increasing until I maxed out in 2012.

Each year there after the batches have become smaller and smaller until this last year where we had only the small bowl full you see in front.  That was enough for one brew session and then it was gone.  Over the years, the trees on that side of the house were getting thicker and taking up more sun causing long periods of shade in the morning.  By Noon, the hops got a mere 2 hrs of direct sunlight and then by 3 pm the house was blocking the base of the hop plants and by 6pm the sun was lower than the tree line.  We also had a bit of a drought in 2017 and lets face it, the ground these plants were in were going on 19 years without replenishment to the soil.  Hops are notorious for sucking nitrogen and any nutrients.  Pair that with a lack of water and it was clear something needed to change this year.

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We had a bit of work ahead of us. The grass had gotten an early start. I first had to clear the clover and all it’s various weed friends.  There was a lot of alehoof growing in there as well which took it as it’s personal job to carpet the area.  I knew this would choke out any hops from succeeding so I spent my entire Saturday afternoon searching and cutting huge clots of grass/alehoof from the ground, shaking out the dirt and tossing it to expose the depleted earth below it.  Along the way shoots of hops were popping up and required some creative lawn surgery to remove the hop, stick it into a temporary pot and shake the dirt out of the clump of weeds before overhand tossing it into the compost pile.

I’ve repotted each of the rhyzomes to encourage their own growth.  With a generous 20200506_194623132025458792670773.jpgamount of fresh soil and water, they are outside gaining some independence while i’m prepping the ground they’ll eventually go back into.

I’ve also decided to claim more space in the garden.  Up to this point, I’ve had a 8×8 plot where the hops have held their own.  As you can see in the picture, we now have about 21 rhyzomes that could use more space and would allow us to extend the number of strings we run.  With 21 strings, we’re looking for enough space that 3 rows of 7 can be 20200507_1253067095809989209119789.jpg20200506_1946079204089258540628735.jpgset up without competing for what little sun they normally get.  Now instead of the North/South orientation, we’re going to do an East/West run which will hopefully get more sun to the plants. With a generous dose of sheep fertilizer and a good watering, it’s all ready for the rototiller to come through and mix it together.  After which, we’ll replant the hops and our season will be fruitful but probably another small batch year as new ryzomes tend not to produce a lot of hops their first year.

Yes, we’ve effectively brought ourselves back to year 01 but with more plants.

At the other end of the garden is our lone over achiever which has been started on the tripod again.  This plant is almost always submerged in a puddle of water but it’s farther back and tended to not be in the shade of the house or tree line, producing a much better crop from year to year.

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Check back in September when we see what kind of harvest is produced.

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Bad Beer Economy? Have a Plague!

Image result for Black Plague

With all the talk of the Coronavirus being the next big “Plague” to sweep the earth, I got to thinking about how Plagues in the past had effectively changed the way beer is produced, drank and enjoyed today. I know Morbid right? Work with me here.

Monasteries were some of the first large scale brewers in England and used the production of Ale to finance their Church. In some cases the Church received grain as tithes from farmers. Wheat, Barley and Dredge were predominate styles of Ale before the Black Death of 1300s. Dredge was barley and oats planted together but not mixed after harvesting. Whether they were added to the brew at different points is unclear but the combination would make for a dark creamy beer not unlike an Oatmeal Stout without the hops, depending on recipe.

After the Black Death Wheat was grown less, Barley was more drought tolerant so it increased and production of Dredge was more for the workers but also saw reduction after the Plague. After the Black Death, later than 1350 Barley production is reduced by half. Wheat production is down to 1/3 and oat production is no longer used for beer but now as a foodstuff. It was less desireable and probably used as horse fodder. Prices for these grains are reduced and the amount of help available means that grain has to be harvested quickly or rot in the fields. Even after the harvest, the grains can rot in poorly built storage or perhaps last longer if properly built silos owned by the Church are able to store them.

A variety of malts were used by the Abbeys of England before 1350. Relatively minor brewing grains were: wheat, oats, and a wheat-winter oat mixture known as sprigetum. It’s estimated that only 4% of the wheat was being used for beer. 59% from barley and 5% from oats. Rye was used in less than 5% of the priories but was more popular in making beers outside of England in Scandanavia and German regions.

Malts purchased by lords of the Monastic estates received 5-18% of their grains from the market while 10% was obtained from tithing by farmers and the rest from their own estate lands. Relatively minor brewing grains were: wheat, oats, and a wheat-winter/oat mixture known as sprigetum.

Half of this grain was being malted onsite. Of this grain, 22% was Barley, 22% was a mix of 2 grains (maybe barley and oats) and the other 6% was a variety of grains (most likely grain from smaller estates grasping whatever grain they could get to make beer/ this could also be evidence of flavor profiles being developed).
Norwich Cathedral in the 1300s saw only barley based beer where Cantebury Cathedral enjoyed both barley and oat beers. While Glastonbury had 4 beers made from wheat, oats, dredge, and barley. Dunstable Priory in Bedfordshire brewed three kinds of ale: dominica cervisia, secunda cervisia, and tercia cervisia (third ale), otherwise known as cervisia servientium vel carettariorum (servants’ or carters’ ale). Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire, there were as many as four ranks of ale: bona/conventualis, mixta (a mixture of conventualis and secunda), secunda (known as “lag”) and tercia, (also known as “Wilkin le Naket,” most likely a Middle English form of “Naked William,” possibly the earliest recorded evidence of an ale/beer name in England.

Even up to the 14th century, these Religious Institutions were wary of purchasing grains from the market. At their height around 1400, only 20% of the grains came from local markets where inventory may not have met requirements in quantity, quality and obtainability. Small batches would cost more and the percentage of waste was almost non existent due to being able to produce their own wet product of beer. Some of the secular small brewers would set prices considered high or outlandish for the portion size allotted. In 1316, the Mayor and Aldermen of London declared:

Proclamation that no brewer nor brewster nor any one else sell a gallon of ale for more than 3 farthings and at a penny, and the best at three halfpence. Any one convicted of doing the contrary shall at first lose his brew, at the second offence abjure the trade, and at the third abjure the City for ever

At this same time, the occupation of making beer was changing from the Ale-wife or Brewster to the Male dominated Brewing houses which were in the occupation to make a profit. This gave rise to “Tipplers”, beer sellers who did not make their own beer, that started showing up in market areas. The pricings of grain drops dramatically because of an overage of supply but the brewers can still charge the same for beer as they did before the plague. Laws kept these Tipplers from hawking their wares before the Plague in Liber Albus 1419. These salesmen could move more product travelling around locally much like the milkman your parents had. This allowed the brewers to concentrate on brewing more beer. This in turn drew the house servants into working for the brewery and creating a larger business thus pushing the Alewives and Brewsters out of the business completely. They were still producing for themselves but no longer was there an additional income by selling excess beer from the families stores before it turned bad.

As the production grew, Alehouses sprang up in towns where the Tipplers would sell their product, insuring a steady supply of beer. One brewer, named John Kep, was producing 1500-2000 gallons a beer per week to keep up with the demand.

Alehouses, Taverns and Inns should not be confused. Taverns tended to be more related to the wine trade with some Taverns serving only wine. These establishments had better reputations than Inns or Alehouses as being more refined establishments. Inns had more space and were equal opportunity with beer and wine but also tended to serve food. Throw in the option for accomidations and they were more like a full service hotel. Alehouses were neither Inns nor Taverns. The Alehouses carried only beer and were polar opposite of Taverns with wine. If they did serve food it was more akin to todays pretzels and peanuts on the bar. A later offshoot (during the 1800s in New Orleans) were barrelhouses which had alcohol of a questionable nature served “in barrels” where the base alcohol might make you go blind and it was classified as wine (which might have been blended with fruit) Whiskey (cut with tar) and Brandy (mixed with Sulphuric Acid) where no conversation was allowed. You came in, drank your drink and got out.

Alehouses continued to gain the upper range of popularity until the 15th century. London’s city officials found a way to make their cut by both enforcing a curfew on how late these locations could be open and started taxing the alehouses based on their sales. They also went so far as to regulate pricing for a gallon of Ale and a series of fines for breaking these laws.

The use of hops which had been introduced back in the 9th century really didn’t start taking hold until the end of the 13th century. With more production, came more waste product. Brewers were using spent grains and spent hops to make weaker beers that even with the hop as preservative was less flavorful, more bitter and didn’t last as long. The only benefit was a lower price which really only benefitted the prorprietor of the business as extra income. These were sometimes referred to as “Small beers” which was a slippery term used for second sparge beers, flat beer, beers with no hops and beers with lower alcohol content (also referred sometimes referred to by Germans as churl/kindre beer). Regulations in London favored the Ale brewer who’s wares could be released in a matter of days vs Beer brewers who had to wait almost a month before their product was ready. It also required that the beer brewer have more equipment, storage and servants due to the longer time frame.

The beginning of the 14th century showed Barley being malted mostly in the Southern regions of England while in London a combination of oats, wheat and mixed grains. Again we see “Dredge” being created and used.

By the end of the 13th century, beginning of the 14th century, England’s countryside had embraced hopped beers while London tended to be stubborn about their “ale”. Hopped beers in London were only produced from foreign breweries (mostly Flemish) and suffered some threats so much that Henry VI took matters into his own hands by enacting laws to protect the foreign brewers. Along this same time Cider started to fall out of favor and because of England‟s siege of Rouen in 1418, the need for beer that could travel greater distances, punted the hopped beer into the forefront of the skirmish.

So maybe the Coronavirus won’t be such a bad thing? It can only improve the beer!

Image result for Death drinking a beer

Bibliography:

1) Ale Production and Consumption in Late Medieval England, c.1250–1530: Evidence from manorial estates by Philip Slavin / article from the Medieval Science, Technology, & Art AVISTA FORUM JOURNAL Vol 21.1/2 (2011)

2) THE BEGINNINGS OF BEER: LARGE SCALE BREWING IN THE EUROPEAN NEOLITHIC AND ITS IMPLICATIONS Anton Vershay, B.S.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 2017

3) THE CITIE CALLS FOR BEERE: THE INTRODUCTION OF HOPS AND THE FOUNDATION OF INDUSTRIAL BREWING IN LONDON
1200-1700 By KRISTEN D. BURTON

Off the Beaten Path

All roads lead to Rome,

………or so I’ve heard.  Even the tracks used for railroad trains here in the USA are based off a common standard road design set way back in Roman Empire .

So it should probably be no surprise that my Roman Wine transitioned into a temporary interest in other things Roman.  Case in Point:  Over the years I’ve been collecting a large pile of various tiles in my shed which were used as a spring time side project.   I’ve done a rather amateurish job of decorating the back  steps of my deck with a new picture every year:

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the design lasts most of the summer and fall, then winter destroys it and spring brings another design.  Up until last August it was a temporary amusement.  After my Roman Wine scored so well at Pennsic, I decided to take a short break from brewing and concentrate on some of my house issues.  Something was nagging at the back of my brain.  Ooooh! The Tile saw I got for Father’s Day was suddenly in need of attention.

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It started to become quite the obsession over the Fall and Winter.  Every day early in the morning and during lunch I’d run downstairs to slice the tiles into lengths and then used the nippers to chop them into the tiles (Tesserae)(1). The Romans would use whatever aggregate was available locally.  Most of the time this was granite but hardened clay, various other stones, glass and precious gems were used in creating the patterns and designs wanted by wealthy house owners for their lavish parties.

To shape these stones to the proper size, Mosaic Floor Masons would have slaves and apprentices shaping the stones using a special Mosaic Hammer with a Hardie (metal spike mounted in a block of wood)(2).

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The worker would break the materials down into small enough pieces using hammers and saws, then refine the shape and size using the hammer and hardie.  The trick was that the tesserae were created by cutting the flat surface in half and half again until the proper size was met.  These sizes varied depending on the complexity and the size of the mosaic design.  Tiles could be as big as 4×4 inches in elaborate designs weaving colors together,  or as small as a single dot (°) to get the kind of details which show depth and contour (3) on the characters.

Image result for mosaic border patternsA close up of the Profane Museum's "unswept room" mosaic in the Vatican.

As I was trying to do this on the cheap and these would be my first two pieces, I felt it was probably in my best interest to keep it fairly simple.  As such, I chose two designs that would be easier to create using the tiles from the shed:

First was a Mosaic with a Peacock and Flowers
3rd–4th century Roman or Byzantine made in North Africa (approximately).

No photo description available.

Many of the colors were already available to me except for the white background which I chose to replace with an electric blue color instead.  I felt the bird would stand out more and where my tiles would look newer, the design would not be considered a forgery.

The technique used for this would be the “Forward Facing” method where a surface was created like a subfloor of stone upon which a layer of mortar was laid and the tiles would be applied to the surface before the mortar set.  Any sections that weren’t complete would have to be scraped away due to the fact that the mason couldn’t guarantee the mortar mix would be the same.

The second piece I would do would be a much smaller piece and would be done using what is called “The Reverse” or “Blind” Method.

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The Burnt Church in Hippos depicts a small bird as part of the floor pattern.  “Reverse or Blind”  technique later used by the Romans in the Hellenistic Age (4).  This process was used to help make flat surfaces more even.  Mosaic patterns would be done upside down so the facing of the tile/tesserae would be flush with the surface, and the mortar/grout would fill in from the backside creating a surface that was even and could be leveled by the addition of more or less mortar between the mosaic plate and the sub-flooring.  This technique can be seen used in modern mosaic plating today.

The third method is the “Double Reverse/ Double Blind/ Ravenna Technique” (5) which we are not using here.

So back to our project.  Now that I’ve chosen my originals, it was time to start working with the tiles.  I wanted this to be transportable so it was quickly decided that using a piece of birch plywood would be the best option as a backer for the artwork.  Thin and strong enough to support the tiles and grout but still light enough to transport.

It was brought to my attention that a skim layer or “thin coat” of mortar on the board would better secure the tiles to the board.  So I did a little experiment.  I took a scrap piece of the plywood and then cleared a spot where I left one part without the thin coat and the other with a thin coat applied.  Then I adhered a tile to each spot with a bit of mortar and let it set overnight.

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As you can imagine, the tile without the thin-coat layer under it was torn off the plywood with very little effort.  The thin-coat layer mounted tile took a bit of effort to remove.  Unfortunately this experiment didn’t seem to kick in when i was working my first part of the project.

Tiles assembled, I started the design of the Peacock mostly by comparison of the original picture and counting the number of tiles used in each section of the bird until I got my final design:

 

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After the initial design was laid out, I went back through and tweaked the picture so that it would be a bit thinner.  For some reason my peacock looked more like a Thanksgiving Turkey, but removing a couple lines of tile thinned it right back out again and I went through and applied mortar to the back of each tile “buttering” the tiles, gluing it to the board (This is why the thin-coat option didn’t happen).  The design was completed and a layer of thin-coat was used to cover the rest of the board so the remaining blue tiles would have a better grip.  After the background tiles are adhered, the grout will be applied.

Another thing that has played a big part in this project is tesserae thickness.  When you see a display of mosaic floors they give you a scale of width and length but height of the tile is a huge part of the creation.  It’s especially noticeable when doing “Forward Facing” pieces.

As I mentioned before the Peacock was done doing the “Forward Facing” method.  Flat surfaces benefited more with the “Reverse” or “Blind” method but you can’t use that technique when you have curved surfaces such as this Baptismal Font

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Baptismal Font

These kinds of surfaces required a supply of loose tesserae of a variety of colors, lots of mortar and a great deal of patience for creating all the designs incorporated into the surface.  The Forward Method can work around angles and curves and several individuals would have been cutting tiles to fit the shapes around the edges.  Height or thickness of the tesserae make the surface uneven and harder to grout without lumps in the picture.

Due to the fact I was now at a stopping point before it’s showing at Birka, I decided for comparison I would do the smaller bird using the “Reverse” or “Blind” method.  It started off fairly easy.  I did the same thing with the tiles as I did for the peacock where I created the design by counting tiles by color and displaying the pattern forward so I could see all the pieces before they were reversed.20191120_0820267084944704962166016.jpg

Being a smaller pattern, I only needed about a third the tiles and after the designed was laidd out I was able to take some special glue mesh cloth that I had from a previous job and adhere the parts directly to the mesh.  In period they would have used cloth with bees wax to obtain the same results.  The tiles were adhered by pressing through the wax paper backing.  It was flipped over and I created a frame border so that the mortar could be applied over the tiles and let dry for 36 hrs.

Then Tragedy struck.  It appears the mortar, which I had left in the shed for over 2 years, did not retain it’s solidifying capability over that time.  I can only imagine that moisture and cold first solidified and then broke the mortar powder so it was virtually useless.  The mosaic was flipped, the glue mesh was removed and the parts began to crumble.  You couldn’t even grab a corner of the mosaic without it crumbling in your hands.

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Strangely enough Baroness Megan had posted a thought provoking article about knowing when to destroy your work and start over again.  Timing is Everything.   I took this as a guiding message and went back and separated all the tiles from the rotten cement, cleaning them and reassembling the entire picture row by row.  I think my form of “Reverse” method was probably more true this time because the process was far more time consuming.  The first attempt took only a couple days (about 4 hrs) up to the point where it was back on the glue mesh paper.  Second time was across 2 week (20 hrs) between examining the pattern, scraping the tile clean of old mortar, placing it in the new framework along with all the filler tiles.  Fresh mortar and 36 hrs later:

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The new mixture made a much stronger backing and it was fairly easy to flip, clean and then mount onto a smaller backing board to guarantee it wouldn’t break if too much pressure was put directly against the surface.

So now, when you run your hand across the mosaic, except for the edge, there’s a fairly level, even surface. This “Plate” would be put in place on the floor by backing it with a thick layer of mortar that gets squeezed out the edges and scraped away so it becomes a permanent part of the floor in one level surface.

 

Today is the Birka event here in the Barony of Stonemarche.  The “Reverse” method picture is displayed as an example of a newer technique while I work on placing the background onto the peacock picture.  I’ve got mostly the electric blue tesserae which I’m “buttering” (applying adhesive/mortar) to the backside of each tile and affixing them to the previously thin-coated surface.  I’m going to try and avoid the grid style I used on the “Reverse” method piece.  I want a more random direction similar to the original piece.

More details after the event will be added to this post.  Wish me luck.

 

 

Bibliography:

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tessera

(2) http://www.mosaics.wildgeckos.com/mosaic-masterclasses-at-kings-college-london-day-1/

(3) https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/what-is-in-profane-museum-vatican

(4) https://www.mused-mosaik.de/en/2014/05/09/teamwork-iii-hllenistic-mosaic-in-reverse-method/

(5) https://mosaicschool.com/art/double_reverse/

(6)

Ancient Drunkards

Greek merrymakers painted on a Boeotian black-figured kantharos, c. 575-550 BC, attributed to the Painter of Berlin. The kantharos shows one side with five nude komasts (drunken revelers) moving to the right, the first four dancing with one leg raised, the lead komast playing the aulos, a sixth komast to the left holding a kantharos in his right hand; the other side with six nude komasts moving to the right, four dancing with one raised leg, one holding the handle of a rounded-bottom jar, a kantharos on the ground before him, the second to last with his head turned back, details in added red, with rays on the foot.