A painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893). Tinkers were originally tinsmiths or “tinners”. One of many itinerant jobs pursued by a class of casual laborers. These were mostly skilled and specialized crafts like basket making, shoe repair, leather work, and metal work but many poorer workers were migrant farm labor picking hops and tending the market gardens during the peak harvest. The fellow in the image above appears to be a fairly well-off repairman mending a seam in a pot. This from a time when new items were a rare purchase.
I love deciphering images like this for the details of domestic life. Unlike most photos, there is real intention in what the artist chose to include or not in the painting. The house is clearly a poor one but a freshly killed chicken hangs from a nail on the wall by some dry roots. A handmade broom leans against the wall next to a basket that has the tradesman’s coat lying across it. The oldest daughter tends the infant while the mother stands by the laundry basin with a toddler behind. All the children look on while the novel worker plies his trade in a waistcoat and hobnail walking shoes.
Here is a painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893) of an itinerant fiddler playing for a family in a Scottish lane probably trying to make enough money to eat or maybe even receive some food for his entertainment. I can’t help but think the father looking out has a skeptical look; possibly wondering what this will cost in the end.
Music and storytelling were a very different commodity in an age of widespread illiteracy and 24 hour media. It’s hard to even imagine a time when all music was handmade and intimate and not an item to be mass marketed.
Here’s a wonderful old photograph of a “Tinker Family in Scotland.” It is believed to be taken sometime in the 1920s but the location was not identified. The wagon could just about pass for a western American sheep camp. Even thought they had the wealth to own a wagon it was still a pretty tough life, often unwanted in non-traveller (sic) communities, these people have been marginalized for centuries.
I found this one while perusing the Johnston Collection on the Document Scotland webpage. Have a look if you are interested in great images of a beautiful country.
Let us begin the winter feasting season in the old north. Not just a Scottish or Christian holy day, much of Europe is tied to animal slaughter and feast days to kick off the long dark season. From and anthropological and historical perspective the feast itself is thought to be a Christianisation of Saturnalia and Samhain festivals. Give a Scot an excuse to eat, drink, and be merry, and let the fun begin!