Happiness in Simplicity

A LITTLE CARAVANNING HISTORY

At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the young artist Frances Jennings became a semi-invalid and was advised by her doctor to spend as much time as she could in the open air.  Being a Victorian lady at loose ends, the obvious choice was to take to the open road.  Her simple rig and a good spirit served her well.  As described by J. Harris Stone:

She is extremely delicate, partially paralysed, and her doctor told her that she should practically live in the open air. Being of an active and practical mind she set to work to see how she could, within her means, carry out the drastic requirements of her medical adviser.  She joined the Caravan Club, and all the assistance, in the way of pitches and introductions, was of course afforded her. Her desire was to take to the road and live altogether in the open air in rural parts of the country. Her cart—it can scarcely be called a caravan—she describes as “strange and happy-looking.”  It is four-wheeled, rather like a trolley, and painted bright blue, with a yellow oilskin hood—something like a brewer’s dray in shape.

caravanningcampi00stonrich_0087 - Version 2

Beauty in a caravan is in the eye of the beholder.

“I carry,” she tells me in one of her letters from a pitch in a most out-of-the-way spot in rural Gloucestershire, ”a hamper of food, and one of soap and brushes and tools, etc., and a box of books, a small faggot of wood for emergencies and a gallon can of water.  I have a covering of sheepskins with the wool on them, and a sack of oats, bran, chaff, hay, or something to feed my little ass upon.  Also I keep in a sack the donkey’s brush and comb and chain, etc., and the harness when not in use.  I do not generally travel after dark, but if overtaken by dusk I hang out my candle lantern.”

caravanningcampi00stonrich_0087

Cooking over a campfire with the ubiquitous fire hook.

“…I build immense fires. That constitutes a great happiness to me. I have a kettle-hook and hanging pot, and I buy food in the villages.  At the farms I find a plentiful supply of milk, fruit, honey, nuts and fresh vegetables. I build the fire just by the cart, with the donkey near at hand.”

Described in her first year on the road, she “sleeps in the covered cart, and she carries a few straight rods with her to drive into the ground on her pitch, on which she hangs squares of sacking across as a screen to keep off the gaze of curious watchers when she wants to sit by the fire ” and dream, and not be the object of their gaze.”

In her own Walden experience, things were not always easy or perfect.  “I find great excitement, in the winter, in hearing the storms raving around me in the black of night… I feel my present outfit and way of getting along is very far short of perfection!… at present it is rather by the skin of my teeth that I manage to exist amid the elements of wind and rain and cold and space.”

campfireandpipeSpeaking of her time with the more traditional travellers, she says: “They have spoken like poets, worn silver rings on their copper hands and rosy beads around their necks; and their babies have round little twigs of hazel-nuts in their red hands.  And perhaps the roof of their cart has been on the sea—the sail of a ship.”

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Wyoming Sheepherders

Today, it’s sheep camps from Wyoming from the Wyoming Tales and Trails webpage.  Great photos and some good information about Western history.

Note the important things; wood stove, wash pan hanging on the door, the big tub sitting outside, and a fiddle for company.  I could spend a good chunk of my life like this!

Another sheep camp, dog included.

This camp is downright crowded with two wagons.

Although the site is a bit difficult to navigate, there is a lot of information about western history to be found there.  Have a look around.

http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/

Wyoming Sheepherders Again

 (from the Paleotool vault)

Sheep camps from Wyoming from the Wyoming Tales and Trails webpage.  Great photos and some good information concerning everything “western.”

I could spend much of my life like this!

A self-contained base camp in a sheep wagon provides a cozy home on the prairie.

A beautiful culmination of cultures a innovations created this iconic American living arrangement.  We can learn a lot from these designs today.

The Wyoming Tails and Trails website contains a lot of other information about western history along with more than 100 photos.  Have a look around and get a feel for the old west.

http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/

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More Historic Caravans in Art

Copyright The Munnings Collection at The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Copyright The Munnings Collection at The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum.

Here are a couple final Alfred Munnings images of Romani caravans in an English countryside.  As a keen observer, he definitely caught the important details of each type of caravan and the essentials of camp life.  The watercolor above is somewhat unusual for Munnings as it shows no animals, people, or campfire.

alfred-munnings-gypsy-encampment

Alfred Munnings.

Above is a rarely shown rounded square-top among other carts and caravans with livestock milling about.  The variety detailed in these historic images should be helpful for those desiring to design and build a similar living accommodation.  The previous post gave a glimpse of Laura Knight’s work on the subject and her subjects are remarkably detailed and informative.

Gypsy Camp, ca 1938, Dame Laura Knight.

Gypsy Camp, ca 1938, Dame Laura Knight.

This is one of my favorite scenes of a camp in the countryside; two beautiful ledge wagons and a marquis tent in a field.  I could picture this in a high parkland of the Rocky Mountains.  Many people don’t know that the outlier tent, awnings, and tarps are almost ubiquitous with the old caravans.  This allows for a very flexible and expandable living arrangement or a sheltered kitchen area.

Young Gypsies 1937, Dame Laura Knight.

Young Gypsies 1937, Dame Laura Knight.

If you look closely at the sketch above, you can see that this is the same encampment from another angle, focusing on the kids at play.  It looks like a fine way to grow up.

gypsywagonandtent

Gypsy Wagon and Tent, Dame Laura Knight, 1962.

And finally, another favorite of mine.  I suspect it’s the same little yellow wagon next to the sketchiest bender tent ever.  Probably a makeshift shelter for work or cooking.  A wagon wheel in the foreground seems to await repair while the kids look on.  Note the size of these caravans relative to today’s “needs” and remember that whole families lived and were raised this way.

If you missed the previous post about historic caravans in art go HERE or check out a whole page of images I have curated HERE.

Historic Romani Caravan Paintings

These images might whet the appetite for summer days, picnics, an caravanning off into the great unknown; or it might just be a bunch of pretty pictures if the former isn’t your cup of tea.  Anyway, these are generally labelled and classed as Gypsy images although we know that this is often seen as an offensive word to many Romani (Roma, Romany, etc.), I don’t think it was intended this way in many cases.  For that matter, when not applied to an actual people, the word gets thrown around in art, aesthetic style, dance, music, and many other ways.  I have only known a few “Gypsies” in my lifetime and that was the term used; maybe out of simplicity, maybe just as resignation to the common language.  But enough of this digression, enjoy the paintings.  There will be more to come.

Dame Laura Knight, Gypsy Caravans, 1935. LONDON.- Trinity House.

Dame Laura Knight, Gypsy Caravans, 1935. LONDON.- Trinity House.

“Knight … bucked trends through depicting liminal sites, such as circuses and gypsy settlements, from the very beginning of her career. An example of this is her delightful work Gypsy Caravans (1935).”

The caravans depicted above are the Rolls-Royce’s of their day; highly ornamented Reading Wagons with mollycrofts, awnings, windows, and fine paint work.  They would catch they eye of any artist.  I am particularly fond of the domestic scene around the hearth; laundry being done and hung out to dry in the background.

The paintings below are by Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959), a British artist who made many beautiful watercolor paintings of horses, encampments, and caravans.  What better, more colorful, and dynamic subject matter?  Alfred Munnings’s biography states that he clearly considered himself accepted among the gypsies when he was able to persuade several of the older women to bring out the brilliant shawls, boldly coloured aprons, and flamboyant ostrich feathered hats that were special occasion wear for the women.”

ALFRED-MUNNINGS

Sir Alfred Munnings.

The ubiquitous fire hook and kettle rest as the true center of this scene.  Everyone is done up in the Sunday best at Epsom Downs.  We see all kinds of accommodations from a bender tent to various quality of living wagon.  And no camp is complete without a lurcher (dog) and the milk goat.

Munnings became president of the Royal Academy and was made a Knight of the Victorian Orderwhile Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) served on a panel of European judges for an international exhibition at the Carnegie Institute and was appointed as an official artist for the Nuremberg War trials for her technical abilities.  In other words, good documentary artists.

ALFRED-MUNNINGS3

Sir Alfred Munnings.

Travellers and their goat gather ’round the morning tea.  I envision Mick’s garden will look like this once Jim and I get our ‘vans parked for the summer.

alfred-munnings-gypsy-life-the-hop-pickers

Gypsy Life, the hops pickers, Sir Alfred Munnings..

ALFRED-MUNNINGS4

One of my favorites.  So much going on here and a great color scheme.

More images added HERE.

Sheepherders’ Camps

Here are a few classic Sheep Camps from the Wyoming Tales and Trails webpage. There are some great photos and some good information on their web page.  I personally took a lot of inspiration from these resourceful and low-cost housing solutions.

Fiddling on the prairie.  I could spend much of my life like this!

Out on the range. Looking at my Vardo, you can see my inspiration for the offset door and stove.

Again, the offset door. I get asked about this a lot. It gives a large amount of room on one side.

There’s a lot of other information and photos of western history here too.  Have a look around.

http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/

An Open Lot Accommodation

A little something for Wagon Wednesday.  A simple bow-top accommodation.  Very little of the wagon is seen in the image but we can rest assured that it was painted green at one time.  Hedley picked up some fine details here including bolts, boards, the tarp attachment, and a very nice little driving lamp.

LastLast in Market, Ralph Hedley 1885.  Hedley really captured life in rural northern Britain.

Lightweight Touring Caravan Design from the 19th Century

Touringvan

From Caravanning and Camping-Out by J. Harris Stone 1914.

Here’s a great design from the late nineteenth century.  I could not find an associated photo for the finished caravan but there are a couple of innovations I will want to include in the future.  I believe this wagon was about 12 feet long overall and is a nice setup for 1-2 people.  The flap table makes for added floorspace when needed and there is ample storage both inside and out.  The tunnel locker under the bed is also a great idea that I thought was a recent invention.

Towersvan

A caravan with the ubiquitous storage tent.

This isn’t the same caravan but similar in size and design.  I really like the enormous opening at the front for ventilation.  Another innovation for the future.  Also, it’s good to keep in mind that there were normally a tent or two pitched with the van when parked for storage, dogs, kids, etc.  I thought this was a cop-out of mine but it seems I’m not the first to notice the extra space is a godsend on extended trips with more than one person.

Happiness in Simplicity

A LITTLE CARAVANNING HISTORY

At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the young artist Frances Jennings became a semi-invalid and was advised by her doctor to spend as much time as she could in the open air.  Being a Victorian lady at loose ends, the obvious choice was to take to the open road.  Her simple rig and a good spirit served her well.  As described by J. Harris Stone:

She is extremely delicate, partially paralysed, and her doctor told her that she should practically live in the open air. Being of an active and practical mind she set to work to see how she could, within her means, carry out the drastic requirements of her medical adviser.  She joined the Caravan Club, and all the assistance, in the way of pitches and introductions, was of course afforded her. Her desire was to take to the road and live altogether in the open air in rural parts of the country. Her cart—it can scarcely be called a caravan—she describes as “strange and happy-looking.”  It is four-wheeled, rather like a trolley, and painted bright blue, with a yellow oilskin hood—something like a brewer’s dray in shape.

caravanningcampi00stonrich_0087 - Version 2

Beauty in a caravan is in the eye of the beholder.

“I carry,” she tells me in one of her letters from a pitch in a most out-of-the-way spot in rural Gloucestershire, ”a hamper of food, and one of soap and brushes and tools, etc., and a box of books, a small faggot of wood for emergencies and a gallon can of water.  I have a covering of sheepskins with the wool on them, and a sack of oats, bran, chaff, hay, or something to feed my little ass upon.  Also I keep in a sack the donkey’s brush and comb and chain, etc., and the harness when not in use.  I do not generally travel after dark, but if overtaken by dusk I hang out my candle lantern.”

caravanningcampi00stonrich_0087

Cooking over a campfire with the ubiquitous fire hook.

“…I build immense fires. That constitutes a great happiness to me. I have a kettle-hook and hanging pot, and I buy food in the villages.  At the farms I find a plentiful supply of milk, fruit, honey, nuts and fresh vegetables. I build the fire just by the cart, with the donkey near at hand.”

Described in her first year on the road, she “sleeps in the covered cart, and she carries a few straight rods with her to drive into the ground on her pitch, on which she hangs squares of sacking across as a screen to keep off the gaze of curious watchers when she wants to sit by the fire ” and dream, and not be the object of their gaze.”

In her own Walden experience, things were not always easy or perfect.  “I find great excitement, in the winter, in hearing the storms raving around me in the black of night… I feel my present outfit and way of getting along is very far short of perfection!… at present it is rather by the skin of my teeth that I manage to exist amid the elements of wind and rain and cold and space.”

campfireandpipeSpeaking of her time with the more traditional travellers, she says: “They have spoken like poets, worn silver rings on their copper hands and rosy beads around their necks; and their babies have round little twigs of hazel-nuts in their red hands.  And perhaps the roof of their cart has been on the sea—the sail of a ship.”

Adding Windows

Finally, I’m getting around to adding side windows to the Vardo.  I’ve wavered for a long time as to whether this was what I wanted.  In the end, the ventilation and view won out.  Many decisions needed to be made.  What kind of opening, size, materials, etc.  In the end, I chose reclaimed oak as it is very stable, strong, easy to work with, and looks good.

window03This isn’t a high-tech, double-glazed thermal window.  It is a simple square frame of oak around a Lexan pane with a simple, chromed piano hinge and a nice brass casement window mechanism.

window02The discolored oak is visible here as I didn’t bother to remove the patina from the parts that will be invisible once installed.

I am sometimes criticized here for not giving enough of the remedial steps when building something new… So here it goes:

How to install a window into your Vardo.

window04First, choose where the window will be placed.  I have kept this spot in mind from the beginning and have kept it free of shelves and cubbies.   I decided to center the window on the structural stud.

I knew where the window needed to be located on the inside, but finding the exact placement on the outside wall can be difficult.  In order to find the point on the outside wall, I drilled a small hole where the top center of the window should be.  Why did I need to do this?  Because the cutting from the outside smooth wall is far easier and less messy (keeping the sawdust mostly on the outside).

Using the hole as a marker, a line was created to layout the opening.

A framing square was used to square up the other three sides of the opening.  The circular saw was used, making a plunge cut (using two hands) as deep as possible, following the guide lines.

The nature of the circular blade prevents the saw from cutting into the corner so a hand-saw was used to finish up.

window15After a dry fitting to check the size, silicone caulk was applied to seal out water and the window was inserted.

window14Having a look at the new window.

Checking the functionality.  Interior framing is not yet complete here.

Next step… making the shutter.