December 5, 2013
By Toni Guagenti
If you’re a history-loving pachyderm, you’re bound to be a frequent visitor at Colonial Williamsburg. And Ellis the Elephant, a creation of children’s book author Callista Gingrich, will be back for a book-signing on Saturday in Merchants Square.
Gingrich’s third Ellis the Elephant book, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” aims to teach children ages 4 to 8 about the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of the tricorn-wearing Ellis.
Traveling through time, Ellis has a front-row seat to the events and patriots that shaped our history, from the Boston Tea Party to Paul Revere’s one-if-by-land-and-two-if-by-sea ride, from the victory at Yorktown to George Washington’s spurning of the title of king.
The book signing will be held from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at the College of William and Mary Bookstore in Merchants Square in Colonial Williamsburg.
“These books are really about patriotism and our nation’s humble beginnings,” Gingrich said in a phone interview earlier this week. “They’re not meant to be Republican books or conservative books, but pro-American books.” Gingrich is married to Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House who campaigned for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
The previous Ellis book, “Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride,” starts in Virginia and explores America’s 13 colonies and their fight for freedom against England. Williamsburg served as the political, cultural and educational center of the colony and as Virginia’s capital from 1699 to 1780.
Gingrich game up with the idea for the series after determining that few books on American history had been written for a very young audience.
“There’s literally nothing like Ellis the Elephant series,” she said. “I write these books because I love America, and I truly believe America is an exceptional nation.”
Gingrich’s first book, “Sweet Land of Liberty” in 2011 looked at pivotal moments that shaped the nation, including the Wright Brothers’ First Flight in 1903. Each has been illustrated by Susan Arciero.
Newt Gingrich also will be at the bookstore on Saturday signing his latest novel, “Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate.” Both of the couple’s books are published by Regnery.
Callista Gingrich remembers last year’s visit to Williamsburg to meet fans and autograph books.
“We had a wonderful turnout, and we’re just thrilled to be back,” Gingrich said. “We have come to Williamsburg many times; it’s a favorite place to visit.”
Since 2007, Gingrich has served as president of Gingrich Productions, a multimedia production company. The couple resides in McLean, Va.
Gingrich’s fourth Ellis book, “From Sea to Shining Sea,” is scheduled for release next October and will cover the time from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 through the Lewis and Clark expedition from 1804 to 1806.
Toni Guagenti is a free-lance writer based in Norfolk, Va.
November 7, 2013
By Toni Guagenti
“Hair” and “politics” don’t often share space in the same sentence, but when it comes to hair and the African American community, the history of the two is intertwined.
Writer and public speaker A’Lelia Bundles has a unique vantage point to that history. She lived through the 1960’s when many African Americans proudly wore their hair natural. And her great-great grandmother, Madam C.J. Walker, started a hair-care company in the early part of the 20th century that made her a millionaire.
Bundles will speak Saturday, Nov. 9, about “The Politics of Hair: A Tangled Tale” from 3-4:30 p.m. at the Bruton Heights School as part of Colonial Williamsburg’s Equiano Forum on Early African American History and Culture. The forum looks to broaden the public’s knowledge about African and African American history and culture in Virginia and the Atlantic World during the American Revolutionary era.
In a phone interview last week, Bundles chuckled a bit when asked about the meaning of “the politics of hair.” She knows how complex and steeped in history the subject is: In America, the debate is as old as the country itself, when mainly white, European settlers brought Africans here as slaves.
Bundles draws extensively from her own family history, which, before she started researching and writing her first book, “Madam C.J. Walker: Entrepreneur,” involved stories passed down through the generations. That book led to a more in-depth biography, published in 2001, 10 years after the first, of her great-great grandmother. “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” became a New York Times bestseller.
Part of Saturday’s conversation will focus on the standards of beauty in a society, dictated by power, Bundles said.
During Colonial times, for example, people with power, influence and money wore powdered wigs and certain hair styles that translated into status, she said. For the people in a society who couldn’t afford the adornment, “their beauty was considered less,” she said.
“There’s always going to be that tension, what a society’s standard of beauty is, and what a group’s standard of beauty is,” Bundles said.
Bundles also will talk about the internal strife within the African American community over hair. “People who have straighter hair and lighter skin are considered to have more status within the black community,” she said.
In the 21st century, though, with the prevalence of social media, more people are communicating about these issues, Bundles said, and realizing the standards don’t make sense.
“Now with social media and YouTube, there are so many ways for people to affirm that this is OK,” said Bundles, who also serves as president of the Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives, chairman of the Foundation for the National Archives and a Columbia University trustee.
“African American women are sort of going through another resurgence in popularity of natural hair,” Bundles said. Women in power, like Xerox’s Ursula Burns and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Marie Johns, are wearing their hair natural, Bundles said. By doing so they’re saying: “ ‘This is my hair. It’s not like I’m going to burn your house down because this is the way the hair grows out of my head.’ ”
Bundles talked about a 7-year-old student at an Oklahoma charter school who made the news in September when her school said that her dreadlock hairstyle violated school policy. Her mother and father took her out of the school and enrolled her elsewhere, but not before sparking a national debate, once again, about hairstyles.
“The outcry was huge,” Bundles said, and led the school board to change its policy banning dreadlocks and other hairstyles.
“We should be worrying about what’s in her head, not what’s on her head,” said Bundles, “but, furthermore, that what’s on her head is OK.”
Toni Guagenti is a free-lance writer based in Norfolk, Va.
November 1, 2013
A California woman who describes herself as a “big fan” of Colonial Williamsburg spent Halloween carving two pumpkins based on Colonial Williamsburg furniture collections.
Lauren Csaki, who lives in Torrance, Calif., said she used her copy of Colonial Williamsburg’s “Southern Furniture 1680-1830” to create templates of a dressing table, candlestand and side table.
“I made a rough tracing of the silhouettes from the photos in the book, and scaled them down to fit on the pumpkins with a copy machine,” Csaki explained Friday.
“Next, I drew a circle around each scene and decided on the points where the furniture would meet the edge of the circle, for stability in the carved pumpkin design,” she added. “Then I cut the designs out of paper, taped them to the pumpkins, and transferred the design with a fine sharpie.”
Csaki, who with her husband became a member of the Colonial Williamsburg Burgesses this year, said she “received many compliments on the furniture pumpkins from both kids and adults alike,” from some of the approximately 500 trick-or-treaters in her neighborhood on Halloween night.
Csaki, “a collector and lover of antique American furniture,” brought the pumpkins indoors on Friday morning.
“For us to enjoy for a few more days,” she said.
October 24, 2013
Eileen Rockefeller Growald, the granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and youngest daughter of David Rockefeller, will speak about her new book on Friday at the Hennage Auditorium of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
Growald, who lives on an organic farm in Shelburne, Vermont, spoke with history.org Wednesday morning from San Francisco, a stop on her book tour. Following is an edited version of the conversation:
History.org: What has been your siblings’ and other readers’ reaction to your frank portrayal of life in the Rockefeller home?
Eileen Rockefeller Growald: “There are a couple who may not have read it yet, but [one brother] has said how proud of me he is, and another has bought at least 20 if not 30 books to give to members of her global philanthropy circle. And so she’s been actually spreading my books throughout the world, which I consider probably the best possible form of acknowledgement.”
“I’ve had letters such as the following: One woman wrote, ‘Your book has opened up a dialogue between me and my daughter that I’ve been wanting to have for years.’ A man wrote to me and said, ‘For the first time, I feel I understand my wife.’ And a third one, a retired Wall Street executive, said that after reading my book, she resolved to reconcile her differences with her sisters.”
History.org: How is your father doing? [David Rockefeller]
ERG: “My father just got back from 10 days in Italy and Holland, where he was driving horses. He was in Paris and London the month before. And he’s 98! There are 12 grandchildren and eight grandchildren.”
History.org: You have said that your children’s generation will be the first generation of the Rockefellers to need a paying job. What do they do?
ERG: “Yes, they could get by on a very modest income, but they will need to have a job, absolutely. My oldest son works for Lippincott [in New York City], which is one of the top strategic branding and design companies in the world. Our younger son…is working for an entrepreneur who’s doing both sustainability work and global communications… . He also spent nine weeks working in the blacksmith shop in Colonial Williamsburg in 2006.”
History.org: Tell us about your own relationship with Colonial Williamsburg.
ERG: “You’re taken back in time before technology, before cars, at a time when handwork was of paramount importance… . It also is peaceful to me, or maybe more nostalgic, in its connection to my grandparents. My grandparents loved coming there and lived in Bassett Hall for a month every April, and then they came back in the fall. My grandmother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, died four years before I was born but she has been a kind of spirit-guide throughout my life. To this day when I visit Bassett Hall, and when I walk through the streets, I feel the spirits certainly of my grandmother, and also of my grandfather who took such a keen interest in the project.
“…I appreciate that period in time, in that it makes me think about the inequalities, the injustice and the ignorance of belief systems that couldn’t see all people as equals… . I like having those reminders put before us.
“We know that inequalities and prejudices still exist in this country and all over the world. It’s an important topic because it reaches into the heart of each of us to ask: In what ways are we truly acting in the spirit of the constitution? And in what ways we are we still needing to work on our own biases?”
History.org: You changed your name for awhile [to Eileen McGrath] at one point in your life, and some of your family members also changed their names. Did that help you?
ERG: “It gave me a false sense of security because I could harbor the illusion that other people wouldn’t know that I actually had the last name of Rockefeller. It deferred what were often the first questions, which were, ‘Oh, are you related?’ or ‘Which one are you?’ … . But eventually I just thought, oh, the hell with it, I’d rather know that they know. I went back to Rockefeller and said, I guess I’ll just face it.
“The writing of my book says it all in the title, ‘Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself.’ It’s been a long road to becoming myself. I am as comfortable now being a Rockefeller as I am being Eileen. Having the name out there has sort of just put the elephant in the room.”
Eileen Rockefeller Growald will sign copies of her book at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25, and then join Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President and CEO Colin Campbell onstage for a conversation at 4:45 p.m. Copies of her memoir will be available for purchase at the Museum Store. A reception will follow the program in the Museum Cafe.
A Good Neighbor Pass, Annual Pass, Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or Museum ticket is required for admission to the event.
October 16, 2013
Today, author and historian Andrea Wulf is in Ohio, discussing how early gardeners shaped the creation of America.
On Thursday, as part of the Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series, she visits Colonial Williamsburg to speak about an astronomical event that won’t happen again for another 100 years.
The topics are not as disparate as they may seem.
“Quite simply, I am interested in the relationship between man and nature,” Wulf said in a phone interview earlier this week.
Wulf, who was born in India and moved to Germany as a child, lives in Britain and trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. There, she studied the history of man-made items — everything from furniture to factories. “You tease out stories from objects,” Wulf said.
But, she said, she always wanted to be a full-time writer. Her first book, “This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and 300 Years of English History,” was published with co-author Emma Gieben-Gamal in 2005. “And since then, I’ve been a very lucky woman,” she said.
Then came the “The Brother Gardeners” in 2009; “Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation,” was published in 2011.
A departure from the subject of gardens and gardeners, “Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens” was published in 2012. She will speak about her book from from 5:30-6:30 Thursday, Oct. 17, at Hennage Auditorium at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
It tells the story of the transit of Venus in the 1760s, in which the planet Venus passes through the Earth and the Sun. The rare celestial event occurred in June 2012 and will happen again in December 2117.
But the transit of Venus in 1761 had particular significance. It marked the first time that scientists around the world set aside political and ideological differences to collectively record observations of the event from points around the globe.
In modern history, Wulf said, the Higgs boson particle discovery and the Large Hardron Collider work in Geneva are examples of modern global scientific cooperation. But the Venus transit “was the first time there was truly an international scientific collaboration,” said Wulf.
“Chasing Venus” outlines the serious barriers faced by those early researchers — traveling through war zones, icy terrain, unfriendly borders. Even the lack of globally-standardized measurements posed a significant obstacle.
But by the time the transit of Venus occurred again in 1769, the science community had learned valuable lessons, Wulf said. Improved instrumentation and more knowledge about viewing points helped — as did good weather and the end of the Seven Years’ War.
Five weeks after the publication of “Chasing Venus,” Wolf herself was viewing the 2012 transit — from Arizona where “there was the greatest sunshine possibility.”
October 15, 2013
“The Idea of America,” published in March by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, has won The Crystal Book 2013 Award of Excellence from the Midwest Publishing Association.
The book shows how American values and the tensions between them have shaped and continue to shape history.
The judges’ comments were: “Engaging design, good white space, and nice color! The black chapter openers are very bold, nice and well-printed.”
The book was designed by Shanin Glenn, production manager/book designer for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
“The Idea of America” was written by H. Michael Hartoonian, scholar in residence at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota; Richard D. Van Scotter, a writer in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and William E. White, the Royce R. & Kathryn M. Baker Vice President of Productions, Publications, and Learning Ventures at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Download the first chapter of “The Idea of America.”
Listen to an archived public radio discussion of “The Idea of America.”
Purchase “The Idea of America.”