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Saint Joachim Fieldtrip
8 Nov 2013
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On the second day of our Ste Genevieve Community Scholars Workshop, all of the workshop participants met us at the Ste Genevieve Microtel Hotel where we staying for the duration of the workshop, and from there we took our rental vans for a drive out to Cadet, Missouri to visit the St Joachim Church, one of the oldest buildings in the area.


Natalie Villmer, with Rural Parish Workers and the Old Mines Historical Society, met us outside the church and gave us a very detailed talk about the history of mining, migration, land parceling, and culture in the area. The church itself was interesting for its lovely stained glass windows and plain, yet detailed architecture and decoration. The exterior is made of red bricks, which are interesting due to being handcrafted, evidenced by the irregular sizes and shapes and the clearly rolled and folded textures of the bricks themselves. In terms of landscaping, the exterior border of the church sidewalks are lined with pretty typical bark mulch, however there are large and small pieces of native stones placed throughout. These stones drew the attention of everyone in the group because of their fantastic, metamorphic shapes, nodules, and cavities some of which held small succulent plants. The main draw, though, was the abundance of calcite crystals. These were present as both large individual pieces of multi-faceted crystals in large clumps or in small nodes on other larger pieces of stone. With our Canon Rebel DSLR camera in hand, I took a large number of pictures of these crystals simply because I found them to be beautiful and intriguing. The other main type of stone used in the landscaping here was a mineral called tiff, which is one of the primary exports of the mining industry in this region. It is an especially heavy mineral with many types of industrial uses.


Inside the church, Natalie’s overview of the community shifted to focus more on the church itself and its development. As Natalie spoke, each of our workshop participants was practicing various forms of fieldwork documentation: audio recording, video recording, note-taking, and still photography. I was personally focused on documenting our workshop participants as they engaged in these activities and the overall context. One of the things that we discussed in the workshop the previous day was the notion of tailoring your use of technology and documentation to fit your goals for the project. To this end, some of our participants were using the audio recorders that we use in the office and one of our video cameras, however various people were also using their own equipment: comparable DSLR still cameras, smart phones, tablets, and point and shoot cameras. It was interesting to see the range of equipment that was in use and this made it all the more apparent that there is a vast range of options available to people when it comes to fieldwork documentation and collection. Most of us carry with us every day technology that allows us to record and document folk life on the spot and this is an invaluable lesson for me as both a fieldworker and an instructor of students in the discipline of folklore.


After we finished up in the church, we went for a walk out to one of the three cemeteries on the property. We passed by a set of historic cabins that had been moved to the property, a preview of the in progress Historic Village that we would visit later in the day, and made our way to the gates of the old cemetery. Here we would see headstones and grave markers ranging in dates from the early 19th century to mid 20th. Some were so worn that no words or images were legible, others had marks scratched into the surface in an effort to retain/remake their markings, and still others were broken and shattered. A range of grave styles and grave markers were present: simple iron crosses; plain, arched headstones; ornate, six foot tall markers formed like trees; ten foot tall stone plinths; large, raised tombs; a mausoleum. Natalie Villmer guided us around the cemetery, telling us about the history of the raised tombs, the mausoleum, and pointing out her own family’s section near the back. One thing that drew my immediate attention was the way that some headstones were decorated. There were a number of arched stone and cross headstones which had been partially or fully covered in pieces of the same calcite crystals that had drawn such attention from our participants at the church. They were placed puzzle fashion across the surface of many of the headstones, sometimes forming patterns such as crosses, sometimes just covering the surface in a glinting, irregular mosaic of raised domes and protuberances. After some examination, and large number of pictures, I found that these mosaics were formed by the application of a layer of mortar on the surface of the headstone and careful fitting and pressing in of individual pieces of the crystal. One headstone used this method of decoration as well as pieces of metal, potentially old nails, pressed into the mortar to form the words on the marker.


Our visit to St Joachim ended with our walk through the cemetery. This trip showed each of us important facets to the history and folk culture of this area and its communities from the old French method of settlement in close-knit family units to the modern, industrial uses of tiff for mining and glass-making to the use of local, found materials in the decoration of memorials to the deceased. I believe this portion of the workshop was not just informative but quite formative for our group and for how we were looking at and thinking about the work that we do as educators and community scholars.


Arts Cemetary Church Collection Culture Documentation Education Folklore French History Industry
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