29 April 2016

Time to Get Serious!

How many of us would like to think about writing. . .

. . . and a more realistic vision of the process.

-- Stokes

23 April 2016

New Lightbox Photos of Old Camp Follower Favorites. . .

A few enterprising soldiers' wives have opened the 18th century equivalent of a Coke stand  by a handy roadside along which troops and non-military types pass.  The influence of hobby luminaries like Bill Gaskin, Doug Mason, and Peter Gilder, here and in the following pictures, is freely acknowledged.  30mm Willie figures stocked with Eureka and Foundry provisions along with a scratch-built tarp and table.

Sam the Smith and Friends, keeping hussar steeds in tiptop running order.  1/56 Fife & Drum figures along with another scratch-built table.

And finally, here's another old favorite, Margarete the Marketenderin on her way to set up shop opposite the ladies pictured above.  A 28mm Eureka set, but the Napoleonic vivandiere has had a headgear conversionThe three vignettes here were all painted in, I believe, 2014.  

Taking a "No Day" in the Grand Duchy of Stollen. . .

Here is an old Knoetel print I've always enjoyed, a bunch of Prussian hussars clowing around with the contents of a French officer's trunk.

It is Saturday morning (Yes!), and I am taking a "No Day" here at the Grand Duchy of Stollen, saying "No!" to most other things besides tinkering with 20 RSM95 Prussian musketeers (the final batch of that large 80-figure regiment begun in January 2015).  I will also listen to jazz online from Norwegian State Radio (NRK Jazz) all day, begin organizing my ideas for a hobby-related article that is due before long, and take a closer look at the contents of a nice little package that arrived earlier this week from Fife & Drum Miniatures.  

The latter contains a bunch of Prussian and Austrian limbers, limber riders, and 64 limber horses.  Christmas all over again in a way, which it was since I finally applied a Christmas 2015 gift from my in-laws (plus a bit of my own scratch) to the purchase.  The coming summer will see me then keeping the grass mowed (a fairly mindless and innocuous activity that I enjoy), working on 16 four-horse gun teams with limbers, and developing yet another article, this time of a more serious nature for eventual publication in an academic/pedagogic journal if all goes well when everything has been said and done.  

But that is putting the limber before the horse(s)!  Today, a quiet, relatively easy "No Day" at home with the Young Master (we have a date to play with his knights and castle too), the Grand Duchess, the cats, and, of course. . .  the toy soldiers.  As a music professor friend of ours once observed tongue-in-cheek to my wife several years ago, "It's soldier season.  It's always soldier season.  You've married a nerd, honey!"  I wear my badge loudly and proudly.  And now, it's time for another mug of coffee.

-- Stokes

17 April 2016

A New Addition to the GD of S Bookshelves. . .

This brand new title arrived in the mailbox here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold a few days ago.

Digby Smith's latest book struck me as interesting a few months ago when I first learned that A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757) was forthcoming, and I immediately placed an order for it.  I always enjoy adding titles to my shelves on subjects that interest me, military or not.  This one, though, left me a bit nonplussed if I am completely honest.  

That observation is in no way intended to downplay the not insignificant amount of time and effort required to produce a book-length manuscript, mind you, nor the back-and-forth revision process before a title finally reaches the publication, printing, and sales stages.  Considerable blood, sweat, and tears go into the development of any book project (or should), and if I were able to make my living writing military histories, or crime thrillers for that matter, I would in a heartbeat.  That said, as I have perused Mr. Smith's book since its arrival late last week, I am left with the distinct impression that it fails to bring any appreciable new knowledge to the table, and that it is, rather, a rehash -- albeit a nicely packaged and presented rehash -- of what can be found already in other books (or online) about all of the usual suspects of the mid-18th century, their armies, and conflicts. 

In fairness to A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757), it makes sense to start with a quick rundown of its contents.  After a brief introduction, which provides background on the political situation that led to the outbreak of the Seven Years War (but only just), the author presents a total of 27 chapters on the military operations of the period, regimental organizations, cavalry, field artillery, naval warfare, and various theaters of the war.  Author Digby Smith follows by next breaking things down year by year and looking at the strategic and, to some extent, tactical activities in lesser actions and the major battles that transpired during the early years of the conflict, 1755-1757, within Europe and elsewhere around the world.  He rounds out his book, 298 pages in all, with registers of place names in Eastern and Central Europe, plus a concise bibliography.

Although a good deal shorter, in places A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757) reminded me a bit of The Napoleonic Sourcebook (1990) by Philip J. Haythornthwaite, although it lacked the breadth of that particular title, omitting, for example, specific sections on the nations involved in the SYW, the important personalities of the era, political and military, or a chapter on miscellanea that defies easy fit pigeonholing elsewhere.  Once again, in the interest of fairness, it may not have been Mr. Smith's intention to produce a broad-focused, all-encompassing work like The Napoleonic Sourcebook, but what is present here falls short, in any case, of better executed works by military history giants like Haythornthwaite, David Chandler, John Elting, or Christopher Duffy to be frank  

In particular, the bibliography provided by Mr. Smith at the back of A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757) ought to give serious students of the period considerable pause for thought.  For example, a quick run-through reveals that it is rather short,consisting of just 45 titles, give or takeLikewise, it seems that few primary sources were consulted in research for and preparation of the mansucript.  Indeed, there are two sources that clearly date from the 18th century, and these are in English.  This point seems odd given that Digby Smith is fluent in German and, as such, would have ready access to any primary texts in that language where they might existThe oldest work in German that is included as part of his bibliography here dates from 1806 (reprinted in 1975), and another in French from 1891.  

Otherwise, A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757) relies heavily on secondary sources (in all three languages) written, in many instances, quite some time after the war in question ended -- the  19th, 20th, and 21st centuries -- when its more literate participants were either extremely old, or long dead.  Four of the secondary sources included by Mr. Smith within his bibliography are by Christopher Duffy himself, a noted authority on the SYW.  We non-professionals could do far worse than consulting and relying on a historian like Duffy for our information about the SYW periodHis work remains some of the very best when it comes to readily available histories in English, well-researched, well-written,  engaging, and authoritative.   

Now, maybe I am mistaken on this point about Digby Smith's bibliography since I am not a professional (military) historian by trade, but it strikes me as a major problem that a title which purports to shed new light on the subject matter under examination, as A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757) does, nevertheless seems to be based upon a relatively small number of titles, and very few of these give the impression of being primary sources.   Based on these related considerations, then, A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757) falls rather short of the mark where a history text is concerned

Even more to the point, the book does not seem to be an obvious reappraisal of, challenge to, or new perspective on accepted thinking about the early SYW period despite is title in the same way as, say, works written by Napoleonic historian Peter Hofschröer for example.  His books 1815 – The Waterloo Campaign Vol. 1 (Wellington his German Allies and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras) and 1815 – The Waterloo Campaign Vol. 2 (The German victory, from Waterloo to the fall of Napoleon) challenged accepted notions, making the case instead that Wellington's victory in June 1815 owed far more to his German contingents (and possibly also the Prussians) than has typically been acknowledged by historians writing in English.   

Some casual readers and scholars might not agree with those ideas, but the point is that the new considerations, like the kind put forth by Peter Hofschröer, are the sorts of things that breathe much needed life into (military) history rather than telling the same old story from the same tired perspective yet again.  And I say that as both a Waterloo Campaign buff and an Anglophile.  But Mr. Hofschröer's books nevertheless brought something new to the table at the time they appeared (late 1990s), introducing different ways of thinking about the Waterloo Campaign and presenting new, hitherto unknown pieces for us to fit into the historical puzzle.  These, in turn, enable us to have a more complete picture of events, now over two centuries ago.  To my mind, that's what books purporting to offer new perspectives ought to do.  

In contrast, and while I admittedly will remain happy to pull my copy from the shelf and peruse it occasionally, A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757) does not stand out as anything special if you'll pardon my being completely blunt.  Author Digby Smith provides a nice introduction to the period for those new to the Seven Years War, but his work barely scratches the surface when it comes to examining the political background of the conflict, the maneuvering and tactical behavior of troops in the field, the early actions and battles, or indeed the conflict's global scope.  As mentioned above, these points are all present, but only in the most superficial of ways.

For all of that, one strength of A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757), however, is that it does provide readers with modern geographic names and their earlier German equivalents whenever possible.  This last point strikes me as extremely useful for newcomers to the SYW period, those with only a passing general interest in it, and/or readers with no knowledge of Polish, Czech, Hungarian, or Russian, for example (guilty as charged here).  More hardcore enthusiasts for the period and conflict, on the other hand, will probably have worked out already the linguistic changes -- and challenges -- superimposed onto the maps of Central and Eastern Europe since the 1760s.  

Finally, A New History of the Seven Years War Volume 1: Power and Politics (1754-1757) is not exactly cheap either.  I'll go out on a limb and suggest that, at USD60/GBP30 (plus postage), you might, just might, spend your hard-earned money elsewhere on other titles/authors and wait until you can borrow the book from your local library, or purchase it used at a much lower price.  Just my thruppence and six pence worth.

-- Stokes 

11 April 2016

New Lightbox Photos of Finished Camp Followers. . .

"I gave at the office!"  Frau Cornelia Lohmeyer attempts to fend off feckless Bernhard the Stick.

Posing as a half-witted farm laborer, here is cunning gambler and "money lender" extraordinaire. . .  Jan-Henrik along with his brother Hrothgar. . .  and his other brother Hrothgar.  The mere thought of any business dealings with them ought to make your kneecaps hurt.  Fugeddaboutit!

The Laundress Tableau, a.k.a. "We need more Calgon!"  Soldiers' wives Else and Heike earn extra money by taking in laundry from the officers and men of the Grand Duke's army.  

I call this one, "Cecilia and Stefanie Take a Stroll, or Sauntering Soldiers' Wives with Sticky Fingers"

The Fuller Brush man, circa 1759.  Niels attempts to work his way across the Grand Duchy of Stollen northwest to Riga by selling shoddy brooms to soldiers' wives like Frau Katarina Rudat.

The Naughty Lola (in green) and her business associates confront the devout Lutheran minister Father Petrus Georg Wilhelm Albrecht Claudius, This, That, and the Other von Licentius as he attempts to save their souls.  Again.

Coming to TV this fall. . .  The Suttlers!  Join Gerda, Helga, and Big (Sugar) Daddy every Thursday evening at 8pm for a half hour of madcap, bawdy, side-splitting hilarity from their small corner of mid-18th century Europe as they accompany the Stollenian army on campaign from one end of the Grand Duchy, to the other, and back again.  Why, just look at the size of those beersteins!  You've never met a bunch of wacky yet lovable rascals like. . . The Suttlers!

09 April 2016

20 Camp Followers Near Completion. . .

 Here they are, almost done, for better or worse, with two coats of acrylic gloss, newly painted tents, and freshly hung officers' sheets.  The same acrylic gloss in the laundry cauldrons has yet to dry out.  I must also add a few tiny pieces of smoldering kindling beneath same as well as some carefully teased out cotton for whispy smoke.  Figures pictured include those manufactured by Minden/Fife&Drum, Suren (Willie), Reaper, and Black Hussar.

We woke this morning here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold, to a wintry scene outside, about three inches of fresh snow!  No great tragedy as far as I am concerned since I am a big fan of winter weather, but perhaps it is a bit much when you consider that it is already April 9th.  The tulips have been threatening to open here since before Easter after all.  Sadly, however, there is not quite enough snow on the ground to drag out the toboggan or strap on the cross-country skis one last time.  Sigh.  But as Pete the Cat is fond of saying, "It's all good."

In more soldierly news, I mad a big push last night and earlier this afternoon to wrap up the 20 camp followers I have been tinkering with since the end of February.  They are now almost finish save or a coat or two of carefully applied acrylic gloss medium, which I'll address this evening [actually accomplished in the company of the curious Young Master during Saturday afternoon].  The Grand Duchess has an all-day event on campus, which, I fear, will stretch into the evening hours for her.  She has been instrumental in its planning, and thus even busier than usual the last few days, which has given yours truly a bit more time in the evenings once the Young Master has retired for the night.

 Reaper figures painted as suttlers along with their tent and some supplies in the background.  They answer to the names of "Gerda" (with the beer mugs), "Helga" (carrying the tray), and "Big Daddy" although rumor has it he isn't really their daddy.  Sugar daddy possibly, but that is perhaps a conversation best left for another time

Last but not least, I am finalizing things today and, as they say, pulling the trigger for a large order of Minden/Fife&Drum limbers, riders, and horse teams for my existing six or seven two-gun batteries of guns.  This is my BIG project for 2016, although I am adding bits and pieces here and there as I muddle through all of it.  For instance, there is another new and different wagon by Black Hussar Miniatures wending from Berlin, Germany to our front doorstep as we speak, which will be a nice addition to my large-ish transport train that took much of 2014 to assemble.  In addition, there is a small package of four assorted dogs produced by Westfalia Miniatures in the UK, which looks like an eventual nice addition to the collection.  One of you suggested a couple of years ago that a dog or four might be visually satisfying to include on a general's base and as part of the general hubbub of camp life.  These pooches and hounds should do the trick nicely.  

A close-up of my rather ambitious laundress vignette, complete with their smaller tent and laundry hanging on the line.  The lady at right is clearly racing to add liquid fabric softener before her time is up and the next wash cycle begins.  A pair of very useful female figures by Willie.  The stirring stick still needs painting, darn it!  Funny what you neglect in the rush to finish.

By the way, Black Hussar Miniatures now offers a very nice range of 28mm 18th century figures and wagons to enliven any tabletop setting.  The same is true of Westfalia Miniatures although they are more Napoleonic in focus, but it strikes me that the wagons and carriages they offer could easily be pressed into service for earlier, pre-Revolutionary conflicts during the 1700s too.  If you are looking around for items like these, it is worth scrutinizing the websites of both companies.  The horses produced by both are particularly well sculpted, almost on a par with Richard Ansell's work for Minden, Fife&Drum, and Crann Tara.

 Here is a tableau that has been on my workbench for close to two years.  I call it "The Naughty Lola, or Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets."  A rather idealistic Lutheran pastor (by Black Hussar Miniatures) attempts to save Lola (in the hat and green Austrian dragoon coat) and her associates from a life of debauchery.  He was, ultimately, not successful.  The ladies pictured were all gleaned from various Willie ranges.

And now, I am off to fix breakfast for the Young Master, who has a pile of fresh croissants waiting for him in the kitchen -- he developed true Continental habits while in Berlin last summer -- to enjoy after his cereal and orange juice.

-- Stokes

And here's "Jan-Henrik," a local farm lad who looks deceptively simple.  However all is not as it seems.  He awaits the addition of a small table on which he runs a rotating shell game, duping gullible soldiers (and the occasional officer) out of their hard-earned ducats and florins, which he keeps in the canvas sack atop the small powder keg just to his right.  Once again, a 30mm Willie figure.

The Young Master's sense of humor has really come out in the last ten days or so.  In fact, he sat next to me while I glossed figures for about two hours earlier this afternoon and was terribly funny as he narrated what Dad's stuffed IKEA rat, who resides down here in Zum Stollenkeller Mk. II, gets up to during the wee hours of the morning when the rest of us are asleep.  To say I was in stitches for most of the time is something of an understatement.

Sunday Morning. . .
I found a very useful online photo editing program late yesterday evening after the Grand Duchess retired for the night.  Pixlr.com, whose set-up and layout once you open things will seem somewhat familiar to anyone who has experience using the various versions of Photoshop.  While not quite as straightforward as Photoshop Elements 7, which I have used for several years now, you can fairly easily brighten and crop photographs as well as adjust the color in a variety of ways.  There also seems to be good online support as well as a variety of online tutorials, all of which mean that I have, at least for now, found my new photo editing program.  

"But I thought you were a dyed in the wool Photoshop Elements man, Stokes old boy!" you might say to yourself.  Well, normally yes, but back at the start of February, high winds one Friday evening zapped my desktop computer, a Sony Vaio all-in-one beast, here at home.  After two weeks in the University tech repair shop, said computer was returned in full working order and with several important updates, BUT Photoshop Elements 7 had disappeared from my 'desktop', and I have been unable to locate the disk to reload it.  Neither have I yet got around to ordering a newer version from Amazon, so Pixlr.com will fit the bill nicely until then.  

In any case, I spent an hour or so noodling around after midnight with the first two photographs in the post and Pixlr.com to get a feel for using it.  Not bad, but the brightness seems to be a good deal stronger that in Photoshop Elements 7, which leave things looking washed out if you are not careful, and the already pale fleshtone of the figures becomes less distinguishable from the white.  So, a softer touch is required with this particular program.  In addition, I have yet to locate the single quick fix button, and whatever it is called by the Pixlr.dom folks, that Photoshop Elements 7 featured.  The new program is not completely intuitive then.  Nevertheless, it is better than nothing, and will at least help me get some marginally better photographs up here on the blog as and when items are finished at the painting desk.

 Some very nice Black Hussar figures, including a mid-18th century version of the Fuller Brush man and potential customer at the rear along with a beggar and kind-hearted woman  in the foreground.

Two more 30mm Willie ladies, this time a pair of soldiers' wives out for a stroll and bit of foraging along the way.  Rats!  The one at right still needs her necklace painted.  Grrrr. . . .

 And finally a pair of those extremely useful Fife&Drum civilian laborer figures lugging heavy canvas sacks of meal or whatever on their shoulders.


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