14 November 2015
11 September 2015
Not our eventual new house but Highclere Castle, aka Totleigh Towers, aka Downton Abbey, aka many other something or others in various films and TV programs. But, we will soon have a new castle where yours truly can set up the soldier things once again and daydream about how to avoid falling afoul of Sir Watkyn Bassett, Lord Sidcup, and Alpine Joe. . . to say nothing of Madeleine Bassett.
Good news. A new Stollen Central and Zum Stollenkeller are on the horizon.
We meet with our real estate lady on Saturday (tomorrow) morning to set into formal motion the eventual purchase of a new home. While modest and unmistakably suburban, it has everything we want. Excellent schools, a quiet almost rural setting, an easy commute, yet far enough away from campus, large front- and backyards plus a tree-house with tire swing for the Young Master, plenty of space indoors, no major repairs or replacements that require immediate attention (roofs, furnaces, water heaters, and so forth), and. . . a fully finished basement! Cue the insane laughter, please.
If the stars align just right, we plan to move in just before Christmas during mid-December. I know, I know. . . Serenity now!
House Update. . .
Our offer on the house that we most wanted has been accepted. Our real estate lady called me about 20 minutes ago with the news. We have a few more pieces of paperwork to sign etc., etc., but we will be able to occupy the house after December 8th. . . Well ahead of the Christmas holidays. I cannot wait! Our current apartment is very nice, fairly new, and so forth, but it's not 'home' by any stretch of the imagination. It will be awfully good to have a month,or so to unpack and settle in before classes resume in January. The Grand Duchess and I might just have a glass or two of wine this evening.
06 September 2015
The next nineteen RSM95 Prussians midway through the white basecoat of acrylic gesso. I like to apply two coats of the stuff before starting actual painting.
Very quiet around the temporary Stollen Central the last few weeks what with all of the required new employee seminars, professional development workshops, online training, and so forth before the start of the fall academic term last week and now course preparation four afternoons/evenings a week. Factor in visiting various houses that look interesting to us with our real estate lady and/or attending various open houses at homes currently on the market along with the Young Master, who is having some trouble adjusting to a new school and life here and is requiring some extra time and attention, and, well, there has not been much time at all for soldiering in any sense. Nevertheless, I did manage to sit down two weekends ago and apply the first of two coats of white acrylic gesso to the next batch of RSM95 Prussian musketeers.
Roughly half of the 80-figure composite regiment of infantry finished during the late winter-early spring of 2015 in the old Zum Stollenkeller. A company of Kurmainz grenadiers is at left with a company of Sachs-Weimar musketeers on the right. Most of the painting was completed with my usual oil, or alkyd oil washes/stains but some of the details were picked out with Citadel acrylics before the two coats of acrylic gloss medium were applied. I'll tack everything down to permanent bases once all 80 are completed with a supernumerary third rank of musicans and NCOs. Playing a bit with Perter Gilder's suggested basing from In the Grand Manner, don't you know.
Those with long memories might recall that I began painting a large (eventually) 80-figure regiment of these figures sometime last winter. With the exception of the white coated and green faced Kurmainz grenadier company, the unit is meant to represent a composite unit of Ernestinisch Saxon infantry. In a nutshell, one company was painted in blue faced red coats to represent Sachs-Weimar troops last winter, those above are slated to become Sachs-Coburg infantry in white coats faced red, and the final batch of 19 will be painted, once again, in blue coats with with yellow facings as representatives of Sachs-Hildburghausen. Dig around on the Kronoskaf Project Seven Years War website, in the Reichsarmee section I believe, and you can learn even more details about the actual units that wore these uniforms.
I'll finish off the unit with a couple of Minden Austrian standard bearers, who are just off camera above, but they need their hands drilled out, brass rod cemented into place to serve as flagpoles, plus Front Rank finials and flags before any true painting can take place. Naturally, I cannot find the darn box containing my pin vice, tiny drill bits, or the brass rod and finials. It could be anywhere in my closet or the garage. Grrrrrr. . .
In any case, for my last ever infantry unit of 80 figures (only 60-figure units from here on), it seemed like a good idea to break up the monotony by painting a unit that features several different uniforms. And indeed, it certainly helped combat the nefarious and persistent 'Tedium Demon' last winter with the first two batches of 19 figures each reaching completion in very short order. Then, of course, we were offered our respective new positions in Michigan, which brought everything else to a screeching halt as we began preparing for a major move and the sale of our home in Illinois along with the time in Berlin, which had alrready been organized and paid for by the time job offers came through from MSU.
Our German trip had its fun days and moments, parenthetically, but I would never recommend trying to cram a move AND time abroad into the same three-month period like we did this summer. We ought to have our heads examined, and I said as much to the Grand Duchess last spring, but she was adamant. Sigh. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I, for one, wouldn't do it that way again and would stick to my guns more stubbornly. We should have stayed put after the move north and kept life on a calmer footing during July and August. A chaotic existence is not fun when you slow down long enough to look at it without rose colored-glasses.
But back to soldiers. This is where things are at the moment. If I am permitted an hour or two to myself today (Sunday), I might be able to slap a second coat of gesso on the 19 figures shown above and then begin painting with my usual thinned down alkyd oil fleshtone in the next few days as we settle into the first full week of classes on campus. With any luck at all, I'll have a little more to show in the next post.
18 August 2015
Beautiful to look at , but very, very dangerous from a wargaming perspective.
In light of a recent conversation I had with a wargaming friend while in Berlin, I find myself lately pondering how I might use those unused Waterloo-era Napoleonics. These, some of you might recall, have been in careful storage since the early 2000s when I made the radical switch from 15mm to 30mm, and the Grand Duchy of Stollen project with its imaginary mid-18th century focus began.
In theory, it all seems so simple. So plausible. So reasonable. So do-able.
Here's my thinking on all of this. Think more like a general instead of a company officer. Make the game a more abstract exercise. Use the hundreds of figures I have painted already, transfer them to small, square basswood bases, and paint up the few remaining that I might still need. The figures become purely symbolic, a dozen or so (for infantry) representing various divisions and, in a few cases, brigades. Each base can then be modeled as some kind of interesting mini-diorama or vignette rather than trying to represent actual late Napoleonic tactical formations like lines, columns, or squares. Easy, right?
And yet, I know from experience that the Napoleonic road leads to an inescapable mire. Figurative Belgian mud. Hobby quicksand. Or, to put it another way, trying to reduce the entire Waterloo campaign to an attainable corps-level collection and playable game seems like a temporal sinkhole that leads nowhere. Except to madness. And still these thrilling, Peter Gilder-inspired thoughts plague me during the hours of consciousness. The Waterloo campaign was my first wargaming love after all.
Perhaps, it is a very good thing that all of my stuff remains in storage, and current living space very limited, given our temporary housing situation. Sigh. Far better to steer the course and continue with my tri-cornered hats and mitre caps in their semi-fictitious context once we are again in a house equipped with a Zum Stollenkeller Mk II.
16 August 2015
The recently released Hay Wagon from Black Hussar Miniatures. Tempting, don't you think?
Well, Sir, we finally made it through our front door just after 9pm last night (Saturday) after something like 24 hours awake and in transit. I immediately put the Young Master and his teddy bear "Bear" to bed while the Grand Duchess made me some fresh coffee, and then I quickly unloaded our suitcases from the car. Ahhhhhh. . . Travel is fun, but getting there and back is always an ordeal given the indignities of modern airports, jetliners, and related activities. The Grand Duchess and I sat and chatted for a few minutes, and then hit the hay. I'd bet we were both asleep before our heads hit the pillow. I finally woke at about 7am this morning, so I am more or less back on a regular sleep-wake schedule it seems.
"Wonderful, Stokes, old man," you might say, "Fascinating. But what about your residence in Berlin?" An interesting time to say the least, and I was sorry to leave the city Saturday morning. However, there is every reason to believe that we will be back in two years for the Grand Duchess to teach another summer course or two at The Free University, so it's not all gloom and doom.
On the military history and toy soldier front, we visited the grounds of Sans Souci in Potsdam on a cool, breezy Saturday early during our stay for the Young Master to run around and enjoy a day outside. I also managed to visit the Berliner Zinnfiguren store not once but twice for a couple of good browses. No, I did not purchase anything. Strange, I know, but I have so many books in my collection at this point that I need to be very discerning about adding new things. If something does not strike me as a "Wow!" I put it back on the shelf.
"What's wrong with you, man??!! Didn't you purchase any figures either?" I hear you ask collectively. No, I didn't. Not at Berliner Zinnfiguren. But hear me out. While that particular store has loads of figures in various sizes, most of these are of the flat 30mm variety, which are great. . . in the hands of more skilled painters than myself. And as far as 30mm guns and equipment, which BZ does sell, well, that sort of thing is now provided by Fife&Drum-Minden, and those are so incredibly nice that I saw little need to purchase anything from the Berliner Zinnfiguren folks this time around.
However, I did order a few recently released items from the folks at Black Hussar Miniatures, based, coincidentally, in Berlin-Charlottenburg, and I have included a few photographs here (pirated from the Black Hussar Miniatures blog) for your perusal.
Here is another shot of the same item, this time from a different angle.
The hay wagon (heuwagen auf deutsch) has a wonderfully ramshackled look about it, and I thought it would fit in very well with that large supply and pontoon train I cobbled together and painted up during 2014. Of course, that meant that I needed a drover to lead the horse, hence the trainknecht. Last , but not least, there is the set of four civilians, who seemed like they might be just the thing for populating a small village or an old tavern on the tabletop once we are again in more permanent housing, and I am able to set up a new and improved Stollenkeller.
Here is a close-up of the accompanying trainknecht, which I also purchased one of to, well, lead the horse to water and make him drink. I don't know. He looks like a "Ruprecht" to me.
So I did come home with a few figures in my bag. I also picked up a couple of other small goodies while we were away, of which more anon. . .
And finally, the four civilians that I mentioned above. They will provide a nice counterpoint to all of those frivolous and frolicking aristocrats that I painted up two, or three years back.
11 August 2015
Gelbensande Manor outside Rostock, Germany, masquerading here as the country home of the Grand Duke's cousin, one Bernhard 'Bumby' von Tempelhof.
It has been some time since last we met our heroes. Irwin-Amadeus II and his faithful manservant Hives have spent July and the first half of August 1765 summering outside of Königsberg, at the country estate of a distant cousin to the Grand Duke. Today is an unseasonably hot day, and we find Irwin-Amadeus II sitting alone at the harpsichord in the breezy music room, picking out a melody and accompaniment while humming to himself. He occasionally sings out loud and picks up a quill pen to jot down lyrics on a chord chart propped up before him.
Hives: (Enters music room with try of chilled refreshments) Good afternoon, Sir.
Irwin-Amadeus II: Ah, Hives! There you are. Give a listen to this. (Begins playing and singing):
Irwin-Amadeus II: Ah, Hives! There you are. Give a listen to this. (Begins playing and singing):
♪♪ . . . Good night Königsberg.
You city of a million something-or-others.
Yes, good night Königsberg.
The city where I nursed my broken heart.
Hm-hm, hm-hm, hmmm. . . ♪♪
I-A: (Stops) Well? What do you think? It took me all morning to work out.
H: (Places tray on a nearby table and pours tall glass of iced lemonade and hands it to I-A). Most inspiring, Sir (clears throat discretely) although might I point out that your song does bear a marked resemblance to that well-known composition ‘Goodnight Vienna’.
I-A: (A deflated look comes over his face) What?! Oh, blast! I knew it seemed too familiar. And to think that I’ve been going over that tune in my head for days trying to get it just right. (Sighs) Thank you, Hives (takes sip of lemonade and puts glass back on nearby table).
H: The unfortunate result of visiting the same operetta three times in one week, perhaps, Sir.
I-A: Yes. Yes, I see what you mean, Hives (looks toward ceiling thoughtfully). But the young lady playing the lead role is something to behold. When the light is good at least.
H: (With a mildly disapproving tone): You’ll pardon me, I trust, for suggesting it, Sir. But an opera singer on the stage is hardly the right match for a gentleman of your station and situation.
I-A: (Pauses momentarily) I suppose you are right, Hives. Mustn’t stir the ol’ socioeconomic pot too much, eh?
H: No, Sir. A large part of marriage, I am afraid, has to do with establishing the right kinds of social connections. Marrying someone similar to oneself in background and outlook can prevent a myriad of potential problems down the road. The state of matrimony is not simply about matters of the heart. Or it should not be.
I-A: (Reins himself in) No, Hives. No. You’re right of course.
H: (Raises an eyebrow) There was also the lady Leonora-Christina von Grandin several years ago, was there not, Sir? She was suitable in a number of directions. You could always open negotiations once more with her parents. (Suppresses a barely noticeable smirk) I am certain they would welcome your reaching out to them.
I-A: Oh, Hives really! (shudders comically) The Swedish oaktree? Never a serious chance. Anyway, that ship has sailed already. Thank the good Lord!
H: Just as you say, Sir. There are the three young ladies and their mothers, who have also been summering here with us the last several weeks at Herr von Tempelhof’s. Perhaps one of them might, as you are fond of saying, be just the ticket? More lemonade?
I-A: (Lost in thought) What? Oh, yes, please Hives. Yes. Um. . . No, I’m not sure any of them are the answer despite their letters of introduction from my three gorgons, aka Aunts Irmgard, Hiltrud, and Waltraud. It’s all of this business about molding, Hives. They want me to find a wife who will “mold” me into something worthwhile.
H: Sir, they are your aunts if you’ll excuse the observation.
I-A: (Mildly frustrated) Yes, Hives, yes. Frightful business really. All of this backroom letter writing and pitching of woo by post that has gone on around here this summer at the hands of these young ladies, their mothers, and my aunts. A man can’t hear himself think with all of the socializing. It’s nothing but games of Skat in the mornings, luncheons on the lawn, croquet in the afternoons, and suppers or balls in the evening. I mean, give me a good boarhunt on a crisp autumn’s morn, and I’m your man. But wilted watercress and cucumber sandwiches on a humid summer afternoon in the shade? No, Hives, no. All of the women involved, regardless of their parts in this convoluted dance of love, seem just a tad too eager it seems to me. Something odd in all of that.
H: Surely though, one does not wish to remain a bachelor forever, Sir. And there is the question of an eventual heir to the throne of the Grand Duchy if I might be so bold as to broach the subject. Surely there is ample opportunity between the three young ladies in our presence to make a suitable match?
I-A: (Makes face) Oh, come now Hives! Let’s look at the situation without our rose-colored glasses, shall we? Neither the one, nor the other. . . nor the other are quite the thing when it comes to taking a wife and settling down for the long haul. (Pauses) Pour yourself a lemonade, Hives. It is rather warm in here this afternoon.
H: Thank you, Sir. (Pours himself half a glass and takes sip, but remains standing some distance from the Grand Duke).
I-A: Anyway, as I was saying. Neither of these three young ladies quite fits the bill as pleasant in appearance as each one is.
H: Are you certain of that, Sir?
I-A: Hives really! I think sometimes you are this obtuse on purpose.
H: Just as you say, Sir.
I-A: May I go on? Thank you. Take for example the Lady Konstanz von Bingen. Easy enough on the ol’ eyes, with her curly auburn hair, blue eyes, and infectious laughter but she is one of those. . . (Makes face of great concentration) Oh, what is it? (Snaps fingers) Yes! Lady Konstanz is what some call a morning person.
H: A morning person, Sir? I am afraid I don’t quite take your meaning.
I-A: No more of that, Hives. No more I said.
H: Very good, Sir.
I-A: Anyway, she and her blasted mother keep arranging all of these early morning events to which they invite me: watching the sunrise over the lake at 5am, breakfasts on the veranda afterwards, animated conversation before 10am, and all without any coffee being served. That last item is vexing in the extreme. I mean, who in the world doesn’t serve coffee with breakfast? No, Hives. It can’t be done I’m afraid. I just don’t see a collective future with Lady Konstanz.
H: I see Sir. And we do enjoy our late breakfasts in bed, if you’ll pardon my saying. Have you considered either one of the other two ladies in residence, Sir?
I-A: Oh, Hives! (Rolls his eyes skyward) I wish it were so simple when it comes to the other two woo-pitchers, but things don’t look especially promising there either. The Lady Margarethe zur Löwe admittedly has a pleasing figure, and the most flaxen hair, but she seems especially fond of mineral water and rosehip tea, which is all well and good. But not without sugar and a dash of milk at least.
H: No, Sir.
I-A: And Lady Margarethe doesn’t seem to take much meat during her meals, or, indeed, to arrange for any to be served during the meals to which she has invited me at any rate. Where is the fun in a supper consisting entirely of unseasoned roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, and turnips, Hives? To say nothing of a breakfast with neither bacon, nor bangers?
H: I see your point, Sir, but the Lady Margarethe may simply have your health in mind.
I-A: But a man has to enjoy life, Hives. And then there are her topics of conversation. It’s always about fuzzy puppies, or furry kittens and things like embroidery, or the stars.
H: The Lady Margarethe does seem to have a rather idealized worldview, Sir.
I-A: An understatement, Hives. An understatement. No, I don’t foresee connubial bliss there either I’m afraid.
H: What about the third young lady who has joined us here at your cousin’s house?
I-A: (Makes a bug-eyed face) I knew you were going to ask about her, Hives. I just knew it. Call it gentleman’s intuition.
H: Have you nevertheless considered the suitability of the Lady Luise-Henrietta von Strenge, Sir?
I-A: Oh, Hives! She is the worst one of the bunch. Again, most attractive in a tall, rather slender way from what I am able to tell, and her dark hair and eyes could drive the right man mad, but she takes a rather pietistic view of life. She doesn’t approve of gambling, for instance, so attending the horse races and games of cards become suddenly less interesting. She also insists on giving endless recitals around the harpsichord in the drawing room during the evenings after supper. Now, that’s fine, of course, but her compositions of choice are always, oh, how shall I put it?
H: Spiritual, Sir?
I-A: You’re onto something there, Hives. Yes. And while a certain degree of spirituality can be a good thing, Lady Luise-Henrietta invariably goes too far in our daily interactions and somehow manages to suck all of the fun out of life. Why, it’s like having a spaghetti meatsauce without any garlic or other spices added to it, or a dried out loaf of whole-grain bread from the local farmers’ market if you take my meaning?
H: I do, Sir.
I-A: No, Hives. It’s time for us to think about heading for home, I am afraid. Our time here outside Königsberg with ol' Cousin Bumby has been remarkable on one level, but it’s not real life after all.
H: Agreed, Sir.
I-A: It will be nice, I think, to get back to the palace at Krankenstadt and settle back into the day-to-day with detachments of the Leib Grenadiers drilling outside my windows each morning. At least until the snow flies. These romantic entanglements are not good, Hives. Not good at all. It taxes a man’s mental and emotional well-being.
H: Shall I begin arranging things to pack your trunks for the journey home, Sir?
I-A: Not quite, Hives. Not quite. There is a lecture one evening this week at the university by some fellow named Kant that I’m thinking about hearing. You never know, eh? I might just stumble onto the young lady destined to become the eventual Grand Duchess of Stollen at that. Stranger things have happened.
H: Just as you say, Sir.
I-A: I think I’d like a new wig to wear over my own hair for that though. Hives, would you be so good as to visit that shop in town with the newest gentlemen’s wigs on display in the front window? You know, the one on Ohrwurmstraβe? There is a wig on display there that I would like you to pick up for me, please.
H: (Flares nostrils) The one with the golden half-moons and tiny imitation nightingales woven into it, Sir?
I-A: The very one, Hives. Have them charge it to my account.
H: (Raises an eyebrow) Sir? That particular wig is somewhat. . . frivolous. Is that really. . . ?
I-A: (Cuts him off) Hives, we’re not having that discussion again! I'll say no more about it. Now, here is what I would like you to ask when you go down there this afternoon. . .
-- Curtain Falls --
28 June 2015
A general view of the 2013 refight of Elbow River from early in the game.
Arguing Austrian/Zichenauer engineers during the same tabletop encounter. I painted a few different version of the uniform worn by Austrian engineers here -- there was, apparently, a change in uniform regulations between the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War according to my Osprey volume on the subject -- to add some visual interest.
Gawking local gentry along the edge of the battlefield. The figures come from various manufactures here, including Eureka, Blue Moon, and Minden plus those oblivious frolicking Jacdaw aristocrats in the background.
Minden Austrians painted as Saxon staff. These would be really nice, but I loaded too much Woodland Scenics fine grass scatter material onto the bases, darn it. The trick, as I once read in a book I've got on model railway and diorama scenery, is to let some of the ground material below (in this case stained fine sand) show through. The suggestion of turf is preferable to coating your bases in a veritable golf course-like carpet of the stuff as is the case here. Sadly, it's easy to get carried away when terraining your vignette bases. Less is more as they say.
A Minden Austrian Hussar officer and an RSM95 Croat. This particular vignette is one of my favorites. Small bases of just two or three figures often suggest some kind of story or other and add a great deal of character to the tabletop even if they don't play a direct part in the miniature battles. Unlike the photograph above, the more restrained groundwork on this vignette base seems much more convincing I think.
Some of General de Latte's Zichenauers about to wade into the Elbow River to engage the Stollenians on the far side.
"General Washington I presume?" A Fife&Drum staff group. The figures were painted mostly with oils over a base of white acrylic gesso in late 2013. A few small details were picked out with Citadel hobby acrylics.
Up too early for a Sunday morning thanks to bright sunlight streaming into the bedroom. So, what better way to wake up than to kill a few hours than with a mug of coffee and some classical music via ABC Classics FM from Australia via the internet? Exactly.
Fooled around with Photoshop Elements late yesterday afternoon and during the early evening after the Young Master's bedtime, brightening and cropping a number of old photos from the last few years. Here are a couple of pictures that feature figures from the Fife&Drum line. The American War of Independence isn't really my thing (not enough cavalry generally), although the Battle of Guilford Courthouse is interesting, but it's hard to resist purchasing and painting a few of these figures for my collection since the Grand Duchy of Stollen campaign is a semi-fictitious venture anyway.
As a result, I am quite happy to include F&D miniatures with the rest of my figures, and a few have cropped up here and there in a number of my vignettes during the last two years or so. All tricornered hats are fair game you know. At some point, I'll simply have to add two or three squadrons of dragoons since these figures are simply too good not to include a full unit of them on the tabletop. They can pose as some kind of irregular unit of cavalry or other in either the Army of Stollen of the Army of Zichenau without too much trouble I think.
Finally, we take off to Berlin for seven weeks in a couple of days, and I will take advantage of our time there to order a few more suitable mid-18th century goodies from Black Hussar Miniatures, based in Berlin coincidentally, plus a small package of dogs from Westphalia Miniatures in the U.K., and the Suren/Willie fox hunting set from Tradition of London. And, of course, there will be the obligatory visit or two to Berliner Zinnfiguren, always worth a good browse even if you don't find something to purchase.
As in previous years, the planned purchases will make the trip home in the carry-on baggage, mine this time instead of the Grand Duchess'. Once painted and given the usual scenic base treatment, these items will be used to enliven the peripheries of future tabletop encounters in the new Stollenkeller wherever that might be. The fox hunting set, in particular, should fit in rather well with that large group of frolicking aristocrats from Jackdaw that have shown up here before at the Grand Duchy of Stollen blog.
Skulkers! A few recalcitrant continentals in various uniforms creep away from the main firing line under the cover of powder smoke. Once again, F&D miniatures painted in much the same way as the staff vignette above during late 2013. The groundwork in both cases is a combination of fine sand stained dark brown with an acrylic wash. Woodland Scenics materials were then tacked down with artist's acrylic matte medium although a dot or two of superglue was necessary to keep the tufts and clumps of weeds firmly in place.
27 June 2015
"Who cares about the tortuous Stollenian artillery bombardment of our center! It's time for some coffee and a pastry or a cookie." De Latte and di Biscotti confer during my 2013 refight of David Barnes' Battle of the Elbow River.
Here's photograph especially for Tony. It's General Phillipe de Latte (at left) and his lickspittle of an ADC Major Paolo di Biscotti (at right). Once we are in a house again, and a new Zum Stollenkeller has been set up, these RSM95 figures will be replaced by a couple of Minden castings that currently reside in one of the packing cases lining the rear wall of my bedroom closet.