Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Glamour shots for our venerable old lady

By: Erin Crissman, Curator
Last week, I was happy to organize professional photography for our oldest object, a 1750s Dutch plow.  Only three of these plows are known to exist in the United States. One is at the Smithsonian, one at the Daniel Parrish Whitter Agricultural Museum in Syracuse, NY and one here at The Farmers' Museum.  We don't know much about the origins of our plow, but the example at the Smithsonian is marked with a 1769 date and came from the Mohawk Valley area.

Even though we have very little information about the plow's original owner, it most certainly came from the Mohawk River valley between Albany and Amsterdam.  Since the Mohawk River has a wide floodplain, the Dutch settlers (New York State was originally a Dutch colony) probably found this land very similar to their native soil in the Netherlands - mostly silt, free of rocks and incredibly flat.  It is amazing what cultural history can tell us when there is no written documentation about the provenance of an object!

This wheeled plow was likely a great solution for the very flat land of the Netherlands. The larger wheel sat in the just-plowed furrow while the smaller wheel sat on the un-tilled land.  Plowing with this type of plow was typically accomplished in a continuous circle around the field. 

However, outside of the river valley, these Dutch natives likely found their traditional plows ill-suited for the rocky and hilly terrain of Upstate New York. The circular plowing method, used for flat land, was ineffective for hilly terrain, so the side-hill plow was developed. This type of plow has an adjustable moldboard (the curved wood piece behind the share that forces the soil to fall in a specific direction). It could be flipped from one side of the plow to another. This allowed farmers to plow across the breadth of the hill, rather than up and down in a circle pattern.

Despite the very hard labor that this plow performed during its lifetime (and it shows A LOT of wear and tear from years and years of use), today it is incredibly fragile.  It took four guys to safely move it onto the background paper for photography.  

Stay tuned for another perspective on this plow from Steve Kellogg, our blacksmith.

Above: Plow, ca.1750-1770, The Farmers' Museum Collection, F0031.1975 (Photo by Richard Walker)

1 comment:

John said...

This is my favorite object in the collection. I came very close to writing a paper on it until I discovered how little documentation there is on this amazing object.
Its sort of like a piece of alien technology plunked down in the middle of our world of everyday tools. It tells a story all by itself about our state, the tenacity of people's cultural traditions, the soil it worked and the crops it set in motion.
Hmmm, maybe there is something there after all?

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