Perception---you have that power.

There is purpose in design. There is information in a setting. There is truth in your environment. Fake or real, it's there.

All images are copyrighted by Heidi Hoffer unless otherwise indicated. Your courtesy in using my photographs must include crediting me as the photographer. You must tell me when and where you've used them and send the link to me showing your use of them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dragons and Other Medieval Animal Zoomorphs

The Musée National du Moyen Âge in Paris, France has the best and most approachable collection of pieces. Medieval works are featured here, including the Celtic chair discussed below. The lighting is difficult for photographers in the wintertime, but manageable using a clever camera. Photography is allowed in the museum with no flash. Photographers must use existing light only. 

What struck me most about the medieval times represented is the penchant for dragons. Even in the Christian religion there is the St. George and the Dragon story, which some scholars believe is a very early story used to undermine the old ways (dragon) in favour of new ways (Christianity) when that religion was introduced to the Celtic lands.
Photo by Heidi Hoffer. All rights reserved.
 This post will discuss the idea of animal likenesses as objects humans use. Their design is either decorative or useful such as mice drawer handles. In the museum there was this wonderful wooden medieval chair from about the year 1000 AD.  Every inch of it was carved with Celtic helmeted men and sinuous dragons. This I photographed at the Exposition: Celts and Scandinavians, Artistic Meetings, Seventh through the Twelfth Centuries.

The first four photographs here are of the wooden Celtic chair; the design of the dragons and other beasts is merely decorative and possibly inspired by a story or myth of power.  I was amazed that an extant wooden chair from the 11th century existed in such good shape, and that the Celtic peoples HAD chairs of this nature in the first place. It’s linear outline or silhouette is Roman or Egyptian, but the décor is heavily Celtic.

The front seat rear rail contains these carving of men and dragons. I thought they looked mostly like dragons trying to break out of an egg.
Photo by Heidi Hoffer. All rights reserved.
 The front rail of this chair seat shows what looks like horses, lions and more dragons.
Photo by Heidi Hoffer.  All rights reserved.

The central splat at the back is cruciform in shape, the center of which shows a twisting dragon in a roundel. There are additional serpentine shapes on the cross arms.

Photo by Heidi Hoffer.  All rights reserved.
 People in the world over have references to dragons in their cultures. Basically, Eastern dragons have good things associated with them, and Western dragons are bad and eat children. Overall, though, the dragon is a power symbol. Perhaps this chair, since the dragon is contained in the roundels and the helmeted warrior on the front seat rear rail looks to be half dragon half man; this chair represents a seat of power.  The ancient Celtic peoples revered their dragons as wise and full of guidance for ruling the land. Celts typically believed the dragon brought the heavens and the underworld together.

For interesting but not necessarily verified reading on Dragon lore, check out Reptilian Agenda’s article and neka’s

For the Musée de Moyen Âge (Musée de Cluny) website check this in French:

The zoomorphic ornament and interlaced designs featured in the chair above are relatively flat, bas relief carvings. A similar central design emblem is the lion’s head seen on the fencing around the l'Hôtel de Ville (Paris), in slightly more relief than the carved wood. 

Photo by Heidi Hoffer.  All rights reserved.

In this sense, like the fully sculpted lions that often guard entrances to city buildings, the lion seems to be a security device, proclaiming that power resides within the grounds or building. Indeed, most door-knockers on formal (Roman inspired) facades feature a lion’s head.  This great image of a Medieval Lion Head door knocker  I purchased from Dragoneye at Dreamstime: © Dragoneye |  (© Dragoneye |
Old medieval iron door knocker in shape of lion head isolated on white background with clipping path. © Dragoneye |
Izzy Burton's photo of a door knocker in Paris also shows the oddly shaped head, and the crossed paws are a delight to see instead of the usual brass ring. With THIS one one actually gets to touch part of the animal in order to use the door knocker as one does with the mouse drawer handles discussed below. Izzy gave me permission to post her photograph in my blog. Here is HER Flickr site:

Photo by Izzy Burton. All Rights Reserved.
I like the fact that Northern Europeans likely did not get to see lions, and often created their sculptures based on verbal descriptions. Perhaps that is why these lions have such a long bovine faces.

So, door knockers are useful as well as decorative!  In this next image, the actual BODY of the animal is put to use – as drawer handles! In this case, the animal is not morphed into something else. It is a pretty good replica of a mouse, mouse-sized,  and used as drawer handles. (Maybe they are rats as Medieval rats might be smaller than modern rats.) 

Photo by Heidi Hoffer.  All rights reserved.
  Climbing up the linen fold carved drawer fronts, right where you’d put your hand, are beautifully carved little mice. Make one think of the old nursery rhyme, …the mouse ran up the clock.” Here’s a detail:
Photo by Heidi Hoffer.  All rights reserved.
The next item is a drinking vessel. It starts out with a round rim and handle like any mug, but it turns into a horn (evoking the old fashioned real animal horn drinking vessels) which ends in an amazing wolf’s head flourish. Again, I rather like the idea that the drinker is imbibing the characteristic of a wolf…
Photo by Heidi Hoffer.  All rights reserved.
You never see a lamb’s head drinking horn, or a pig-head one, so obviously those animals have a lesser character of strength and virility and cleverness.

Returning to the purely decorative, but in a more three-dimensional way, are these snakes which twine themselves around a crystal chalice. They don’t actually do anything except hold the crystal goblet to the golden base.  The effort and realism here is what caught my eye. I did wonder about the snake which sheds its skin and has a bad reputation in Christianity as a choice for a chalice, though.
Photo by Heidi Hoffer.  All rights reserved.
Lastly, there are these cute little salamanders which peek out underneath a heavy armoire. The top of the armoire features bull’s heads, and underneath are these little guys who look to scare someone who is sneaking into the cupboard unawares. These carvings are about the size of iguanas in real life, and have no teeth! They serve a purely decorative purpose, and are not useful to humans using the armoire.

Photo by Heidi Hoffer.  All rights reserved.
 If you liked this post on zoomorphic ornament, consider following my blog to see where my design eye goes next! Maybe we’ll stay in Paris for a while.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Scottish Festival Personalities: War Re-enactors and Artists

As I travel around the world I am always interested in the choices people make for personal adornment. This could be as simple as deciding which earrings to wear to deciding how to complete a serious re-enactment outfit. At the Oklahoma Scottish Festival I saw a good bit of both, and also noted that somehow 19th century artillery re-enactors got involved in the festival, too. They even got to shoot off their cannons.
River West Festival Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma
This handsome fellow roamed the festival.

The performers had to shift for themselves, it seems. This musician re-worked the sound system to make things better.
Scottish Musician
Scottish music abounded throughout, but my acoustic favorite was these harpers. A whole stage full of them created quite an astounding sound!
Potters, it seems can visit every fair and fit right in, Scottish or not. This lady had the patience of a saint as children would ask her many, many questions. She had excellent skills and was throwing well-balanced wares on her wheel as we watched.
This father and son duo caught my eye and I asked if I could take their picture. They were delighted, and very happy to pose. I believe they were not unique in their zeal for the fair, but they looked like they had the most fun.
Father and Son Duo
At the MacPherson tent, I found the patriarch tuning on a set of parlor pipes. Excellent playing, and his hands were astoundingly agile and delicate as they coursed over the holes. Wonderful clan with whom I could be associated!
This black shirted and kilted onlooker framed nicely the father and son in Kilted regalia. The Scottish Festival is being passed down to the next generation for sure.
This ends my blogs on the OKScottsFest. What designed event will catch my eye next?

Saturday, October 13, 2012


The OKScotsfest 2012 in Tulsa featured typical highland feats of strength. Imagine great beasty athletes in kilts, shrugging off the fact they were wearing "skirts". These brawny men and women are the foundation of the Scottish Festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The draw for most Scotsmen athletes is the Highland Games. Generally these games are tests of strength which imply certain knowledge of body physics in order to not harm one's self in the competitions.


The judge on the left in the picture above is writing down a measurement of distance. Notice the military style kilt pin on his kilt shown in the close-up below. The judge has used the pin to hold a second writing instrument!  I also noticed that most of the athletes had on t-shirts with their kilts rather than a nice linen shirt, and several contenders had special shoes and socks. Many also had what looked like weight-lifter’s belts.
All of the athletes appeared to fit the description of big and  burly,  women included. There is simply no way to be dainty and still be able to accomplish these feats. The women looked fabulous!
This fellow is participating in the hammer toss. Notice the safety fencing! The hammer toss is derived from older competitions where an actual sledge hammer was thrown.  The object is to throw the longest distance. The trick is to create a circular elliptic by twisting the body around and around with feet planted firmly into the ground by means of a metal toe spike while swinging the hammer from a low point toward the audience to a high point towards the distance range. The competitor releases the hammer at the high point of his high elliptic. Where it lands and is marked and measured.
Another feat of strength is being demonstrated by this fellow lifting from the ground a large tractor tire. This is one of the most typical strongman events at many competitions, and also one of the most personally dangerous. Each lifter is coached by a professional here.

The traditional caber toss is being performed by this competitor. One lifts the caber (basically, it is a telephone pole) vertically and runs forward judging the correct time to flip it end over to land as far away as possible. Balance seems to be the key goal after strength here. It is originally thought that this skill was considered a good one to have in order to toss logs across chasms in order to cross them. There are several weights and lengths of cabers, even small ones for children!
The weight toss again is a skill attainted by practicing the correct time to throw after acceleration. The goal is to toss up and over a bar. The interesting things, is that while one form of this toss has you tossing sideways, the form I say in Tulsa had the tossers tossing backwards over their heads which is another acceptable form.
The Humvee pull is a well-received event. The competitor in the picture above wears a harness which is for pulling the Humvee and the huge rope he is pulling on is pinned to the earth by the weight of the tires of another truck. The fellow in white is keeping the rope out of the way of the competitor. The object here is to get the Humvee rolling and pull it past a certain point in a certain amount of time.
Other events not pictured include tossing a straw-filled burlap bag with a pitch fork. Amazing skill is needed for that. The Highland Games brought about a stong feeling of admiration for all of the competitors. Well done, athletes!

Saturday, October 6, 2012


When I was in Pretoria, South Africa, I dragged my friends to a Scottish festival complete with pipe band competitions and Scottish foods for sale. I was enchanted by the sound of bagpipes floating towards us from what looked like a huge park, and we followed our ears until we got to the site. You can really hear those war pipes from a long way off. Recently, I was able to go to the Oklahoma Scottish Festival . It was a strikingly similar festival complete with band competitions.

The first thing I did of course was to follow my ears, and find the competition field for the Pipe & Drum bands.
The judges check the group for something worth points and make marks on their clipboards. These judges are extremely serious, and even cup their hands around their ears to better isolate the bagpipe sounds.
The first band I watched was the Silver Thistle. They hail from Austin, Texas. Their unit was slick and polished, and the judges were on them like fleas to a dog. I believe they performed very well.

Members of the Silver Thistle Pipe and Drum corps perform in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Here is another example of one of the judges pacing around the group. What I really enjoyed was the fact that even the judges were dressed with great attention to detail. Just look at the shoe laces that tie up around the ankles! The very shoes are special, too. The socks look thick and wooly, and the ribbons poking out create a nice bright spark of color.
Now, where else do you see such interesting leather cutwork on shoes?

There is something about the perfection of these bands. When they are on the field everyone’s competition pour their eyes over them and discuss in great detail any possible shortcomings. Here is a picture of what I assume are members of the competition.

Above are kilted members of another pipe and drum corps.
Here is one last image that shows more about the peculiar details of clothing one can see at a Scottish Festival. Here you can see the ribbons at the back of the hat and the red pom-pom cockade and the metal badge on the left of this man’s hat.
The Oklahoma Scottish Festival  was filled with regimental kilt wearers and in the next blog post I’ll show some of the other dapper and unusual Scotsmen, or should I say Scotspersons?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Final Jabulani Update with Photos Courtesy of Denis Hutchinson, Theatre Consultant

Jabulani, the new theatre complex opened in Soweto Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday May 25 2012. The TimesLive called it “…an assortment of colorful boxes.”, and continues its story to explain the box shape aids in the acoustics. Here is their link:

DWR Distribution posted the best article from a theatre technician's view point. Load of pictures, lots of excitement, great technical information! Here is the link!

The BBC provides this short video report featuring the first show in the space rehearsing. (You have to wade past advertisement to get to the video unfortunately.)

AlJazeeraEnglish provides this very nice video of the theatre without advertisements. It features the theatre as well as tries to summarize the historic riotous events that shaped Soweto.

And finally, is a link to the www. article boasting of their great award for the theatre design, the “…social / environmental impact development prize, which recognises and measures the positive impact of any development on its surroundings and region.”

At the end of the above report, there are links to 5 more stories about the theatre.

I’ll close now with some final images provided by Denis Hutchinson.

The proscenium stage now has its floor, fly system, and seating in place. Photo by Denis Hutchinson.

Stage employees begin the hanging and focusing of the lighting instruments. Photo by Denis Hutchinson.

This view of the proscenium stage shows the stage left corner and part of the seating including side balcony. The red acoustic tiles help provide even more red color complimenting the upholstery on the audience seating. An employee is getting the final construction dust off the floor. Photo by Denis Hutchinson.

Here is an image of the “front” of the theatre featuring the separately coloured and shaped boxes for each theatre. A groundskeeper tends to the new landscaping which will add some beautiful relief to the building site.  Photo by Denis Hutchinson.
Pictured here is a walkway to the theatre, bordered by brand new trees and covered by awnings reminiscent of the Sidney Opera House. Photo by Denis Hutchinson.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Beautiful Musical

Drowsy Chaperone was the last show in the Spring semester. A big musical. I commend my students for learning by leaps and bounds on this one. Next Fall semester, they have either their own shows to design or a larger responsibility on a big show like this one. It is exciting to see their progress.
Tottendale Scene with full cast. Designed by Heidi Hoffer with Lights by Denis Hutchinson, Sound by Will Burns, Costumes by Judith Cronk. Show was Directed by Peter Westerhoff. Orchestra was from OSU!

The Garden Scene. Designed by Heidi Hoffer with Lights by Denis Hutchinson, Sound by Will Burns, Costumes by Judith Cronk. Show was Directed by Peter Westerhoff. Orchestra was from OSU!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why does farm equipment often resemble creatures?

Old Case Wheat Harvester - Photo by Heidi Hoffer
At the Payne County Exposition Center, there's a museum of vintage and antique cars, vacuum cleaners, and farm equipment. This Case Wheat Harvester's "head" looked like so many different animals to me. I could see a floppy eared dog, a chameleon, a happy fish face, and more.
Above is the link to the website where I found a picture of what I think this creature looked like unfolded and out in the field.

 If you go to the website for the full image of the old harvestor, you'll be in for a treat of old seed lore and growing food. Their pictures are particularly nice!  In the above image of the old harvester, submitted by  DavidInAmityOr,UsdaZ8 on January 31, 2009 at 10:58 am PST, I can really see a resemblance to a dashound, or a lizard, or a long-tailed duck.

The John Deere tractors also caught my eye. It was night time, and the tractor arena was lit by Mercury-Vapor lights. The tractor collectors had just finished a parade around the expo center. This imposing John Deere was my introduction to the beauty of tractors. This fellow looked stout and ready, like a prize-fighter.
Photo by Heidi Hoffer.
The John Deere group of tractors shows they came in all sizes. Huge tires and strong looking steel horizontals made it clear these tractors were designed to pull anything and featured strong power take offs to make any attached piece of equipment work. In the background of this photo you can see the revolving metal basket ride with its star shaped lights.
Photo by Heidi Hoffer.

Photo by Heidi Hoffer.
The red International Haverster tractor had exceptionally well-designed lines. The design of the grille is of course meant to allow fresh cool air into the engine. It's creators actually took the time to round the ends of the grilles and line up interior screw holes through rounded openings as well. The fronts of both the John Deere and the IH were impressive.

I looked hard to find an Oliver tractor. It seems this part of the country favored Deere. However, my search was rewarded with an Oliver that looked like the Oliver I rode back in my dairy summer in Pennsylvania.
Photo by Heidi Hoffer.
Massive strong machines meant for hard work were also designed to look nice: rounded corners, good-looking grilles, useful headlights, and powerful reassuring structures. It's no wonder people collect them and refurbish them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Soweto Theatre Jabulani Update

Thanks to Denis Hutchinson, Theatre Consultant on the project, I have three new photos of the theatre complex to share!

The land in front of the complex will get a beautiful paving design.
See all those dangling wires? It looks like the proscenium theatre is getting its fly system in order.
This theatre looks like it has its sound absorption materials in place.