Leaning the Hutmacher Complex Into a Global Context

By no means am I the first to recognize that the world, planet, or globe has lately been so intensely populated by humanity. Things really took off about the 18th century, and a variety of Industrial Revolutionary pulses provided the catalyst that intensified those population explosions. Think about it: assembly lines provide us with the economic access to all sorts of stuff. It is built so quickly and efficiently that more and more folks can afford it. Before assembly lines, though, artisans poured time and energy into works of art that were only accessible by a few (perhaps the Pre-Industrial 1%’ers).

Prior to the variety of Industrial Revolutionary pulses (so my thinking goes), I have experienced or have been fortunate enough to locate what we might call the archaeology of the home. In this

Robert Kurtz explains the Hutmacher homesite in western North Dakota to a group of scholars assembled in Houston, Texas.

realm, Robert Kurtz is making large amounts of scholarly head-way at the Hutmacher homesite in western North Dakota, and beyond. In my own experience, I have unintentionally come across (I’ve never been a big fan of the word “discover”) stone circles (or what in lay terms are “tipi rings”), earth-lodge remnants, and basement foundations, to name a few. Prior to the global population explosion, a large swath time was spent in villages, and these villages were built piece by piece using local materials.

Placing the Hutmacher site (and humanity) within the context of the globe is why descriptions of 1898-1902 Russian peasant vernacular architecture are of interest. Literary passages from, for example, Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia (Indiana University Press, 1993) help to understand these villages. Dr. John Cox first introduced me to this work in the spring of 2011.

If you look at the Hutmacher (and if you have worked there as well), you’ll notice that vernacular architecture reflects the spirit of the times (sometimes the spirit and times are very local). This means that the length and width of the building came about through human ingenuity using available technology at that particular place and time. So if you wanted to build an abode or outbuildings, you did so with the consideration that you had to, in the case of the Hutmacher, pitch straw and mud up on the roof with a pitchfork from the back of a wagon. This limited how wide any room of a home would be — practicality figures into this. Large homesteads and villages also required laborers (to maintain all the structures), and this in turn was something that the moms and dads would think about when enlarging families. If you have more children, you need more rooms or space, but you invariably have more laborers.

Hutmacher abode at the homesite in western North Dakota. On-going restoration organized in large part by Preservation North Dakota.

Back to Olga, and even Vasily Grossman’s opening remarks on peasant architecture in Life and Fate. Think about the German-Russian Hutmacher in western North Dakota, and then read the following passages. The first is from Olga, reporting from the countryside about Moscow, circa 1898-1902:

…Back to the house. The stretch of the wall from the stove to the wall with the entrance door is also lined with a bench (zadnik), which in the corner joins another bench (pridelok) that runs up to the entrance door. Next to the protruding corner of the stove there is a post (the same height as the entrance door) that supports a beam, the other end of which rests on the log forming a lintel just above the door. The space between this beam and the wall running parallel to it is covered with planks to form a kind of raised platform or loft, on which older members of the family and small children sleep. The rest of the family is accommodated on the sleeping shelf atop the stove and on the benches lining the walls of the house…

…Stay with me here. This is going somewhere…

…In the left-hand corner opposite the entryway stands a table. Normally a peasant’s house has one or two short portable benches that are brought to the table for dinner and supper. The floor is made of either hard-packed earth

A photo of a Russian peasant home taken by Olga Semyonova, likely from the village of Muraevnia. See Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, “Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia” (Indiana University Press, 1993), p. 122.

or wooden planks (rough or finished). If of planks, these are supported by joists and run across the house parallel to the entrance-door wall. In a floor made of boards, there is usually an opening through which a ladder leads into a pit dug out under the house where potatoes are stored. Above the bench opposite the entrance door, shelves are mounted on the wall to store dishes. Ceiling boards run parallel to the wall with the windows and are supported by a beam that rests on the walls. On the attic side these boards are coated with clay and a layer of dry leaves, and topped off with earth. The roof is supported by rafters and angle brackets. Wattles across the rafters form a base for brushwood, which is then thatched. The lintel is hewn as the walls are being ererected, but the door frame and window frames are purchased separately…

…Seriously, this is going somewhere…

…In the past, wooden houses were made chiefly of oak, but nowadays willow wood is more often used. Numerous masonry houses are also found, accounting for more than half the homes in a few villages. The clay-walled type of house is becoming increasingly common as we see more and more family divisions and splitting up of property [so that people live in smaller families but with fewer resources]. Many peasants now have neither a threshing barn, a shed, nor even a yard of their own…

This 1898-1902 sample is transposed against some of the opening lines to Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate, (essentially the War and Peace of the 20th century) at least his opening descriptions of how Nazis imposed standardization onto the village countryside of eastern Europe and Russia:

…It hadn’t rained, but the ground was still wet with dew; the traffic-lights cast blurred red spots on the asphalt. You could sense the breath of the camp from miles away. Roads, railway tracks and cables all gradually converged on it. This was a world of straight lines: a grid of rectangles and parallelograms imposed on the autumn sky, on the mist and on the earth itself. Distant sirens gaive faint, long-drawn-out wails… The fence of the camp appeared out of the mist: endless lines of wire strung between reinforeced-concrete posts. The wooden barrack-huts stretched out in long broad streets…

This next part is important.

…Their very uniformity was an expression of the inhuman character of this vast camp. Among a million Russian huts you will never find even two that are exactly the same. Everything that lives is unique. It is unimaginable that two people, or two briar-roses, should be identical… If you attempt to erase the peculiarities and individuality of life by violence, then life itself must suffocate.

Okay, that’s enough for now. But anyhow, this is some of the stuff to think about when slinging mud at the Hutmacher in western North Dakota; or some of the stuff I think about when I think about having slung mud at the Hutmacher site in western North Dakota. There is individuality within historic archaeological walls, or at least individual labor reflected by the walls. I don’t mean this in some kind of delusionally nostalgic or romantic vein. But hard work went into putting these homes up and together. It’s worth our while to think on this, to restore it, to preserve it. Not necessarily to stop humanity from living today, or pushing onwards into tomorrow. But at the very least to think on where we came from, and give a type of nod to our predecessors.

3 responses to “Leaning the Hutmacher Complex Into a Global Context

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