I learned a few years ago but not quickly that when it comes to museums, you can’t do it all. It feels necessary, I know: millennia of world history! masterpieces of impossible import! the actual bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln! For a good half of my life so far I entered every museum with an endless To Do list, determined to see and love and appreciate (this is terribly important) every. last. thing., all in the name of Knowledge & Culture.
But here’s the thing. When was the last time I ever cared about pottery? I mean, maybe you do, and that’s great! But I don’t. So why am I wasting museum-time on whole rooms of the stuff? Do I really wish deeply to understand ever inner working of 18th century weaponry mechanisms? Then why am I reading all about them?! There is absolutely merit to learning for learning’s sake, but also when was the last time you really remembered all that stuff you learned about something you don’t actually like? Case in point: me, math.
Basically what I’m trying to say is I have always loved museums, but I love museums now especially because I have learned to take them at the leisure of my loves. Give me the miniature opera set designs! Show me the Blaschka radiolarians! Bring me the Byzantine angels! Leave me to the tall ships! You get the point. But of all these, take me first and immediately to the Ancient Greek and Roman metalwork, jewelry especially, rings most of all. This one is strange because in real life I don’t actually like jewelry much, or am at least very picky about it, but it also makes sense because these ancient empires could DO NO WRONG. At least where gold things are concerned. Which is why if for some reason I only have fifteen minutes in a museum, this is where I will start. And why whenever I am at the Met or in the British Museum, I pay pilgrimage to these ancient oak wreaths:
Metropolitan Museum, NYC
British Museum, taken upon my last afternoon in London, where I found this and only this room closed to the public for that afternoon only.
a sad day, compounded.
There is hardly any description for either, other than that they both originate from the Dardanelles region around 350 B.C. up to the 1st c. A.D., noting that Egyptian mummy portraits often depict something similar worn by the deceased. In the case of the British Museum’s object, curators think the crown might be of some Zeus offering, as oak, bees, and cicada all have significance to the ultimate deity, but the connection to life and death is unclear despite the fact that every golden crown similarly styled has been found in a tomb. Maybe they are part of passage to the next life, perhaps they eulogize accomplishments long past. Whatever they mean, they are my very favorite of all favorites.
But they are very much not for sale, which I have languished about on occasion. Happily, however, John had the afternoon free a few weeks ago and we ended up hiking through whole hillsides of brush oak and I had a tiny thought.
I will make my own.
Commence a half-hike’s worth of gathering, in which I filled both pockets with oak leaves and more oak leaves, plus stuck a few extras in my top-knot. It wasn’t until our return trip down the mountain that I began to think of any true meaning behind the act; I loved the crowns, and that was reason enough to imitate them. But also here I was amidst the season’s last great glory, and that is a funeral, too, and this crown an immortality. October has long been a favorite month of mine, and as I sit here typing I realize that my own modern artifact has taken on its ancient ambiguities. At the ends of autumn, a crown to commemorate all it has been, and a tribute to the turning of a new time.
The project hardly needs a full D.I.Y., but if you’re following along, grab a few extra supplies:
➝ one length of twined floral wire,
➝ a hot glue gun
➝ hot glue sticks
➝ metallic gold paint
➝ paint brush
Dumping your autumn plunder to the table, sort into small, medium, and large leaves so that you have an easily accesible pile of each. Shape the wire into a wide horseshoe, so that the ends nearly meet. This can be adjusted later to fit your head more exactly, but do try it out in the beginning to make sure you’re on track.
Starting from one end with a large leaf, run a length of hot glue from the middle of the leaf down to the tip of the stem, and lay this glued edge along the wire. The un-glued half should extend beyond the crown base. Once the first leaf is secure, continue adding leaves in close-quartered groups of two fanning outwards until you reach the middle. When this first half is done, repeat process from the other end. For a tapering effect, attach leaves from large to medium to small until the tiniest versions meet in the middle, where you can play around with any sort of golden-acorn arrangement. Fully formed, readjust as needed to individual head size and secure with bobby pins for extra hold. Et voilà! Look at you, all B.C. beautiful! Troy and a whole legion of Helens could not compete! And . . . I’m not going to lie . . . I’ve maybe worn mine around the house for hours at a time.
A FEW TINY TIPS FOR THE FELLOW MAKER:
Craft your crown within two or three hours of picking the oak leaves. Once dry they are much more fragile and harder to maneuver. On a related note, if you’d like less curl to your end result, lengthen the stripe of glue depending on how flat you’d like the leaves to lie. As they dry the oak leaves will curl inward and upward, so however much the leaf is tacked down will determine the volume of the finished crown.