Sunday, 24 January 2010

Hiawatha's Song - The Nets that Bind Us

Please bear with me - I am not having a senior moment. The snow had cleared enough for us to go out and fill the pantry. While out, I nosed into a little charity/thrift shop and bought this item for £1. This is the perfect stitching project for a little girl I know - or rather her mother! (I confess to being a great lover of Hiawatha - it was the first poem I learnt by heart as a child: instead of bed-time stories my father taught me ships' rigging, flags of the world, morse code and the Song of Hiawatha. Years later, travelling in Finland, I discovered and fell under the hypnotic spell of the Kalevala, the model for Hiawatha. Now I really am digressing too much.) I was wrapping up the cloth to post when I read The Grenfell Association printed on the selvedge. This called for some research!
Well, blow me down with an eagle's feather! This funny little £1 item has quite a history. Wilfred Grenfell graduated in medicine in London in 1888 and in 1892 was sent to Newfoundland by the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. His mission was to improve the conditions of inhabitants and fishermen there. He recruited nurses and doctors and opened hospitals along the coast of Labrador - then he moved out of the box - he worked to provide schools, orphanages, co-operatives and industrial work projects. He was knighted, as he deserved, by King George V. My father, an old sailor, who loved Newfoundland where he had spent many leaves in the war, would have been as pleased as Punch to know this man. I can imagine the two of them talking together. I treasure the photo of my father and mother and big sisters taken at Buckingham Palace, taken when my father received his medal from King George VI. So, to return to the beginning. The Grenfell Association was set up to support the work of Wilfred Grenfell and this little cloth would have been produced to raise money for the charity. I shall make sure this history is passed on to my favourite little girl with her Hiawatha Doll kit.
And the last of all the figures
Was a heart within a circle,
Drawn within a magic circle;
And the image had this meaning:
Naked lies your heart before me,
To your naked heart I whisper


  1. How wonderful! I love finding treasures in thrift shops, esp textile related. Kudos on your investigative skills!

  2. Jacqueline, this is such a sweet and interesting post! That doll is darling. :)

    Wendy Sheppard

  3. I too love The Song of Hiawatha. The NY Philharmonic performed Dvorak's From the New World (9th synphony) as an accompaniament to a reading of Hiawatha, and after that I HAD to go and find and read the entire poem.
    Thanks too for your enquiring mind that drove you to do that research and for sharing with us.

  4. There is a giant statue of Hiawatha in a small town called Ironwood MI where my family were miners. It make sense now since most of the decendents are Finnish. Many pics have been taken of us on his foot.

  5. This is so interesting! My mother-in-law was good friends with Sir Wilfred's son or grandson, with whom I had the great fortune to meet several times. My mother-in-law has always been greatly interested in Sir Wilfred's mission and history.

    And, then, reading these comments, I see the note from kim's craft obsession regarding the Hiawatha statue in Ironwood, MI, and I laughed out loud. I have seen that statue many times, as we own family property in northern Wisconsin, just below Ironwood. I have been to Ironwood so many times in my lifetime . . .

    and now I am living in Budapest Hungary. Small world with unexpected and delightful twists.

    Thank you for posting this article! You made my day, my week, my month, and perhaps my year (so far)! Carolyn