Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tessellation of the Plane ... and Beer (Again)

The Midwest is awash in independent breweries--and that's good. Jesus, after all, turned water into wine, and the good St. Kevin turned water into beer!

Millstream Brewing Co. is one of the older independents in the midwest. They're in Iowa, bordering me (Minnesota) to the south.

Maybe it's just the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, or maybe it's that I'm their new target penetration market--but I feel like I've been reading about and seeing their beer every time I take a left turn these days.

May I speculate fancily? It seems to me that the rise of the independent brewery is somewhat akin to the Protestants splitting off the Catholics. It gets hard to say if new movements destroy the old movements (anti-tessellation), or if new movement further sub-divide the old, a sort of hyper-tessellation.

Anyhow, I picked up a twack of Millstream the other day, and I was delighted by this label:

Good beer & an interesting label

Good beer & a good label! Let's talk about the label.

Let's Talk About the Label

I was startled to see mountains. And a mill. In Iowa. But damned if Google don't have Iowa mountains and Iowa mills, so pardon my ignorance. Quite frankly, every time I talk to anyone about Iowa, I leave the conversation with two thoughts:
  1. Iowa's a much better place that I imagined. 
  2. I'm sometimes a bit of a condescending dumbass, which is especially stupid for someone living in Minnesota (not because there's something wrong with Minnesota, but because so many dumbass condescenders direct their condensation our way).
But back to that label. It's a very cool pastoral scene they evoke.

And it contrasts, for me at least, so strongly with their coat of arms.

Granted, there is something definitely medieval feeling about a mill--but that's not what I'm trying to get at here. See, the coat of arms draws my mind immediately to feudalism, and the checkerboard pattern draws my mind even further into the way that feudalism tessellated the land, i.e., dividing it up like a checkerboard for the ruling class.

Meanwhile, the image of the U.S. plains with the mountains in the background and nary a barbed wire fence draws my mind to cowboys and the open frontier. "Open frontier." It's so cliche that it's easy to forget what it means. Even the idea of a stream-powered mill in this image might be taken as an example of someone using the land without a striking sense of ownership--I mean, the stream keeps flowing, after all, free and open for anyone down stream to use. Turner claimed (in his famous Frontier Thesis) that this frontier shaped the U.S. character, made it different from Europe.

Now this is where my thinking gets a little weirded out. I suggested that a prominent aspect of the U.S. frontier is no fences, graze the cattle where you want and don't dam up the streams--and this is started to sound rather communal, nobody owns the land, share and share alike. Too much like a European commons to be the root of the U.S. character?

So we not only have the frontier as an area that is not governed, we also have the frontier as an area that is shared by all and owned by none. (Native peoples, of course, rightfully view this quite different.) This strikes me as closer to anarchy, an idea militantly discouraged by the U.S. government--not an idea that is typically considered the expression of the U.S. character.

On top of that weirdness, we have the tessellated coat of arms mapped atop the image.

Well, what to make of these contrasts?

I bumped this by Daurde, and he pointed me to where we are in this image: according to label, Amana, IA.

Let's Talk About Amana

Amana was a religious colony founded by German Pietists. The Amanians lived communially up until the the 1930s. They cooked and ate in communal kitchens and labored in jobs that were rewarded in credits for Amanian goods and services.

How'd they end up in Iowa? The group started in Germany/Switzerland. They splintered off the Lutherans--depending on your point of view they either tried to bust up the tessellation of Christianity, or they were hyper-tessellators. Anyhow, they fled religious and governmental persecution in Europe and went to the U.S. In the U.S., they initially settled near Buffalo, NY, but eventually found the area too crowded, bringing too many worldly attractions too close to hand and also making it too expensive to expand as their membership flourished.

So, in the 1850s, they fled to the frontiers of Iowa and settled into a new commune.

Let's Tie it Together 

We have an image invoking a communal and government-free frontier. We also have the historical site of a commune settling on to the frontier as part of an escape from official prosecution and from worldly trappings.

Not bad.

But what to make of that coat of arms in the image? It creates a sense of dissonance in the image. Likewise, Amana, a commune, is dissonantly placed on the frontier.

In 1923, under economic and internal social stresses, the Armanian Elders (yes, they actually had Elders with a capital "E") met to vote on disbanding the commune. They ended up with a peculiar half-disbanding, expressed by Wikipedia as:
The Amana Society, Inc., corporate heir to the land and economic assets of communal Amana, continues to own and manage some 26,000 acres (105 km²) of farm, pasture and forest land. Agriculture remains an important economic base today just as it was in communal times. Because the land was not divided up with the end of communalism, the landscape of Amana still reflects its communal heritage.
Is the Amana Society, Inc. the feudal shield stamped atop Iowan frontier?

"Nah," is what I'm totally thinking to myself, "they just drew a pretty picture of the hometown and thought a cool looking knight's shield would be nice, kind of awesome, touch."

Could be--I might be right on that point.

Let's Have Another Beer

On the other hand, I grabbed another Millstream beer from my mixed twak tonight. Get a load of the label on this puppy.

Another good beer and another interesting label

For Pete's sake: Why the tessellating checkerboard blanket tossed across the very image of openness?

Let's grab another beer.

Yet another good beer with an interesting label!

Okay, so for serious foax. I know your thinking I saw all these labels before I wrote any of this, but really, I didn't!

As you can see:

  • This label shows the mill encroached upon by a farm, the fence running through the formally open prairie, and the land across the fence is tessellated by a plow (though the buck runs free).
  • Other labels show a feudal shield and a tessellated picnic blanket dropped upon the frontier.
  • Amana was a commune dropped on the frontier.
  • The Amana Society, Inc., dropped a corporate heir upon the land and economy of communal Amana, but the land was not divided.
Am I imaging things? Tell me what you think!


  1. Great! I love how you tied things together, St Kevin, beer summits, tessellation. I think your interpretation is valid, actually, but I'm not sure the artist intended to mean the meaning you've gotten out of it, at least on a conscious level. Like, okay, here's a symbol to mean this, to represent this change in the community status. But unconsciously, that may very well be what's going on. Then again, maybe there is a speifici meaning they wanted to convey. Marketing is rarely something left to chance and pastoral automatism....

  2. Yeah, it's hard not to think that the shield atop the frontier didn't influence the picnic blanket on top of the frontier. Surely one influenced the other.

    Connecting that to the Bock label might be a stretch. If it weren't for the other two labels, I'd describe that Bock label as an example of the illustrator (or painter, or whatever the right word is) having fun with vertical and nearly vertical lines, which contrast with the horizontal movements of the animals.

    Bear in mind that while this is a fairly successful independent brewery, they're still tiny, tiny, tiny compared to the big guys. Their idea of a marketing department is probably significantly different from what I'm accustomed to thinking of after watching Mad Men. Several smaller Minneapolis breweries seem to just have the brewers (who are also the owners) plus a few volunteers in charge of marketing. Millstream is a bigger independent brewery (I think), but I bet that at least one of these labels has been around for awhile--and further bet that they control significantly less than 1% of the U.S. beer market.

    That's not to say they intended to convey what I saw. I'm just happy to hear that I made enough sense for you think my point had any validity!

    One last thought: after re-reading this piece, I think that I wasn't clear about what I meant with "tessellation", "anti-tessellation", and "hyper-tessellation." I probably need to give that some thought.

  3. I agree, the checkerbard is almost certainly linked in both labels. What it mean is another story. Maybe just composition. We should look into Pietist theology perhaps.

    Good points all, Gid. Let's think about doing a post to define the tessellation doctrine with deets culled from preceding posts....

  4. In 1722, a small group of Bohemian Brethren who had been living as an illegal underground remnant in the Catholic Habsburg Empire in eastern Moravia (the so-called "Hidden Seed") for nearly 100 years arrived at the Berthelsdorf estate of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a nobleman who had been brought up in the traditions of Pietism.

    Spener died in 1705; but, the [Pietist] movement, guided by Francke, fertilized from Halle the whole of Middle and North Germany. Among its greatest achievements, apart from the philanthropic institutions founded at Halle, were the revival of the Moravian Church in 1727 by Count von Zinzendorf, Spener's godson and a pupil in the Halle School for Young Noblemen, and the establishment of Protestant missions.

    ....From the Rhine country, from Wuerttemberg, from Baden, thousands upon thousands of families began to flee the wars which so regularly devastated their ancient homelands. That tide of immigration became so massive that only fifty years later, at the eve of the American Revolution, the German population in the once solid English American colonies had swelled to about two hundred thousand, more than ten percent of the white settlers of the country.

    There also were already several German sects which closely resembled the Quakers; during the 1670s, Penn had made a tour of Germany and was struck by these people, whom he describes as “near to Friends, as to silence in meeting, preaching by the spirit, plainness in garb and furniture in their house.”....Within the first year, several shiploads of Mennonites and Pietists, both Quaker-like sectarians, had landed in Pennsylvania and established one of the first settlements, which became known as Germantown.

    ....As for the town itself, he added, “be sure to settle the figure of the town so that the streets hereafter may be uniform down to the water.” Out of this design grew the checkerboard layout of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love....Hoping to avoid the example of the congested cities of Europe and the disastrous London fire of 1660, Penn also added: “Let every house be placed . . . so there may be ground on each side for gardens or orchards or fields, that it may be a green country town, which will never be burned and always be wholesome.”

  5. 101/ in German, 'zinzen' means 'interest.' Thus, 'zinzendorf' equals 'village of those who collect interest' or 'village of those who pay interest.' 18th century Count vonZinzendorf was the grandee who became the patron of the Bohemian Brethren {Moravian Church or Unitas Fratrum or Hussites} .

    Men and women of the Bohemian Brethren left Moravia--Bohemia--Silesia to live on lands in Saxony provided by nobleman vonZinzendorf. He later organized the Moravian church's settlements in the New World's Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Winston--Salem, North Carolina. 'Wachovia' was the original name of the Winston-Salem establishment.

    . ....102 / silver mines and .gold mines existed in Silesia--Moravia--Bohemia


    104 / Wachovia Bank {3rd largest in united states} is named after a barony held by Count vonZinzendorf. One of his collateral titles was 'Baron Wachovia.' And 'Wachovia' was original name of Moravian Church's North Carolina enclave, today called 'Winston--Salem.'

    105 / Black and white 'checkerboard' motifs are discerened in paintings by John Valentine Haidt {see notes # 302 and 303 }, the same pattern central to freemasonry.

    Checked tablecloths were used in antiquity to facilitate the counting of coins among pre-cursors of bankers - - - ergo, the connection to the bankers we know as Templars. We also recall the checkerboard backdrops found in Father Sauniere's stations of the cross.

    2 5 1 / we often think in terms of the original designs of the city of Washington being in the hands of 18th century illuminati. Benjmain Latrobe, who designed the Capitol, was born to British parents who were Unitas Fratrum members.


    301 / Because no one is certain re forebears of Templar Hughes dePayens, perhaps we can see his family tree reflected in British PAYNE family. Possibly collateral relationships if not direct. Of course, after 1066, a number of aristocratic British clans would have French roots.

    @ 14th century cleric English Peter Payne travels to Bohemia to become active in Hussite movement ...

    @ George Payne was second grandmaster of English Freemasons

    @ Payne family prominent among Moravians of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Payne Art Gallery at Moravian College.

  6. They initially clustered on the alternate, even-numbered sections of the
    public domain for community affinity, thus creating unique, checkerboard neighborhoods that were bonded by ties of blood and marriage.

    ECONOMY. AN OHIO VILLAGE. ITS CURIOUS PEOPLE. In the Ohio Valley lies the quaint little village of Economy,. founded and occupied for many years by a sect of German pietists, a body of celibates, a thrifty, honest, indus trious people, once flourishing, but now diminished in numbers to a feeble and lingering remnant. The village itself has an alien, other world aspect as pronounced in its way as the accent of its older in habitants, and if one should be dropped into the midst of it asleep he might well think when he opened his eyes that he had wakened in some pretty little hamlet of the Fatherland itself. Economy, like many of its excellenit people, is built "on the square," after the manner of a checker-board.

    Our Calvinist fathers wore neckties with their bib-overalls and straw hats, a touch of glory with their humility. They rode their horse-drawn corn planters like chariots, planting the corn in straight rows, each hill of three stalks three feet from each hill around it, up and over the rises.... Each field was a checkerboard even to the diagonals. No Calvinist followed the land's contours.

    Contour farmers in surrounding counties improvised their rows against the slope of the land. There was no right way. Before our fathers planted a field, they knew where each hill of corn would be. Be ye perfect, God said, and the trouble with contour farmers was that, no matter how hard they worked at getting a perfect contour, they could never know for sure it was perfect--and they didn't even care. At best they were Arminian, or Lutheran, or Catholic, or at worst secular....

  7. That checkerboard is not random. The last quote is the clincher.

  8. Damn, D. ... Nice research. Your 10,000 hours have made you a master.

    I've never heard of the Bohemian Brethren. They sound intriguing.

    I also had not appreciated the importance of the Pietist. Mostly just snickered at their funny name.

    Love to do a post defining the tessellation doctrine. Your posts here have me re-thinking some of my thoughts on that topic. My thought are vague, misty--but still stretched by what you said here.

    The very last quote two posts above here is intriguing. Am I understanding it correctly? Does it suggest an irony to the notion that human-applied order is the manifestation of God's will -- rather than the notion that nature was God's will? Gah! What a ham-fisted attempt to explain what I mean! Maybe an example will help. Let's say I feel God move me to build a church using mathematics or to design a city with streets that checkerboard with room for each plot to have a house *and* a yard that can be mowed and decorated with tulips. Does that quote (last one, two posts up) suggest that, according to its author, God would prefer the natural meadow to the church and prefer the rolling hills to the checkerboarded streets? If these actions were not a manifestation of God--why did I have these impulses and the means to achieve them? Am I not created by God? Ought I not do what I feel compelled to do?

    I'm trying, of course, in this example, to understand how the author of the quote felt. Myself--used to think I was an atheist but have gravitated more toward a mysterian position lately, which gives me more room to consider these topics.

    (George Payne, btw, had no kids, but his brother had 9.)

    1. I'm not sure actually. I think two ideas, a) the perfectibility of man and nature present in some Protestant strains, plus b) God's command (in Genesis) to go out and subdue the earth would play into the question you pose. But I'm not sure I understand Pietism enough to know how those should be considered. I do think that the idea of imposing order on nature fits in with their theology....again, I'm not certain. As it turns out, I'm reading McDermott's "History of Christianity" at the moment (been reading it for months--it's massive) and I'm a few pages away from a section called "Pietists and Moravians". (Coincidence?) I've just been reading about the Pilgrims, etc. I'll get back to you if that gives me any insights.

      Plus, all those comments above were merely cut and pasted from Wiki and from articles I found after Googling "Pietism and checkerboard". Not much refelction, just thought they could be studied further for an article about tessellation and theology....

    2. Oops, the author is Diarmaid MacCulloch, not "McDermott". I actually wrote him some time ago for some advice on books to read....and he very graciously responded. Top-rate writer and a gentleman to boot.


    1 0 0 1 / The Moravian Church was at one time known as 'the society of religious freemasons.'

    1001 / Count vonZinzendorf organized the Order of the Mustard Seed. This alliance eventually became one for Freemasons who were ALSO members of the Moravian Church {Bohemian Brethren - - Unitas Fratrum -- Hussites).

    1002 / Although vonZinzendorf lived in an age when travel was slow, difficult, and uncomfortable, the aristocrat made FIVE trips to post--1717 London, years when he could have been associating with the first generation of Freemasons.

    1003 / Even though no one is willing to assert, 'Count vonZinzendorf became a mason in 17 ___ ,' his biographers DEFINITELY have him rubbing shoulders with the Royal Society types who were the earliest lodge-members during his five London visits.

    . .. . 1004 / the Goose and Gridiron tavern in 1717 London was the site of first meeting of Freemasons. The name of John 'hus' means 'goose' in Czech. note # 202

    1005 / the second grandmaster of the London freemasons was George Payne, who MAY have been tied to the Payne family prominent among the Unitas Fratrum denomination. { note # 301 }

    1006 / Hussite clergyman John Amos Comenius is often seen as one 'father' of Freemasonry, his 'pan-sophic' outlook contributing to the intellectual under-pinnings of the Masonic movement. Comenius, like Zinzendorf, spent time in England. The puritans of New England, in 1636, invited Comenius to become president of Harvard University.

  10. I think I've somewhat answered some of your questions in my Brasil post/comments. The Pietits were orderly, utopian, hard-working. They placed a high value on education and encouraged the acquisition of a specialized skill. I think this is a doctrine of human improvement and by extension the improvement of nature. The New World was a place to act on a lot of these impulses. That checkerboard idea is a reflection of their orderliness and hard-work, their community organization was a utopian experiment, made possible by the various skills of its members. Like a checkerboard of skillsets, each one unique, an orderly little square, working together to form the overall pattern. Individuality and community identity implied.

    These pietists were also pretty much imbued with covenant theology and the triumphant conversion of the wilderness into a garden, this latter I think is displayed on the label as well.

    Anyway, I'm sure there's way more to it than I can grasp, I'm not interested enough in theology to pursue it beyond a rather lazy read, conveniently well-timed. The Mac Culloch book is a treasure chest of gems and to be honest, the whole Protestant thing shines the least. Perhaps I find it dull because it's familiar. Anyway pp. 738-765 and that's all I've got for ya.

    1. Pie tits! Haha I'm the new Mel Gibson! (Sugar tits etc.)

      Honestly, in this tome I've been reading, the Protestant movement has been the most tedious reading by far. So dull and nit-picky, so self-righteous. No offense meant you Proddies out there. I'm not a Catholic apologist, I just think it's much more....imaginative, colorful, pagan and flat-out "weird." So. Dere ya go. Equal opportunity offender. Actually, like I hinted at in the last comment, the pursuit of theology seems to be a limbering kind of mental exercise, but ultimately....thoroughly absurd!

      Sorry Dr. Musser!

  11. Pie tits! Didn't see that pun.

    You've gone above and beyond this time, D. Appreciated. Diarmaid MacCulloch's "History of Christianity" is on my to read list. Which is long and behind schedule...

    1. Thanks, but not really. I just happened to be reading the book and to be honest, I think what I've said is pretty superficial, at best. I'm not sure I could explain Pietism anyway. It strikes me that so much I write here is half-baked, we're (I'm!) revealing our ingorance as we go, slowly accreting an "understanding". Most prudent would be to let stuff gestate and spring it up more fully-formed. Then again, as a kind of consciousness-process mapping, laying bare the ignorance and subsequent clarifications has its value.

      As for D Mac C, count on putting it down and picking it up as you take breaks to read other stuff. I've been at it at least a year. It's not a hard slog, but it does take time coz it's so dense. A few pages can have yr head spinning. It's also looong. I suppose it needn't be read could use it as a reference. Probably a book every Western household should have on the shelf, or something like it....

  12. Another thought about Pennsylvania. Penn is the "Keystone State" and was once called "the keystone of the democratic arch".

    "The modern persistence of this designation is justified in view of the key position of Pennsylvania in the economic, social, and political development of the United States."

    The Keystone is also the principal symbol of Royal Arch Masonry, which in some jurisdictions is practically a 4th degree of Craft Masonry. The Royal Arch rite was a divisive point, causing a rift in English Masonry between those styled as "Moderns" and those as "Antients" from 1751 until 1813. The Antients incorporated the Royal Arch into their system and, ta-da, "Pennsylvania Masonry is substantially Antient subsequent to 1785."

    Could this be one of the sources of the nickname?


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