A blog about the Cocoon project by artist Kate Browne

The Lenape Longhouse

Stan is a local hand-glider in Cragsmoor, a place off Route 52 that is a Mecca for hand-gliders. The cliffs there, part of the Shawangunk Mountain Range, were left from the receding glacier ice and anyone can step off them quite easily and beautifully into nothing. Stan will tell you that that’s why he moved to the mountain or that’s why he works or lives in the frigid cold so that on any clear day he can jump off the top of the mountain into air.

Stan worked on the Cragsmoor Cocoon in 2009. He told me that back in the 1980s he built a Lenape Longhouse over at the Mohonk Preserve. The story went something like this: Mohonk paid an expert from Massachusetts to come to the preserve with basket-weaving reed and show the group building the Longhouse how to use the reed to lash together the cross pieces for the structure. Below is my sketch of a Longhouse structure with Xs marking where reed would be lashed and knotted around the poles.

My sketch of a Longhouse structure.

So I asked Stan, what did the expert suggest? What knot did he use? Finding out what this knot was could put an end to my steel vs reed debate. The reed’s knot is very important because it must hold as well as — twisted steel wire. If the reed’s knot did hold, then it’s possible I could find similar local materials at other Cocoon sites. Over the next several days I asked Stan what the knot looked like, I showed him pictures from books, and talked about knots I had seen on the web. Finally Stan said, he couldn’t remember the knot except that it was simple like a granny knot. More important to the Lenape Longhouse builders at the Mohonk Preserve was that using reed instead of strips of bark was the only non-authentic part of the Longhouse.

As it turns out even a semi-authentic Longhouse is expensive to maintain in the 21st Century. The Longhouse at Mohonk has since been replaced with a fiberglass replica molded from the original semi-authentic Longhouse that Stan helped build.

When I went to Mohonk in search of this object I anticipated it causing a slight reverberation in my brain. I had hopes that seeing it would set off a scattering of tangential images and thoughts to carry me through several pleasurable days. When I crossed the field at Mohonk’s Spring Farm and came upon the object in its woodland clearing, my first reaction was not, “Wow look at that Lenape Longhouse, but wow that resembles a extra long porta-potty.” The preserve has padlocked it at both ends so it won’t be used for peeing or other more ambitious activities.

However, I wonder if there weren’t so many porta-potties on the Palisades Interstate Parkway, a highway that I take out of the city because its enclosed by trees and seems closer to nature than Route 4 which is enclosed by New Jersey strip malls, and also so many porta-potties just in nature nowadays, would this object have looked instead like a Lenape Longhouse. Would it have served its purpose, at least for me, of sending several glimmering waves full of new knowledge through my brain?

Written by admin

October 30th, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Leave a Reply