Thursday, February 25, 2016

Modeling the 3 Sisters -- Native American Corn, Beans, and Squash

Native Americans "3 Sisters" of corn, beans, and squash
 A number of scenarios that I'm planning for Song of Drums and Tomahawks games recreate the area just outside of Native American towns or villages. Many of the Eastern Woodlands tribes were agriculturally based. The women of the tribe would tend fields, typically of corn, beans, and squash. These vegetables were the staple of their diet, and were important to them religiously, too. They grew them together in their fields. The corn stalk would provide a vertical pole, of sorts, for the bean plants to grow up. Meanwhile, the squash would grow around them, their wide leaves preventing weeds from growing around the other plants.
European settlers typically plant their crops separately. So, you'd have a field of corn, a field of squash, and so on. I'd created some corn fields awhile back using the excellent JT Miniatures terrain. These placed three of the corn plants on a base so I could rearrange them in rows for fields outside of settler cabins. Now, I figured it was time to try my hand at modeling the 3 Sisters. I began by doing Google Image searches for drawings or photos of what it may have looked like. There actually weren't as many as I thought there would be. However, I am including a line drawing that I liked.

Next was the problem of what to use for the pieces? The corn stalks were easy. I bought another box of the JT Miniatures corn stalks from Hobby Lobby (I recommend keeping the 40% off coupon web page saved on your smart phone, if you have one). I looked through the plastic plants section of Hobby Lobby and Michaels, but there really wasn't anything with small enough leaves to pass for the beans. However, I had a backup plan. Years ago, I bought plastic plant terrain from a company called Pastimes on the Square. They had a large variety of plants individually based and flocked. One of the packs was very vine-like, and looked like it would pass if I cut them into strips.
I had bought these from Pastimes on the Square, and thought they'd serve as tiny bean stalks when snipped apart
Now, what to use for the squash? For my prototype pieces, I snipped apart another plastic plant base from Pastimes. I didn't want to cut up a bunch of them, so eventually it was back to Michaels to find something else that worked. I'm not 100% satisfied with the more round leaves of what I ended up using. However, the idea is to give the effect of the 3 Sisters -- not be a museum model of it. I was satisfied with the prototype, so I went into full-on production mode.
1-inch wooden disks made a perfect base for these terrain pieces
For the bases, I purchased packs of soft birch wood 1" circular disks. I was gambling they would not warp when the paint and glue and water soaked in. I needed them to be soft so that I could easily drill holes in them. I match up my hand drill's bits against the corn stalk and drill a hole in the center of each disk. I mixed up a batch of 5 Minute Epoxy, and put a dab over each hole. Then, I forced one corn stalk into the hole, pressing down on the edges of the disk when I was done to ensure the stalk doesn't protrude from the underside.
The bean plants attached temporarily to the corn stalks with bluetack until the epoxy dries
While the epoxy is hardening, I cut up the bean stalks and match one up with each corn plant. I also set a tiny ball of bluetack next to each one. I mix up another batch of epoxy and dip the bottom of each bean stalk into it. I then bluetack the bean plant to the corn stalk so that the blob of epoxy on the end touches the disk base. Once the epoxy has dried, I remove the blob of bluetack from the bean and corn stalks. I arrange a corn leaf or two to clasp the bean tightly to the stalk.
The squash plants are added -- some of them were trimmed up later because I felt they were too tall
Next up are the squash plants. I decide to put two to each base. First, I trim the top part of the plastic plants, leaving about a half inch of stem on each. I ended up going back afterwards and trimming even more off. Squash plants do not rise very high off the ground, and I made them too tall at first. Once I have two for every base, I match the stem against my hand drill's bits, and pick the match. I drill two holes on opposite sides of the corn stalk. Just like with the corn stalk, I put a dab of epoxy over each hole, and then set a plant down in each hole. This went SO much easier than the prototype, when I tried to epoxy the squash plant upright just to the base, without drilling a hole.
The bases flocked with Woodland Scenics brown ballast to simulate earth
Next, I take my premade glue and brown paint mixture and brush it on the base, avoiding the leaves, but going up to the bottom of the stalks and stems. I dip the base into a tub of medium brown ballast from Woodland Scenics. I shake off the excess, and then make sure the base sits flat without globs of ballast on the underside. I set them on a box I use to spray paint things. It has an irregular, almost pebbled surface, so they don't stick. I leave them to dry overnight. The next day, I mix up a batch of dark brown wash and gently brush it over the ballast. This gives it some depth, and makes it look more like dark earth.

After a few hours and the wash has dried, I dab the base with white glue in several spots. I sprinkle these areas with Woodland Scenics blended green turf so that each base has a mix of grass and earth areas. After the glue dries, I spray them with Dullcoate. Once dry, I brush on a 50/50 mix of white glue and water to seal it all in. One more spray of Dullcoate and the bases are complete!
Closes up of the completed 3 Sisters bases next to a 28mm Native American woman figure
I was actually surprised how quickly these were created and finished. It did not take long at all to make up 14 of them. There was no warping of the disks that I could notice. The soft wood made it so easy to drill the holes, so I think that was a good choice of base material. I will likely make up more of these, once I find some more plants I can use for the bean stalks. I used up pretty much all of my Pastimes on the Square bases that looked appropriate. So, if anyone knows where I can find more appropriate basing material, feel free to leave a comment!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mike!

    Those will make an excellent addition to the tabletop. The final product certainly looks the part. Since the Indians staggered their plantings, so they could harvest right up to, and maybe beyond, the first frosts, I suggest that you use some of your bases to represent the mounds of earth of the Three Sisters that have been cleared and planted, but have not sprouted yet. I look forward to your next post. Keep up the good work!