Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

Max Pollak [1886–1970]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

POLLAK, Max [1886–1970]

“Wien, Notsteg Uber den Donaukanal” / Vienna, Emergency Pier Over the Danube Canal


mixed technique intaglio / ed. unknown

25 3/8 inches by 31 inches (image)

Born in Prague, while it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Pollak was educated in Vienna. This print was done as part of the Austrian record of World War I. The Nazis destroyed much of Pollak’s work as “degenerate Jewish art”.

The Milwaukee Road


The rail crossing guard house has gone the way of the caboose.

As late as 1971, something akin to these lollypops stood on the west side of Broadway in downtown Fargo: a shack, probably no larger than six-by-eight — just big enough for a chair and writing shelf — braced at the top of a substantial post. I barely recall its access, more ladder than stair, though I also cannot remember seeing anyone inside it, ever. I suspect the obligation for it to be occupied had expired and the outhouse-on-a-stick disappeared soon after.

When the Milwaukee Road reached Agincourt isn’t settled. Nor do we know whether an earlier line had formed, one to be acquired by the larger line when it saw appreciable traffic — and revenue. So I can’t say with any assurance when a guard might have kept watch where Broad street crossed the railway at the south edge of town; whether his shack would have been something unique, jerrybuilt, eccentric or whether it might have been a stock, pattern-book design, a corporate predictability. It could easily have looked something like either of these:


Sister Cities and Such

When my world — surely not yours — turns to a roiling bucket of vomit, I write. Doesn’t matter what. The topic could be a current project, say, the William Halsey Wood manuscript. Could be bad poetry — though I shall never post it here. And then there is Agincourt, my own personal rabbit hole of avoidance.

Quite by accident this evening, the word “worpswede” crossed my path. Was that a misspelled reference to Star Trek? Or a criticism of liberal agendas in Scandinavia? No, Worpswede turns out to have been an artists’ colony in Lower Saxony, about 100k from Hamburg, a city which I would like to know far better. Worpswede is an old community but in the late 1880s it accidentally acquired the seed for becoming a colony of fine artists, printmakers, sculptors, but primarily painters of the vernacular landscape.

My knee-jerk reaction is predictable: fascinate, investigate, appropriate. Agincourt already has a similar phenomenon — a summer colony at Sturm und Drang — so why not an exchange program of sorts between the two. The world has witnessed far stranger things. Consider the last seventy-two hours following the Supreme Court’s recent finding. I find my efforts far less damaging.

Agincourt, the board game 1.3

“Opportunity” cards are a feature of nearly every board game. They add both risk and reward. How they might function in A:TBG is still a mystery for me to resolve. But they can also introduce irresolution and ambiguity, both of which rank pretty high with me.

Monopoly provides two classic categories:

  • 7 direct you to either a property, railroad, or utility (44% chance)
  • 3 make you pay money to the bank or other players (19% chance)
  • 2 reward you with cash (13% chance)
  • 1 Advance to Go (6% chance)
  • 1 Go to Jail (6% chance)
  • 1 Get Out of Jail Free (6% chance)
  • 1 makes you move back three spaces (to either Income Tax, New York Avenue, or Community Chest, depending on which Chance space you land on) (6% chance)
  • 9 reward you with cash (56% chance)
  • 4 make you pay money to the bank or other players (26% chance)
  • 1 Advance to Go (6% chance)
  • 1 Go to Jail (6% chance)
  • 1 Get Out of Jail Free (6% chance)

So, in light of this borrowed analysis, here is the place to experiment, to explore what A:TBG might evolve.

“Joseph Campbell slept here.”

“Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths. By finding your own dream and following it through, it will lead you to the myth-world in which you live. But just as in dream, the subject and object, though they seem to be separate, are really the same.” — Joseph Campbell

A chance encounter with Joseph Campbell — whose books I haven’t read since college — reminded me that a small town in northwestern Iowa deserves its own myths.

Band Books

book burning

When Hamish Brooke’s shop, Shelf Life, changed hands in 1960 (from his estate sale), it passed through several half-hearted hands to keep the business afloat — without much financial success. Brookes had sold books reluctantly; a book is certainly not an object of commerce, it’s something you adopt. Making a purchase from Hamish involved what amounted to an interview: Were you worthy to be entrusted with this tome? Is your home suitable and safe? His process was more rigorous than application at a social service agency. Recently, however, it has come into enthusiastic new ownership and, in the spirit of our current political discourse, changed the name to “Band Books”. Which have nothing whatsoever to do with high school music instruction. Their specialty are gently used books, of course and as before, but especially those of troubled lineage, found “dangerous” in certain parts. Turns out, it’s the “parts” that are dangerous, not the books.

Consider giving them your custom.

Henry W. L. Hurst [1865–1938]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

HURST, Henry William Lowe / “Hal” [1865–1938]

“An Italian Night”

watercolor / 13.5 inches by 8 inches (image)

“Born Henry William Lowe Hurst in London in 1865, he was the son of Henry Hurst, a well-known African traveller and publisher (Hurst and Blackett). He was educated at St. Paul’s School in London and soon after started recording the political instability of Ireland through drawings and illustrations. He travelled to the United States of America where he found work illustrating newspapers in New York City and Philadelphia. Hal returned to Europe studying art at the Royal Academy Schools and the Académie Julian in Paris. He exhibited extensively at all the principal London galleries and was elected member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1896, Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1898, and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1900. He was a founder member of the Royal Miniature Society from its inception in 1896 and elected Vice-President, a position he held until stepping down in 1913 — he was given the distinction of Honorary member status the following year.

“Hal shared a studio at 23a South Audley Street, Mayfair, London with Alyn Williams founder of the Royal Miniature Society. A motivated, prolific and respected artist, Hal illustrated in excess of 20 published books including Mark Twain’s The American Claimant. In addition, his illustrations were published in Punch, Harper’s Weekly, Vanity Fair, The Idler and the Illustrated London News, amongst others.”


Stephen Brook [British, contemporary]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

BROOK, Stephen (contemporary British)

“Shaftsbury Avenue”


acrylic on canvas / 12 inches by 12 inches

In the midst of this pandemic, with travel severely restricted, if not impossible, views of familiar places take on special meaning. This striking image of busy Shaftsbury Avenue in central London reminds us of a pleasant yet exhausting afternoon visiting its string of new and used bookstores. London artist Stephen Brook renders the subtle color differences of late afternoons in vignettes like this.

This was a gift to the Collection in memory of Agincourt’s dealer in out-of-print books, Hamish Brooks — no relation to the artist.

Frank Edward Butler [1881–1976]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

BUTLER, Frank Edward (1881–1976; British-American)

Trinity Church, Boston, Massachusetts

woodcut / 7 inches by 9.75 inches


British-American artist Frank Butler seems to be best known for a 1922 collection of his woodcuts illustrating the Chelsea section of London. Few copies have been available for auction.

Chelsea WoodcutsBy Frank Butler- RARE WOODBLOCK PRINT TITLE WITH 17 ORIGINAL PRINTS -[No publishing information, but probably London: Self-published, 1922]. Softcover with mounted title plate woodblock print on front cover. Measures about 9 x 6-3/4 inches; unpaginated [20 pages: (2-blank), (16-plate pages printed on both sides, each with hand-titled original blockprint), (2-blank)].An apparently extremely rare original edition – OCLC locates no copies and a Google search only turns up a few mentions, including a r eview in “Bookman’s Journal which is Incorporated the Print Collector, Volume VI, No. II, August, 1922” in which the following prints are mentioned: “Carlyle’s House, Cheyne Row, two cuts showing stately houses and humbler group in Cheyne Walk; Chelsea Old Church; Lindsey House, Cheyne Walk; World’s End, and Night ; Battersea Bridge”In about good condition with loose binding an thin brittle stock with covers and some pages chipped, etc., not affecting the prints………………………..Frank Butler was born in England in 1883. He and his wife immigrated to America in 1924, settling permanently in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1926. He was still living in Marblehead in 1971 at the age of 88.

Butler’s view of Boston’s Trinity Episcopal Church reveals the primary geometric power created by architect H. H. Richardson [1838–1886] at the beginning of his ascendancy to the rank of America’s greatest 19th century architect.

John Edgar Platt [1886-1967]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

PLATT, John Edgar [1886–1967; British]

“Staithes, Yorkshire”


woodcut / 25.1 cm x 37.2 cm / #73 of an unknown edition

Without any intention of the sort, the Collection has acquired another woodcut by British printmaker John Platt — the fourth of his works and allied with the work of other artists.

Staithes is a picturesque coastal fishing village in North Yorkshire, possibly a place over-visited by tourists in recent years but surely a remote destination when Platt recorded his visit during the 1920s. Platt was among the earliest British artists to respond the Japanese ukiyo-e or “floating world” printmaking and here he has captured the essence of “place” with a seemingly minimum artistic effort — though we know the woodcut process requires endless hours of carving and perfect registry during the printing phase. In the spirit of current Minimalist art, there is an almost inverse relationship between effort and image: greater complication and effort are required to achieve effortless simplicity.

Platt’s other work can be found here, here, and here. Note the predominance of picturesque coastal themes.