Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

Serendipity 1.1

If serendipity were acknowledged here as often as it has happened, it would be the most frequently used word in these nearly 1500 entries. As “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way,” I ought to be the happiest of my kind, for chance has pervaded the Agincourt Project from the beginning. The choice of “Agincourt” itself as the name of our imagined community generated so many adjunct topics and tangents that I have lost count. And so another happy accident arose this morning.

Habitués of the blog will know that the hero of the story (though he himself was unaware of that status) Anson Tennant, designer of the Agincourt Public Library & Tennant Memorial Gallery, celebrated the near-completion of the project — when loose ends were being safely tied off — took a well-deserved break from his labours and set sail for Liverpool on May 1st, 1915, intent on paying homage to the founders of the Arts & Crafts movement which, in its American guise, had formed the foundation of his architectural point of view.

William Morris, the Founder of the Feast, had died nineteen years previous, but other key characters of the movement were still active, even if in the twilight of its British form. Ernest Gimson, C.F.A. Voysey, and others were still producing work, though their sun was setting. But that, I suppose, is the seductive beauty of twilight: wrapped in its mellow tones, we forget that the day will soon be at an end and may be taking us with it. But the youthful enthusiasm of someone like young Tennant hadn’t seen that prospect when he boarded the Lusitania for what would be its final voyage. For Anson, of course, the ship’s tragic sinking opened a second chapter in his life, even if it did not for the 1,198 shipmates who did not survive.

Quite beyond the experience of visiting the principal sites of the Arts & Crafts and the prospect for speaking with some of its founders and chief practitioners, the voyage itself held out possibilities which Anson may not have appreciated — until it was too late, of course. Imagine the conversations at dinner or in the lounge; making circuits of the deck, even if Edwardian sensibility separated passengers by class. For a gregarious young person like Tennant, each encounter was an experience; each new acquaintance a prospective correspondent and even a client.

I had not realized the breadth of those possibilities beyond a few of the most famous passengers. Consider an exchange over lunch with Elbert and Alice Hubbard, of East Aurora, New York, founders of “The Roycrofters” and its influential publications. Or crossing the path of Theodate Pope (later Theodate Pope Riddle), one of America’s first female architects, who survived the sinking; she had apprenticed in the office of McKim Mead & White. But I hadn’t realized that one of the characters in the William Halsey Wood narrative — which has had occasional tangencies with Agincourt — was also aboard: Rev Basil Maturin [1847–1915], Irish-born Anglican priest who was a key figure in the High Church party among Episcopalians and would have shared that perspective with Anson and other members of his Anglo-Catholic family.

Something tells me I need to inspect the Lusitania passenger list more carefully.

[#1491]

By-line

An old friend, how sadly gone and become a treasured memory, had been the archivist of what a former mayor of our town called “a local newspaper”. She was the go-to person for obtuse questions of local history. I tended to think the archive she managed  consisted largely of clippings, filed in some arcane way, cross-referenced, and searchable in a variety of contexts.

Lately, on eBay, I’ve noticed sellers who seem to have acquired files of newspaper photographs. This makes perfect sense as professional photographs make the transition from film-based to digital records and it opens a new source of images for my long-term projects. And so, I spent an hour today searching among those images and choosing a few that can be easily adapted to the Agincourt narrative. The category “Disasters” came immediately to mind.

How much photoshopping do think would be required to adapt this image to the Agincourt story? The question, I suppose, it what sort of narrative would fit? Disasters are more common than we might hope. But they beg several questions — of cause and effect; loss of life and property; determination of fault. This interurban accident could have been responsible for a single headline in the evening edition of The Plantagenet. But it could just as reasonably have evolved through investigative journalism — not all of which involves the raking of muck.

At this point, I’ll just say the wheels are turning.

[#1490]

 

 

 

Never Too Late…

NEVER TOO LATE

Well, almost never. I started reading a book by Isaiah Berlin that’s been on the shelf since 2013 and just never seemed to get around to it. The Sense of Reality is subtitled “studies in ideas and their history” and the introduction seems to suggest it will help the Agincourt Project achieve its goals. Which, of course, begs the question whether there have been goals along the way.

The Sense of Reality is a collection of essays, eight of them never published previously. But it’s the first which interests me (and perhaps the one I might be able to wrap my mind around): The title essay treats “the impossibility of historians being able to recreate a bygone epoch.” Whether my own efforts toward that end have gained me anything along the way, I say “yes”, they have. But it also helps me understand why the project has been only a relative success when I’ve persuaded (lured, cajoled, bribed, threatened,…) others to play in my corner of the sandbox.

Not knowing exactly how to judge the success of “Agincourt”, I seem to have relied on the criteria of an eight-year-old: whether anyone, having ventured into the project out of sheer curiosity, comes back for a second encounter — a list that is remarkably short.

So, I’ll get back to you on the question of Berlin’s applicability to the problem at hand. I know it is but am I up to it?

[#1489]

The Ecumenical Parking Lot

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A Tabor

The Ecumenical Parking Lot

Asbury UMC hosted a Thanksgiving dinner last week. If you weren’t there — maybe even if you were — a description of the event is likely to challenge credibility. Regardless of your level of “belief”, I’ll wager those in attendance have considerably more faith in our species than they may have had before the pumpkin pie appeared.

Hazel Bischof’s pork sausage stuffing had to wait another year; likewise the oyster stuffing that was such a hit last Christmas. Because this was a genuine ecumenical meal, possibly Agincourt’s first. That night in the Asbury church basement (or “garden level”), our turkey dinner was enjoyed by all “People of the Book”— the congregations of Temple Emanu-El, the Agincourt Islamic Center, and a representative sampling of the full Christian spectrum represented across the community. Their “ecumenical parking lot” lies between those three places of worship, which accounts for its heavy use on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Such a feast presented its own array of issues. What, for example, on the traditional Thanksgiving menu was verboten under the combined force of multiple dietary laws, individual allergies, and personal preference? Planning and preparation for both kosher and halal regulations (which put the kibosh on Hazel’s stuffing), compounded with intolerance to dairy or gluten, allergy to nuts, not to mention the growing number of vegetarians and outright vegans, put the project well beyond the capabilities of even a papal blue ribbon commission. The U.N. could take a lesson from Thursday night and all that came before it.

There was no “seating chart”. The only suggestion was to share a table with those of other faith traditions; don’t sit with yourselves. Unlike our cousins at Lake Wobegon — where the room is bifurcated between Lutherans and Catholics, those who drive Fords or have a preference for Chevies — the motivation here was otherwise. Whether it served that intent or some larger purpose will be shown if this happens again.

And how do they get those pumpkin pies without the unsightly “pucker” of crevices in the center?

William Nicholson [1872–1949]

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

NICHOLSON, William Newzam Prior [1872–1949]

“H. M. The Queen” / Queen Victoria

lithographic image of a woodcut original / 9.5 inches by 8.9 inches / unsigned

1899

In 1899, London publisher William Heinemann issued a folio of “Twelve Portraits”, lithographic reproductions of woodcut originals by English artist William Nicholson (later Sir William). These proved so popular that a second series followed soon after. Each included a dozen well-known figures in contemporary British life — public figures, like Queen Victoria, who was still on the throne; political and military figures; people from the arts. They all have the simplicity of the English Arts & Crafts idiom tempered with a touch of Continental Art Nouveau.

Nicholson later formed a partnership with his brother-in-law William Pryde as “The Beggarstaff Brothers”, who produced advertisements in similar A&C style for products (like flour or periodical publiscations) and events (such as theatrical performance). These have also become quite collectible, as have other throw-away lithographed images from the period 1895-1910. Victoria is one of nine prints from the First Series which we have in the Collection.

Alfred William Strutt [1856–1924]

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

STRUTT, Alfred William [1856–1924]

“The Old Cottage”

oil on canvas on board / 8.3 inches by 15.7 inches / unsigned

ca1910

Why, do you suppose, does rural life fascinate those who live it? A humble crofter’s cottage in England would bear little resemblance to a farmstead in the outback of America. Yet there is a kinship of directness and authenticity which links them, and an appreciation for others in similar circumstance. Or is it a matter of “idealization”, the discernment of a prototype; a yearning for the improvement of our own situation?

Alfred William Strutt (1856-1924) came from a long line of painters. His father, William Strutt (1825-1915), was a prolific artist of genre, animals and portraits, who moved to Australia in 1850, and produced an important record of early colonial days. Alfred was born in New Zealand, before his family returned to England in 1856, where he was taught by his father and also attended South Kensington Schools. He painted a variety of subjects including genre and sporting scenes. Strutt is perhaps best known for his paintings of various dogs, horses, donkeys and some genre pictures. Some were published as steel engravings in signed editions.

He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and was elected Royal Society of British Artists in 1888 and an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers the following year. Other exhibiting venues included Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, London Salon, Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. Examples of his work are in the collections of numerous British museums.

This small study may have been intended for larger treatment.

The 1912 G.A.R. Exhibit

It’s taking longer than we anticipated to reconstruct the catalogue of the first G.A.R. Exhibit. These eighteen constitute the bulk of it, however, for the time being:

BEHRENS, Peter [1866-1940] — “The Kiss”

BURNHAM, Anita Willets- [1880-1958] — “Chicago from a Roof Top”

COOKSEY, May Louise Greville [1878-1943] — “Procession”

FAIG, Frances [1885–1955] — Ohio Landscape

GAUDRY, T. [no dates] — “Canal in Flanders”

HORNUNG, Bertha Mary [1885–1974] — “Norfolk Bridge”

NICHOLSON, William — “Queen Victoria”

PETTENKOFEN, August Xaver Karl Ritter von [1821-1889] — “Death and the Professor”

PETTENKOFEN, August Xaver Karl Ritter von [1821-1889] — “Magyar Farmyard”

PICTOR IGNOTUS [attr. Pettenkofen] — “Oddalisque”

PICTOR IGNOTUS — “Dedication of the Brooklyn Bridge”

SITZMAN, Edward R. [1874–1949] — “Sentinel”

STANHOPE, Leon Eugene [1873–1956] — “Study of Three Lions”

STRUTT, Alfred William [1856–1924] — “The Old Cottage”

SVENDSEN, Charles C. [1871-1959] — “Sunrise” and “Sunset”

VIVIAN, Calthea Campbell [1857-1943] — “Barbizon”

WILLIGE, E. van der [19th century, second half] — “Zandschuiten” / “Sand Barges”

Barbara Doyle [1917–2019]

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

DOYLE, Barbara Gwendoline Christine [1917–2019]

Chamber Music

oil on canvas / 19.3 inches by 23.2 inches

ca1970

Barbara Doyle was a British artist, born in Halifax, North Yorkshire in 1917. She spent most of her life living on the South Coast of England. She painted her whole life, right into her later years. She was appointed a member of the Arun Society during her career and exhibited widely across the UK, including at prestigious London venues.

Ms Doyle lived through her 100th birthday in 2017. She died at the age of 102.

Miklós Hornyánszky [1896–1965]

 

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

HORNYÁNSZKY, Miklós / Nicholas [1896–1965]

“Rosary Quai, Bruges” / Rozenhoedkaai, Brugge

color etching / 4.2 inches by 3.4 inches / no edition

ca 1920

“Evening Glow”

color etching / 4.2 inches by 3.7 inches / no edition

ca 1920

Born in Budapest, Miklós (Nicholas) Hornyánszky (more often spelled without the “z”) worked from the age of twelve in his father’s printing works. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and at the age of sixteen exhibited at the Grand Salon in Budapest. He continued his artistic studies in Vienna, Munich, Antwerp and Paris. Around 1919, he made his debut as a confirmed artist in Belgium, where he stayed for 9 years, collaborating notably with the painter Hans Hens.

In 1929, the family emigrated to Toronto. In spite of the Depression, the couple quickly found success. Hornyansky traveled all over Canada, creating pencil and ink drawings that he used as images in his etchings and aquatints. Well known in the United States, his engraving, “Closing Time” was the first Canadian engraving to be incorporated into the permanent collection of prints of the Library of Congress.

These Hornyansky prints were purchased from a gallery in Toronto, acquired by Sandor Szolnay, a fellow countryman, during his emigration to the U.S.

Is “Evening Glow” a recollection of the artists former home in Hungary? Nostalgia is a powerful force.

“You don’t have to be crazy to play the oboe, but it helps.”

“Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”
― Charles Bukowski

In the 1970s I hung out at the Minnesota Historical Society a lot, in their old building, not far from the Capitol. Their reading room was frumpy and newspapers, of course, were on microfilm in a room across the hall. If you’ve ever used a microform reader, you know they were designed by Dr Mengele.

Staff at the reference desk were business-like but pleasant, helpful to a fault. I was especially pleased with the photocopying, which had to be done by staff, on their schedule, not yours. Resources were retrieved from the “stacks” by runners, again, when there were enough call slips to warrant a trip. Once you got used to the rhythm, your time was unbearably productive.

One of the more unusual staff wasn’t part of the archive, so your path was unlikely to cross his. Frankly I can’t recall how or when we met but it was memorable. His name was Charles W. Nelson and he was the Society’s “historical architect”, in charge of the statewide survey of historic resources and involved with National Register nominations, which is probably how I met him.

I didn’t know Nelson well enough to call him “Charlie” but I did hear stories about his time in the architecture program at the UofMN, while it was still a Modernist institution. Apparently, Nelson took assignments seriously but betrayed the interest in historical buildings by responding to all the studio projects with buildings that were Richardsonian Romanesque or Italianate or whatever struck his fancy, I suspect. I wasn’t intelligent enough to ask him about that, nor did I see any of the actual work. But the very idea fascinated me and laid the foundation for my contributions to the Agincourt Project. To whit:

  • a 1915 Carnegie-era public library — the project which generated the whole project in the first place — in the style of Louis Sullivan, with an Arts & Crafts spin. I’m very happy with the planning of the library; it would work well, I feel. The scale of the building is good, but the details are still a challenge…after fourteen years. Stay tuned.
  • A Methodist Episcopal church circa 1920 in Akron-Auditorium mode. Having studied A-A churches for twenty years, if I couldn’t meet that challenge it would have been time to hang it up. But here, too, I’m a plan guy: I have doubts about its three-dimensionality.
  • The Episcopal church of St Joseph the Carpenter was also a cake walk, possibly the easiest of the projects I took on: A modest 1870s “Gothic Revival” design, renovated in 1898, with an Arts & Crafts chapel addition in 1915.
  • Fennimore County courthouse #2, an opportunity to lock horns with the Richardsonian Romanesque. But that was too easy, too generic, so I increased the “degree of difficulty” by assigning the commission to my research interest William Halsey Wood. Why? Because #1) I admire his work; #2) he never designed a public building, hence I was free of precedent; and #3) it’s a complex program with multiple departments (which can become little fiefdoms) more or less equivalent.

There are other projects but these are my favorites.* Some time before I cut ties with SODAA, it would be fun to stage an exhibit of this stuff. Fun for me. Others? Who knows.

And now it would valuable to chat with Charlie Nelson about something we seem to have in common — except he died in 2007. RIP, Mr Nelson, fellow traveler.

* The sign insanity is doing the same thing repetitively, but expecting different results. Such has been my experience in doing history-based studios. Enough said.