Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

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


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


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


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.

Home Grown

Home Grown

It’s a borderline revelation to revisit the blog and find themes that weave their way haltingly throughout, many of them freudian and unintentional. I suspect that it may be a generational thing.

Sure, a disproportionate share of historical change happens incrementally — watching those hands on the clock move so subtly that we fail to notice — which means the changes I’m talking about were already well under way when I arrived consciously on the scene in the late 1940s and early 50s, so I can’t claim to have had much to do with them other than being an interested observer. But it’s clear that the Agincourt of my “youth”, the Agincourt I’ve imagined from that time, has extended its influence into the present. It’s resisted those processes because I want to recreate a time less fraught, more user-friendly, than the “time” outside this bubble that I’ve created. Mea culpa. Pendulums swing and the Bedford Park of my own experience has come back to haunt me in the best way possible.

As I reflect on all these small gestures, they’ve obviously had a cumulative effect on this fictional place. Consider a few of them:

  • DeBijenkorf’s Department Store takes its name from a real Dutch institution, the Netherlands’ equivalent of Nordstrom’s or what in my own experience Marshall Field once was but is no more. So, an opportunity to introduce Dutch immigration to the U.S., of which Iowa has a disproportionate share [viz. Pella]. But subconsciously I was reflected a much closer encounter with Iowa local history: Steve Varenhorst, a former student of our program at NDSU, came from the family of a home-owned department store in Storm Lake — just down the road from Agincourt, in fact. I hope Steve doesn’t mind.
  • It has been shown that the shorter the distance from production to point-of-sale, cost is reduced and freshness maintained. So agribusinesses like Fennimore Industries reflect that relatively recent understanding. And a manufacturer of pots and pans would have employed locals and used local materials to the greatest extent possible.
  • Even something as minor as The Periodic Table, a locally-sourced restaurant found by Rosemary Plička and her husband Brad Nowatsky, reflects that “home-grown” intention. I genuinely hope it’s been a success since its founding more than five years ago.
  • Strangely, the internet has contributed to this phenomenon. A used bookstore like Shelf Life could never succeed with only a local audience. But posting its stock on search engines like Biblio.com, Alibris, and others puts a dealer like Hamish Brookes in a competitive position. So, too, for “Alouette” brand maple syrup, produced in Vermont by Catherine LaFarge, Howard Tabor’s sister, formerly local distribution expands to serve a world-wide consumer base.
  • There has also been a tendency for Agincourt to take care of its own: “Pliny’s Purse” is a local benefaction; or “Common Ground”, a local initiative to provide WWI doughboys with benefits that would have to wait for the G.I. Bill to be put in place at the conclusion of WWII.

What about “home delivery”? I recall the knife sharpener who made the rounds during the spring and summer months. Home delivery of milk and other dairy products. The Fuller Brush Man. The goddam Good Humor man, for krysake! What about local beer that doesn’t have to be pasteurized, made both safe and tasteless at the same time? How much of this has managed to hold on through those lean years of globalization?

I should rest my case — before I bore you, exhaust my arsenal of examples, or unintentionally offend. But you get the point. “Think globally. Act Locally.” It really is a question of the chicken and the egg and the distance between them.

By the way, if I intend to offend you, you’ll know it.


Norman James Battershill [1922–2010]

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

BATTERSHILL, Norman James [1922–2010]

“Bridge and Stream, Arundel”

oil on board / 8.9 inches by 10.7 inches

n.d. / ca1940–1950

Norman James Battershill (1922) was a painter, teacher and author, born in Hackney, London, and the son of an artist Leslie Battershill. He attended Twickenham College of Art and has shown at the Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Institute of Oil Painters and Pastel Society of all of which have elected him a member. He has also exhibited at Royal Academy of Arts and New English Art Club and was made a Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers and the Chartered Society of Designers in 1968.

Battershill’s later landscapes are conservative, what might be called traditional. This exhibits a color scheme reminiscent of the ’30s, however, and a composition similar to the Photo-Secessionist movement and Pictorialism more typical of photography in the early 20th century. It is similar in spirit to another painting in the collection by Eliot Candee Clark.

Arundel is in West Sussex, a few miles from the Channel.


Alexandra E. Layfield [mid-20th century]

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

LAYFIELD, Alexandra E.

“Mrs Rylance”

watercolor on paper / 11.4 inches by 8.8 inches


Meriel Rylance (née Franke) married while she was at Iowa State College and moved with her husband when he began teaching at Hastings College. Widowed at age thirty, she returned home to care for aging parents. Mrs Rylance was active in the Presbyterian church, the Iowa Presbytery and other local charities. The artist Alexandra Layfield is unfamiliar; neither are the circumstances of Mrs Rylance sitting for her. The portrait comes to the Collection on long-term loan from First Presbyterian church.