Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

What’s so funny?

As multi-sensory creatures, I’ve asked students to map their neighborhood, the place where they grew up, but map it in terms other than visual. What sounds do you recall? What did it smell like and how did those smells vary throughout the year? Writing about a design by Liverpool artist Margaret Lloyd (which was crafted into a stained glass window by artist-craftsman David Fode), a fell down a rabbit hole that suggested there may, in fact, be more than five senses. What about the sense of humor or, since we’re speaking of the British, of humour.

What’s so funny?

Sight, smell and sound may enable us to place ourselves in physical space. But the sense of humor performs the same valuable though unrecognized function to understand our position in time. As with any element of the social construct, change occurs with greater and greater speed; what seems funny today may not have been a month ago. Perhaps even yesterday. The question of Margaret Lloyd’s design in 1905 has already challenged our notion of what’s so funny.

One of her designs, the one which served as inspiration for a stained glass window, was based on a staple of late 19th and early 20th century popular culture: the Punch & Judy Show. However politically incorrect it may be today, the very idea of exposing children to physical domestic violence and then to find amusement in Judy being thwacked by her partner Punch was perfectly acceptable entertainment at the pier or country fair on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Some sleuthing produced two ore examples of Margaret Lloyd’s design ability, part of a series called “The Village Fair”. One of her circular designs was titled “Cakes and Ale” but the other — the one which took me farther down that rabbit hole and resulted in this blog entry — was titled “Richardson’s Show” (left in the pair shown here). I held out little hope for identifying her source but, typically, the internet satisfied my insatiable curiosity: John Richardson was an early 19th century comedian, though that’s probably not the right word for his time and place. Sources suggest “showman” as far more apt.

John Richardson [1766-1836] is fairly well documented, which helps to explain why someone active in the early 20th century would know a British public figure who died the year before Victoria ascended to the throne. According to one on-line source, “Charles Dickens described a performance of Richardson’s show at Greenwich Fair as a melodrama with three murders and a ghost, a pantomime, a comic song, an overture, and some incidental music, all done in five-and-twenty minutes.”¹ Thanks to his first novel The Pickwick Papers — which was serialized between March 1836 and November 1837 — any British schoolchild during the reigns of Victoria and Edward VII would have know the eccentric showman Richardson (shown above during his own lifetime). It was the content of his “Show” that brings up today’s topic: how has humor changed through time?

¹ For Richardson in a larger context, visit: http://www.classic.circushistory.org/History/Clown2.htm#BIB.

Lake Life (1.something or other)

Archers (that’s what people from Agincourt call themselves) have been summering at Sturm & Drang since the 1880s. A spur line of the NITC served the community between about 1911 and WWII, with a single stop at the Station-Store where passengers transferred to the motor launch that served an arc of resorts going halfway clockwise around Lake Drang. Depicting “lake life” has been aided by postcard offerings of examples from cabins to hotels, most of them dating before 1929 and, therefore, of a more rustic character. With good fortune, I found two postcard views that qualify for inclusion. I’m certain each of them has a story to tell.

 

Enriqueta Tennant Rylands [1843–1908]

In the land of Six Degrees of Separation (with or without Kevin Bacon), I’ve experienced more than a fair share of connections that seem too close for coïcidence. Witness the (synthetic) family of Anson Curtiss Tennant, entirely concocted and major players in the Agincourt narrative.

photo copyright John Rylands University Library

The young architect required a family, so I provided one, three generations back and two ahead. To simplify the “work”, I made the founder of the family a bastard, there being at least three “Tennant” families in Burke’s Landed Gentry as sperm donors. Flash forward several years: Mr J. Johnson and I were walking down Deansgate, the main thoroughfare in Manchester, UK. I stopped short, making Jeremiah wonder what could be wrong, and I pointed to the John Rylands Library two blocks ahead. I was a little foggy on its date but knew precisely that the architect had been Basil Champneys, a name that doesn’t roll lightly off the tongue or the memory. We invested a couple hours wandering it wondrous interior where the main reading room is presided over by larger-than-life white marble sculptures of the library’s founders John and Enriquetta Rylands. Then flash forward to a simple search for additional information on the library and its founders at the end of the 19th century.

Much to my surprise, shock and amazement, Mrs Rylands was the former Enriqueta Augustina Tennant [1843-1908], born in Havana, Cuba, to an English father and Cuban mother. You can find quite a bit of biography about her but two things are important for me: #1) her maiden name was Tennant, for krysakes, and #2) “Enriqueta Rylands is one of the most influencer [sic] philanthropists in the history of the United Kingdom,” according to a documentary I found. [They must have used google.translate.]

It’s going to take a while to weave this good woman into the tale but I’m compelled to do it.

David G. Fode (1968-2022)

It is with extreme sadness that I report the death in Waukesha, Wisconsin of David G. Fode, a contributor to the Agincourt Project, though he may not have understood that. For a deeply personal reminiscence of Fode’s life, see this blog written by a close friend.

The community of Agincourt was made real through its stories and its stuff, words (too many of them) and objects, material culture (of which there will never be enough). David — whom I never met but communicated through email — operated a stained glass studio in Waukesha. I discovered him through the most random searching on the web and found a craftsman with both wit and skill. I had found an illustration during my undergraduate years at the University of Oklahoma in an early issue of The International Studio, an art journal with a long run of holdings in the library at OU. I’ve been able to find very little biographical material about the artist but that image stayed with me for literally decades, until I found myself designing Agincourt’s kindergarten, circa 1910, and needed some ornament to be in keeping with the general Arts & Crafts feeling I was trying to establish. Lloyd’s illustration of a Punch & Judy show, no matter how sexist it might be in our own culture, was a mainstay for children during the Victorian and Edwardian years.

What Lloyd intended for her charming, albeit politically incorrect image, I have no notion. But it looked to me like the beginning sketch for a stained glass window — one that would require one hell of a lot of staining, there being perhaps a thousand infinitesimal shards of color in its design. I contacted David Fode, included a copy of Lloyd’s design, and asked if he could interpret it at 24-30 inches in diameter. That window is here — in our dining room but still unframed — as an artifact in The Agincourt Project.

The world of stained glass craft has lost a remarkable and phenomenally creative person with David Fode’s passing. Whenever and wherever any subsequent Agincourt exhibit may occur, the “Punch & Judy” window will be a prominent feature and a testimony of David’s work.

I genuinely feel the afterlife will be more beautiful through his presence.

David G. Fode

1968-2022

1,198

That’s the official number of souls who went down with the R.M.S. Lusitania on 7th May 1915. But I continue to wonder whether that number ought to be adjusted by one, the one who went down but came back; the one who escaped being recorded, whose name appears on neither list, of those who perished or those who lived to wonder why they hadn’t.

That number comes to mind this morning as I rummage for a couple coins from what I’m reluctant to call a collection. Somewhere hereabouts are two coins struck by Martin Coles Harmon while he was “King” of Lundy, during 1925-1929 when its status was as a “micronation”. The 1,100-acre island lies off the coast of Devon in the Bristol Channel. Harmon had his own coinage struck in 1929 — the puffin and half puffin — which got him in deep difficulties with the British government and resulted in some jail time. Whether the notoriety was just compensation you’ll have to ask Mr Harmon, but that’s another story for another day. During this quest (as is often the case at our house), I ran across something else misplaced among the detritus: a piece of medalic [spellcheck doesn’t like it with either one “L” or two] art or what coin collectors are wont to call exonumia [spellcheck doesn’t like this either].

When the RMS Lusitania (the ancient Roman name for their province which is now Portugal) sank, the Germans took considerable pride, more than sufficient to strike a commemorative medal, a piece of both medalic art and propaganda. That medal — I’ve not seen one for sale or auction until curiosity overcame me today — was recast in 1916 by Selfridge’s to benefit St Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostel; 250K were cast, which makes it considerably less than rare, but the point is made: there was no honor in this bald-faced act of savagery.

Our copy of the British restrike retains is commemorative box and single-sheet brochure. But it also contains a handwritten letter from F. Luerson of #83, Amhurst Rd, Hackney E8. Google.earth will take me there in a few moments. The note is addressed to “My Dear Ruby” and dated Christmas, though the year is missing, torn or worn from top and bottom of the single foolscap sheet. It’s just like me to wonder about the writer: Who were the Luersons? And would the period of their residence provide a clue to which Christmas it was that seemed appropriate to remind a friend of such a disaster. Seems an odd gift, given that Ruby might well have known someone who might have known someone whose name was on the list. The list which might have included Anson Curtiss Tennant, if only he’d been real.

Tomorrow, maybe, the story of the puffin and half-puffin and the aforementioned Mr Harmon. And WTH that could have to do with a fictional town in Iowa.

PS [a few minutes later]: Mr Frederick Luerson (son of Frederick Luerson and Anne Fenner) had two sisters and did himself serve in the British military. The Luerson home may have become lost in street renumbering, The current premises are either: 1) Yori Sushi, 2) Supreme Boutique, a unisex salon, or 3) Noodle Express, none of which are likely to be anywhere near my Bucket List.

Sedona sink hole — a short story

No one recalled when the ground had begun to fall away, to drop suddenly without warning, leaving houses wavering on the gaping maw — why do maws gape? — like twins on a teeter-totter so finely balanced that their in- and exhalations had to be coördinated lest one of them triumphantly silhouette the other against the sky, the Ektachrome® blue desert sky, a color unknown to any but those born into the long-gone age of film-based photography, which would have done the scene crisp pictorial justice, the aforementioned not-quite-azure against the rusty-tawny soluble substrate the houses foolishly depended upon for support. Anyway.

Protected: Anson Tennant

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Artifactually Speaking

 

We invested the morning in salvage: books from the Little House that needed to be removed before the building can be moved in preparation for a new foundation. Downsizing for whatever remains of my life is a pain in the dupa. Among the many things that will also have to find safe harbor — rather than simply becoming an item in the biggest garage sale this neighborhood has ever seen — is the stained glass window and custom-made door from the Agincourt Project meant to invoke young Anson Tennant’s architectural office, opened in 1912 and put in mothballs when he was thought to have gone down with the Lusitania. It came up in my FB memories and a friend was kind enough to ask for a fuller story.

Yes, I readily admit this blog is anything but user friendly; difficult to negotiate and impossible to detect any sort of organization whatsoever. And my feeble attempts at providing that have not succeeded, generally. So what follows here is twofold: 1) an attempt to bring together one of the project’s most important stories (Anson Tennant) and 2) a consideration of what will become of all the artifacts that have accumulated in the course of the last sixteen years — and they are considerable.

In simplified terms, Anson Tennant was the architect for the new Agincourt Public Library, built in 1915. But his “backstory” required all the preparation he’d have required to reach that position as a young untried designer but favored as a “native son”. This entailed a sequence of events which built toward that end:

  • spending summers with his maternal grandfather Corwin Curtis on the farm outside Mason City and learning the rudiments of carpentry from him;
  • designing and crafting a dollhouse for his little sister for Christmas 1905;
  • graduating from high school and, soon after, being entrusted by his parents Jim and Martha with expansion of the family home;
  • heading off to Chicago to “study” architecture at the School of the Art Institute and, with advice from a family friend;
  • returning home in 1912 and receiving his first commission: remodeling of the Wasserman Block and receiving studio-office space in trade for his professional services;
  • and, finally, imagining how a young architect would present himself to an audience of friends and neighbors.

That office required a public face, a business card of sorts, abbreviating his design point of view. Which evolved into a stained glass window with his name and, far more important, the motto of the Arts & Crafts movements, “Als Ik Kan” or “to the best of my ability”. And that, in turn, depended on the considerable abilities of Mr Dan Salyards.

♦So, what is to become of this wondrous artifact?

♦Here are some links to several parts of the story…not necessarily in consecutive order. Sorry about that:

♦Chicago architect J. Lyman Silsbee plays w part in the origin of the Agincourt Public Library.

♦Anson’s first commission in Agincourt was a remodelling of the Wasserman Block, where he eventually set up an office-studio. The office itself began to take shape. And its Arts & Crafts character took on significance.

♦The stained glass window was crafted by Dan Salyards.

♦There’s a bunch of stuff on Tennant family genealogy.

♦And, then, among many other miscellaneous things, there’s the whole matter of the Tennant Manufacturing Co. and all those damned wood blocks.

It really has got needlessly complicated, hasn’t it.

Donald Maxwell [1877–1936]

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

MAXWELL, Donald [1877–1936]

“Pook’s Hill, Little Dartmouth”

ca1920

lithograph / 6.8 inches by 10.9 inches / edition unknown

A charming early 20th Century chromolithograph, showing a view across Pook’s Hill, Little Dartmouth adds to the apt but unjust observation — in our estimation — that the Community Collection consists largely of “landscapes and livestock.” Artist Donald Maxwell may be better known for his considerable body of work as an illustrator:

“Maxwell trained in London at the Clapham School of Art, the Slade School of Fine Art, and the Royal College of Art. He was soon writing and illustrating extensively for The Yachting Monthly and other magazines. In about 1909, he became a regular correspondent for the Daily Graphic and the illustrated weekly The Graphic and continued so until the latter closed in 1932. In later life he wrote weekly illustrated articles for the Church Times.

“Most of Maxwell’s thirty or more self-illustrated books were about voyages in (Europe, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and India) and later about the sights of Southern England. He also illustrated books by many other authors, including Hilaire Belloc and also Rudyard Kipling, to whom his mother was related.

“Interest in Maxwell’s work as an artist has continued. Several of his topographical paintings were bought by the Southern Railway and displayed as prints in railway carriages. These have since become collectors’ items. A lithograph of a water colour by Maxwell showing Shap Fell in Cumbria, printed for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, sold at auction for £517 in 1999, and a marine oil painting for £5520 in 1998. A folio of unframed drawings by Maxwell fetched £840 at auction in 2005.” [from Wikipedia, no less]

We are fortunate to have this delicate piece.

 

Ross Foster [active 1980s]

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

FOSTER, Ross [active 1980s]

“Punch & Judy”

oil on board / 10.6 inches by 10.6 inches / signed

ca1980s

“Merry-go-Round”

oil on board / 7.25 inches by 8.5 inches / signed

ca 1980s

Though the subject reeks of contemporary political incorrectness, “Punch & Judy” are represented in the collection three times. This impressionist interpretation probably dates from the 1980s. British artist Ross Foster has been drawn to beach, carnival and other scenes such as this. In spirit, it pairs nicely with Jeffrey Boys’ similar subject. The second “merry-go-round” painting is also typical of the artist’s tendency toward impressionist treatments of recreation in the U.K.