Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

Hans Růžička-Lautenschläger [1862–1933]

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


Cityscape / Tightrope Walker / Seiltänzer

oil on canvas / 5 inches by 7 inches / signed


Austrian artist Hans Růžička-Lautenschläger is recognized for his land- and cityscapes, painted in Italy, Austria, and elsewhere. His work in a late-Impressionist style has been mentioned favorably in several Austrian art journals, such as Der Merker. He exhibited in Vienna and Munich — and now in Agincourt.¹ This petite work emigrated to the United States with members of the Wasserman family, who settled in Agincourt in 1900.

“Tightrope Walker” may be a study for an intended larger work; it was likely painted at the scene. Despite the speed of execution, however — capturing the energy of the moment — there is little doubt of the wonder experienced by the spectators.

Hans Růžička-Lautenschläger / “View of the Pantheon in Rome”

Hans Růžička-Lautenschläger / “The ferris wheel in the Prater in Vienna by night”


¹ An inquiry has been made to the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.

Scar Tissue

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.”
― Elbert Hubbard


I am archipelagic, not…

Rock Formations, Study 2, Yoichi, Hokkaido, Japan (2004) by Michael Kenna

I am archipelagic, not continental…

Archilochus is one of several Greek philosophers known solely by fragmentary writings that have survived the vicissitudes of archaic libraries: we’re lucky to have anything. Heraclitus is also in that category and my insophistication has habitually confused the two. [Spell correction, by the way, doesn’t like that word—insophistication—but I do.]

Archie [is that too familiar?] came to my attention in an essay by Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox“: “Πόλλ᾽ οἶδ᾽ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ’ ἐχῖνος ἕν μέγα.” “The fox knows many things,” Archilochus tells us, but “the hedgehog [knows] one big thing”. Berlin used the observation as a tool for understanding great literature, while I applied it to a eulogy for my friend James Tiernan O’Rourke.

Berlin uses the Archilochus quote to understand the differences, say, between two great Russian authors, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin. Hedgehogs, in Berlin’s view, see the world through the lens of a single defining idea, while foxes have a built-in multi-faceted approach; for them, the world defies such simplistic thinking. At James’s memorial service, it seemed to me that Mr O’Rourke had operated most of his life as a hedgehog and I interpreted him that way.

Ultimately, though, it seems to me to be the difference between people who like cats and those of us who love dogs.




Many areas of interest will have passed through Agincourt as fads, phases, or outright tomfoolery. Medicine is surely one of them.

What’s accepted as medical treatment these days has been a contentious topic throughout history. The 19th century certainly saw more than its share of largely unregulated medical quality as well as quackery. Quite aside from the craze for patent medicines throughout the years leading to WWI, There were a dozen or more alternative medical treatments derided by the AMA and its predecessors. Bet you’ve never consulted a Naprapath. I seriously doubt you could find one in a metropolitan area under 100,000 population. The same may be true for Homeopathy. Chiropractic, on the other hand, is more likely found in your phonebook. [BTW, do phonebooks still exist? Asking for a friend.]

Hands off?

There are moments, coming more and more often, when I think it may be time to step back and let the good people of Agincourt — and the not-so-good — live (and live out) their lives without interference from me. The frequency of posts here has slacked from fifteen or more a month down to one or two. Oh, don’t mistake this for indifference or, heaven forbid, boredom. I’ve grown to know these people and even like a few of them. But I’m going to let the citizens of Agincourt go about their business — still observed at a distance — with leave to call upon me should the need arise.

“…what man is capable of the insane self-conceit of believing that an eternity of himself would be tolerable even to himself? Those who try to believe it postulate that they shall be made perfect first. But if you make me perfect I shall no longer be myself, nor will it be possible for me to conceive my present imperfections (and what I cannot conceive I cannot remember); so that you may just as well give me a new name and face the fact that I am a new person and that the old Bernard Shaw is as dead as mutton. Thus, oddly enough, the conventional belief in the matter comes to this: that if you wish to live for ever you must be wicked enough to be irretrievably damned, since the saved are no longer what they were, and in hell alone do people retain their sinful nature: that is to say, their individuality. And this sort of hell, however convenient as a means of intimidating persons who have practically no honor and no conscience, is not a fact.”
― George Bernard Shaw

The Craftsman: “Als Ik Kan”

Transcribed from The Craftsman magazine, October 1914:

A Model Atelier

Where we work is quite distinct from where we live. Not opposite, but different, and separated by the commute, whether by transit or foot. Artists and those few who work with limited staff and irregular schedules, however, are a different category altogether. A young architect — a sole practitioner — has recently begun his career in quarters that are much like a European atelier.

Our suburban and smaller communities are rife with two-story commercial fronts, most of them twenty-five feet to the street, to sunlight and fresh air. Fortunate is the corner site, such as we find here, with a long south-facing elevation. Here the second floor is divided into four office suites, each with fewer than seven hundred square feet, a special challenge if it is to be a studio-apartment.

The space is allocated symmetrically. But first a welcoming Dutch door and transom windows for borrowed light. Then, a comparatively generous reception room, sparsely furnished with a library table — to display work-in-progress — and burlap covered walls in a rosy ochre that speaks warmth on even the coolest day. A doorway and more transom glass reveal the next layer: the workroom itself, an octagon with storage of various sorts cleverly set in three of its corners. The fourth, to the left of the window bay, boasts a cozy fireplace of tapestry brick and copper hood. The hearth is of creamy firebrick.

The architect’s draughting table projects obliquely into the room. But it is hinged to become part of the wall, allowing three or four to consult. Here, also, the walls are a soft olive burlap enlivened by the spines of books variously bound in colored buckram or leather. Books cannot fail to add a note of goodwill to any room.

From the aforementioned reception area four doors, in pairs, lead to the left and right. On the left is a small kitchen joined with a sitting room. To the right, a bedroom and generous bath. The inner rooms are also lit with transoms as well as electroliers.

So much for space and purpose. We must now comment on the decor, which continues the use of burlap (save the kitchen and bath which are tiled) and trimmed in quarter-sawn oak. The floors are straight-grained fir. Rooms lit with wall sconces and table lamps emphasize intimacy and put light where it is needed. A few art works hang in simple oak or gilded frames and the floors are casually laid with jute and a few Navajo rugs from a recent southwestern family excursion.

The occupant of these pleasant quarters must take care, however, of over-filling his domain. But it will graciously welcome seasonal flowers, table linens, and a stained glass lamp when the time is right. Would that more of us could work in such surroundings.

The client is A. C. Tennant, an architect of Agincourt, Iowa, who has begun his practice only eighteen months previous.


“The” [ðə]

“The” (the definite article) is one of the most common words in both written and spoken English. In hindsight, it’s surprising how many Agincourt and Fennimore county physical locations begin with “The”. It almost seems the community believed itself entitled to just one of anything. And so, we have (in alphabetical order):

  • The Academy
  • The Aerodrome
  • The Auditorium
  • The Avenue
  • The Barrens
  • The Beehive [DeBijenkorf; sorry, it’s Dutch]
  • The Blenheim
  • The Boulevard
  • The Carousel
  • The Commons
  • The Franklin
  • The Haven
  • The Hump
  • The Last Resort
  • The Mile
  • The Mill
  • The Mound
  • The Obelisk
  • The Orchard
  • The Orpheum
  • The Roadhouse
  • The Roost
  • The Shades
  • The Square


Just when you’ve got it figured…

…it’s time to go.

The Future

Arch of Janus / Forum Boarium, Rome / Photographer: Enrico Fontolan/World Monuments Fund

“Hello, Janus, my old friend.”

Only three more months until the end of my fifty-two-year teaching career and questions occur to me every day. Some are prosaic, simple pains in the posterior, like, “How in hell am I going to vacate my office in less than a month?” Or, “What will it be like to sleep in Tuesday and Thursday mornings?” — rather than catching a bus at 7:00 a.m. for campus. There are more important issues, such as activating my retirement account with TIAA and slogging our way through the transition to Medicare. It’s going to be interesting and much of it will be played out here every few days, I suspect.

Perhaps the most difficult matter is this: “Will my past have a future?” What is to become of the Agincourt Project in the years remaining to me and following? The web is such an ephemeral (non)place. URLs among my bookmarks very often return a big “404”, telling me the site no longer exists at that address and, probably, at none other. Agincourt’s future in a matter of personal concern.

Does the past have a future?


“You know, for kids…”

Hindsight suggests that I didn’t have nearly enough time to play with blocks when I was a tyke. And it’s equally clear that Agincourt has afforded time to remedy that deficiency. I suspect that “retirement” will permit even greater exploration of building systems in general and examples like Fröbel and the set you see here (on the left) from “The Village Blocksmith“! — whose products I show as apology for doing so without permission. If any readers know other similar sets, please pass your recommendations along.