Graham Hyde [1874-1951]

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

HYDE, Graham (1874–1951; British)

Figure in a Wooded Landscape 

ca1930

oil on canvas / 5.5 inches by 7.5 inches

British artist Graham Hyde was born in the northern industrial town of Sheffield, Yorkshire, sixth of ten children. The course of his life and the circumstances surrounding his education as an artist are still a mystery, however. This small painting was found at the Portobello Road flea market in northwestern London.

Constance Tippet [late 20th century]

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

TIPPET, Constance (British / late 20th century)

“The Wharf” (top)

1989

etching / 6.7 inches by 8.2 inches / A/P

and

Landscape, Rolling Hills (bottom)

1979

etching / 7.8 inches by 8.9 inches / A/P

Ten years separate these two etchings by British artist Constance Tippet. Each offers a fragmentary landscape rendered in voluptuous undulating surfaces in a rich warm black, but the earlier print is a gently textured composition in the spirit of our own Grant Wood, while the second depends to a much greater extent upon bold line work and higher contrast.

Michael Stokoe [born 1933]

michael Stokoe.jpg

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

STOKOE, Michael Arthur (born 1933)

“Summer Vines”

1986

etching / 17.3 inches by 12.8 inches (image)

Michael Stokoe’s recent work, represented by this nearly monochromatic print, is almost unrecognizable compared with his early output as a young artist fresh from art school. The crisp minimalism of flat primary geometries and repetitive patterns at mid-century have yielded by the late 1980s to a gentler representation of landscape and the human presence.

Unusually, this piece came from neither a gallery nor the artist himself: It was part of an exhibit at a California winery, linking the visual arts with those of the vintner. We hope the vintage that year has remained as fresh and subtle as the art.

The weighing of the heart

“May your life be over before it is finished.”

No, that’s not an old Irish aphorism. Neither did it come with the check at a Chinese buffet. I actually coined it myself, though I doubt seriously that it will have much traction in popular culture or conventional wisdom. And though it may sound a bit grim — maybe even doubly so — I had intended it in an upbeat hopeful way, but wonder now if it ought to be reversed.

Something that is over (as in “over and done with”; “water under the bridge”) is irretrievably lost, behind you, beyond reclamation. Toast. Whereas, to finish something is to bring it to fruition, to completion; dot every “I”, cross every “T”. So what I had meant to say was simply this: It is my earnest and genuine hope that, when the time comes, as it will for us all to push back from the table, it will be with the satisfaction of a job well done, a work complete, a life well lived. There is more that I might wish to do, you say to yourself, but in the cosmic scheme of things, what I have accomplished ranks high enough to matter. When Anubis weighs my heart against the Feather of Truth, of Ma’at, Ammit will have to wait to claim another.

Now, since it is unlikely that the end of our lives and the completion of our most cherished goals are likely to coïncide, which of these would I rather accept? 1) Unfinished work, or 2) the dilemma of nothing left to do?

Option #1 still looks good where I sit.

Toward a Virtual Reality

I am woefully unprepared to create any sort of virtual Agincourt, much as I might want there to be one. An opportunity opened last Monday afternoon that generous than I can imagine — and I can imagine a lot!

The current exhibit at the Rourke includes artifacts from various periods of community history, including the beautifully crafted door to Anson Tennant’s architectural office, opened in 1912, occupied by the young architect until his departure for England in the Spring of 2015, and preserved by his family when they thought he had sunk with the Lusitania off the southwest coast of Ireland. that door is an important artifact in the backstory which brought young Tennant to the task of designing a Carnegie-era public library in the style of Louis Sullivan. That backstory looks something like this, though the components weren’t necessarily invented chronological order:

1900-1904 — From about age twelve, Anson spends summers at the farm near Mason City of his maternal grandfather Corwin Curtiss, where he learns the rudiments of carpentry.

1905 — Sixteen-year-old Anson builds a dollhouse for his little sister Claire, ill with diphtheria and not expected to survive. His inspiration comes from a house seen in the pages of a magazine, one of many stacked in the attic of the Tennant family home on NE Second Street.

1908-1909 — Long recognized by his dad to have some inclination toward building construction, Jim Tennant challenges Anson, recently graduated from high school, to design an addition to the family home. Anson has already moved into the carriage house loft as his “bachelor quarters” and studio.

1910-1912 — On the advice of family friend Joseph Lyman Silsbee (architect of the Tennant homestead), Anson goes to Chicago to study architecture at the Art Institute and hopefully gain some office experience. In 1912 he works for a few weeks without salary in the office of Louis Sullivan.

1912 January — The family make a vacation trip to New Mexico and Arizona in the late Winter to celebrate statehood (in January and February that year). While in Albuquerque, Anson meets woodworker Manny Galvez (Manuel Luis Jesus Galvez y Paz) and stays an extra two weeks to gain some skill in furniture making.

1912 March — Returning to Agincourt, intent on establishing an architectural practice there, Anson barters his services remodeling the second floor of Wasserman’s Hardware. His payment is a three-year lease on one of the office suites, adapted as his studio-apartment, #204-206 (though sometimes identified as #205-207). It is this office, decorated in the Arts & Crafts style with simple furnishings, baskets and rugs from the New Mexico adventure, that presents the dutch door with its stained glass “Als Ik Kan” window as his public persona.

The next logical development it seems to me (and has for several years) is to imagine what you would see walking through that door. And the creation of that virtual reality is what has been offered.

Much has already been written about these events, casually and in no particular order. So I’ve created some links for easier access to those fragments of the story:

2010 OCT 21 / 2010 OCT 21 / 2010 OCT 27 / 2011 NOV 27  / 2011 DEC 06 / 2013 APR 182013 SEP 30 / 2014 JUN 03 / 2015 MAR 04 / 2015 OCT 17

 

Uncle Evard

Among the several happiest memories of my father’s last years is one which defines each of us as remarkably different people.

As the only son of an only son and gay besides, it was clear I was the last of my particular branch of the Ramsey family in America. As the end of my line, I felt compelled to do some genealogy and find what it was that I would terminate. It turned out that the earliest ancestor I could determine at that time—this was in the mid-1970s, my personal Bi-Centennial project—was Thomas Ramsey Sr, born 1741 in Bucks Co., Pennsylvania. If, at each generation of Thomas’s progeny there were the same number of children, by the time my generation arrived on the scene there were at least five hundred male children bearing Tom’s chromosomes. Takes a little of the load off, doesn’t it, when you understand just how much of his genetic material is walking the streets of the United States today.

In those years I was pretty inexperienced in genealogical methods, so I hired some professionals in D.C. to undertake a lot of the basic research. And for Christmas that year—1977, I think—I made a gift of all that preliminary research to dad. It initiated one of the most revealing conversations we ever had.

During our discussion, he told me of visits to his grandparents in southern Indiana while he was a young boy, people I knew from just one photograph that made me glad I hadn’t inherited their dour 19th century Presbyterian demeanor. John and Nancy Emma Park weren’t a fun couple, if facial expression is any indication. But then Roy told me something profoundly disturbing: he was unsure whether Clara Frances Markiewicz Ramsey, the woman I knew as my grandmother, was actually his mother.

His father, another Roy Ramsey, had been married twice and the first Mrs Ramsey had died, perhaps in childbirth, and that he had been the surviving child. That information was merely surprising. The shocking part of it was that my father was uninterested in finding the truth of that rumor. I, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep until there was a definitive answer. So I immediately headed to downtown Chicago and the Cook County Court House for whatever documents they held. The bittersweet answer satisfied both of us.

Roy L. Ramsey had been married in 1908 to Nellie Laurina Kemp in Indianapolis. After the move to Chicago she gave birth four years later on February 18th, 1912 to Evard Wallace Ramsey—Uncle Evard. Sadly, the baby lived just seven weeks and his mother only a bit longer. They are buried together at Kent Cemetery in my grandfather’s home town of Kent, Indiana.

So when I claim to be the only child of an only child, that’s not entirely true. My dad had a half-brother and I a half uncle, if there is such a thing. Far more important was the reassurance that Clara was, indeed, his mother and my grandmother, and we both slept more soundly that night.

(#1175)

1937

Nineteen thirty-seven was a banner year for Agincourt and the Tennant family. You’ll recall that Anson Tennant had sailed for Liverpool on May 1st, 1915 — sadly, on the RMS Lusitania. Six days later, at 14:12 local time off the coast of Ireland, a German torpedo sank the Lusitania, with the loss of 1,198 lives from the total passenger list of 1,959. It was thought that young Tennant had been among the casualties (though his name does not appear on casualty lists; I’ve checked). The story of his rescue, recuperation, and restoration to his family has been told elsewhere — and often. But it’s the reunion that interests me today.

During all those amnesiac years in the post city of Donostiako, Tennant had worked in the carpentry shop of his father-in-law Eitor Urrutia building furniture. And when he returned to Iowa shortly after the restoration of his memory he continued in that modest occupation, rather than the loftier professional status of being an architect. [Licensure hadn’t been necessary in 1915 when he designed the Public Library but he didn’t test Iowa’s 1926 registration law to be “grandfathered” in.) So, in the spirit of his old friend Manny Galvez, Anson opened a furniture workshop and retreated from the prominent pubic life his family’s position might have expected. His first commission came appropriately from Miss Rose Kavana, his old school teacher at Charles Darwin elementary. During all those intervening years, Miss Kavana had become school principal and then retired to a modest home on NW Third Street.

Though it didn’t have time to become a tradition, Anson had “dated” his projects from the ‘teens with cornerstones of sorts: coins from the project’s year. His office door incorporates a 1912 “standing Liberty” U.S. quarter dollar, and each set of children’s building blocks has a coin from their year of manufacture. So why not the set of “Rose Kavana’s Table and Chairs”? And why not with a Spanish coin still in his pockets when his new family (wife and three children) and his old one (sisters Molly and Claire) boarded the Franconia bound from Liverpool to New York City.