Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

Alfred Ward (born ca1847)

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

WARD, Alfred [flourished 1873-1927]

“Mr Bedwell” / Portrait of Francis Benjamin Bedwell

gouache on panel / 4.3 inches by 3.1 inches

1918

“Mrs Bedwell” / Portrait of Sarah Woodyear Percival Bedwell

gouache on panel / 4.3 inches by 3.1 inches

1918

The provenance of these two delightful Georgian miniatures is complex to the point of obfuscation. The subjects are of the related Bedwell and Percival families, with trading connections in St Kitts, West Indies. Indeed, Mrs Bedwell was born on the island. Oral tradition in the Tennant family holds that the Percivals used the services of Gaudeamus Tennant and that the families may have been related by marriage; no evidence supporting such a connection has been found. The portraits themselves, however, date from a much later period—1918—than the lives of Mr and Mrs Bedwell:

  • Francis Benjamin BEDWELL (1776-1835)
  • Sarah Woodyear Percival BEDWELL (1779-1835)

She died 23 July and he on 31 October of the same year.

These were painted by artist Alfred Ward from photographs of earlier drawings (attested by labels on the reverse). Ward lived and worked in London and is known to have exhibited at the Royal Academy, as well as Grosvenor Gallery between 1873 and 1915. He was also a member of the Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street and showed paintings there until 1927. Martha Tennant purchased these works, intended as a birthday gift which her husband Augustus James Tennant never received. They were given in 2018 as a memorial on the centennial of his death.

 

Medical Arts (again)

Russell Guerne Delappe designed the 1938 Stanislaus County Hall of Records in Modesto, California in a robust Moderne style. It was a WPA project, a make-work project intended to put American to work and therefore relatively low tech so as to tap the largest pool of workers many of whom were unskilled in the construction arts. I don’t know whether Agincourt’s Medial Arts building would have qualified as a WAP/PWA project but it motivation could have been similarly driven. In any event, the Modesto building inspired me to immerse myself in the design vocabulary of the 1930s which such a project might have been built.

You don’t even have to squint to see the Bauhaus awareness, if not actual influence, exhibited here. In fact, one or two photos of the building [it was photographed often but not terribly well] have been photo-shopped, with the word “BAUHAUS” running up its stair tower. So I’m certainly not the first to make that observation.

Though it was built somewhat later, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1956 hybrid residential-office tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma also seems appropriate for inspiration. And, of course, it too was conceived at the beginning of the Great Depression as another project altogether: a housing complex on the south end of Manhattan Island called “St Mark’s-in-the-Bowery”, but unbuilt then and re-purposed several times prior to its appearance in Oklahoma. It comes to mind because the Modesto building was executed without sun control on all that glass, an issue which was resolved years later with genuinely awful louvers. Wright, on the other hand, dealt with sun in a louvered sort of way, but designed them according to the kind of light that would fall on them, depending on orientation and time of day. You can see vertical louvers on the left (here in the color image) and horizontal barely showing on the right. What mongrel might emerge from the fusion of these two buildings?

[#1309; I’m behind schedule]

John Beddowes

John Beddowes, in his Civil War uniform. Agincourt’s first war casualty.

Iowans played no small part in the Civil War. The state provided over 76,000 troops, of which 13,000 died. Iowa troops included 48 infantry regiments, 8 cavalry regiments, 4 artillery regiments, and one unassigned volunteer regiment. Somewhere among those hallowed dead must be the name of John Beddowes, son of Amos and Sissy. We believe this tintype is his image taken on the eve of battle. As Agincourt’s first casualty, he received a hero’s burial at The Shades, but since the family had no other surviving members (John’s sister Mary was a casualty of typhoid many years before), his story has faded from public memory. I hope some day soon to retrieve that story and restore his place of honor in the Agincourt narrative.

 

The World is too much with me

The World Is Too Much With Us

by William Wordsworth
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
Anyone know where I can get a wreathèd horn?
Oh, and the painting is “The Apotheosis of Aeneas” by G. B. Tiepolo (1762), at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The World

Świat is a collection of poems by Czesław Miłosz. They were written in the author’s native Polish, which I regret not being able to enjoy; they were at least translated by him. Poetry, like narrative story-telling or the contract you signed to get a mortgage, is a form of language, but as far as I’m concerned it’s no more artificial than the notarized legal document which committed you to three hundred and sixty monthly installment until that house is really yours (though it’s likely to be owned by your kids, who will feel vastly different about it than you do).

Portrait of Czesław Miłosz by Jim Dine

I should probably have mentioned that świat derives from the proto-Slavic word for light or world. That pairing offers unexpected comfort, doesn’t it: the association of the world with light, a far cry from our experience lately. I wonder what Miłosz was up to; he translates it as “the world”.

Cyrus Leroy Baldridge [1889-1977]

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

BALDRIDGE, Cyrus Leroy (1889-1977)

“Peking ’25”

color woodcut / 9 7/8 inches by 14 5/16 inches (image)

1925

This ukiyo-e or floating world woodcut is typical of Japan, while the subject is Chinese. It is also representative of Japanese influence in Western art at the turn of the 20th century, especially on art from Britain and the United States.

One of several woodcut prints from the 1920s by Cyrus Baldridge, Midwestern artist and illustrator. According to an on-line source:

Cyrus Leroy Baldridge (1889–1977) was a noted illustrator, painter, printmaker, and writer. At the age of 10, he became the youngest student at Frank Holme’s Chicago School of Illustration.  In 1907, he was accepted at the University of Chicago where he continued his art education and graduated in 1911. Following graduation Baldridge worked as an illustrator, later becoming a war correspondent on the battlefront during WWI. After the war, he settled in upstate New York and continued to work as a writer and illustrator while traveling the world with his wife Caroline Singer who was also a writer. The couple traveled from Africa to India, and to Japan in the 1920s. Japanese art had a profound influence on his Baldridge’s work—during his time in Japan, he met the famed Shin Hanga print publisher Watanabe Shozaburo in Tokyo. He produced a number of woodblock prints for Watanabe during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1952, he and his wife retired to Santa Fe, where he found inspiration hiking the mountains of New Mexico and painting the landscape in oil and watercolor.

Quite aside from its qualities as an example of period, style, and a challenging print technique, “Peking” has close personal ties with the Tennant family: twins Ella Rose and Phyllis Tabor were great-granddaughters of Agincourt founder Horace Tennant. Though their story is told elsewhere in greater detail, Ella Rose became a pilot who flew in China during the Revolution and acquired this print some time before her disappearance in the 1930s. The print has been given in her memory.

Hansa House

The German-American Mutual Insurance Co. maintained office in Fargo from 1892. They built their own facility, “Hansa House”, at 10 North Broad Street five years later, with income producing rental space on the ground floor (occupied for several years by a company that sold pianos and other musican instruments) as well as on the third floor. The top floor was reserved for a lodge meeting room which could be used for other events–though those three flights of narros stairs were an effort for our older citizens. For some time, it was the headquarters of a men’s singing froup and eventually the Commercial Club called it home, as well.

It’s tempting to write the history of a major business like the G-A, but that would require me to actually believe in capitalism. As an undergraduate, I took ECON 151 and failed miserably to understand the whole “Guns and Butter” analogy. The building, on the other hand, has already been designed, and I can imagine the lodge meeting space-cum-auditorium-banquet facility and lot more readily.

Lodges were important social settings in towns like Agincourt. Membership in the AF&AM Masonic Lodge, the BPOE, or any of the other “animal” societies was a necessity for business purposes. In the midst of all that mumbo-jumbo and brotherhood, deals were done, marriages made, horses traded, and the like. If you had a business on “Main Street”, fraternal membership was a must. What actually went on in the room as ritual eventually leaked out and became common knowledge. But for yourger members it enjoyed a vague mystique. The Masons, incidentally, had their own building across the street; it burned in 1912 and provided the building site for Agincourt’s new public library.

That fourth floor meeting room hosted the monthly Commercial Club dinner in 1895 when Mayor Ed Flynn clutched his chest, fell face-first into a place of sauerbraten, and died—testily. Hizzonner was of a substantial girth and negotiating his corpulence down three flights was a tale told for several weeks around the fire house.