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Monthly Archives: October 2010

Higher (and lower) Ed

There is some disturbing rhetoric in higher education today that we may regret in the long run. Much of it boils down to the simple (but not necessarily simplistic) distinction between education and training.

Even The Nation, ordinarily a welcome source of progressive ideas, has brought me up short in a recent article by Thomas Geoghegan, “Ten Things Dems Could Do to Win.” Number 8 on Geoghegan’s list suggests a College Bill of Rights for those who elect to pursue higher education. One of his proposals for “Truth in Advertising” would make our institutions accountable for their product. I’m concerned that the emphasis, however, will swing disproportionately toward training and away from education: the former regulates the bowel habits of young children; the latter equips young adults to face the unanticipated challenge of complex issues without easy or even obvious solutions.

The upper echelon of education is populated with administrators who do “the big think”; whose academese and status equip them to tell all of us–regardless of discipline–how to do our jobs in the trenches. Being lectured by them can be galling.

Schoolofathens

Books come along that change lives, often unexpectedly. Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse has been that kind of experience for me, especially Chapter 17 as it cuts through the argle-bargle of education-speak, discussing our preparation for the surprises that life delivers without end:

To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.

Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads toward a continuing self-discovery; training leads toward a final self-definition. 

Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future.

Our department has succeeded because, consciously or otherwise, we have embraced Carse’s understanding of education versus training.

Agincourt has had at least two institutions for advanced education during the last 150 years–the private Bishop Kemper Academy and the the public Northwest Iowa Normal School–not to mention K-12 public and parochial schools. I wonder how these ideas have manifest themselves.

 

Oracle

While I’m on the subject of Dr Bob, the therapist who helps me expect the unexpected, I’m guessing that Agincourt has had at least one oracle (not to be confused with the business software company who appropriated the word, hoping, perhaps, that their product might be consulted in the same spirit). Most ancient world cultures and some contemporary ones have relied upon interpreters of wisdom, divine and otherwise, consulted when reason fails or conflicting opinions arise. And, while many oracles relied upon babbling incoherency or chemically altered states of consciousness, Glenn Beck is not a contemporary manifestation of oracular power. It’s like squares and rectangles: all squares are rectangles; not all rectangles are squares. Glenn Beck is merely a crackpot whose insights are mistaken for wisdom, which, contrarily, does not mean that he cannot speak wisely on occasion. The odds are just against it.

Waterhouseoracle

Agincourt will have had its oracular types, though they and those who listened to them may not have known it. Wisdom often works that way. So whether it was a bartender, owner of a general store, nurse, doctor or vagabond, I feel the need to invent one. My guess is that they were neither teacher nor clergy, folks whose community roles often put them in oracular posture.

Doctor Bob

I am a part of all that I have met–for better or for worse; and vice versa. Consequently, Agincourt is populated with many people I have known and a handful that I’d like to meet before lying down for the dirt nap.

Edith and Franz Wasserman had a son named Karl, who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and, like his near contemporary Anson Tennant, came back to home base for the majority of his life. A significant death facilitated Karl’s return and appointment to teach art at the Normal School. One result of that event will be the series of Stations of the Cross in the 2011 exhibit.

Another, as yet unexplored, design opportunity will come from Edith Wasserman’s younger brother Herr Dr Reinhold Kölb, psychologist who had more sense than god gave a rutabaga and got the hell out of Vienna in the 1920s (when the gittin was good). Kölb had become a friend of Jacob Levy Moreno, inventor of psychodrama, and decided a visit to sister and brother-in-law in America might allow him to bring that new therapy to the so-called New World. The result was the establishment of “Walden,” his appropriately named private hospital at the east end of Thoreau Avenue.

Mieslange

It’s relatively easy for me to shift into Progressive or Arts & Craft design mode; those periods of design are comfortable, familiar. Nineteen-twenties European Modernism, however, is a vocabulary I recognize but don’t yet fully understand: it’s not yet a part of my arsenal. So, among many other diversions and distractions, “Walden” is on my plate. What do you think about some inspiration from Mies van der Rohe?

Mieskrefeld

Copyright All rights reserved byJagerJanssen Architects BNA

The Wasserman Block

Frank and Edith Wasserman came to Agincourt just before 1900 with Otto Koehmstedt and bought out an earlier hardware store that had been badly mismanaged. Within three years Koehmstedt, Wasserman & Co. had become the dominant regional supply house for all things practical; from tools, nails, screws, hinges, and knobs to plumbing apparatus and small internal combustion engines, if they didn’t have it, they’d find someone who did. By 1910 Koehmstedt, the senior partner, was ready to retire. So the Wassermans bought out his interest in the business and were ready to replace the jumble of buildings they occupied at the corner of Broad and James.

It’s a longer tale than can be told here; suffice to say architecture in 1900 was in transition. At that point Agincourt didn’t have a resident architect. There’d been several men who called themselves “Practical Architect” during the last quarter of the 19th century, but that usually meant a more pragmatic approach to building–someone who’d begun his career as a carpenter/builder and picked up the rudiments of fashion along the way. So Frank Wasserman (actually, he and Edith had come from Austria, so his given name was Franz Josef, after the Emperor) went to Sioux City for professional services, eventually settling on Joachim& Perlmutter.

Wasserman02

I gather J&P (or Hans und Franz, as they were known) didn’t give the best service. Within two years, the Wassermans found themselves in need of remodelling–embarrassing when you consider how new their building was. Luckily for our story, Anson Tennant had just returned from architectural studies in Chicago, ready to become Agincourt’s newest professional.

Since Tennant’s father did a goodly amount of business with Wasserman, it may have been Jim Tennant who leveraged Anson’s first commission: a remodeling of the front suite of offices to become the Wassermans’ apartment. In lieu of fees, Anson negotiated a sweet deal that gave him a five year lease on the space that he adapted as a studio/apartment.

Wasserman01

The plan in magenta is Tennant’s studio; in yellow the two-story apartment he designed for the Wassermans.

I thought you might like to see the place Anson lived and worked for four years, until that fateful sailing on the RMS Lusitania.

War and the Home Front

The effects of war are immediate, personal and direct. But there are long term consequences that extend to areas not directly touched by conflict; they do so for decades–lifetimes–beyond any cease fire. Technically, I was born during World War II, four months prior to victory in Europe; seven before the last shots in the Pacific theater. So the majority of my memories about WWII have to do with rebuilding efforts at home and abroad.

Yourvictorygarden2

Next to my childhood bed there was a bookshelf–my mother’s probably–filled with mysteries and Westerns; Zane Grey comes to mind. But there was also a pile of magazines that may have been the first things I read–a monthly titled Your Victory Garden. This small-format periodical held a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of gardening (planting, fertilizing, weed and pest control), about canning and drying, and nutrition. Howard Tabor (almost my exact contemporary, by the way) wrote a piece about his community’s garden plots for the war effort (which I can share, if anyone is interested). This will have to be the way I cope with War and weave it into Agincourt’s history.

Agincourt would have been touched by war in many ways. Certainly there was the human toll: soldiers and non-combatants who didn’t come home. It is an error to say that their lives were lost; that hackneyed phrase misses on two counts. First, its verb is passive rather than active. And second those lives were given for a cause far beyond any individual. Yes, there are stupid losses, like Pat Tillman. His life was neither given nor lost; it was taken.

Another tragedy of war is its effect on civilians. I recall in second or third grade when a girl joined our class. She was English, I think, but different from most of us in another way. Actually, she hadn’t crossed my mind until last night and the intervening fifty-plus years haven’t improved my memory. So “skittish, shy and suspicious” is the best I can do at this distance. We were told that she was one of the smaller casualties of war, a displaced person born into the very conflict I didn’t know. I later learned that many British children had been sent to live in Canada and the States during the war itself, to avoid the stress of bomb shelters and wartime deprivations. You have to wonder if the cure was more stressful than the disease.

Displaced persons–uncharitably termed DPs (“deepees”)–were common in Chicago, probably because we already had large populations of Poles, Lithuanians, Hungarians and others displaced by Soviet occupation of their former homelands. “DP” was also shorthand for “dumb Polack,” a phrase I heard often but refused to claim, as a person of Polish ancestry. How many of these refugees–adults and children–might have found their way to Agincourt’s quiet calm? Howard will probably tell me when he’s ready.

War

“The Child is Father of the Man” –from “The Rainbow” by William Wordsworth

 Woodcut by artist Donald Axelrod

Child_is_father_of_man

I have never fought in war.

During 1963-1965 I participated in ROTC (mandatory at the University of Oklahoma), which did require regular Tuesday afternoon drill, with uniform and gun, but there can be few able-bodied men less capable for military service than I.

Neither my father nor grandfather had been in the military; Roy L. was too old for WWI and Roy C. had lost a leg at the age of nine, so military exploits or mementos were outside my experience. Also, neither of them were sportsmen, so guns didn’t exist, as far as I knew. I can count on two hands the number of times that I’ve shot a gun. (After his death, I did find a handgun at my dad’s gas station–a defense against the robbery that never happened.)  

I am neither proud nor ashamed of these facts. They do not account for any significant deficiencies in my character–though other factors may. I only mention these things because they probably affect my ability to understand War. So it shouldn’t surprise that, of all the various elements of Agincourt that I have designed or tried to, one has consistently evaded me: the court house square.

Two blocks anchor the heart of Agincourt’s civic life. The eastern block is called The Commons, an informal space devoted to bandstand, carousel and puppet theatre–the stuff of Saturday afternoons and summer evenings. The western block–The Square–faces the court house and recollects the community’s sacrifice in various military actions (Civil, Spanish, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf, Afghan, Iraq and other wars). Each of my several designs for The Square has been more dismal than the last. It has defeated me.

 

Synecdoche 3.0

What is it about me and stained glass windows? Among the artifacts in the 2011 exhibit, there will be at least three of them: one from Miss Rose Kavanaugh’s 1908 home near the Darwin School; another, the actual door from Anson Tennant’s architectural office of 1912 in the Wasserman Block; and the third will come from a Kindergarten run by several ladies at the Episcopal church.

Punchjudy1

More than forty years ago while still an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, I browsed the Architecture Library’s copies of The Studio, a British fine and decorative arts periodical that began publication in 1893. It was instrumental in promoting the careers of several designers such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh. One of the many images that remained with me was a design by Margaret Lloyd that would have lent itself to reproduction in stained glass, though it’s likely to be a window of inordinate complexity. I finally managed to acquire a scan of Lloyd’s design for “Punch & Judy,” a traditional bit of British puppet theatre, hoping to find someone who could translate it into glass. Wish me luck.

The kindergarten itself will be easy enough and fit nicely into the story told by Carol and Vince Hatlen of a subsequent Montessori School established about 1950. Together, they’ll allow a fuller telling of early childhood education during those years.

Not incidentally, the window–if it can happen–will be both stunning and evocative.

Moise Cohen

Chicago remains among America’s most ethnically diverse urban areas. Until proven otherwise I continue to claim it publishes more weekly foreign-language newspapers than any other city in the U.S.; Toronto claims more diversity but may not match Chicago’s publication record.

I grew up in a decidedly blue collar area amid large clusters of Poles, Ukranians, Czechs, Greeks and Lithuanians. There were also many Puerto Ricans, as well as a substantial Black community of first- or second-generation emigrants from the South who had come north for opportunity in the factories. By the time I got to high school, my repertoire of vulgarity was expansive.

The Jewish presence in Argo-Summit was small and may not even have been resident; the nearest synagogue was a few miles away. There were two local department stores, however, owned by Jews: Stone’s in the 6200 block of Archer Avenue and Kabaker’s where Archer turned east to become 55th Street. Stone’s had a 50s-Modernist facade, but I suspect the interior dated to the 30s. Kabaker’s was more obviously of 1900 vintage; the kind of store where pneumatic tubes whooshed your payment to an unseen clerk. Each maintained a broad range of stock, from housewares to clothing. My first “big boy” shoes probably came from Stone’s.

I grew up in this environment and came to think of it as normal. In the many, many years since, I have learned a bit about historical patterns of migration in the 19th and 20th centuries, enough to intelligently anticipate what those waves may have washed upon the shores of northwest Iowa. I suspected Agincourt’s earliest Hebrews might have been Central European, urban people likely to settle here as merchants in our cities and towns of various size. It is remarkable how may haberdashers came from Germany. I wondered about that knee-jerk choice, however; wondered if I was guilty of “racial profiling.”

Statistically, two of Europe’s most anti-Semitic countries in recent history have been Austria and France. So it may have been French panache that encouraged me to conjure Moise Cohen (rather than Moshe Kahn) as perhaps Agincourt’s earliest resident Jew. If nothing else, it was an opportunity to get reacquainted with l’Affaire Dreyfus, the 1890s scandal that politicized France and encouraged many Jews to relocate.

Dreyfus

So I am dutifully researching the history of Jews in Iowa. There is an astounding supply of information on google.com which I hope will yield an authenticity to the Cohens and their family-owned business. Their home will also set a foundation for the temple (already designated for 1953 as an excuse to study the architecture of Erich Mendelssohn) and add another facet to community history.

Feel free to opine whether my fascination with race and ethnicity itself borders on racism.

The kosher pork chop

Several years ago the review of fifth-year NDSU theses in architecture drew upon the skills of three faculty: 1) a primary critic connected with the project from its inception; 2) a secondary critic involved as often as the student found useful (perhaps two or three times a month); and 3) someone appointed immediately prior to the final presentation, someone presumably unacquainted with the project’s substance. We called them “the deaf, dumb and blind.” The least comfortable thesis review during those years was one where I was blind as a bat.

The project type was baffling, but apparently only to me: it was a Catholic center for abortion. Don’t ask how it negotiated the approval process. That horse had long since left the barn, and I had become the third rider, clinging to its ass for dear life.

The student was male; the primary critic female. I sat motionless, totally absorbed in the project’s unfolding rationale and its physical manifestation. My difficulties as a commentator relate to the current political rhetoric, with its gay Republicans and Black Supreme Court justices on the wrong side of social justice. After an hour of discussion involving everyone in the room but me, I cautioned an observation: “I can imagine this project as readily as I can a kosher pork chop.” I then went on to speak toward the psychological issues involved with the termination of a pregnancy and how I believed the circulation within the design could be improved to minimize the patient’s exposure in public spaces; that this reinforce the intimacy of an ultimately intimate procedure.

Parenthetically, I should say the primary critic took considerable umbrage that a person with my genetic equipment could have an opinion on reproduction, let alone the cojones to express it. I was comfortable; she was furious. My point here, however, is simple: regarding Agincourt’s story, I am careful to accommodate the contradictions I cannot conceive; to entertain the gay Republican and the Black social conservative–if not the kosher pork chop.

Milk (and Iron)

Some weeks ago you might have read the story of “Kropotkin, the Knife Man,” Agincourt’s itinerant sharpener of knives and blades. While no Russian of my acquaintance has ever served in such a capacity, there was a man who did twice each year in Bedford Park, the Chicago suburb of my birth and youth.

Motorized_trailer

The week before his arrival, a card appeared in the mailbox specifying the day when the sharpener’s flat-bed truck would be moored on West 65th Place, often in the middle of the block near my grandmother’s house. For several hours he attended to the neighborhood metal: knives, shears, saws, lawnmowers (of the push variety), ice skates, etc.–cash and carry, no sales tax. We were frequent patrons, with me acting as the family’s agent. But our knifeman wasn’t the only front-door service we enjoyed.

Anyone older than fifty will recall several services that came to your doorstep. The Watkins company brought us spices and liquid flavorings; Fuller sold brushes and household cleaning supplies. And in addition to knife sharpening, there were weekly deliveries of bakery goods and dairy products; I’d been born too late for home delivery of ice. During summer months, there was also the regular appearance of the Good Humor Man. Today’s Schwann truck is the only counterpart I know.

Even our homes were designed to accommodate. Next to the side door and its stair landing (four steps up to the kitchen, eight down to the basement) was the “milk window” with its inner and outer doors; latches on the inside of each kept the house secure. Twice each week the milkman opened the outer door and left what had been requested on a printed order slip (milk, cream, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc), which remained cool in its shallow chamber until brought up to the fridge. 

Besides Kropotkin, I know that other services must have come to Agincourt’s doors. Traveling salesmen, to be sure, and a milkman absolutely. There are stories here and architecture–a bakery and a creamery, at least–yet to be explored. Other nominations are gratefully accepted.