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Yearly Archives: 2011


The American Psychological Association has released its long-awaited revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The on-line draft is available for review and comment until its publication in May 2012.

Dr Bob voiced reservations about a few of the changes, some of them substantive, but those that affect me will remain relatively intact. I was especially interested in diagnosis #301.81, Narcissistic Personallity Disorder, because I know people with the affliction. If you know an NPD, you know why it might be worthwhile staying abreast of the latest professional perspectives. Among all the classes and categories of psychological dysfunction, NPDs may be among the least likely to seek treatment because they simply don’t see themselves as ill. There is surprisingly little you can do for an NPD except put as much distance between the two of you as possible.

A couple years ago Howard wrote two articles about an NPD of his acquaintance, Marielle Leer, whose story has an update.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Last week I got a letter from an old friend in Chicago, someone I worked with forty years ago at the start of my career in journalism. Tom Milauskas hired me for a newspaper job right after college and shared his investigative and research skills with a kid who knew less than nothing. I’m forever grateful to Tom for his wisdom and his friendship.

Two years ago I wrote here about Mary Ellen Leer, a high school classmate of sorts, who had only come back to life through an anonymous packet of receipts and snapshots that reconstructed a tragic weekend. Tom Milauskas had helped me locate information on Leer in Chicago and he recently found another odd footnote to her story.

An eye for an eye

Crime is no stranger to Chicago. Gang-related activities, racial tension, the growing disparity between those who have and who have not; they are endemic to large populations (and, perhaps, the stuff of “class warfare”?). I had come to Chicago shortly after the Summer of 1968.

One of the crimes I recall long after I had returned home for an opening at The Plantagenet was overlooked by many, I suspect: the murder of Lenny Brookes, a Black man found dead in the serviceway of a southside three-story Chicago apartment building. The neighborhood was scheduled for “renewal,” though the sort of “improvement” that would rise there was hardly a paradigm of social housing. Newer ain’t necessarily better.

Brookes had been found in the morning, with a single stab wound—from something like a screwdriver or ice pick—deftly swung upward through the ribs directly into the heart. Brookes had barely enough time to realize he was about to die. Inept police work sought a convenient candidate for a short and inevitably dirty trial. Public sentiment in the 70s wanted quick justice and, in this case, they got it. Mike Gerulis, a serviceman for the power company—Commonwealth Edison—had made a service call at that address late in the afternoon and some of his tools were found in the dark passage that lead to a rear stairway. Gerulis’ trial was a showpiece of judicial theater: an eye for an eye, with little concern for whose eye was put out. 

“An eye for an eye.” Few people ever complete the biblical quote, however, which goes on “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord of Hosts.” But that’s an article for another day. Gerulis remained in jail for more than ten years, an American Death Row domino on the slow track to vengeance, and was executed twelve years after the crime. So much for Mike Gerulis and his family—except that fellow Lithuanian-American and journalist Tom Milauskas was on the case.

Long before “cold case files” became popular TV fare, Tom pursued the case of his countryman Gerulis. A police contact in Florida wrote to share the story of Dale Sims, a woman who had died in Florida’s “redneck Riviera” in 1998. Sims had made a deathbed confession to a crime she’d committed decades earlier: a murder on Chicago’s south side while she worked as recruiter for a modeling school.

Sims had an appointment one evening with a family who hoped their child might get work modeling for catalog companies like Sears, J C Penney and Montgomery Ward. Fearful of evening meetings in downscale neighborhoods, Sims habitually carried an ice pick in her purse. That evening, suspecting something foul about the situation, she held the pick firmly in her hand while following the directions she’d been given. Halfway along the unlit corridor, a man lunged and she countered with a swift upswing of the pick.

Tom has verified much of the story passed on by Florda authorities and has posed this alternative story almost thirty years after the facts. Gerulis may yet be vindicated. But hidden in his files was a minor revelation about Marielle Leer.

More about that next week. In the meantime, make your judgments with due diligence. Please.


There are very few topics that don’t interest me. And war is at the top of that list.

When I came to NDSU, Archer Jones was on the history faculty. Jones was a Southern gentleman, always conservatively dressed—I never saw him in anything but a suit, light-colored for sultry nights on the Charleston battery—and groomed to a level beyond “manscaping.” AH-chuh, as his wife called him (even when he was standing next to her), was a Civil War scholar.

For me there is nothing more tedious than second guessing the battlefield strategies of third-string generals, but this was mother’s milk for Dr Jones. So as a novice faculty member at the university, I attended some of his presentations—though I suspect being seen in the audience did me neither harm nor good. I did, however, observe a very characteristic faculty type.

My historical preferences and predilections are catholic. And some of them are probably as noxious to you as the Battle of Sunken Heights would be to me. I’m inordinately fond of the Social Gospel, for example, and the Progressive Movement. And I can develop a real lather over the Etruscans, as well. But the Agincourt Project has pushed me in often uncomfortable and sometimes unexpected ways—like the history of franchising.




Franchising, I was surprised to learn, began in the Middle Ages, though its modern form (Pita Pit, etc.) began in the 19th century. Drug companies may have been among the earliest nationwide corporations to offer local companies the benefit of volume buying and a brand name. Van Kannel’s Sanitary Drug could hardly buy aspirin in quantities large enough to compete with the price of an identical bottle at the Rexall. So, many Agincourt businesses affiliated with gusto to enjoy the franchise advantage.

But there is a big difference between a home-owned business (Theo Van Kannel lived three blocks from the Broad Street storefront he owned) and the Big Box retailers of our time. His profits (minus the franchise fee, of course) were plowed back into the community he served—on the board of the Presbyterian church, as a depositor at the FM&M bank, and a regular customer at many local shops. Wally World does employ local people and it does pay local taxes (unless, of course it’s been given a five year tax holiday to encourage its very presence in the community!). But Wally’s profits vanish into corporate coffers connected with a post office box in Delaware.

So (he inquired with a pregnant pause) what has been Agincourt’s experience with business franchising? When did the Dairy Queen beat the hell out of Tastee Freeze? How have Adams’ Restaurant and the Bon Ton held their own against Highway Host and Micky D? Then there is the matter of automobile dealerships? Even the YMCA is a franchise of sorts. Uncomfortable as these questions may be, this is why I get the proverbial big bucks.

Any thoughts on the franchise phenomenon during the 20th century will be most welcome.

Occupy Broad Street

Surely Fargo has its share of the One Percent. With 125,00 people in the metro area, that’s roughly 1,250 breathing the rarified air of Wall Street. I’ve met a couple of them at a local coffee house and eavesdropped on a handful of others. [I should add, parenthetically, they don’t creep me out nearly as much as the Bible Lady who seems to be re-writing the Good Book every weekday from 10 to 11.]

Nearby, at the corner of Second and Broadway on US Bank Plaza (but very careful to be on the public right-of-way rather than actual bank property) are a few folks representing the 99 Percent—among whom I’m proud to count myself. No one is actually camping on the site, but they did have a tent set up for the inevitable wind, rain and snow flurries that are expected this weekend. On any weekday there can be one or a half dozen or just a place-holding sign. Passing by car or foot, I wave my approval and offer thanks for their sacrifice, for giving the national phenomenon a local face.

Agincourt is barely a fifth the size of Moorhead-Fargo, so the folks occupying Broad Street are far fewer, I suppose. Has it made strange bedfellows of them, as it has in NYC? And has it divided families or brought them together?

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Occupying Broad Street

Nineteenth century banking in Agincourt was a local affair, practically a family matter. Banks were of, by and for the community they served and the banker’s wealth rose and fell with the local economy, but we also experienced larger trends like the nationwide panics of 1873 and 1895.

Competition was a good thing, yet the phenomenon of “Bigger is Better” had appeared before 1900, when the Farmers & Mechanics Bank (heavy with agricultural loans) merged with the larger Merchants National to form the FM&M (popularly, the F&M-squared). Its 1908 headquarters still stands at the corner of Broad and Agincourt—neo-classical architecture reflecting the growing conservatism within.

To encourage home ownership, the Fennimore Building & Loan Association received its charter at about the same time—1897—as a cooperative venture with hundreds of shareholders and a salaried staff. But with the 20th century also came the inkling of Big Box Banks (with absentee shareholders) who bought up smaller local institutions and changed the face of banking—or, rather, hid its face—especially after the Great Depression and World War II. Somehow the venerable FM&M has held out against the likes of Wells-Fargo and BofA. And they’ve been joined by the Tri-County Credit Union and the on-line Big Orange.


I live on Broad Street and work a block north on its other side. My fresh bread comes from Vandervort’s Bakery, three doors from home. My glasses, from the optician a few doors from there; next door is my barber. I know all these people. Broad Street is my neighborhood.

So I walked past the Occupiers on the way to coffee Friday afternoon. Jane was working the counter, so we talked about the protesters, almost within sight a block and a half away. “I don’t  know what they want,” she said. “But I know what they don’t want and neither do I.”

Jane has been serving me coffee and a cruller for twenty years; I’ve had dinner at her house. She’s worked hard to get a daughter into pharmacy school and a nineteen-year-old son, still living at home, into a law enforcement program at the community college in Fort Dodge. She’s earned more than our gratuity and our gratitude: she’s earned our respect.

I put on my coat and walked to the register, anxious to meet a 5:00 deadline. Jane met me there with four cups of coffee to go. “Give these to our friends on the corner. It’s getting nippy out there.”

It’s getting nippy everywhere, Jane.


Early Saturday morning I had a dream.


I was trying to explain something to someone but couldn’t remember names. I stammered and stalled and, just when a noun had begun to form in my mind, it was gone like snow on the water. Nouns—names, dates, places—are my stock in trade but they hid from me, just round the corner, barely outlined in a shadowed corner of my recollection.

On waking, I wondered if this had been a brush with Mr Alzheimer.  I only half-joke about OTD—Old Timers’ Disease—because those nouns are as important to me as my sight. I wonder if my future might become the inverse of Saturday’s dream: Will my days be clouded recollection and my nights the sleep of clarity?

I fear this more than any physical infirmity.

The Alienist

Herr Dr Reinhld Kolb came to Agincourt in the mid-1920s. His sister Edith Kolb Wasserman–much older; Reinhold was the youngest of the Kolb children–had come here with her husband Franz to open what would become the community’s longest independently-owned hardware store. Dr Kolb showed up briefly in Howard’s story about Agincourt’s resident dramatist James (a.k.a Seamus) Tierney. Now seems as good a time as any to flesh out Kolb’s character and career.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

The play’s the thing…

When his parents came to town for Saturday shopping and socialization, Jim Tierney, barely 12 or 13, was left to his own devices and, as often as not, attended what must have been the last public performances of puppet theater in The Commons. Strong stuff for a freshman teenager, those puppet shows were the therapeutic outreach of our own resident alienist Dr Reinhold Kolb.

The Alienist


Though the term may have passed from common use by 1925, “alienist” probably described Kolb as well as psychotherapist or psychologist would do today. Herr Dr Kolb arrived in our community about 1924 or 1925 to stay briefly with his sister Edith Wasserman; a visitor from Austria, Kolb was intent on relocating his medical practice to America, but rural Iowa may not have been his goal.

Our country’s earliest mental hospitals were run by Quakers. They were facilites run by families who lived with their inmates in domestic settings, where the measure of your improvement was the distance from your room to the family’s living quarters; improved behaviour was rewarded with closeness to the door. The model for deinstitutionalization today might be Geel, Belgium, where patients are mainstreamed in a town once visited by Dymphna, patron saint of the criminally insane.

We may never know why Dr Kolb chose to remain in Agincourt. With the Wasserman’s aid, he leased an outlot on east Thoreau near the Gnostic Grove (poigniant in two respects) and built a clinic that was more village than asylum. Kolb’s clients—what else should we call them: patients, inmates?—occupied cabins, dined family style, and inched their way toward to door. In his way, Kolb merged the wholistic methods of 19th century Quakers (read about them; their innovative methods have been underappreciated) with the Progressive techniques imported from Europe. We may also fail to appreciate Kolb’s contributions to mental health in Fennimore County.

Many stories can never be completely told.

Can Dymphna help the chronically depressed as well?

The Walden Folio

When I was young (was I ever thus?), there were several written languages deemed forever lost. I haven’t lived forever but I have lived long enough to see those skeptics called on the carpet. Nyah!

Maya hieroglyphs—those feathered and be-jewelled staypuff marshmallow guys—turned out to be syllables, consonant-vowel pairs that string into words, not unlike Japanese phonemes. 

I still laugh at an old library catalogue card (remember those?) for a new book about Frank Lloyd Wright: There beneath a string of characters I could never hope to read were their English translation: Fu Ran Ku Roi Do Rai To. Say it aloud and smile at the way a native Japanese ear hears a Western name and makes Japanese sense of it. So we can now read what the Maya wrote and find them revealed as genealogical time freaks. And not a moment too soon. Makes December 20, 2012 all the more poignant. 

The Walden Folio 

The Walden Folio (as it’s called) came to light about 1970. [I’d like to say the same for myself.] This time capsule of oil paintings by a resident at Walden Retreat is the only known example of Reinhold Kölb’s art therapy exercises from the mid-1940s. Aggressively painted but hesitantly signed, these dozen works want to speak. They plead to tell of a world seen by only one of us, presumably a changing world, shifting from darkness to light as a fellow creature rejoins the Company of Man. I think Howard is beginning to see them—in all their incompleteness—as a graphic novel, a story without words from an author who may have had none.


Art Therapy

There was a time when I understood or thought I did or pretended to. I was wrong.

Howard is helping to catalogue the Memorial Gallery Collection, one hundred fifty artworks, more or less, acquired since the GAR exhibit of 1912. Next year will mark its centennial. Howard has shared a few images with me but I think he’s holding back the best, a surprise for the travelling show next fall. 

When the Book Club organized an art exhibit in September 1912, no one imagined much more than a month of polite gawking until the two dozen works were safely back with their anxious owners. The level of public taste elevated ever so slightly, we could return to our little lives in small-town America. But the collection became permanent—as permanent as anything can be—and evolved into something unexpected. Evolution often works that way.

Each of these one hundred fifty works prompts a story—obtuse, convex, arcane—but a story nonetheless of its link with Agincourt’s past. Each work becomes a little lens—telescope, microscope, periscope, proctoscope—aids to the naked eye, helping us see farther, closer, overhead, round the bend, and deep within. Jean-Willy Mestach was right: We are what we collect.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Just what is normal, anyway?

When television succeeds, it gives us archetypes. “Cheers” did with Sam Malone; “WKRP in Cincinnati” gave us Dr Johnny Fever. “Star Wars” may be the most archetypically-driven story in entertainment history. Google “Carl Jung” and “archetypes” some time (but watch out for more New Age sites than even Jung could have imagined!) and explore the range of types you’ll find there. On a good day, I’m the Fool.

Remember, there’s a not-so-fine line betwixt character and caricature.

Writing about Agincourt as often as I do—some have said I write about nothing else—archetypes leap from our community narrative. Rev Frances Manning, for example, was our Guide (albeit a wounded one); Anson Tennant (great-uncle Anson) our Wanderer. The late Abel Kane was Mystic or Magus. And then there was Reinhold Kölb, a born Healer if there ever was one among us.


It’s not strange that Kölb’s name should come up in the Memorial Collection context. His sister and brother-in-law, the Wassermans, gave two pieces from their family still living in Austria. But Kölb’s contributions came in a more obtuse way, not even directly from him.

Herr Dr Reinhold Kölb opened a private clinic here in 1925, Walden Retreat located appropriately at the east end of Thoreau Avenue. As a disciple of Jacob Levy Moreno, Kölb used drama therapy and produced the remarkable Puppet Theatre in The Commons until the early 1940s—another link with the innovative mental health treatment at our sister city Geel, Belgium. But by the mid-40s Kölb had begun to explore art therapy as an alternative—with the help of his nephew Carl.

Kölb’s clinic closed in 1953, became a retirement home and then simply apartments. And we would have known little of his art therapy until a remodelling project of 1970: carpenters removed a wall and found a storage closet sealed for almost twenty years. Inside? Mops, brooms, buckets, and a folio of art! More than a dozen small paintings on scraps of unstretched canvas. It’s tempting to wonder about their meaning and how they fit into a community collection. Anonymous, troubled and troubling works; visceral yet compelling for that very reason.

I am certainly no art historian. Neither am I qualified to offer psychological insight or advice. But I am prepared to say these cast-offs belong exactly where they are. I’ll tell you more about them next week.

In the meantime, normalcy can take a hike.

And when the exhibit travels to Fargo next year, they may well become the show-within-the-show-within-the-show.

Sister Cities

Thirty-five years ago or thereabouts, I was the fourth for an intimate dinner party. The guests were the mayor of Fargo’s sister city, Hamar, Norway, and his wife; the campaign manager for Fargo’s then mayor was our host. Do you suppose I supplied local color?

Conversation remained fairly stiff for the first hour—pleasantries, weather, that sort of thing—so it was time to break the ice. I shared with Mrs Moe an observation about the arts in Fargo-Moorhead: why the arts (music, fine art, etc) were habitually at the short and smelly end of the funding stick; why they were the last activities to be funded when times were flush, the first to be cut when money was tight. I asked specifically about Hans Nielsen Hauge, a Norwegian cleric whose theology had served his nation’s situation when it was alternately a protectorate of Sweden or Denmark.

Hauge preached a theology of deprivation: excess, in Hauge’s view, was of the Devil, while simplicity of design and economy of means situated one nearer to God. Hauge’s beliefs would have resonated with Shakers, Quakers and Mennonites here in America. His theology worked well when Nowary was simply a province of another power; it helped her people in periods of deprivation. But when conditions improved and former luxuries became more widely available, Hauge’s preaching struck a sour chord with the mainstream church and his followers were encouraged to emigrate elsewhere. Why does it not surprise me that the vast majority of them came to the Red River Valley of the North—the valley that stradles the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. They came here and brought with them a distaste for luxury and showy display.

The conversational ice had broken and the Moes shared an observation that confirmed my suspicion: “You know,” she said, “when our American cousins come ‘home’ to Norway, they actually ask for lutefisk! No native Norwegian would admit to having eaten it, because it would confirm they had been desperately poor at some time. Our American cousins have raised lutefisk to cult status.” That night I learned something important about the place that I had lived for five years and would live another thirty-five.

Agincourt’s sister city also helps explain its character.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor


Sister City programs are out of fashion these days, I suspect. Suggestions that we may be more alike than different—despite language, culture and politics—don’t sit well with those intent on closing borders, marginalizing the poor or disenfranchising those on the edges of society. Agincourt has had a sister-city relationship since the mid 1980s: Geel, located in the Vlaams-speaking area of northern Belgium, not far from the Dutch border.

Our connection with Geel seems to have grown from an agricultural exchange program between our own Fennimore Farms and a comparable agribusiness there. But that chance encounter opened other doors for cultural comparison and reflection on the shrinking planet we all call home.

Geel, for example, is the site of an innovative mental health program, where the afflicted aren’t institutionalized. Instead, they live with families throughout the city, mainstreamed into the rhythm of its daily life. In a similar way, our own Dr Reinhold Kolb encouraged the residents of his Walden Retreat to venture outside its gemütlich safety and interact with Agincourt’s “normal” citizens. Their puppet theater in The Commons is still the stuff of legend.


Geel’s remarkable program grew from the city’s equally legendary saint—Dymphna, virgin and martyr—an Irish princess who sought sanctuary there to escape her father’s unwanted sexual advances. Murdered and then buried in Belgium, Dymphna’s tomb became linked with miraculous cures of the mentally ill. Do you suppose there’s another place in Christendom with a church bearing her name? I’ll bet Saint Ahab registers about as high on that scale, another unexpected link with Geel.

As we approach the twenty-fifth anniverary of sister-city status, I wonder what other parallels exist between us and those highly suspect Europeans. And just what is normal, anyway? Damned if I know.

Feral Child

In “Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House”–one of my favorite movies and one which should be required viewing for all students of architecture–Jim and Muriel Blandings are harried apartment dwellers fleeing Manhattan for the post-WWII joys of a suburbanizing Connecticut. Mr Blandings is ill-prepared for the process of building a home, however. After all, he’s an advertizing executive. How hard could it be? 

But it’s difficult to say whether Jim or Muriel (played to comic pathos by Cary Grant and Myrna Loy) is more naive. For me, the most memorable line–the one that has stayed with me more than fifty years–is this: Muriel says to Jim, “There are only two kinds of people in this world: those who observe and those who participate.” I have always been one of the former.

Growing up in 1950s Chicago (technically the burbs) I might have known Jim and Muriel, but we lived toward the other end of the socio-economic spectrum, in a blue collar suburb with limited upward mobility. Two other things shaped my youthful world view: 1) I was the only child of an only child, and 2) my parents divorced when I was eight, leaving me in the care of a distant father who did not know how to cope with his own needs, let alone mine, and a widowed grandmother who had endured an abusive marriage, though I did not learn these things for decades. The upside of it all–and there definitely was one–was that I became a feral child.

My grandfather had been an atheist and my father, at best, an agnostic who succumbed to the wiles of organized religion just three days before his death at the age of sixty-one, a forty-year victim of unfiltered Camels, Chesterfields and Lucky Strikes. Leave it to Roy to cover his ass within sight of his own end.

My Polish Catholic grandmother rarely went to Mass, no doubt a habit reinforced by her husband, a man I barely knew but had every reason to love as much as any five-year-old is capable. A rosary hung from the corner post of her dressing table and prayer cards from her many Catholic sisters rimmed the mirror there. More of a shrine than many I have seen since.

Yes, I said my prayers each night, including one for our deceased parakeet Mickey. And, yes, the Miller family two doors west took my spirtual welfare in hand and brought me with their daughter Andrea to the Congregational Church about a mile away. But, other than baptism a few weeks after my birth, religion had not branded me in any meaningful way and I grew toward adulthood wondering why God had not spoken to me, as so many around me claimed he had to them. Perhaps, as for Muriel Blandings, religion was always a thing to be observed.

I grew up almost exclusively among Christians. There were three Jews in my high school (one student, one teacher, one librarian), but no Muslims and surely no one beyond the People of the Book. America may have been more homogenous then; certainly Bedford Park was. So I was immediately curious why there were so many competing ways to God. Long before Baskin-Robbins gave us thirty-one flavors, I wondered why there were more Christian denominations than Heinz had pickles. If God was Great and God was Good, why hadn’t his believers managed to present a consistent message? Apparently, it was a good deal more complicated than a conflicted teenage mind could comprehend. As in so many other areas, I was left to find my way through detached observation. Decades later I discovered syzygy–the pairing of opposite or adjacent ideas–and resolved my discomfort oh so simply: spirituality and religion have little to do with one another.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

Though I grew up believing in the separation of Church and State, the current state of affairs is very different. Churches are tax exempt, yet their budgets and physical plants (and a lot of their profit-making real estate) can be used for activities that are probably illegal and patently unethical. Partisan political activities, for example, workshops and rallies promoting hatred and political action based on race, ethnicity, religion [there’s that word again], gender or sexual orientation are commonplace. How is that OK?

Congress hasn’t established a religion or even religion in general; it didn’t have to. But it has certainly discriminated against those of us who choose not to play in that sandbox. Since I have been able to vote, candidates for public office have increasingly had to pass a litmus test, demonstrating not only their religiosity, but also its intensity and flavor–shades of Baskin-Robbins and H. J. Heinz! Each candidate must not only like pickles, he or she must also prefer dills and find fault with those partial to gherkins. Heaven help ye of the kosher persuasion. And chutney is simply out of the question.

Scan the Republican horizon and what do we see? I’m reminded of Dorothy Parker’s review of a stage play staring Katherine Hepburn: “Miss Hepburn’s performance ran the gammut of emotions from A to B.” Other than LDS adherents Huntsman and Romney, the remaining candidates are so hudled in the Fundamentalist camp–each one hearing God’s clear voice–as to be indistinguishable. Never mind what I was told about the Bible (or what I found there on my own, but that’s another story), Rick Perry can’t execute Texans fast enough. The terminally ill can’t die too soon to suit Ron Paul. Michelle Bachman will tell us when the End Times have arrived. And the Herminator apparently has not read the New Testament. I have. Except for the Mormons, who get to become Gods, the rest of them had better hope there is no Hell.

“…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Go ahead, believe whatever claptrap you like and allow me the same right. Notice I didn’t say “privilege.” But don’t expect me to sit idly by while you spout my damnation.

The Constitution grants you free and unfettered exercise of your religion–devoid as it may be of spirituality. But also know this:

  • I will not subsidize it through my taxation;
  • I will not permit it to harm those who do not believe as you do or who believe nothing;
  • I will continue to be both spiritual and irreligious and enjoy the company of my kind and those of you willing to endure my point of view, and
  • Please leave science alone and allow it to do what your God surely intended: that we learn from, love and nurture Creation, whatever its source.

After years of observation, it may be that I’ve decided to participate.

Landscapes and Livestock

I’ve seen a large part of the Agincourt collection—the part that isn’t total fiction—and believe you’re in for a treat. The new exhibit—”Homecoming/Coming Home”—opens eleven months from now at the Plains in Fargo, and this show-within-the-show will constitute about fifty works from this collection, lent to us through the courtesy of our friends in Iowa. Looking at what’s in hand, I’m struck by two things: 1) the cohesiveness and quality of the earliest acquisitions, and 2) the enormous gaps in work representing the years after 1950. It’s embarrassing how little I know about the art of my own lifetime, though it may be fair to say that we are far less objective about that which is closest. Perhaps some of you will be willing to lend a few pieces and fill the cracks.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

“Tell me what you collect, tell me how you collect, and I will tell you who you are.” —Jean-Willy Mestach 

On the eve of its hundredth birthday, the Agincourt Collection (displayed in the Tennant Memorial Gallery) has reached a milestone. The gallery is too small for all 200 pieces to be hanging, so only fifty, more or less, are up at any one time. We cycle through the collection about once a year. Next March, however, it’s all coming out of storage and being hung in European style—cheek-by-jowl, one above and beside another—for a gala public opening. For the first time, all of our cultural laundry will hang at once.


Late next year, about twenty-five percent of the collection will also hit the road: between forty and fifty pieces will travel—again, for the first time—to the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota. Ron Ramsay, a friend of Agincourt and professor of architecture at North Dakota State University, has arranged the loan exhibit. I’m curious about two things: what we’ll send and how the folks in Fargo (and her sister city, Moorhead, Minnesota) will react. If Jean-Willy Mestach is correct, what and how we collect will have much to say about who we are.

Categories, clots and clumps

Like the Japanese renga and jenga, any collection—of art, coins or pogo sticks—is a living thing. It grows through time and its character thereby changes; nuanced, each new piece alters our perception of what has come before and changes the direction it might take. Looking at the Memorial Collection last weekend (not all of it at once, but in bits and pieces, and not knowing completely the order of acquisition), I can report the following:

  • Portraits are a small but significant segment. I’ve known some of the subjects and one of the artists.
  • Landscapes play a big role—no surprise there—because we live on, of and off the land. Several pieces pay poetic homage to that which sustains us—and that which we have all too often abused in return. They also record the vastness of our weather conditions (bucolic, threatening, elegiac….) and make me glad I live here.
  • Then there are several pieces without an easy explanation: views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, for example, American icons that exist despite not seeing it from my kitchen window. And portraits of sheep. And stuff from Europe that must have traveled here by steerage. Each and every one tells a story worth knowing.

Some of us (though not me) have called our collection “Landscapes and Livestock”; disparaged it as a waste of money (though no public funds are used for either acquisition or upkeep) and suggested it be sold and the proceeds used for band uniforms or a hockey rink or to buy better art! Luckily cooler heads prevail and the collection grows, one or two pieces a year. The folks in Fargo are in for a treat.

If the choice were mine….