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The way things work

…as if you didn’t already know.

Postcards like the Smith bungalow (posted yesterday) can easily become elements in the Agincourt landscape. The trick is weaving them into the narrative. But it can also work the other way: some overarching narrative—say the Second Great Awakening—would clearly have been felt in northwestern Iowa. The trick here is deciding what sort of artifact, what piece of material culture, would remain as evidence that the idea had once been in the neighborhood. I don’t always do this very well (or explain it very clearly) but that’s never stopped me from trying.

And so it is with Anita Willets Burnham (1880-1957), Chicago artist and daughter-in-law of the great Daniel Hudson Burnham. Remember him? “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood….”

Anita_willits_burnham003

This painting by Willets-Burnham dates from 1909 when her family lived on Oakenwald Avenue along the south shore of Lake Michigan. A handwritten note mentions the apartment rooftop as a pleasant retreat on hot summer nights and spectacular vantage point as the city’s lights came on. I couldn’t resist its modest opening bid on you-know-where. Seven days later the work became an Agincourt artifact.

The wheels are already turning and I suspect that its date—1909—will enable Anson Tennant to have bought it during his student days in Chicago. A quick search for information on the artist herself tells me that he needs to have actually met Anita Willets Burnham, artist, author, lecturer, who famously said “Doing what can’t be done is the glory of living.” They’d have got along famously.

This is the way things work.


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