Which came first? The chicken or the egg? For Erwin Schrödinger, the answer was “Yes”.
North Broad Street can only have developed organically within the accepted nineteenth century framework of the standard Midwestern urban block, 300 feet square, bisected by a 20-foot wide alley and subdivided into twenty-four 25-foot lots. That’s the stuff of our urban centers until Modernism came along and suggested setbacks and other articulations of traditional street frontage that have given us gap-toothed blocks of more recent vintage. Postcard views of these streets abound (I’ve collected several with the intent of adapting them to Agincourt), but few artists who gave the Midwest streetscape any serious attention lie within my price range.
In my process, there is much give and take between the physical reality of Agincourt and its narrative. The likelihood of certain institutional types in the city begets clients which beget buildings which beget narratives which often further beget other characters. I’m never certain where the process may have begun. Enter eBay!
Commonplace artifacts like postcards are easy enough to come by. “Real photo” cards are the most useful, since they are often very focussed on a specific store and frequently pose the owner in the image, a statement of individual pride and community accomplishment. Incidentally, they also happen to document the subtle rules by which builders played the game: storefronts of uniform or at least modular width, in a gamut of styles from Victorian Gothic to the Moderne, but adhering to patterns that lurk unobtrusively behind them. Perhaps I should say “within”. But streetscapes in other forms are uncommon.
My pitbull persistence sometimes pays off, however. Witness this exquisite artifact recently arrived.
The reverse of this unsigned painting (which itself measures only four by six inches) states “Cherry St / out of the terminal window / march 25 -1909” and an indecipherable set of initials.The artist will probably never be identified, but my guess is that it could be in Philadelphia, which has a very prominent Cherry street and several transit terminals that might qualify. Another candidate is Toledo, which also has a terminal coincident with a street named Cherry.
Luckily for our purposes, this vignette can just as readily be a view across Agincourt’s Broad Street looking onto the 100 or 200 block of businesses that crowd its eastern edge. Cleaned and framed, this will become a conspicuous part of the community art collection in the Tennant Memorial Gallery.