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A song of innocence and experience


With the library project of 1914-1915 as its fulcrum, Anson Tennant’s life might parallel William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, two collections of poems published in 1789 and 1794. Many of us know Blake as the artist of “Ancient of Days” (tattooed on my chest) and the infamous “Red Dragon” from Thomas Harris’ book in the Hannibal Lechter series. I read a few, very few, of the poems as an undergraduate. Perhaps it’s time to encounter them again.

Prior to the competition, he enjoyed the enthusiasm of youth. At least I hope he did. I can barely recall my own, when there were no limits to life and being fifty was inconceivable. Perhaps I’m projecting the post-war optimism of my generation backward to the Progressive Era. Architecturally, Anson had been born into Modernism, the generation that produced Mies and LeCorbusier (who would have been only four and three years older, respectively) who found their solutions outside precedent. I’ve enjoyed reliving in Anson’s handful of projects the architect I might have been. Could that be why I was willing to “kill him off”? To spare him the corruption that comes with self-awareness? The doubt that is middle age?


But he survived the Age of Innocence to live it once again, his past so much mist in the morning burned off by the immediacy of the moment.

What I’ve written of Anson Tennant is the stuff of obituary notices and those dreary paragraphs from funeral programs, when we remember the best and forget all the rest. The most important questions remain: Could he keep a secret? Did he value both truth and friendship? Was he able to love? And perhaps most important of all, could he accept it in return?

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