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Yearly Archives: 2014

Happy New Year, everyone.

PS: It’s finished. Really good news hereabouts.


I mean the window, of course, not the year 2014. No, wait, maybe I do mean the year.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Miss Kavanagh, tea and me.


Howard wrote here once of his afternoon encounter with Rose Kavanagh, retired principal of Darrow School. It seemed the beginning of a fruitful story. [Incidentally, her name seems to fluctuate—Kavana, Kavanagh, Kavanaugh—through the project. Perhaps that will get settled soon.]

Synecdoche 2.1

Howard had been asked by his mother to deliver something to Miss Kavanagh at her home on Third Street NW one Saturday afternoon circa 1953, which became for him a memorable right of passage: one of his first social interactions where he’d been accepted as an adult. I rather enjoyed designing Miss K’s 1910 bungalow and imagining Howard’s hesitant knock at its front door; his welcome in and the generous offer of tea and conversation, rather than the perfunctory acceptance of an unspecified package and a hasty dismissal. I had a mental picture of her home (drawn from the Arts & Crafts era work of Chicago architect Lawrence Buck, whose work I’ve admired for forty years or more) and, indeed, I could hear and smell it as well: the gentle chime of a mantle clock on the quarter hour; the faint scent of sachet and other smells we often associate with the aged. So it’s very likely that Miss K will become a unit in the “Agincourt Homecoming” exhibit next September.

Rose Kavanagh is a composite of several teachers in my own early education—always women—who, in hindsight, had treated me well at a difficult time in my life. Perhaps this is a small way to pay them back for their kindness. And so the story evolves: a stained glass window grew into a house; the house required furnishings and accessories; those decorative elements became the focus of social ritual; and one of those rituals involved a small boy of nine or ten.

The house needed artifacts appropriate to its age and the social standing of its owner, choices I was happy to make. This afternoon, in fact, it appears to have generated a piece of furniture: a side table with nesting chairs that I hope to build in our woodshop and include in next year’s exhibit as part of Miss Kavanagh’s story, the setting for Howard’s Saturday afternoon tea.

rose kavana table001

The way things work…

A couple years ago our friend Richard Kenyon (a.k.a. Crazy Richard) and I made pilgrimage to New Jersey and the northern tier of counties across Pennsylvania. Our quest: the churches of architect William Halsey Wood. In New Jersey, we found three that seemed part of a series: St Peter, Washington; All Saints, Bay Head; and St Simon-by-the-Sea at Mantoloking. The first is a traditional parish in the northwestern part of the state; the other two are Jersey Shore communities—sans Snookie. Since then a fourth church has joined the list: Trinity parish in Northport, New York.

We had known about St Peter’s from Frank Greenagel’s book New Jersey Churchscape, though he doesn’t footnote a source for the attribution. Mantoloking came to our attention by the accidental discovery of a real photo postcard on eBay. I frankly don’t recall why we stopped in Bay Head; possibly just dumb luck. What we concluded at each site was twofold: First, William Halsey Wood was a good architect at each end of the spectrum. His designs for small wood-framed churches in modest communities were as inspired as his competitive design for St John-the-Divine. Second—and more important for its Agincourt implications—Wood gave these three Jersey clients an ecclesiological concept in modular form that could be implemented in phases, as budget and other circumstances might permit. We were impressed.

What struck us at Washington and was confirmed later at the Shore was the similarity of these three buildings. Pacing them off—we didn’t have a measuring tape in the car—it became clear that there was, indeed, a module at work: The depth of the transept, for example, was One Unit (the actual dimension doesn’t matter), as was the depth of both the narthex and chancel. The “crossing” a square measuring Two Units by Two Units, and the entry vestibule was One-half Unit deep. “Holy Mathematics, Batman!”  1 : 2 : 4 or 1/2 : 1 : 2—it works either way. And what provided proportionality in the horizontal also controlled vertical elements through the forty-five degree roof slope. We did sketches on restaurant placemats somewhere in Red Bank, intent on making a computer model once I got back to Fargo—fat chance of that happening.

Yesterday—almost two years after the fact—I opted for a simpler solution: in lieu of computers, I chose our wood shop and elected to make a set of modular children’s blocks from some nifty hardwood acquired in Dilworth. With Kevin and Jeff watching my every move (and not a digit lost), I crafted a set of blocks Tuesday afternoon. Compare the blocks with this image of the Washington, NJ church and tell me I’m wrong.

wasingtonNJSt. Simon's-By-The-Sea Mantoloking, NJ

Then compare it with St Simon-by-the-Sea at Mantoloking. See what I mean?

Now fast forward to about 3:00 this morning.

William Halsey Wood was the inspiration for Agincourt’s second courthouse, a Richardsonian Romanesque building completed the year Anson Tennant was born. As Louis Sullivan never designed a public library, Halsey Wood had never designed a courthouse (to my knowledge), so his take on the Richardsonian was an opportunity to explore how he might have approached the design of a substantial county government facility—a secular building. Perhaps I’m in a rut, but Wood had also provided the inspiration for the doll house a fifteen-year-old Anson Tennant built for his little sister Claire. Then it struck me: the Tennant family had originated in New Jersey, Wood’s home state, and there is every reason to imagine that another branch of the Tennant clan still lived there. Why couldn’t young Anson have taken a vacation with his family to visit relatives in Jersey? Why couldn’t he have stayed for a month with great aunts in their Edwardian cottage at Mantoloking? And why wouldn’t he have gone with them for a high-church Sunday Mass at St Simon-by-the-Sea?

Idle hands may be the Devil’s workshop, but Loose Ends scream for my attention. Sometimes, though not often, they resolve themselves in ways I could not have imagined.

I feel a story coming on.

I can’t resist…


The way things work…

Agincourt Redux will open at the Rourke Art Museum in early September 2015, not in the main gallery where you saw it last time, but in the new second floor spaces that Jim inserted shortly before his passing, as well as the east room. Last week I did some quick measurements—pacing things off with my one-foot foot—and discovered that those three volumes on the museum’s second floor have about the same linear feet of display space as we would have had on the main floor. Hard to believe. Sure, we won’t have the height but the tallest thing I wanted to show was thirteen feet tall and that can be shown more simply.

This shift has done me an enormous favor, because I’ve now begun to re-imagine both what can be included and how it should be grouped. At least two pieces of stained glass will be displayed—a concern I had due to the main floor lighting—and a potential third piece is being completed as we speak: the “Punch & Judy” window that will be part (albeit a politically incorrect part) of Agincourt’s kindergarten, The Little Ones. David Fode, of Haeuser Heil Studios in Waukesha, Wisconsin, is fabricating P&J and will ship it in a few weeks when the leading is complete. We hope you like it.


I think Margaret Lloyd would approve.

Purveyors of Lumber and Coal

bardwell Robinson 01

…and so much more.

Don’t underestimate the impact of lumber yards in the history of westward expansion in our region. Beyond the supply of standardized building materials (wood and brick, primarily), they were also a source for an astounding array of millwork, including doors, windows, trim (from moldings to built-ins), but also fancy good like fluted columns and caps, stained glass, and hardware, from cheap monel metal to brass. Yet, despite this range of product lines, these purveyors of forest products imposed a degree of uniformity on each community they served.

In addition to catalogues of their own products, companies like Bardwell-Robinson also offered a “library” of pattern books, collections of residential designs, often produced by designers calling themselves architects. [Remember, the first professional licensing law was enacted in New York in 1899; prior to that time the practice of architecture was unregulated.] Pattern books were commonplace between the Civil and First World wars, and you’d be surprised by the range of residential style and size they offered.

lumber yard

So tonight I find myself imagining Agincourt’s lumber yard and wondering: Was it a franchise or independent? A monopoly or competitive in its market area? Progressive?

I’m happiest in the liminal space between the vernacular and the world of high fashion. This is where I belong.

Alley Life

For a complete codification of public rights-of-way, visit Venice. There you will find a sophisticated (albeit malodorous) hierarchy of canals, from the grand to the not so much. The city’s narrowest are often dead-ended, with insufficient water movement, even at high tide, to flush themselves of all that has accumulated in the previous twenty-four hours. This hierarchy governs height, width, and bridge crossings, among other things. We’re, of course, appreciative of their picturesqueness and pay little, if any, attention to them as civil engineering feats from the Middle Ages.

Agincourt, of course, is modeled after Philadelphia’s plan of the 1680s—conceived and executed by Thomas Holme, rather than William Penn, but rarely credited to its real source—with its own hierarchical rights of way. Still apparent and working quite well at the time of Agincourt’s founding, Philly’s streets, lanes and courts were only slightly less sophisticated than the canals of Venice and more easily transplanted to the Midwest where it must have seemed natural to use as allées what we now call alleys. There are more than a half dozen listed in the gazetteer, named to honor a person, commemorate a physical feature or acknowledge a social or functional reality. Consider

  • Opera Alley got its name from the queueing of carriages on performance nights;
  • The half block of Easy Alley acknowledged the community’s first “sporting house” situated behind Belle Miller’s tobacco shop and convenient to both the opera house (called “The Auditorium”) and the Blenheim Hotel;
  • Adams Alley honors restaurateur Maud Adams; and
  • Carousel aims straight at the merry-go-round placed in The Commons during the late 1930s.

So when Fargo began to recognize a higher calling for utilitarian service ways, I was glad to know that Agincourt already had several. Which brings me to the tangent matter of arcades.

OHspringfield OHcleveland OHdayton

Arcades—sheltered yet still open-aired pedestrian shopping enclaves—are another phenomenon of the 19th century that have practically disappeared here in the U.S., though many still flourish in Britain and Europe. Consider these three, all from Ohio and not nearly the grandest of their type, as examples of what regional shopping malls have tried, unsuccessfully in my estimation, to emulate. We had (and I mean HAD) to go to West Acres yesterday for last-minute holiday shopping, where I mourned the loss of its progenitors. Even the Springfield example above, which seems to be the simple but efficacious placement of a glazed roof above what might have been a utilitarian alley, has a scale that Wasted Acres has missed—by a mile.

I mention this because Agincourt’s Adams Alley, on its way north toward The Square, ran between two iconic buildings: de Bijenkorpf (our department store) and the Blenheim (our finest early 20th century hostelry), which afforded an opportunity to add that same gable of glazing and permit shoppers the convenience of a sheltered passage between commerce and cuisine. It seems a a lesson important enough to find its way into the next exhibit.


Folke Sinclair [1877-1956]

folke sinclair

[From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock,” a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Fall of 2015]

SINCLAIR, Folke [1877–1956]

Farm in a Hilly Landscape


oil on canvas / 7.5 inches by 9.5 inches

Swedish artist Folke Sinclair studied at Göteborg and several foreign countries before returning home, to become a painter of portraits and soft, romantic landscapes  like “Farm in a Hilly Landscape.” The family name Sinclair suggests a Scottish emigration some generations earlier—not unheard in Scandinavia. He died at Malmö.

Biographies in English for Sinclair practically don’t exist, which makes the appearance here of his work all the more remarkable. In this case it was due to AFS, the foreign exchange program for high school students: the family of 1960s exchange student Beatrice Sundberg sent this as a Christmas gift to her Agincourt host family, Gerry and Myra Burke, whose own children bequeathed it to the Community Collection.

Karl Wasserman [1900-1972]—two studies

interior study gotham 2

[From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock,” a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Fall of 2015]

WASSERMAN, Karl Franz Joseph Maria [1900–1972]

Study for an Interior

circa 1940

oil on board / 8 inches by 10 inches

Study for Gotham

circa 1940

oil on board / 10 inches by 12 inches

Agincourt’s own Karl Wasserman taught at Northwest Iowa Normal for thirty years. His presence in the community—justly called “larger than life”—had several positive consequences, even upon the character of the Community Collection itself. These two studies for larger works (probably never executed) are recent acquisitions, found in a supply closet at the college. They may have been done as classroom exercises for Wasserman’s students: two studies in value; showing by doing.