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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Sidney Ellin MacNee [born 1938]

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

MacNEE, Sidney [born 1938]

“Night Stand”

1959

oil on board / 17 inches x 12 inches

Sidney Ellin MacNee enrolled at Northwest Iowa Normal School in 1956, an education major from Storm Lake. With guidance from Karl Wasserman, NIN’s one-person art department, Sidney minored in art and participated in end-of-the-academic-year exhibits. She graduated in 1959 and found a teaching position at Fort Dodge, then entered the Peace Corps when President Kennedy established  that volunteer program and invested two years in equatorial Africa.

“Night Stand” came from the 1959 student exhibit at the end of her junior year.

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy

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A book that I’m currently reading—Dark Ages America by Morris Berman—has mentioned several titles that should also be in my library. One of them is Albert Borgmann’s Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. I found a cheap used copy that’s on its way right now. Borgmann’s assessment of “the Good Life” brings ideas together from both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions, which I think must have been guiding principles at the foundation and in the early years of Agincourt. Berman summarizes them:

  • be a world citizen—cosmopolitan—someone who knows a fair amount about the world, especially science and history;
  • seek both “physical valor and intellectual refinement”, a healthy mind in a healthy body;
  • be accomplished in music and versed in the arts; and
  • be charitable, that is, understand that real strength lies not in material force, “but in the power to give, forgive, help and heal.”

Is it too late for me to achieve each of these?

Abraham Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs was standard fare for beginning students in architecture (and landscape architecture, I presume) but I wonder if these also ought to be part of the mix. Planning a spring semester seminar that will be based on Agincourt, and I think Albert Borgmann has offered its basis.

The life of the mind, that’s what Dr Bob suggests should give me satisfaction at this age and stage of life. And, once again, he’s right.

 

Avraham Azmon [1917-2008]

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

AZMON, Avraham  [1917—2008]

“Still Life”

ca1950

oil on board / 8.75 inches x 8 inches

The family of Agincourt businessman Gideon Meier were active in the formation of Temple Emanu-El in 1953 and in persuading eminent architect Erich Mendelssohn to accept the commission for its design, among his last works. Also enthusiastic supporters of the new state of Israel, the Meiers vacationed there in the 50s and may have acquired this small painting during that trip. One on-line source provides biographical information on artist Avraham Azmon:

Avraham Azmon (1917-2008) was born in Israel to a religious Yemenite family in a rather poor, hard working-class neighborhood of Tel-Aviv, on the border between Tel-Aviv and Jaffa, called “Mahane Yoseph” (the camp of Joseph). Azmon’s father was a Hazzan whose function is to lead, in singing and reciting, the prayers in the synagogue. Azmon’s formal education started with four years of a Yemenite Talmud-Torah. Then he continued in the  Tachkemoni elementary school in Tel-Aviv, which he finished around 1932.

After finishing school he found work as a locksmith and did not follow his artistic tendencies which were discovered around this time. His first period of serious painting was between the years 1934-1938—in that period he acquired experience in making frames for pictures—the profession of which he made his living for the rest of his life. In the years 1937-38, he managed a small art gallery in Tel-Aviv, Yad Oman (the hand of the artist) where he got acquainted with some of the young painters in Tel-Aviv of those days.

Azmon was a self-taught painter and his resume does not include any formal studies of art. His first subjects were drawn from his immediate surroundings. For several years he painted his childhood neighborhood Mahane Yoseph and its surroundings. Later on, his reservoir of subjects expanded to other areas including still-life, and his style became more abstract and fantastic ….

The Commonweal

What is the most interesting building type in Agincourt? Why, the one I happen to be working on at the time. This week it’s the collection of Agincourt’s schools.

Because the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 identifies the importance of publicly-supported education, schools in the community were present from the beginning. A section of land in each township was set aside for public education and several state constitutions made provision for continuing this pattern into incorporated settlements. I’m surprised that Christian conservatives haven’t resorted to Article 3 of the ordinance for its reference to religion:

Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

Significantly, I tried from the beginning to incorporate three similar ideas—governance, learning, and faith or what I like to call body, mind, and spirit—into the original townsite. The courthouse has been treated already (the second of 1889 and its replacement of 1967) as has education (Bishop Kemper Academy) and the institution of religion (Churches for Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists and Methodists), so the core is under control. But each quadrant of the town plan boasts its own “school lot” awaiting its school when demand warranted construction. I find myself drawn to the early schools; much less to newer patterns, but I know those too will have to come in time.

Ultimately there were at least ten schools and multiple buildings for some of them:

  1. Agincourt Business College / ABC
  2. Agincourt High School (now Fennimore County High School)
  3. St Ahab’s Parochial School (Roman Catholic)
  4. Nicolaus Copernicus Elementary School (SW)
  5. Clarence Darrow Elementary School (NE)
  6. Charles Darwin Elementary School (NW)
  7. Bishop Kemper Academy
  8. The Little Ones (kindergarten)
  9. Northwest Iowa Normal School (now Northwest Iowa College)
  10. Martin Richard Elementary School (SE)

For the earliest schools it has been convenient to adapt models from other places. Here, for example, is one from Harris, Minnesota, that I really like. Since 19th century form often followed function, I enjoy playing a game: let’s create a plan that logically follows the massing and fenestration of the view shown below.

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Cecil (on teaching)

Being outside the loop is one thing. Being unaware that the loop exists puts me in a class by myself. So it isn’t surprising to learn in the last few weeks there is a proposal coming down the pike that will shift the nature of architectural education dramatically. I have almost literally seen the writing on the wall. Shades of Balshazzar.

For reasons that I fail to understand and that I may find equally difficult to accept, leaders in the profession have decided that graduation with an accredited degree in architecture should be equivalent to receiving a license. Whether the ARE (Architectural Registration Examination) will actually be administered by faculty or soon after graduation by state licensing agencies—and presuming that today’s test will remain essentially intact—I wonder what incentive there will be to teach anything beyond the knowledge required to pass the test. Given general trends in elementary and secondary education (“No child left behind”; Common Core, and their pedagogical kin), I doubt that there is a place at this table for me. Indeed, I’m far more likely to be waiting this new table, rather than dining at it.

For at least two decades, I’ve watched academe embrace the Business Model, which understands the student as consumer, faculty like myself as Sales Associates on the showroom floor (working on commission, no doubt), and administrators as the CEOs and upper management of Higher Ed, Inc. Indeed, I was thrown off the board of a local arts organization because I expressed reservations about the Business Model in cultural organizations. Fired by a board president, by the way, who was himself the Libertarian developer of a software startup company suckling at the teet of Socialism in a business incubator providing low rent and subsidized business services; precisely the sort of “creeping Socialism” that he had suspected me of harboring and whose benefit he would be loath to admit.

I wonder what Elliott would have made of all this.

vaudeville

Though he was primarily an administrator at NDSU, Cecil’s academic career had been a blend of teaching and management, and I’m of the opinion that he was exceptional at both.

In the coffee room, at the end of a long thin corridor in the shoebox we occupied in the E&A complex, Cecil and I often spoke about teaching—and a hundred other things. I knew only what I had learned about teaching techniques during the first five years at NDSU; trying to become an architect—silly as that idea may seem to me now—is very different from preparing to teach it. If I had known in 1963 what I knew in 1975, my world would have been a very different place.

I recall one afternoon when we attained some sort of consensus; a basic understanding of teaching as a fundamental, foundational activity. “Teaching,” Elliott said, “is essentially indistinguishable from vaudeville” because success at either depends upon only three things: you must 1) know the material; 2) read the audience; and 3) play to the back row. Knowledge is well and good, but its effective delivery depends largely on sensing the mood of the class (it changes from day to day and shifts even within a fifty-minute class period) and it’s probably the people in the back of the classroom who need your attention the most; indeed, reading their faces will tell you how the presentation is being received throughout the room. In the forty years since that conversation, I’ve continued to believe in its truth.

Whatever academic house of cards I inhabit, its foundation is strong. And its soundness grows from the experience of Cecil Elliott. We do stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.

On the initial question of this piece—that our programs in architecture and landscape or any academic discipline, for that matter, ought to be taught toward the test—I’m also convinced that CDE would be highly critical of a process that would seem to value training over education. Where, he might ask, is the place of critical thinking in all this? And when did we agree to prepare graduates for a profession, rather than equipping them to change it?

 

Pictor Ignotus

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

Pictor Ignotus [identity and dates unknown]

“Back Road”

ca1950

oil on board / 9 inches x 12 inches

This small landscape has hung, off and on, in the Tennant Memorial Gallery since its arrival in the 1960s. But if it came with identification, that documentation has been lost. During the collection’s centennial in 2012, Fennimore county farmer Will Gorham attended one of the receptions and casually inquired why someone would have painted his parents’ farm! A quick trip to northwestern Fennimore county hints that Will may be right.

County Highway G does, indeed, make a graceful S-curve in its northwest track across Fenton Creek, where the old Willard Gorham farmstead nestles for protection today. Several candidates have been suggested as the painter, including Karl Wasserman, though none are definitive.

Rafael Coronel [born 1931/1932]

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

CORONEL, Rafael [born 1931/1932]

“Deliberate”

1960s

oil on linen / 15 inches x 15 inches

Is the title an adjective or a verb?

Coronel was born into an artistic family in Zacatecas, Mexico. His grandfather had been a decorator of churches and his brother Pedro was already on a career path to fine art. Rafael studied at La Escuela Nacional de Pintura y Escultura La Esmeralda, before opening a studio in Mexico City. He was the son-in-law of Diego Rivera. Since 1981 Coronel has lived in Cuernavaca.