“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” —Muriel Rukeyser
At roughly 1:30 Friday afternoon, December 19th, my path changed direction. Not dramatically—that comes later—just slightly. It was one of those personal moments I’ll recall years later and wonder whether it was a good thing. For at least three years, I’ve wanted to revisit the Agincourt exhibit of 2007, to tie a few loose ends and, as you might not imagine, loosen a couple knots. Now I have that chance.
About this time in 2010, I thought I had a venue for Agincourt Redux, an exhibit tentatively called “Homecoming,” but that opportunity evaporated in a very sad way. During the next year a second window closed, but Friday I was offered a slot in the exhibition schedule at the Rourke Art Museum, the place where it all began: in September-October 2015, Agincourt will be a genuine homecoming.
“Be careful what you ask for [they say] because you just might get it.” Instead, I’m going with Archimedes: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Well, not the whole world; just a fragment of northwest Iowa.
The exhibit will be installed in early September and have a soft opening simultaneous with a main gallery exhibit of work by Jeff Freeman. Our big “ta-da” will be its closing on Sunday afternoon, October 25th, 2015. Circle that on your calendar, please, and plan to be there if at all possible. There’ll be a lot of activities, music, etc., for that day is the actual 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.
Somehow, the stars are in alignment and I’m sensing too much of a good thing.
Thanks to friend Katie Kiefer of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the question is answered.
“Sunshine Cliff” ought to have struck more than a chord of sympathy with me, especially given the connection with the Twin Cities and their rich heritage of Arts & Crafts activities. This house appeared in the pages of The Minnesotan, a short-lived forum for the Arts & Crafts Movement edited by Maurice Flagg in Minneapolis and closely connected with the Minnesota State Arts Board. I saw issues of it while I was a grad student at the University of Texas at Austin (of all places, since in their view, if it isn’t in Texas, it’s crap). You can read more about Mary Garner McIntosh’s “Sunshine Cliff” and other characters in the Twin Cities at that time in an article from Minnesota History that Katie forwarded to me.
Incidentally, with an address now in hand, I went to google.earth and learned “Sunshine Cliff” has been replaced by something far less interesting.
[From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock,” a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Fall of 2015]
EDWARDS, George Wharton [1859–1950]
“Gothic Stalls, Antwerp”
Watercolor, gouache and pastel on board / 19.5 inches by 12.5 inches
George Wharton Edwards began his career in art with Harper & Bros., publishers, and then became a book illustrator for the Century Company. In 1920 he published Belgium, Old and New, lavishly illustrated with this and many other mixed-media paintings. The similar work of N. C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle helped to bridge the gap between art and illustration and brought work such as this into commercial galleries and a different audience. Edwards is also identified as an “American Impressionist,” following his more formal education, which actually included some residency in Belgium. In 1920 he received the Great Medal from King Albert I.
“Gothic Stalls” was acquired at auction and given to the Community Collection by an anonymous friend from Fargo, North Dakota, on the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.
[From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock,” a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Fall of 2015]
WAGNER, Frederick [1864–1940]
Oil on canvas / 5 inches by 7 inches
Wagner was a renowned American Impressionist who studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1879 to 1884. At least a half dozen works in the Community Collection are products of PAFA graduates, which seems to be completely accidental and our remarkably good fortune. This small loose study may have been executed as a larger work.
Wagner rented studio space at 907 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia from James M. Bryant, an engraver, who often took payment “in kind” rather than cash. It was through barter that this small painting made its way to Iowa and, ultimately, to Agincourt and the Community Collection: a later Bryant family member traded “Seascape” for legal services; it then changed places with a major piece of furniture, then served as a wedding gift, passing to a child of that family, and then through an estate sale in Sioux City to Agincourt real estate agent Preston Forbes, whose widow Jeanine has given it in his memory. In art, this is called provenance.
I really enjoyed designing the second Fennimore County Courthouse, ostensibly the 1889 design work of William Halsey Wood. It was modeled after the Cerro Gordo county facility a hundred miles away in northeastern Iowa, but other courthouse facilities keep showing up that I hadn’t known. Take a look at the Caldwell County building in Kingston, Missouri. Frankly, I like mine better.
London Types is a favorite book, though one that I’m not privileged to own. If you’re searching for a Christmas gift (not likely, but I’ll mention it anyway), you can find some copies in the $1K range in fairly good condition.
There were both U.K. and U.S. versions of the book, each published in 1898 (Heineman over there, and R.H. Russell in New York), with William Nicholson woodcut illustrations of typical London street people—”bobbies,” chimney sweeps, flower girls of the Eliza Doolittle type—and quatrains by W. E. Henley. I had a shot at getting a copy in Chicago fifteen years ago but the checkbook was running on fumes. Nicholson’s woodcuts were the sort of thing you’d find at the Rourke Gallery in the old days. But I think of it today, after stumbling on a later book (1922) by journalist Ben Hecht, 1001 Afternoons in Chicago. Hecht, by the way, was a near contemporary of Floyd Dell, another Chicago journalist whose career followed a similar trajectory; like Hecht, Dell’s writings reveal similar insights to Chicago in the first few decades of the 20th century.
You’ll know Ben Hecht’s name if you enjoy classic films and take the time to watch the credits, all the credits, crawling by at the end: his name appears as screenwriter for “Scarface,” “Wuthering Heights,” and “Gone with the Wind,” among many, many others. But before that chapter in his career, Hecht had been a journalist of the grizzly noire type during the 1920s, in Chicago for the Daily News. In ’21 he began an innovative column, “One thousand and one afternoons in Chicago,” which later became a book, a collection of Hecht’s columns with companion illustrations by Herman Rosse. Hecht’s columns were the verbal counterpart to the Nicholson woodcuts; I can’t speak to the insights of Henley’s quatrains.
Until Howard shared his copy of 1001 Afternoons, I hadn’t known Rosse’s work as a book illustrator. So I share a few of them with you today for what they “say” about Chicago in the 20s. Not incidentally, 1001 was produced by Covici-McGee, a Chicago publisher of extraordinary volumes. Pascal Covici was a Romanian Jew whose publishing ventures once earned him a $1K fine for obscenity! Kudos, Pascal. Hecht certainly hung with the right crowd.
This may be the earliest book I’ve seen with full-bleed illustrations—images that exceed the page size and draw you into their perspective, glimpses rather than pictures, adding their own narrative to that of the author. Frankly, they stand well enough on their own. Consider these dizzying views of the Chicago streetscape, long before the arrival of Mies and the Second Chicago School.
I’ve not shown you Rosse’s skinny one-by-eight-and-one-half-inch slivers that begin each story, tailored to the tale. Instead, here is a view that I saw hundreds of times, on the “A” train from 63rd and Loomis during the trek downtown. Urban renewal has sterilized this landscape out of existence, which I suppose is not a bad thing. What replaced it, however, proved to be equally sterile and ought, in its own time, be replaced with something better, as anything would be.
Like me, my friend Howard Tabor had wanted to be an architect; like me, he took another path, one different from my own. Chicago, it’s safe to say, has been instrumental in both cases.
PS: Speaking of evocative fine printing that feels good to the eye and looks good to the hand, I’m reminded of the skinny illustrations in a recent edition of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl [Het Achterhuis], with illustrations proportioned to the house where Anne sought refuge until just a few weeks before the end of the war. Those skinny illustrations of that comparably narrow house are by Joseph Goldyne and merit your attention, if you can find a copy in your neck of the woods. Otherwise stop by and enjoy mine.
There are several nuances in the design of this unidentified cottage located somewhere in the Midwest that suggest a date circa 1910: a broad hipped roof, simple rectangular plan, clustered windows on the second floor and the horizontal banding of materials. I especially like the main entry carved into the solid mass of brick masonry and that tiny bay on the right hand wall that just might correspond to a stair landing. The house itself is very pleasant but the message on the back of the postcard makes the whole thing mysterious. I hope we find some way to use it.
Sounds like some sort of resort, doesn’t it? “Sunshine Cliff” yields very little on google, though, so I’m not sure what to make of it.
PS: Roberta Herschleb has commented below and linked This wondrous property with her great aunt, Mary Gardner Mackintosh, who sounds very much like the sort of person I imagine in Agincourt. Would it be presumptuous to “borrow” her?
[From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock”, a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Fall of 2015]
BRENER, Kate [active 1920s]
View Over Rooftops
oil on panel / 16 inches by 12.5 inches
The Gladdens, Edith and Monroe, operated Agincourt’s first commercial gallery at 105 North Broad. Edith Cooper had been a student of art at college but managed the art department of Younker Brothers in Des Moines after her marriage to Monroe Gladden in 1915. Building on his career as a successful cabinetmaker, he and Edith relocated to Agincourt, where they sold both art and custom-made framing. Edith used her knowledge gained in art school and connections with friends from those years to develop relationships with young progressive artists. Kate Brener was among that group. Otherwise, little is known about Ms Brener.
“View Over Rooftops” was probably painted in Europe—city unidentified—in a plein air style popular in the first quarter of the 20th century. Compare its hazy atmospherics with Anita Burnham Willets’ “Chicago from a Rooftop.”
A sticker attests to the painting’s origin at the Gladden Gallery. It appears to have been acquired from the Gladdens when they closed their shop about 1955. Monroe died that year and Edith went to live with their daughter in St Joseph, Missouri.
“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
Ghosts of Christmas Past: Whitey
Long before it became a forbidden word—a simpler time when lightening bugs animated the night sky and cicadas made unholy racket; when being “It!” in a game of Kick the Can was the height of childhood sturm und drang—I knew a boy named Whitey.
It was the summer of 1954, about the middle of June. Andrea Dillon and her parents had come to Agincourt for the week; Andrea’s maternal grandparents the Enfield’s lived here, in a big cream-colored house north of Darwin school, and the Dillon’s came more regularly as their parents aged. This summer’s regularity was supplemented with a guest: Henry Malone, a.k.a. “Whitey.” Or was it Maloney?
He was about nine—my own age that summer—and, like me, he’d just finished the third grade. His family lived in suburban Chicago near the Dillons but there were special circumstances surrounding his visit here, something we kids weren’t supposed to know but did anyway. Figured it out, the way kids do. It may have been the summer I was no longer a child: the summer when grown-ups morphed into adults; the summer I was spoken to, not talked about, as though I weren’t there in the midst of the conversation; it was the summer of inclusion. I’d sensed my older sister Catherine making that transition a couple of years before; saw what seemed at the time to have been the contradiction of her growing independence and simultaneous participation in family decision-making. Was it because she was a girl? I wondered. Will my time come?
Henry stood apart for a couple of reasons; things that made him different beyond being someone who was simply “the new kid on the block,” even if only for a few weeks. First, his hair was so blond, his complexion so fair, so pale, as to be borderline albino. I’d heard the story of our albino calf—a long night in 1883 when a pure white Highland calf brought short-term fame to the McGinnis farm out beyond Fahnstock—but had no idea humans could be born with pigment deficiencies, too. Henry was a living tintype. His appearance wasn’t as distinctive as his behavior, though, which existed somewhere outside the bounds of childhood.
He was feral, but not some 19th century waif living in the Schwarzwald, immune to the ways of humankind. Henry’s presence had been cobbled from other disparate sources. First, he was prematurely old—an Old Soul, like a handful of others I’ve known—in the sense of reticence that comes from seeing things we ought not; of wandering too near the edge; of Trust betrayed, the contract of childhood broken. What you heard contradicted what you saw and what you heard was not the childish talk of pre-adolescence. Henry did not speak, so much as converse.
Oh, sure, we played. I recall a Maxfield Parrish afternoon on the merry-go-round in the park behind the Methodist church when we spun faster than astronauts. Dizzy, giddy, laughing hysterically, for a moment barriers vanished and gaps between us closed. For a moment, Henry’s armor lay on the verge, safely out of reach, until the moment passed, so much salt in water. There were one or two similar events in the next few days. Then the Dillons and their guest went home. I wrote him now and again during the following months—those “penpal” letters are somewhere in the house, even yet, lingering like these recollections—but I do not know what became of him.
Perhaps google knows. It knows everything.