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Monthly Archives: January 2015



Given that I was a coin collector in my youth—but never, never a numismatist—it shouldn’t surprise that coins show up as artifacts in the Agincourt story.

James Barton Longacre, chief engraver at the Philadelphia mint, designed the “Indian Head” penny that was in use for the fifty years from 1859 until it was replaced by Lincoln (with the wheat background) in 1909. I wonder if the choice of a Native American image would be politically incorrect today.

Eighteen eighty-nine was another of those temporal pinpoints that punctuate Agincourt history. It was the year Fennimore county commissioners dedicated the second of their three courthouses. That Romanesque pile was the work of architect William Halsey Wood—don’t get me started—and also the birth year of our hero Anson Tennant.

In 1912 (the year his architectural office opened with an almost total lack of fanfare) Anson also made a trip to Mantoloking, New Jersey and coincidentally attended Episcopal church service in another building designed by Wood. And when the family returned to Iowa he made a series of children’s wooden block, inspired by Fredrich Fröbel, that represent both the Jersey church and the hometown courthouse. I’ve decided to give these blocks “cornerstones” of a sort and embed coins appropriate to their creation: 1912 dimes will grace the church set (the date the blocks were crafted) and 1889 Indian Head pennies will date the courthouse set (not yet crafted). Both sets will be artifacts in the 2015 exhibit.

George W. Drew [1875-1968]

george drew

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

DREW, George W. (attributed) [1875-1968]

“Fens at Twilight”


oil on canvas panel / 8 inches by 10 inches

Many of the Community Collection’s smallest works are also its most cherished. Such is the case with “Fens at Twilight” attributed to George Drew, which is often requested in the rotation of works in the continuing exhibit. Since its acquisition in 1940 from the — family, who had acquired it as a wedding gift in 1902, “Fens” has been displayed more frequently than any other work, and has also been on the walls more often that not.¹

According to one on-line source:

George W. Drew was born in New York City on 21 December 1875. This talented but unknown artist painted jewel-like, luminous, and meticulous yet magical landscapes such as “Fall Landscape.” His teachers were John Califano (1864-1946), largely a California painter, and Henry P. Smith (1854-1907). The latter seems to have passed on his tight technique of rendering New England landscapes to Drew. Califano probably helped Drew submit works to the National Academy of Design — both painters had works on display there at the end of the 1890s. Drew’s “The Squatter’s Home” appeared there in 1898 then he became involved with Allied Artists of America, but he appears to have been inactive until the mid 1930s when he exhibited at Salons of America (1935-36) and at the Society of Independent Artists (1935-42). Peter Falk notes that Drew executed a mural in Mount Vernon, New York’s Travers Island Yacht House. Drew died in New York City in 1968.²

All of that being said, this small piece is unsigned and—despite its technical skill and artistic charm—resembles none of the artist’s works that are pictured on-line.

¹ Gaps in the Community Collection files make this a guarded statement.

² On-line sources frequently offer conflicting biographical information, often because they cut-and-paste one another’s biographical profiles. Many Drew entries, for example, give his birthplace as Massachusetts. Just one (that I have found) places it in New York. A quick review of U.S. Census information, however, confirms New York City as his birthplace and, indeed, directories and voter registration lists confirm that he may have been a life-long resident of the city.



Charles E. Barber was chief engraver at the U.S. Mint when he designed this dime. His personification of “Liberty” also graced the nickel and quarter, but pristine examples like this are way beyond my price range. Others in circulated condition, however, have already become artifacts in the Agincourt story.


Nineteen twelve marked several events in the community. It was an active year for Anson Tennant, especially, including a family trip to Arizona in the year of its statehood; two summer weeks in Mantoloking, New Jersey, with great-aunt Hester Tennant Farnham; and the launch of Anson’s own architectural practice that fall. All things considered, 1912 was a watershed for Anson and his family, considering his magnum opus the new public library would soon be undertaken and then in 1915, at a moment when he thought some respite was possible, the twenty-five-year-old sailed for England on the RMS Lusitania. Hindsight may be 20-20, but memory can be highly selective in its recollection, so that year may seem more significant to us a century and more away than it may have to Anson and his family in the moment.

A young Edwardian like Anson Tennant, especially one who recently opened his architectural office, might have presented himself like this.

It’s Thursday. I imagine him buying a Plantagenet from the newsstand in the Blenheim Hotel lobby. He paid with a tarnished quarter but received two shiny dimes in change. Might he have fingered one of them and thought, Put one of these away for my grandchildren, a memento of the year that will change my life. Or did he simply thank Jack, the tobacconist, slip the coins into his vest pocket and hurry to lunch in the lobby restaurant with his sister Lucy.

Edwardian women’s fashion circa 1912

Was he the punctual sort? Perhaps Lucy was already waiting. If not, he may have glanced a the Plantagenet headline, though I suspect he was looking for an item about his new practice: an office in the Wasserman Block (that’s above Wasserman’s Hardware at 100 North Broad) and his first official commission, remodeling the very building he was about to call his professional home because Joachim & Perlmutter had botched the job two years before. “A. C. Tennant, Architect” appeared now among the Professional Advertisements in the far left column of page two. This was more than lunch; it was a celebration. Waht do you think: beer or champaign? Did older men crossing the lobby pause to offer good wishes for the enterprise and say “Call me” for the first time as their equal? How many were future clients?

How might a young man (he was twenty-five that year) greet an older married sister? As someone without siblings and unacquainted with Edwardian social conventions, I’m at a loss. And what were they wearing? Something like this images from the web? And then there’s the luncheon menu; whether they knew the service staff; their conversation. Hiding in the potted palms isn’t required, though; I’m in a pretty good position to answer my own questions.

Troy Räisänen [active 2015]


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

RÄISÄNEN, Troy [active 2015]

“Manhattan Coupon”


watercolor on paper / 5 inches by 4 inches

Räisänen is a student of architecture at North Dakota State University in Fargo. He’s scheduled to graduate in May 2015 and begin his professional career. The watercolor of a manhattan was given to someone as a coupon for a free birthday drink. It has subsequently been gifted to the Community Collection in honor of Howard Tabor. We don’t know what’s become of the drink.



Life was simpler a hundred years ago. But it was shorter, too. Do you think these folks on a warm July afternoon at the Chautauqua grounds in Stratford, Iowa gave a shit? I suspect not.

For all the angst and anguish of 21st century life, I wouldn’t give it up. But I would also like to retrieve some what we’ve lost in order to get here.

Does every “old person” crave an imagined past that never may have been?


Going against the grain

At least in towns of modest to moderate size, there is a grain, a texture, that grew from some unspoken guidelines or conditions which everyone knew and accepted. Sure, you may be able to find examples where this is untrue now and may never have been. But I think they will prove my point. Today when we insert new elements into existing fabric, or try to reconstruct significant portions of the inner city that has been lost through accident, ignorance or malice, the results are not always what we would have hoped. Often those attempts are feeble if not outright failures. I won’t identify examples, but some are fairly close at hand where I sit writing this entry.


Perhaps that’s why I like this example: an aerial view of the CBD of Onawa, Iowa, a small town along the Missouri River where I’ve stopped before to photograph an especially nice Carnegie library. At first I was attracted by the Bowman Lumber Co., simply because that sort of building is often overlooked by traveling photographers who represent postcard production companies. [More about the business of postcards another time, if you’re interested.] Then I looked at the textures of buildings along main street in the distance: their Queen Anne fronts and Mary Anne behinds, as Pete Seeger the folksinger used to say:

When great grandfather was a gay young man
And great grandmother was his bride
They found a lot, a jolly little spot
Over on the old North Side

It sloped down toward the river
From River Avenue
Great grandma said that it would give her
Such a lovely view

So they took a look in Godey’s Ladies book
To see what they could find
And they found a house, a jolly little house
With a Queen Anne front and a Mary Anne behind

Now great grandfather was a handy man
Who never wasted any time
He found a crew that knew just what to do
With white pine, common brick and lime

He said, “I’ll build a big veranda
Where Amanda can perch
And I’ll sit there myself on Sunday mornings
When everybody else has gone to church”

The neighbors said, “He’s crazy in the head
He’s surely lost his mind
But he built that house, that jolly little house
With a Queen Anne front and a Mary Anne behind”

Now great grandpa at last was laid to rest
With great grandmother at his side
Old Aunt Amanda said, “My land
An empty house I can’t abide”

“I’ll start a ladies’ seminary
It will be very select
Of course, it will be very necessary
That all my girls be circumspect”

As you may guess it was a big success
Those girls were so refined
In that self-same house, that jolly little house
With a Queen Anne front and a Mary Anne behind

Now aunt Amanda’s work at last was done
And she passed on to her reward
Appeared a sign that bore the line
Announcing simply, ‘Room and Board’

The house was soon filled
With roomers of every degree
Red flannel underwear and bloomers
Hung out for everyone to see

The old porch stoop had started in to droop
The house looked so resigned
That self-same house, that jolly little house
With a Queen Anne front and a Mary Anne behind

Now that old house was looking worse and worse
And so was River Avenue
Wooden shacks across the tracks
Spoiled great grandma’s lovely view

A group of very pretty ladies moved in there one day
They were such pretty Sues and Sadie’s
But a wagon came and took them all away

Said one old dame, “Now isn’t it a shame
My girls were so refined
But they closed that house, that jolly little house
With a Queen Anne front and a Mary Anne behind”

I just thought you should know.

If Stanley Spencer had come to Iowa…

Czech composer Antonín Dvořák came to visit cousins in Spillville, Iowa and spent the summer of 1893 there, writing works ostensibly inspired by the New World but perhaps also drawn from Czech folk melodies. Find a musicologist to straighten that out. The point is he spent some time in a backwoods corner of Iowa and was glad to admit it.

Native Iowan and writer of musicals Meredith Willson was born at Mason City and is also known to have visited Agincourt, where casual conversation at Adams’ Restaurant may have inspired some of the characters in “Music Man,” his most famous musical—Amity Burroughs Flynn, for example, wife/widow of half-term Agincourt mayor Edmund FitzGerald Flynn, became the model for his character Eulalie Mackenchnie Shinn. And many other artistic and political personages have passed through the community for one reason or another or none at all. Eduard Reményi (1830–1898), world-renowned violinist, appeared during the opening season of The Auditorium in 1895 (though, perhaps, a bit long in the tooth at that time and well past his expiration date).

Of late, I have become consumed by the work of British artist Stanley Spencer [1891-1959] and wonder what circumstances could have acquainted him with our community and even brought him here. His painting below—”Travoys Arriving with Wounded” of 1919—was painted from his experience in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Macedonia campaign of 1918, an experience that marked both Spencer and his art indelibly. Indeed it was the “Great War” theme that drew me to him in the first place and readings from Spencer’s journals and notebooks have strengthened my interests in him.


War has become a topic of conversation in the LA studio lately: one student is working on The Square (whose testosterone-laden turf has intimidated me for the duration of this project) and he and I spoke at length this morning about war and why I fail so miserably at its memorialization. That, of course, reminded me of Stanley Spencer and the intimacy of his depiction which resonates so intensely with me. So I wonder now (this afternoon, with the recollection of the morning conversation so fresh) how Spencer might have been known in the town of my creation. And whether his work would have resonated with its contemporaries as powerfully as it does with me today.


Amos Beddowes and First Baptist Church

Amos Beddowes was one of the earliest characters I crafted in Agincourt. Remembering that the area where Agincourt was platted had been Native American land only a few years before 1853, there had to have been agents of the B.I.A. hanging about. So Beddowes became a so-called Indian Agent who developed such sympathy for the plight of our native people that he had married a member of the Sac & Fox tribe and (in the terminology of a recently unsuccessful vice presidential candidate) “gone rogue.”

A native son of Connecticut (rather than the more Baptist Rhode Island), Beddowes was also a carpenter, though that term was often applied so broadly that architectural design would not have been outside his competence. So after the treaty that opened the Sac & Fox land to settlement, he stayed on with his wife Sissy (a.k.a. Circe or “She-Listens-to-the-Moon”) and became the community’s first resident master builder.

Himself a Baptist—of the Northern or A.B.C. variety, rather than the post-Civil War “Southern Baptist Convention”—the itinerant builder Beddowes built and probably designed the Baptist church on the southwest “church lot.” It had to be Greek Revival, of course, one of my favorite styles and one that I’ve never tried to imitate. My own drawings for it are somewhere inaccessible, so in the meantime I’ll let the former Universalist church (another source says R.C.) in Holland Patent, NY stand in. Handsome, isn’t it. And, in fact, much finer than mine because less contrived.


Beddowes, by the way, was the name of the “gentleman’s gentleman” in “Murder on the Orient Express.”


Ghosts of Christmas Past #10


Ghosts of Christmas Past #10: Ernest “Red” Anhauser

Ernie “Red” Anhauser was eighty-nine when he died last summer. He’d been a widower for almost twenty years; lived by himself but was never alone. He gardened like it was World War II. Watched at the polls to keep us honest. Volunteered at the animal shelter and read a book a week to friends at the Senior Center—until the tables turned and we read to him.

Ernie’s day job was unique in Agincourt; indeed, it may have died with him, at least the way he did it, because he was an horologist—a watchmaker. Ernie didn’t just clean and fix timepieces, replace broken crystals or dead batteries. Ernie could actually make a watch. From scratch. Watches today are practically disposable. And so may be their caretakers.


It was easy to stop at Salmagundi, just to say hello, and be mesmerized by the lathe-ing of raw metal into tiny widgets. Walk into the store, pass one delicate crystalline showcase after another, and there was Ernie in his own customized display, visor down, jeweler’s loop a bionic implant, wrinkled hands at work. Yet he took note of every caller, had an instructive word for kids, an inquiry for others about their health or that of a mutual friend. Yet outside the “office” (his word) Ernie’s avocations may come as a surprise. He was, for example, the long-time librarian at The Why, Agincourt’s gathering of non-believers, atheists, agnostics, and others unconvinced or downright skeptical about the existence of gods. As its librarian for forty years, Ernie may have become the most theologically literate person in Fennimore county, so it isn’t odd at all that ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and other spiritual leaders counted him a friend. Gurus, on the other hand, not so much.

Calling him a “Ghost of Christmas Past” seems a stretch, you say, but Ernie had the spirit of a holiday that meant nothing more to him than the opportunity to do more good than he normally would have done. I wouldn’t want to make a list of his volunteering; it would be long. The brief list above will have to do.

Physically, he was slight, no more than five feet eight (“and shrinking”). Never an athlete in the “brute” sense, he might have once been very good in track and field; I don’t know, just wondering. Those small bones and delicate hands were ideal for the craft he chose, however. But if you think his nickname “Red” had some connection with hair color or complexion, forget it: in addition to his role at The Why as its long-time keeper and scribe, Ernie was also the town’s most upfront Marxist, born into the turbulent ’20s and nurtured on Sacco and Vanzetti as well as Bradlaugh and Besant. “There are a number of reasons to dislike me,” he challenged me once. “Pick a good one.”

There’s a meme abroad these days about the possibility of good without God. But billboards blaring that message would have offended Ernie; he preferred deeds over rhetoric. “Actions count. Words get in the way.” And billboards may be a place to hide. “Pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain.”

What will fail me first, I’ve often thought, mind or body? Will I prefer to wonder with Carl Sagan about the mysteries of the cosmos and quest for signs of intelligent life or wander in the retirement home, concerned only whether Thursday’s dessert will be butterscotch or chocolate? Ernie has answered those questions for me.

Besides, I prefer rice pudding.


Robert Macauley Stevenson [1854-1952]


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

STEVENSON, Robert Macauley [1854–1952]

“Mill Pond, Moonlight”

date unknown

oil on board / 16 inches by 24 1/8 inches

The work of Scottish artist Robert Macauley Stevenson forms part of “The Glasgow Boys,” a group of artists strongly influenced by Corot and the Barbizon School. This was acquired by anonymous gift in 1992.