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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Mary Hletko [1913-1974]

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

HLETKO, Mary [1913–1974]

Still Life

1933

oil on board / 18 inches by 14 inches

Normal schools in the United States take their name similar French institutions—écoles normale—established to train teachers for the public elementary schools system. Mary Hletko came to Northwest Iowa Normal for that reason from her home in Omaha’s south side Czech community; graduating in 1936 she returned to her home and taught for forty years. Miss Hletko died at Fort Myers, Florida in 1974.

The four-year N.I.N. curriculum in education produced generalists equipped to teach a number of subjects, though students were encouraged to focus in some area of specialization. Miss Hletko chose both English and art, which brought her into the studio of Karl Wasserman. Wasserman must have admired this effort: the painting hung in his office and was often brought into the studio as an exemplar.

[#693]

Philip Richard [dates unknown]

richard philip

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

RICHARD, Philip [dates unknown; active ca1900]

“Fall at the Hurdle”

ca1900

oil on board / 8.2 inches by 6.9 inches

It was a phenomenon of the American frontier that the westward-moving line of settlement made and remade the environments they found in familiar forms: leaving home, we have psychologically “packed” much of it for the journey. “Fall at the Hurdle” may be small evidence of that.

Looking as much like tapestry as it does an oil-on-board painting, Richard’s depiction of upper-class horsemanship seems both foreign and quaint in the early 21st century. Yet late in the 19th a British colony at LeMars “rode to hounds,” enjoyed the civility of high tea each afternoon, and held high Anglican service at Grace church. This small painting, acquired in 1990 at an estate sale in Larchwood, is a likely survivor of that curious chapter in Iowa state history.

[#692]

For many of us, design is grounded in intuition. [Is that a contradiction in terms?] I can’t speak for those who claim logic as their guiding light—the Mies van der Rohes of slim acquaintance—but, frankly, I’m not certain that even Mies would claim that niche. So, in the spirit of “the way things work,” I have to wonder why I was drawn to this painting. It’s certainly not museum quality. But only after acquiring “Fall at the Hurdle” did the possibility of its link with the LeMars Colony come to mind.

Anyone who has studied the early Episcopal church buildings of Dakota Territory probably knows the strong link with Britons who had come here to escape the social proscriptions of their class at home: Dakota was a place to behave in ways thought unseemly in Great Britain. The second reason for emigration from England and Scotland was the potential for investment and chief among those visitors was Richard Sykes, a Lancashireman, fifth son of a landed family settled near Liverpool who eventually owned 75,000 acres of northern Dakota. That’s a lot of sections. And Sykes found his way here courtesy of the Close Brothers, Britons who owned substantial portions of northwestern Iowa and southwestern Minnesota. The Close Brothers’ colony was centered around the town of Larchwood, though LeMars is more closely linked with their name. As I admired “Fall at the Hurdle” and wondered how to weave it into the narrative of the Community Connection, I suddenly recalled LeMars and its provenance was sealed.

James M. Heseldin [1887-1969]

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

HESELDIN, James Marshall [1887-1969]

“St Paul’s Chapel (Fulton Street on Broadway)”

ca1920

watercolor on paper / 19 inches by 13.25 inches

Born in England, James Heseldin arrived in the United States just prior to World War I. He used his artistic skills to support the war effort, working as a camoufleur in World War I. When the war ended, Heseldin served an apprentice in a New York architectural firm, and his subsequent paintings reveal his skill as a master draftsman. His watercolors depict New York monuments built at a triumphant moment in our nation’s economic and architectural history, serving as a beautiful rendition of the city’s grandeur. Heseldin eventually became an American citizen, although he returned to England at the end of his life.

The Heseldin becomes more interesting when paired with Edward Weise’s “Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, London” of 1917, another architectural study. This watercolor was once owned by Lucy Tennant Tabor, older sister of architect Anson Tennant, purchased by her after he was thought to have disappeared with RMS Lusitania in 1915.

Joseph Newman [1890-1979]

Tangent Lives (Part 1)

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

NEWMAN, Joseph [1890-1979]

“Amity Burroughs Flynn”

ca1920

oil on board / 12 inches by 9 inches

Amity Burroughs Flynn (Mrs Edmund FitzGerald Flynn) survived her husband by several years, during which she made amends for his short but corrosive tenure as mayor of Agincourt. Amity—as she preferred to be called—organized the famous G.A.R. exhibit of 1912, the very gathering of local art that formed the core of our Community Collection. This portrait was painted by New York artist Joseph Newman about 1920, possibly while he was in Europe.

The prolific Newman is represented in several public and private collections:

Joseph Newman was born in N.Y.C. in 1890. He attended the Pratt Institute and the Adelphi College Art School. Newman served in the U.S. Army during W.W.I. After the war, he married and travelled to Europe. He came home in the mid 1920’s to form, with a group of contemporaries, The Fifteen Gallery in Manhattan. Newman exhibited frequently at the Brooklyn Museum, The National Academy, The Carnegie Institute, The Whitney and The Society of Independent Artists.

He was a member of the L.C. Tiffany Foundation, The Salmagundi Club, Rockport Art Association, and the American Watercolor Society. His work is represented in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, The Newark Museum, the Boston Library, and the Library of Congress. Newman was the recipient of many awards throughout his career.

Because the Flynns were childless, Amity’s nephew Jed Burroughs inherited her estate. He gave her portrait to the Community Collection as a memorial, though none was necessary because of her support for the visual arts.

James Simpson Alderson [1856-1948]

779430804_o

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

ALDERSON, James Simpson [1856-1948]

“In the Studio”

ca1890

watercolor on paper / 6 inches by 4 inches (approximately)

From the collection of Carl Wasserman comes this watercolor sketch by British artist James S. Alderson. When and where he acquired it, however, is unknown and likely to remain that way. Wasserman did travel to Great Britain at least once but whether this was purchased or traded during those visits is unclear. Along with other pieces used as instructional pieces in his studio classes, this was acquired at the time of Wasserman’s death.

Medalic Art

In numismatics, there is this category called medalic art.

From its platting in 1853 and incorporation four years later in 1857 (hence the sesqui-centennial seven years ago at the Rourke), Agincourt is bound to have commemorated some event through the casting of bronze. I wonder what it might have been.

There are any number of exceptional coins and medals in the history of the U.S. The Saint Gaudens $20 gold piece, for example, is believed by many coin collectors to have been the most beautiful coin ever struck by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving. With apologies to those of you who bought in to the “State Quarters” series, those are neither beautiful not do they have value beyond their face: 25 cents. The Saint Gaudens Twenty, on the other hand, is exquisite:

st gaudens 20

Scattered about our house there are several medals of the sort that eBay calls “exonumia” or not of governmental issue. In this case, Europeans tend to have done a better job aesthetically. From my snobbish perspective, American medals struck from the designs of Leonard Baskin rank near the top of the list. Consider this 1961 medal struck to celebrate an anniversary of the New York Public Library (the fiftieth anniversary of its main building):

baskinNYPLmedalbaskinNYPLmedal2

Our late friend James O’Rourke was a collector of Baskin and the series of six Greek-inspired plaques were among them. I presume those six are in the permanent collection at the RAM. For your viewing enjoyment, here they are pillaged from the web:

baskin bronzes

So, anyone with metal casting skills is invited to suggest a project for the upcoming exhibit. I shall be pleased to collaborate.

Charmed and Strange

Lives, like particles in physics, can be charmed and strange. I claim both.

renger fagus

One afternoon last April, we felt our way through the small town of Alfeld-an-der-Leine in Lower Saxony (distinguished from another Alfeld in Bavaria) just as the setting sun cast its last light where there was any light at all. Eventually we reached our goal: Walter Gropius’s 1911 Fagus Werk, some administrative offices and production space for an important German shoe manufacturer. Approaching the factory gate at about 5:15, the plant had already closed for the day. But the gates were still ajar, so I approached the guardhouse, hoping the night watchman spoke a little English. Beyond bitte schön, bier and a few useful terms in restaurants, I’m at a loss to be little more than courteous to German speakers.

fagus profile

I explained that we—my friends Richard, Jeremiah and myself—understood the grounds were closed for the day, but would it be at all possible to at least step a few meters inside the fence and take photos, while the light still allowed, of Herr Gropius’s iconic administration building. He said certainly and I waved Richard and J.J. through the gate after me. The peachy brick was almost orange in the last light of day. We had only moments.

As we did what architecturistas do, I watched a short barrel of a man—who might easily have been an extra in “Lord of the Rings”—approach us from the guardhouse. We were about to be expelled, I feared, but instead, without any English on his part, I understood he was asking us to follow him to the on-site museum (of whose existence we were clueless). He on a forklift and we in our rental car, the convoy drove counterclockwise behind the factory, parked and walked toward a service door in an older part of the plant. He gestured to follow and we found ourselves passing through a locker-room of sorts and then through a fire door into the ground floor of a four-story heavy-timber building that must at one time have been a factory itself. Miraculously, it had become the lobby of a marvelous world-class museum whose extent we could only guess. Our husky friend indicated with a few gestures and fewer words that we were free to enjoy its wonders.

fagus musuem

We rode the elevator to the top. Four floors and two hours later, we learned the importance of shoe manufacture in the pre-WWI German economy and the character of Carl Benscheidt (1858–1947) who founded the Fagus company in 1910. [We learned, coincidentally, of an enlightened business perspective that would have seemed alien, even incomprehensible, to the executives of Bain Capitol Ventures.] Not once during our visit did we see another person; not once were we asked to pay an entrance fee; not once were we interrogated about how the hell we’d got beyond the security checkpoint.

It was dark when we left, driving past the guard and waving a grateful thanks from three American tourists who’d encountered hospitality rarely found at home. Would that Agincourt had such an attitude.

faguswerks2

Perhaps it did.

And does.

 

Science & Industry

I grew up in a “company town” on the southwest side of Chicago. Bedford Park was established as a working-class suburb exclusively for employees at the Argo plant of the Corn Products Co. Those are the folks who bring you mazola, karo syrup and many other products derived from corn.

argo corn starch

The village consisted of four streets three blocks long, all of them dead ends. Cathedral-like streets lined with maple and elm (before Dutch Elm), lined with narrow story-and-a-half houses on 35′ by 108′ lots. There was a time when I could name everyone who lived on the three blocks of West 65th Place, but those names are going like snow on water. By 1950 many of the original residents of Bedford Park were retired from CPR (Corn Products Refining) or dead—Roy used to call it “Widow-burg.” My grandfather, also a Roy, was still living; he died in 1951 when I was six. For I don’t know how many years, he’d been weigh master at the plant, accounting for every kernel that arrived for processing.

On the other side of Archer Avenue (State Route 4-A) the plant covered a couple hundred acres with multi-story reinforced concrete buildings for the processing of corn, freight trains full of the stuff, which was shipped out the same way. “The Plant,” as we knew it, governed every aspect of local life. Shift changes at 7:30 and 4:30 clogged Archer for twenty minutes or so. Lunch was heralded with a factory whistle at noon—you could set your watch by it—but when the whistle blew at any other time, you knew disaster had struck and the fire department was on its way. Corn dust is volatile. It also stank to high heaven and coated everything: tree leaves and parked cars already slathered with generous deposits of sap and in all likelihood my lungs. When you’re born into that stench, you scarcely notice, but people passing through just gagged. I recall pumping gas one day at my dad’s station: as the customer rolled down the window to pay me, he inquired “How in hell do you stand the smell?” In all honesty, I replied “What smell?”

The basis of Agincourt’s economy shifted dramatically through its 160 years, but a large portion must have involved industrial activities of various sorts. Value-added products, for example, might have been canned, pickled, dried or smoked for preservation and their trip to the consumer. Other raw materials, like straw or clay may have been processed as building materials for local consumption or export to distant markets. Eventually there may have been factories for production of more sophisticated things: furniture, metal- and glassware. Mark Barnhouse has imagined the production of scientific glassware. Milt Yergens conceived the diversified company connected with the Tabor branch of Anson Tennant’s family. Aidan Archer managed a plant that produced enamel cookware. And all of these ignore smaller cottage industries, such as cheese production, brewing and distilling (when it was legal), and printing. You might be surprised to learn that many of these activities also involved patents and trademark registration. The years between the Civil and First World wars were fruitful.

We know where these activities took place; we can interpolate what they manufactured. I, of course, am preoccupied with the buildings they required for safe and economical production.

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The Last Resort

sturm&drang

The Bagbys, Walter and Estelle, got into the resort business by accident.

Walter always tried to do the right thing, which isn’t easy. So when Estelle’s brother Fred came to the Bagby’s with an investment idea—a fishing resort in Fennimore county lake country—and conjuring that more than hinted at a win-win scenario, Walter bought in. The land was “a steal,” the audience ripe—it was the 20s, after all—but Fred’s rosy predictions did little more than peek above the threshold of reality and Fred himself disappeared with most of the liquid assets, leaving his sister and her husband owners of a steep clay bank on the far side of Sturm und Drang and an interrupted dream with every right to become a nightmare.

The idea of a limited membership club had considerable appeal in the 20s, the decade of entitlement, with its Positivist notion of thinkers and doers versus the legion of mere hangers-on. Fred’s “connections” among the region’s movers and shakers (more delusion than real) allowed him to allege a handful of big names already signed and that their prestige would attract a generous sampling of what passed for the One Percent in those days. Wally and Estelle didn’t fancy themselves part of that social stratum, but Fred’s presentation allowed them to imagine some of its benefits within reach. A substantial (non-refundable) downpayment on the lakeshore was all Fred lacked. So Walter mortgaged his business and provided the only real capital the project ever saw.

Even before Black Friday the cards had begun to collapse. How the Bagbys duck-tapped it together again is a story for Part 2.

Neo-Classicism

NCcharlotteBank

In my architectural history class, we spend an inordinate amount of time on the architecture of the Renaissance and its influence; the ripples of consequence that are oddly present in our own time. Like bad fettuccine, the styles of antiquity return again and again to haunt us. But as with any historical phenomenon, the reasons for both their inception and their recurrence vary, often with dramatic contradiction. That may be more obvious of the Gothic than the Renaissance, but it is that classically-based spawn of Humanism which interests me these days.

One of the minor treasures of my library is a battered copy of The American Vignola by William Robert Ware—required reading for undergraduate architects a century ago (circa 1904). This may seem strange, since Ware and his architectural partner of Henry Van Brunt (Ware & Van Brunt) produced some of the 19th century’s most aggressive Victorianisms. Ware’s handbook on the elements of Classicism, then, might have been penance for the wretched excesses of his earlier career. This is not to imply that the Victorian Gothic of the post-Civil War era was without its own ordering principles, but the pendulum had certainly begun to swing in the direction of reserve and reform. And with reform often come guidelines. Whence cometh the discipline of this North Carolinian bank, about which I would like to know much more.

As a lover of most things mathematical, the Classical Revival should be my natural habitat. I wonder why it’s not.