[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”
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.
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.