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Monthly Archives: March 2015

August von Pettenkofen (attributed) [1821-1889]


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

August von Pettenkofen  (attributed) [1821/2-1889]

Militia or The Rural Guard


oil on board / 4.5 inches by 6.5 inches

Pettenkofen is represented in the Community Collection by two small works (signed “a.p.”) and possibly by two others similar in size, style and provenance. “Militia” or “The Rural Guard” was owned by the Wasserman family, emigrants to the United States from their native Austria. Franz and Edith Wasserman had come in the 1890s; Edith’s brother Reinhold Kölb in the 1920s to escape the rise of Fascism, which may link the group of paintings more strongly with the Kölbs. How the paintings were acquired and whether they came together or separately is unknown.

August Xaver Karl Ritter von Pettenkofen abandoned his military career in order to pursue artistic endeavors. He is best known for his renderings of peasant and village life in the Hungarian plains or “puszta,” which he may have come to appreciate during military service with his troop in the early 1840s. A trip to Paris in 1852 exposed him to the Barbizon School’s preoccupation with rural themes.


Myers-Briggs & Co.

INFP, the Healer
INFJ, the Counselor
INTJ, the Mastermind
INTP, the Architect
ISFJ, the Protector
ISFP, the Composer
ISTJ, the Inspector
ISTP, the Craftsman
ENFJ, the Teacher
ENFP, the Champion
ENTJ, the Commander
ENTP, the Visionary
ESFJ, the Provider
ESFP, the Performer
ESTJ, the Supervisor
ESTP, the Dynamo

These graphics and the types they represent (from a website called truity.com) are just too seductive. I’ve wanted to do more reading in Carl Jung, Myers-Briggs and other more “New Age” sources to understand the interpersonal relationships in Agincourt. The extended Tennant family should be my laboratory, don’t you think?

Displaced Persons

The internet auction site that cannot be named—America’s attic and garage sale—is replete with portraits, painted, photographed and otherwise, and virtually all of them are unidentified. Even more puzzling, however, is that many of them are named. How does that happen. For a nation so currently occupied with questions of family [what constitutes one and who gets to decide], you’d think the family structure and its lineage would be sacrosanct. Yet thousands of portraits—images of people who were presumably parts of a families—are tossed into rubbish bins, put on the curb for clean-up week, or offered at flea markets as the stuff of decoupage every day of the week. I know, because I buy a lot of them.

Two small but remarkable portraits showed up one day that were irresistible: Kenneth and Rachel Goodall, identified on the reverse (of the paintings, not on the backsides of Mr and Mrs Goodall) along with the name of the artist (Enedina Pinti Zambrini) and the date of the sitting. I was the only bidder. And even before they arrived, I was able to use google and ancestry.com to flesh out their biographies. Even Mrs Zambrini became a know quantity. Yet the story of how the painting came to be offered for sale was tragic.

The Goodalls had done well in life. Ken’s career had been in the military, and before he and Rachel died they had set up a trust fund for their only child Mike. Court records are readily available outlining the circumstances by which the trustee absconded with the bulk of the estate and left Mike (a well known chess player) with virtually nothing. He died a few years later (and much sooner than he ought), not quite derelict but several steps beneath the station in life intended by his parents. You could make this stuff up but it wouldn’t be nearly as poignant.


Enter this lovely woman, unidentified as to either artist or subject. How does anyone willingly divest themselves of such beauty? Whether you’re related to them or not.

Her quiet dignity found an almost instantaneous place in Agincourt’s story: She had to be Claire Ball Tennant, youngest sister of our anti-hero Anson Tennant; the person for whom Anson had built a legendary dollhouse as a Christmas gift in 1905, while Claire was not likely to survive a bout of diphtheria; and the “party of one” who trekked to Bordeaux in 1937 to bring her brother home from twenty-one years of amnesiac recuperation in Spain. Claire (Mrs John Michael Oliphant) was one of the earliest characters in the Tennant family story, but other than her marriage to Mike Oliphant, I didn’t know much else about her. The imminent arrival of “her” portrait changes all that, however, and Claire must become more than a two-dimensional cutout in the tableau of the extended Tennant family.


Skill Deficiency Anemia


So very many of the ideas I have for Agincourt, especially for the new exhibit this fall, involve skill sets that are simply not in my repertoire. Metalwork, for example, comes into play at several points: 1) the “wrought iron” wreaths on the exterior of the public library; 2) the weather vane that once graced the second county courthouse (destroyed by fire in 1966); or 3) the copper baptismal font at St Joseph-the-Carpenter.


What I had in mind is along the lines of this Newlyn beaten copper bowl, only much, much larger—big enough for a baby, for goodness sake. Do you imagine I could learn how to do this in a couple weeks?


Blind Spots


When Harlan Ormbreck retired from architectural practice several years ago, he came back briefly to teaching. In fact, he came back to the position he’d vacated in 1971 that provided an opening for me at NDSU. So, there we were, two Modernists dividing the spoils of architectural history between us. The university had already made the transition from quarters to semesters, so it could have been a toss of the coin that assigned ARCH 321 or 322 to one or the other. I asked his opinion and Harlan replied, “The Baroque is something that no good Lutheran boy should have to look at,” and the decision was made: He would do Egypt through the Gothic while I tended to the dreaded Counter Reformation.

Historical “blind spots” are easily understood. No male member of my family (there are remarkably few of us) had ever fought in an American war, that I’m aware. So “war stories” and memorabilia had not been a part of my childhood. Roy C. wasn’t at Omaha Beach or Anzio; Roy L. missed the Battle of the Bulge. My grandfather was too old for induction and my father had only one leg and was also an only child. As a consequence (and a product of the 1960s) my only interest in war is not getting involved in one, personally or on a national level. Good luck with the latter. That has not stopped me from writing about war and its own consequences—Victory Gardens, women on the home front, the G.I. Bill—but World War II itself has been left to the attention others.

loutherberg coalbrookdale

On most large scale topics I do well enough. The Industrial Revolution, for example, has enormous consequence for the United States in the second half of the 19th century (the period of Agincourt’s formation and early growth and development) and the wage labor movement that grew from it would have shaped even a small agricultural community in northwestern Iowa. The Arts & Crafts also fascinate me, both as a reaction to industrialization and as a movement so broad as to include Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. There are, however, styles in architectural history for which I feel no great passion—yet—and which therefore come as unploughed fields of investigation. Take the Greek Revival and Italianate/Eastlake, for example. No, I really mean that: take the Greek Revival and Italianate, because they are as foreign to me as Outer Mongolia.


A chance encounter this morning on eBay delivered an image of the Opera House in Rockford, Illinois. Wanting to know more about it led to the discovery that none other than Oscar Wilde had appeared there on the 2nd of March, 1882, one of more than fifty stops on his American lecture tour. It takes little else for the wheels to engage and to wonder whether he might have sojourned in Agincourt, filling the seats of Harney’s Orpheum, the Civil War-era opera house replaced ultimately by the Auditorium in 1895.

Two windows of opportunity opened just a crack: on March 1st, Wilde appeared in Dubuque, lecturing on the Decorative Arts. Later that month, on the 21st and 22nd, he was in Sioux City and Omaha on the other side of the state. Members of the Oscar Wilde Society may take exception to an unscheduled stop in Agincourt but I see it unfolding. And with that visit will necessarily come the Italianate ornamental excesses of Harney’s Orpheum, which I approach with fear and trembling.

Happily, we just bought the economy size bottle of antacid.

oscar wilde


O.K., so I cheated

Just two years ago I wrote “Intuiting Louie” as a reverie about growing up in Chicago when twice as much Sullivan work survived throughout city and suburbs. But even in the late 1950s (I was fifteen in 1960) a considerable amount of Adler & Sullivan work was either going, gone, or in places that should have scared the hell out of me but didn’t. Really, I was that geeky.

A question came up in conversation a few weeks ago—Do you believe in yourself?—to which my shoot-from-the-hip reply was “yes,” though that may have been more haste than conviction. As it turns out, shaking that faith is pretty easy, as recent events have shown. Two overheard conversations—one at morning coffee recently; the other mid-afternoon the same day—didn’t do my self-impression any good, and an e-mail discovered about 4:30 was the frosting on that day’s cake.

Architectural history (at least as I understand and practice it) has been my life for forty-five years, though academe has never been a good fit. But telling a great story is all that has ever mattered to me: so twice a week for an hour and fifteen minutes, that’s what I’ll continue to do, because it’s the only suit in my wardrobe.

Oh, about that cheating…


Adam Weiderkind [born 1906]


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

Adam Weiderkind [1906-?]

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother


oil on canvas / 16.5 inches by 13 inches

Adam Weiderkind enrolled at Northwest Iowa Normal College in the fall term of 1925 as a major in English; his home is listed as “Odebolt, Sac Co.” where his parents farmed. During his junior year Weiderkind took Carl Wasserman’s studio painting class and produced this portrait of his mother, one of the exercises required in the course curriculum. Enrollment at the college was small in the 1920s and the studio probably accommodated students at various levels of both competence and interest. So as a non-major, Adam may have profited from working near older and more experienced students. His style in this case seems to have been drawn from German Expressionism.

Several examples of student work were discovered during a 1970s renovation of the old Art Barn at the western edge of campus and donated to the Community Collection.