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Monthly Archives: April 2015


Today was a day like most others. Here was my morning:

  • sixty-five degrees as I passed the time-and-temperature display at the bank;
  • a short line at the coffee shop;
  • the soundtrack from “Bunny Lake Is Missing” looping in my head;
  • all on the way to a session with Dr Bob.

Each of these is pretty ordinary, except this would be the last session with my therapist.

Dr Bob has retired. I sensed the tunnel-at-the-end-of-the-light long before he announced it; nothing this fruitful could last forever. So I entered “the sanctum” curious, even eager to see how four years of our shared experience would play itself out. I hoped for a custom parting gift: A cross-stitch sampler of personalized aphorisms to hang beside the bathroom mirror; a morning reminder of the psychological potholes and self-generated booby traps that litter my day. But your sand traps will differ from mine. At one point during the session, he asked how I felt. The answer was simply: wistful.


It’s finally time to cope with those pesky “Age & Stage” issues I’d heard about fifteen years ago from an earlier therapist. The problem then was projection: that psychologist was nearer retirement than I was—than I am—and he tried unsuccessfully to cast my problems as the very issues that must have been consuming him. Coincidentally, the clinic he worked for phased its psychology unit out and he took a job at a local ambulance-chasing facility that has always scared the crap out of me.

Now—fifteen years later—I’m seventy and almost ready to think about the next stage of life, with more sand in the bottom of the hourglass than the top. As an inveterate story-teller, I’ve spent a large part of my eternal present talking about the past. Hang out with Ramsay and that’s what you get—once upon a time. But these days I’m more sanguine about it. Indeed, I am actually wistful about my own past; about souring relationships and the what-might-have-been-ness of realizing there’s too little time to bring even half my current projects to completion. Wistful.

If you want to hear concentrated wistfulness, watch the 1965 Otto Preminger film “Bunny Lake Is Missing.” Call me. We can share a weep.

Calthea Campbell Vivian [1857-1943]


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

VIVIAN, Calthea Campbell [1857-1943]

“Moon Over Barbizon”

date unknown

oil on wood panel / 5.5 inches by 7.5 inches

Born in Fayette, Missouri, Vivian moved with her family to California in the 1870s, settling at Sacramento; but by 1889 she was already a fixture in the Los Angeles art community. She studied art at various public and private institutions, and in 1897 she was in Paris at the Académie Colarossi, then in London, before returning home to teach at San Jose State and the California College of Arts and Crafts. If this small painting—twice the size of a penny postcard—was done plein air at Barbizon, rather than from memory, it would date before 1900.

Though this was painted at Barbizon, France, near the Forest of Fontainebleau, the “Barbizon School” of the early 19th century introduced a more realistic approach to landscape representation. “Moon Over Barbizon” is far more Impressionistic and typical of the century’s end, rather than its beginning.

Punch & Judy

As politically incorrect as it may be, the British traditional entertainment “Punch & Judy” continues to fascinate. I was surprised to learn that the iconic 19th century British puppet theatre has roots in 16th century commedia dell’arte, about which I know scarce little. So when Margaret Lloyd’s drawing showed up in  a 1905 issue of The Studio magazine—something I discovered in the mid 1960s—I filed it deep into my memory banks, only to re-emerge as part of Agincourt’s design heritage.

Because it required a high degree of staining (the “stained” part of stained glass), I hoped to find a glazier anxious to take the project on. Enter HaeuserHeil Studios in Waukesha, Wisconsin. I’ve shown you Miss Lloyd’s original design. Now, a hundred-plus years after her vision, I can show you its realization, still awaiting a frame. Haeuser Heil has done us the honor of putting it on their website. So special thanks go to artist-craftsman David Fode.


It’s already found a place at Agincourt’s kindergarten (called Little Ones) so now it remains for me to design its setting.

Ellen Jean Sibley [1926-1987]


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

SIBLEY, Ellen Jean [1926-1987]

Farmer and Two Hens


oil on canvas / 18 inches by 20 inches

In the late summer of 1941—on the eve of another World War—one exhibition of community art enriched another.

Janice Mainwaring organized the Domestic Arts Section of the annual Fennimore County Fair. For twenty years, she coordinated the display and judgment of canned and pickled produce, baked pies, cakes and cookies, as well as arts and crafts, with military precision. The blue ribbon winner that year—1941—in two-dimensional art was this painting by a freshman student at Fennimore County high school, Ellen Jean Sibley. “Farmer and Two Hens” was produced in the ’40-’41 school year.

Miss Sibley lived with her parents Howard and Dorothy on a farm five miles north of Fahnstock, but during the school year she boarded during the week with a cousin who lived in Agincourt; weekends and summers, she tended her goats and learned the domestic skills of farm-wifery. Indeed, her peanut butter cookies took a second prize that year. The Community Collection selection committee acquired her painting for $20, more than $300 today. It’s unrecorded what she did with the money.


Whatever became of Hughes Rudd?

Thirty-five years ago, required Sunday morning viewing in my home consisted of “CBS Sunday Morning” and a string of televangelists the likes of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Billy James Hargis, and of course “The Hour of Power” with Dr Robert Schuler. It’s noteworthy that among those god-squad preachers Schuler was the least cloying, yet his Garden Grove Community Church is the one that’s gone belly up. Is there a lesson here? The others and their progeny now control several state legislatures, validate the candidacy of Republican office-seekers, and want to put me and mine in a concentration camp in Wyoming. Who said it was a curse to live in interesting times?

hairReligious programming was just as formulaic then as it is today: Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart could cry on cue, at the moment precisely timed to maximize phone-a-thon donations from viewers who genuinely connected their salvation with a fifteen dollar-a-month pledge supporting Tammy Faye’s addiction to gold-plated faucets or Swaggart’s car-seat quickies with working girls, if you know what I mean. Their own long-term redemption has been astounding. Likewise their ability to pass the reins of power to offspring who studied, after all, at the feet of masters in chicanery. Sour grapes? Not really. Twice a week I engage in my own packaged infotainment. [Paul and Jan Crouch divorced eventually, by the way, but she got custody of the hair.]

These days, Schuler’s “feel good” theology looks downright reasonable, though I could never actually figure out what he believed that didn’t devolve into some tchotchke sun-catcher sparkling in the kitchen window or some onomatopoetic universalism like “turn your scars into stars”. Otherwise, the man had taste, first hiring Richard Neutra to design his drive-in worship center and then commissioning the redoubtable Philip Johnson’s energy-guzzling “Crystal Cathedral.” Today, though, it’s Hughes Rudd, host of “CBS Sunday Morning” who comes to mind—ninety minutes of sanity before an ongoing orgy of con artistry that continues on cable TV today. Can you say “Creflo Dollar”?

Perhaps it was descriptors like puckish and curmudgeonly that drew me to Rudd’s easy going journalistic style, for he was the appetizer of my Sunday morning fare. In Rudd’s case, my nostalgia is heartfelt: though we didn’t know it then, he represented a journalistic style that has gone the way of the dodo and been unseated by talking heads of whatever stripe suits your fancy or political affiliation. Mine are on the Left.

I recall one program toward the conclusion of his career with CBS which ended—as they often did—with the personal insights of a small-town boy from Waco. One of Rudd’s hobbies, it seems, was the collecting of lyrics from Country & Western songs, which are likely unfamiliar to anyone who’s not lived in Texas or Oklahoma. Lyrics, mind you—the actual poetry of the song rather than its melody—were Rudd’s addiction, and that morning he shared a few of them with his viewers. Nashville poetry that sent me into paroxysms of laughter. You know; the silent, convulsive sort that often leads to episodes of bladder control. I share from memory, here, the three that sent me over the edge:

“What are we going to do about your husband and what are we going to do about my wife?”

“I’m wearing out the shoes that Charlie wore.”

And my all-time favorite:

“I don’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling.”

Ironically, it resonates because we’ve all been there.

What do you suppose Charlie’s shoe size might have been? That number could resolve any number of questions.

John Barrack [1908-1987]

John Barrack$_57-71

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

BARRACK, John G. [1908-1987]

“Veterans, Glacier National Park”


color woodcut on paper / 9.5 inches by 7.5 inches

“Evening Tree”


color woodcut on paper / 7 inches by 4.8 inches

Barrack’s career is firmly planted in each of the two principal aspects of “art”—fine and applied. As a fine artist, he exhibited often in both Milwaukee and Denver (where he taught at the Emily Griffith Opportunity School). At other times he was chief advertising designer for National Cash Register, Dayton, Ohio; staff artist, Empire Magazine, The Denver Post; and advertising art director for Rotogravure Magazine, The Denver Post. These prints from the mid 1930s may have been exhibited at Milwaukee.

John Barrack died at Denver, Colorado in 1987, though these woodcuts came to Agincourt much sooner, with the arrival of Magnus and Margery Torkelson in 1945.

Main Street Capitalism

There was a time when Main Street—technically, in Agincourt it’s Broad Street—was a focus of Capitalist investment in manufacturing and infrastructure. Transportation connected one Main Street to another (railroads, interurbans and trolleys); factories were owned and staffed by locals; banks weren’t too big to fail and bankers weren’t too big for their britches. There would even have been a local stock exchange of sorts where initial offerings for these companies were made and shares were traded. There’s something wholesome about betting on yourself, don’t you think?

Early in the Agincourt narrative I told the tale of incorporating the Northwest Iowa Traction Company and intimated its spinoff the Agincourt Street Railway. I suspect it also had more than a passing connection with the local power company. So when potential investors gathered in the board room of the Farmers, Mechanics & Merchants Bank one morning, this is the kind of certificate, with all its official stamps and signatures, they would have received. [BTW, this one is up for auction on eBay but the opening bid is way beyond me.]

stock certificate

Consider this a troll for graphic designers to help imagine stock certificates that can be part of the September exhibit.