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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Alice Goldin (born 1925)

$_57-82

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

Alice Goldin [born 1925]

“Rock Shapes” 

1984

serigraph on paper / 5.1″ x 8.7″

Alice Goldin was born in Vienna but emigrated to South Africa where she has lived since 1948. She works in various media, especially woodcuts and silkscreens like the diminutive “Rock Shapes.”

Becka Morrow, daughter of Samantha and Robert Morrow, spent her junior high school year in South Africa through the AFS foreign exchange program. The Goldin print was a Christmas gift from Becka’s host family in Bloemfontein.

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Bernard Gotch [1876-1964]

$_57-80

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

Bernard Cecil Gotch (1876-1964)

“The Broad, Oxford”

color woodcut on paper / 10.5″ x 16″

Bernard Cecil Gotch was born near Winchester and attended Winchester School of Art, first as a student and then later as teacher. By 1910, he had received his first notable commission illustrating A Shepherd’s Life by W.H. Hudson. In 1952, the University of Oxford made Gotch an Honorary M.A. After he died in 1963 a memorial service took place in Oriel College.

This woodcut shows “The Broad” or Broad Street in Oxford, a view from the steps of the Clarendon Building, which was built in 1711 from designs of Nicholas Hawksmoor for Oxford University Press. Some have speculated about the heavy architectural bias suggested in the Community Collection, an “unseen hand” that has helped to shape it. Nonsense.

Pictor Ignotus [active 1930s-1940s]

saintpauls001

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

Pictor Ignotus [active 1930s]

Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London

ca1930-1940

mixed media on cream paper / 14.6 inches by 10.6 inches

The newest addition to the collection, this drawing was never intended to be seen by anyone other than its artist. As a preliminary study for a larger finished work, this sketch includes considerable information on the buildings that once stood at the eastern edge of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, including the church of St Augustine, Watling Street; both were works of architect Sir Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of 1666. Notes about materials, their textures and staining, would have guided the artist in creating a more authentic rendition of a favorite tourist destination—then and now. German bombs destroyed St Augustine in 1941, however, so this view of Watling Street has changed, almost beyond recognition.

One hundred years ago, on May 8th, 1915, RMS Lusitania sank in the Atlantic Ocean just a few miles from the coast of Ireland, victim of hubris and a German torpedo. It was thought at the time that young Agincourt architect Anson Tennant disappeared with the ship, interrupting his pilgrimage to England and the Arts & Crafts movement he had embraced. Tennant survived, however, and was reunited with his family in 1936. On the centennial of the Lusitania sinking, this drawing has been given to the Community Collection by an anonymous donor in memory of Anson Tennant.

Hai Yun [active 1950s]

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

Hai Yun [active 1950s]

“Farmstead”

ca1950

oil on canvas / 22 inches by 32 inches

Even quiet corners of the world can be affected by international events. This mid-century modern painting of a Fennimore county farmstead is proof.

As Mao Zedong’s forces drove Chiang Kai-shek from mainland China, and the Republic fell in 1949, nationalist Chinese refugees fled to Taiwan, Hong Kong and other havens, Hai Yun and her family left Shanghai. Thanks to a sponsorship from St Joseph-the-Carpenter Episcopal Church—Hai had worked with Anglican missionaries in her province—she was able to enter the United States with refugee status and remained in Agincourt about five years, teaching both art and Chinese at the college. This painting was a gift to the Community Collection on her departure.

Religion and Public Life

The Pew Charitable Trust hopes to show us the religious landscape of the U.S. They call it the “Religion and Public Life Project.” I follow their feed in social media because a visit to the Pew website could divert me for days: it’s likely to reveal more about spiritual Agincourt than I can comfortably process.

The religious spectrum in Agincourt and vicinity stretches from ultraviolet to infrared. All the old mainline denominations of Christian practice are accounted for, if not necessarily thriving. Services range from “Smokey Mary” calisthenics to speaking in tongues. Quakers speak when the Spirit moves. Anglican are sprinkled, while Baptists (of the ABC or northern variety, thank you very much) do the American crawl through an Olympic-sized font. Christian Science has been present since 1900; so was Judaism. More recent arrivals include the LDS and Islam (more of the latter). In some corner of the county, some folks may be handling snakes. An unadvertised exorcism may have been performed. There is even a periodic gathering of unbelievers, The Why, who meet in a disused railroad water tower in the alley behind Hradek’s Shoe Repair.

When I eventually move to Agincourt—retirement there is a seductive notion—I”ll be inclined to attend a service or two at Asbury United Methodist. Rev Candice Varenhorst, the minister there, is a throwback to the Social Gospel Christianity of a hundred years ago, or more, and her sermons are (I’m reliably told by my friend Howard) attuned to succor rather than salvation; to here-and-now over there-and-after. Tabor tells me she spoke last week of letter-writing, a nearly lost art, and the value that slow, deliberate and purpose-driven communication can have for those weary of tweets, YouTube clips and fifteen-second soundbites.

gnostic

Candy Varenhorst performed the first same-gender marriage in Fennimore county only a few months after the Iowa Supreme Court struck down legislative prohibitions. It happened one weeknight in a back booth at The Periodic Table; Howard phoned me right afterward. So Rev Varenhorst already sounds like my sort of cleric.

In June—while folks are summering at Sturm und Drang and likely to miss her sermons—Rev Varenhorst is doing a series on the origins and evolution of Christianity: a family tree of the faith to help the congregation understand the lunacies of our time. I’m anxious to learn what she has to say about the Gnostics, the closest I get to religion these days.

When I was nine…

The world was different in 1954.

Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House, put there by at least two votes from my family; my grandfather would have been a third vote of approval for Ike. We were solid middle-of-the-road Eisenhower Republicans; subscribed to The Chicago American newspaper, one of the city’s four dailies, a thin working-class afternoon paper for the likes of us: decidedly not pro labor (despite the fact that my grandfather had worked for the Corn Products company for forty years) and far more inclined toward advertisements for Sears, Wieboldt’s and Monkey Ward, rather than Marshall Field. You could tell someone’s income by the paper they read.

My grandfather was an alcoholic, but I didn’t know that. I have no recollection of him ever being drunk or of the spousal abuse I learned about as an adult. He was good to me; sat me on his knee—his only grandchild; smoked a pipe; told stories and died at sixty-four, the day before my sixth birthday. Too soon, if you ask me.

Clara, my grandmother, had her breast removed that year. She endured multiple chemotherapy sessions and became a cancer survivor, succumbing to heart disease sixteen years later, the day after my thirty-fifth birthday.

In 1954 I was nine and finishing the third grade with Miss Piancimino; she had a wooden leg, but so did my father, so I related to her differently than my classmates might have, I suppose. Even then I was an eccentric: parents divorced, mother gone who knows where, grandfather deceased, being raised by my grandmother.  Pumping gas at my dad’s Phillips 66 gas station after school and on weekends was unusual, too, I guess, though I wasn’t quite old (or tall) enough to check under the hood for oil or wiper fluid. Air pressure in the tires was another matter. I learned how to change them and patch their inner tubes about then, also—life skills I’ll be able to fall back on in retirement or when the economy collapses.

dante-gabriel-rossetti-dantis-amor-2

As the motherless child of a father whose distance may have grown from also being an only child, I was left pretty much to my own devices. I had several friends, neighbors (Butch Murray, Denny Furlong, Linda Fierke) where I hung out and learned a bit more about life. The Murrays had a huge Catholic family, umpteen children both older and younger than me. The Fierkes had nearly as many with an equivalent spread, so the neighborhood offered more than enough role models to complement my stunted family. I watched TV at the Murrays, did puzzles on the Fierke kitchen table.

I played with Andrea Miller, too. Her dad Bill also worked for CPC (the newer and improved version of Corn Products Co.) and they lived two doors west. It was a tight little community where everyone knew everyone a bit too well. Chicagoland may be large and dense, but it consists essentially of intimate communities like Bedford Park; I was fortunate to have been born into it.

Others, many others, stepped up to become involved with my growth and development; hindsight tells me that. Older neighbors, contemporaries of my grandparents, often spoke with Clara as though I was not standing there beside her. Kids learn a lot while you think they’re neither watching nor listening. I did. And not all of it was good. Even then—long before I developed an interest in genealogy—I sensed being the end of the line. Today, at seventy and change, that prediction is about to come true.

The Millers were churchgoers. Andrea was also an only child, so there was a place in the back seat for me on Sunday morning on their way to First Congregational, an unpretentious brick box in Argo, filled with old ladies in pillbox hats with veils, short white gloves, each a body double for Mamie Eisenhower in a congregation that oozed mainline Protestant Christianity. I did the Sunday School thing—though I might just as productively been searching the phone book for a pizza shop as the good book for Psalm 31:09: “Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.” But the damage was already done: my grandfather was an atheist; my father Roy, an agnostic. I was well past the age of believing.

What does mercy resemble anyway? If a loving father and grandmother and generous supporting neighbors are the ways of the Lord, my needs were more than met. Looking at the news these days—the circumstances of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray—I was lucky to be White and safely lower Middle Class with aspirations. I lived in a time and place of high employment; the schools were good; my prospects, though I never thought of them as such, were without bounds. There was no question that I would attend college; Roy ensured that I would have all that he had not. So, as I approached Fourth Grade and my tenth birthday, the world looked pretty good. I didn’t think about “the future”; tomorrow was plenty far ahead. But it seemed to me that things could only get better and better and better.

Who knew.

My point this afternoon is simply that Agincourt has a lot of Bedford Park, Argo and Summit in it; the places that nurtured me until I went away to college in 1963. My years there owe much to so many people I can only begin to enumerate here. Look for them in the characters that inhabit a fictional place in Iowa.