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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Home Grown—an invitation


Among the many activities in Fennimore county—cultural, commercial, industrial—the actual making of things interests me very much. But with the next Agincourt exhibit scheduled to open in mid-September, initiating a new component is probably not a great idea.

A prominent part of the 2007 exhibit involves the Tennant and Tabor families and their investments. Milt Yergens conceived Tabor Industries, a cluster of family-based manufacturing and investment, and one of their products: prefabricated grain bins and their adaptive use as aeroplanes! Oh, Milton. What an imagination. Yet another Tabor-Tennant enterprise—discussed but only barely explored—is Fennimore Farms, a home-grown, value-added industry where agricultural products were grown. harvested, processed, package and marketed from within the county.

Somewhere along the west bank of the Muskrat River, in the industrial district developed at the turn of the last century, a canning plant has operated until the present day. Rumored to have been the region’s major employer, we might well “borrow” an industrial design from Albert Kahn or another early modernist; time having become a factor. But it does seem that the  corporate imagery of Fennimore Farms could materialize in the next two months. So, I wonder if anyone bass the energy and time to imagine the labels for tin cans of tomatoes, green beans, corn, squash and other vegetables in the Fennimore Farms product line?


At coffee with David Crutchfield yesterday afternoon, we had a lengthy conversation about rhubarb. Peter and I have twenty-two plants thriving in our gardens; twenty-three, if you count the one that’s taken root in the compost. David and I joked about how one could market rhubarb and we conceived “The Rhubarb Ranch.” Sounds like a spin off market to me.

By the way, the rhubarb image at the opening of this entry is borrowed from Clover Valley Farms in Duluth. Take a look at some of their products so they don’t mind. [#748]

Horror Vacui

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but the psychological counterpart of that physics notion is horror vacui, the abject fear experienced by some when they find themselves in large, empty spaces. It has been said—tongue in cheek—that Victorians suffered as a culture from horror vacui, unsatisfied until every surface was textured, molded, trimmed or patterned; until the majority of the visual spectrum had been exploited; until the maximum number of materials were juxtaposed and contrasted with one another. If the Victorians had been inclined to venerate exemplars, Frank Furness would have been their saint. I must confess to offering a prayer in his direction now and again.

Our friend Reed Malm puts it this way: “Too much is not enough.”

horror vacui horror vacui2

In the 1880s and ’90s, interiors such as these would have been de rigueur. And while my own tastes aren’t repulsed by the visual clutter of such a living space—and this is in sepia; imagine how much “worse” it would be in color!—I have to admit some relief that the Reformist movements of the Progressive Era simplified the excesses of post-Civil War America.

I’ve tried again and again, without success, to invite interior designers into the Agincourt sandbox. Apparently there are other, more seductive pursuits before them.



Small Business Saturday


There are a couple reasons why this storefront is unlikely to be in Agincourt. Perhaps I love the image because it challenges my defaults.

The raised entry—just those three steps that appear to be more than standard seven inch risers—is outside my experience in the Red River Valley. Here in the flatland, those conditions didn’t occur often enough to set precedent. I can imagine more steps or none at all. Three more steps would permit light and ventilation into the basement.

There’s also the matter of stone, which could have come from farther afield than the geologically challenged natural resources of Fennimore county. Time to reconsider the sub-stratum.

As it is, however, this image is too good to pass by.

East, West, Hame’s Best.

East, West, Hame’s Best

Friday evening, two friends stopped for a couple hours on their way from the Twin Cities to Bismarck. I grilled some brats and we washed them down with New Belgium beer and hard cider on the front porch we call “the Green Room.” Later, in the living room, we tasted several of the regional craft bourbons. The house is a mess—I’m working on that—but at one point I looked diagonally across the living room, through the dining room, toward the built-in buffet with its faceted mirrors, leaded glass doors and faux-antique light fixture. “I’ll miss this house, if we ever have to move.”

Our house is nothing special. One hundred and thirty-four years old; moved to its current site in 1903 and renovated; chopped into three apartments on its way to becoming a single-family home in the early 90s, we probably don’t meet your notion of style; certainly not of tidiness. Our friend Reed calls our decorating style “Early Neglectic.” And it was that cluttered bourbon-induced diagonal perspective that produced my twinge of nostalgia. This may be the closest I’ll ever get to gemutlichkeit.


It will come as no surprise that Howards End is a favorite novel and film, not only for the house that Merchant-Ivory found to embody E. M. Forster’s text, but also because Forster’s 1910 work deals with themes reflected in the cultural shifts of our own time. For Edwardian Britain, they included universal suffrage and class restructuring; for 21st-century America, it may be the impending collapse of those Progressive achievements and the arrival of same-sex marriage. Is it a curse to live in interesting times? I think not.

The Arts & Crafts movement, whether the vision of William Morris or of Frank Lloyd Wright, offers a measure of comfort to those caught in the cultural crossfire of either age: 1910 or 2015. Its muted tones and tactile nubby textures; its evocation of family; its authenticity (real or fictive) of craft and construction orchestrates an overall sense of comfort, echoed in the many mottos from that earlier time:

  • Als Ik Kan—a Flemish phrase best translated as “as best I can” or “to the best of my ability.”
  • East, West, Hame’s Best—a Lowland Scots phrase reassuring us that no matter how far we may roam or how exotic our travel itinerary, the return home—hame—is our ultimate reward.
  • “Good friend, around these hearth stones speak no evil word of any creature”—carved in wood above the fireplace in Wright’s first home for himself and his new family; the house he built for Catherine and their six children.

FLLW Home and Studio (Fireplace)

“Home” I suspect may be among the most abused of English words and it is in the breadth of those meanings that I intend the next Agincourt exhibit: Agincourt Homecoming.


Going with the grain

There’s a substantial new building in the Fargo CBD with a sad track record as investment property. Some of that may derive from management—style and/or unrealistic expectations—but some of the building’s problem was, I believe, a foregone conclusion. The urban design cards were simply stacked against it.

Aerial view of Court House which lies in the hub of this small town in which some 10,000 people flock to shop on Jefferson St. every Saturday night.  (Photo by Bernard Hoffman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Aerial view of Court House which lies in the hub of this small town in which some 10,000 people flock to shop on Jefferson St. every Saturday night. (Photo by Bernard Hoffman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Midwestern townsites laid out in the 19th century—like Agincourt and hundreds if not thousands of others—have an inherent grain that predisposes preferential treatment for some lots. The 300-by-300 foot standard city block, split by a twenty-foot alley right-of-way and divided into lots (twenty-four 25-foot wide commercial lots or twelve 50-foot wide commercial sites) establishes a texture, a grain that might be more easily discerned by touch than sight. The orientation of that grain, its texture as real estate, assures, for example, that some lots will be more desirable than others. The lots fronting on Fargo’s Broadway have enjoyed greater stability, I suspect, over those fronting on N.P. or First Avenue North, particularly those lots facing north.


Lot orientation isn’t the sole criterion but it’s a biggie. Why, you ask? I think it’s as simple as solar access: south-facing lots receive continuous sun; east- or west-facing properties split the difference, getting their sun in either the morning or afternoon; while a northern orientation enjoys daylight on the Summer Solstice and little else. Some day (and it had better be soon, at my age) I’d like to do a study of Fargo’s CBD and test my theory that access to sun at least some part of the day is a factor in stable rental occupancy.


There is also something worth noting about corner properties. Unless some deviant pattern is employed, the grain of a block will run east-west or north-south. That is, opposed sides will have either storefronts or store sides. In most cases, adjacent block fronts will be very different in their identities: A) glazed display windows, signage and public access on one and B) substantial masonry and closure on the other. Look at Metro Drug at the corner of Broadway and Second Avenue North or the Uptown Gallery a block south at First Avenue: glass on Broadway; not very much glass on the avenues. The consequences of ignoring this or not observing it in the first place can be seen in Moorhead’s urban renewal. The storefronts on North Fourth street have a solar advantage in facing east and west, but the “side” elevations on Main Avenue—despite their southern orientation—are essentially devoid of life and do little to create a warm and welcoming sense of place in a city center that actually once had a considerable amount of it.


In Agincourt I’ve learned some of these “lessons” the hard way.

Somewhere on the Muskrat…

on the muskrat

Yes, I know it says this woman is fishing on the Cedar River. That’s just a silly misprint.

Hawksmoor (1.1)

Today’s mail brought a box. The return address was Connecticut, so I knew its origin, if not its contents. Imagine my surprise when I opened it and found a new book—one I hadn’t known about—devoted to the London churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor. I noticed the publisher (Lars Müller, a publisher of genuinely beautiful volumes) and began to salivate.


Two hours later, I can report that the photographs are black and white, while the drawings (newly-drawn plans and elevations) are printed in rich orange on a black background. Suddenly I feel emboldened to complete the design of an imaginary Hawksmoor church which evolved in my mind during the reading of Hawksmoor, a Peter Ackroyd novel.


I think I can pull this off.

PS: If Hawksmoor has made a cameo in Agincourt, I’d look in the cemetery.

William George Lewis [1882-1974]

$_57-56 my828 my829

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

LEWIS, William George [1882-1974]

Three Village Sketches: Cartmel / Woodbridge (1 & 2)


watercolor on paper / 3.3 inches by 3.3 inches; 2.9 inches by 3.7 inches; 3.1 inches by 5.1 inches

Change comes more slowly in Britain than it does in the United States. These three watercolor sketches by W. G. Lewis, each about the area of a standard tourist postcard, record vernacular scenes of English village life. And each probably took no longer than ten to fifteen minutes for completion, yet the artist’s highly selective eye has chosen the minimum of shape, proportion and texture to convey the essence of place.




Early in its evolution, Agincourt needed a randomizer. Dice, cards, a spinning arrow. In hindsight, there were several decisions that ought to have been taken from our hands—mine especially. The series of blog entries called “The way things work” aren’t embarrassing, for they have served to confirm my reliance on intuition, which is no bad thing.

There are all those events that shape the urban environment—fire, flood, storm—that might have freed a piece of land for new purpose. In a bizarre way, chance did come into play when Dave Pence (a.k.a. Steve Spence) sent a real-photo postcard of an urban fire: a smoldering opera house or theatre in an unspecified city. It was precisely the sort of site, cleared of its earlier inhabitant, where Agincourt’s new public library might have taken root. And so it did. Coincidentally, a second postcard view of the same fire showed up on eBay years later and this time I learned that the event had occurred at Keokuk, Iowa (really!) in late 1912, precisely when I needed a center-city lot to have been made available.

These days I’m thinking of other similar events and once again eBay serves up the visual evidence: locomotive derailment, flood, tornado, urban fire; Acts of God, caprice or conscious choice. It’s not too late for a dose of random.




Footprint in sand

Saudade (European Portuguese: [sɐwˈðaðɨ]Brazilian Portuguese: [sawˈdadi] or [sawˈdadʒi]Galician: [sawˈðaðe]; plural saudades) is a word in Portuguese and Galician (from which it entered Spanish) that claims no direct translation in English. It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. A stronger form of saudade might be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died.

Saudade was once described as “the love that remains” after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one’s children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.

Jacob ter Veldhuis has provided my new favorite piece of music—for solo piano—bearing the title “Saudade.” Until you’ve heard it, the definition copied above will intimate its sense of poignant loss. I’m melancholic at the best of times; that’s the price of dysthymia [300.4 in the DSM IV, though now replaced by the prosaic “persistent depressive disorder” in the revised DSM V; “dysthymia” evaporated with Dr Bob, which seems apropos]. “Saudade” has become my current musical theme.

I have to admit Agincourt is riddled—infused might be a better term—with nostalgic longing for the way things were. An obvious case is The Shades, the community’s non-sectarian burial ground. Cemeteries fascinate me; they have since my grandmother and I were “regulars” in the late 1950s at my grandfather’s gravesite. I distinctly recall waiting for the Bluebird (the suburban bus line that connected Chicago with Joliet and passed at least four cemeteries along the way); being deposited at the greenhouse, where we bought potted plants (most often geraniums); and the long walk (for a ten-year-old) through the entrance gate and up the hill to the flatland back corner where we have a family plot. The Shades, then, isn’t so much a collection of images as it is a melding of emotions—nostalgic, melancholy and happy, because it was about the recollection of one grandparent while I was with another who had become my surrogate parent.

Our visits were rhythmic, routine and leisurely: gathering garden tools and packing lunch at home; waiting for the bus; anticipating our stop (though the driver would always announce it); buying plants and walking up the hill; weeding the grave, especially around the headstone—that was my job; planting the geraniums and bringing coffee cans of water from a spigot a hundred feet away (my job, as well). And then it was time for lunch, a picnic with the three of us: two above ground, one below. Only now do I understand the importance of those rituals.