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Public Trust

Most of the entries here for the Community Collection identify each piece of art as “From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock”, a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Fall of 2015”. That exhibition, of course, has come and gone [not as I’d have liked, but that’s my problem, I guess]. Art continues to accrue in what we call the Community Collection, however, so I’ve had to modify the caption for those post-exhibit additions. Like this charming watercolor of what might be Venice:

ports-jpg

This notion of “community” has been on my mind lately; a term that has come to mean something quite other than what I’d thought.

Within the Body Politick, my understanding of “community” was taken on faith: it was 1) a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common; 2) a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. In those terms, I was content within the multiple concentric communities that make up my native habitat: family and friends; colleagues in “the trade” and the students of my acquaintance; my inner-city neighborhood (though less and less so with the city and state where I reside); and even my country, which had put in office the most successful president in living memory, by common consent. On November 8th, all that changed, possibly for the duration of my life (which won’t be all that long but it’s all I’ve got, so bear with me).

For the last three weeks, my sense of community has shrunk, as the President-Elect’s agenda unfolds in unquestionable snippets of one-hundred-and-forty characters each. Today it is tenuous at best and may be on the fast track to extinction, like the wolverine and polar bear. Like the Democratic Party, I thought I knew my fellow countrymen and women. I was wrong.

But I digress.

The Community Collection

Agincourt’s 1915 public library building included a gallery — largely, I have to admit, because there was a substantial amount of unassigned volume at the back of the ground floor; space likely to be windowless and marginally rentable; I could show you multiple examples in Fargo-Moorhead. Justification seemed in order, so I conjured a public collection of art and gradually built the necessary  backstory to give it meaning in 1915 and for the long term.

It was also an opportunity to rehabilitate certain characters. Like Amity Burroughs Flynn, widow of Agincourt’s late mayor Edmund FitzGerald Flynn [named for a sunken ore boat and killed off half way through his first term of office]. Amity had been the trophy wife, half Ed’s age and candy for his arm, but I’d given little thought to what would happen to the Widow Flynn, left reasonably well off with nothing in particular to do. All she’d inherited, really, was Ed’s crumbling reputation and the community’s empathy. But, like Edie Falco’s character in “The Sopranos,” there was far more to Amity than met the eye; attractive, yes, but resilient and dogged and not to be ignored. Mrs Flynn (whose portrait you can find elsewhere) rebounded from the loss of Ed and proved herself to be more compensation than the community deserved for the windbag she’d just put on the lower shelf of Agincourt’s only mausoleum.

It was the redoubtable Amity Burroughs Flynn who had organized the G.A.R. Exhibit of 1912 (drawn from private art collections throughout the city) and it was she who cajoled those collectors into letting those works be the seed for what came to be the Community Collection. Frankly I was damned proud of her and more than pleased to let her out of the shadows.

So now I’ve had to compose another caption for recent additions, something short and clear, that will trip lightly off the tongue of the mind’s ear. [Too many metaphors there?] It now will read:

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

I like that phrase — Public Trust — and what it suggests. Not only as a legal document, signed, attested, and filed at the Fennimore county Court House, but also in the broader sense of community‘s second meaning: the fellowship that comes from shared goals. That is the fictional community I hope to have created and the virtual community we need to re-establish after January 20th.

[#873]


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