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Monthly Archives: February 2018

Protected: arti•FACT•uality—A story told with stuff

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Neil Klien

There are at least two earlier entries devoted to the short life of Neil Klien, the Sexton at Agincourt’s non-sectarian burial ground, The Shades. Notice I don’t say “short and sad”, because I didn’t know Neil, though when I heard his story it seemed his ration of happiness might have been cut as short as his life had been: grave digging and grounds maintenance are solitary work and, even when in the company of others, they are unlikely topics of polite conversation—prurient interests being a slight part of local character. Like the chance opening of a time capsule you didn’t realize was there, Nature gave us accidental insight to Neil’s life.


Strong winds from a passing storm took out several mature trees not already decimated by “Dutch elm” or Japanese beetles. And one of those upturned sentinels disturbed some nearby tombstones, revealing what were thought to be mason’s marks. On closer inspection, however, they proved to be pithy observations about the deceased, handwritten in red lead. This accidental discovery began a scavenger hunt by a few citizens for others—all of which date before Klien’s death. Informally collected, someone has suggested putting them in book form—until, that is, the subject of liability is invoked; Klein’s level of snark spared few of his inmates. Happily he has passed beyond the reach of the law, and a kind of justice has already been served.

Without naming the recipients, here are a few to whet the appetite:


destroyed a garage and three garden sheds;

broke dozens of windows, but nary one heart,

for his had stopped and she had none.

Shades of Edgar Lee Masters! Or this riff on the Latin “R.I.P. / Requiescat In Pace”:

Roast In Purgatory (on the grave of a once prominent attorney)

Or this from the black granite tombstone of a banker:

Harder than the Banker’s heart [and just as cold]

Klien was marginally softer on a local “would-be” author:

Her life was an open book but a short story.

Or this, about a person I’d like to meet:

You sacrificed a friendship to save one.

The reason we know these were Klien’s work? Beneath the stone that marks his adoptive parents’ graves—a stone he was able to afford only by moonlighting other jobs—he wrote in careful uncial letters:

Love never dies.

Goro Kumagai [born 1932]

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

KUMAGAI, Goro (born 1932)

Abstract City


woodcut / 13 inches by 9 inches / edition unknown

The most recent additions to the Community Collection represent two very different observations of the city as historical document. One is European; the other Oriental. Yet both are in a style popularly called Mid-century Modern. Compare Kumagai’s “Abstract City” with Mario Micussi’s glimpse of the Roman Forum. But Kumagai’s woodcut is also interesting in light of the influence that the Japanese aesthetic has had on the West—and the reciprocal influence shown here.

This print was acquired from the estate of Maureen and Bill Bendix, developers of Riverside Addition in the 1950s. Their home on Sixth Street NW was among Agincourt’s earliest examples of Mid-Mod as an architectural phenomenon and its interior must have been an equally potent representation of that aesthetic.

Mario Micossi [born 1922]

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

MICOSSI, Mario (born 1922)

“Fori e San Sisto in Roma”


aquatint etching / 12 3/4 inches by 15 1/4 inches

An internationally recognized artist and etcher, Micossi studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. He then moved to New York City where he worked as an illustrator for such periodicals as The New Yorker and Saturday Review. Since the early 1960s, however, Micossi has dedicated himself to printmaking and the refinement of the deep etching technique (which this print employs). Micossi’s work is in major museums such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Fogg Museum, Harvard University; the Albertina, Venice; the Stockholm National Museum; the Library of Congress; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Micossi’s blinkered glimpse of the Forum at the heart of ancient Rome as it is seen by a mid-century Modernist. The deep rich velvet tones of an aquatint invite close inspection.

George Jo Mess (1898-1962)

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

MESS, George Joseph (1898–1962)



aquatint etching / 9 1/4 inches by 11 inches

George Jo Mess (as he preferred to be known) may have had the most diverse artistic education of anyone represented in the Community Collection: a manual training high school, the Herron Art School, Butler University, the Bauhaus in its Chicago guise, New York’s Columbia University and the Beaux Arts at Fontainebleau, France. He is identified primarily as a painter and prolific printmaker, such as this stark rendering of driftwood on a beach.

Documentation for this piece is sketchy, consisting primarily of a sticker on the back of its frame: Kroch’s & Brentano’s, 29 South Wabash, Chicago.

George Elbert Burr [1859–1939]

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

BURR, George Elbert (1859–1939)

“Fairy Glen–Wales”

before 1915

drypoint etching / 7 3/4 inches by 4 7/8 inches

Considered one of the finest early 20th century engravers, Burr was born in Ohio and attended the Art Institute of Chicago for one year. A four-year project illustrating a catalogue for the Metropolitan Museum in New York City enabled Burr and his wife to undertake a five-year tour of Europe and Great Britain, the likely source of this etching, “Fairy Glen–Wales”. This was exhibited at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition at San Francisco in 1915, which dates the print somewhat earlier. A gift to the Community Collection from the grandchildren of Edith and Ellis McGowan, this was probably purchased during their honeymoon to the Bay Area.

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