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Christianity and the Social Crisis

“In a few years all our restless and angry hearts will be quiet in death, but those who come after us will live in the world which our sins have blighted or which our love of right has redeemed.”
Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis

February 26th, 2019

My mother was a Congo. I like saying that, reminding myself where the spiritual foundation of my life was laid.

I don’t recall attending church with Marge, In fact I recall very little before the age of eight. But after she left, our neighbors the Millers took charge of my spiritual welfare. They, too, were members of what was then the Congregational church, now the United Church of Christ, and took me with them and their daughter Andrea to Sunday service in the building pictured above. Where was Roy, you ask? On his way to open the gas station; for Roy there was no day of rest.

In the mid to late ’50s the Congregational service was an echo of New England puritanism, I was about to say that every woman in the pews was ancient, dressed in dark tailored suits, wearing veiled pillbox hats and white gloves; each and every one a clone of Mamie Eisenhower. I was about to say that until I realized you have absolutely no idea who I’m talking about; Mrs Eisenhower’s name conjures no image, no sense of decorum or reticence.

The Millers moved to LaGrange Park (1030 Sherwood Drive; Fleetwood 2-6762—I remember shit like that) and with their departure my attendance at church came to a halt. Which distressed me not in the least.

It has taken decades for me to understand the religious heritage represented by Congregationalism, part of the Reformed tradition. Merged in 1957 with two other Protestant sects, it became the United Church of Christ, “…an extremely pluralistic and diverse denomination.” And though I no longer consider myself a Christian, it gives me considerable satisfaction to say that the UCC has, along with Unitarian-Universalists, become the most liberal denomination of any size. I only mention that because another mainstream denomination, the United Methodist Church, voted today to reverse its progressive attitudes on LGBTQ issues.

Two thousand nineteen is the centennial year for the building of Asbury United Methodist Church, and now a major schism in their denomination may threaten the celebration planned for the summer. I suspect Rev Candace Varenhorst is saying something about this right now.



As in “snatching victory from the jaws of….”

After several failed attempts, I admit complete inability to design The Square, companion to The Commons at the heart of Agincourt. Together, they’re the community’s yin-yang (which in Chinese means “dark-bright”) and I suppose, in some respects, representative of male and female, but also more representative of the distinction between formal and casual; rigid or flexible. In such a binary universe, my loyalties are clear.

Yin 陰 or 阴 Noun: negative/passive/female principle in nature; the moon; shaded orientation; covert; concealed; hidden; negative; north side of a hill; south bank of a river; reverse side of a stele; overcast; sinister; treacherous

Yang 陽 or 阳 Bound morpheme: positive/active/male principle in nature; the sun; open; overt; belonging to this world; [linguistics] masculine; south side of a hill; north bank of a river

In light of the present discussion, there is also the pairing of Victory with Defeat, I suppose. But it’s too simple to equate them with the notions of winning and losing, and I’m not wired to think that way.


The block in question—Block A-2 in the original townsite—is typical, 300 ft by 300 ft but flat and featureless. Wouldn’t it had been a stroke of good fortune to have found archaeological evidence of Native American occupancy, a camp ground, like Gnostic Grove, for example. So physically we’re given nothing to grasp as a basis for design. Even the points of the compass are unremarkable: nothing but the cardinal points of the Jeffersonian Grid. So for any abstract inspiration there is little beyond mathematics of the square, a masculine shape at least. Or is it the right angle that suggests masculinity? The upright? The erect?

If the Square had been designed all at once, the product of a single mind, the task might be marginally easier. But I’d hoped to watch the space evolve during a hundred and fifty years; experience the open-ended process of accumulation.

Attitudes toward War differ from time to time and place to place. As a product of the 1960s and the Vietnam era, I’m disinclined to find any glory in war, so Maya Lin’s eloquent statement of loss—of our humanity, not of face—represents something quite different from the WWII memorial recently dedicated east of the Capitol in Washington. Words like bloviating and pompous spring to mind. But that’s just me.

So I’m back at the beginning, or nearly there, identifying the sequence of memorials and trying to understand the cultural context for each of those wars and sublimating my own views—which is, after all, what designers do.

E. van der Willige [19th century]

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

van der WILLIGE, E. (19th century, second half)

“Zandschuiten” / “Sand Barges”

circa 1880

oil on board / 6 inches by 9 inches

Van der Willige’s painting came to American in the trunk of Dutch immigrant Maurits Braaksma, one of the original colonists of the agricultural settlement at Grou in the late 1880s. Its origins prior to that date are unknown, except that similar work by an artist of the same name appears on some on-line art auction sites. “Zandschuiten” had been on long-term loan from the family but was given in 1988 to commemorate the Village of Grou centennial.

Flat-bottomed sand barges were used in Dutch flood control projects and were a common sight in the canals and rivers of Friesland.

Graphic Design

“To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit: it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse. To design is to transform prose into poetry.” —Paul Rand

By invitation, I once brought Agincourt to a group of graphic designers—emphasis on the word “invitation”, because I try to not stuff the Agincourt Project down the world’s collective gullet. You also know full well how unsuccessful I’ve been; if I had been, you’d see evidence here. I was unable to persuade anyone in the aforementioned group to participate in the project.¹ [Ordinarily I’d ask a rhetorical question at this point, except you might actually answer.]

Graphic style—the ways we shape out letters and configure our words on the page; the number and placement of non-verbal material; the palette of colors and textures— all of these give graphic images their unique character. And that uniquity (I just invented a word, on purpose) helps to establish a sense of time and place. Certain advertising pieces have become iconic, representative of moments in history. I think of British railway posters, from a time before the nationalization of their system when competition was a factor, and the artists who created them.

Frank Brangwyn, for example (Belgian-British artist who I think of working in oil-on-canvas, etchings, and lithographs, as well as ceramics and carpets) was enticed to prepare this powerful image for what I’m guessing may have been the fastest route for travel from London to Scotland. It would be interesting to do a forensic analysis of Brangwyn’s poster, which is rich with imagery that references multiple aspects of British history, well beyond a “simple” message to “take the train to Scotland”.

But Brangwyn was not the most prolific contributor to the genre of advertising art. Another popular graphic artist was Fred Taylor, “whose work … features block colours, thick black lines and a strong focus on shadow and light.” For a selection of his work, visit this Pinterest page.

Consider also A. M. Cassandre’s Jazz-era advert for Dubonnet, a French aperitif. Any of these three components might stand alone, but together they make a three-second movie suggesting the effect Dubonnet will have on your body, not to mention your outlook.

Cassandre was the pseudonym of Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, born in Ukraine of French parents and a prolific designer of advertising pieces such as this.

Another graphic-in-motion is the opening credits of Otto Preminger’s 1965 film “Bunny Lake is Missing” by graphic designer Saul Bass. This is still one of my all-time favorite films and I think part of its success for me is the integration of this wonderful introduction, pairing the graphics of Bass and the musical score of Paul Glass. [A remarkable rhyming pair, don’t you think?]

Agincourt only succeeds to the extant that others come to play in the sandbox of history.

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” —Joe Sparano

¹ Indeed, from where I was standing, I’d never experienced a response so underwhelming. Very discouraging—but not enough to stop me.


Protected: HFRN Conference Paper: Part One

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Protected: HFRN Conference Paper: Part Two

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Protected: HFRN Conference Paper: Part Three

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