[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
LANG, S. [active 1920s]
color woodcut / 9 3/4 inches by 7 inches
The influence of Japanese ukiyo-e or “floating world” woodcut technique spread to Europe, the British Isles, and North America reasonably soon after the country’s opening in 1853. Printed images themselves became trade goods and eventually Japanese artists travelled outside their formerly sequestered nation. We are privileged to own prints by Yoshijiro Urushibara, who collaborated with Frank Brangwyn and John Edgar Platt who also profited from that exposure. The West Coast of the U. S., of course, was in a much more direct path of influence. Yet it was British artist Frank Morley Fletcher who brought the style to Santa Barbara, California.
In 1924 Fletcher became director of the Santa Barbara School of the Arts and remained there until 1930. He then moved to Los Angeles and remained active until his death in 1949. Our print “Crater Lake”, identified only by the date 1929 and the name S. Lang, was ostensibly created at the Santa Barbara studio of one S. Lang, where he or she was likely a student of Fletcher. On-line resources and even ancestry.com have failed to reveal any other information on the life and career of Lang.
Mysteries like this are soluble. Yet there still remains the intriguing question of why the Community Collection boasts so many works directly and otherwise connected with Japan.
“Landscapes & Livestock”
An Abbreviated History of the Community Collection
by Ellen Weise, PhD
[a work in progress]
More than once — what I mean to say is, more often than not — the on-line auction site that dare not speak its name has come to Agincourt’s aid: there is an astonishing variety of art there, and many of those pieces have suggested their own involvement with the Agincourt story; that is, they have told me why they want to be here.
It’s the nature of the Agincourt Project that the membrane between place-making and story-telling is both thin and porous in each direction; for me, at least, one has the ability to trigger the other. So while I’m browsing images on-line or scanning the offerings at auction sites, the gears engage, wheels turn, and I see the trajectory of a story — not the story; simply a story — inherent in the object that overfills my mind’s eye at that moment. It may be the seed of a story was quietly waiting a visual form, or just as likely that the image wants to speak and I have but to listen — though listening is an art I have yet to master.
Can it be that there are already one hundred and ninety blog entries in the “Landscapes & Livestock” category? I’m shocked! Because that means there are at least that number of works in the Community Collection, and when the project is complete I’ll have no place to store them. It also complicates finding an introductory example of how the process works. Scanning their titles, I wonder if Jerome Atherholt’s painting “Mrs Schoenfeld’s Cat” could be a way in.
Agnes Schoenfeld had become part of the story in another context: a story of journalist Howard Tabor’s exploratory walk through the city in 2006, the walk that resulted in the first of his Sesqui-centennial Series articles. Agnes Schoenfeld owned a cat named Clara, who became that character.
Clara made a habit of appearing from nowhere at just the right moment to avert disaster: darting from beneath a hedge, for instance, at the exact moment someone distracted by her sudden appearance hesitated stepping into the path of an absent-minded motorist. Of course neither Mrs Schoenfeld nor Clara’s benefactors were any the wiser for their good fortune. Fate often works that way.
Howard’s story predated the encounter with this painting by at least a few years. But Clara (named for my grandmother, if you must know) needed another opportunity to appear in the evolving narrative. Then, one day while reviewing some art images, I happened upon this intriguing work by Maryland artist Jerome Atherholt (who either did not receive my emails of inquiry or chose not to reply). All that action in the painting’s front picture plane might distract you from seeing the cat at the stair landing on the far right. Mr Atherholt may not have known that animal personally, but I knew in an instant it was Clara and that she had stopped half-way down the stairs to watch the faeries in the darkened room below. You and I can’t see them, of course, but animals sensitive to the spirit world know them well. Clara hasn’t simply paused on her way down; she’s watching them intently. Atherholt’s painting, by the way, did not have a title when I acquired it, but Clara solved that necessity.
This is an example of character finding form.
A WORD ABOUT ART ENTRIES. Blog entries for art usually treat a single work, and its information evolved a characteristic form: 1) ARTIST, last name first, and dates, if known; some artists are fictional; 2) TITLE OF WORK, in quotation marks if known,otherwise without quotes if provided by me; 3) DATE, as specific as possible; 4) MEDIUM and SIZE, height preceding width, in inches.
The narrative which follows is a blend of truth and fiction; we’re leaving any conclusions to you. Artist bio is reasonably accurate and drawn from galleries and other on-line sources — except, of course, for those handful of artists who are also fictional. The PROVENANCE, however (the story of how the work came to become part of the collection) is entirely fiction. But those associations often reinforce a story line, add intent to the acquisition, and generally contribute texture.
Now let me offer its opposite, a form finding its character.
Occasionally the challenge has been incorporating a piece that registered fairly high on the weird-o-meter, such as this unidentified, untitled painting of a ritual that is hard to comprehend, let alone explain. There is something creepy going on here and, frankly, I like it. Most of the characters are dressed like Pilgrims, but I’m hard-pressed to imagine a group of our Founding Fathers carting a cadaver around by moonlight. The resulting story ignited a host of interrelated characters:
- The ritual-in-progress seemed more like a play than real life. Why not relate it to the 250th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693.
- But a theatrical treatment of that blotch on American history would make a great deal more sense if related to current events. Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” was a metaphor for the Army-McCarthy hearings of the 1950. Why not another?
- Agincourt already had a character with multiple axes to grind, a Leftist labor leader from the 1920s named E. G. Fromm (that’s Evelyn Grandbois) and her son by an unspecified father, Abel Kane. Could she have begun to write a play linking the present and past?
- Let’s allow this painting to be a sketch for the conclusion of Act 1 of Fromm’s “Night Court“, a work she never finished due to illness. But which the founder of Agincourt’s community theatre Seamus Tierney had hoped to complete and produce toward the end of the 1950s. E. G. Fromm is based on no one in particular, but Tierney is a thinly veiled reference to our friend James O’Rourke, who would have signed on to all this in a minute.
This beautiful painting, probably a sketch for a larger more detailed work, was simply too fine to pass up. It also arrived with title: “Diana at Work“. Artist Seymour Remenick had studied at two schools before his arrival at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and he might have painted this undated work at any one of them; I’ve arbitrarily dated it in the 1950s. We can assume that Diana knew him as either a student or fellow artist.
[Incidentally, the PAFA plays a disproportionate part in the Community Collection. I can’t say why; it just does.]
Since Remenick [a real person, by the way] would have had no direct connection with Iowa, it was reasonable to assume Diana was the link; that this was a painting of her as a student; and that she was the connection to Agincourt. Balancing the various races and ethnicities of Greater Agincourt has concerned me (as a White man of Northern European origin), so I have often taken the opportunity to broaden that mix. The Village of Grou, eight miles or so northeast of Agincourt, was a hamlet settled by the Dutch [precedent having already been established at other points in Iowa] and it seemed reasonable to link her with that community.
Surnames are always interesting, often referencing geographic origins or occupations. “Baker” is obvious, while “Cooper” only suggests that one of your ancestors made barrels. Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch physicist, mathematician, and inventor in his own right, came to mind, so Diana Huygens she would be, and a little more investigation of given names gave her parents the very Dutch identities of Gerrit and Truus. OK, OK, those familiar with Dutch Modernism may recognize those as having been appropriated from architect-furniture maker Gerrit Rietveld and his client Truus Schröder-Schräder.
All of this opens several interesting avenues for embellishing the story: Who were the Huygens family and how was their daughter enabled to study art at such a prestigious academy? How would a female art graduate in the late ’50s and early ’60s have made her way in the world. And, frankly, what was the state of art education as traditional ways and wherefores made space for a more modern approach to art education and art itself. So, in this case, a work of art yielded a character and she has yet to find a well-defined place in the Agincourt firmament.
A great many works have come to the collection in ways that need little justification: gifts for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries; purchases during travel; in at least one case, an exchange of art between artist-friends. And, one imagines, there are at lest as many reasons for their donation: vanity and ego; several are memorials; and probably more than a few came from inheritance (just because my parents liked this piece of shit doesn’t mean I have to live with it!). Tastes change but that doesn’t necessarily mean the art is inferior. “Taste” varies and shifts from generation to generation.
At age seventy-four, it may be optimistic to have long-term goals. But if I’m allowed that luxury, one of mine is a comprehensive catalogue of the Community Collection for my own vanity, if nothing else. After all, these have been collected by me, rather than through the fiction outlined in Ellen Weise’s history Landscapes & Livestock: a brief history of the Community Collection.
“If we cannot tell a story about what happened to us, nothing has happened to us.”
When does a bunch of something become a collection? That word “collection” is loaded, more particular than most of us would recognize. As a kid, I had a stamp collection or at least I tried to, probably because someone gave me a three-ring binder meant for that purpose. But philatelists are born, not made, and I was destined to account myself in other ways. Likewise for numismatics; at least a large quantity of coins passed quickly through my fingers each day I worked at my dad’s gas station.
Long before self-service, gas stations actually provided service, I pumped gas — it wasn’t even legal for customers to pump their own — washed windshields, checked oil, likewise water in both radiators and batteries, sometimes brake fluid, and now and then the air pressure in tires.
Making change with one of these [eBay calls it a “change dispenser”] was easier than sorting through fistfuls of coin from my right-front pocket, not to mention saving the pocket itself from inevitable rupture. In spare moments, I’d sort through stacks of dimes, mostly, because Roosevelt dimes were still in circulation. Even the occasional silver dollar passed through my hands, and because of their infrequency found a place in another pocket, traded out at the end of “my shift” for a dollar bill. Dad did much the same thing; I may have been aping his pattern. By summer’s end I had a coffee can filled with pre-1965 coins that were ninety percent silver. Nineteen sixty-five was the year laminated coins replaced those with a noticeably higher silver content. But those coins weren’t so much collected as they were accumulated. Dates and mint marks interested me much later.
Stamps, coins, rocks (i.e., “mineral specimens”), bugs (beetles, butterflies, etc.), model cars, and even bottle caps and beer cans were standard collectibles for the pre-teen set. I wonder how many of those made the transition from ‘teen years into adulthood. Not many, I suspect. Adult tastes (and budgets) can open a wider world of collecting, but some of those childhood fascinations survived in attics, basements, and garages, only to be revived out of a sense of nostalgia and reacquaintance with ill-spent youth. I think about a different sort of collection tonight, the Agincourt “Community Collection” housed at the former public library. How does collecting become a community-wide enthusiasm?
The Community Collection is currently one hundred and seven years old. Somehow its centenary celebration passed without much fanfare. But it’s never too late for reflection. Indeed, the Agincourt Project’s ground rules enable us to fix that. What can we say, do you suppose, about a collection of art often characterized as “Landscapes and Livestock”?
Its “smoking gun”, the single person whose pioneering though unintentional efforts laid the collection’s foundation, was unlikely to have proposed something so audacious: Amity Burroughs Flynn, widow of Agincourt’s thirteenth, half-term mayor Edmund FitzGerald Flynn. Some years after Ed’s sudden (and not universally mourned) death in 1895, Amity organized a modest exhibit in the G.A.R. Hall at the courthouse, borrowing with both grace and her special endearing brand of harassment a dozen or so small works of art from personal and business collections community-wide. So successful was the show and the social events coordinated with it that she repeated the event two years later and annually thereafter. So from 1914 to the present (and from 1915 in the purpose-built Tennant Memorial Gallery in the old APL) Amity’s celebration of art in an unprepossessing Midwestern town had become an annual community event.
The exhibit’s purpose — assessing and hopefully elevating what passes for art in these parts — began simply enough as a cross section of our “taste” and morphed almost imperceptibly from a mere display to an actual collection; that is, from personal to public. The organizing committee, still chaired by Mrs Flynn, separated many of the first works displayed from their owners through her signature blend of flattery and coercion. Since then it has grown by an average of three pieces every two years, but grown in multiple ways. And therein may lie its genius.
There are two components of this story. The first — THRIFT, GIFT & SIFT — is the history of the Community Collection itself, written by its current Keeper, Dr Ellen Weise, a faculty member at NIN. The second is my own perspective on how each addition to the Collection has furthered the larger project narrative. The first will take a while; the second has already been done piecemeal and simply needs to be gathered.
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
YOKOI Tomoe [born 1942/3]
“Carrot and Lemon”
mezzotint / 10.25 inches by 14.375 inches (image)
Yokoi was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1942 or 1943. She moved to Paris in 1964 where she perfected the mezzotint printing technique. In 1971 Yokoi moved to New York City where her work gained a new audience. Yokoi’s work has been exhibited internationally and is included in the collections of the Musee d’Art Moderne and Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Brooklyn Museum and the Free Library of Philadelphia.
This remarkable mezzotint — one of the most challenging of print types — was acquired from a New York City gallery no longer in business and once hung on the walls of The Periodic Table, a restaurant in Agincourt, Iowa. It was given to the Community Collection by Rosemary Plička and Brad Nowatski to honor her gastronomic mentor Harumi Fleischmann.
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
EKHOLM [given name and dates unknown]
Bål / Bonfire
oil on canvas / 16 inches by 22 inches
Images of landscape are never without meaning. Whether photographed, sketched, or painted, the very choice of which landscape to record is infused with being in the moment, a phrase borrowed from contemporary pop psychology. Witness the painting we have titled “Bonfire”, wherein the human presence suggests an activity that borders on ritual — a ritual we may never understand.
One thing is known about “Bål” (Danish for bonfire) because there is a famous Danish poem written in pencil on its paper backing: “Flyv, fugl! Flyv” (“over Furesøens vove!” as the first line continues). Its author was Danish lyric poet Christian Winther; written in 1828 and set to music ten years later by J. P. E. Hartmann. What the artist Ekholm, the image of a bonfire, and Winther’s poem have in common is just one of the several mysteries that season the Community Collection.