[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
JACQUIER, Marcel-J.-L. (1877-1957)
“Voiles Rouge” / Red Sails
oil on board / 13.2 inches by 10 inches
Through the occasional wonders of the internet, our acquisition of Marcel Jacquier’s folio of WWI images Somewhere in France came to the attention of the artist’s granddaughter Mlle Azilis Roparz. Impressed with the obtuse connection between our two countries represented by her grandfather’s work, she gifted the collection this painting of about 1940, perhaps earlier.
Though he was born in Paris, Jacquier became a member of the Breton School of painting (in that rural part of western France called Finisterre or Land’s End) and used several picturesque coastal settings as his subjects. Here the title refers to the red-sailed boats in the tidal river estuary.
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
JACQUIER, Marcel-J.-L. (1877–1957)
“Somewhere in France”
folio / limited edition collection of ten woodcuts / Paris: Edmond Sagot, 1918
#385/500 / 17.3 inches by 12.5 inches
Published in Paris in 1918 (presumably coincident with the end of World War I), Marcel Jacquier created a suite of ten colored woodblock prints of American soldiers and sailors in France. Similar in style to the illustrations of Sir William Nicholson or the Beggarstaff Brothers (a collaboration of Nicholson and his brother-in-law William Pryde), the prints rely on heavy black lines defining areas of soft, almost watercolored pastel shades.
Though educated in Paris, Jacquier appears to have been a Breton artist; many of his subjects were located there. ”
A student of Luc-Olivier Merson, trained at the Beaux-Arts in Nantes and then at the Académie Julian in Paris, he was a member of the French Artists from 1909 and appeared at the Salon of the same Society. He was also decorator for the pavilion of Brittany at the Universal Exhibition of 1937.
Both before and after the war, he also illustrated posters and other advertising, such as the 1911 poster below.
Our copy of the Jacquier folio was purchased in Paris by Agincourt native Michael Schütz, an American doughboy who remained in France after his service long enough to establish contact with Rev Gaston Cornot, priest at the church of Saint Ahab in Azincourt. The folio had been in possession of the Schütz family until it was gifted to the Community Collection, honoring the several local men and women who enlisted in the war effort.
I’m an idiot. Which is to say, I often do not see the forest for the trees.
The ongoing search for “Agincourt” images yielded this beauty, a Sunday school “Rally Day” parade in Davenport, Iowa. All my attention was focussed on how I could photoshop “Davenport” into “Agincourt”. Same number of letters and the last two are the same (“rt”). Should be relatively easy for someone skilled in PhotoShop—which I am not.
Staring at the image (which is more than a little faded), I finally zeroed in on the store fronts and signage. Damned if the first of them Isn’t “THE BEE HIVE”, which is often the name of a department store. And that’s why I’m an idiot.
One of Marcel Breuer’s lesser known buildings is the De Bijenkorf Department Store in Rotterdam. De Bijenkorf is the Nordstrom’s of the Netherlands, though that may be an insult to the Dutch. I saw it briefly, as I passed through Rotterdam on the way to see a Rob van ‘tHoff house in a small upscale village called Huis ter Heide—which, not incidentally, I could not pronounce sufficiently well to alert the bus driver that’s where I wanted to go. Flash forward to one of our AFS exchange students, Tjipke Okkema, a young man from the Netherlands. One day I asked him about De Bijenkorf (a branch of which you will find in every major Dutch city) and whether it was a family name (like Nordstrom) or something else. He looked at me oddly and informed me “de bijenkorf” means “the bee hive”. Duh!
Suddenly the Breuer building made perfect sense, when I recalled that he’d veneered the exterior with hexagonal panels of limestone.
I’m an idiot.
Coincidentally, Agincourt has a small-town department store with exactly that name, founded around the turn of the century by Dutch emigrants to that part of Iowa. So, this very expensive eBay postcard from Davenport could serve double duty: emblematic of a street festival and Agincourt’s own home-grown department store.
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
SINCLAIR, Folke (1877–1956)
“Trädgrupp” / Group of Trees
oil on canvas / 12 inches by 11 inches
The collection is fortunate, indeed, to have acquired a second painting by Swedish artist Berndt Folke Sinclair. “Trädgrupp” (which we translate as “Group of Trees” or “Copse”) is another pastoral vignette of the Swedish countryside. His composition and low key palette are similar to British rail travel posters of the late ’20s.
Sinclair is a well listed artist, though not well known outside his native Sweden, whose work is represented in museums at Helsingborg, Kristianstad, Malmö and Tomelilla.
Jewish immigration to the U.S. occurred in three stages: Sephardic Jews from Iberia and Brazil during the Colonial and Federal periods; German Jews during the 1840s; and Eastern European Jews between about 1880 and the First World War. Each group brought with it specific attitudes about the emerging divisions within the faith and the role of temple in civic life. None of the sources I found said very much, if anything, about emigration from places like France or Britain. So I’m relatively comfortable taking some latitude considering emigration outside those general parameters.
The discovery of the M. Zilbermann auto agency (in New Orleans) and his identity as Michel Zilbermann opened the door for consideration of emigration from France and the possibility that a major cultural event like the Dreyfus Affair could have stimulated it. Zilbermann arrived in Louisiana in 1904, uncannily close to the dates of the Dreyfus case and its eventual resolution by 1906—which divided French culture and exacerbated a streak of antisemitism that has resisted extinction.
Michel Zilbermann was a child of Leon and Doris Zilbermann, born at Paris, France on 04 March 1877, so his arrival at the Port of New York in September 1903 makes him twenty-six. He must have settled in New Orleans soon after, because he married Rachel Pailet there in the spring of 1904; their son Rene was born in ’05. Two sons were born at New Orleans: Rene in 1905 and Leon in 1922. But there is also evidence of an extended family into the third generation and their distribution across the United States. One wonders: 1) what was the motivation for emigration? and 2) what was the family’s status in France, i.e., what resources could they have brought with them for a new start in the U.S.? The sophistication of the auto agency in Louisiana speaks well for their achievement.
Don’t broach the subject of “End Times” with someone approaching their seventy-fifth birthday. It’s already in the forefront of our thinking.
We can trace the current fascination with End times theology back to the Holy Spirit’s movement across the land during the 1920s—the phenomenon that brought us the Scopes “Monkey Trial”, a.k.a., the source for the powerful drama you’ll recognize as “Inherit the Wind”. So it is safe to believe there would have been some evidence of this in small-town Iowa.
I’ve already written a blog entry titled “Slain in the Spirit“, laying the groundwork for the appearance of a revivalist’s tent or rude frame tabernacle on some open site outside town. Now that religious conservatives are claiming the Trump Administration’s recognition of Israel’s occupation, nay annexation, of the Golan Heights as an important step toward the Rapture, guess I have to revisit the topic.
As eBay for postcards under the search term “tabernacle” and a bazillion images of the Mormon Tabernacle in SLC will appear. And while I admire that building for its acoustics and innovative wood-laminate construction, it’s a far cry from the sort of facilities Agincourt would have seen. Buildings like this tabernacle from Knoxville, Iowa is typical. In some cases it is difficult to say whether these were purpose-built or adaptations of earlier structures, farm buildings, for example.
In some venues, revivalists might have rented facilities at the county fairgrounds. I’m imagining the adaptive use of a farm building on the south side of Crispin Creek (which itself had been the scene of revivals and full-immersion baptism. But the whole issue becomes embroiled in terminology: What (the hell), for example, is dispensational premillennialism? You’d be amazed how concepts like this, all of them drawn from close readings of the Old and New Testaments, can set evangelicals on one another and, especially, pentecostals. Puts my head in a spin.
Notice in the morning mail of a new book—Impostors: Literary Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity by Christopher Miller—got my attention and struck a chord, or at least the title did. Literature lends itself to hoaxurie, as does art, far more than architecture, though architectural forgery isn’t beyond possibility. But first things first.
There have certainly been far more literary fabrications than I am aware. Howard Hughes’s “diary”, for example, or the counterfeit poem by Emily Dickinson that put its actual author Mark Hofmann behind bars for decades—not for his audacity in simulating the signature literary style of a renowned and reclusive author which itself wasn’t a crime), but for attempted murder to conceal his unraveling spree of literary crime. Arguments surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays will smolder well beyond my own life, and then, of course, there are those who speculate on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Hoaxes like these and other sorts can be driven by financial gain or the simple pleasures of putting one over on academics and literati.
“A RIDDLE, WRAPPED IN A MYSTERY, WRAPPED IN BACON”
Among my favorite literary hoaxes is one by self-confessed forger Paul LaFarge, who wrote (among other wondrous works) The Facts of Winter — which title, by the way, is based on a French homonym, “les faits de l’hiver”, there being two other phrases with different spelling and totally different meaning but which sound identical. Apparently the French language is rich with this sort of thing. The LaFarge book is, ostensibly, his translation of the work of a 19th century French author who has himself transcribed the dreams of several others—except, the dreamers and their dreams are fake, as is their transcription.
I’ve already used two words somewhat interchangeably here, hoax and forgery, but only one of them has legal implications. A “hoax” falls in the same bin as conspiracy theory—like a second gunman in Dallas or disgusting suggestions concerning Sandy Hook—disreputable, yes, but only illegal when used for some nefarious purpose beyond the questionable enjoyment of mere controversy. Some of us need to have such nonsense swirling about us.
“Forgery”, on the other hand, connotes the creation of value where there was none, and that value maybe financial or simply reputational. The academic, say, who discovers a previously unpublished Shakespeare sonnet has nothing to “sell” except appearance on the Chicken Salad Circuit, enhancing reputation and possibly cementing a promotion. [Ask me about that some time.] If true, it is of inestimable cultural value, but little monetary. Mark Hofmann, on the other hand, sold his fake Dickinson poem for a bundle of cash.
Were someone to pen a study of architectural hoaxes, what would its table of contents include—or exclude, for that matter? Are there even enough examples to warrant more than a few paragraphs in an obscure mimeographed, stapled, and three-ring-bound newsletter of limited circulation? In one category, there are the faint hopes for finding a lost, misidentified, or previously unknown design by the phenomenally productive Frank Lloyd Wright, author of hundreds of projects in a seventy-plus-year career. Yet they do appear, even if with exceptional rarity.
Several years ago a young scholar of the great H. H. Richardson identified a commercial building in central Boston as his design. Early works of LeCorbusier are now included in lists of his projects; not lost or forgotten, but simply overlooked, “inconvenient” in the canon of Early Modernism. Early works by Frank Lloyd Wright, on the other hand, projects that date from his contractual terms of employment with Adler& Sullivan, were suppressed by the young architect himself as violations of that agreement; so suppressed that even Wright himself had lost track of them. Preparation for the project list in In the Nature of Materials by Henry-Russell Hitchcock (1942) illustrates Wright’s own faulty recollection. William Allin Storrer has not only “corrected” the list, but also added several works which had slipped Wright’s memory altogether. Enlargement of even this expanded list has become a cottage industry among Wright scholars and oficionados.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh is yet another Early Modern being revisited in recent years, which involves speculation about projects from his apprenticeship and early partnership, but also late works from the final years of a practice dissolved into (again) orthodox Modernism—thanks largely to the writing of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner—where Mackintosh’s reliance upon ornament and the quainter aspects of the Arts & Crafts made him an inconvenient figure, worthwhile only as an interruption in the flow of historicism, a necessary belch at the end of an overly rich meal. Perhaps that is the value of revisionist history: the opportunity to fill gaps, patch ellipses, and balance the conventional, overly convenient narrative of orthodoxy.
Discovering a new Nicholas Hawksmoor Church is unlikely, whereas the re-attribution of one previously linked to another architect would make ripples, if not actual waves. A Louis Sullivan bank on the other hand is highly unlikely to have avoided notice: his practice was public; his ornament so particular that its manufacture would be a matter of corporate record and its presence on Main Street hard to ignore. A preliminary drawing, however, for an unbuilt commission would be a major discovery, and its sale at auction a matter of note in the architectural and art historical press. Frankly, I’d like to meet someone capable of forging a Louis Sullivan drawing. Hell, I’d like to be that person.
Our former department chair Cecil Elliott laughed at accusations a student had plagiarized the design of another; architecture was, in Cecil’s mind, a mode of expression not only based but dependent upon imitation. Philip Johnson would be unknown were it not for his uncanny ability to remake the efforts of others his own. Johnson was forever (in Elliott’s estimation) running after the stylistic train as it departed the station, shouting “Wait, I’m your leader!” Do you suppose the friendly feud between Johnson and Wright—a veritable love fest—might have grown from the younger Johnson’s envy that Wright was so highly capable of digesting precedent and making it his own. [Sorry for the “poop” analogy.] But back to Christopher Miller’s new book.
Agincourt is the essence of imposture. An invitation to openly engage the work of another or of a whole movement and be subsumed. Subsumption—is that even a word—is more often required for religious conversion. But I’m not going there.