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Monthly Archives: April 2019

Honorary Citizenship

It may not mean much, but Agincourt is about to bestow honorary citizenship on several people who’ve been instrumental carrying the project forward. But not until we’ve crafted a suitable certificate. What will it get me, you ask. Well, beyond that rosy glow of satisfaction, how about free pie and covfefe at Adams’ Restaurant?

Van Jones [dates unknown]

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

JONES, Van [dates unknown]

Portrait of William Bendix

ca1945-1950

oil on board / 23 inches by 19.2 inches

It is surprising when portraits leave a family’s possession and find their way to strangers through estate auctions or garage sales. An anonymous donor noticed this fine portrait at an antique dealer in Omaha and recognized the subject as former Agincourt resident William Bendix (1905-1984), developer of Riverside Addition and builder of what is arguably Agincourt’s first mid-century modern home. Bendix owned the Chevrolet dealership, which may be where the portrait hung and also account for it going astray.

William and Maureen Bendix had one child, a daughter Estelle. About the artist Van Jones we know little, except he was British, active post-1927, and produced both fine and graphic art — a distinction we are loathe to make..

Rachael Robinson Elmer (1878-1919)

This is the centennial year of the death of Rachael Robinson Elmer. It will probably pass unnoticed. But not by me.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the Loop. Downtown Chicago was my playground, though you probably won’t understand my definition of “play”. At the age of twelve or fourteen I hung out at Flax Art Materials and a record store whose name I can’t recall, both of them on South Wabash. Also on Wabash, under the latticed shadow of the “L”, but a couple blocks north of Flax was Kroch’s & Brentano’s bookstore and its art-and-architecture mezzanine, the domain of Henry Tabor. You could find me somewhere along that stretch of Wabash on any given Saturday.

Don’t ask me precisely where it was in that neighborhood but somewhere along the “L” I recall signage for the P. F. Volland Printing Co., on a second or third floor, clearly visible from the windows of the passing train I had ridden from 63rd and Loomis. It meant nothing to me at the time — a teenager has very few commercial printing needs — but today it has taken on new meaning and, not incidentally, confirmed my suspicion that “six degrees of separation” is pessimistic.

Pessimistic because, unknown to me, the Volland Co. had produced a remarkable series of postcards in its earliest years, icons of the Arts & Crafts era and highly collectible today. And I know this now because of Rachael Robinson Elmer, one of Volland’s artists then.

Rachael Robinson Elmer was born in Vermont to artistic parents. Her father was an illustrator; her mother a painter.  Rachael began her art education at the age of twelve, eventually studying in New York City with the likes of Childe Hassam (a name I do recognize). Some time in 1914 she met Paul Volland and established a business relationship with his company. The first of her cards reached the market in early 1915 and immediately found an audience as the “Art-Lovers’ Postcard Series”.

Rachael wasn’t the only artist in Volland’s employ. Maginel Wright Enright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s sister, designed for Volland. Marion Mahony Griffin is reported to, as well. I wonder if Margaret Iannelli did, too. Volland had good taste.

You may not find the 1919 date troubling; I do, because that it was the winter of 1918-1919 that the Influenza pandemic took tens of thousands of American lives; millions worldwide. Rachael Elmer was among them, passing on February 12th.

Do you suppose she’ll mind if we appropriate some of them for the Agincourt Project?

 

Lake Life

A great number of things fascinate me. But concerning real-photo postcards, there are just two: the images that some people will take, and the finished product that some other people will purchase. Perhaps the photographer in this case was intrigued by the mystery of this one-point perspective, a dirt road disappearing into the distance, revealing nothing of its destination. We must travel the road to learn its secret.

Agincourt’s hinterland is rich with roads like this, and I suspect you’ll find recreation at its end, possibly one of the resorts on the eastern and southern shores of Sturm und Drang. Happily I’ve gathered several RPPCs of the cabins and cottages just as likely to be your reward.

Either of these work for me: not so much cottages or cabins (the former has the notion of quaintness within it), these seem little more than shacks, but I wouldn’t mind at all spending a week reading and writing, with occasional glances across the water, catching the flit of a dragonfly or the fish that broke the surface to feast on it. The sound of owls, busy at night, or the smack of a beaver’s tail warning the kits that a fox is afoot.

 

Purge

Just checking the stats this morning and discovered several visitors to Agincourt from seven countries outside the U.S., which is interesting. I can suspect who some of you are, but others are an ongoing mystery. This encouraged me to take a look at “followers”, which is another story altogether.

There were sixteen so-called followers, three of whom are ladies with large accoutrements, one of them offering brides anxious to emigrate from what I presume to be the Eastern Block. If I have purged them in error, I apologize.

Elsa Björkman-Goldschmidt [1888-1982]

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

BJÖRKMAN-GOLDSCHMIDT, Elsa [1888-1982]

“Vinter” / “Winter”

1922 (1916)

lithographic reprint of woodcut /

This modest print is one about which we know more about the artist than the work itself. The original was printed in 1916 in an unknown edition. Copies of the original are included in the collections of the British Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland. In 1922 it was reproduced as a print, possibly in book or periodical form such as The International Studio. Our copy is in that format and is on long term loan from Temple Emanu-El synagogue.

About the artist herself, however, there is considerable information. Her entry in Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikonintroduces a massive biographical summary of her long and dramatic life:

Elsa Björkman-Goldschmidt was an author, journalist and visual artist who was associated with the liberal left women’s movement. She also undertook comprehensive humanitarian work on behalf of prisoners of war, children, and refugees during and after both World Wars, largely as the local representative of Rädda Barnen in Vienna.

As the citizen of a neutral country during the Second World War, Mrs Björkman-Goldschmidt was able to accomplish considerable humanitarian work, despite her status as a Jew.

Photograph of Else Andrea Elisabeth Björkman-Goldschmidt [1888-1982]

Micah Schwaberow [born 1948]

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

SCHWABEROW, Micah [born 1948; American]

“Night Bridges 1”

color woodcut / 6 inches by 4 inches (image) / #45 of 68

1988

Contemporary artist Micah Schwaberow has found a special place among the print media in the collection. It joins several other prints done in the ukiyo-e or “floating world” style of Japan, a cluster which includes native Japanese artists, as well as British and Americans strongly influenced by the distinctive style. “Night Bridges 1” is a small format print which rewards multiple encounters.

Pictor Ignotus [early 20th century]

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

DONAT [early 20th century]

“Le Canal” / The Canal

circa 1920

color woodcut on paper / 9.75 inches by 12 inches

Many have speculated on the pencilled name of the artist on this serene but severely abused woodcut. The consensus is “Donat”, but that has not helped. The title is clear, however — “Le Canal” — and the subject is likely one of the many rural canals in France, possibly the Canal du Midi, which connects the Mediterranean with the Garonne River at Toulouse and then on to the Bay of Biscay.

This print is currently not on display due to the foxing and light soiling around the edge of the image. It awaits conservation.

The Ways of the Web

“Profile Portrait of a Woman in Black” by Marion Louise Pooke-Duits / oil on canvas / 20 inches by 16 inches

“Profile Portrait of a Woman in Black” by Marion Louise Pooke-Duits

There is something enchanting about this portrait, an unnamed woman painted by Marion Pooke [1883-1975].

In the course of learning about Pooke, I discovered that she was born at Natick, Massachusetts in 1875, was educated in the U.S., but relocated to France. Apparently she spent most of her artistically productive life in Paris and died there in 1975. Most of her work represented on the web consists of portraits (of the Arts & Crafts-era style that I like so very much), but the few that are available (besides this one at the on-line auction site that shall not be named) are from a single source. Remarkably, this was purchased at auction a short time ago for a reasonable price and then multiplied by three for resale. Waaay outside my budget.

The “Profile Portrait of a Woman in Black” would have made a wonderful addition to Agincourt’s cast of characters. Just imagine the story she could tell.

The Life of Riley

Physiognomy requires a forensic eye or that of an artist. I have neither. So the Community Collection’s most recent addition — a portrait of some distinction, in my view — struck a chord that resonates still in my imagination.

Portraits, by their very nature, are commissioned by or for those among us who wield more than what might be thought their fair share of power. Nice alliteration, don’t you think? The consensus (admittedly from a small sampling) seems to be that the painting dates from the mid-1960s, though just as admittedly that judgment depends on the shirt, tie, and pocket square; the suit is lost in the background. And then there is the age of the subject, who might be in his fifties. The math then says he was born circa 1913-1917. About the age of my dad. This guy is beginning to look a lot more familiar.

All of this brings us to his identity, and that depends in my mind on the character of his face. Our subject could be anyone in Agincourt, from a grade school custodian, insurance salesman, banker, mechanic, or ophthalmologist. Were this simply a case of “pin the tail on the portrait”, one occupation would be as good as another. But as you know, there are stray threads in the story line seeking resolution. And so he has become William Tyson Bendix, a name that has been kicking around four or five years as the builder of Agincourt’s earliest mid-century modern home.

One of the student projects from a few years ago was done by Gabriela Bierle. Gaby was interested in mid-century design, but spun the project toward the work of E. Fay Jones, a disciple of late Frank Lloyd Wright and designer of large homes in Arkansas. Her interpretation of Jones’s design idiom was spot on, but I don’t have a copy of her design; just my failing memory. So I may have to intercede and give Bill and Maureen Bendix my own understanding of MCM design.

Don’t ask me how the name came to mind. It just did. But in hindsight, I know the source was a TV show from my youth: “The Life of Riley“, a radio program that migrated to TV and ran from 1949 (we got our first set in 1953) until 1958. The title role of Chester A. Riley, a wing riveter at an airplane manufacturing plant in California, was played by a raspy William Bendix. The feckless Riley was unlikely to have commissioned a portrait, so Agincourt’s William Bendix will play another role, yet to be determined. Suggestions, anyone?

The sixteen lots in Riverside Addition can be seen along the banks of the Muskrat, running from the alley just north of the Avenue as far north as Ralph Avenue. Fennimore Avenue splits the addition in half, eight lots to the north, eight to the south.

I’m asking for your help prematurely; there are complicating factors. Bendix, for example, built his MCM home in Riverside Addition, Agincourt’s first subdivision, on a thin strip of land between the west edge of the original town site and the Muskrat River. Much of that land had been occupied by a failed apple orchard, taken by blight and thereby opened for redevelopment. The Bendix family built on the southernmost lot, just north of the tourist court operated by Forrest Culp and his daughter Myra. Lots in Riverside Addition weren’t selling especially well, so Bendix put his own reputation on the line by building there himself. Flood waters be damned.

At least now we know what he looked like.