[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
YOSHIDA Hiroshi / 吉田 博 (1876–1950)
“Himeji Castle” from the Enthronement Edition of the Commercial Advertiser
color woodcut / 14.5 inches by 9.5 inches / unnumbered edition
Yoshida was a member of a multi-generational family renowned for their woodcut prints, many of them in the shin-hanga style. For the “Enthronement Edition” celebrating coronation of Emperor Hirohito, Yoshida produced a subtly-shaded woodcut view of Himeji Castle, one of Japan’s best preserved castles from the time of the shoguns. The print is tipped into the volume, published in English with detailed description of the elaborate ceremony itself, but also a vast amount of information on court life. The festivities lasted sixteen days in both Tokyo and Kyoto. Our copy of the entire volume comes courtesy of the Tabor family.
By a happy coincidence, Methodist missionary William Malcolm (“Uncle Malcolm”) was passing through Tokyo on the way to his mission at Chefoo, China. He delayed departure in order to observe a rare cultural event, unlikely to occur more than once or twice in a century.
Howard’s great aunt Phyllis Tabor died not long ago, upwards of ninety-six years old. Alert and sassy as ever during her last months, Phyl provided some family history for the book Howard has been writing. Though technically she’s a Tabor and not a Tennant, Howie is being fairly catholic about this because, frankly, the in-laws are often more fun that the others.
I was glancing through some old blog entries and found Phyllis’s story about her twin sister Ella Rose, who disappeared in China during the revolution and Chairman Mao’s “Long March”. And though that story needed a bit more fleshing out.
Phyllis made a fleeting reference to her brother-in-law Malcolm and his wife Kate, presumably Ben Tabor’s sister. [That part of the genealogical chart has never been extended.] Malcolm was a Methodist missionary in China. I was confused for a while, until I realized that it was his surname that was “Malcolm”, not his given. Apparently there were three family members about the same age names “William”, so he was habitually referenced as Uncle Malcolm.
William R. MALCOLM [1861–1942]
Uncle Malcolm was a Methodist missionary stationed in Chefoo [now Zhifoo], a coastal town in Shantung Province, though I believe that travels took him periodically to the interior. It was Rev Malcolm who recruited Ella Rose Tabor, one of Agincourt’s twin aviatixes — is that the plural of “aviatrix”? Spellcheck doesn’t like it — into service as a pilot, delivering medical supplies to those mission hospitals. She was lost in the winter of 1935-1936, however, and never found. It was suspected that she also served as a messenger during those perilous years, which may have got her into deeper trouble than vaccines might have.
Though she was just sixteen years old at the time, Ella Rose accompanied her uncle to China in the fall of 1928, with a strategic stopover in Japan. It was on November 10th that year that Hirohito was enthroned as Japan’s one hundred and twenty-fourth emperor. How close to the ceremony Rev Malcolm and his niece were able to get ins’t known but she did return with the English-language program, that has remained in the family until recently, when it was given to the Community Collection as a memorial to Ms Tabor by her own nieces and nephews.
This would otherwise be a matter of simple curiosity, were it not for the inclusion of a woodcut print of Himeji Castle by ukiyo-e artist Hiroshi Yoshida. Not the only Japanese print in the collection, it is significant additionally for the association with an important cultural event witnessed by several Westerners, but also because Hirohito would take on special significance for Americans thirteen years later on December 7th, 1941.
NOTES TOWARD A PLAY
“Theatre” is certainly not in my blood (though my husband is a semi-retired costumer and I hung around college and community theater as a consequence). But for some unexplained reason, theatre is a frequent theme in the Agincourt story, I think, because it adds another dimension and, especially, because it potentially involves an entirely different cast of characters, some real, some imagined. There is also the architectonic aspect of stage set design, though I have no aspirations in that direction. In the meantime, a former student and friend in the Chicago theatre community has acted as yenta and linked Agincourt (m with possible collaborators.
My first inclination was the unfulfilled story of Dr Reinhold Kölb, Austrian refugee from the 1920s, who came to town to visit his sister Edith Wasserman and stayed. Kölb was a disciple of Freud and Jung and a friend of Jacob Levy Moreno, who himself emigrated to the U.S. shortly thereafter for more obvious reasons: Moreno was Romanian Jew and a target following the Anschluss. [As I continue with this rambling story of theatre in Agincourt, I’ll boldface the names of imagined characters and italicize real persons who’ve been conscripted for the narrative.]
Moreno, after his arrival in New York, developed something in psychiatric practice he called “Drama Therapy” where patients act out and potentially though their psychoses. Kölb maintained a correspondence with Moreno and put his own spin on that innovative therapy, hybridizing it with both puppets (marionettes) and Japanese Noh (about which I know just enough to be dangerous). The idea was to imagine Kölb‘s private mental hospital, “Walden Retreat” at the end of Thoreau Avenue (too obvious, I know) and an example of his technique.
Somehow I had a “Marat/Sade” sort of play-within-the-play in mind, perhaps three acts, maybe just scenes: 1) Dr Kölb interacting with his patients, perhaps welcoming a new resident. The ensuing conversation with begin to outline the various reasons for each character being in therapy; 2) Dr Kölb’s introduction of “drama therapy”, which would be familiar to some and new to others; the beginning of their interaction, both writing the play and crafting the marionettes; and 3) the play-within-the-play itself, during which the characters improve and some may even be “cured”, represented by their puppet disappearing from the stage and the person subtly joining the audience. I thought the illusion might be carried out by carefully introducing a big-screen TV monitor and videotaped activity of the marionettes, so the audience wouldn’t notice the actor’s disappearance.
[As I write this, I’m reminded of a chamber opera by Samuel Barber, “A Hand of Bridge“, with four dysfunctional characters (two couples) playing a hand of bridge, while each reveals their troubling inner monologue to the audience. My love for that opera probably lies behind the Kölb episode.]
I suspect the real reason for the marionette theatre is an unfulfilled desire to design both a stage — probably looking like a lilliputian Radio City Music Hall on acid — and a stage set. These links below are the principle blog entries relating to Kölb in particular and theatre in general.
I probably ought to come back and flesh out each of these links with a summary of what will be found there.
The above entries also introduce at least two other opportunities to create scripts, though I hadn’t thought of carrying each of them that far at the time. One of them is “Night Court”, a purported unfinished play inspired by a painting I bought on eBay. And, similarly, “The Cave of the Heart” would have been a play inspired by another painting, a dance performance by Martha Graham, and music once again by Samuel Barber. I seem to have a Barber thing going.
- “Night Court” was written by E. G. Fromm, a left-wing playwright and political activist during the McCarthy years and the Cold War.
- “The Cave of the Heart” had no particular storyline in mind. It was simply an excuse to incorporate a painting into the narrative.
There was also another character introduced in all of this, Seamus Tierney, director of the community theatre group, but also based on the life of a cantankerous friend of mine James O’Rourke whose life had been devoted to art, rather than theatre.
Either all of this will make sense, build enthusiasm, and attract collaborators, or it won’t.
PS: As if this weren’t enough, I just recalled that back in 2013 the Theatre Arts department at NINS [Northwest Iowa Normal School] celebrated the 100th anniversary of the death of Frederick Rolfe, a.k.a. Baron Corvo, with, among other things, a production of “Hadrian the Seventh”, a play based on Rolfe’s book of the same title. All of these are real (the person, the novel and the adapted play), by the way.
In just three months, this blog will reach its tenth birthday. Fourteen hundred and ten entries are something to celebrate, I guess, but I don’t know how. Perhaps a fruit cake. I love fruit cake. You can omit the candles.
I noticed that yesterday someone visited the blog and scored 143 pages visits; that’s not the record, but it’s the biggest number in a long time. Question is, who the hell was that? I’ve been living under the delusion that no one reads this thing but me. Now that it is officially out of control — as in, the WordPress search engine is crap; even they admit that — and it’s far, far too late to think about a comprehensive index, though one purports to be in progress.
This did remind me of a 60s movie, “A Majority of One“, which I recall seeing when I was an undergraduate in a practically empty theater in Norman, Oklahoma. If I constitute such a majority, so be it.
I guess that makes this entry #1,411.
Though last semester’s seminar was less than successful, the notion of an Agincourt board game continues to intrigue me.
Other than playing Monopoly for the majority of my pre-teen years, and a few other board games after that, the first game that came to mind as a “model” for ATBG (Agincourt, the Board Game) was an ancient Egyptian game called Senet. Examples have survived in tombs — the recently deceased would need entertainment in the afterlife — but, of course, any Egyptian would already have known how to play, so there was no need to pack a set of rules for the journey. Consequently, the way to play Senet is conjecture. That was the first “model” for ATBG: a prototype design with all the playing pieces, tokens, play money, cards in the spirit of “Community Chest”, etc. Except that the game was never manufactured. Never put into production and its inventor took any unwritten information about the game — thoughts of rules and procedure, even the game’s ultimate objective, hopefully not “winning” — to the grave. To play the game, then, is necessarily to play with the game. To intuit the whole from its parts.
Since I had become fascinated with woodworking, making sets of “William Halsey Wood Blox”, etc for friends, my first sketches concerned the board itself: a grid as basis for designing a town not unlike Agincourt. Game pieces would include city blocks with variations in the “texture” of lot lines and patterns (commercial versus residential, for example, or interrupted by river or railroad), an objective being the ability to “own” blocks and place them as the beginning of real estate developments, not all of which would be in sympathy with one another. Part of the “action” might involve negotiation, the trading of block for cash or other property. Perhaps even bankruptcy or hostile take-over. I recently came across “The Fields of Arle” at the website of Board Game Geek.
Now here’s a game to find in someone’s tomb, intact but minus its rules and procedures. I cannot imagine they’d constitute anything less than a small library, cross-referenced and footnoted and interleaved with fold-out flow charts and diagrams — certification from your community college optional but recommended.
Don’t you want to meet Board Game Geek some time — soon.
|AUG -/26/28||–/W/F||Introduction: Who we are. What we’ll (try to) do. How and why we’ll do it. // Negotiating a Project|
|AUG 31/ SEP 02/04||M/W/F||Town Formation in the 19th Century: NW Ordinance of 1787; Courthouse squares; Plains Country Towns (Hudson) // Context and Background|
|SEP -/09/11||–/W/F||Architectural Styles and Building Technologies of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries: What Style Is It? Style is more than fashion. // Sources|
|SEP 14/16/18||M/W/F||Infrastructure: H2O and other municipal services; governance // Architecture as “The Vitruvian Trilogy”: Utilitas, Firmitas, Venustas|
|SEP 21/23/25||M/W/F||Institutions/Initiatives/Innovations: War and its consequences; Prohibition; Public health; Social change; Historic Preservation // Housing Stock: More diverse than you might imagine // Progress (sketchbooks)|
|SEP 28/30/ OCT 02||M/W/F||Some Buildings and Their Stories: Syndicate Mill; St Ahab’s/Christ the King; St Joseph-the-Carpenter; Asbury UMC; Fennimore County Courthouse; NITC; Aidan and Cordelia Archer; etc. // Progress (preliminary design)|
|OCT 05/07/09||M/W/F||Narrative & Design: Strategies for story-telling as an aspect of place-making; other opportunities for design. [I’ve shown you mine. Now show me yours.] // Community as Genealogy: Families // What’s your story? (Every building tells one)|
|OCT 12/14/16||M/W/F||Project Review: Your selection and background work toward individual projects, 15@30 minutes (perhaps grouped by type, period, or place)|
|MID-TERM ASSESSMENT: Is this working? If not, why not? If so, how so? Is it yielding unexpected benefit—serendipity? Constructive feedback is a two-way street.|
|OCT 19/21/23||M/W/F||By this time we’ll have a good idea of our progress and adjustments can be made for the second half of the semester.|
|NOV 30/ DEC 02/04||M/W/F|
|DEC 07/09/11||M/W/F||FINAL PRESENTATIONS|
For those unfamiliar with Sanborn fire insurance maps, they are a source of considerable and varied information, facts that would be valuable for someone underwriting a fire insurance policy. Lumber yards are obvious; hardware stores somewhat less so, though they often store combustibles like turpentine and oil-based paints, or flame-driven ovens for baking. Even less obvious are candy manufacturing facilities, cauldrons of molten sugar kept boiling 24/7 and often unattended.
In the 19th century, a substantial portion of confections were produced locally. Large manufacturers (like Hershey or Mars today) had begun to form, but even some of their products were produced at secondary facilities. A town like Agincourt — with a late-19th century population under 10,000 — would certainly have had a candy shop with its busy back kitchen. Sadly, the Duchess Chocolate Shop in Warren, Ohio (pictured above) is not that place.
Few institutions embody the essence of early 20th century small-town American life like the corner malt shop, offering a mirrored, tile-floored, wood-paneled intimacy where sweets of all sorts were proffered to all ages. Van Kannel’s Sanitary Drug at Broad and James had a lunch counter with a fuller menu than Burt’s is likely to have enjoyed. So I suspect there’s room in the story for a specialty store such as this — perhaps even a void long needing to be filled — purveying locally made candy.
“There are people everywhere who form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own. They are the lordly ones. They come in all colours. They can be Christians or Hindus or Muslims or Jews or pagans or atheists. They can be young or old, men or women, soldiers or pacifists, rich or poor. They can be patriots, but they are never chauvinists. They share with each other, across all the nations, common values of humour and understanding. When you are among them you know you will not be mocked or resented, because they will not care about your race, your faith, your sex or your nationality, and they suffer fools if not gladly, at least sympathetically. They laugh easily. They are easily grateful. They are never mean. They are not inhibited by fashion, public opinion or political correctness. They are exiles in their own communities, because they are always in a minority, but they form a mighty nation, if they only knew it. It is the nation of nowhere, and I have come to think that its natural capital is Trieste.”
A few months ago I had the silly notion to award a certificate of honorary citizenship to friends who have contributed to this project well beyond the normal course of events; who have naïvely strayed and stayed with enthusiasm, and who continue to believe there is purpose in its continuation. Writing the text for such a formal certificate is not as easy as it might seem — all those “whereas” paragraphs preceding a pompous “therefore”.
For the majority of Agincourt’s existence I’ve tried to make it hyperreal, more real than real; a product of the imagination, rather than of fantasy. But it is a mistake to think that Agincourt is Everytown. It may evidence the places of your youth, nostalgic references to playing kick-the-can or sledding dangerously behind autos driving slowly down your street, but on more careful examination it may have more to do with the Trieste conjured by Jan Morris.
So as I pursue sources for language that is stately without being stilted, feel free to offer your own suggestions for its text. In the meantime, I’m happy to report that Ms Morris is still with us, at age 93. Perhaps she can help.
“…viewed emotionally (as with doubt or desire).”
To say the Agincourt Project is the most creative thing I have ever done (or probably will do) is a statement of self-perception rather than fact. I’d be pleased to have you believe it with me but it isn’t required. It has been gratifying to have so many enthusiastic participants — there’s always room for more; remember the time frame is open-ended and that prequels and sequels are equally possible — but as the project has evolved, I’ve become more conscious of the intuitive processes which lie behind or within it.
Agincourt’s foundation began an exploration of the relationship between narrative and design; between story-telling and place-making. Every truly great place holds the power to accommodate great stories, memories, if not actually provoke them. In a comparable way, the very best of our story-tellers invite us to imagine the location where their action occurs. As children — before our educational system has got hold of us and channeled that creativity into more practical and productive pursuits — we had the ability to work in both directions. Even before we could read, the stories read to us by parents, grandparents, and others took us to places that exist only in the mind. And playing in my bed, a patchwork quilt covering my legs, I made stories to fit the folds of landscape, where princes were slain and dragons rescued. And like sleep, I could pass between reality and a dreamlike state, seamlessly, at will, as time and circumstance permitted.
As a purported architectural educator, I mourn the hamstringing of that childhood ability and the loss of the visual language that was and ought to be a part of professional education, but which finds no designated place in the curriculum. As an undergraduate during the early 60s, I encountered, without knowing it, a modified version of the “Vorkurs” or foundational design course that had been established at the Bauhaus, that radical German experiment in the cross-disciplinary education of designers: our freshman studios began with the most basic of design elements — proportion, scale (of the human variety), balance, color and texture — in increasing complexity and comprehension. The genius of it (I realized decades later) was its reconsideration of those ideas during the first semester of the fourth year: a return to origins and a reminder that notions of, say, scale will lasting value long after we presume to have “grown up” as para-professionals, too sophisticated for such childish things. If the students I’ve known have been exposed to a basic design vocabulary, it has been catch-as-catch-can and piecemeal.
And so it is no wonder that students invited to play in the sandbox of history have difficulty projecting themselves into design contexts so different from their own; places where they lack a vocabulary to explore how, for example, the World War I years are like our own time and how they are different in architectural terms. Socially and technically, if not even in more abstract visual terms. I would like to have been an educator working toward that worthy goal, though that is unlikely in the two semesters that remain in my so-called career.
Last night, which thinking at length about these issues, I wrote my epitaph. There have been several iterations of it through the years, filled with retrospection, insight, and snark in varying degrees. The current version i think may be the best of the lot: “And he used the subjunctive.”
Typical for me, I’ve taken the long way round the barn. But as Andy Dufresne writes to his friend Ellis “Red” Redding, in “The Shawshank Redemption”, “…if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.”
CENTRAL BUT SILENT
That ability to find images in words, to allow the story to conjure its setting, is important for environmental designers, architects and landscape architects, and ought properly to be a part of their education; perhaps it is in some quarters. So what occurred to me early this morning (after the dog took me out at about 3:30) was an idea for a seminar based on a paper I conceived poorly and presented even less well a couple years ago at a conference: “Central but Silent: art and architecture as character in fiction” [As a side issue, I can say that my best work as well as my worst has occurred in public settings like conferences of the academic sort. And I can assure you of this, because I was there, listening dispassionately to myself and doing a critique. The worst presentation of my academic career was delivered in Bismarck, a town where I will never go again because someone is bound to recall that Titanic performance. The best, on the other hand, happened in the Student Union at the University of Wisconsin at Madison at a “Breaking New Ground” conference sponsored by the state historical societies of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I presented my finest public performance: “Who was Albert Levering and why are they saying all those terrible things about him?” If you think I exaggerate, ask Steve Martens, who was in the audience.] Somewhere toward the negative end of this scale — Bismarck to Madison — the “Central but Silent” talk was more Bismarck-ish; not the worst, but nearly. Unlike the Bismarck episode, however, this is one I want to dust off and rehabilitate as it should have been. The point of this essay has been the outline of what I had hoped to achieve; the proposition to revive it as a seminar during my last semester; and an invitation for your input to its content.
“Central but Silent” is based on an experience I had with Hawksmoor, a novel by British author Peter Ackroyd. Drawn loosely from the life of the real 18th century architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, this story is structured in the alternate-chapter style, shifting between the time of architect Nicholas Dyer in the early 18th century and Scotland Yard detective Nicholas Hawksmoor. Without giving the plot away (I encourage you to read the book), the six churches of the actual architect become the scenes of occult ritual in both centuries; Dyer commits them and Hawksmoor investigates their 20th century doppelgangers. The twist and for me the hook is that there is a seventh ritual-crime at a seventh Hawksmoor church — a building that does not exist but which was so carefully conjured by Ackroyd’s story-telling that I dreamed the building the night I finished the book. I read it, but the way, in two days. Following the path through London that Ackroyd delineates I turned a corner and saw, in my mind’s eye, that seventh church. [You should know that I have seen all six of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s churches, each of which survives sufficiently to grasp their original appearance. There was a church co-authored by Hawksmoor and another architect, but that doesn’t figure in the story, nor does it exist.]
There are any number of films which have used real places as the settings for their action:
- Bladerunner Rick Deckard lives in a apartment which is actually Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis house of 1924.
- “The Black Dahlia” was filmed in the 1926 Sowden house in Los Angeles, a place where the crime may actually have been committed.
- We are given a fleeting glimpse of a staircase and a bathroom in the Tugendhat villa at Brno, in the Czech Republic, a 1928 design by Mies van der Rohe.
- A scene in “L.A. confidential” was shot at Richard Neutra’s Lovell “Health” House of 1929.
But it’s one thing for architecture to be the scene of something, the background for an event or encounter; quite another for that structure to play a more central “active” role in the story, so integrated with plot as to have become a central but silent character in the telling. In this case, I think of the house actually built for “Practical Magic” or the house which makes a cameo appearance in “The Forsyte Saga” or the eponymous house in “Howard’s End”. Each of these is so much more than a mere piece of construction or backdrop that the story could not be shown without them. And in each case, the author’s imaginary house became reality through the medium of an imaginative director or scenographer or a collaboration between them. My notion at this point is to ask each student enrolled in the seminar to propose a work of literature which they have read, a work where some imaginary building or chunk of cityscape is so powerfully depicted textually that it became real in the reader’s mind. Then, show me what you saw. And how it grew naturally from the text.
My question to anyone reading this is simple: Have you encountered such a piece of writing? Did it have that effect of you? Would you be willing to share the experience?