[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
TIERNEY, Seamus [1933–2011]
watercolor on paper / 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches
Seamus Tierney is known in the community primarily as a theatre director and playwright. But his local career was interrupted by service in the U.S. Army. Stationed at various bases in West Germany during the 1950s, Tierney became part of an airlift to Berlin during its life as a divided city. He had time to make several quick studies of the city, in this case the harbor near Templehof Airport. Inscribed on the reverse in Tierney’s handwriting is a fuller explanation in German: “Industrieanlagen im Hafen vom alten West-Berlin, im Hintergrund das Ullstein-Haus in Tempelhof.” [Industrial plants in the port of old West Berlin, in the background the Ullstein House in Tempelhof.] Since Tierney worked as an artist in woodcut, he probably intended this as a study for the more tedious process of carving the woodblock.
You know it as a psychological disorder, horror vacuii — a fear of emptiness — but it’s also attributed to Aristotle as a truism of science: “Nature abhors a vacuum.” In this case that vacuum is ignorance, anything I’ve recently discovered as a void in my knowledge base. Fear not: I am blessed with far more void that information. Plenty of room to fill.
A recent discovery — maybe that should be “uncovery” — concerns the history of the John Rylands Library in Manchester, a favorite building of mine, designed by architect Basil Champneys. [Why do I remember shit like this?] Someone looked up Rylands and discovered his wife Enriqueta — whose statue stands opposite his at the ends of the library’s reading room — was born Enriqueta Augustina TENNANT in Havana, Cuba in 1843. My thoughts immediately turned to the ways she might be related to the hero of our tale here in Agincourt, Anson Tennant.
To give Anson both a back story and a future, I had invented a family tree for him extending four generations back and two forward and was feeling pretty satisfied with myself. Now this new challenge has been thrust in my face: How can I related the fictional Anson Curtiss Tennant to the very real and entirely admirable Mrs Rylands? At best, she and Anson could be fifth cousins or fourth cousins once removed.