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Artifactually Speaking


We invested the morning in salvage: books from the Little House that needed to be removed before the building can be moved in preparation for a new foundation. Downsizing for whatever remains of my life is a pain in the dupa. Among the many things that will also have to find safe harbor — rather than simply becoming an item in the biggest garage sale this neighborhood has ever seen — is the stained glass window and custom-made door from the Agincourt Project meant to invoke young Anson Tennant’s architectural office, opened in 1912 and put in mothballs when he was thought to have gone down with the Lusitania. It came up in my FB memories and a friend was kind enough to ask for a fuller story.

Yes, I readily admit this blog is anything but user friendly; difficult to negotiate and impossible to detect any sort of organization whatsoever. And my feeble attempts at providing that have not succeeded, generally. So what follows here is twofold: 1) an attempt to bring together one of the project’s most important stories (Anson Tennant) and 2) a consideration of what will become of all the artifacts that have accumulated in the course of the last sixteen years — and they are considerable.

In simplified terms, Anson Tennant was the architect for the new Agincourt Public Library, built in 1915. But his “backstory” required all the preparation he’d have required to reach that position as a young untried designer but favored as a “native son”. This entailed a sequence of events which built toward that end:

  • spending summers with his maternal grandfather Corwin Curtis on the farm outside Mason City and learning the rudiments of carpentry from him;
  • designing and crafting a dollhouse for his little sister for Christmas 1905;
  • graduating from high school and, soon after, being entrusted by his parents Jim and Martha with expansion of the family home;
  • heading off to Chicago to “study” architecture at the School of the Art Institute and, with advice from a family friend;
  • returning home in 1912 and receiving his first commission: remodeling of the Wasserman Block and receiving studio-office space in trade for his professional services;
  • and, finally, imagining how a young architect would present himself to an audience of friends and neighbors.

That office required a public face, a business card of sorts, abbreviating his design point of view. Which evolved into a stained glass window with his name and, far more important, the motto of the Arts & Crafts movements, “Als Ik Kan” or “to the best of my ability”. And that, in turn, depended on the considerable abilities of Mr Dan Salyards.

♦So, what is to become of this wondrous artifact?

♦Here are some links to several parts of the story…not necessarily in consecutive order. Sorry about that:

♦Chicago architect J. Lyman Silsbee plays w part in the origin of the Agincourt Public Library.

♦Anson’s first commission in Agincourt was a remodelling of the Wasserman Block, where he eventually set up an office-studio. The office itself began to take shape. And its Arts & Crafts character took on significance.

♦The stained glass window was crafted by Dan Salyards.

♦There’s a bunch of stuff on Tennant family genealogy.

♦And, then, among many other miscellaneous things, there’s the whole matter of the Tennant Manufacturing Co. and all those damned wood blocks.

It really has got needlessly complicated, hasn’t it.

Donald Maxwell [1877–1936]

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

MAXWELL, Donald [1877–1936]

“Pook’s Hill, Little Dartmouth”


lithograph / 6.8 inches by 10.9 inches / edition unknown

A charming early 20th Century chromolithograph, showing a view across Pook’s Hill, Little Dartmouth adds to the apt but unjust observation — in our estimation — that the Community Collection consists largely of “landscapes and livestock.” Artist Donald Maxwell may be better known for his considerable body of work as an illustrator:

“Maxwell trained in London at the Clapham School of Art, the Slade School of Fine Art, and the Royal College of Art. He was soon writing and illustrating extensively for The Yachting Monthly and other magazines. In about 1909, he became a regular correspondent for the Daily Graphic and the illustrated weekly The Graphic and continued so until the latter closed in 1932. In later life he wrote weekly illustrated articles for the Church Times.

“Most of Maxwell’s thirty or more self-illustrated books were about voyages in (Europe, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and India) and later about the sights of Southern England. He also illustrated books by many other authors, including Hilaire Belloc and also Rudyard Kipling, to whom his mother was related.

“Interest in Maxwell’s work as an artist has continued. Several of his topographical paintings were bought by the Southern Railway and displayed as prints in railway carriages. These have since become collectors’ items. A lithograph of a water colour by Maxwell showing Shap Fell in Cumbria, printed for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, sold at auction for £517 in 1999, and a marine oil painting for £5520 in 1998. A folio of unframed drawings by Maxwell fetched £840 at auction in 2005.” [from Wikipedia, no less]

We are fortunate to have this delicate piece.


Ross Foster [active 1980s]

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

FOSTER, Ross [active 1980s]

“Punch & Judy”

oil on board / 10.6 inches by 10.6 inches / signed



oil on board / 7.25 inches by 8.5 inches / signed

ca 1980s

Though the subject reeks of contemporary political incorrectness, “Punch & Judy” are represented in the collection three times. This impressionist interpretation probably dates from the 1980s. British artist Ross Foster has been drawn to beach, carnival and other scenes such as this. In spirit, it pairs nicely with Jeffrey Boys’ similar subject. The second “merry-go-round” painting is also typical of the artist’s tendency toward impressionist treatments of recreation in the U.K.


obliti abhorrentes (1.1)

maxime innocens

“The town that time forgot and geography misplaced” has been Agincourt’s subtitle, almost since the beginning. So much so that it seemed the proper motto to grace the city’s official documents: its seal incorporates what google.translate claims is proper Latin and the official flag remains a work in progress. It follows — as naturally as anything does in this context — that Agincourt would have an entry in the WPA guide to Iowa.

Published in 1938, Iowa, A Guide to the Hawkeye State explores the state region by region in somewhat organized “tours” — as if anyone had enough spare cash to afford gasoline! — generally from east to west, from the Mississippi to the Missouri. The book has been available in reprint forever, though I suspect you’d have to find it in the O.P. market these days. I checked and found an original 1938 copy for $106 on biblio.com! Shocking because I seem to have acquired two copes myself. And I didn’t pay anything like that.

Some years ago, I wrote a similar “entry” for Agincourt in Hilton & Due’s The Electric Interurban Railways in America, another standard reference which would have been remiss to overlook our fair city. Agincourt’s summation in either would have been formulaic and (I thought) easy to simulate. Messrs. H&D proved easier than the WPA format. Then I had a perverse moment of inspiration: suppose it had been put in the hands of Douglas Adams: “Mostly Harmless” pretty much sums it up.