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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.

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