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Yearly Archives: 2022
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
E. L. [Etienne Laurent?] [dates uncertain]
Portrait of Gaius Plinius Tennant
oil on board / 9.6 inches by 7.3 inches
Of the three Tennant Brothers, Pliny — full name Gaius Plinius Tennant — was a true 19th century Transcendentalist. Though he was an investor in the Agincourt Enterprise and may have visited the site early in its development, Pliny Tennant pushed ever farther westward in his search for self. If this is, indeed, a portrait painted shortly before he disappeared somewhere into the southwestern states, possibly Arizona or Utah, he has struck a wistful romantic pose borne out by his life’s subsequent pattern or lack thereof. He is remembered as the namesake of “Pliny’s Purse”, the compounded return of his investment in the Agincourt townsite and the subcutaneous good it has done for the community.
The painter’s initials E. L. may stand for Etienne Laurent, a family friend from their origin in the Channel Islands.
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
LLOYD, Margaret Eleanor [1867–1912]
FODE, David G. [1968–2022]
“Punch & Judy”
Design for a Stencil / original size unknown; published at 5 5/8 inches
1905 (date of publication)
Stained glass window / 30 inches in diameter
2015 (date of execution)
The story of this collaborative project, between two artistically talented people born almost exactly one hundred years apart, is bracketed with tragedy. In 1905, the year Margaret Lloyd’s design appeared in The International Studio, a British art periodical, a kindergarten was built on the grounds adjacent to Saint Joseph-the-Carpenter Episcopal church. Operated on a non-profit basis to bring the educational philosophy of Friedrich Fröbel to the community, the Shingle Style building may be the first work of architecture by the sixteen-year-old Anson Tennant. It included a window opening to accommodate the “Punch & Judy” window, adapted from the British artist’s design. Though documentation is lacking, it’s believed Lloyd know of our intention to adapt her “stencil” as a window. It remained a project for a hundred and ten years, however, when David Fode of Waukesha, Wisconsin brought Lloyd’s vision, literally, to light.
Researching names and dates for this entry, we encountered another layer of coïncidence: stained glass artist Fode died in November 2022 at age fifty-four, while we learned that Ms Lloyd had passed in 1912, a casualty in one of Britain’s worst train accidents. She was forty-five. The window, a lighthearted work of charm, has become a memorial to both of its creators — despite its political incorrectness.
“There is no great and no small
To the Soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh, all things are;
And it cometh everywhere.
“I am owner of the sphere,
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Caesar’s hand, and Plato’s brain,
Of Lord Christ’s heart, and Shakspeare’s strain.”
“We are always coming up with the emphatic facts of history in our private experience, and verifying them here. All history becomes subjective; in other words, there is properly no history; only biography. Every mind must know the whole lesson for itself,— must go over the whole ground. What it does not see, what it does not live, it will not know. What the former age has epitomized into a formula or rule for manipular convenience, it will lose all the good of verifying for itself, by means of the wall of that rule. Somewhere, sometime, it will demand and find compensation for that loss by doing the work itself.” — from “History” [Essays, First Series (1841)] by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Take Emerson at his word. What are the strategies of “manipular convenience” that have been used to fabricate this place named for an historic event? What role has been played by categories? Were I a philosophe…well, I’m not.
Joseph Campbell gives us the stages of the Hero’s monomythic journey. Jung, his analytical psychology. I’ve glanced at these, both, in bumptious naïveté — and made too much of typographic games and accents diacritic [from δῐᾰκρῐτῐκός (diakritikós), penetrating, piercing, distinctive, in Greek; diacritique, learned, in French, all of which I am neither and none].
Then there are the Signs of the Zodiac and the poem I know only too well because I was born on a Wednesday:
“Monday’s child is fair of face / Tuesday’s child is full of grace / Wednesday’s child is full of woe / Thursday’s child has far to go / Friday’s child is loving and giving / Saturday’s child works hard for his living / And the child that is born on the Sabbath day / Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.”
Would that we could elect the day of our nativity. I would choose Thursday.
Other more obtuse distinctions have played their occasional part here, too. Paper, Scissors, Stone, for example. And today I’ve happened upon the tastes of the tongue: salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (whatever-the-hell that fifth one is; I’d thought there were just four). Hasty hindsight suggests that too much of this has been driven by the bitter-sweetness of life and a projection that that view is shared.
I wonder if you have sets or categories to contribute.
It is with great sadness that I add a footnote to the passing of stained glass craftsman David Fode. David interpreted for the project a stencil design of 1905 by British artist Margaret Lloyd. I’d assumed Ms Lloyd had married and become more difficult to locate through genealogical sources, having taken on her new husband’s surname. But two things have transpired.
An archivist at the Liverpool School of Art has been kind enough to provide Ms Lloyd’s student registration and that new information enabled a different sort of search. We can track her from birth in 1867 at Darlington, County Durham, through several family moves — her father was connected with collieries — and learned that she had previously been a student at the Hartley Institute in Southampton, a predecessor of the University of Southampton. Then a more general google search turned up a story of her tragic death at age forty-five in a railway accident, so notorious it has its own Wikipedia page!
On 17 September 1912 an express train shifted from the fast track to the slower local track but the driver was inexperienced and maintained his 60 mph speed at Ditton Junction where it should have been reduced to 15 mph. Ms Lloyd was one of fifteen fatalities and fifty others in hospital. She was forty-five years old. You can find the formal accident report here. This information makes the “Punch & Judy” window more poignant.
The “interweb” is indeed a wondrous instrument. Though it more often than not brings news we’d rather not have.
UPDATE [15DEC2022]: In the ongoing saga of Margaret Lloyd, this morning’s efforts disclosed that her mother, sixty-one-year-old Elizabeth Lloyd, had sat beside her on the train and sustained only minor injuries. Its doubly tragic when parents survive their children.
It’s also surprising that twelve people include Margaret in their family trees, yet none of them seem to be aware of her passing; each one gives an incorrect birth date (one year ahead or two behind) and identifies her as “death: unknown”. I’m a rookie at this but wassup?
UPDATE [15DEC2022]: Late in the day, more information on Margaret Lloyd has come to light: “Aigburth Art Mistress Killed” / “Miss Margaret Eleanor Lloyd, who was one of the passengers killed in the train disaster, was returning from her holiday to take up her work at the Aigburth-vale High School for Girls, where she has been art mistress for the past two years. As a student at the Liverpool School of Art, Miss Lloyd was a very skilful [sic] etcher and lithographer, and her work on several occasions won high awards in public competitions. She will be missed greatly by her colleagues and pupils, by whom her work was highly appreciated. / Miss Lloyd was accompanied by her mother, who was slightly injured.” [Liverpool Daily Post, 20 September 1912, p.10] The Aigburth school has been built in 1909.
Poet Alice Goodman was one third of the trinity behind the 1987 opera “Nixon in China”. Music was by John Adams. And the premier at the Houston Grand Opera was directed by Peter Sellars. How do relationships like this work?
The recording I have includes the original cast, especially James Maddalena in the role of Richard Nixon and Sanford Sylvan as Chou En-lai. It’s been a while since my last hearing of the work but the melodies and many of the words are still in my head. This evening I’m recollecting a toast at the banquet which concludes Act I, particularly one line: “…from vision to inheritance…”
That fragment from Goodman’s libretto (based on the actual words of Chou readily available in video recordings from the event itself) resonated with a project I hope to undertake as an Agincourt spin-off component, a collaboration between the architecture and art programs at NDSU’s SoDAA (School of Design, Architecture & Art). It’s the synergy between Goodman’s words and Adams’s music that has lodged in my memory: in true “minimalist” form, Chou repeats the phrase three or four times. Sanford Sylvan voice lingers in memory, perhaps, as much as the words and music.
Quite aside from opera itself, though, it’s the power of those four words — “…from vision to inheritance…” — that strike me. Isn’t it what we’re all supposed to be about? I wonder if they were Chou’s words or whether Ms Good man put them in his mouth.
Milton Stewart Yergens [1949–2022]
It’s time for an end-of-the-year assessment of changes that have occurred during 2022. There have been two especially happy events, both connected with my retirement from full-time teaching. One took place in April, a gathering at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead of a hundred and fifty well-wishers. The second more recently, a more limited group of grads from the late 1970s who think some more prominent recognition was appropriate. I have been humbled by each. The third event is equally humbling and not necessarily at the other end of the emotional spectrum: the passing of yet another friend who should have outlived me by many, many years.
There is rumored to be fine print at the bottom of our birth certificates: that everyone who passes before us is required to be older, significantly older. Twenty-twenty-three will be the 20th anniversary of two close friends leaving us, within weeks of one another: Cecil Elliott, colleague, mentor, friend, and someone who was, in many ways, Cecil’s protege, Dennis Colliton, who was also colleague, advisor, and friend. Cecil was 80 years old; Dennis was 50 and left without warning. So, as I reflect on this anniversary, there is another name to add: Milton Yergens [1949–2022].
Agincourt wasn’t even a fantasy when Cecil and Dennis passed. But the project profited mightily from fourteen years of guidance by our friend Milton. Honorary citizenship is far too little acknowledgment for the quality and the quantity of Milton’s contributions, so many of them that I’ve long ago lost count.
Several people of my acquaintance have been written into the Agincourt narrative, each of them in a very specific way and with the intent to memorialize them in ways that only I will sense and understand. Milton’s case is quite different, however. His hand is everywhere; his contributions manifold and compounded many times over. The proper way to remember him here hasn’t come to me yet. But it will. Because it must.
Long before I’d encountered the word psychogeography, I had enjoyed several authors who have turned out to be central to it as an emerging discipline. Four earlier entries here have touched on it, albeit lightly, and I suspect it will come up again. Especially as I explore what it means for the Project.
- Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat was my first exposure to the idea. And it was tough wading through Sinclair’s style.
- And Machen showed up twice, especially his essay on wandering. [Machen, for me, makes a much easier read.]
- Then there’s Keri Smith’s The Wander Society, a gift from a student in my 321 class, and the sequence of books by University of Wisconsin faculty member Yi-Fu Tuan, who passed just this past August. R.I.P., Professor Tuan.
In addition to Machen, Sinclair and Smith, another author just appeared on my radar: Colin Ellard’s 2015 book Places of the Heart: the psychogeography of everyday life. There’s a degree of satisfaction in mucking about in this project, only to discover I’d been fumbling with real wisdom but not doing terribly well at it. Maybe Ellard will help.
The second longest word in English with alternating consonants and vowels, it is an hapax legomenon (άπαξ λεγόμενων), a thing spoken just once. It appears (only once, thank god) in Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost” (act V, scene I) and means “the state of being able to achieve honours” — a condition unfamiliar to many of us. As Superintendent in the Department of Redundancy Department, this is both an unfamiliar and an enticing concept. And well beyond me.
Like myself, there are any number of people in Agincourt, now and in the past, who seem never to have tired of repetition. Perhaps the worst of them was Agincourt’s unlucky thirteen mayor who survived just the first half of his term, the Hon Edmund FitzGerald Flynn. Ed never met a platitude he didn’t like, especially if it promoted his pontification on what was best for all of us. Of course, those purported benefits never quite trickled down to ordinary folk like you and me. Even before Göbbels advised telling “The Big Lie” — “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State” — Ed was onto the idea like stink on poop. Hapax legomenon would have been an unfamiliar and antithetical notion.
Ed might have thought himself eligible for honours, those he hadn’t already assumed for himself, but honorificabilitudinitatibus would never have applied. So, if nothing else, we’ve added a new word to our vocabulary, one that you’ll be lucky to use even once.
In that slow, deliberate glide into what our friend Cecil Elliott called “the dirt nap”, I find myself with en embarrassment of riches (which is not to say wealth) and no place to put it: It currently includes:
- a considerable accumulation (please note that I did not dignify this with the word “collection”) of art that makes sense to me and me alone;
- a substantial personal library, a very large portion of which may be the finest collection of titles in architecture for several miles around, but who reads books any more?
- fifty-plus years of research material that may never be organized in a state that would make it useful to anyone.
And then there’s The Agincourt Project, which consists of words, thousands of them, posted here in cyberspace and so close to evaporation that I lose sleep; artifacts galore, architectural models, stained glass windows, welded steel sculpture, and the “Community Collection” of art, now numbering well over two hundred pieces of marginal merit but inestimable value to this narrative. I know what will become of me.¹ But what of all this?
¹ The instructions for my own disposal are few: 1) baggy, 2) twist-tie, 3) curbside, 4) Tuesday morning, 5) before 8:30. I don’t qualify for recycling, so don’t use the blue bin.
Peter Ackroyd built his 1985 novel Hawksmoor on the reputation of the English Baroque architect [±1661–1736]. That Hawksmoor had been overcome by the shadows of far larger historical figures like Sir Christopher Wren and Sir John Vanbrugh. We don’t have to ask where Wren is spending eternity; his burial in the crypt advises to “look about you” for his monument. The Vanbrugh vault in St. Stephen Walbrook’s churchyard is unmarked. Nicholas Hawksmoor is partly accountable for the reputations of both Wren and Vanbrugh, as their loyal but unsung assistant-collaborator — so unsung that his tomb at Shenleybury, Hertfordshire, is no longer a churchyard but has been deconsecrated as a private home.
Ackroyd’s contribution to Hawksmoor’s rehabilitation is an odd exception to the annals of art history: he fictionalizes the 18th century architect as a 20th century Scotland Yard detective and substitutes Nicholas Dyer as the occult designer of six London churches, the essence of the short-lived English Baroque. A visit to London without pilgrimage to Christ Church Spitalfields or St. Mary Woolnoth is a missed opportunity.
Architect Dyer and detective Hawksmoor across those two hundred and fifty years by seven crimes perpetrated by one and seven more investigated by the other. Gradually, they disappear into the wormhole that binds them together. Each pair of homicides occurs at one of those London churches. But wait, you say, there is one pair of homicides lacking an actual Hawksmoor church. And therein lies the link between story-telling and place-making, between narrative and design. Ackroyd’s skill evoking word pictures conjured in the mind of this designer, me, images of the fictional seventh church, Little St Hugh. On the night I finished the novel, I actually dreamt the church. Is that a credit to me or the author?
The finest fiction, historical and otherwise, rests with the author’s ability to generate powerful word-pictures, in much the same way, I believe, designers create places which encourage the making of moments, incidents in the narratives of our lives.