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Home Grown

Home Grown

It’s a borderline revelation to revisit the blog and find themes that weave their way haltingly throughout, many of them freudian and unintentional. I suspect that it may be a generational thing.

Sure, a disproportionate share of historical change happens incrementally — watching those hands on the clock move so subtly that we fail to notice — which means the changes I’m talking about were already well under way when I arrived consciously on the scene in the late 1940s and early 50s, so I can’t claim to have had much to do with them other than being an interested observer. But it’s clear that the Agincourt of my “youth”, the Agincourt I’ve imagined from that time, has extended its influence into the present. It’s resisted those processes because I want to recreate a time less fraught, more user-friendly, than the “time” outside this bubble that I’ve created. Mea culpa. Pendulums swing and the Bedford Park of my own experience has come back to haunt me in the best way possible.

As I reflect on all these small gestures, they’ve obviously had a cumulative effect on this fictional place. Consider a few of them:

  • DeBijenkorf’s Department Store takes its name from a real Dutch institution, the Netherlands’ equivalent of Nordstrom’s or what in my own experience Marshall Field once was but is no more. So, an opportunity to introduce Dutch immigration to the U.S., of which Iowa has a disproportionate share [viz. Pella]. But subconsciously I was reflected a much closer encounter with Iowa local history: Steve Varenhorst, a former student of our program at NDSU, came from the family of a home-owned department store in Storm Lake — just down the road from Agincourt, in fact. I hope Steve doesn’t mind.
  • It has been shown that the shorter the distance from production to point-of-sale, cost is reduced and freshness maintained. So agribusinesses like Fennimore Industries reflect that relatively recent understanding. And a manufacturer of pots and pans would have employed locals and used local materials to the greatest extent possible.
  • Even something as minor as The Periodic Table, a locally-sourced restaurant found by Rosemary Plička and her husband Brad Nowatsky, reflects that “home-grown” intention. I genuinely hope it’s been a success since its founding more than five years ago.
  • Strangely, the internet has contributed to this phenomenon. A used bookstore like Shelf Life could never succeed with only a local audience. But posting its stock on search engines like Biblio.com, Alibris, and others puts a dealer like Hamish Brookes in a competitive position. So, too, for “Alouette” brand maple syrup, produced in Vermont by Catherine LaFarge, Howard Tabor’s sister, formerly local distribution expands to serve a world-wide consumer base.
  • There has also been a tendency for Agincourt to take care of its own: “Pliny’s Purse” is a local benefaction; or “Common Ground”, a local initiative to provide WWI doughboys with benefits that would have to wait for the G.I. Bill to be put in place at the conclusion of WWII.

What about “home delivery”? I recall the knife sharpener who made the rounds during the spring and summer months. Home delivery of milk and other dairy products. The Fuller Brush Man. The goddam Good Humor man, for krysake! What about local beer that doesn’t have to be pasteurized, made both safe and tasteless at the same time? How much of this has managed to hold on through those lean years of globalization?

I should rest my case — before I bore you, exhaust my arsenal of examples, or unintentionally offend. But you get the point. “Think globally. Act Locally.” It really is a question of the chicken and the egg and the distance between them.

By the way, if I intend to offend you, you’ll know it.

[#1481]

Norman James Battershill [1922–2010]

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

BATTERSHILL, Norman James [1922–2010]

“Bridge and Stream, Arundel”

oil on board / 8.9 inches by 10.7 inches

n.d. / ca1940–1950

Norman James Battershill (1922) was a painter, teacher and author, born in Hackney, London, and the son of an artist Leslie Battershill. He attended Twickenham College of Art and has shown at the Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Institute of Oil Painters and Pastel Society of all of which have elected him a member. He has also exhibited at Royal Academy of Arts and New English Art Club and was made a Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers and the Chartered Society of Designers in 1968.

Battershill’s later landscapes are conservative, what might be called traditional. This exhibits a color scheme reminiscent of the ’30s, however, and a composition similar to the Photo-Secessionist movement and Pictorialism more typical of photography in the early 20th century. It is similar in spirit to another painting in the collection by Eliot Candee Clark.

Arundel is in West Sussex, a few miles from the Channel.

 

Alexandra E. Layfield [mid-20th century]

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

LAYFIELD, Alexandra E.

“Mrs Rylance”

watercolor on paper / 11.4 inches by 8.8 inches

ca1940

Meriel Rylance (née Franke) married while she was at Iowa State College and moved with her husband when he began teaching at Hastings College. Widowed at age thirty, she returned home to care for aging parents. Mrs Rylance was active in the Presbyterian church, the Iowa Presbytery and other local charities. The artist Alexandra Layfield is unfamiliar; neither are the circumstances of Mrs Rylance sitting for her. The portrait comes to the Collection on long-term loan from First Presbyterian church.

 

Livestock

Sorrel Bellocq and her husband Girons. Between them is Sorrel’s brother Armin.

“Once upon a time…”

Urban life is in constant motion, continuous revision. I recognize the changes that have taken place since I was a boy but may not see the change going on round and about me even as I write this. And when you point these changes out to anyone half your age or younger, their eyes roll back, head tilts to the side, and you hear them think, “Blah, blah, blah. Here we go again! Another trip down memory lane.”

A lot of that youthful experience has shaped the town of Agincourt, consciously and otherwise, I’m sure. Things like home milk delivery, for example, and the once-a-year visit of the knife sharpener. Why is it I have a difficult time imagining these domestic services happening in “New Urbanist” places like Seaside, Florida? If there’s a Good Humor man, his gelato runs about $5 per scoop. Plus tax. Do they even have knives in Seaside?

And so I come to wonder about the legality of livestock within city limits. There must have been a time when it was common — chickens for fresh eggs; a cow for milk — until the sound of roosters at the crack o’ dawn or the aroma of manure were anathema for your neighbors. Well, the pendulum swings and cities the size of Agincourt are reversing their regulation of urban animals. Dogs are one thing; they can be licensed and their poop appears in manageable quantities. But goats are something else. Now, I also imagine the debate (over 3 o’clock pie and coffee at Adams’ Restaurant and eventually before the city council, about putting it to a vote) that may be taking place even as I type this entry — and as you read it.

This change probably follows a pattern of some sort; scales of species and numbers. Chickens, yes. Geese, not yet. Are six chickens too many? Are two too few?

And so, I acquired this RPPC of three folks and their poultry. I can’t tell you who they are, yet, but there must be a story worth telling. Remember what James Carse says: “If you can’t tell a story about what happened to you, then nothing happened.”

[#1478]

PS [21.02.2021]: The photograph at top was taken on the farm of Girons and Sorrel Bellocq. Between them is her brother Armin, visiting from France — possibly riding out the war. They hail from Pau, a small town in Gascogne (Gascony) in southwestern France. Pau is renowned as a wintering place for the English; tea at 4:00 and all that. Mary Todd Lincoln spent some time there as a widow in her declining years.

What brought the Bellocqs to Agincourt, I can’t say. But their small farm was just east of town along Crispin Creek’s north bank. The land (which included an orchard long past its prime) was acquired in the 1950s and developed as one of Agincourt’s earliest post-WWII developments. There should be a plaque about the Bellocqs.

Sorrel’s animal husbandry provided Agincourt with fresh eggs, delivered to her regulars on Monday or Thursday. My great-grandmother Martha Tennant was a customer.

Oh, and the large hen in front of Sorrel is Agathe.

Housing Stock

Agincourt’s original townsite was optimistic, providing more than a hundred blocks for single-family housing. But it was the middle of the 19th century and Manifest Destiny hadn’t played itself out. The proportion of families, parents with children, gauged any community’s chances for stability, longevity, permanence. But the majority of Agincourt’s buildings, however — contributed by students, faculty, friends and your curator — have been “architected”. Writing a report on an historic house in Grand Forks several years ago—in preparation for a National Register nomination, I suppose, though I was never asked to write it—I considered housing stock from the 1880s into the 1930s and came away with a more diverse view than I had at the outset. My preconception imagined that architects designed big houses on prominent streets for what, at any one time, constituted the One Percent and the rest of us lived in hovels from the lumber yard. It turns out to be far more nuanced than that, thankfully.

Yes, there are those large, sometimes pretentious homes for bankers and such (and sometimes for architects themselves as testament to their skill and a form of advertising). And, yes, there are significant numbers of largely anonymous houses at the other end of the socio-economic spectrum. But it turns out there are a number of options between those extremes. I was surprised to discover that here in Fargo, for example, early architects were involved with modest houses and even generic designs for real estate speculation. Then there are pattern books—published by architects, material manufacturers promoting their products, periodicals (especially aimed at women, keepers of the home fires) and organizations promoting home ownership like the American Small Homes Service Bureau (of which I’ve just been reminded)—that have yielded a dizzying variety of single-family detached houses. Is our experience here in the Red River Valley typical of other communities from the same time period? So how might Agincourt have been shaped by these several sources?

LUMBER YARDS: Lumber yards (like Motte & Bailey along the Milwaukee Road right-of-way) could increase sales by simply throwing in a set of plans; a lagniappe ready-made for construction, with a list of building materials and a known price tag. You could hire a contractor or build it yourself.

LOCAL DEVELOPERS: Those same builders could also be developers: purchase three or four lots beyond the edge of development, when prices are affordable, and build a cluster of identical homes on spec. “Vary the monotony” by flipping the plan left-for-right or modifying the porch or painting them different colors or all of the above. In time, owners will make their own modifications and increase the variety.

PLAN BOOKS: Material manufacturers, like lumber yards, could promote their products by asking architects to design small homes using those materials. The Building Brick Association of America did. So did the Southern Pine Association, the Byrd Roofing Co. and the Morgan Sash and Door Co.

LIBBY, OWENS, FORD GLASS Co.: In 1947 L-O-F asked an architect in each state to design a passive solar home — which would obviously feature their product. There were forty-nine; Hawai’i and Alaska weren’t states yet.

19th CENTURY ARCHITECTS: Up to World War I, many American architects published catalogues of plans for houses, stores, churches, schools, and a few other building types. Palliser & Palliser of NYC and Bridgeport, CT sold pattern books of their designs; Geo. F. Barber of Knoxville, TN likewise marketed worldwide.

ARCHITECT’S PERIODICALS: Minneapolis architect Walter J. Keith published a monthly magazine on home-building — and featuring his own work, of course — during the ‘teens and ‘twenties: Keith’s Magazine.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN BUILDING MONTHLY: A monthly magazine from about 1890 to about 1930. Each issue (in the early years) featured a two-page centerfold.

WOMEN’S MAGAZINES: House Beautiful, Ladies’ Home Journal, House & Garden, and Country Life in America among others promoted middle-class domestic life, often by providing ideas for single-family houses. The LHJ famously commissioned architects to design economical homes, including FrankLloyd Wright’s “Fireproof House for $5,000” in their April 1907 issue.

GOVERNMENT AGENCIES: Agricultural agencies at both the federal and state levels offered ideas for improvements in rural life, including small towns. In Minnesota, the Small House Service Bureau offered low-cost plans for the same reasons.

SEARS, ROEBUCK & Co.: “Honor Bilt Model Homes” — complete houses in kit form — were marketed by Sears during the ‘teens and ‘twenties.

LUSTRON: The Lustron Corp. sold prefabricated enameled steel houses manufactured at their Ohio plant from 1947 until about 1950, a peace-time adaptation of war-time manufacturing.

Any of these could easily be across the street from where you were born. And each of them, I suspect, exists somewhere in Agincourt.

morgan03 morgan01 morgan02

 

Hans Ruzicka-Lautenschläger [1862–1933]

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

RUZICKA-LAUTENSCHLÄGER, Hans [1862–1933]

Cityscape

oil on canvas / 5 inches by 7 inches / signed

pre-1900

Austrian artist Hans Ruzicka-Lautenschläger is recognized for his land- and cityscapes, painted in Italy, Austria, and elsewhere. His work in a late-Impressionist style has been mentioned favorably in several Austrian art journals, such as Der Merker. He exhibited in Vienna and Munich.¹

This petite work emigrated to the United States with members of the Wasserman family, who settled in Agincourt in 1900.

Hans Ruzicka-Lautenschläger / “View of the Pantheon in Rome”

¹ An inquiry has been made to the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.

Manifestos are for Sissies!

Cadeau 1921, editioned replica 1972 by Man Ray [1890-1976]

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Two thousand and sixteen celebrated the 100th anniversary of Dadaism, a brief but explosive art movement begun in Switzerland, a negative reaction to the folly of war. Though it manifest in two-dimensional print media like posters and collage, some of its most shocking works involved the perversion of ordinary objects: an iron with nails on it surface; a bowl and spoon covered with animal fur; a common urinal. It’s hard to judge whether Dada any of its intended goals, but it did lay the foundation for the surrealism of the next generation.

Like Dutch neo-plasticism, Russian constructivism, and the Italian futurists, manifestos were frequently integral to the rhetoric of modern art. And so, Thought Farm, our loose affiliation of cultural malcontents here in Agincourt and the hinterlands of Fennimore county, chose to celebrate the Dada Centennial with a series of impromptu events around the community. Flash mobs involving unexpected readings of Dada literature (mostly poetry), dance (movement of an especially ungraceful sort), all in costume driven by a profoundly shallow exploration of political satire and philosophical nonsense. At the time we failed to note its appropriateness for the inauguration of a new president — though hindsight now makes it seem downright prescient.

Like Gerard Hofnung’s “Inter-planetary Music Festival” broadcast from the hippopotamus pit of the London Zoo, who can forget dramatic readings of Tristan Tzara poems delivered at the meat counter in Cermak’s Market — by Abe Cermak, the butcher, himself, in a tuxedo jacket and kilt. Or the first Iowa performance of John Cage’s “4’33″” by the ASO. The week-long celebration culminated with a performance at the Auditorium of Clive Somersault-Malm’s play “Six Pronouns in Search of an Antecedent — a comedy in three obscene acts” (1967) which hadn’t been performed since the The League of Decency shut down the first off-off-Broadway production while still in rehearsal in New Jersey. Though the characters are pronouns, their actions involve a considerable number of impolite gerunds and lewd participles, adding new meaning to “figures of speech”. This was not a show for the kiddies — despite the truth that children understand nonsense far better than their elders.

Christian Asmussen [1873–1940]

 

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

ASMUSSEN, Christian [1873–1940]

“Forest Retreat”

oil on canvas / 14.5 inches by 20 inches

1930s

Christian Asmussen was a Danish painter and graphic artist. As a pupil of Soren Lund, Asmussen was educated at the Royal Art Academy in München but then worked abroad most of his life. Already having worked as a theatre painter prior to his artistic studies, Asmussen began his work on decors in Europe’s finest theatres in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. He returned to Denmark to concentrate on working as a painter in 1900. His works were primarily landscapes and he was best known for his bright forest scenes from the Danish nature park “Dyrehaven”. He also produced decorative wood- and linocuts, one of which is also in the Collection.

Danish emigration to Iowa focussed in the communities of Elk Horn and Kimballton, about seventy-five miles south and west of Agincourt. This painting was acquired at an auction sale there several years ago. It is a recent anonymous donation.

Christian Asmussen [1873–1940]

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

ASMUSSEN, Christian [1873–1940]

Pastoral

color woodcut / 8.66 inches by 8.66 inches / open edition

1920s

Christian Asmussen was a Danish painter and graphic artist. As a pupil of Soren Lund, Asmussen was educated at the Royal Art Academy in München but then worked abroad most of his life. Already having worked as a theatre painter prior to his artistic studies, Asmussen began his work on decors in Europe’s finest theatres in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. He returned to Denmark to concentrate on working as a painter in 1900. His works were primarily landscapes and he was best known for his bright forest scenes from the Danish nature park “Dyrehaven”. He also produced decorative wood- and linocuts, of which this is one.

Danish emigration to Iowa focussed in the communities of Elk Horn and Kimballton, about seventy-five miles south and west of Agincourt. This print was acquired at an auction sale there several years ago. It is a recent anonymous donation to the Collection.

Kilo

In the spirit of ecumenism, the pantheon of Norse gods has grown by one today: Kilo, god of weights and measures. [Not to be confused with Loki.]