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The Carousel

The Carousel

Yes, there’s a carousel on The Commons and it has been there since the last years of the Depression—the story behind that claim and the Ruffini Brothers Circus is elsewhere—and it was restored for the city’s 150th birthday, operated by volunteers every Friday and Saturday night. In style, ours is somewhere between these two examples, both of them anonymous; it’s certainly humbler than the “…Mitchell’s Electric Racing…” model. [I paid a bundle for that card, which obligates me to use it somehow.]

David Rock designed a braced-frame shelter for Agincourt’s carousel but I destroyed the model, when the wind took it from my grip on the way to the first exhibit in 2007. I wonder if he’s forgiven me. David’s solution was far more nuanced and elegant than the basic polygon shown at the top, and it has been my goal to reconstruct it from memory.

Private Lives

So fond are mortal men
Fall’n into wrath divine,
As thir own ruin on themselves to invite,
Insensate left, or to sense reprobate, 
And with blindness internal struck.

— Milton, “Samson Agonistes”

Private Life

It’s discouraging to think social media have practically eliminated the quaint notion of “private life”.

Hanging our laundered unmentionables on a line in the backyard merely exposes them to a handful of passersby taking a shortcut through the alley. Fine. But there are three things wrong with that observation: #1) our undies are old and shredded; even Miss Havisham wouldn’t have them; #2) they probably haven’t been laundered; and #3) the clothes lines stretch across the front yard, not the back, in such a way that anyone walking past is likely to be garroted. FaceBook and Twitter are hard to avoid. And they aren’t pretty.

Antonio Aspettati’s small but disconcerting work “Woman in a Park at Evening” brings inward-oriented private life sharply to mind this afternoon; it is

a small Impressionist, borderline Symbolist work in a palate of melancholic secondary colors against a manic blue sky. A lone woman muses in a scruffy park. Two stone pines—also known as umbrella or parasol pines, a tree characteristic of the Mediterranean—divide the composition into what is a nearly-proportioned Golden Section. All is ennui.

What brought her to this pensive place where thoughts were unlikely to be disturbed? I know a few people inclined to similar strategies. And a good thing, too, because there aren’t many places left for such inward-directed conscience.

Private Life in New Kingdom Egypt

Lynn Meskell’s 2002 study of private life in ancient Egypt is currently on the night stand; not a “page turner” but I never expected it to be. The Introduction—like the opening pages of practically every book I encounter—reveals what I don’t know in the outline what I might. Good thing, too, because I’m disinclined to face late 20th century French social theory; her digestion is more than sufficient, thank you. Among Meskell’s points, however, is one that had long since crossed my mind: be wary of projecting your values and social expectations onto past generations; they don’t deserve it and wouldn’t understand anyway.

My principal difficulty these days valiant but futile attempts to project these on the present. I am after all, an aged man who was raised by an even more aged woman, such that my world view has no traction with my own generation—ask member of the ACHS Class of 1963 how successfully I meshed with them—and claim to be situated somewhere among the Edwardians. So whatever you think of our Agincourt enterprise, be kind if you detect a pervasive set of antiquated values; they’re mine.

It has been far easier, for example, to create characters like Hal Holt, because he is both a reflection of a former department chair (invoked several times in these pages), whose religiosity did not exist as far as any of us know, and only indirectly of my own which slant toward the ancient Egyptian [viz. Jan Assmann’s Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt; do you detect a theme here?]. In a similar way other characters are stand-ins for the family I might have had—but didn’t. Martha Corwin Curtiss Tennant may be the mother I misplaced, and her son Anson is the person I’d like to have become.

On the flip side, Mary Ellen “Rooster” Lehr and Edmund FitzGerald Flynn are each reprehensible models simultaneously written into and out of the story, as they have been from the list of my real-life acquaintances; removing them was an act of mental healthfulness. It is one thing to forget regrettable people; quite another to bump them off. So if Agincourt lacks a virtue, it is the binary nature of her denizens: they are thoroughly familiar and compatible with their creator, or they are antithetical and anathema.

My dad was an early but reticent character in the emerging narrative, remembered differently by others, because our relationship was distant at best; a dance around the ring, sizing the other up. and anticipating the first parry. Our exchanges were few and faint and fragile. Like our actual physical encounters—similarly few, and for that rarity distinctly recollected four decades after his passing.

<more to come as the spirit moves>

Hand-colored Postcards

Hand-colored postcards are just that: watercolored by a roomful of women with tiny brushes held by tiny fingers using a palette of basic colors. Most of the artists would never have seen the actual building or scene, so there can be significant variation beyond the simple intensity of color. Witness these two offset-printed images of the DelMar Gardens Amusement Park formerly in Oklahoma City, OK.

The buildings seen here, by the way, were designed by William Abijah Wells, a Kansas-born architect who spent a short time in Chicago attending the AIC; his registration card there reads “c/o Frank Lloyd Wrights, Oak Park”. Tantalizing. Hence my interest beyond having lived in Oklahoma for the seven years it took to get through a five year curriculum. Do the math.

I would love to appropriate these for the Fennimore Co. Fairgrounds in Agincourt.

The Negative Confessions of Ani

No, not little Anakin Skywalker. The “Negative Questions” take their name from the so-called “Papyrus of Ani”, stolen from the Egyptians in 1888 by Wallis Budge and currently at rest (i.e. uncomfortably and illegally situated) in the British Museum. I wonder if the Egyptians would like it back? The same wonderment concerns the Elgin [pronounced with a hard “g”] Marbles; I’ll bet the Greeks would like to get their hands on those.

There are several translations of the Forty-two Questions; I happen to like this one, because it invokes the forty-two gods likely to be offended by each transgression. Once standing in the House of Ma’at before the god Anubis, the recently deceased had to answer in the negative when presented with each question (except for one which is omitted here: “Is there one upon the Earth who is glad thou hast lived?”), else his soul would be eaten by Sekhmet and totally obliterated. The Egyptian “Hell” was non-existence, which makes eternal torment sound fairly attractive. How would you answer each of these?

1. Hail, Usekh-nemmt, who comest forth from Anu, I have not committed sin.

2. Hail, Hept-khet, who comest forth from Kher-aha, I have not committed robbery with violence.

3. Hail, Fenti, who comest forth from Khemenu, I have not stolen.

4. Hail, Am-khaibit, who comest forth from Qernet, I have not slain men and women.

5. Hail, Neha-her, who comest forth from Rasta, I have not stolen grain.

6. Hail, Ruruti, who comest forth from Heaven, I have not purloined offerings.

7. Hail, Arfi-em-khet, who comest forth from Suat, I have not stolen the property of God.

8. Hail, Neba, who comest and goest, I have not uttered lies.

9. Hail, Set-qesu, who comest forth from Hensu, I have not carried away food.

10. Hail, Utu-nesert, who comest forth from Het-ka-Ptah, I have not uttered curses.

11. Hail, Qerrti, who comest forth from Amentet, I have not committed adultery.

12. Hail, Hraf-haf, who comest forth from thy cavern, I have made none to weep.

13. Hail, Basti, who comest forth from Bast, I have not eaten the heart.

14. Hail, Ta-retiu, who comest forth from the night, I have not attacked any man.

15. Hail, Unem-snef, who comest forth from the execution chamber, I am not a man of deceit.

16. Hail, Unem-besek, who comest forth from Mabit, I have not stolen cultivated land.

17. Hail, Neb-Maat, who comest forth from Maati, I have not been an eavesdropper.

18. Hail, Tenemiu, who comest forth from Bast, I have not slandered anyone.

19. Hail, Sertiu, who comest forth from Anu, I have not been angry without just cause.

20. Hail, Tutu, who comest forth from Ati, I have not debauched the wife of any man.

21. Hail, Uamenti, who comest forth from the Khebt chamber, I have not debauched the wives of other men.

22. Hail, Maa-antuf, who comest forth from Per-Menu, I have not polluted myself.

23. Hail, Her-uru, who comest forth from Nehatu, I have terrorized none.

24. Hail, Khemiu, who comest forth from Kaui, I have not transgressed the law.

25. Hail, Shet-kheru, who comest forth from Urit, I have not been angry.

26. Hail, Nekhenu, who comest forth from Heqat, I have not shut my ears to the words of truth.

27. Hail, Kenemti, who comest forth from Kenmet, I have not blasphemed.

28. Hail, An-hetep-f, who comest forth from Sau, I am not a man of violence.

29. Hail, Sera-kheru, who comest forth from Unaset, I have not been a stirrer up of strife.

30. Hail, Neb-heru, who comest forth from Netchfet, I have not acted with undue haste.

31. Hail, Sekhriu, who comest forth from Uten, I have not pried into other’s matters.

32. Hail, Neb-abui, who comest forth from Sauti, I have not multiplied my words in speaking.

33. Hail, Nefer-Tem, who comest forth from Het-ka-Ptah, I have wronged none, I have done no evil.

34. Hail, Tem-Sepu, who comest forth from Tetu, I have not worked witchcraft against the king.

35. Hail, Ari-em-ab-f, who comest forth from Tebu, I have never stopped the flow of water of a neighbor.

36. Hail, Ahi, who comest forth from Nu, I have never raised my voice.

37. Hail, Uatch-rekhit, who comest forth from Sau, I have not cursed God.

38. Hail, Neheb-ka, who comest forth from thy cavern, I have not acted with arrogance.

39. Hail, Neheb-nefert, who comest forth from thy cavern, I have not stolen the bread of the gods.

40. Hail, Tcheser-tep, who comest forth from the shrine, I have not carried away the khenfu cakes from the spirits of the dead.

41. Hail, An-af, who comest forth from Maati, I have not snatched away the bread of the child, nor treated with contempt the god of my city.

42. Hail, Hetch-abhu, who comest forth from Ta-she, I have not slain the cattle belonging to the god

I’d like to imagine Reverend Varenhorst having delivered a sermon contrasting the Ten Commandments with these.

“Song of Democracy” by Walt Whitman

An old man’s thoughts of school,

An old man’s gathering youthful memories and

blooms that youth itself cannot.


Now only do I know You, O fair auroral skies –

O morning dew upon the grass!


And these I see, these sparkling eyes,

These stores of mystic meaning, these young lives,

Building, equipping like a fleet of ships, immortal ships,

Soon to sail out over the measureless seas,

On the soul’s voyage.


Only a lot of boys and girls?

Only the tiresome spelling, writing, ciphering classes?

Only a public school?

Ah more, infinitely more.


And you America,

Cast you the real reckoning for your present?

The lights and shadows of your future, good or evil?

To girlhood, boyhood look, the teacher and the school.


Sail, Sail thy best, ship of Democracy,

Of value is thy freight, ’tis not the present only,

The Past is also stored in thee.

Thou holdest not the venture of thyself alone,

not of thy Western continent alone.

Earth’s resume entire floats on thy keel, O ship,

is steadied by thy spars,

With thee Time voyages in trust, the antecedent

nations sink or swim with thee.

With all their ancient struggles, martyrs, heroes,

epics, wars, thou bear’st the other continents,

Theirs, theirs as much as thine, the destination –

port triumphant;

Steer then with good strong hand and wary eye

O helmsman, thou carriest great companion,

Venerable priestly Asia sails this day with thee,

And royal feudal Europe sails with thee.

And royal feudal Europe sails with thee.

Ronald Olley (born 1923)

OLLEY, Owen Ronald (born 1923)

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

“War Sketch”


acrylic on paper / 7.0 inches by 10.3 inches

“Sunrise Horse Ride”


oil on panel / 11.3 inches by 11.1 inches

“Blitz, London”


oil on panel / 7.5 inches by 9.9 inches

On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, today, it is especially appropriate for the Community Collection to feature these three works by British nonagenarian artist Owen Ronald Olley.

Olley was born in 1923, and studied at both the Harrow Art School and the Central School, London. His father had served as a soldier throughout the First World War, and Olley joined the army in 1942, witnessing the bombing of Bath, England, before being stationed at El Alamein in Egypt, and then in Italy. As one of the last artists to paint World War II from personal experience, a significant part of his portfolio depicts battlegrounds and war-torn landscapes. While they may not have been created on the actual battlefield, they were painted using significant research and photographs, augmenting Olley’s own knowledge of the front line.¹

His work has been shown at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of British Artists, as well as in exhibitions at the Medici Gallery and at Duncan Campbell.

¹ Rachel Campbell-Johnston wrote about precisely this quality of Olley’s work inThe Times for 11 January 2014: “Ron Olley ‘paints what battle is like'”.

On the Cusp

cusp (plural cusps)

  1. a sharp point or pointed end.
  2. (figuratively) an important moment when a decision is made that will determine future events quotations ▼
  3. (geometry) a point of a curve where the curve is continuous but has no derivative, but such that it has a derivative at every nearby point
  4. (architecture) a point made by the intersection of two curved lines or curved structures. A common motif in Gothic architecture[1]
  5. (astrology) a boundary between zodiacal signs and houses
  6. (dentistry) any of the pointed parts of a canine tooth or molar

Technically, I suppose, every day is a cusp; every moment, for that matter. We are always at some point of change, which is as it should be. Astrologically, I’m a Capricorn on a cusp with Aquarius, meaning that my sun sign is influenced by the next celestial house—not that I believe in astrology, but there are a good many Capricorn characteristics I favor, and they were “mine” long before I knew what astrology was. But today my cusp-edness concerns a project that, if it is concluded successfully, will bring broad grins to many of my friends—and grimaces to a clump of others.

More to follow. Your patience will be rewarded.