[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
BURKE, Frank [born 1947]
oil on canvas / 3.4 inches by 11.3 inches
A British artist from Northumberland, he paints mainly in oils. Burke’s subjects include seascapes, scenes of north east life and landscapes of the Tyne River valley. He also paints historical paintings going back to the English Civil War. The “Garden Party” is a recent gift in memory of Phoebe and Sophia Tennant.
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]
FAHNSTOCK, Willis Winthrop [1853–1920]
Portrait of my Father / Elias Fahnstock
oil on canvas / 18.1 inches by 14.2 inches
Willis was the son of early Agincourt investor Elias Fahnstock and older brother of the community’s earliest physician Rudyard “Doc” Fahnstock. Willis studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia — yet another connection between Agincourt and that renowned school — then returned East to the family place at New Castle, Delaware.
The portrait subject Elias Fahnstock was the first investor outside the original Founders in the Agincourt adventure, and also the founder in his own right of the village that bears the family name eight miles east. The portrait style is loosely reflective of the Newlyn School, a British artist colony on the coast of Cornwall, which Fahnstock may have visited. A second Newlyn School began operation about 2010 but is devoted to Modernism.
Descendants of the Fahnstock family have only recently donated this fine piece to the Community Collection as a memorial to their name hereabouts.
Psych(ot)ic notions of karma and inevitability, as opposed to mere coïncidence, are part of me, always have been. I’ve lost count of cases where “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon” has stepped up to kick me in the ass: “See? I told you. But would you listen? No.” Now, I’m no great fan of Mr Bacon — not that he’s a bad actor; maybe it’s the films that lack luster — but I could easily bypass a “Kevin Bacon” film festival. One of those “coïncidences” occurred a few years ago while I was living in Belgium.
My friend Richard came for a visit and we rented a car for a trip across northern France, a day-trip. We intended to travel as far as an anachronistic English country house by Sir Edwin Lutyens at Varengeville-sur-Mer, a rural commune just beyond Dieppe. But the first stop, the true beginning of our westward journey, was at Lille, technically at Croix, an upscale suburb.
Architect Rob Mallet-Stevens was contemporary of LeCorbusier, though history books don’t see it quite that way. Though just one year separated them, it was Corbu who became a thing, the darling of the Modern Movement, part of a trinity which included Mies van der Rohe and the somewhat older Frank Lloyd Wright. What is it about threesomes?
Mallet-Stevens began his career in 1907, about the same time as Corbu, and though he was successful in monetary terms, attracting wealthy and influential clients, time has not treated him well. Which may have something to do with his death in 1945, while Corb lived on until 1969; those twenty-four years made the difference, if the work did not.
In 1932 Paul and Lucie Cavrois commissioned the design of a large suburban home from Mallet-Stevens for a site in Croix — definitively on the proper side of town for “bourgeois domestic architecture,” according to one source. Cavrois was a Roubaix textile entrepreneur with both money and a taste for the shockingly modern, a good fit with the showman architect. The product of that collaboration was Villa Cavrois, 1840 m² (nearly 20,000 square feet) of sleek modern exterior and custom fittings. There isn’t anything deprived of Mallet-Stevens’ touch. After having become derelict, the house and grounds were acquired by the city of Croix and restored to their 1932 glory, the year the project was complete. This was the destination for Richard and me that spring morning.
Finding the place from space is no problem; it can literally be distinguished from its context in google.earth. Finding it on the ground is another matter, particularly since neither Richard nor I speak French. When we chanced on a lady returning from market, the best I could manage was “veel cav-wah” and a shrug of the shoulders signifying ignorance. She point in a direction and said something about “une chapelle”. With little more than a keen sense of direction — like homing pigeons — we located the villa, surrounded by chain-link fence, in mid-restoration, which was not unexpected. You can find the house today, fully restored and open for tours (as soon as the pandemic has passed) at the intersection of Avenue du Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Avenue François Roussel.
Other intermediate stops on our pilgrimage included several WWI cemeteries designed by the aforementioned Lutyens, during his “classical” period. But our ultimate goal that day was the country house “Bois des Moutiers” at Varengeville-sur-Mer, as spectacular an exercise in Edwardian Arts & Crafts (though geographically misplaced) as the Villa Cavrois was to the Art Deco. Two iconic houses were the brackets of our journey.
And so, we duly arrived at Varengeville with as little knowledge of the house’s location as we had at Croix, except this time there were hints of signage that took us down a single-track road with no shoulder or space for parking. The house was a tremendous experience, again equal to our first stop but here the setting had been provided by the landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll, a cousin of architect Lutyens and frequent collaborator. The interiors of the house have been inaccessible for some time but the grounds were worth the drive and we had an excellent chat with the owners, who doubled as admittance staff. We learned that Bois des Moutiers is embroiled in French inheritance court, shares of the property owned by two dozen cousins of contrary opinion on what should be done with the place — a perfect “tear-down” site for a bunch of McMansions. But as we turned toward the car, our host admonished us to drive right, rather than left, and visit the village church at the end of the road.
A charming Romanesque church, the église de Varengeville-sur-Mer, and its burial ground, tottering on the edge of a cliff above La Mance or what the English so rudely claim as their “Channel.” Come back in twenty years and both chapel and grounds will have collapsed into La Manche, taking its inmates along for the ride.
The church was interesting but the tombs and the view their inmates couldn’t appreciate were a late afternoon spectacle not to be missed. Wandering among the memorials, hoping to find we knew not what, I was drawn to an impressive grave. And was stunned to learn that it is the final resting place of French composer Albert Roussel. Why he should be found in such an out-of-the-way cemetery and not nobly interred at Pere Lachaise, is a mystery. But I took great personal satisfaction that the brackets of our architectural tour had each been houses of iconic status on streets associated with French musicians bearing the surname Roussel: Francois (1510–1577) and Albert (1869–1937).
“Although the tribe are friends with the coca leaf, mescal, ayahuasca, yagé, the titular milk of river toads in the mating season, marijuana, peyote and Salvia divinorum, none of these are as potent for them as the power of a story.
“This tribe are storytellers, and stories are their drugs. For them, stories are not mental escapades, but are lived, richly, fully, viscerally. Every person in the tribe, man, woman and child, has the power; once they begin to recount, the others fall into trances. There are some figures, elders of the tribe, the Tellers, whose power to do this is even stronger…. Unusually, apart from their creation myth, there is no canon, and stories beget stories, in endless circulation, endless supply, one folding into another and generating a third, fourth, fifth, the characters always recognisable but always changing. Every story is told anew, nothing is ever repeated. And the fount of all these stories is that creation myth: a leopard, drunk on the milk of the river toad, brought the world into being with a story, and will end it again when the story finishes.”
— C. D. Rose, Who’s who when everyone is someone else.
In my world, the story never ends, so long as there is someone to pick up the thread. My part is almost over; my chapter. Who will take it on?
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa.]
HAMER, Val [active]
“Bird Cage on White Stand”
pastel on paper / 22.7 inches by 15.6 inches
British artist Val Hamer attended Bury Art School in the 1950’s, where she met her husband and fellow artist Rod Hamer. Val also studied Fine Art at Lancaster College of Art. Hamer has been inspired by the Euston Road School, especially Sir William Coldstream and Euan Uglow, as well as the works of Bernard Dunstan.
In 1967, Val Hamer was an acting and founding member of the Drama Group 65 in Bishops’ Stortford, Hertfordshire. Recently, the artist practised in her art studio in the Chilterns.
If serendipity were acknowledged here as often as it has happened, it would be the most frequently used word in these nearly 1500 entries. As “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way,” I ought to be the happiest of my kind, for chance has pervaded the Agincourt Project from the beginning. The choice of “Agincourt” itself as the name of our imagined community generated so many adjunct topics and tangents that I have lost count. And so another happy accident arose this morning.
Habitués of the blog will know that the hero of the story (though he himself was unaware of that status) Anson Tennant, designer of the Agincourt Public Library & Tennant Memorial Gallery, celebrated the near-completion of the project — when loose ends were being safely tied off — took a well-deserved break from his labours and set sail for Liverpool on May 1st, 1915, intent on paying homage to the founders of the Arts & Crafts movement which, in its American guise, had formed the foundation of his architectural point of view.
William Morris, the Founder of the Feast, had died nineteen years previous, but other key characters of the movement were still active, even if in the twilight of its British form. Ernest Gimson, C.F.A. Voysey, and others were still producing work, though their sun was setting. But that, I suppose, is the seductive beauty of twilight: wrapped in its mellow tones, we forget that the day will soon be at an end and may be taking us with it. But the youthful enthusiasm of someone like young Tennant hadn’t seen that prospect when he boarded the Lusitania for what would be its final voyage. For Anson, of course, the ship’s tragic sinking opened a second chapter in his life, even if it did not for the 1,198 shipmates who did not survive.
Quite beyond the experience of visiting the principal sites of the Arts & Crafts and the opportunity to speak with some of its founders and chief practitioners, the voyage itself held out possibilities which Anson may not have appreciated — until it was too late, of course. Imagine the conversations at dinner or in the lounge; making circuits of the deck, even if Edwardian sensibility separated passengers by class. For a gregarious young person like Tennant, each encounter was an experience; each new acquaintance a prospective correspondent and even a client.
I had not realized the breadth of those possibilities beyond a few of the most famous passengers. Consider an exchange over lunch with Elbert and Alice Hubbard, of East Aurora, New York, founders of “The Roycrofters” and its influential publications. Or crossing the path of Theodate Pope (later Theodate Pope Riddle), one of America’s first female architects, who survived the sinking; she had apprenticed in the office of McKim Mead & White. But I hadn’t realized that one of the characters in the William Halsey Wood narrative — which has had occasional tangencies with Agincourt — was also aboard: Rev Basil Maturin [1847–1915], Irish-born Anglican priest who was a key figure in the High Church party among Episcopalians and would have shared that perspective with Anson and other members of his Anglo-Catholic family.
Something tells me I need to inspect the Lusitania passenger list more carefully.
An old friend, how sadly gone and become a treasured memory, had been the archivist of what a former mayor of our town called “a local newspaper”. She was the go-to person for obtuse questions of local history. I tended to think the archive she managed consisted largely of clippings, filed in some arcane way, cross-referenced, and searchable in a variety of contexts.
Lately, on eBay, I’ve noticed sellers who seem to have acquired files of newspaper photographs. This makes perfect sense as professional photographs make the transition from film-based to digital records and it opens a new source of images for my long-term projects. And so, I spent an hour today searching among those images and choosing a few that can be easily adapted to the Agincourt narrative. The category “Disasters” came immediately to mind.
How much photoshopping do think would be required to adapt this image to the Agincourt story? The question, I suppose, it what sort of narrative would fit? Disasters are more common than we might hope. But they beg several questions — of cause and effect; loss of life and property; determination of fault. This interurban accident could have been responsible for a single headline in the evening edition of The Plantagenet. But it could just as reasonably have evolved through investigative journalism — not all of which involves the raking of muck.
At this point, I’ll just say the wheels are turning.
NEVER TOO LATE
Well, almost never. I started reading a book by Isaiah Berlin that’s been on the shelf since 2013 and just never seemed to get around to it. The Sense of Reality is subtitled “studies in ideas and their history” and the introduction seems to suggest it will help the Agincourt Project achieve its goals. Which, of course, begs the question whether there have been goals along the way.
The Sense of Reality is a collection of essays, eight of them never published previously. But it’s the first which interests me (and perhaps the one I might be able to wrap my mind around): The title essay treats “the impossibility of historians being able to recreate a bygone epoch.” Whether my own efforts toward that end have gained me anything along the way, I say “yes”, they have. But it also helps me understand why the project has been only a relative success when I’ve persuaded (lured, cajoled, bribed, threatened,…) others to play in my corner of the sandbox.
Not knowing exactly how to judge the success of “Agincourt”, I seem to have relied on the criteria of an eight-year-old: whether anyone, having ventured into the project out of sheer curiosity, comes back for a second encounter — a list that is remarkably short.
So, I’ll get back to you on the question of Berlin’s applicability to the problem at hand. I know it is but am I up to it?
“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A Tabor
The Ecumenical Parking Lot
Asbury UMC hosted a Thanksgiving dinner last week. If you weren’t there — maybe even if you were — a description of the event is likely to challenge credibility. Regardless of your level of “belief”, I’ll wager those in attendance have considerably more faith in our species than they may have had before the pumpkin pie appeared.
Hazel Bischof’s pork sausage stuffing had to wait another year; likewise the oyster stuffing that was such a hit last Christmas. Because this was a genuine ecumenical meal, possibly Agincourt’s first. That night in the Asbury church basement (or “garden level”), our turkey dinner was enjoyed by all “People of the Book”— the congregations of Temple Emanu-El, the Agincourt Islamic Center, and a representative sampling of the full Christian spectrum represented across the community. Their “ecumenical parking lot” lies between those three places of worship, which accounts for its heavy use on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Such a feast presented its own array of issues. What, for example, on the traditional Thanksgiving menu was verboten under the combined force of multiple dietary laws, individual allergies, and personal preference? Planning and preparation for both kosher and halal regulations (which put the kibosh on Hazel’s stuffing), compounded with intolerance to dairy or gluten, allergy to nuts, not to mention the growing number of vegetarians and outright vegans, put the project well beyond the capabilities of even a papal blue ribbon commission. The U.N. could take a lesson from Thursday night and all that came before it.
There was no “seating chart”. The only suggestion was to share a table with those of other faith traditions; don’t sit with yourselves. Unlike our cousins at Lake Wobegon — where the room is bifurcated between Lutherans and Catholics, those who drive Fords or have a preference for Chevies — the motivation here was otherwise. Whether it served that intent or some larger purpose will be shown if this happens again.
And how do they get those pumpkin pies without the unsightly “pucker” of crevices in the center?
[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa.]
NICHOLSON, William Newzam Prior [1872–1949]
“H. M. The Queen” / Queen Victoria
lithographic image of a woodcut original / 9.5 inches by 8.9 inches / unsigned
In 1899, London publisher William Heinemann issued a folio of “Twelve Portraits”, lithographic reproductions of woodcut originals by English artist William Nicholson (later Sir William). These proved so popular that a second series followed soon after. Each included a dozen well-known figures in contemporary British life — public figures, like Queen Victoria, who was still on the throne; political and military figures; people from the arts. They all have the simplicity of the English Arts & Crafts idiom tempered with a touch of Continental Art Nouveau.
Nicholson later formed a partnership with his brother-in-law William Pryde as “The Beggarstaff Brothers”, who produced advertisements in similar A&C style for products (like flour or periodical publiscations) and events (such as theatrical performance). These have also become quite collectible, as have other throw-away lithographed images from the period 1895-1910. Victoria is one of nine prints from the First Series which we have in the Collection.