Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

John Edgar Platt [1886-1967]

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

PLATT, John Edgar [1886–1967; British]

“Staithes, Yorkshire”

1920-1930

woodcut / 25.1 cm x 37.2 cm / #73 of an unknown edition

Without any intention of the sort, the Collection has acquired another woodcut by British printmaker John Platt — the fourth of his works and allied with the work of other artists.

Staithes is a picturesque coastal fishing village in North Yorkshire, possibly a place over-visited by tourists in recent years but surely a remote destination when Platt recorded his visit during the 1920s. Platt was among the earliest British artists to respond the Japanese ukiyo-e or “floating world” printmaking and here he has captured the essence of “place” with a seemingly minimum artistic effort — though we know the woodcut process requires endless hours of carving and perfect registry during the printing phase. In the spirit of current Minimalist art, there is an almost inverse relationship between effort and image: greater complication and effort are required to achieve effortless simplicity.

Platt’s other work can be found here, here, and here. Note the predominance of picturesque coastal themes.

ge·müt·lich·keit

The first — and, who knows, perhaps the only — post of the New Year.

Gemütlichkeit could be my favorite word in the German language, just as “saudade” is in Portuguese. The German word means “a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer”, which is something devoutly to be wished these days. But with more than a little hesitation.

I’m reminded of the admonition that the goal of Christianity is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I wonder if the Germans have a word for gemütlichkeit’s opposite.

27 December 2021

“So it is written – but so, too, it is crossed out. You can write it over again. You can make notes in the margins. You can cut out the whole page. You can, and you must, edit and rewrite and reshape and pull out the wrong parts like bones and find just the thing and you can forever, forever, write more and more and more, thicker and longer and clearer. Living is a paragraph, constantly rewritten. It is Grown-Up Magic. Children are heartless; their parents hold them still, squirming and shouting, until a heart can get going in their little lawless wilderness. Teenagers crash their hearts into every hard and thrilling thing to see what will give and what will hold. And Grown-Ups, when they are very good, when they are very lucky, and very brave, and their wishes are sharp as scissors, when they are in the fullness of their strength, use their hearts to start their story over again.”
― Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

26 December 2021

“The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.”

—William Butler Yeats (1910)

What goes up…

…eventually comes down.

Agincourt was founded after the passing of braced-frame construction, though it’s hard to imagine a substantial home like this being dismantled because it was out of date. There has to be a story here. I just haven’t figured it out yet.

No title required

“there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to

watering a plant.”

― Charles Bukowski, Love Is a Dog from Hell

All good things…

“Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies….” The Shawshank Redemption

Some time in the last few years — unnoticed by me but it should have been — the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (better known to us as Shakers) officially closed itself to the World (the rest of us). That is, they made a decision to not accept converts to their sect. At the time of writing this, there is only one remaining member of their community, which once numbered 30,000 spread from New England to Ohio and Kentucky, living out the ascetic Shaker life at Sabbathday Lake, in rural Maine. I have visited Shaker communities in New York State and across the line in Massachusetts. The time may have come to visit once again, this time as pilgrim, rather than tourist. Today, I think of another thing whose passing will go little noticed; whether it’s a good thing is up to each of us: the end of Agincourt.

What began as a personal quest has morphed into a (for me) large collaborative effort among students, faculty, staff, as well as non-university participants including composers and musicians, artists and artisans (no distinction being made here), friends and practical strangers, husbands, even. Now past its peak, long past, each subsequent iteration has been less that its predecessor. Not in quality, necessarily, but in its embrace, the enthusiasm, the resonance with which it has been entertained, accepted, explored, incorporated, collaborated, enlarged, enhanced. Don’t mistake me here: it is as much a challenge as it ever was. But the question is no longer “how?” Instead, it has become “why?” And that makes all the difference.

What began as a curious academic exercise grew into an investigation into the relationship between narrative and design, between place-making and story-telling, will return to its origins and carry on so long as I do.

It’s become Chromolume #8. If you must ask, please do.

 

TWTW: Reading List

You don’t read a book because it topped the NYTimes “Best Seller” list for umpteen weeks. Nor because Good Reads labelled it “Best Historical Novel of the Year”, though that’s a recommend hard to ignore. You read a book because it touches where you are, what you need, who you might like to have known — or been. I’ve just wept my way through The Nightingale and learned a lot. I hope you will, too.

How many books will prepare me to write the story of Clotilde Sobieska and her convoluted connection with a small town in northwest Iowa?

Howard Tabor’s aunt Mary Grace had married Kurt Bernhard, a French refugee from WWII. Uncle Kurt left a good deal of himself behind, as most refugees do. In his case it was the memory of his first wife Clotilde Sobieska, daughter of Peter and Mary, themselves Polish refugees and vintners living in Alsace-Lorraine. Confused yet?

When Paris Went Dark was helpful in understanding the Bernhard’s generation, in France and during the war I don’t (didn’t) enjoy reading about. And now The Nightingale may be enough to rough out the story of Clotilde’s short life in the French underground. In the Agincourt narrative, it seems to have sprung from a painting by Gabriel Spat, titled originally “Portraite une famille” but repurposed into “The Project.” What I can say after reading Nightingale is that my attention span is long, while my capacity for writing, telling this or any other story, is shorter than “Cliff’s Notes” by contrast.

ADDENDUM

The complex story of how Spat’s impressionist family portrait came to be in the community collection could in an introduction to “the way things work.” Which was followed by a TWTW 1.2 expansion.

When Paris Went Dark was a first stab at understanding the Nazi occupation of Paris, which was becoming central to the plot.

TWTW 1.2

I have little idea what’s going on here. There’s a message on the back but it doesn’t help. Does it suffice to say there needs to be a story being told?

The card, BTW, is far too expensive for the project budget.

“The Rhythm of Life”

“Daddy started out in San Francisco,
Tootin’ on his trumpet loud and mean.
Suddenly a voice said, ‘Go forth, Daddy.
Spread the picture on a wider screen.’
And the voice said, ‘Daady, there’s a million pigeons
Ready to be hooked on new religions.
Hit the road, Daddy. Leave your common-law wife.
Spread the religion of the rhythm of life. “
And the rhythm of life is a powerful beat,
Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet,
Rhythm in your bedroom, rhythm in the street,
Yes, the rhythm of life is a powerful beat….’

I might have guessed Sammy Davis, Jr. wrote the lyrics for Shirley McLain’s number in “Sweet Charity”, a 1969 film. As yet another birthday peaks above the horizon, retrospection might be expected, especially for someone whose career has been focussed on history. Well, at least it’s supposed to have been. But that’s another question for anther time.

So, it was September, 1951, probably the day after Labor Day; that’s the way we used to do it in the era before T.V. And Marge walks me to the neighborhood school, then only grades one through four, and enrolls me in First Grade. I was in the care of Miss Mary Hletko, who I liked very much. My class might have had a dozen students, really, or at least that’s the way I remember it. O.K., now I’ll cut to the chase.

The rhythm of my life has been regulated by education, multiple sequential levels of it, from there through grad school — a couple of them, and one of those a couple times; I’m kinda slow that way. My point is that I have been at school of one sort or another for seventy years. Those rhythms of class sequence, alternate days (MWF versus TTh); semesters then quarters then semesters; holidays and their variants — we used to get both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays off; now we get neither — and the irregular flow of time through those lazy summer months (slow at first, then increasingly rapid as Labor Day drew nigh) have regulated my life since that day when Marge dropped me off. [Eighteen months later, by the way, Marge herself packed a suitcase of lingerie and loose cash and lit out, never to be seen again, but that, too, is another story.]

Follow a pattern, any pattern, long enough and it becomes part of who you are. But then what happens, what replaces it, when you’re no longer a part of the pulse? I guess I’m gonna find out.

For Agincourt, the response is simple: I’ve long been aware of the diverse rhythms that can govern our lives and tried in my modest yet anal-retentive way to build them into the story.

[#1524]