Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

The Life of Riley

Physiognomy requires a forensic eye or that of an artist. I have neither. So the Community Collection’s most recent addition — a portrait of some distinction, in my view — struck a chord that resonates still in my imagination.

Portraits, by their very nature, are commissioned by or for those among us who wield more than what might be thought their fair share of power. Nice alliteration, don’t you think? The consensus (admittedly from a small sampling) seems to be that the painting dates from the mid-1960s, though just as admittedly that judgment depends on the shirt, tie, and pocket square; the suit is lost in the background. And then there is the age of the subject, who might be in his fifties. The math then says he was born circa 1913-1917. About the age of my dad. This guy is beginning to look a lot more familiar.

All of this brings us to his identity, and that depends in my mind on the character of his face. Our subject could be anyone in Agincourt, from a grade school custodian, insurance salesman, banker, mechanic, or ophthalmologist. Were this simply a case of “pin the tail on the portrait”, one occupation would be as good as another. But as you know, there are stray threads in the story line seeking resolution. And so he has become William Tyson Bendix, a name that has been kicking around four or five years as the builder of Agincourt’s earliest mid-century modern home.

One of the student projects from a few years ago was done by Gabriela Bierle. Gaby was interested in mid-century design, but spun the project toward the work of E. Fay Jones, a disciple of late Frank Lloyd Wright and designer of large homes in Arkansas. Her interpretation of Jones’s design idiom was spot on, but I don’t have a copy of her design; just my failing memory. So I may have to intercede and give Bill and Maureen Bendix my own understanding of MCM design.

Don’t ask me how the name came to mind. It just did. But in hindsight, I know the source was a TV show from my youth: “The Life of Riley“, a radio program that migrated to TV and ran from 1949 (we got our first set in 1953) until 1958. The title role of Chester A. Riley, a wing riveter at an airplane manufacturing plant in California, was played by a raspy William Bendix. The feckless Riley was unlikely to have commissioned a portrait, so Agincourt’s William Bendix will play another role, yet to be determined. Suggestions, anyone?

The sixteen lots in Riverside Addition can be seen along the banks of the Muskrat, running from the alley just north of the Avenue as far north as Ralph Avenue. Fennimore Avenue splits the addition in half, eight lots to the north, eight to the south.

I’m asking for your help prematurely; there are complicating factors. Bendix, for example, built his MCM home in Riverside Addition, Agincourt’s first subdivision, on a thin strip of land between the west edge of the original town site and the Muskrat River. Much of that land had been occupied by a failed apple orchard, taken by blight and thereby opened for redevelopment. The Bendix family built on the southernmost lot, just north of the tourist court operated by Forrest Culp and his daughter Myra. Lots in Riverside Addition weren’t selling especially well, so Bendix put his own reputation on the line by building there himself. Flood waters be damned.

At least now we know what he looked like.

 

Marcel Jacquier [1877-1957]

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

JACQUIER, Marcel-J.-L. (1877-1957)

“Voiles Rouge” / Red Sails

oil on board / 13.2 inches by 10 inches

ca1940

Through the occasional wonders of the internet, our acquisition of Marcel Jacquier’s folio of WWI images Somewhere in France came to the attention of the artist’s granddaughter Mlle Azilis Roparz. Impressed with the obtuse connection between our two countries represented by her grandfather’s work, she gifted the collection this painting of about 1940, perhaps earlier.

Though he was born in Paris, Jacquier became a member of the Breton School of painting (in that rural part of western France called Finisterre or Land’s End) and used several picturesque coastal settings as his subjects. Here the title refers to the red-sailed boats in the tidal river estuary.

Marcel Jacquier [1877-1957]

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

JACQUIER, Marcel-J.-L. (1877–1957)

“Somewhere in France”

folio / limited edition collection of ten woodcuts / Paris: Edmond Sagot, 1918

#385/500 / 17.3 inches by 12.5 inches

Published in Paris in 1918 (presumably coincident with the end of World War I), Marcel Jacquier created a suite of ten colored woodblock prints of American soldiers and sailors in France. Similar in style to the illustrations of Sir William Nicholson or the Beggarstaff Brothers (a collaboration of Nicholson and his brother-in-law William Pryde), the prints rely on heavy black lines defining areas of soft, almost watercolored pastel shades.

Though educated in Paris, Jacquier appears to have been a Breton artist; many of his subjects were located there. ”

A student of Luc-Olivier Merson, trained at the Beaux-Arts in Nantes and then at the Académie Julian in Paris, he was a member of the French Artists from 1909 and appeared at the Salon of the same Society. He was also decorator for the pavilion of Brittany at the Universal Exhibition of 1937.

Both before and after the war, he also illustrated posters and other advertising, such as the 1911 poster below.

Our copy of the Jacquier folio was purchased in Paris by Agincourt native Michael Schütz, an American doughboy who remained in France after his service long enough to establish contact with Rev Gaston Cornot, priest at the church of Saint Ahab in Azincourt. The folio had been in possession of the Schütz family until it was gifted to the Community Collection, honoring the several local men and women who enlisted in the war effort.

De Bijenkorf

I’m an idiot. Which is to say, I often do not see the forest for the trees.

The ongoing search for “Agincourt” images yielded this beauty, a Sunday school “Rally Day” parade in Davenport, Iowa. All my attention was focussed on how I could photoshop “Davenport” into “Agincourt”. Same number of letters and the last two are the same (“rt”). Should be relatively easy for someone skilled in PhotoShop—which I am not.

Staring at the image (which is more than a little faded), I finally zeroed in on the store fronts and signage. Damned if the first of them Isn’t “THE BEE HIVE”, which is often the name of a department store. And that’s why I’m an idiot.

DE BIJENKORF

One of Marcel Breuer’s lesser known buildings is the De Bijenkorf Department Store in Rotterdam. De Bijenkorf is the Nordstrom’s of the Netherlands, though that may be an insult to the Dutch. I saw it briefly, as I passed through Rotterdam on the way to see a Rob van ‘tHoff house in a small upscale village called Huis ter Heide—which, not incidentally, I could not pronounce sufficiently well to alert the bus driver that’s where I wanted to go. Flash forward to one of our AFS exchange students, Tjipke Okkema, a young man from the Netherlands. One day I asked him about De Bijenkorf (a branch of which you will find in every major Dutch city) and whether it was a family name (like Nordstrom) or something else. He looked at me oddly and informed me “de bijenkorf” means “the bee hive”. Duh!

Suddenly the Breuer building made perfect sense, when I recalled that he’d veneered the exterior with hexagonal panels of limestone.

I’m an idiot.

Coincidentally, Agincourt has a small-town department store with exactly that name, founded around the turn of the century by Dutch emigrants to that part of Iowa. So, this very expensive eBay postcard from Davenport could serve double duty: emblematic of a street festival and Agincourt’s own home-grown department store.

Folke Sinclair [1877-1956]

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

SINCLAIR, Folke (1877–1956)

“Trädgrupp” / Group of Trees

1926

oil on canvas / 12 inches by 11 inches

The collection is fortunate, indeed, to have acquired a second painting by Swedish artist Berndt Folke Sinclair. “Trädgrupp” (which we translate as “Group of Trees” or “Copse”) is another pastoral vignette of the Swedish countryside. His composition and low key palette are similar to British rail travel posters of the late ’20s.

Sinclair is a well listed artist, though not well known outside his native Sweden, whose work is represented in museums at Helsingborg, Kristianstad, Malmö and Tomelilla. 

Jewish Immigration

Jewish immigration to the U.S. occurred in three stages: Sephardic Jews from Iberia and Brazil during the Colonial and Federal periods; German Jews during the 1840s; and Eastern European Jews between about 1880 and the First World War. Each group brought with it specific attitudes about the emerging divisions within the faith and the role of temple in civic life. None of the sources I found said very much, if anything, about emigration from places like France or Britain. So I’m relatively comfortable taking some latitude considering emigration outside those general parameters.

The discovery of the M. Zilbermann auto agency (in New Orleans) and his identity as Michel Zilbermann opened the door for consideration of emigration from France and the possibility that a major cultural event like the Dreyfus Affair could have stimulated it. Zilbermann arrived in Louisiana in 1904, uncannily close to the dates of the Dreyfus case and its eventual resolution by 1906—which divided French culture and exacerbated a streak of antisemitism that has resisted extinction.

Michel Zilbermann was a child of Leon and Doris Zilbermann, born at Paris, France on 04 March 1877, so his arrival at the Port of New York in September 1903 makes him twenty-six. He must have settled in New Orleans soon after, because he married Rachel Pailet there in the spring of 1904; their son Rene was born in ’05. Two sons were born at New Orleans: Rene in 1905 and Leon in 1922. But there is also evidence of an extended family into the third generation and their distribution across the United States. One wonders: 1) what was the motivation for emigration? and 2) what was the family’s status in France, i.e., what resources could they have brought with them for a new start in the U.S.? The sophistication of the auto agency in Louisiana speaks well for their achievement.

End Times

Don’t broach the subject of “End Times” with someone approaching their seventy-fifth birthday. It’s already in the forefront of our thinking.

We can trace the current fascination with End times theology back to the Holy Spirit’s movement across the land during the 1920s—the phenomenon that brought us the Scopes “Monkey Trial”, a.k.a., the source for the powerful drama you’ll recognize as “Inherit the Wind”. So it is safe to believe there would have been some evidence of this in small-town Iowa.

I’ve already written a blog entry titled “Slain in the Spirit“, laying the groundwork for the appearance of a revivalist’s tent or rude frame tabernacle on some open site outside town. Now that religious conservatives are claiming the Trump Administration’s recognition of Israel’s occupation, nay annexation, of the Golan Heights as an important step toward the Rapture, guess I have to revisit the topic.

Tabernacle, Knoxville, IA / circa 1920

As eBay for postcards under the search term “tabernacle” and a bazillion images of the Mormon Tabernacle in SLC will appear. And while I admire that building for its acoustics and innovative wood-laminate construction, it’s a far cry from the sort of facilities Agincourt would have seen. Buildings like this tabernacle from Knoxville, Iowa is typical. In some cases it is difficult to say whether these were purpose-built or adaptations of earlier structures, farm buildings, for example.

In some venues, revivalists might have rented facilities at the county fairgrounds. I’m imagining the adaptive use of a farm building on the south side of Crispin Creek (which itself had been the scene of revivals and full-immersion baptism. But the whole issue becomes embroiled in terminology: What (the hell), for example, is dispensational premillennialism? You’d be amazed how concepts like this, all of them drawn from close readings of the Old and New Testaments, can set evangelicals on one another and, especially, pentecostals. Puts my head in a spin.

Tabernacle, Elkhart, IN / date unknown