I recently discovered an artist, John Steuart Curry, whose work I wish I could share with my Dad, who was also a native of Kansas. A copy of Curry’s painting, “Tornado Over Kansas” caught my eye in Wall Street Journal’s John J. Miller article “Peril, Present and Pending” (June 25, 2021). According to Miller, Curry described the painting “as a scene of ‘how we used to beat it for the cellar before the storm hit.'”
Miller, in art critic form, continues on to describe how he sees the painting (completed around the time of the stock-market crash) as a “powerful metaphor for an economic cataclysm to come.” Hm. Could be, or perhaps it could just be about the storm.
Another of Curry’s paintings I think my Dad would appreciate is this one, “Baptism in Kansas.” At Dad’s home there was a similar water trough and windmill behind the house. And the topography is the same, of course.
I’ve not seen this statue of my favorite United States president, but I enjoyed reading about how it came about. French’s dedication comments from that day, only three years after Lincoln’s death, share not only some of Lincoln’s accomplishments but also provide a glimpse into his character and humanity. The article is linked below and well worth reading. Here is the introduction to French’s remarks:
“Of all the Lincoln likenesses in Washington, D.C., this statue probably ranks among the least known. On April 15, 1868, the third anniversary of the president’s death, it became the city’s first statue dedicated in his honor. It was erected outside City Hall, now the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Designed by Lot Flannery and hailed as an accurate depiction, it eventually fell out of favor and was removed in 1919; only after a public outcry was it restored in 1923.
On dedication day a crowd estimated at 15,000 to 20,000 pressed near the statue, filling the streets, gazing from roofs and windows, even clinging to treetops. Flags hung at half-staff, guns boomed on the half hour, and public buildings and schools stood closed. Prominent guests gathered on a wooden platform but members of Congress were conspicuously absent; they were preoccupied with impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson, who unveiled the statue.
The ceremonies included prayer, music, a Masonic dedication, a formal address, poetry, and the sculptor’s introduction. The speaker, Benjamin B. French, knew the president well because he served as his Commissioner of Public Buildings. Before delivering his speech he stood in the mud and drizzling rain for half an hour while the Masonic ceremonies proceeded.
French’s remarks retain their interest today mainly because of his striking first-hand impressions of Lincoln. He drew upon his now-famous journal when recalling events such as Lincoln’s first inauguration and the Gettysburg Address. He also quoted from a newspaper article he wrote describing the president’s death and funeral services. A Washington printer, McGill A. Witherow, published the statue dedication speech in booklet form during 1868. The text below appeared in the April 15, 1868, Washington Evening Star.”
Toward the end of French’s speech:
And now, my fellow citizens, we have erected, as I believe the first public statue to the memory of that President, who, more than any other since Washington lived and ever will live in the hearts of the loyal people. Here, where he won from all who knew him — and who is there who did not know him — golden opinions; here, where in the midst of his friends, while enjoying a brief respite from the cares and perplexities of his exalted but laborious station, he was struck down in death, by the hand of the foul and cowardly assassin, have we this day placed upon its pedestal the plain unassuming, but almost speaking semblance, of that plain unassuming, but noble and godlike specimen of human nature. [Applause.]
We have erected it where the earliest kiss of rosy day, as she approaches from the East, may fall upon it, and where the last gleam of evening’s mellow light may salute it as the twilight darkens into night. Here it stands, as it were, in the plaza of the city; and here it will stand, we hope, to be seen by generations long hence to come. [Cries of “It will.”]
Let the fathers of the city, in times of trouble, gather around it, and acquire inspiration by calling to mind the firmness, patience, fidelity, zeal, and nobleness of character of him whom it represents. Let the generations of young men gather around it, and recall, as their example and their guide, the virtue, sobriety, modesty, and uprightness of life and purpose of that great man. And let us all bear in mind and ever profit by the remembrance how Abraham Lincoln placed all his trust in God, and implored His blessing upon every act of his exemplary life!
Jan Brueghel the Elder, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, 1615
The Seventh Day
You left the final day for re-creation,
For art and song and festive feasts for all.
You knew we’d work and toil to our damnation,
So you left us space where we could wholly call
Upon your name. Our feasts and songs are sourced
In celebration of you, our only Lord.
You gave us life and yet we were not forced
To listen to your voice, your holy Word.
And when we fell, you did not take the space
You set aside to give us rest and play.
Instead you came and took from death our place,
So from the night we could find the final day.
The week is done, but soon that day is coming,
When we at last will have eternal Sonning.
From “Music That is Art For the Eyes and Ears” Wall Street Journal, June 27-28, 2020:
Felix Mendelssohn wasn’t only a great composer and virtuoso organist; he was also a trained draftsman, a skill he put to use in his elaborate handwritten scores. “A Mendelssohn manuscript is a work of art in itself,” says his biographer R. Larry Todd, professor of music at Duke University. “The calligraphy is stunning.”
The composer’s curvaceous clef markings and arabesque lettering are on display in a newly discovered manuscript from 1842, a version of his song “Im Fruhling” (“In Spring”) that will be sold next month by Sotheby’s London.
My education, such as it was, revolved around books. Aunt Gwen read aloud to us as only she could until ten or eleven every night, and then we went to school at eight the next morning, but it didn’t seem to affect us. She read us all of Scott and Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Conan Doyle. I was conversant with Huckleberry Finn and The Mysterious Stranger from the age of seven.
Of course we were brought up on Beatrix Potter, and I loved The Wind in the Willows. That was one of my father’s favorite books. Walt Disney should be sued for cheapening it as he did. Imagine it, Mickey Mousing all those nice characters. I’m surprised he didn’t do it with the New Testament.
There are certain books that you enjoy as a child, but when you read them again as an adult you find there’s nothing to them. But then there are others that you get just as much pleasure out of: Gulliver’s Travels, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, Robinson Crusoe, and especially Moby-Dick. That book has been ruined by teachers! The pictures it creates in your mind you never forget. You can even smell the food of the inn in the opening chapter. When I read a story, I see it like a movie, moving and all in color. Books are very real to me. I greatly admire Emily Dickinson, who said, “There is no Frigate like a Book/To take us Lands away.”
I still haven’t read Moby-Dick, and I never before heard of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys beautiful things, whether they are ideas or physical objects. It is more of a browsing, than a read through sort of book, more than half of the 129 pages are photographs, and many pages have a Tudor illustration.
One of my friends recently bought me a book that she said “I knew you would like”, and she was right. It is about Tasha Tudor, who I first knew as a children’s book illustrator. Here is a timeline of her life and art. I have at least one of the books she enriched with her whimsical art, A Child’s Garden of Verses, printed the year I was born.
The book I received, The Private World of Tasha Tudor, has some beautiful photographs taken of her and her home environment. Apparently Tudor spent most of her life living simply, very much in the Victorian style and manner, a time period that has always fascinated me, especially the clothing, textile arts, and culture.
From the book (both the picture of foxglove and the commentary):
Because I gardened as a little girl and my mother and grandmother were passionate gardeners before me, I grew up with flowers, knew them all by their look and feel, and called them by all their old colloquial names. Dames’s rocket, sweet William, monkshood, and meadow rue- the old-fashioned names are so much prettier. Delphinium were always called Larkspur. Clematis autumnale was virgin’s bower. The sound of “foxglove” is so much pleasanter than “digitalis.”
Schlimbesserung is a German word for “a so-called improvement that makes things worse,” elsewhere defined as a “disimprovement”. I found it in a comment on a blog I sometimes read, First Known When Lost. The word fits well the mood of this particular entry which begins:
I am conservative by nature. But please take note, dear readers: that is not a political statement. I have no interest whatsoever in the acts or omissions of presidents, prime ministers, premiers, princes, or other potentates. I feel the same way about utopian political schemes of any stripe, together with their mad inventors, purveyors, and true believers. We all know the ultimate end of chimerical, delusive, and disingenuous dream-worlds.
Typical of this blog, there is some good poetry (a less known one by C.S. Lewis), and good art, in this case a series of three renderings of the same view in three seasons, to my mind, a comment on how things can change and yet remain the same.
I was introduced to this by a friend a few years ago and I often think of it when I experience or observe suffering.
Pieter Brueghel, The Fall of Icarus
Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
This is like the nativity set my parents put up every year. When I was a child it reminded me that Christmas celebrates a real event, mysterious and sacred. I am putting out mine now. Today I found the history of this Nativity display on the Glencairn Museum site:
“Christmas Manger Set,” USA, early 1940s. This cardboard tabletop Nativity was published by Concordia Publishing House from illustrations first produced by artist George Hinke. A base is provided with special tabs to hold the 17 lithographed figures upright; each tab is carefully labeled so that even a child can assemble it. Hinke was born in 1883 in Berlin, Germany, where he trained as a painter. He immigrated to the United States in 1923. Hinke specialized in religious subjects and nostalgic scenes of small-town American life. He is best remembered for his illustrations of children’s books such as Joseph’s Story, which tells the Nativity story from Joseph’s point of view, and Jolly Old Santa Claus. Collection of Glencairn Museum.