09 January 2020

Palermo Springs

Palermo viewed from Monreale
(my picture, spring 2013)

Palm Springs, California
(Daniel's picture, January 2020)

We both studied at the Claude Lorrain School of Landscape.

01 January 2020

the books I read in 2019

Roberto Ferrari posted his best books of 2019 list as well as a complete listing of the 30 books he read last year, in chronological order, with ranking stars from 3 to 5. I wonder if he just quit reading the 1- and 2-star books or whether he's luckier than I am. I have a lot of trouble rating so I've made some observations down below the list. We've had trouble with grade inflation since the 1970s and it's probably worse on social media. You might as well flunk something if you only give it 2 or 3 stars and we know that reading enjoyment is often quite personal.

Here are the books I read this year, in chronological order of reading. The date of publication in parenthesis is usually the first edition with a second date if it is notable.

  • Codex, by Lev Grossman (2004)
  • A people's history of the United States, by Howard Zinn (1980, 2005 edition)
  • Boy erased: a memoir of identity, faith, and family, by Garrard Conley (2016)
  • Finding Fontainebleau: an American boy in France, by Thad Carhart (2017)
  • Mabel Dodge Luhan: new woman, new worlds, by Lois Palken Rudnick (1987)
  • The house on the strand, by Daphne du Maurier (1969)
  • Christ stopped at Eboli: the story of a year, by Carlo Levi (1945)
  • The years, by Annie Ernaux (2017)
  • Christodora, by Tim Murphy (2016)
  • La bella figura: a field guide to the Italian mind, by Beppe Servignini (2005)
  • It can't happen here, by Sinclair Lewis (1935, 2014 edition)
  • Kitchen confidential: adventures in the culinary underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain (2000, 2007 update)
  • Havana: a subtropical delirium, by Mark Kurlansky (2017)
  • The delight of being ordinary: a road trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama, by Roland Merullo (2017)
  • Shortest way home: one mayor's challenge and a model for America's future, by Pete Buttigieg (2019)
  • Notes on a foreign country: an American abroad in a post-American world, by Suzy Hansen (2017)
  • The Sparsholt affair, by Alan Hollinghurst (2017)
  • On earth we're briefly gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong (2019)
  • Italy: modern architectures in history, by Diane Yvonne Ghirardo (2011)
  • Giovanni's room, by James Baldwin (1956)
  • The big roads: the untold story of the engineers, visionaries, and trailblazers who created the American superhighways, by Earl Swift (2011)
  • No other world, by Rahul Mehta (2017)

Some observations. The book I perhaps most enjoyed reading was The delight of being ordinary, a fantasy road trip with Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. Just the good tonic I needed. Rather more escape than the believable dysfunction of It can't happen here. Suzy Hansen of Notes on a foreign country came to Alfred. Her book on the perception of the U.S. in other countries and our effect on them was incredibly informative. She mentioned James Baldwin's time in Turkey and his writings about it but also said that Giovanni's room was her favorite Baldwin book. I decided I wanted to read more Baldwin and the Library of America had a special price on the three Baldwin volumes they've published.

A lot of my reading in 2019 was about somewhere other than the United States, either by authorship, setting, or topic. Quite a few of the books were first published in 2017 and several of those came out in paperback in 2018 and were therefore ripe for the reading in 2019. At the same time, I read several older volumes: Ghirardo's Italy because I've long been intrigued by Italian modern architecture, but especially since being in Italy in 2018; Christ stopped at Eboli because it is set in Fascist Italy contemporary with the modern architecture; Daphne du Maurier because a bunch of her books were in the stuff at Matt Mueller's house when Hope and Elizabeth were cleaning it out (from her overstuffed house to mine); Giovanni's room as mentioned above.

I really enjoyed the first Alan Hollinghurst novel I read: The swimming-pool library (1989). Several friends, including Roberto, had mentioned The Sparsholt affair. I liked it well enough but not as well as others of his. It is set in England so it joins the foreign settings of much of my reading.

Though I sometimes consciously pick a fiction title after having read a nonfiction title, that is not always the case or it's unconscious. I am amused that the split (11 fiction, 11 nonfiction) is 50-50 this past year. Perhaps a good omen for 2020. Maybe I'll try to read twenty of each. I haven't started reading it yet but the book I put in my backpack, having finished No other world earlier today, is Europe without Baedeker by Edmund Wilson (1947, 1966 edition). Not U.S., check; older book, check; nonfiction, check. Off to a good start.

26 December 2019

great grandpa Wyckoff

Wyckoff is one of the good old Dutch family names that I associate with New York City, especially Brooklyn. A second cousin of mine broke the interesting news a few days ago that we were seventh cousins, at two or three removes, from Georgia O'Keeffe. That was pretty exciting and then he sent a flowchart, aka family tree, with the link between our family and Georgia O'Keeffe. We both go back to Pieter Claesen Wyckoff (1620/1625-1694). According to Wikipedia, "most persons surnamed Wyckoff in North America, including many variations in spelling, can be traced to his family."

Pieter Claesen Wyckoff's granddaughter Margaret Grietje Wyckoff married Samuel Poling Sr and that's the line from which I descend. The Poling became Polan four generations later and my maternal grandfather was Herbert Lewis Polan. His mother had a great name: Frances Agzilla "Aggie" Hoult. Georgia O'Keeffe comes down through another son of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff.

I wouldn't say that I've been bitten by the genealogy bug though I was really intrigued by the connection to the Clarke House in Chicago. And now I'm enjoying this connection to Wyckoff. There's a Wyckoff Street that runs across central Brooklyn through Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill. I wonder if I could drop 9-great grandpa's name and get a discount on an apartment. More likely, they'd figure I was rich and they'd up the rent. One of the members of my bookclub when I lived in New York City lived on Wyckoff Street.

The Wikipedia article on Pieter Claesen Wyckoff also describes a fraudulent bit of genealogy that would have Wyckoff be the son of Claes Cornelissen van Schouw and Margaret van der Goes. Ah. Now we're back in familiar territory. Hermione van der Goes was the little known (you could say unknown) painter to whom my grad school chum Nancy Stowell and I credited any early Netherlandish painting of disputed attribution. Hermione was the sister or daughter of Hugo van der Goes, a painter of whom we were both fond. To the fraudulent bit of genealogy, you can add our fraudulent but innocent bit of attribution. Truth be known, we just liked saying "Hermione van der Goes."

24 December 2019

everyday wonders

Yesterday, somehow, I happened upon a citation for Everyday wonders: Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Milano: the Corso Italia complex, the catalog for a show at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. His name is most enjoyable to say and the buildings he designed are also pretty special. The catalog is particularly focused on the 1957-1961 mixed-use (commercial and residential) complex he designed on the Corso Italia in Milan. I stupidly missed it, or perhaps vaguely missed it, when I was walking up the Corso last year.

I didn't realize I was supposed to be looking across the Corso as I walked up to find the 1951-1956 mixed-use (offices and apartments) building designed by Luigi Moretti, a block or so further into the center of town.
Note that the Torre Velasca is peeking over the upturned roofline at the left. My t-shirt with the Torre Velasca is just another everyday wonder. Its caption is "Milano loves design."

All of this was coursing through my brain (and heart) as I walked the loop this morning and "everyday" reminded me of Vija Celmins who did many sculptures of ordinary objects, natural and manmade, in her early career. She shifted to drawings later and there is a retrospective on at the Met Breuer now. Ends soon; I'll probably miss it ... but I didn't miss this pencil at a 2010 show at the Brooklyn Museum of women in pop art.
It's about three feet long. She also did some wonderful painted bronze "stones" which are displayed with the original natural objects. I enjoyed the review by Cigdem Asatekin of the Celmins show, entitled "Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory at The Met Breuer." I don't know: does "fixing the image in memory" play well with "everyday wonders"? Sure, as long as you leave space for tomorrow's wonders.

11 December 2019

Albrecht Gonzalez-Torres

Albrecht Dürer
Six Studies of Pillows, 1493
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Untitled (billboard of an empty bed), 1991
first exhibited on the streets of Manhattan, New York City

09 December 2019

Olafur di Paolo

Olafur Eliasson, Untitled, 1996
Source: hipinuff (Tumblr)

Giovanni di Paolo
The Creation of the World and the Explulsion from Paradise, 1445
Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art

18 October 2019


Today's post brought a postcard from Gina: the picture is captioned "James Baldwin's writing room" and includes a portrait sketch, a drawing of his house in southern France, and a drawing of his Smith-Corona Coronamatic 2200; the text from Gina asks "Do you own a typewriter? Or is it only us GenXers (and beyond) that feel the need to fiddle with type & ribbon?" The card is from Bibliophile postcards, published by Chronicle Books.

What? She had to ask? How did she not know that I was the last cataloger at Cornell to still have a manual typewriter at his desk? There were those increasingly rare moments when you needed to, what, type an envelope? Get some exercise? When I left Cornell in 1989, they gave me the typewriter as a going-away present. (All of the others had long before been abandoned and/or replaced by electric typewriters.) Foolish me, I didn't keep it. My typewriter looked something like this and I think it was a Smith Corona. All of us catalogers had had a card platen as well as the smooth one. The head of the typing section always kept us current on replacing our ribbons and cleaning our type. Rubber erasers work well to clean the keys.

Long before that, when I was getting ready to go off to college in the mid 1960s, I bought myself an Olivetti Lettera 32 with script type. I did like it for its sleek design but kind of outgrew the script type so I traded it with my grandmother for her old Royal portable.
I used that Royal portable in college, grad school, and library school, and after. It stayed in storage at the family home when I moved from my two-bedroom apartment in Texas to a studio apartment in New York City in the mid 1990s. Now I'm back in Alfred and actually have used the Royal now and again. I even bought it a new black-and-red ribbon this year. Now I probably should try to get the back space key repaired. It's kind of annoying to grab the platen and move it back when I need to overtype. I guess I could try to type perfectly, a skill the modern world doesn't require.

Typewriters, especially manual ones, are having a renaissance in art making. Lots of people have used them in artist books or zines. The "Won't you be my neighbor" show closed at the Cohen Gallery at Alfred University a couple weeks ago. Sam Horowitz and I collaborated on a piece called "Time becomes us: theses concerning materials and persons." I used the Royal portable to type the title page of the booklet that was part of our work.

The big question now is whatever happened to the Olivetti. I haven't seen it for years. I did go look in the attic over the back shed, without success. Another work in the Cohen show seems to have used a manual typewriter with script type. Perhaps they know where the Olivetti is.

15 October 2019

Clarke House and family gatherings

The Clarke House, now a museum, is the oldest house in Chicago. It was built in 1836 for Henry Brown Clarke and his wife Caroline Palmer Clarke and their family. Photo from the city website on the house. It is now in a park a mile or so south of downtown Chicago. I visited the house in, probably, the 1980s when my main destination was the nearby Glessner House, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. The Glessner House is "hiding" behind the blank wall to the left in this picture. It's a grand Romanesque Revival house, perhaps Richardson's best house. Still, I was struck by the CLARKE sign on the house next door.

Both houses are in the Prairie Avenue District, at least some parts of which are registered historic properties. When the Clarke House was built on Michigan Avenue and 17th Street, this was a fancy neighborhood. It was moved further South as the neighborhood became less fancy to 45th Street and Wabash. For thirty years, it housed the St. Paul Church of God in Christ, serving as the parsonage and social hall for the ministry of Bishop Louis Henry Ford. It was moved back to city land at 1827 South Indiana, after being bought by the city in 1977. Kind of going back home. South Indiana is one big block east of South Michigan Avenue. The Wikipedia article on the house is linked under the name at the beginning of this paragraph.

Since my family name is Clarke, I was drawn by the possible connection but never seriously investigated the genealogical tables. I did buy the coffee mug with the slogan "oldest house in Chicago" since I was then collecting postcards of superlatives, e.g., oldest, best, only, first, longest, biggest.

Time passed. Life went on. I used the mug. This past weekend, the Maxson Family Association held its biannual gathering in Alfred, hosted by my sister Carol with her local planning committee (aka siblings). A fellow from Lompoc, California, whom we've become friends with via Facebook, was able to come out to the reunion and meet some Clarke cousins. His family was small and they rather lost the Rhode Island connections as they worked their way west, to Chicago and California and elsewhere. So Cyrus Clarke, guitarist and musician, was curious about these Clarkes that he'd finally encountered in the vast universe of the internet.

Cyrus came to the family house for breakfast on Monday morning, after most of the reunion activities had ended on Sunday. He was talking about what he knew about his lineage and happened to mention that his father, an only child who had spent part of his childhood in Chicago, was descended from the Henry Brown Clarke who had moved to Chicago and built a grand house. Son of a gun.

We got out The "Clarke" families of Rhode Island by George Austin Morrison, Jr. (1902) to see what we could find. We found where our families went out on different branches. The generation counting starts with three generations who lived and died in Westhorpe, Suffolk, England. The fourth generation included John Clarke (1609-1676) who co-founded the colony of Rhode Island as a place of religious freedom. In the seventh generation, Rev. Joshua Clarke (1717-1808) had eleven children including the Henry from whom Cyrus is descended and the Job Bennett from whom I am descended. That Henry had a son Henry who married Catherine Brown and they had a son Henry Brown Clarke who built a house in Chicago. Interestingly, the Clarke genealogy says that "in 1836, [Henry Brown Clarke] erected the second largest dwelling house in Chicago, costing $10,000, with broad pillared porch, on the south side of the Chicago River, near the site of Fort Dearborn." Superlatives can be slippery or ambiguous. Fort Dearborn is not near Michigan and 17th. Henry Brown Clarke had a brother and a son named Cyrus.

So, Cyrus and we Clarke kids are fifth cousins, perhaps at a remove or two.

21 September 2019

won't you be my neighbor pictures

The opening for the Won't You Be My Neighbor show was pretty exciting. Quite a few people had a riotous time adding layers to the initial layers that Sam and I fed our our piece with. Several of those people were ten years old or younger. Not so much has happened since the opening but still we're pretty happy with the reception. The show is on its way out of the gallery, with the next show opening in early October.

Sorry I don't have a late-stage picture with straws and paper sticking out as well as rocks and terra cotta pieces and clay infill. There are more pictures of Sam's and my work -- Time Becomes Us: Theses about Materials and Persons -- at

The little booklet includes a title page and a statement of our intentions as well as instructions encouraging comments with, again, some starter material. We haven't gotten too many comments but we did get a good comment about fossils. We had talked in our statement about fossils on some of the shale we had as fodder and wondered how some of the other materials (like plastic, for example) might or might not leave fossils for future generations. And what about fossils that are getting "buried" inside the artwork? And are people similar to materials? Do we sometimes leave legacies that resonate with future generations? Do we sometimes disappear without a trace?

Justin Grigg, participant in the show and former mayor of Alfred, did a creek walk yesterday. We didn't walk in the creek bed, we walked near the creek and talked about how Alfred doesn't use its "waterfront" as effectively as a lot of other places. Sometimes the creek even disappears under a parking lot. We did walk across that parking lot. It is Parents' Weekend at Alfred University so there was an interesting crowd for the walk, locals and some folks new to Alfred. Justin and I both live on the main fork of Canacadea Creek, Cohen Gallery is on the fork that comes down West University Street and joins the main fork near the village stoplight, Andrea lives on a tributary near the north edge of town.

16 September 2019

Paci column in Venice and at Jeu de Paume

Last night at work I was looking at the 2019 annual collectors issue of Art News (vol. 118, no. 3, fall 2019) and happened on a small picture of The Column by Adrian Paci at the Architecture Biennale in Venice in 2014:
(photo from Architectural Association webpage)
And that led me to Paci's 2013 film about making the column on the boat as the marble came over from China. From stone to art, from East to West, from the ancient world to contemporary fabrication and economics. Images of Maersk trucks delivering a stone column to the plazas outside the Jeu de Paume in Paris.