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. 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 since 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.

09 September 2019

Nina and Alma

I'm pretty predictable, with choices, when I visit the Terra Cotta Coffee House in Alfred. It's either a medium latte in a ceramic mug, or a dark roast in a ceramic mug with room for milk, or a fill-up of my travel mug with room for milk. One of the baristas (baristi?), an art student, is often at the counter and she'll ask "latte or coffee?" Carol, Barb, and I stopped for supper the other day and I left my name with the person taking the order. When my order was called, "my" barista heard my name and noted that she hadn't known my name. I asked her over at the condiments counter what her name was and she flirtatiously wouldn't say. OK. I'm going to call you something different each time I see you and you'll have to figure out why I'm calling you that. So far ...

Three days ago, she was Nina because Nina Katchadourian has just joined the stable at Pace Gallery. Quite an honor and you can click on Nina K's name above for an article from Art News or you can go to her website to see some of her stuff. She had a show at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College some years ago and I dragged the family over from my sister's where we were visiting for Thanksgiving.

Yesterday, she was Alma because of Alma Thomas, an African American artist who does the most gorgeous colorful abstract paintings. She was not particularly well-known but had a show in 2016 organized by the Tang Teaching Museum and the Studio Museum in Harlem. There's a lovely painting by her at the Smithsonian American Art Museum that I got to see again this past summer when ALA was in Washington.

Hmm. Maybe it's a Tang thing ... but I'm not likely to go there (to Tang orange drink, that is) at the Terra Cotta. The Tang Museum also had a Sister Corita Kent show. Tomorrow, maybe Corita.

06 August 2019

time becomes us, or, won't you be my neighbor?

Artist Michael Stevenson announced in April that he was planning a "collaborative, participatory, community art project" in Alfred called "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" The underlying plan is to link an artist (or artists) with a community member (or members), with each pairing to do something that reflected how Alfred mixes things up, and/or to encourage the mixing up of things in Alfred.

I wasn't able to go to the introductory "gathering of friends" but I indicated my interest. I was paired with a second-year MFA student -- Sam Horowitz. I didn't know him though I had helped him a time or two at the circulation/reference desk at the ceramics library. Our brains flow in complementary ways and we've been having a good time talking about similar interests and obsessions. We started with categories -- of people, of materials -- and moved on to classification and entropy. We didn't really talk much entropy but we did talk about non-classification. And how time relates to all of this.

The project is still forming. Sam's the artist, he gets to do most of the building now. The project will include a notebook for our thoughts and for viewers to add their thoughts. Now, of course, these thoughts are just swirling. Classification and the melding -- tangibly and metaphorically -- of people and materials comes in from all sides. At lunch, I was reading a book review of Supper Club by Lara Williams. The review starts with a description of the narrator's kimchi recipe and says that patience is the clue to successful kimchi. The reviewer goes on to say "People are like this: pickled things, slowly eating themselves." Not long before that, I was reading about Chasten Glezner's marriage proposal to Pete Buttigieg; Chasten said he knew Pete wasn't ready to make such a decision and he gave him "time" instead of a ring. The symbol of the gift of time was a watch. This story appears in Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg.

Sam and I are thinking of Time Becomes Us as the name for the work but who knows where it will end up. Meanwhile, we're having a heck of a good time segueing from word to word, from thought to thought, from material to material. By the way, the projects will become an exhibition at the Cohen Gallery at Alfred University with an opening during the first week of classes (late August).

27 April 2019

separated at birth: Comedor Restaurant and Wiley House

Comedor restaurant, Austin, Texas
Olson Kundig
(opened 2019)
(photography by Casey Dunn, from dezeen.com)

Robert C. Wiley House
Philip Johnson
(completed 1953)
from The Modern House)

Quote of the moment: "If this study is brazenly promiscuous in its interconnections and relationships, it is not in the interest of a new commonality that is its own form of categorization." -- Jonathan Weinberg, in Pier groups: art and sex along the New York waterfront (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019), page 6.

08 April 2019

Oxford commas, apostrophes, and significant ending punctuation

Today's New York Times has an advertisement by the Metropolitan Museum of Art thanking "its generous corporate sponsors." Who knows why I studied the listing so thoroughly but I noticed that Deloitte was the only corporate name with added closing punctuation, as in "Deloitte." with the period. Well, the period is there in the upper left corner of their home page:
Son of a gun. Then I went to the board meeting of the Bakers Bridge Historical Association where we talked (argued) about whether it was Bakers or Baker's or Bakers' Bridge (an early name for Alfred Station, New York). We also talked about adding an Oxford comma to the text of the proposed historical marker. I think I've had it with punctuation for this afternoon/evening.

By the way, someone did mention today in the Troublesome Catalogers and Magical Metadata Fairies group in Facebook that they had done their first cataloging record without adding terminal punctuation in MARC fields according to the new guidelines from PCC. Sadly, it only deals with description. Someday, it will also apply to access points. The report of the PCC ISBD and MARC Task Group is available here:

05 April 2019

the villa of Denise Scott Brown's family

The Architect's Newspaper posted a link on Facebook to a 2013 video interview with Denise Scott Brown. It is fascinating and she is captivating. The interview is entitled "Denise Scott-Brown: An African Perspective." I had not ever read significant biographical information about her and had not realized she grew up in South Africa. Her family lived for a time in a modernist villa-style house designed by Norman Hanson, along the lines of the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier. You may have read a couple earlier posts -- Villa Savoye and northern Italy and The villa as building type -- that I wrote on villa-style modernist houses, inspired by traveling in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Liguria, that is, Milan, Turin, and Genoa. As I fetched the links for those posts, I was amused to note that Blogger, in its wisdom (artificial intelligence), had chosen "villa-savoye-in-savoy-country" as the title for the post I had called "Villa Savoye and northern Italy." Meanwhile, here's a still of the childhood home of DSB, from the video interview:

I am sorry to see that architect Norman Leonard Hanson (1909-1990) doesn't yet have a LC/NAF authority record but he does have a ULAN record from Avery. Scott Brown says "people are writing about him nowadays" so there may be a book one of these days that will lead to a NAF record.

29 November 2018


When we were in Milan in the spring, I bought a crumpled map of the city at the shop at the Triennale di Milano. It's one of the "Soft city maps for urban jungles" by palomar and it's even, I guess, recyclable since it has a recycle triangle with 01 and PET. It is made of that wonderful material that feels kind of like paper that is almost worn out.

Now I've read in the New York Times that "scientists [have] discover[ed] a landscape of surprising mathematical order" in crumpled paper. "This is how the paper crumples" by Siobhan Roberts, November 27, in Science Times. Last week's Science Times (a Tuesday section of the print Times) celebrated the 40th anniversary of the section.

(Addendum: it's the "MILAN" container that is recyclable, not the map. The map says "This is not paper, do not waste as paper.")