Alofsin Archive: Writings

This is Kathleen Carter again with another update on the processing of the Anthony Alofsin archive. The Central European Architecture materials have all been safely rehoused, leaving me with the next area of Alofsin’s research to complete.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. Anthony Alofsin has been a prolific writer and has a dozen books and over 80 articles, essays, and reviews under his belt. In addition to When Buildings Speak and The Struggle for Modernism, work for two other of Alofsin’s books are currently in the collection of his papers.

A Modernist Museum in Perspective, edited by Alofsin
A Modernist Museum in Perspective, edited by Alofsin

First is A Modernist Museum in Perspective: The East Building, National Gallery of Art, published in 2009. Alofsin edited and contributed to the book, which contains a series of essays on the National Gallery of Art’s East Building in Washington, DC. The East Building contains the  National Gallery’s modern and contemporary art and was designed by architect I.M. Pei (whose student work from his days at the Harvard Graduate School of Design also appears in the Design Education materials).   Materials in the Alofsin archive include research that Alofsin accumulated on the East Building, drafts of his and others’ essays, and papers from “The East Building in Perspective”  symposium hosted by the National Gallery that Alofsin participated in as moderator and speaker in 2004.

Another of Alofsin’s books that appears within the archive is Dream Home, What You Need to Know Before You Buy. Alofsin wrote Dream Home as a guide to buying a home and insight into the real estate industry. Alongside manuscripts and the final proof of the book are Alofsin’s notes and research. This includes many property listings used as resources for this book.

Page from the final proof of Dream Home
Page from the annotated final proof of Dream Home

As these materials also all carefully rehoused into archival folders and boxes, this completes processing of Alofsin’s research records. Next up are the extensive materials relating to his role as professor of architecture, including the course materials for some of the classes that he taught!

World War I & UT-Austin

Hello! My name is Irene Lule. I work at the Alexander Architectural Archives as a graduate research assistant. I was fortunate to spend my summer interning with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. The Veterans History Project, created by Congress in 2000, “collects, preserves, and makes accessible” the records of our American veterans from World War I to present.[1] My specific project focused on increasing the discoverability of World War I veteran collections through finding aids. A finding aid, as described by the Society for American Archivists, is “a description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.”[2] Ultimately, our goal was to create finding aids to facilitate greater use of World War I collections. By the end of my internship, I had encoded 10 finding aids documenting the experiences of World War I veterans. As someone not too well versed in the United States’ role in World War I, I could not have asked for a better educational experience. To learn more about my experience at the Veterans History Project and the veterans I worked with, read my two blogs for the Library of Congress about soldier homecomings and WWI-era postcards. As Junior Fellows, we presented our projects to Library of Congress staff and the public. Check out the picture of me (in the blue dress) below on Display Day!

LOC_1                     Photo by: Shawn Miller for the Library of Congress

After returning to The University of Texas at Austin (UT) campus for the fall semester, my experience with World War I archival material increased my awareness of the university’s World War I history. Tomorrow marks the 79th anniversary of Veterans Day.  Enacted in 1938, the holiday also marks Armistice Day in other countries.[3] Along with being the first “modern” war, America mobilized over 4,000,000 soldiers in two years and suffered over 100,000 casualties during World War I.[4] While typically associated with the Vietnam War, a majority of these men were conscripted (drafted) from all over the United States.[5] On November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed between the Allied and Central Powers ending the fighting in World War I. Memorials to the American soldiers of World War I are seen throughout the UT campus since post-WWI years marked a period of tremendous expansion for the university. As time marks away the years, the visual representation of these memorials are not lost. There are several memorials commemorating World War I at UT, including one large stadium. Erected in 1924, the current Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium (DKR) was originally dedicated to all Texans that had served during World War I.[6] Following the successive wars that followed, the stadium was re-dedicated (for a third time) to all Americans soldiers in all wars in 1977.[7] Next time you are near the stadium, stop by the Red McCombs Red Zone to view the plaque listing the names of Texans that perished in World War I and a rendering of a doughboy (slang for an American soldier during World War I).

IMG_1549A rendering of a WWI doughboy outside of the Red McCombs Red Zone.

In addition, the Alexander Architectural Archives contains archival material related to the World War I memorials designed by Philippe Cret. Paul Philippe Cret, a prominent architect hired by the UT administrators to create a master plan for the University and design the Main Building, has an interesting connection to World War I. A noted architect, Cret was born and raised in France.[8] He relocated to Philadelphia to teach architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, but still visited France during the summers with his wife.[9] With the breakout of World War I in June 1914, Cret, at the time in France, joined the French army, where he remained for the duration of the war.[10] Cret actually “suffered from serious deafness as a result of his service in World War I.”[11] Following his service, Cret was commissioned by the American Battle Monuments Commission to design World War I memorials. The Alexander Architectural Archives has an extensive collection containing Cret’s drawings, photographic material, and papers predominantly related to his work with the University of Texas as well as materials related to his work involving World War I memorials. The following paragraphs will discuss some of these materials from the Littlefield Fountain and Chateau-Thierry Memorial.

Cret_4Cret (in the middle) with William Battle and fellow architect, Robert Leon White (WWI veteran) at UT Austin on November 8, 1932.

As mentioned before, much of our most UT iconic structures can be credited to the post-WWI years. One of these is the Littlefield Fountain, which was constructed following a donation from Major George W. Littlefield. Created in the context of Southern remembrance, the fountain’s history is extensive and complicated. Littlefield originally imagined an arch lined with the “figures important to Texas and Southern history.”[12] Pompeo Coppini redesigned Littlefield’s idea to be a fountain commemorating World War I with the (now removed) Confederate statues surrounding the fountain as a “monument of reconciliation portraying World War I as the catalyst that inspired Americans to put aside differences lingering from the Civil War and unite in carrying the torch of liberty to the Old World.”[13] Paul Cret came into the Littlefield Fountain process well after its inception, but as the consulting architect for the university, his approval was crucial. He reorganized the location of the Confederate statues away from the fountain and along the mall where they remained until August 2017.[14] After years of back and forth, Littlefield’s death in 1920, and various other issues, the Littlefield Fountain was unveiled in 1932 with both Littlefield’s and Coppini’s original intentions “hopelessly blurred.”[15]

There are several features of the fountain that are very obviously about World War I. Alongside the side of Columbia, there is a soldier and sailor on her sides.[16] The back of the fountain contains a plaque listing the “Sons and Daughters” of the university that died in the Great War.

IMG_1540The sailor, located on the right side of Columbia, on the Littlefield Fountain.

Located just outside of Chateau-Thierry, France, the Chateau-Thierry Monument “commemorates the sacrifices and achievements of American and French fighting men in the region, and the friendship and cooperation of French and American forces during World War I.”[17] The photograph below depicts an eagle with a map of the region (designed by Cret) nestled underneath.

Cret_2

Along with “heroic sculptured figures representing the United States and France,” the monument is a double colonnade rising above the valley of the Marne River.[18] The American Battle Monuments Commission has digitized the 1937 dedication of the monument on YouTube, which includes a speech by General John J. Pershing! The photograph below depicts an eagle with a map of the region (designed by Cret) nestled under from a scrapbook in the Cret collection.[19]

Cret_3Another angle of the eagle. All three World War I memorial photographs are from a scrapbook in the Cret collection.

Cret was also commissioned for World War I monuments in the United States. Below is photograph of the Providence World War I Memorial in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cret_1A World War I memorial, also designed by Cret, in Providence, Rhode Island.

In addition to the Paul Philippe Cret collection, the Alexander Architectural Archives contains several collections from World War I veterans including Ralph Cameron, Theo S. Maffitt, Preston M. Geren, and Robert Leon White. Cameron and Maffitt also served during World War II with the Corps of Engineers. Most of these collections focus on the veteran’s career as an architect with some exceptions.

Next time you find yourself on the 40 Acres whether it is walking to class, rushing to a meeting, or watching the Longhorns play in DKR, take a moment to reflect on the memorials and read the names of UT’s past.

References:

[1] “About the Project,” Veterans History Project, accessed November 7, 2017, https://www.loc.gov/vets/about.html.

[2] “Finding Aid,” Society of American Archivists, accessed November 7, 2017, https://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/f/finding-aid.

 

[3] “Veterans Day,” Wikipedia, accessed November 7, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veterans_Day.

[4] “United States in World War I,” Wikipedia, accessed November 6, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_in_World_War_I.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Handbook of Texas Online, Richard Pennington, “Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium,” accessed November 06, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xvd01.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Paul Philippe Cret papers,” University of Pennsylvania, accessed November 6, 2017, http://dla.library.upenn.edu/dla/ead/detail.html?id=EAD_upenn_rbml_MsColl295.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Jim Necar, “Symbolism Amok,” Alcalde, May/June 2001, 80.

[13] Speck, Lawrence W., and Richard Louis. Cleary. The University of Texas at Austin: an architectural tour. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011, 88.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Speck, Lawrence W., and Richard Louis. Cleary. The University of Texas at Austin: an architectural tour. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011, 87.

[17] Elizabeth Nishiura, American Battle Monuments: A guide to military cemeteries and monuments maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission (Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1989), 4.

[18] “Chateau-Thierry Monument,” American Battle Monuments Commission, accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/chateau-thierry-monument#.WgB5PGhSyUk

[19] Elizabeth Nishiura, American Battle Monuments: A guide to military cemeteries and monuments maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission (Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1989), 50.

Alofsin Archive: Central European Architecture

This is Kathleen Carter again with another update on the Anthony Alofsin archive processing. The Design Education materials have all been safely rehoused, so I’ve moved on to the Central European Architecture materials in the collection.

Research notes by A Tense Alliance scholar Monika Platzer
Research notes by A Tense Alliance scholar Monika Platzer

In the early 1990s, Dr. Alofsin led a team of scholars from all over the world in a research consortium called “A Tense Alliance: Architecture in the Habsburg Lands, 1893-1928.” The Tense Alliance research project was supported by the Internationales Forschungzenstrum Kulturewissenschafe (IFK) research institute in Vienna, the Getty Research Institute, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA).  Scholars explored the role of architecture in Central Europe and the project resulted in an international traveling exhibition “Shaping the Great City: Modern Architecture in Central Europe, 1890-1937.” Alofsin independently continued his research from the Tense Alliance project and also wrote the book When Buildings Speak: Architecture as Language in the Habsburg Empire and Its Aftermath, 1867-1933 on emerging architectural styles of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire.

 

Both the field notes and research from the Tense Alliance project

Color layout of When Buildings Speak pages
Color layout of When Buildings Speak pages

and Alofsin’s work on When Buildings Speak make up the Central European Architecture materials of the Anthony Alofsin archive.  Alofsin also made a point to have beautiful color photography taken of the architecture explored in his book. As a result, not only do the Central European Architecture materials contain accumulated research and multiple drafts of When Buildings Speak, but also thousands of stunning visual materials including photos, transparencies, 35 mm slides, and negatives.

Transparency of a photo taken by Hans Engel for When Buildings Speak
Transparency of a photo taken by Hans Engels for When Buildings Speak

As with the Design Education materials, I have been rehousing these materials into new archival quality folders and boxes. I’ve also been at work adding the Central European Architecture materials to a draft of a finding aid of the collection. The finding aid will eventually provide researchers with a guide to all of the Alofsin materials. While carefully placing all of these photographs into protective sleeves and papers into new folders is time consuming work, it’s necessary for their long-term preservation, and the materials themselves are incredibly interesting and beautiful to see. I’ve really enjoyed both working with them and the knowledge that in the future others will be able to access them as well.

Alofsin Archive: Design Education

Alofsin Archive Design Education materials rehoused in their new manuscript boxes
Alofsin Archive Design Education materials rehoused in their new manuscript boxes

Hi, I’m Kathleen Carter. As I detailed in my last blog post, I’ve been processing the Anthony Alofsin Archive, the papers of the University of Texas at Austin professor and author of several works on architecture. Currently, I’m in the rehousing stage of the project. I’ve been removing materials from their original boxes and folders and putting them into brand new archival folders and manuscript boxes.  As with anything, these materials will age and may become unusable if not stored properly. By placing the papers into acid-free folders, putting all photographs into protective sleeves, and removing any damaging materials (for example, rusting paperclips), we can ensure that the Alofsin Archive will remain in good condition for as long as possible. To start with, I’ve been working on the materials that Dr. Alofsin collected on the history of design education.

 

Alofsin's book on the Harvard Graduate School of Design published in 2002
Alofsin’s book on the GSD

The bulk of these materials are about the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Dr. Alofsin was commissioned by the GSD’s Dean Gerald McCue in 1985 to write a thorough history of design education at Harvard for its 50th anniversary in 1986 (also Harvard’s 350th anniversary).  With editor Julia Bloomfield and research assistant Andrea Greenwood, Alofsin accumulated over six hundred pages of documentation on the history of school. These were used to plan the exhibition “The Founding Decades of the Schools of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and City Planning at Harvard, 1895-1935″ held at the GSD in 1986. Alofsin also laid down the framework for a multi-volume series about the school. While those books were never published, Harvard later passed the rights of the materials to Alofsin. He used the research to write The Struggle for Modernism: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and City Planning at Harvard, published in 2002.

 

GSD student Raymond F. Leonard's 1931 thesis, an example of student work accumulated in the archive
GSD student Raymond F. Leonard’s 1931 thesis, an example of student work Alofsin collected

Drafts of both the original volumes and The Struggle for Modernism are in the Alofsin Archive. The research for the 1986 project and other materials on the history of design education accumulated by Alofsin have also found their home in the Alexander Architectural Archives. These records include interviews with GSD alumni and faculty, work by students dating back to the 1930s, charts of the evolution of the GSD’s courses,  hundreds of photographic materials, and even papers from the personal archive of the first GSD Dean Joseph Hudnut.

 

These materials will all be described in a complete finding aid of the Alofsin Archive and available to researchers to see for themselves!

A photograph from the archive of early GSD students working in the historic Robinson Hall
A photograph from the collection showing early GSD students at work in the historic Robinson Hall

Work on the Anthony Alofsin Archive

My name is Kathleen Carter and I’m a recent graduate with a Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. I moved to Austin to begin work as the Processing Archivist for the Anthony Alofsin Collection for the Alexander Architectural Archives. The position was generously funded by Dr. Alofsin along with the donation of his papers. Since the end of July, I’ve been processing the collection of the University of Texas at Austin professor, award-winning architect, author, exhibit curator, and expert on modern architecture.

 

If Dr. Alofsin seems like a man who wears many hats, the Archive of his materials certainly verifies that. A major part of the Alofsin Archive is his personal library, now housed in Special Collections of the Architecture and Planning Library. The collection of books, academic journals, and other publications varies from several volumes on architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Dr. Alofsin is a leading authority on Wright) to art books to collections of Irish ghost stories.

 

Some of the materials that make up the Anthony Alofsin Archive
Some of the materials that make up the Anthony Alofsin Archive before they are arranged and rehoused.

This wide array of interests and professional work comes through in every part of the collection, and has made it interesting to work with. The approximately 57 linear feet of archival material follows Alofsin’s personal and professional life from his days as a master’s candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design to the intensive research accumulated for several of his publications. Over his thirty-year career, Alofsin has published a dozen books, founded The University of Texas at Austin’s Ph.D. in Architecture, and kept up a professional practice as an architect (including designing his own home). Alofsin has also, as the creator of the collection and therefore the preeminent expert on its contents, proven to be an invaluable resource himself. His office in the School of Architecture is a few minutes’ walk from where I’m working on his materials. Meeting with him has provided me otherwise impossible insight into the collection.

A drawing by Anthony Alofsin created as a part of his coursework at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1979.
A drawing by Anthony Alofsin created as a part of his coursework at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1979.

While completing the detailed inventory of the collection, I found Alofsin’s drawings, both his student work for Harvard and for his professional practice, some of the most visually stunning parts of the collection. For his final project at Harvard, Alofsin created a design for a new Boston City Hall. For another student project, Alofsin visited Jerusalem in 1980. The collection includes drawings and several 35mm slides of the Jerusalem Gates that he took on the trip. Later work includes drawings and plans for an addition to a historic home in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the plans for his own Austin, Texas home.

 

Anthony Alofsin's book, When Buildings Speak, published in 2006.
Anthony Alofsin’s book When Buildings Speak, published in 2006.

Other highlights of the collection include his work as a professor. The complete lectures and slides for Alofsin’s Survey courses on the history of modern architecture make up a substantial part of the collection. These allow for the study of courses which no longer exist and include an abundance of stunning visual material. Many photographic materials also exist for the body of research that Alofsin completed on Central European Architecture. Photos of beautiful architecture in Vienna, Prague, and Budapest used in Alofsin’s book When Buildings Speak: Architecture as Language in the Habsburg Empire and Its Aftermath, 1867-1933 fill several folders of the collection. Carefully rehousing all of these photos to preserve them for future research will make up the next large part of the project.

 

Along with rehousing and description, I will also create a complete archival finding aid of the materials. The finding aid will be available online and the collection open to researchers, allowing for the discovery of the wealth of information available within the Anthony Alofsin Archive.

Friday Finds: War Memorials

War MemorialsPublished in 1946, Arnold Whittick’s War Memorials  explores War Memorials around the world, both ancient and new.  Only a year after the end of World War II, Whittick’s book is timely and explores a relevant

Whittick examines locations, dedications, sentiments, and materials appropriate for war memorials.  Particularly interesting are his chapters on the spirit and convincing expression of memorials.  Whittick notes, “the principal purpose of a memorial is to stir remembrance…with a particular sentiment…it is important, therefore, to determine clearly what sentiment it is desired to express” (pg. 6).  What follows is a list of the kinds of sentiments memorials create: “the memorial which expresses mainly death, sorrow, and mourning,; the memorial which expresses religious belief…; the memorial which expresses mainly triumph and victory; and the memorial which expresses mainly the spirit of life” (pg. 6). Whittick then provides a detailed description with examples of such memorials.  In this sense, the book is highly formulaic, introducing the subject of each chapter briefly before laying out the types of memorials and the expected details of each.  There are specific instructions about choosing locations and materials, even which materials Whittick deems most appropriate for war memorials based on his study of existing ones.  Whittick clearly did tedious, exhaustive research on his subject in order to write War Memorials in a way that makes it a true guidepost for building a meaningful memorial.

War Memorials is noticeably devoid of emotion.  Whittick brings a logical and distant tone to a highly emotional subject. Memorials are intended to elicit emotional or sentimental responses, to remind the living of what happened in a particular place.  There is something to be said for this tone: it provides clear direction on how to create a meaningful, appropriate war memorial, something hard to achieve when emotions play too big a part. Whittick also mentions numerous exemplary memorials, even pictures of them.  As a manual for designing a war memorial, War Memorials effective exactly because of its tone.  But for the reader expecting a sentimental examination of memorials, Whittick’s approach is a surprise.  Yet the time of publication could be partially responsible for this tone.  Published immediately following World War II, there were many countries facing decisions about how to memorialize the war and those who fought and died in it.  It could have been interesting, too, if Whittick had included something on appropriate memorials for such a horrific even as the Holocaust.  He distinguishes war memorials from other kinds of memorials (which would include memorials remembering genocide), and yet the Holocaust is inseparably tied into World War II, so it would have been a pertinent and important topic for him to discuss in the book.  What is the appropriate way, the best materials to memorialize a genocide? With time having passed, and powerful memorials having been built now, it is easier to imagine the answers, but only a year after World War II came to an end and the atrocities committed by the Nazis were still coming to light, it is understandable that Whittick would deem it beyond the scope of the book.

Overall, War Memorials is a guide for how to create a memorial. Whittick’s tone and attention to detail is what makes it a successful guide.  Looking through the photos included in the book of the memorials Whittick deems appropriate, the wide variety of styles, inscriptions, and materials becomes clear.  But of course, certain memorials stay with the beholder more than others.  Many are in the same style and materials and they are not memorable because of it.  At a certain point, the columns, the carvings, and the arches all begin to look the same, and they are less memorable for it.  For all the detail and complexity that Whittick suggests in a memorial, he ultimately promotes a status quo instead of thinking creatively.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., simply bears the names of the soldiers who died in the Vietnam War in black granite. It compellingly portrays the significance of what it memorializes, but with a simplicity that Whittick never recommends.  Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  Memorials like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial point to the truth in Einstein’s quote: the memorial is simple, but if it were any simpler, the poignancy would be lost.  The list of names on the Vietnam Memorial is so simple, but extremely powerful.  Having the actual names of people who died in Vietnam etched into black granite permanently, where you can see the rows and rows of names, humanizes war in a way that most carvings or statues or arches cannot.  Now, in spite of Whittick’s research and directions, those individuals are going to be remembered forever in a memorial unadorned by anything but the names of their brothers in arms.

New Book: Resilience and Adaptability

Berger, Markus, and Liliane Wong, editors. Resilience and Adaptability. Vol. 5,  Rhode Island School of Design, 2014. Interventions/Adaptive Use.

In Volume 5, Resilience and Adaptability, of the periodical Interventions/Adaptive Use, published by the Rhode Island School of Design, editors Markus Berger and Liliane Wong bring together a series of essays suggesting “that from the perspective of design, resilience has to be a central concern of the future of material making but it can also open up more creative ways of thinking about world making” (pg. 4).  Because the natural world evolves so much, the editors argue, the built world must be resilient and adaptable to survive.

Featuring articles on a wide range of places and topics, Resilience and Adaptability pulls together somewhat disparate threads to create a cohesive compilation that argues for building long-lasting, sustainable structures.  For example, Iris Mach’s article “Japan’s Architectural Genome: Destruction as a Chance for Renewal” explores how “Japan has developed  a building culture that embraces, rather than shuns, decay and destruction as an integral part of its system” (pg. 26).  Additionally, Japan has always been open to adopting foreign expertise and technology into their own practices, meaning that the country consistently uses the most cutting-edge building technology.  Through this state of mind, Japan has become a fine example of the resilience and adaptability the editors argue for.  Another article, “Lessons From Queensland For Viable Futures” by Naomi Hay and Tony Fry, discusses how Australian architects are adapting buildings for a changing climate. With the weather in Queensland changing drastically in recent years due to climate change, architects and other design experts are “pre-empting and designing for future risk as an opportunity for redirective development strategy, as well as one that can build a culture of resilience and adaptability” (pg. 64).  Due to Queensland architects’ forward thinking, Queensland and Australia are beginning to think more long term about the effects of climate change and how to better plan for the dramatic weather changes to come.

“Japan’s Architectural Genome” and “Lessons From Queensland For Viable Futures” are just two of the articles in Resilience and Adaptability – there are numerous others that argue the importance of the two titular features in architecture and design.  The book as a whole creates a sense of urgency about looking more towards the future of building and potential future needs, and less about simply the needs of the present.  Resilience and Adaptability also makes an important point about the lack of permanency of architecture. Almost everything manmade will eventually crumble to dust, especially if what humans build is not meant to last for years or is not cared for.  With drastic changes coming in the Earth’s climate, and continuous new advancements in building technology and practices, it is more important than ever that architects look to the past, present, and future in their work.  Combining the history and examples of long-lasting structures, the needs of the present, and anticipating the needs of the future will allow architects and their buildings to be more resilient than ever.

New Book: Tastemaker

Penick, Monica. Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home. New Haven, Yale University Press, 2017.

TastemakerNew to the Library this week is Monica Penick’s new book, Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home.  Penick explores the impact of Elizabeth Gordon on the changing tastes and ideas in American design during the decades following World War II through her editorship of the monthly magazine House Beautiful.

Elizabeth Gordon gained fame (or infamy, depending on who you ask) with the publication of her 1953 editorial “The Threat to the Next America.”  A short piece, the essay exemplified the essence of the Cold War: Gordon accused major institutions of promoting “bad modern,” a “‘totalitarian’ design promoted as the International Style,” while Gordon herself pushed for “‘good modern’…a line of ‘home-grown,’ ‘democratic’ design called the American Style” (pg. 1). Even buildings could not escape the dichotomy shaping up between communism and democracy.  With these few pages, Gordon brought about “the ultimate architectural conflict of the decade” (pg. 1). What Penick does so successfully in this book is explore how Gordon used House Beautiful as almost a form of propaganda to advance her “American Style” and promote architects she felt embodied that style, such as Frank Lloyd Wright.   Gordon managed to tie the American Style to the nation’s fate.  Penick uncovers Gordon’s somewhat repressive childhood, her time at the University of Chicago, and her ambition, which led her to defy her family’s wishes and move to New York to become a reporter, believing it to be a career that would “constantly expand her knowledge, and that of others” (pg. 5).  Her doggedness and her passionate beliefs led her to become an unstoppable force in journalism when she started House Beautiful.  As editor, she carefully crafted a narrative and built alliances with architects like Frank Lloyd Wright to build the case for the American Style.

Elizabeth Gordon’s “The Threat to the Next America” essay remained controversial for years after its publication, so much so that it overshadowed her rather remarkable career and achievements.  In Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home, Monica Penick recognizes these achievements.  Gordon’s strong-willed, dominating personality shines in the book, as well as her apt leadership of a major architectural and design magazine, House Beautiful.  For decades, Elizabeth Gordon has been remembered as the woman who ignited a vicious debate over the future of the American home and the role of architecture in ensuring American dominance in the Cold War. This earned her both severe criticism and adulation.  But Penick’s book restores personality and humanity to Gordon, demonstrating the depth and contributions of a woman who has long been reduced to the words she once wrote on a few pages of paper.

Come by the Library to see what else is new this week!

New Book: Garden Legacy

Christovich, Mary Louise Mossy, and Roulhac Bunkley Toledano. Garden Legacy. New Orleans, The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2016.

Garden Legacy - CoverMary Louise Mossy Christovich and Roulhac Bunkley Toledano explore New Orleans’ French gardens in Garden Legacy. Christovich and Toledano discuss “the history of settlement, battles with the natural world, plant exchanges, politics, [and] economics…all [of which are]…pertinent to understanding a forgotten world of New Orleans gardens and landscape design” (pg. 8).  Making use of archival drawings and other primary sources, the authors discover and embrace the essential Frenchness of New Orleans culture and the importance of gardens in the city’s history.

Garden Legacy uses records and documents in The Historic New Orleans Collection to piece together the gardens around New Orleans and provide detailed descriptions.  Christovich and Toledano use specific mansions, properties, and plantations as examples that together illuminate what these gardens would have looked like.  For example, in the case of the Lombard Plantation, a drawing by Joseph Antoine Pueyo, a well-known artist, “captured the essence of a petit early nineteenth-century French landscape” through his drawing of the Lombard plantation (pg. 141).  In the drawing are fruit trees, crepe myrtles, evergreens, and unknown flowers that are visible in many drawings of the era and seem to be typical of French gardens.  In the architectural plans, the gardens are not visible, so the authors used the drawings to create a fuller image of the Lombard Plantation.  The property is still in existence and has gone through a major restoration to preserve the house and to recreate the gardens as best as possible.  These gardens were meant display the wealth of the plantation owners, much like the home they built, and to represent their French roots.  Additionally, the the garden featured berry bushes, sixteen different kinds, in fact.  There were “citrus and pomegranates…, muscadine grapes, along with raspberries and blackberries…in front of the kitchen house,” providing easy access (pg. 141).  Every example in Garden Legacy, of which there are many, features similar fascinating information about properties in and around New Orleans.

Christovich and Toledano have successfully made a strong case for the importance of French gardens in early New Orleans.  Garden Legacy is truly exemplary historical work because of the authors’ significant efforts in carefully researching the gardens, sometimes having to use numerous sources to recreate gardens in a meaningful way.  The French remain well-known for their gardens – the gardens at Versailles are a major attraction when tourists visit the palace – but New Orleans, despite its French roots, is not associated in any way with beautiful gardens.  Garden Legacy changes that.  While New Orleans is today a city filled with diverse influences and a great deal of cultural mixing, early New Orleans was distinctly French.  These gardens demonstrate how some aspects of French influence were retained while others, such as the gardens, were quickly forgotten. As one of the most famous and important cities in the American South, New Orleans is a city of music, food, tradition, and culture. Christovich and Toledano have recovered an essential part of its early French culture by examining the city’s lost French gardens, capturing the essential Frenchness of a city of many cultures.

Friday Finds: Glimpses of California and The Missions

Glimpses of California - CoverGlimpses of California & The Missions by Helen Hunt Jackson, published originally in 1883, explores the California Mission system, paying particular attention to the history and current status of Native Americans in the Missions, and contemporary life in the state. Jackson provides a thorough recounting of the history of the Missions mixed with the stories and conversations she heard along her journey through California.

Jackson focuses on Father Junipero Serra, the condition of Mission Indians, Los Angeles, outdoor industries, and includes a short chapter on her visit to Oregon.  Throughout Glimpses of California & The Missions are drawings by Henry Sandham, which portray the scenery and the people they came across, as well as historical figures like Father Junipero.  Jackson devotes a great deal of the book to describing the unfair and, she argues, illegal treatment of Native Americans, especially in regards to the ownership of their land.  She describes one case where Temecula Indians were anxious “as to the title to their lands…all that was in existence to show that they had any was the protecting clause in an old Mexican grant” (pg. 116).  After years of uncertainty and arguments, the case went to court.  The Temecula “appealed to the Catholic bishop to help them…but the scheme had been too skillfully plotted” (pg. 116).  When the Sheriffs arrived to forcibly remove the Indians from the land, Jackson notes that “the Indians’ first impulse was as determined as it could have been if they had been white, to resist the outrage,” but that this was an unacceptable response and would likely lead to violence (pg. 119).  So, the Temecula did not resist, but instead staged a sit-in of sorts: they refused to resist the Sheriff, but also refused to help them.  Interestingly, Jackson openly delineates the racial prejudice involved in this treatment, a fact which was widely known but rarely acknowledged.  In sum, Glimpses of California & The Missions provides valuable insight into the state of California and its history, with Jackson additionally using the book to advocate for Native Americans.

Just as notable as the book itself is Glimpses of California - Imagethe life of its author, Helen Hunt Jackson.  A well-known author of the Nineteenth Century, Jackson’s most famous work remains her novel, Ramona, a fictionalized telling of Native American life in the 1800s, focusing on United States government’s poor treatment of Native Americans and the racial prejudice faced by mixed race individuals.  Jackson also wrote A Century of Dishonor, a carefully researched book which revealed how the federal government reneged on treaties and promises made with tribes.  She became a leading advocate for better treatment of Native Americans, and was even hired by the Interior Department to visit Missions in California and write a report on the conditions of the “Mission Indians” who lived there, a trip which inspired Glimpses of California & The Missions.  This book was written somewhat concurrently with Ramona and the two books make similar arguments about the poor treatment of Native Americans, but are entirely different genres.  Yet Ramona was far more widely read than Glimpses of California & The Missions, and the novel has drawn comparisons with Harriet Beacher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin for its use of fiction to portray harsh realities and unveil injustices.

In essence, Glimpses of California & The Missions is a scholarly attempt, through some primary sources, some oral histories, and Jackson’s own eyewitness account, to draw attention to the treatment of Native Americans. But where Glimpses of California failed to capture the public’s attention, Ramona succeeded beyond even Jackson’s expectations: there have been more than 300 printings since the book’s original publication in 1884, and five feature film adaptations.  Embedded within Ramona‘s pages, amongst the romance and tragedy of its eponymous heroine’s story is Jackson’s political, radical (for the time) message.  Although racism remains a persistent problem to this day on many Native American reservations, Jackson singlehandedly revealed the dishonorable conduct of the federal government towards Native Americans, creating an outrage that forced the government to change its practices.  Jackson, Glimpses of California & The MissionsRamona, and A Century of Dishonor provide an important lesson in activism and demonstrate the power of books in enacting change.  Activists (primarily men, it is important to note) had tried for years to draw attention to the struggles of Native Americans across the country, but ultimately, it was Helen Hunt Jackson and her pen that held the United States government to task and began a process towards justice.

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