Chapter 16 by M7e5VIZ


									Chapter 16     “Letters from John, Alaska Trip”

    John, my brother Warren, and Dwight were invited to

Burlington, Iowa by Dwight's friends, the Schramms for a few days

after the funeral to re-coup.    Comments from my brother after

returning home were that they had a marvelous time, the Schramm

home was impressive and their hosts were warm and generous.

Dorothy Schramm, whose husband, James (Jim), served on the Des

Moines Art Center acquisitions committee at the time, wrote me in

1983.   “I recall we headed out into the country, a grey day with

a cold chill, not comforting.    But D.K. found some roots and wood

and even stones colored a warm, strangely orange.       His reaching

for these — a measure of desperation, I thought.      When we

returned to the house Dwight set himself to painting a watercolor

from our window overlooking the Mississippi with bare fall brush

and tree tops in the foreground.       It refused to pan out.   Dwight

tore sheets off the pad.    Each new start he threw himself into

with greater intensity.    Finally one came off.     ‘Kinda spiky’

Dwight said, handing it over.    The painting showed the cold blue-

grey of February filled with the rusty oranges that had been in

the roots he’d plucked.    The thorny spikes of bark and tree

reminded me of Christ’s crown of thorns unconscious metaphor of


    John then made preparations for another go-round in New York

with a more complete portfolio and greater insight on how to


    His letter written from Sloane House March 17, 1953, about a

month after his mother's death reveals concern for his father,

“Dear Pa, It was good to hear your voice Saturday and also to get

the letter the same day.   At the last - I felt very bad about

leaving you so suddenly, and I think I almost wouldn't have gone

if I hadn't been so effectively poured on the bus.    I don't know

that waiting would have made it any easier for you, I know, with

the lull right after all the excitement.   I hope you are making

out all right now, and the house and eating aren't too much to

cope with. And I hope you are getting to eat out and see people,

at least till you're tired of it. . So far everything has gone

unbelievably easily and snag free here. . I know it's silly not

to take advantage of the real friends one has here.   So I am not

going to hesitate about pursuing all the gallery angles. I

followed up Verna Wear's suggestion about the interior-decorating

firm, and had an interview there yesterday.   Much to my pleasant

surprise I found they specialize in Ecclesiastical art; stained

glass, church interior decoration, altars, etc.   Catholic mainly

but also Protestant, Jewish; all of a very high caliber. . The

pay scale us unusually good there too; $75 a week for the type of

work I would start with.   I followed up a want-ad yesterday for

someone with silk-screen and color separation experience, and

landed a $60 a week job doing decal designs and color separation

for an art material firm that turns out stuff Sherwin-Williams

sells - pre-outlined paintings and that sort of crap. . I spent a

pleasant day doodling Penn. Dutch flower designs (my own

creations yet) actually from what I saw Fri. and Mon., this is an

unusually good deal, since most commercial art studios offer

about $35 a week to beginners, no matter what their training. .

In the meantime to be able to feel things out slowly regarding

museum openings next year, restoring, as well as the religious

art business (which especially interests me) without getting in a

panic, or a hurry.   I would like, when Ken Hartman can spare

them, the two renderings I did for him. . and also if you could

dig up the design for the triptych altarpiece I did, it would

help a great deal there, too - or any other religious symbolic or

decorative items I might have left kicking around.     I just wish I

had a photograph now of the St. Matthew's church cross I did in

Lincoln.   Oh well, maybe I'll learn. . Am meeting Mrs. Navas for

lunch Saturday at the opening at Wildenstein. . There are too

many people to see here suddenly.     Got a call from Glenn

Chamberlain, which I haven't answered yet, and learned my wealthy

Cuban friend from San Miguel is here too.     Love, John.”

    Three months or so later, Dwight drove to Grinnell College.

That Truby was only near him in spirit when the college president

read the citation conferring on him the degree of Doctor of Fine

Arts, was one of the cruel, tragic twists of fate in his life.

    The citation reads, “Frederick Dwight Kirsch, Jr., educator,

artist, museum administrator.    An artist whose works have

attracted national attention; an educator who had sought through

the medium of his art to increase man's capacity to enjoy beauty;

an administrator of the Des Moines Art Center, whose wise

leadership and insightful understanding of public needs has

resulted in an outstanding center of Fine Arts in Iowa.    Grinnell

College delights to recognize a man whose life has been devoted

to the capture of those things which are beautiful, good, and

true in art forms, and whose contributions to the common good

have won him many friends and great fame.”

    All of us in the family, his students and friends were

thrilled with his deserved honor - the true words of the citation

were no exaggeration.   However, I know of no instance when he

used the initials of his degree after his name.    (Perhaps in some

of his museum correspondence?)

    John immediately wrote: “Dear Pa: Or should I say Dr.

Kirsch?   Congrats and lauds and everything.   Was it too painful a

ceremony?   Would like to see the publicity, clippings, etc. about

the shindig.   I wish I could have got out there..”

    Dwight could have been thinking about the trip he and Truby

made to the opening of the Des Moines Art Center in 1948 when he

reflected on his Grinnell honor.       In his outline he wrote, “DK

and Truby - all expenses paid, to travel from Lincoln,” and where

they first met Frances Shloss, Dan Degenbucter, and Fay

Huttenocher.    He also wrote about an “interview with Henry Harmon

(president of Drake University, Des Moines) about May, 1950, and

a visit to Lincoln by board members - Paula Brown, John deJong

along with George Shane. . Staff of D.M.A.C. - as of September

1950 (Jim Hunt had just left as acting director and art

instructor), Phyllis Letts, secretary (later treasurer), Charles

H. Oxbenrrow, treasurer (board member and former associate of J.

D. Edmundson).   Gene Baker, head janitor, and Mr. Williams, night

janitor and two other men.”

    “School - Robert O. Hodgell, teacher of drawing and

painting, William E. Ross, ceramics, Mabel Eichhorn, weaving,

Peggy Patrick, started pre-school classes.”       He also listed

(handwritten from memory when in his late seventies or early

eighties) some of the members of the Board of Trustees, including

“Edmundson Art Foundation-Fred Hubbell, pres., Vincent

Starzinger, Carl Weeks, James D. Enyart, Henry Frankel, Gardner

(Mike) Cowles, Jr., Fleur? Cowles, Sally Cleveland, Bernard

Kurtz, James S. Schramm, Val Tone, Sally Wertz, Kenneth

Macdonald, John Woolson Brooks, Louise Noun, John de Jong, and

George Koss.”    In his outline, he also listed: George Grosz, Jean

Charlot, Kyle Morris, and Richard Neutra.

    Later staff members included: “Jean Smith, Larry Hoffman,

Ray Ruehl, Louise Parker, librarian, from Lincoln, Joe Ishikawa,

curator and assistant director, Betty Slaughter, Pat Coady - head

janitor, Bob Hodgell left and Syd Fossum came.”

    With funds from the Gardner Cowles Foundation, the art

center was able to invite an artist to spend a month at the

center to lecture, teach and present an exhibition of his or her

work.   Dwight, as mentioned earlier, was able to engage

    Louis Bouche the summer of 1952; Minna Citron, friend and an

internationally known painter, in June, 1953; Arnold Blanch, who

had shown his work in Lincoln, came in the Fall of 1953.    Doris

Lee was there for one weekend (her works shown and purchased back

in Lincoln), and sculptor, William Zorach (his “Victory” was

given a place of honor in the N.A.A's 1946 show) came in 1954.

Because I especially loved that art form, Dwight gave me the book

Zorach wrote on sculpture when he visited us in Cheyenne.

    In his notes, Dwight mentions that he changed the

Acquisitions Committee into the Exhibitions-Acquisitions

Committee, and that the “School Committee and Social Committee

were the most active at first. . Additions to the permanent

collection for the Edmundson Collection included Calder's mobile

(‘Black Spread’); and for the Coffin Collection, the Goya, ‘Don

Manuel Garcia de la Prada,’ the transparency of which was passed

around after Truby's funeral; Courbet's ‘The Valley of the Loue,’

Daumier's ‘The Reader,’ Prendergast's ‘Head’ Sculpture; Rodin's

‘Honore de Balzac,’ and ‘Torso’ by Mailol.”

       Upon his return to New York after Truby's death, John wrote

to Dwight about the “ultimatum” Dwight gave to the trustees of

the art center.    “I know it had to be done, and I hope it

produces some results soon.    Laying it on the line was the only

way.    I would be interested to hear what some of the reactions

were, of course, some of the ‘taking it more easy’ will have to

be initiated by you.    I suppose some changes of habit patterns

and easing up are in order, and now would seem as good a time as

any to do it.”    Truby had been concerned about Dwight's workload,

and without her support, it was very difficult for him to keep up

the pace.

       John continued, “Saturday, Mrs. Navas took me to lunch and

to her ‘Landmark’ show at Wildenstein, (sponsored by American

Fed.) - very interesting, though motley.    I had never appreciated

fully what a truly sympathetic person she is.    We went later to

Downtown Gallery (bad Paul Burlin show) - where everyone was

kind, and solicitous about you.     Then stopped at Antoinette

Kraushaar's.    I had a brief talk with her about the picture

business and planning to see her this Saturday with some black

and white photos for a start.    She thought your suggestions about

Willard and Borgenicht Galleries good.     Thought Kodachromes a

good idea. . she thought not over ten or 15 Kodachromes.”

      “Last night Maynard had me to supper of broiled lamb chops

and scrumptious ice cream, and later a recital at Town Hall of

baroque organ and chamber music group of the Bach Society.

Wonderful evening.   He seems fine, and has offered to help find

me a room. . The job is going fairly easily.     It is really a

racket.   They seem to want to keep me on the design end of it,

so, so far I have sat around and doodled a bedroom full of Penn.

Dutch floral patterns and a bathroom full of semi-stylized

mermaids, sea shells, fishes and bubbles. . I am still at the Y.

Don't understand how M. (Minna) Citron was told I had moved. . By

the way, I heard from Mrs. Navas that McBeth (Gallery) is folding

up.   Don't know what Mrs. Lewis is going to do.    Love, John.”

      John's Easter in New York was busy.    “Weds. night to the

Roualt show with Roger (Crossgrove).   Lots of mink and mothballs

and hard to see the paintings, but it is a stupendous show.        E.G.

Robinson Collection also on display there now.     Thursday Ruthie

(UNL artist classmate) and I managed to get tickets to a B. (Bea)

Lily show, which we enjoyed immensely.      We have been singing what

we can remember of the songs ever since.     Tonight we are seeing

‘The Children's Hour’ all of which is knocking holes in the old

budget, but it's worth it.   This noon I met the Milligans and

some of their friends at the office to watch the Easter parade.

His office is on the 4th floor of the building across 5th Ave.

from St. Patrick's cathedral.   Quite a spot!    And it was a

beautiful soft day here, too.”    Dwight often spent Easters with

friends - Peggy Patrick said he showed her children how to

decorate eggs at their house.”

    “I was very glad to hear how the memorial fund had grown.

(Dwight established the Truby Kelly Kirsch Collection at the art

center.)   Yesterday Roger and I went to some galleries to look up

some of the things you mentioned.       We chose 4 matted Feininger

watercolors (2 religious themes) to be sent to you Monday for

selection.   Then at Kraushaar Galleries we picked 4 of the

Prendergast monotypes, and also had them shipped, since they were

small. . Miss Walters at Rosenbergs was very busy weekends with

the ‘Critics Choice’ show of French Moderns, and thought it would

be better to wait about the Rattner paintings until you got here.

At this time there is nothing similar to the ‘Hands Upreaching’

on hand.   Lots of good things to see now: Big de Kooning show at

Janis.   Critics Choice at Rosenbergs, etc., and some not so good.

(Phillip Evergood at ACA He was holding court in person when

Roger and I were there.   Seemed like a particularly unpleasant

individual). . Roger was offered 2 sections (painting and drawing

at Pratt). . I know all your friends here will do their best to

wine and dine you. . Perhaps we could both manage a weekend in

Philadelphia while you're here.     Will be seeing you soon, love,


    John, not fully recovered from the shock of Truby's death,

had an extremely shaky experience he describes in his April

letter.    He often mentioned it to me years later, “Dear Pa: Your

choices for purchase were fine.     It is always hard to know.    But

nearly all the Feiningers were very fine.      (He was one of Truby's

favorite artists.)    And the one you chose was our favorite

Prendergast. . Maynard sent tickets to opening at Whitney a week

ago Wed.    The show (watercolors and sculpture) was very

disappointing to me, esp. the sculpture section, which was filled

with tricky gadgets and gimmicks.       This week I really shot my wad

on theater.    But it was well worth it. . Friday night was next to

the last night of ‘Pal Joey.’ Carol Bruce substituting for

Vivianne Segal, but she was wonderful.      Terrific lyrics and

burlesque numbers.    Sat. pm to ‘Camino Real,’ the new Tennessee

Williams show, which I thought was superb; the only work of art

or attempt at one I have seen yet on Broadway.      You would enjoy

it very much, so I'll try to get tickets for first week in May

for us.    Sun. Fran and I went to two performances of Dance

Festival presented by Jose Limon and Martha Graham. . for the

piece de resistance the Oedipus legend done with Noguchi props,

(stabiles, lengths of rope, and trailing hunks of jersey through

which Martha and her troupe moved.)      It was a wow - many of the

women in the audience inc. Fran were in tears at the conclusion

of it.    Evening performance including the Othello theme done by

Jose Limon and troupe to a Bach pavanne.      And it, too, was one of

the most moving dance dramas I have ever seen.      In short, a

wonderful weekend.     But a bruised budget. I had a jolting

experience here at Sloane House last week.      I was visiting some

friends on a lower floor (in a room facing the court) when we

heard a voice from somewhere up above shouting ‘hold on, we'll

help you.’   My friends dashed to the window just in time to see

someone hurtle past us and into the courtyard.      The man landed

just two floors below us.     It was raining, just at dusk, and the

body lay in a puddle of water and blood half lighted from the

lower floor windows.    The whole business didn't seem quite real,

but more like a drama or pantomime, with policemen suddenly

appearing on the scene, a priest to administer last rites; and

ambulance and doctor, and more uniformed police.      It seemed as if

the body lay there for hours while people curiously hung out of

the windows facing the court, and the performance went on.

Finally the body was wrapped up and carried out, very

impersonally and unceremoniously.       It was an experience I shall

not soon forget.   I am starting to apartment hunt in earnest. . I

have one small favor to ask you. . I wondered if you could phone

for or have delivered one of the cheap guitar cases. . and tote

the old guitar in with the rest of your luggage.      I sort of miss

it, and now that there may be a chance to settle some place, a

little more practical. . How are all the Haines and Shane people?

It will be wonderful to see you real soon now.      Love, John.”

    John's July letter relayed Nebraska news through Freda

Spalding “Freda looked very cheerful and chic and stuff when she

was here.   Ruth, Roger and Wynona and Marguerite and I all had

supper and spent the eve. with her. It seems Worth (Peter) is to

be acting head of the dept. next year of all people, with Geske

gallery director (Laging still gets same salary ($6000) for half

days!   4 art history classes. . Hope you can sketch in Alaska.

Your plans sound terrific, and I know it will be much more of a

rest & change for you than coming east.      Haven't had a chance to

call Minna Citron yet, but I want to soon to get all the dope and

gossip on her trip. . I thought you might get a kick out of the

enclosed clipping.   Ruthie and the Goya portrait (the one Dwight

obtained for the Des Moines Art Center) seem to be the only

things that make front-page news in N.Y.      Well - have a wonderful

trip. . See you in Aug.   Love, John.”

    That summer Dwight borrowed $2300, which he must have used

for his Alaskan trip.   He had kept in touch with one of his

former students, Martha “Nickie” Nickerson Bolling (now Hyams),

who was living on Kodiak Island, and when she learned of Truby's

death, she invited him to visit.      He travelled the inland

passageway by ship, then stayed at a hotel Nickie had arranged

for him in the small village of Kodiak.

    She wrote, “I had a small painting class going at that time,

and among them were Mary Cornelius, an English woman, and Eunice

Neseth, an Aleut-Swedish school teacher who had grown up in the

area.   Eunice was a small, dark, beautiful, warm, quiet,

sensitive woman, married to an uncommunicative gold miner. . she

had grown up on an island named Afognak, about 2 hours from

Kodiak by fishing boat.   Her family house was still on the

island.   We decided that Dwight should visit Afognak, so we hired

a fishing boat to take us there and pick us up a few days later.

. The island is very beautiful, quiet, the only wheeled vehicles

at the time were a couple of wheelbarrows.   It was not difficult

to see that it was a momentous meeting for Eunice and Dwight and

that there was a very real attraction between them. . Last year,

(1983) when I was in Alaska on a project for the Alaska Council

for the Arts, I phoned Eunice who still lives on Kodiak.    The

same voice answered, and she said she'd pay half my fare if I'd

come visit her.   The memories of that painting class and the

summer with Dwight are still very much alive inside her.”

    Eunice's name does not appear in his address book, however,

it must have been a pleasant, comforting feeling for him to have

a person like her connect with his art and quiet personality.

    Dwight sent Marguerite a clipping from “The Kodiak Bear,”

the “Navy's Alaskan picture newspaper,” which ran an article,

with photographs, about an art show in which he participated.

His letter from Anchorage mentions that, “It was swell of you to

take time to write a long newsy letter and card both of which I

enjoyed.    Rosalie (Stuart Franklin) wrote me a note, and I will

hope to see her or at least call Sunday.    My return trip was

delayed by preparations for the art show in Kodiak and bad flying

weather.    I am here just overnight and will take a day trip by

plane tomorrow to Seattle; will hope the visibility is good as

they say there is magnificent mountain scenery all the way.

However, I have already seen so much unbelievably beautiful

country and seas and islands, it is impossible to remember it

all.    Photos and sketches may help recall it.   I have done a

multitude of drawings and watercolors including a number that

please me: ten of them were left (by invitation) for the Kodiak

Art Show which they will hang tomorrow.”

       “Nickie has stirred up the community artwise much as you did

in Phillips and Borger.    A half dozen of the gals and guys meet

once a week to sketch from a model in Nickie's apt. over the Idle

Horn bar, and we also had an evening of monotypes while I was

there.    Nickie has made some very congenial friends there whom I

liked - and also located several native artists and craftsmen -

ranging from an “Eskimo Grandma Moses” (whom we visited and I

bought one of her small oils) to a Russian monk and a Catholic


    “Beachcombing was not the least of our outdoor sports -

resulting in driftwood and crud mobile of things gathered on the

beaches.    Berry picking, (mostly salmon berries, which are like

extra juicy big raspberries - and blueberries) was another

favorite pastime - resulting in jellies and pies, to say nothing

of wine.”

    “It has been a grand vacation and has been balm to my

spirit, and it has left me with the realization anew of what a

wide, wonderful world it is.   Affectionately, DK.”

    Dwight took stunning photographs of sea gulls, while

standing alongside the ship's rail, and he used one later that

year as a memorial tribute to Truby in holiday greetings he sent

to close friends and relatives. Her warm strength and love must

have sustained him, for she seemed to be with him in spirit those

last twenty-seven years.

    Many years later when he lived near us in Florence,

Colorado, he bought Richard Bach's book “Jonathan Livingston

Seagull” and drew and painted several studies of seagulls.     As

was his habit, when a passage or picture was meaningful to him,

he turned down corners of the pages, or marked them in the

margins.    He turned down corners of that book showing seagulls.

When he showed me his paintings of the graceful, soaring birds, I

knew the meaning, one of which he called “Six Soaring Seagulls,”

a gouache and iridescent white on brown backing paper, 18” X 24”

(# 17, 1981).     The only painting I have from the Alaskan trip is

a lovely, small gouache and ink - a scene on Kodiak Island.

    My mother thought he should remarry, but John and I would

have been shocked if he had, even though he did not lack feminine

attention and the favors they bestowed.    For Dwight, Truby could

never have been replaced.    He gained strength by simply feeling

her spiritual presence and her laughter, her freckled arms

extending in a hug and kiss.    She was every inch a lady no matter

how she looked or what she wore - but her nose was never “in the

air.” For fun and our early “showtime” antics, she would strike a

pose with her hands on her hips and leg extended in a sort of

dance, a bit like the way one would move when singing “Coming

through the Rye.”    When John and I wanted to learn to dance she

insisted we first learn the waltz steps, with hands-on

demonstrations.    For the annual art department Beaux Arts Ball,

she did herself up as Bluebeard’s wife-her head “framed” with an

actual picture frame and her hair pulled to the top as if she

were being hung.    She was the hit of the ball with her picture

appearing in the Nebraska Cornhusker.

    She would have loved the Alaskan trip knowing that the

stupendous scenery would inspire Dwight.    When we were little and

in Lincoln for an evening drive, it was important to seek a hill

and look at the city lights, and when we visited them in

Colorado, the view of the mountains with a dusting of “powdered

sugar” was an event to be savored.


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