Centaur at Salisbury House

This post is authored by Norman Hills, one of Salisbury House’s tour guides, and is the first in a series of posts written by guest authors who have special interests within the Salisbury House collections.

Why should we be interested in a typeface?  First, a typeface can be beautiful on its own, although we rarely notice a font unless it seems unusual or inappropriate.  In the case of Centaur, it is the finest of the early Venetian revivals, a typeface style which first emerged in the 19th and early 20th-century, and were derived from an acclaimed  15th-century Venetian printer, Nicholas Jenson. Centaur is a font with a beauty of line, proportion, and elegance that has been acclaimed since its release in 1914.

Centaur Broadside

From The Design of Books, Adrian Wilson. Printed by Taylor & Taylor, 1948

Second, and more important, is the use of a font in creating beautiful books.  Centaur is renowned for its first two major uses in books often cited as among the most beautiful created in the 20th century.  The Salisbury House library is fortunate to have copies of both of these books: the T. E. Lawrence translation of The Odyssey printed by Emery Walker in 1932, and The Oxford Lectern Bible of 1935.

Both the typeface and the design of these two books are the work of the American designer Bruce BR photoRogers.  Albert Bruce Rogers was born on May 14, 1870 in Linwood, Indiana.  In 1886 Rogers enrolled at Purdue University, studying art but taking a degree in Science in 1890.  In the next few years, he worked as an illustrator, designer, and printer.  Rogers worked at Riverside Press for fifteen years, starting in 1900, and he married Anna Baker that same year. His only child, Elizabeth, was born in 1901. While at Riverside, Rogers designed his first typeface, the Montaigne, which was based on the Nicholas Jenson type of 1470 as used in the printing of Eusebius and his printing of Suetonius.  This Venetian Renaissance Old Style font was also used as the basis for Centaur.  During the years 1912-1935, Rogers worked for a number of presses, including Emery Walker’s Mall Press and Harvard University.  He designed over 170 books during the course of his career, and he died on May 18, 1957

Rogers wrote in his Printer’s Notes about the development of Centaur:

“I had had the good fortune to come into possession of a copy of Jenson’s Eusebius of 1470, supposedly the first of the folios printed in his Roman  letter, and the only one I have ever seen in which his type appears in all its delicate crispness of cutting and casting—a marvel of accuracy for those times. When portions of the clearest page in my copy were enlarged to about five times the original size I was at once struck by the pen-like characteristics of the lower-case letters; so with a flat pen cut to the width of the heavier lines, I wrote on the photographic print as rapidly as I could, thus preserving the proportions, at least, of Jenson’s own characters.”

  Joseph Blumenthal in The Printed Book in America (p. 67) writes of Centaur:

 “The undertaking was sponsored, with some proprietary rights, by Henry Watson Kent, then secretary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New  York, where he had established an excellent press in the museum basement for announcements, posters, labels, etc. The types first book appearance was in Maurice de Guérin’s The Centaur which gave the type its name and which has become one of the most sought-after of the B.R. books. Hand-set by Mrs. Rogers, it was printed in an edition of 135 copies [in 1915] at Carl P. Rollins lively and idealistic Montague Press at the Dyke Mill in Massachusetts.

Guerin Centaur Beinecke

At this time, the Monotype System was widely used for typesetting in Europe.  This consists of two machines, one for keyboarding and the other for type casting.  To use a font for most general purposes, a full set of capitals, lower case, and italics is needed.  Rogers agreed to make Centaur available for Monotype and arranged for a compatible italic designed by Frederic Warde.  The italic was based on the work of a sixteenth-century printer named Ludovico degli Arrighi and was called Arrighi.  Thus the full font was available by 1929.

  A comparison of Centaur with another commonly used font, Baskerville, will show some of the distinguishing features of the font.

Font Compare

Centaur is generally lighter, both serifs (small lines attached to the end of a stroke) on the “T” point left, the tail of the “Q” is more restrained, and the junction in the middle of the W is very different.  There is relatively little difference between thick and thin lines, the legs of the “M” are splayed, and the tail of the “R” is more sweeping. The center bar of the “E” is longer and the cross-bar of the “e” is slanting.  There are other similar details that differentiate Centaur from other fonts, although in some cases the differences are very subtle. Daniel Berkeley Updike in his Printing Types (1922) writes: “…it appears to me one of the best roman fonts yet designed in America, and, of its kind , the best anywhere.”  That evaluation still stands.

Turning to the major uses of Centaur, we can see Rogers’ mastery of book design, for which he is more widely known.  In the late 20s, he was considering a finely printed edition of the Odyssey, but he was not satisfied with any existing translation.  He was one of many people who had been reading with great interest The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia.)  Rogers conceived the idea of commissioning Lawrence to do a new translation.  Lawrence had long admired Rogers and was an avid reader of the Odyssey in Greek, but was initially reluctant to try such a difficult task. After almost five years of work, the Odyssey was published by Sir Emery Walker, Wilfred Merton, and Bruce Rogers in 1932 in an edition of 530 copies.  Each book or chapter was headed by a 24K gold and black medallion designed by Rogers.  Seven separate impressions in the press were required for each medallion.

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Salisbury House Library & Rare Books Collection

With special grey paper and a simple black morocco leather binding, the result is said to be “among the most beautiful books ever produced” (Joseph Blumenthal).

 The Salisbury House library also contains the very rare second edition of the Lawrence’s Odyssey.  This is the American limited edition issued to establish copyright in an edition of only 34 copies signed by Bruce Rogers.  The book is much smaller than the first edition, does not have the chapter roundels, and does not use the Centaur font.  The Salisbury copy is number seven and one of 11 beautifully bound in full morocco, brown in this case (others were blue.)

Odyssey signature

The second masterpiece using the Centaur type is the Oxford Lectern Bible from the Oxford University Press, printed in 1935.  This Bible was produced at the request of King George V to commemorate the Canadian soldiers who died in Ypres, Francee, during World War I.  The type is a special version of Centaur, 22 points, set on a 19 point body to save space.  This is a very large book with the large size Batchelor hand-made paper in two volumes and bound in white pigskin.  This version of the Oxford Bible was a limited edition of 200 copies; there is a place for the number within the edition, but the Salisbury copy is unnumbered.

Screenshot 2015-07-09 14.04.42

The Oxford Lectern Bible is often considered to be the masterpiece of Bruce Rogers.  While he was working on the Bible, he also designed another highly regarded book, the Fra Luca de Pacioli, in 1933.  This also used the Centaur type and the cover is a well-known example.

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Rogers used the Centaur typeface rarely, reserving it for major books, usually with hand-made paper which could take a better impression than normal book pulp paper.  That trend has continued, although it is still used on occasion, as on the cover of this 1977 book of essays about James Joyce from the University of California Press.

Scan Ulysses Essays

These and the many other beautifully designed books of Rogers have established him as one of the finest, if not the finest, designers in America.  The April 3, 1939 issue of Time Magazine asserted that “Bruce Rogers is to U.S. book designing and printing what Frank Lloyd Wright is to architecture…”

A Virtual Tour, c. 1927

By 1927, Salisbury House neared completion. The Weeks family had moved in the previous year, although the house would not be fully finished until 1928. During this year’s interim, a photographer captured images of the new home’s interior. These photographs, particularly when paired with exterior construction images, make a fascinating early study of the property.

The Weeks family, as we do on our tours today, welcomed visitors to Salisbury House in the Great Hall.

Great Hall_3

The iconic painting,  The Brothers LaBouchere, still dominates the center of the hall, though much of the additional furnishings have been removed today to accommodate our various public events and rentals.

From the Great Hall, visitors typically made their way down the east hallway to the Common Room.

East hallway

Here in the east hallway hung a painting of special importance. The large-scale piece hanging on the right is Joseph Stella’s Tree of My Life, painted by the artist in 1919-1920. The Weeks family originally acquired three Stella works on a scale similar to Tree of My LifeThe Birth of Venus (1922) and The Apotheosis of the Rose (1926), which both can still be seen at Salisbury House today. Tree of My Life, however, was sold at auction at Christie’s in 1986 for $2.2 million.

Lush furnishings, including ornate drapery, also appeared in the Common Room in 1927. However, the custom-made Steinway grand piano, which was later a centerpiece of the room, had yet to arrive from New York.

Common room_3

Common room

Lucky guests were also able to visit the library, which remains an extraordinary experience today.

Library_2

Note the empty shelves behind the hanging tapestry in the middle background above. By the time the Weeks family left Salisbury House in 1954, the library collection had expanded even beyond the library shelves. Eventually, locked cabinet doors were added to the bookshelves adjacent to the fireplace below.

Library_3

Guests invited to stay for the evening would have likely spent time in the Dining Room as well…

Dining Room

…followed by their morning coffee in the Breakfast Room. A portion of Stella’s Apotheosis of the Rose is visible on the right, where it still hangs.

Breakfast Room

To view the second floor of Salisbury House, guests in 1927 would have used the main staircase located just off of the Great Hall.

Main staircase hall

Not long after this photograph was taken, the Weekses added an elaborate runner to the stairs that included their family crest. A sixteenth-century suit of armor eventually replaced the chair pictured here as well.

Upon arriving at the top of the staircase, Carl and Edith would have retired to their bedrooms in the east wing of the house. Edith’s sumptuous bedroom suite, including a dressing room with adjacent bath, reflected her preference for French decor.

Edith dressing room

Edith’s bedroom was equally lovely.

Edith bedroom_1

Edith bedroom_2

Carl’s bathroom and bedroom – adjacent to, though not connected, to Edith’s rooms – displayed a much more masculine aesthetic.

Carl bathroom

 

Carl bedroom

The balcony, down the hallway from Carl’s and Edith’s suites, offered a fantastic view of the Great Hall.

Balcony hall

Great Hall_4

A small guest bedroom was accessed from the balcony hall.

Porch Room

Continuing westward down the hallway, the Queen Anne bedroom appeared on the left.

Queen Ann_2

Queen Ann_1

The four bedrooms for the Weeks boys – Charles, William, Hud, and Lafe – were on the west end of the second floor. Hud’s room, for reasons that are lost to us now, included two beds.

Hud's bedroom_1

Lafe’s room was the smallest of the boys’ bedrooms.

Lafe's Bedroom

Before our tour of Salisbury House c. 1927 draws to a close: a stop in the Indian Room. This space, located in the basement level of the house, was decorated with Carl’s extensive Native American collection. It was also, or so we are given to believe, used by the boys for some seriously raging parties.

Indian Room_use

Despite the fact that we are separated from these photographs by nearly a century, we are extraordinarily fortunate that much of the fine artworks and furnishings collected by the Weeks family remains intact today. Be sure to stop by and enjoy a tour c. 2015!

 

Merry Christmas from the Limited Editions Club, 1934

Last year’s Christmas post explored our remarkable collection of holiday cards, from those sent by the Weeks family to a Christmas postcard mailed by a twentieth-century literary legend. This year, we focus on a single classic: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. First published on December 19, 1843 – exactly 171 years ago today – Dickens’ aim in writing the book extended well beyond a simple celebration of the season.

Rather, the inspiration for the piece stemmed from his outrage over the squalid and exploitative working conditions faced by women and children in Industrial Revolution England. Dickens marshaled the considerable strength of his pen in the hopes that his efforts would yield “Something that would strike the heaviest blow in my power…something that would come down with sledgehammer force.” Scrooge, whose name was an amalgam of “screw” and “gouge,” represented the relentless pursuit of profit that Dickens perceived as a central problem in his industrializing country. Bob Cratchit and his family, including Tiny Tim, personified the costs exacted upon working-class families by men of Scrooge’s ilk. Today, though, Dickens’ original message remains largely muted. Scrooge, the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, and the Cratchit family, evoke more holiday nostalgia than social commentary. Indeed, A Christmas Carol‘s contributions to the nature of contemporary holiday culture has made Dickens, in the words of one writer, “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”

Perhaps Dickens’ social critique of business running roughshod over the working man and his family found more purchase in the winter of 1934. That December, the Limited Editions Club published A Christmas Carol for its members. The book was printed a week before Christmas and found a place on the shelves in Carl Weeks’ library at Salisbury House soon thereafter. The cover featured stylized Christmas trees, and Gordon Ross’s illustrations accompanied Dickens’ text.

Carol 1+

Carol 3

Carol 2

Carol 4

Carol 5

Carol 6

Carol 7

Carol 8

Carol 9

Carol 10

Whatever message you take from Dickens’ classic this holiday season, we at Salisbury House wish you the best! May you echo an awakened Scrooge:

“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” 

“The Michelangelo of Caricature”: Honoré Daumier at Salisbury House

Honoré Daumier, the nineteenth-century French artist, became most widely known during his lifetime as a skilled caricaturist. Indeed, he continues to be roundly considered the “Michelangelo of Caricature.”  Daumier’s work for Le Charivari, a French daily newspaper, and for the journal La Caricature, both founded in the 1830s, remain at the apex of caricature as social satire. To draw a modern parallel, perhaps, Daumier might be considered the Jon Stewart of French satirical commentary.

honore_daumier

Honoré Daumier

Still, there was more to the man than caricature. His other talents, particularly in terms of painting and sculpture, remained largely unrecognized until after his death in 1879 at the age of 71. A panegyric collection of essays celebrating Daumier and his work, published in 1922, suggests that “In his day [he] was celebrated as a caricaturist and only a few of the more discerning artists and critics realized that he was one of the giants of Arts, one of the salient individualities [sic]  of the nineteenth century.” A catalogue printed for a 1993 Daumier exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York describes the him as “an artist of exceptional genius and power.” Posthumous reevaluations of Daumier’s work laud, in addition to lithography, his paintings, sculpture, and drawings; he also worked in oil, watercolor, prints, and wood.

Today, Daumier remains widely collected. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, and the Hammer Museum at UCLA are only a few among the many world-class institutions that exhibit and/or hold Daumier works.

Our collections here at Salisbury House include Daumier images as well. While we are still in the process of researching our Daumier holdings, they’re just too cool not to share.

As you will see below, we have found translations and descriptions of the headings and captions paired with the works. Still, even for those of us who are not conversant in French, Daumier’s work transcends language. His renderings of human expressions and situations speak for themselves.

This first set of  Daumier images below are both amusing and puzzling. We do not yet know who created these cutouts of his caricatures, or who added paper tabs to the reverse of the cutouts that allowed figures’ arms and other appendages to be moved back and forth. The cutouts seem to be Daumier’s images, anonymously translated into folk art. Put simply: they’re awesome.

Messieurs en dames

Translation:  Ladies and gentlemen! Silver mines, gold mines, diamond mines are only thin gruel and stale rolls in comparison with coal . . . But even so, (you’re going to say), you’re selling your shares for a million? . . . I’m not selling my shares, gentlemen, I’m giving them away for 200 miserable francs, I’m giving two for every one, I’m giving away a needle, an ear-pick, a bodkin, and what’s more, I give you my blessing into the bargain. Bring out the big drum!

Description: Here, Daumier is aiming at [French politician] Girardin who had been offering mining shares to the public. The entire project was a scam and all participants, with the exception of Girardin, were sent to prison.

The reverse: the paper tab at the bottom, when pulled up and down, maneuvered the main figure’s right arm.

Messieurs en dames_reverse

Les enfants charmants

Translation: Crrrrr !…… woman….!…to leave a man alone for four hours with three crrrrrrrying children……. !

Description: A man is in a state of frustration over three crying babies.

The reverse:

Les enfants back (1)

Robert Macaire Magnetiseur

Translation: Robert Macaire hypnotist. Here is an excellent subject……… for hypnosis……. Certainly ! there is no connection between us, I do not have the honor of knowing Mademoiselle de St. Bertrand and you will see gentlemen, the effect of sleepwalking… (in her sleep Mademoiselle de St. Bertrand gives diagnoses on everyone’s diseases, advocates hidden underground treasures and gives investment advice to Mozart paper company, in gold mines and a host of other very fine operations).

Description: Robert Macaire is hypnotizing a woman. Robert Macaire may seem to be a realistic figure, however one should remember that in reality he is an artificial personality, created in 1823 by Benjamin Antier for his play “L’Auberge des Adrets.”

The reverse:

Robert back

The figure of Robert Macaire became a proxy for Daumier and his publisher at Le CharivariCharles Philipon, for their criticism of French social and political life under Louis-Philippe (r. 1830-1848). Philipon often provided the captions for Daumier’s work, and they both had good cause to create a buffer between their work and their satirical commentary about the monarch. Daumier had been imprisoned for six months in 1832 for his caricature of the king as “Gargantua” while he was on staff at Philipon’s La Caricature. After Daumier’s release from prison, Philipon founded Le Charivari and continued to publish his work. Macaire remained particularly useful after 1835, when political satire was banned in France and Le Charivari ostensibly focused  on French daily life instead.

Our collections include a bound set of Daumier prints from Le Charvari. The collection is undated, but the originals would have been produced during Daumier’s tenure at the French daily from the 1830s to the 1860s.

Cover

DSC_0131

TranslationHow silly!. . . . just look at how they run away! . . . . that is what you get when you are in the wrong place!!! . . . . My little love, when you prevent to pass, you will burn the pellets from Sérail. . . . .

Description:  A terrified couple is walking very fast because they are afraid of two men who are looking at them and commenting on their behavior. Daumier succeeds to show the bourgeoisie with humor but also with that certain touch of bitterness and at the same time endeavors to help us understand how much we are all fighting to climb up the social ladder, while often forgetting our roots and damaging our own self-esteem as well as that of our surrounding.

DSC_0138

Translation: Robbed! . . . . Empty pocket street . . . . . .

Description: A man realizes that he has just been robbed. Reportedly, this street was the former “rue Vieille-Doucet”. Before the reconstruction of the Parisian roads was done by Haussmann, most street in Paris were narrow and dark, an ideal situation for pickpockets.

DSC_0150

 Translation: Oh here you are, darn it, how handsome you are! Come and give your father a kiss.

Description: Daumier portrays generational (and class) differences between father and son.

DSC_0137

Translation: This proves that when you patrol, you should never pass by your own house.

Description: A soldier is patrolling the streets and happens to look up at his window and see his wife with another man.

Another bound set of Daumier’s work in the Salisbury House collections is entitled “Les Cosaques Pour Rire,” or, “The Cossacks in Jest.” Daumier created these images during the Crimean War (1853-1856), and used his considerable skills to skewer Russian military command, soldiers, and the czar, though not all the images included in this set necessarily pertain to either the Crimean War or to the Cossacks.

DSC_0162

Translation: The best-disciplined soldiers in the world.

DSC_0169

Translation: IN BUCHAREST. – It’s here.. come in… we’ll pay you!…

Description: Some soldiers sitting in a tent in Bucharest are inviting an old man to join their forces.

DSC_0170

Translation: Having to also consult his little table in order to be sure that he is definitely the winner.

Description: Nicolas I, Nicolas Pavlovitch (1796-1855), became Emperor of Russia in 1825. Daumier pokes fun at the czar.

DSC_0174

Translation: Russian blind men’s bluff – New game, but more dangerous.

Description: A blindfolded soldier is playing blind man’s bluff.

Daumier’s prolific career reflected his uncanny ability to skewer both the machinations of kings and empires and the foibles of the everyday. Our collections include a selection from his Croquis de Chasse (Hunting Sketches) from the 1850s in which Daumier takes aim at the appearance of hunting mania among the French middle class, brought on by the loosening of laws which had traditionally maintained the hunt as the preserve of aristocrats.

DSC_0184

Translation:  What a hideous Thing this wild Boar is… without this tree I would be lost… it has the air of considering… wouldn’t it be nice if it just went

Description: A hunter is frightened by a wild pig.

DSC_0185

Translation: A misplaced shot.

Description: A hunter shooting at a hare has missed and accidentally shot another hunter in the buttocks.

DSC_0187

Translation: – Blast, what bad luck… he passes just when I am unable to fire!….

Description: A hare hops past a hunter just as he has put his gun down [and is pulling his pants back up].

DSC_0190

Translation: Two hunters were living in peace. A partridge passed and behold, the war began.  

We are still learning more about our Daumier collection here at Salisbury House, but the selection of images included here exemplify the artist’s remarkable skills and legacy.

We are indebted to the Brandeis Institutional Repository’s translations within their Honoré Daumier Digitized Lithographs collection.

Dirty Words

“There are no dirty words. There are only dirty minds and dirty tongues, and these have imported a foul odor to what originally were mere descriptive terms for quite common experiences.”

These memorable lines were written in response to the furor over the publication of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). Critics particularly took issue with Lawrence’s use of colloquial terms for coitus and the female anatomy, and generally denounced the book as filth. Lawrence, for his part, answered his critics. One essay, A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, is frequently included in later editions of the book.

At some point after the book’s publication, another response to Chatterly critics appeared. We don’t know who wrote this work, but it makes for a very interesting read. While Lawrence’s name appears on the cover, there seems to be a consensus that someone else wrote the essay. This six-page pamphlet, appropriately – and provocatively – titled “Dirty Words,” is tucked away on a shelf in the Salisbury House Library. It makes a nice addendum to our many other Lawrence works  (including a rare first edition of Lady Chatterley, signed by Lawrence), though it is not of Lawrence’s hand.

DW1

 

 

LC3

“Dirty Words” offers a fascinating glimpse into the ways in which the writer, first of all, perceived Lawrence’s own use of language in Lady Chatterly and, secondly, observations on those who labeled Lawrence’s use of language obscene and sought to have his work expurgated, censored, or repressed. One hundred and fifty copies of this pamphlet were printed “For A.H.”

Ultimately, the writer indicts Chatterley critics for raising an uproar over “mere combinations of letters and harmless enough, which have been buried so deep in men’s consciousness, and so over-laden with poisonous accretions, that to be hated they need but to be uttered.” The author continues, “If sex has become a foreign [impure] element in modern life, then modern life, not sex, is the thing to be cleansed.”

It makes for a fascinating read. The full text of “Dirty Words” appears below.

DW2

DW3

DW4

DW5

DW6

DW7

DW8

DW9

DW10

 

Gorgeous Drunkards

August is a time for drinking. It just is. In honor of the month wherein life is immeasurably enhanced by a cold cocktail or an icy stein of ale, we’re showcasing a remarkable book from the shelves of the Salisbury House Library. Merry-Go-Down: A Gallery of Gorgeous Drunkards in Literature from Genesis to Joyce, published in 1929, is a riot. It’d be perfect, in fact, to share with friends along with Das Boot, say, at the Hessian House.

Cover

 

Why compile this exceptional tome?  The publisher, Mandrake Press, thoughtfully answered this question for us: “Collected for the use, interest, illumination, and delectation of serious topers.”

Toper [toh-per]: noun. A hard drinker or chronic drunkard.

You’re welcome.

 

Title

 

As you might have noticed, the author, “Rab Noolas,” is a semordnilap of “Bar Saloon,” which was the pseudonym for British scholar and all-around-fun-guy Peter Warlock.  Oh, those squirrely English!

The book, as promised, takes us on a delightful tour of drunkenness through the ages. We begin at the beginning: Noah. Did you know that Noah was a drunkard? Well, he was.

 

Noah image

 

In addition to this delightful illustration, Rab Saloon helpfully included the salient Old Testament passage:

 

Noah text

 

From there, the booze-soaked pages are populated with the likes of Seneca, Plato, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Raleigh, Boswell, Poe, Dickens, James, and Joyce.

Boswell‘s piece (late eighteenth century) is especially insightful. As he suggests, “Were we so framed that it were possible by perpetual supplies of wine to keep ourselves for ever gay and happy, there could be no doubt that drinking would be the summum bonum, the chief good, to find out which philosophers have been so variously busied.”

Well said, sir. Well. Said.

 

boswell love it

Love large

 

Of course, as you will have by now noticed, an array of finely-executed illustrations accompany the august text. Hal Collins, a confidante of Rab Noolas/Peter Warlock, created the images.

 

Image

 

All too soon, this twentieth-century masterwork draws to a close.

 

back page

 

If you find yourself wishing for more from this singular work, not to worry: unlike many of the rare and/or irreplaceable pieces in our Library collection, you too could possess a copy of Merry-Go-Down! It is available for purchase at a surprisingly affordable rate.

Finally, if anyone yet wondered on which side of the Prohibition fence stood Carl Weeks: now we know. Topers! Salud!

Satchmo at Salisbury House

Legends about Salisbury House abound. Lately, we’ve been thinking about one in particular: the oft-told story that Louis Armstrong, the giant of twentieth-century jazz, once stayed at Salisbury House after a 1949 performance in Des Moines. Satchmo is at the forefront of our minds these days, as this summer marks the return of a fan-favorite event at Salisbury House. Our Louis Armstrong birthday celebration is back!

picLouisBdayCake

http://louisarmstronghouse.org/news/article.php?Happy-Birthday-Louis-Armstrong-102

 

We have two days of festivities planned. The first, hosted by the Salisbury House Young Professionals, will take place on Saturday night (August 2). Young folks (21-35) who want to partake in A Hot Piece of Brass are welcome to attend. On Sunday (August 3), we’re throwing open the doors of Salisbury House to all visitors, and two bands will be playing on the south terrace throughout the afternoon. A $15 ticket gains you entrance to the House and to the entertainment for this Louis Armstrong Birthday Bash.

Aside from all the merriment, your correspondent wondered: how accurately can we trace the legend of Louis Armstrong’s visit to Salisbury House in 1949? To be sure, an abundance of anecdotal sources indicate that the jazz great visited and/or stayed at the Weekses’ home. However, can the story be confirmed via archival sources? Might a stray newspaper article or two trace Louis’ path from a gig in Iowa to the Great Hall of Salisbury House?

Certainly, Satchmo had a long history in the Hawkeye State. As early as the 1920s, he played in a band on a Mississippi riverboat with several ports of call in Iowa. The the steamers would turn around in Davenport to head back south, and Armstrong recalled playing a variety of Iowa towns during those days. It was also during this period of Armstrong’s life, according to some accounts, that he met Bix Beiderbecke, the legendary trumpeter from Davenport.

Armstrong continued to toured widely in the 1930s, and he also appeared in several films. By the 1940s, his touring dates continued to include Iowa.

On August 1, 1940, the northern Iowa Milford Mail  ran a piece about the performances slated for the upcoming Iowa State Fair. Louis Armstrong and his band, among other performers, were booked to play on August 28, 1940 as part of the fair’s “swing festival.”

Louis at State Fair 1940

 

Three years later, Armstrong performed at another Iowa landmark. The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, hosted the “Trumpet King of Swing,” as reported in Mason City Globe-Gazette on July 24, 1943.

The Surf 1943

 

In addition to these well-known Iowa venues, Armstrong played smaller towns and concerts halls as well. In July 1949, the Waterloo Sunday Courier reported that the jazz legend was slated to play at the Marcon Ballroom, located just south of Iowa Falls.

Marcon IA perfomance 1949

So: the question remains. In the midst of Armstrong’s semi-regular visits around the the state, where did Salisbury House fit into this story? The (partial) answer appeared in a file saved in a Salisbury House staff computer folder.  According to this piece – which was likely printed in the Des Moines Register  – Armstrong and his band were invited to Salisbury House by Evert “Hud” Weeks, following a performance at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.

While this electronic clipping lacks any firm identifiers in terms of printing date or source, it does seem to settle the question. Yes! Louis Armstrong did, in fact, visit Salisbury House.

armstrong_cropped

Still, there’s more to the Louis Armstrong legend as it has come down to us over the years. Some folks say that the Weekses invited Armstrong to stay overnight at Salisbury House because racist policies at local hotels barred people of color. However, no concrete evidence has yet emerged to confirm this story. Indeed, if this story was true, perhaps it would have been included in the above article as well.

Satchmo_Finland 1949Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong, & Barney Bigard. Helinski, Finland, 1949.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Armstrong#mediaviewer/File:Satchmo_Messuhallissa.jpg

We do know that this 1949 visit to Des Moineis was not Satchmo’s last visit to the state. In 1954, for example, Armstrong played the Lake Robbins Ballroom in Woodward, Iowa. He then stayed the night at the Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa. The hotel, still in operation today, memorializes the musician’s visit in their Louis Armstrong Suite.

Louis Armstrong died in 1971, but his legacy remains strong today. We at Salisbury House are lucky enough to claim a connection to this American legend. Come out and celebrate with us this weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

All About Edith

Our ability to reconstruct the past hinges on the existence and accessibility of primary sources. The Salisbury House archives contain a preponderance of Carlalia (Carl memorabilia), but we lack commensurate material about his better half: Edith Van Slyke Weeks. We’re trying to change this. Recent research has yielded new images and newspaper articles about Edith, and these sources help flesh out a portrait of a well-educated, well-traveled woman.

Edith was born to the Van Slykes of Dubuque, Iowa, in 1882. The family later moved to Des Moines, where Edith completed high school.

1885s Edith Van Slyke Weeks c. 1885Edith c. 1890

Young Edith graduated from North High School around the turn of the twentieth century. Pictured below is her report card from North High School from the late 1890s. Clearly, Edith possessed considerable academic abilities.

 

1899_Edith Van Slyke report card North High School

The importance of education was a central concern for the Van Slyke family. Indeed, Edith’s mother Eva, graduated from Iowa State University in 1874. Edith continued the tradition of well-educated Van Slyke women with her graduation from the University of Michigan in 1903.

1907 Sorosis

During her time in Ann Arbor, Edith joined the University of Michigan’s chapter of Sorosis, a women’s social and educational club.

In 1907, a blurb about Edith appeared in a Sorosis booklet printed to commemorate the club’s twentieth anniversary (left). Her name appears alongside the other alumnae of her year.

By this time (1907), Edith had met and married Carl Weeks. The couple, according to family anecdotes, first met around 1904 when Edith walked into the Des Moines pharmacy where Carl worked. Overcome with affection, Carl followed Edith to Europe around 1905.

Following Edith’s European sojourn, the pair courted through 1906 and walked down the aisle in February 1907.

1907 edith on wedding day_hi resEdith on her wedding day: February 27, 1907

Edith’s life after her marriage comes down to us in even more fragmented terms. Still, photographs from family albums and newspaper articles suggest a woman who cared deeply for her family, actively engaged in her local community, and generously supported the arts.

We imagine that Carl snapped the photograph below during the early years of their relationship. If Carl was the photographer, his shadow is visible towards the bottom of the frame. The photo’s location remains uncertain, but it’s clear that Carl and Edith often commemorated family events on film.

1909 Diddy 1909

 Like many families even today, the Weeks photo album took a decided turn towards Toddlerville after the kiddos started to arrive. Charles (1908), Bill (1910), Hud (1912), and Lafe (1918) were regularly photographed with their mother.

1910 Edith and...Charles & Edith, c. 1910

1910 Edith Charles BillEdith, Charles, & Bill, c. 1910

1913s Edith.boys.motorcycle

Bill, Charles, Hud, & Edith, c. 1913

1918 Edith Lafe 39th StEdith & Lafe, c. 1918

By the time Edith and Carl started making plans to build Salisbury House in the early 1920s, four rambunctious boys were roughhousing about the Weeks family home.

weeks FAMILY 1921

The Weeks Family in 1921 – Clockwise from Edith: Lafe, Bill, Carl, Charles, & Hud

In addition to photographs of the immediate Weeks family, our archives also include an interesting image of Edith on vacation in Havana, Cuba in the late 1920s or early 1930s. She was pictured with an unidentified friend at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a famed watering hole for American expats, including Ernest Hemingway. We wonder, in fact, if the Weekses and Hemingway met in Cuba.

1930s Edith Weeks In Havana, Cuba

Salisbury House was completed by 1928. Edith, with her academic training in art history and love of the subject, likely played a central role in acquiring the family’s stunning collection of fine furnishings and artworks.

Edith’s personal interests also emerged in her community involvement. She belonged to a variety of organizations and women’s clubs in Des Moines. A 1928 Des Moines Register article included a photograph of her (second from left) alongside fellow committee-members of the city’s Fine Arts Association.

1928 Fine Arts Club

In 1931, Edith hosted a meeting of ladies involved in the Iowa Association of Women’s Clubs. Dozens of women gathered at Salisbury House for tea and other activities.

1931 Federation of Womens Clubs

Edith also lent her support to charitable organizations. Below, she was pictured (on right) with other prominent Des Moines women at a charity ball in 1931.

1931 The Register 11.26.31 Charity Ball

Edith was again pictured in the Des Moines Register in 1934 alongside a piece from the family’s art collection painted in the style of English artist George Romney. Here, the photograph was accompanied by an article about a meeting of the Des Moines Women’s Club, hosted by Edith at Salisbury House.

1934 Register With Romney

In addition to photographs and articles related to Edith’s community involvement, she was also pictured in the Register with family members. The photo below showed Edith with her mother on Mother’s Day 1935.

1935 with Mom

Although we have added some  Edith-related images and articles to our archives in recent months, we still lack significant sources related to the later years of her life. Details about her, particularly during the 1940s and up to her death in 1954, remain elusive.

The last image we have of Edith Weeks dates to the first half of the 1950s. She and Carl were seated in the Great Hall of Salisbury House. Edith has lost a significant amount of weight, which may have indicated a marked decline in her health.

1950s carl and edith 1950's

The photographs and articles included here expand our cache of primary sources about Edith Van Slyke Weeks. Still, we hope to learn more about this remarkable woman’s life.

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