That Kid, Returns to the Salisbury House.

That kid, returns to the Salisbury House.
By Wayne L. White, Winter Site Manager, Amundsen-Scott Station, South Pole

NG River
Over 50 years ago, on a beautiful spring day, a Des Moines elementary school class visited the Salisbury House. Being kids, there was much merriment and probably some chaos that day as the class toured the great home. Their teacher had both her resolve and patience quite tested that day as she tried to ensure the kids moved through the house in a respectful and orderly fashion. In that class, one kid may have enjoyed it a little more than the rest. That kid had dreams of being an explorer. For that kid, growing up in Des Moines provided the backdrop for great adventures as local streams became the Amazon River, small sections of woods, impenetrable jungles and the Iowa winter ice and snow, the polar icecaps. That kid was amazed by the very structure of the Salisbury house and it grounds, which to him was a full-fledged English castle. That kid marveled at the homes contents and vast collections of items from ancient times. In those years, shrunken heads collected from the South American Amazon basin were on display in a glass case. That kid after seeing them while walking through with the class, snuck back to get a closer look. That kid had the teacher have to go back to get him away from that case and join the class. That kid had an unforgettable experience that day at the Salisbury house.

That kid went on to be an explorer and later in life journeyed to King Tuts tomb in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Amazon jungle (where he found no shrunken heads but did get a blowgun and poison darts), the most remote jungles in New Guinea and many other exotic places. That kid ended up the Winter Site Manager at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. That kid spent a year at the South Pole facing temperatures of minus 100F and months of darkness. That kid bought a modest, historic home in Texas where he developed a collection of interesting exploration related items from around the world and put them on display. That kid never forgot the Salisbury House and that beautiful spring day.

NG Group

NG River cross

Many years later that kid returned to the Salisbury house. I was that kid. Upon entry, I could remember the awe I had felt all those years ago looking up at that beautiful ceiling with the darkened beams, the fireplaces that at the time seemed enormous and the stone and wood floors. This time I saw no shrunken heads but witnessed something I would not have been able to fully understand and appreciate as a kid, the warmth, passion and love, the staff had for the place. That was very apparent upon entry. I also noted that while the Salisbury House seemed to be much the same as I remembered it, the city of Des Moines had grown and now had an extremely modern and beautiful downtown area. While the Salisbury House is nestled in its perpetual place in time, around it, the world was changing. The Salisbury House is a jewel for the city of Des Moines and with proper stewardship will continue for many generations to invigorate the imaginations of old and young.

I hope that kids will continue to tour the Salisbury House. Those kids will enjoy the tour and the break from the normal classroom routine. Those kids will have access to vast amounts of knowledge undreamed of 50 years ago. In those groups, there will be kids that will be more affected by the place than the rest. Those kids will be strongly drawn to the historical nature of the house, its collections and grounds but will also be looking toward the future. Those kids may not stand in an Egyptian tomb or on a polar ice cap. Those kids will stand on Mars. South Pole December 14, 2016 3PM

 

The ISEA Years by Sheila Bingamann

saliisbury guide book cover

The ISEA Years

Each year in the late 1960s the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) held a convention in Des Moines during October. For those of us in the Des Moines Schools it meant an all-day recess in the beautiful fall weather. During their convention, ISEA opened the Salisbury House for tours by their members. In 1969 as a senior at nearby Roosevelt High School, I was honored to be a student-guide in the House. I recently found my notes from this tour and the Guidebook published by ISEA with a copyright of 1967. These documents record how the house was used by the ISEA.

The First Floor

Only a few rooms on each floor were available to tour. The first floor rooms included the Great Hall, the Common Room and the Library. According to my memory, the Common Room still had its original draperies in 1969. The Library or as the ISEA referred to it the “Rare Books Library” had become the office for the secretary to ISEA’s Executive Secretary. The Dining Room was the Executive Secretary’s office. The breakfast room was work space for two additional secretaries. The kitchen and pantries were office space for the Publications Division of ISEA.

The Second Floor

To access the rooms on the second floor, we merrily went up and down the main staircase on the Wilton Carpet. The only rooms on public view were Mrs. Weeks’s bedroom, Mr. Weeks’s bedroom, the Coachman’s Room and the Queen Anne Room. Mrs. Weeks’s sitting room was the women’s lounge. Mrs. Weeks’s beautiful lavender bathroom was the women’s public toilet (Oh My!). Mr. Weeks’s bathroom served at the men’s public toilet. (Was it during this time that the marble sink was broken?) His bedroom was the ISEA board room with the dining room table used as the board room table. The four boy’s bedrooms were used as office space.

Basement and Third Floor

After the ISEA members were given tours of the first and second floors, the tour continued up the back staircase to the third floor. The third floor was used as offices for the Public Relations and Research Divisions of ISEA. Steel cupboards that had previously been in the kitchen and pantries were relocated to the third floor for storage.

After touring the third floor, the ISEA members proceeded down to the basement level which housed more offices for various ISEA divisions. There is a reference on page 27 of the Guidebook to a gymnasium in the basement. Finally, the Indian Room was used as a conference/dining room with a kitchen/cafeteria next to it.

The Mystery of the Dining Room Table

One of the ongoing debates at Salisbury House was whether the dining room table (circa 1600) was cut down by the Weeks or ISEA. The Guidebook appears to answer that question:

“The board room table was originally the dining table in what is now the executive secretary’s office. It has been refinished and restyled but is still supported by the carved bulbous legs of the original table. The table top is now narrower at one end to give all board members a full view of the chairman.” (page 25)

Pictures and Furniture Moved

A number of pictures and some major pieces of furniture were exhibited in different locations. The Van Dyck portrait of Cardinal Rivarola was displayed in the Common Room. It had been loaned out for an exhibition of Van Dyck’s work at Genoa, Italy (Cardinal Rivarola’s home town). The Guidebook claims that the painting is “one of the three greatest of Van Dyck’s works.” (page 16)

The Warwick Romney (now no longer thought to be a genuine Romney) and George Romney’s portrait of Lady Charlotte Milnes were hung in the Dining Room. Both of these paintings are now in the Common Room.

Two Stella paintings were in the East Passageway. These included the Birth of Venus now in the Great Hall and Tree of My Life which was sold by the ISEA for much needed funding.

Finally the choir stalls from Wimbourne Abbey that are now in the upstairs passageway were located in the Friendship Hall.

I hope you have enjoyed this walk down memory lane. A copy of the Guidebook and my notes are available for perusing.  Feel free to have the admissions desk associate in the Great Hall of the museum to show you these, if you’d like.

Salisbury House Guide book back cover

Salisbury House, 1935: Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, & Carl Weeks

On a January afternoon over eighty years ago, two celebrated American artists visited Des Moines as guests of Carl Weeks.

Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, increasingly famous for their Regionalist art, lectured at Hoyt Sherman Place as guests of the Des Moines Women’s Club in the winter of 1935. The Des Moines Register covered the event and noted that, “Appearing in a gray suit in need of pressing and assuming a nonchalant, slouchy stance with hands in trouser pockets, Benton…launched into a detailed explanation of the development of art through the various ages.”

Carl_Grant_Thomas_smaller
A newspaper clipping from The Des Moines Register picturing Thomas H. Benton seated in the middle with Grant Wood on the left and Carl Weeks on the right.

Next, the artists motored several blocks to Salisbury House. Carl Weeks, Grant Wood, and Thomas Hart Benton were photographed together in the Library at Salisbury House. All three appeared to be having a grand time!

We can’t say for certain if Wood and Hart Benton stayed the night at Salisbury House (it seems likely.) However, we do feel confident that Carl and Edith would have entertained their guests in fine style.

The Weekses acquired a Benton painting while they lived at Salisbury House. This work was later gifted to the family of Hud Weeks, Carl’s third son. To the best of our knowledge, the Weeks family did not own an original Grant Wood painting…but they’ve got an amazing story!

Grapes of Wrath title page

The title page of a 1940 edition of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath published by the Limited Editions Club and illustrated by Thomas Hart Benton, Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

Main Street illustrated by Grant Wood

An illustration by Grant Wood from a 1937 edition of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street published by the Limited Editions Club, Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Books illustrated by Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood from the Salisbury House Permanent Collection can be seen on display in the Library during a regular guided tour of Salisbury House through January 28, 2018.

 

 

Secrets of the Shrunken Heads

Hello! My name is Alexandra Brennan and I am an intern at the Salisbury House this summer. I have been working “behind the scenes” at the Salisbury House, learning about the unique position a historic home holds as a center for education, history, and culture. Although I only have a few weeks left until I leave to go back to school, I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to explore the Salisbury House’s history and collections over the past couple months.

Among all the objects in the Salisbury House’s collection, few are as mysterious as the shrunken heads. It is unclear when, where, and from whom the Weeks family acquired the heads; the only evidence of Carl’s interest in shrunken heads is a novel in the library written by a friend on the topic. When the ISEA moved into the Salisbury House in the mid-1950’s, the shrunken heads, also called tsantsas, became an integral part of the museum for school children. The heads were displayed in the Indian Room as curiosities—strange artifacts sure to stick in memories of young visitors. In recent years, the tsantsas have been in storage, partly due to the objects’ fragility and partly due to changing sensibilities regarding the display of human remains in museum settings. The shrunken heads remain among the most contentious, memorable, and gruesome objects in the Salisbury House, with their individual histories and even authenticity a matter of conjecture.

The only shrunken heads in the world come from the Jivaro peoples in Ecuador and Peru. “Jivaro” actually refers to a group of tribes with a shared language, though the many different tribes share cultural and religious beliefs. One of the shared beliefs between these Jivaro tribes is that a person’s soul is not fixed in one body, and that by killing others, a new soul may be imparted into the killer. Constant warfare, paradoxically, was meant to bring eternal life. It was because of this culture of killing that the practice of shrinking heads developed.

The first step to creating a shrunken head was to carefully peel the skin off the skull. The skull was discarded, and the skin was pulled over a wooden ball to maintain the shape of the head. Then, the skin was shrunk by boiling the head in a mixture of water and tannins. The head was dried with hot sand and rocks, and the skin rubbed with ash. Like Egyptian mummies, shrunken heads are preserved to last for centuries (one of the heads in the Salisbury House’s collection may be over 200 years old). However, Egyptian mummification took 70 days, and the entire process for shrinking a head took less than one week.

IMG_8846

Front cover of Tsantsa. New York: Brentano’s, 1932.

So how did such strange artifacts end up in the Salisbury House? Unfortunately, there are no neatly kept receipts or records to suggest how two shrunken heads came to Iowa. The only connection is through a bookseller and an author. From the 1920’s to the 1940’s, Carl Weeks bought many of his rare and antique books from a bookseller in New York City named Harry Marks. It was through Harry Marks that Carl acquired much of his collections of D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, as well as many of his letters from famous historical figures and old Bibles. Harry Marks was also the man who sold Carl books by a man named Isadore Lhevinne, an author and philologist who had studied and lived among the Jivaro people in Ecuador.

Lhevinne was born in Bobruisk, Russia in 1896. He attended school in Poland, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1920’s with a degree in philology. Although his earlier works focused on stories about the Jewish experience throughout the world, Lhevinne’s interest in foreign languages sent him to southern Ecuador. It was there, in the sparsely populated and thick jungles of Ecuador, that Lhevinne was first introduced to the Jivaro peoples. He spent part of 1931 living among the Jivaro people, studying their language and culture. It is unclear when Carl Weeks and Isadore Lhevinne met, whether it was before or after Lhevinne’s trip to Ecuador. What is certain, however, is that by 1932, the two men were close enough that Lhevinne dedicated Tsantsa to Carl Weeks.

Young Wings magazine

Note from Harry Marks to Carl Weeks, pointing out a story about Isadore Lhevinne in “Young Wings” magazine. Note says: “To C.W. See pages 9-4-5. Harry”

Tsantsa itself is not a scholarly work. Instead, it tells a story of a white American man who travels to Ecuador and falls in love with a 15-year old Jivaro girl. The novel is an adventure story filled with “fervent eroticism” and takes advantage of the exotic setting to shock readers. The novel includes scenes of head shrinking and drug-induced ceremonies, and the protagonist even kills a 15-year old girl’s husband in a duel. The book uses many of the prevalent stereotypes and prejudices of the era, depicting the Jivaro people in turns as independently noble and ferociously savage. Although it sold fairly well, today Lhevinne and Tsantsa are largely forgotten to time.

Perhaps it was through this close relationship between Isadore Lhevinne and Carl Weeks that the tsantsas came to the Salisbury House. Certainly, if Lhevinne spent time living among Jivaro people, he would have had access to shrunken heads. Today, the Salisbury House has very little remaining correspondence between the two men, so it is unclear if the tsantsas were gifts from Lhevinne.

IMG_8848

Story in “Young Wings” magazine about Isadore Lhevinne regarding his novel The Enchanted Jungle, 1933. “While he was in Ecuador, Dr. Lhevinne…traveled in a light canoe over dangerous water falls and swirling currents interrupted by an endless series of whirlpools. He hacked his way through the trackless jungle ants so thick there was no room to sit down; he traveled on horseback, muleback, and foot, and endured the never-to-be-forgotten experience of a siege by an enemy tribe while he was living among the Jibaros.”

In the early 20th century, shrunken heads became a popular tourist souvenir and collector’s item, and the thriving market led to an abundance of fake tsantsas made from monkeys, sloths, and other animals. According to some forensic researchers, “presence of sealed eyelids, pierced lips with strings sealing the mouth, shiny black skin, a posterior sewn incision, long glossy black hair, and lateral head compression are characteristic of authentic tsantsas.” According to these guidelines, one of the tsantsas in the Salisbury House may be real; the other’s lips are not sewn shut, but that may indicate that it was made only for trade purposes and not as a ceremonial war trophy. Another way to determine whether the heads are truly human is to look at the ears, which should simply appear to be smaller versions of human ears, since the many folds of the ear are hard to copy. Once again, the Salisbury House’s tsantsas appear to be authentic, although according to the Smithsonian, more than half of the shrunken heads in museums and private collections in the United States may be fakes. The most reliable method of determining whether shrunken heads are authentic is to do a DNA analysis. Perhaps one day we will learn who made these heads and how they came to be in Des Moines, Iowa. But for now, the secrets of the tsantsas remain hidden behind sewn-shut lips.

Shrunken

The tsantsas will be on display at our Night at the Museum event, August 24, 2017. Please visit our website or call (515) 274-1777 for tickets and more information.

The Christmas Story, 1483-Style

As December 25th approaches, we wanted to share a significant part of the oldest bible in our Library and Rare Documents collection at Salisbury House: the traditional Christmas story from Luke 2:1-20. Our oldest bible dates to 1483 (for more on this and other incunabula in our collection, click here), and its text is, as one would expect, in Latin.

spine.jpg

Below, the bible is open to the section in Luke wherein the Christmas story is told. Luke 2 begins on the left page, at the very bottom of the left-hand column of text:

Open to Luke.jpg

Here’s a closer detail of this page (look for the rubrics, in red ink, that indicate the start of the second chapter):

20161220_143241.jpg

Want to read along? Here is a handy, side-by-side reading of the Christmas story:

Final combined all.jpg

It can be a bit of a slog – but a rewarding slog! – to read the English version of the Christmas story alongside its 1483 Latin counterpart. Happy holidays!

Want to see the 1483 bible in person? Our Treasures Tours will return in late spring 2017; check out salisburyhouse.org for more information.

 

What’s in a Motto?

Over the past seven years I have been a tour guide at the Salisbury House. In all that time, I am still finding objects that I have questions about. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, with over ten thousand artifacts in the museum!

The other day I was looking at the Weeks family crest or coat of arms. The Weeks crest is located in several places in the museum. They appear on the main stair runner, the Great Hall, in the Library on the light sconces, and also on the family’s finest dinnerware on display in the Breakfast Room.

The crest has three battle axes on a field of crosses. At the bottom of the crest is a motto: Cari Deo Nihilo Carent. At first I thought that the first and last words started with G’s. But on closer inspection, I realized that the words started with C’s. 

crest 1

Weeks crest on the family’s dinnerware

crest2

Weeks crest on a wall sconce in the Library

crest4

Weeks crest on stair runner

 

crest3

Detail the Weeks crest on the stair runner

 

I had heard that Carl Weeks had made up his own family crest in the 1920s, but was this actually true? I had a real mystery to solve.

Did Carl, in fact, create his own Weeks family crest and motto? Or was there an existing Weeks family crest and motto that had been historically associated with the Weekses? Finally, what did the motto actually mean?

When I was in grade school I had taken Latin so I recognize some of the words. Also while being an altar boy, I had to learn all the payers for the Catholic mass in Latin – which, to this day, I can still recite. My next step was to go online and see if I could translate the Latin to English. 

I knew that Deo was God and Nihilo meant nothing. If you strictly translate the words the motto reads, Dear God Nothing Lacking. But Latin is not that easy. The position of the words can make that sentence mean something completely different. Additionally, certain prefixes or suffixes can give the word a different meaning and change the overall interpretation of the motto. 

During my search online, I came upon a site called “House Of Names,” and searched for the Weeks family crest. It was there that all my question were answered.

According to this website, the motto Cari Deo Nihilo Carent has long been associated with the Weeks family. In fact, the crest pictured on the website matches the crests included in the Weeks family collection.

from site

Here was the answer! Carl did not make up his own crest or motto – he used the historical Weeks family logo and crest in his design of Salisbury House. The full meaning of Cari Deo Nihilo Carent reads, “Those dear to God want nothing.”  

As you can see we are constantly learning new things about Salisbury House. Sometimes what we thought was true is, in fact, not the case. 

The Black Sun Press and Harry Marks at Salisbury House

They were christened the “Lost Generation” by Gertrude Stein – the extraordinary creative generation in the 1920s and 1930s, including James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Igor Stravinsky, Isadora Duncan, George Gershwin, Aldous Huxley, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Pablo Picasso, and many others.  Most of them lived around Paris and southern France, most were expatriates, and many became the core of what is known as “Modernism.”  Particularly among the writers, many were American.  One major port of call for the Lost Generation was the Parisian English language bookstore Shakespeare & Co. run by an American woman named Sylvia Beach.  Beach is best known as the publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The Library and Rare Documents Collection at Salisbury House provides a fascinating survey of significant works to emerge from the creative energies of Paris during the 1920s and 1930s.

A young and wealthy American couple, Harry and Caresse Crosby, joined the expat crowd in Paris by the early 1920s. He was a nephew of J. P. Morgan, and both were aspiring, but marginally talented, poets.  The Crosbys were regulars at Shakespeare & Co.  Most of their early work consisted of love poems written to each other.  This photo of a bust of Harry by his wife was the frontispiece of the Black Sun Press edition of Poems for Harry Crosby written by Caresse after Harry’s death.

Harry Crosby bust

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents 

Realizing that they had little chance of getting their poems published elsewhere, the Crosbys decided to use their own money to publish them themselves in finely-made and hand-bound editions.  This was the start, in 1925, of the Editions Narcisse, which soon became The Black Sun Press.  This title page is typical of many subsequent books, with the combination of red and black ink.

20160315_084358

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents

 

The frontispiece was a drawing by Lawrence – and, in the Salisbury House copy, with Lawrence’s signature – as shown below.

20160315_084411

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

The Crosby’s had found an eccentric, but perfectionist printer named Roger Lescaret who printed almost all of their books (their office was upstairs from his shop.)  His work was matched by the perfectionism of Harry and Caresse – their books have the effect of “elaborate care rather than wasteful expense, of delicacy rather than elaboration.”

The second player in the Black Sun Press story at Salisbury House was, naturally, Carl Weeks: the builder of Salisbury House and the collector of its magnificent library.

The third major player in the story of the Black Sun Press was their United States distributor – Harry F. Marks.  Marks was a New York book dealer (with, by 1925,  a shop on West 47th St.) who was known for fine bindings and high-end “sporting books”, i.e. erotica.  He openly listed such books in his catalogs, yet he was never arrested – probably because of his affluent and respectable clientele.  He also dealt in the avant-garde literature of the time, as did his close neighbor, the Gotham Book Mart.

Marks was one of the two favorite book dealers of Carl Weeks, (the other being the New York dealer Philip Duschnes) and Carl was a favored customer who was offered many rare items, many of which still reside in the Salisbury House library.

Harry Marks had attempted to get a signed agreement with the Crosby’s making him the sole US distributor of the Black Sun Press books, but they would not sign such an agreement.  They did, however, provide him with nearly complete print runs of many of their books and even printed Marks as the source for many books as shown in this page from the 1931 Poems for Harry Crosby.  Note that this copy has a signed presentation from Marks to Carl.

20160315_083553

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

One of the Black Sun books from 1929 that is discussed in more detail in another blog entry is James Joyce’s Tales Told of Shem and Shaun. That book includes a colophon (an inscription at the end of a book usually with facts about its production) showing its availability at Marks’ bookshop

What follows is a survey of the other Black Sun Press books in the Salisbury House library in rough order of publication date.

One of the early Black Sun books from 1928 was  Letters of Henry James to Walter Berry.  James was, of course, the well-known novelist and Walter Berry was an American lawyer living in Paris who was a good friend of Henry James, Marcel Proust, and Edith Wharton.  He willed his library to his cousin – Harry Crosby.  The Salisbury House copy of the Letters is unique in preserving the original holographs of two of the letters from the book – number three and number ten; the first page of number ten in Henry James hand is shown below.

Walter Berry 1

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy was published in 1929 and again the colophon shows Marks as the US dealer.

Laurence Stern end

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

 

Harry Crosby died on 10 December, 1929 in New York in a probable murder-suicide with a woman with whom he was having an affair.  He had combined his sun-worship with a fascination with death for many years.  Now, Crosby would probably be diagnosed with PTSD from his traumatic experiences as an ambulance driver at Verdun in World War I.  Caresse, Harry’s wife, continued the publishing activities of the Black Sun Press for many years after  her husband’s death.

In the Salisbury House collection, Sun, Tales Told of Shem and Shaun, Secession in Astropolis, New Found Land, Einstein , Imaginary Letters, and A Sentimental Journey show the Harry Marks addition to the colophon in nearly identical style.

One of the interesting questions about the Harry Crosby, Harry Marks, and Carl Weeks connections is when Carl started collecting the Black Sun Press.  One answer, albeit a little confusing, comes from a dedication from Harry Marks to Carl in Sleeping Together, one of the parts of the 1931 first volume of Harry Crosby’s posthumous Collected Poems.

As Carl’s adjacent note (left of the bookplate) points out, this is from 1931 (and “introduce” is clearly present tense) and yet it seems likely that Marks was selling Black Sun books to Carl long before then, but who knows?

Harry Marks inscription to Carl in Sleeping Together

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

Secession in Astropolis by Eugene Jolas is an experiment in mythic and abstract language somewhat in the style of Finnegans Wake, but without the genius.  It is interesting in that it establishes another important connection in the close-knit modernist group in Paris; Jolas was the founder and editor of the literary journal transition.  This was probably the most influential little magazine in Paris, publishing nearly every major name in early 20th century English literature, including the first major serialization of James Joyce’s Work in Progress (later published as the book Finnegans Wake.)  It is hardly surprising that Harry Crosby was involved there too – as an associate editor and financial backer.  Sleeping Together was reprinted in transition #19/20 in a memorial section after Harry Crosby’s death. The Gotham Book Mart was the sole US distributor of transition.

One of the other major publications in 1929 was The Escaped Cock by D. H. Lawrence.  This book involves a very complicated story, discussed in more detail below.  1929 also saw the publication of another book by Harry Crosby, The Transit of Venus.

1930 saw the publication of a number of important books as well, including a finely printed edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with color illustrations by Marie Laurencin.

Edited for blog

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

Ezra Pound’s Imaginary Letters was also published in 1930 and Salisbury House has one of the fifty limited copies signed by Pound.

Ezra Pound signature

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

Other Black Sun books from 1930 in the Salisbury House library include New Found Land by Archibald MacLeish, Harry Crosby’s Shadows of the Sun, and Crosby’s Aphrodite in Flight.  The last is his memoir of learning to fly an airplane.  The last in this general survey (but much less than half of all the Black Sun titles) is the 1936 edition of the Collected Poems of James Joyce.  This is notable for the very fine 1930 Augustus John portrait of Joyce used as a frontispiece; the Salisbury House copy was also signed by Joyce.

Joyce Collected Poems image and signature

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

At this point, it’s time to return to the 1929 first edition of The Escaped Cock by D. H. Lawrence, with this frontispiece by Lawrence.

DH Lawrence Black Sun Press frontispiece

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

This novella is a different interpretation of the resurrection of Jesus; it was later re-published as The Man Who Died.  Salisbury House has three copies of the first edition and is fortunate to have the complete hand-written manuscript of the novel. The travels of this manuscript – from the hand of Lawrence to the library of Carl Weeks – are the first mystery of the book.  The first page is shown below.

 

DH Lawrence manuscript

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

The idea and title for the book derive from a toy rooster escaping from an egg displayed in a shop window in Grosseto, Italy.  Lawrence saw it in 1927 and remarked to a friend that it inspired the title.   The book was written in two parts and both parts were eventually sent by Lawrence on September 2, 1928 to his long-time family friend Enid Hilton.  On May 20, 1929 he instructed Enid to send it to Caresse Crosby, but NOT as a gift.  After the book was published, Lawrence complained to Caresse about the low price she had asked for the print run for – who else – Harry Marks, and about the large profit margin Marks was making.

After Harry Crosby’s death in December, 1929 (and probably after Lawrence’s death in March of 1930), Frieda Lawrence (David’s widow) wrote in 1930 to Caresse Crosby asking for the return of the manuscript, saying, in part, “I won’t give you another word of Lawrence’s to print if I don’t get the ms. of The Escaped Cock. Yours in disgust, Frieda.”  I can find no mention of any further Black Sun books by Lawrence and it is clear that Frieda did not receive it from Caresse, because she expressed surprise in a letter of Dec 1, 1934 to Carl Weeks on finding that Carl had it!  Carl had likely purchased the manuscript from  Harry Marks.

Therein lies the mystery – how did Harry Marks get the manuscript?  One possibility is that Caresse sold it to Marks, possibly out of anger at Frieda, but the biography of Caresse does not show her as vindictive and, despite the death of her husband, she didn’t really need the money.  Another story is part of the Salisbury House oral tradition, but seems a bit far-fetched.  IF Harry Crosby had taken the manuscript with him to New York, and IF the dinner party that had been expecting Harry Crosby (including Harry Marks, of course) when they were informed at the theater of Harry’s suicide had rushed to the suicide scene, and IF Marks had “liberated” the manuscript as part of cleaning up the crime scene – then Harry Marks had it.  If I were a gambler, I’d bet on the first possibility.

The second oddity with this book is the fact that Harry Marks, somehow, eventually obtained the copyright for The Escaped Cock and published it with that copyright.

 

20160315_090552

Salisbury House Library & Rare Document Collection

Salisbury House has an unique archive relating to this edition, consisting of a marked-up copy of the Black Sun edition showing the changes that Marks made to the colophon in preparation for his edition.

20160315_090407

 
We have seen that there is an intimate connection between the Lost Generation in 1920s and 1930s Paris, The Black Sun Press, Harry Marks, and Carl Weeks.  Some of the connections are a bit murky, but that only adds to the extraordinary Library and Rare Documents Collection at Salisbury House.

 

A Detective Story at Salisbury House

One of the intriguing aspects of the collections at Salisbury House is the opportunity they present for research about the many interesting objects in the house.  A case in point is a very unusual prayer rug displayed in the first floor west hallway, outside the Dining Room.

The rug is a “saf” or “saph”, which is a family prayer rug – in this case, with six niches for a man and his five sons or other male family members.  In use, the points of the arches would be pointed toward Mecca.  Safs are fairly uncommon, and this layout of side-by-side niches is only one of the possible arrangements of the niches.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Prayer rug at Salisbury House

 

The rug has been hanging in this location since at least 1928.  It is listed in a 1928 appraisal inventory as 16th Century with “thousand knots gold field,” but with no location of origin specified  On the other hand, the standard object inventory for the house lists it as from Hamadan in western Iran, but dating from 1880.  That is almost 3 centuries difference – which is correct?

In addition to the design, I originally became interested in the rug when I noticed that the construction is extremely unusual. Nearly all Persian rugs are constructed over the entire surface with the so-called Persian knot with the ends of each knot forming the rug surface (Turkish rugs generally use a different knot).

 

Senneh

 

There are generally warp threads between the knots that help hold the rug together, but they are usually not visible from the front.  The construction of this rug is different in that only the figural design elements are knotted pile of this type, while the background is woven with a herringbone pattern of flat weave. 

In the image below, the raised pile design is in blue, faded red, and a line of light brown, while the woven background is clearly different.  Some of the lighter specks in the background are traces of metallic gold thread.  The rug clearly belonged to a wealthy man!

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Prayer rug detail – woven background and pile design

 

While on a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I noticed a so-called “polonaise” carpet which had many features in common with the rug in Salisbury House.  The palette was similar, the age was given as circa 1600 (nearly the same as one description of the Salisbury House rug), and the construction combined woven and pile elements.

There were differences, of course – the Victoria and Albert rug is not a prayer rug, it is silk rather than wool, and the background is a brocade rather than a weave.  Nonetheless, the similarities led me to contact the Victoria and Albert to see if they could clarify the background of the Salisbury House rug.

My email was very promptly answered by Dr. Moya Carey, Iran Heritage Foundation Curator for the Iranian Collections at the Victoria and Albert.  This was something of a surprise, in that Dr. Carey, a distinguished scholar of Iranian art, almost certainly experiences many demands on her time. After sending her some images of the Salisbury House rug, she sent me images of a 1986 museum catalog from the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, AustriaThis museum is known for its collection of oriental rugs.  The rug on the cover of this catalog is very nearly identical to the one in Salisbury House, as shown in the following image.  The Salisbury House rug is on the left.

 

Salisbury_Vienna_Prayer.JPG

Salisbury House Rug ~ Vienna Rug

 

 

Based on the catalog description of the Vienna rug, the flat woven background is not in a herringbone pattern, but the rug has the same combination of woven and pile techniques.  Clearly, the palette and design are nearly identical.As far as the dating discrepancy, the Vienna rug is a late 19th Century carpet from Khotan, which is in what might once have been called Eastern Turkestan on the Silk Road, in what is now western China. 

The two rugs are so similar that there is little doubt that the Salisbury House rug is also from 19th Century Khotan.Thus, the 1928 appraisal was incorrect.  Even the experts can be wrong!  But the object inventory is also wrong about where it was made, although the date is roughly correct, if a bit too specific. 

In all, it makes a fascinating detective story!  Salisbury House is fortunate to have such an interesting and unusual rug.The rug on the Vienna catalog cover also has an interesting history, which can be found here

I would like to again thank Dr. Moya Carey for providing the definitive research that solved this particular Salisbury House detective story.