From Overalls and Shovels to Fedoras and Cuban Cigars: The Gilded Age Inspiration for Salisbury House

There were three distinct aristocracies in Washington. One of these, (nick-named the Antiques,) consisted of cultivated, high-bred old families who looked back with pride upon an ancestry that had been always great in the nation’s councils and its wars from the birth of the republic downward. Into this select circle it was difficult to gain admission. No. 2 was the aristocracy of the middle ground . . . No. 3 lay beyond; of it we will say a word here. We will call it the Aristocracy of the Parvenus—as, indeed, the general public did. Official position, no matter how obtained, entitled a man to a place in it, and carried his family with him, no matter whence they sprang. Great wealth gave a man a still higher and nobler place in it than did official position. If this wealth had been acquired by conspicuous ingenuity, with just a pleasant little spice of illegality about it, all the better. This aristocracy was “fast,” and not averse to ostentation.

The aristocracy of the Antiques ignored the aristocracy of the Parvenus; the Parvenus laughed at the Antiques, (and secretly envied them.)

-From Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today

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Carl and Edith Weeks, c. 1930

Before Armand – before Salisbury House – few would have assumed Carl Weeks to be any more extraordinary than any other Midwestern businessman of his era. In fact, when roaming the halls of Salisbury House, one tends to forget his humble and, at times, impoverished origins. Born the fourth child of a hog farmer and his wife on a farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1876, Carl’s prospects were quite modest. When his father’s swine herd was wiped out by cholera around 1880, the Weekses were forced into selling their farm. They set off for Kansas in search of a new start. His father, however, still had trouble finding work and was often away from home. Carl helped out by picking up bison chips for use as fuel in their little sod house and once recalled how his mother had had to trade one of their bedsteads for a bag of flour. Eventually, his mother’s brothers, Lowell and Davis Chamberlain, brought them back to Iowa and settled them in Des Moines. Carl left public schooling at the age of 13 and it was only with his uncles’ financial assistance that he was able to attend Highland Park College of Pharmacy to obtain his pharmacist certification in 1892.

Little of Carl’s early life foreshadows the great success he would eventually achieve when he established what would become an international cosmetics empire in 1915. But he was born into an unusual era. One where American society had one foot planted deep in the agrarian soils of its hard-working, ancestral pioneers just as it was stepping into a quickly industrializing, burgeoning urban culture obsessed with leisure, pleasure and wealth. It was an era as rampant with corruption and materialism as it was entrepreneurial optimism where every man had the potential to become the next Carnegie or Rockefeller. This time period, known as the Gilded Age and sometimes referred to as the American Renaissance, spanned the years following the Civil War to the early 1900s with some historians extending it as far as the stock market crash of 1929. The term was lifted from Mark Twain’s 1873 satirical novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, that depicts the greed and corruption endemic in American politics and society in the late 1860s and early 1870s. This era, however, also laid the foundations of our modern, secular culture and shaped the minds of many Americans, including Carl Weeks.

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Cover of Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, 1873.

After the Civil War, industrialization and mechanization increased at a rapid rate in the United States. It centralized the economy in urban centers and concentrated wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer men. Immigrants and formerly-rural Americans descended upon the cities in search of new opportunities. Mass-produced goods, department stores and mail order catalogues brought the modern idea of shopping to the masses. The extension of the railroads connected the East and West coasts of the United States and new refrigerated boxcars allowed for fresh produce out of season, exotic fruits, Midwestern-raised beef, and beer to be transported to retailers all across the nation. Telephones and transatlantic cables knitted the world closer together through faster methods of communication. Amusement parks, dance halls, theaters, libraries and opera houses flourished, providing entertainment, education, and, at times, opportunities for vice to the burgeoning urban population.

Entrepreneurs were the driving force behind this explosion of modernity. A lucky few, however, through hard work, shrewd business decisions, and more than a little back-room subterfuge, succeeded in building business empires that reached far beyond their own little corners of the world. Many of these men, such as Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller, arose from humble means to become industrial tycoons with massive fortunes. They were household names and served as role models for the businessmen of Carl’s generation. Several biographies of these infamous American entrepreneurs grace the shelves of the Library at Salisbury House and probably had a great impact on Carl as he made his way in the business world.

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The Rouge Room at the Armand Factory in Des Moines, Iowa, c. 1920.

Though these nouveau riche Americans of the Gilded Age had the world at their fingertips and, at times, groveling on its knees before them, there was one thing money could not buy: pedigree. For much of recorded human history, wealth was concentrated in land and passed down through strict and often complicated inheritance laws and customs formulated to keep everything within one family line. But the world had been turned upside down by the Industrial Revolution. With advances in manufacturing technology in the late 18th century, hand production methods of textiles and other goods fell by the wayside as factories sprung up in urban centers and produced goods more cheaply and efficiently than ever before. People, once tied to the land and rarely traveling more than 50 miles from their places of birth, descended upon the cities in search of work. The European aristocracy and the “old money” families of the United States, whose income traditionally depended upon the productivity of the people who lived on their lands, saw their economic power shrink as an ever greater share of the world’s wealth flowed into the hands of the savvy factory owners and businessmen of the middle class.

Two things the European aristocracy and American “old money” retained, however, was their social position and status as the arbiters of good taste. An air of self-consciousness pervaded the newly wealthy and powerful as they sought to emulate the nobility in a subconscious effort to prove both to themselves and their “social betters” that they were worthy of their newfound elite status. Instead of seeking new forms of architecture, they copied styles long used by the European aristocracy. At first, Classical styles were mimicked as wealthy Americans embraced the notion of the United States as heir to the cultural traditions of ancient Greece and Rome and the European Renaissance. Later, especially during the time of the Weekses’ rise in wealth, many embraced the picturesque nature of the rambling, built-through-the-centuries styling of the houses of the medieval and Tudor nobility of England. Salisbury House, however, is unique in that it incorporates both stylistic influences in its interior furnishings.

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Classical and Renaissance style detailing: grille above Welte-Mignon Organ in the Common Room

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Classical and Renaissance style detailing: chandelier detail in the Dining Room. Both the Common Room and Dining Room are overall Elizabethan or late Tudor style in the architectural details and most furnishings but also include Neoclassical touches such as these.

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Tudor style detailing of 16th century fireplace surround in the Great Hall featuring a Tudor rose flanked by quatrefoils.

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Tudor style, 16th century carved door detail in the hallway outside the master suites featuring linenfold, which was a common type of carving to decorate plain panels in Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries.

In a time where what you owned was an unspoken announcement of who you were as an individual, collecting art and antiques from around the world became an obsession for the nouveau riche who wanted nothing more than to appear sophisticated, worldly, educated and powerful. The Weekses were no different. Much like J.P. Morgan, who had spent a whopping $60 million on art and rare books in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Rockefeller family who splurged on artwork from around the world, Carl and Edith sought after all of the trappings of the leisured class. Carl was an avid bibliophile and Edith’s bachelor’s degree in Art History provided her with a discerning eye for both fine art and period-specific furnishings.

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Late 18th century alabaster urns with Classical style detailing in the Great Hall.

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Elizabethan style carving on Carl’s c. 1600 bed.

The economic devastation in Europe after World War I led to easy pickings for the Weekses and other wealthy Americans who snatched up whatever Europeans wanted to sell, including antiques, art, and architectural detailing. Though they did not spend anywhere close to what Morgan had, Carl and Edith did spend nearly $3 million to build and furnish their house. In today’s money, that would equal about $40 million.

Patronage of artists skyrocketed in the United States during the Gilded Age as well, continuing a centuries-old European tradition where artists relied on wealthy patrons for work and financial support. Artists were sought after as companions as well as for their ability to beautify the homes of the wealthy and public spaces. Rather than pushing the social envelope as many artists do today, the artists of this era reinforced the new status quo and soothed the egos of wealthy Americans through their attention and commissioned works. Architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson once said of Gilded Age artists that their social function was to “provide a setting of leisured elegance bearing the patina of class and taste for people who were frequently one generation removed from overalls and shovel.”

Like their Gilded Age predecessors, the Weekses too befriended artists and even commissioned Joseph Stella to create one work specifically for Salisbury House. This commissioned piece, Apotheosis of the Rose, still hangs in the Breakfast Room today.

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Apotheosis of the Rose by Joseph Stella, 1926. Oil on canvas.

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The Birth of Venus by Joseph Stella, 1925. Oil on canvas. Hangs in the Great Hall at Salisbury House.

Finally assembled at home in Iowa, the Weekses’ collections lent an air of aristocratic pedigree to their new home meant to look centuries old the day it was built. Like the entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age and the European nobility, Carl’s house and collections were a signal to the world that he had arrived and was a force to be reckoned with. A man born to a hog breeder and who had picked up bison chips on the Kansas prairie was now a social and business leader who was well-traveled, well-connected, and a man of noble bearing.

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Salisbury House in early spring.

The Gilded Age gave birth to Salisbury House. The ideals of the era – wealth, consumption, pleasure and leisure – reside throughout its history, collections and architecture. Carl Weeks was born into this era and persevered until he could finally emulate those whose names were on the tongues of every American entrepreneur – Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller. The result was Salisbury House: a grand mansion distinctly English in flavor and filled with treasures that reveal how Carl and others of his ilk wished to be seen – worldly, aristocratic, powerful. It represents one final expression of a bygone era in which America itself came of age.

 

Evolution of a Fable: Finnegans Wake at Salisbury House

The Salisbury House library contains an amazing collection of works by James Joyce.  One of these works is his last book, Finnegans Wake.  What is even more amazing in the collection are the preliminary parts of the Wake that Joyce published as he continued to revise the work from around 1924 until the final release as a book in 1939.  This essay will discuss the evolution of a small part of the book through these preliminary versions.  Most of them are found at Salisbury House. Below is the signed half-title of one of these early fragments – Tales Told of Shem and Shaun (Black Sun Press, Paris, 1929).

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Salisbury House Library and Rare Documents Collection

Finnegans Wake is one of the most complicated works in literature; it consists of puns and portmanteau words in 27 languages, with the base being English.  An essay such as this can only discuss one tiny aspect of many recurring themes.  Mankind is represented in the book by a family consisting of a man, his wife, their daughter, and their twin sons, basically referred to as Shem and Shaun. The relationship and conflict between the two brothers is shown in many different guises throughout the book. One of the instances of this fraternal conflict is framed by the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper – or, as Joyce wrote it, “the Ondt and the Gracehoper.”  In this title, he was playing on the Danish “ondt” meaning “evil” and note that the grasshopper is hoping for grace.  We will follow this fable from its first short version published in 1928 through to the final book.

Folklore is one of the frequently used frameworks in the book.  Joyce calls it “fokloire”, playing on the Gaelic “foclóir” meaning “vocabulary” – Joyce’s book was intended as a world of all languages.  The fable derives from Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper”, which pits the frugal, hoarding ant against the profligate but ultimately starving grasshopper.  Joyce evens the match by letting the grasshopper have the last word.  The first published part of the fable was in transition (note the lower-case “t”), a prominent literary magazine in Paris (#12, March, 1928.)  This snippet remained nearly unchanged from first to last.

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Norman Hills Collection

In Joyce’s scheme, the Gracehoper represents Shem, Time, the ear, and Joyce himself.  The Ondt represents Shaun, Space, the eye, and Wyndham Lewis. Lewis, who had attacked Joyce in his book Time and Western Man, had a long-standing feud with Joyce. Among the many interpretations of the overall intent of the fable, Eric McLuhan views it as a conflict between ages of technology.  Other critics emphasize the opposition and interaction between space and time, or the stages of the cyclic theory of history of the philosopher Giambattista Vico.

Joyce scatters various reference clusters throughout the fable, such as many names of insects and parts of insect anatomy.  There are many names of philosophers and words with repeated syllables recalling the stuttering of the brothers’ father.  It includes many references to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. There are other clusters, but we now turn our attention to our main concern: the revision history of the text as reflected in the Salisbury House library.

The original three hand-written drafts of the fable were written quickly – probably beginning in February 1928, and published the following month.  This transition version is quite short (less than one half of the length of the final text), so the obvious main method of revision was additive.  There were many levels of revision added to the transition proofs.  The editor, Eugene Jolas, had the same problem with endless revisions that had plagued Sylvia Beach when publishing Ulysses and later, Harry Crosby.  transition had been publishing parts of Work in Progress (as the draft Finnegans Wake was called) starting with the first issue in April 1927 and would continue with portions of it in almost all the remaining issues. A small amount of this text had been published earlier in other magazines, but most of it was new and transition provided the first extended publication.

The next published version of the fable was in the Black Sun Press Tales Told of Shem and Shaun in 1929.  The editor, Harry Crosby, started work on this edition by asking Joyce if he would agree to him publishing part of Work in Progress.  Joyce gave him heavily hand-modified sheets of the transition version (known, but not extant.)  Crosby produced a number of proofs, and each time Joyce added more text.  One of the last of these proofs (probably the next to the last) is in the Salisbury House library.  The following image shows a major addition to it in Joyce’s handwriting.

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Salisbury House Library and Rare Documents Collection

The following image shows this hand-written addition as it appears in the final Tales Told of Shem and Shaun.

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Salisbury House Library and Rare Documents Collection

The revision process was slow and frustrating for Crosby, as shown by this note accompanying the proof in Crosby’s hand urging Joyce to finish the changes. The final Tales Told of Shem and Shaun and this note are also in the Salisbury House library.

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Salisbury House Library and Rare Documents Collection

The final version of Tales Told of Shem and Shaun includes a commissioned “portrait” of Joyce by the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi.  This abstract drawing is a very loose interpretation of a “portrait”, but it is widely reproduced in the Joyce literature.

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Salisbury House Library and Rare Documents Collection

The next published part of this fable, which the Salisbury House library also has, is a very brief excerpt from Tales Told of Shem and Shaun in the Imagist Anthology, (Chatto & Windus, London, 1930.)  This edition has no significant textual changes.

The next-to-final version was published as a small book entitled Two Tales of Shem and Shaun, (Faber and Faber, London, December 1932). This re-prints two of the three fragments from the earlier Tales Told of Shem and Shaun including “the Ondt and the Gracehoper.”  Although the text was re-set, I could find no textual differences between the two.  The cover of this book is shown below.

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Norman Hills Collection

The fable’s final version is in the book published as Finnegans Wake (Faber and Faber, London, May 4, 1939.)  It was followed very shortly also in May 1939 by the American first edition (Viking Press, New York.) The fable is on pages 414.19 to 419.20 (the number after the period of each is the line number.)  The text throughout the book has been greatly expanded from earlier versions with many additions of major blocks of text.  Some of these are within previously published fragments, but many are completely new. The following image shows the beginning of the song that ends the “the Ondt and the Gracehoper.”  This is from the first edition/first printing included in the Salisbury House library.

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Salisbury House Library and Rare Documents Collection

The subsequent publishing history of Finnegans Wake is quite brief.  Surprisingly, the book has remained in print for the last 76 years with no textual changes of any kind. This is partly because of the refusal of his heirs to allow any change as long as it was under copyright and because of the difficulty in determining what in the text constitutes an error.  One exception is a 16-page list of corrections compiled by Joyce before his death on January 13, 1941, though not published until 1945 (Faber and Faber, London, printed in the U.S.A.)  These corrections were incorporated into the text starting with the eighth edition in 1958.  None of these corrections affect the Ondt fable. The upper part of the pamphlet title page is shown below.

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Norman Hills Collection

In 2010, Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon edited The Restored Finnegans Wake, which included thousands of changes.  Most critics have not liked this version and their Penguin trade edition of it is no longer in print.  A hypertext version is supposedly in preparation, although it will likely meet the same fate.

James Joyce is widely considered to be the greatest prose writer of the 20th century.  Ulysses regularly appears as the head of lists of great 20th century novels.  The distinguished critic, Harold Bloom, has said that “if aesthetic merit were ever again to center the canon, the Wake,…, would be as close as our chaos could come to the heights of Shakespeare and Dante.”  Given the extraordinary literary value of Joyce, it is not surprising that Carl Weeks, as a collector living in the time of Joyce, would collect the major works, such as first editions of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.  What is truly astonishing is the depth of the Joyce collection in the Salisbury House library, including early printed pamphlets, a corrected proof, and many secondary items that are found only in the best of Joyce research libraries.  Central Iowa is indeed fortunate.

“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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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Translation: The best-disciplined soldiers in the world.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Translation: A misplaced shot.

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

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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].

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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.

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.

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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 archival source are currently at hand to prove this story. 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.

“In the Little Pink and White Box”: The Rise and Fall of Carl Weeks’ Cosmetics Empire

“It was built on women’s vanity,” Carl Weeks frequently remarked when he discussed the fortune he made in business. More specifically, Weeks amassed his riches in the early twentieth century by selling cosmetics. His million-dollar idea originated in a combination of cold cream, face power, and perfume. Voila! Foundation makeup. By 1915, Weeks began selling his products under the Armand Company label.

Sales quickly took off. Armand skyrocketed in value from a few thousand dollars in the mid-nineteen-teens to over two million dollars in the late 1920s. Marketing and advertising – nascent in the early twentieth century – played a key role in Armand’s success. Alongside other cosmetics manufacturers, such as Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden, and Helena Rubinstein, Weeks’ business, according to historian Kathy Peiss in her indispensable Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture, “highlight[s] the decisive turn of the cosmetics industry toward national advertising and media-based marketing in the 1920s.”

6.15.1918June 1918 

Weeks advertised Armand widely, from full-page, color ads in Vogue and Ladies Home Journal, to more specialized publications, as Peiss points out, such as the Jewish Daily Forward. Another key component in Armand’s advertising arsenal was Better Homes & Gardens, a magazine – like Armand – founded in Des Moines, Iowa. This periodical was established by Edwin Thomas Meredith in 1922. Meredith had embarked upon his career in publishing two decades before by founding Successful Farming in 1902; the company he built continues to figure prominently in today’s publishing landscape.

Better Homes & Gardens was originally called Fruit, Garden & Home: an ingot of publishing arcane that we on the Salisbury House staff discovered on a  recent research trip to Meredith’s headquarters in downtown Des Moines.

The excursion to Meredith’s offices will go down in this historian’s memory as a wondrous moment when the gods smiled as the gates to archival heaven parted. My colleague, Erica, and I planned to comb through old magazine issues to determine whether or not Weeks had, in fact, advertised in the Meredith publication. “Surely he did – he must have!” we agreed, but then again, one never knows. We sat down at a table and pulled out an early issue from 1924.

I nearly had a heart attack.

May 1924

There it was! Inside the front cover! A full-page, color Armand advertisement. It was a momentous occasion. The remainder of the research trip was spent discovering additional ads, tucked away like Easter eggs, among the tissue-paper folds of ninety-year old magazines.

This first Armand advertisement we found came from the May 1924 issue of Fruit, Garden & Home (the name was changed to Better Homes & Gardens in late 1924). We now knew that Car Weeks’ Armand Co. had advertised in the magazine from its earliest years – but what about its first year? Indeed, what about the very first issue?

And there it was: July, 1922, page 51.

July 1922

Both ads included the type of marketing that typified Armand advertising for most of the 1920s. The ads assured customers that, “Armand Cold Cream Powder is the only dry face powder with a base of exquisite cold cream!” Furthermore, the product “was created to bring increasing loveliness to every woman who wants her complexion to express her best self.” The allure of  “The Little Pink & White Boxes,” Weeks and his New York advertising team at N.W. Ayer hoped, would entice women away from the increasing variety of cosmetics on the market. And, for a time, it did.

By the late 1920s, a shift in the style of Armand advertisements became apparent. The New Woman required a different message, and Weeks’ company changed tack. An ad that appeared in May 1928 suggested this transition towards a more modern sensibility.

May 1928

“This one distinctive face powder meets the changed conditions of your active modern life,” the advertisement declared. The ad’s graphics also portrayed a woman of decidedly modern tastes, though her shadow, of course, maintained the traditional Armand silhouette.  At this point, the company’s cosmetics remained generally unchanged. Soon, however, significant alterations extended beyond Armand’s advertising and into its product line.

Here too, Carl Week’s Armand Co. reflected the broader historical moment. Historian Kathy Peiss notes that during the 1920s and 1930s, “Manufacturers and consumers alike increasingly perceived the face as a style, subject to fashion trends and fads.” With its introduction of the Symphonie face powder in 1929, Armand was situated squarely within the changing cosmetics industry.

Advertisements for Symphonie from 1930 illustrated this effort to twin fashion and cosmetics. Armand and other companies seemingly, in the parlance of our times, trended towards planned obsolescence. The ads urged women to think about their cosmetics in the same way in which they thought about their clothing fashions: changeable with both the seasons and the latest styles.

A June 1930 ad made connection explicit: “A ‘love-affair’ chiffon by Bergdorf & Goodman. A cinderella [sic] sandal by I. Miller, Inc. A charming complexion by Armand!”

June 1930June, 1930

 From August of the same year: “Clothes are more alluring now…complexions must be too!”

August 1930August, 1930

 By October, ad copy read, “A fair skin with your new furs – it’s the first note in the autumn Symphonie!”

October 1930October, 1930

Despite the massive overhaul of Armand product and advertising, the Symphonie brand proved unpopular. Historian Peiss indicates that consumers’ attention typically focused more on the clothing styles and the women in the advertisements and less on Armand Cosmetics. Moreover, lagging sales signaled that women who did purchase the new Symphonie powder generally did not find it to their liking. Ultimately, Peiss suggests, the lackluster response to Symphonie revealed, “to Weeks’ despair, that modern marketing methods could not overcome the product’s limitations.”

Other factors also led to a decline in Armand sales. Though Weeks embraced new advertising, his insistence on selling product only through pharmacies and drugstores and not department stores – to which cosmetic brands like Max Factor and Maybelline increasingly shifted – negatively affected the company as well. By the second half of the twentieth century, Armand Cosmetics had all but disappeared. What remains, however, offers arresting images that illustrate the rise and fall of an early twentieth-century cosmetics empire.

4.1.1918April, 1918

Better Homes & Gardens magazine covers reused with permission.

Bricks, Mortar, & Men

Workmen broke ground on Salisbury House almost a century ago. Beginning in 1923, truckloads of brick, mortar, barrels, and beams navigated the steep rise of the hill atop Tonawanda Drive.  Over the next five years, the Weekses’ grand new home took shape. Local photographers captured in-progress images of Salisbury House at different stages of the project.  These shots were primarily taken at a distance, and typically showcased the building’s stately dimensions. However, closer inspection of these photographs reveals the ordinary, work-a-day experiences of life at a 1920s construction site.

The photograph below from December 1923 shows a view of the garage taken from the west. At first glance, the photograph suggests little more than mud, building detritus, and desolation.

12.8.23

A closer look reveals action and purpose. Men stride across the half-finished garage. On the left, a man in a hat and overcoat, closely followed by an associate, looks north. Behind them, two more men continue their labors.

12.8.23_men detail_super close

The far left side of the photograph also includes details of men at work. Look closely at the corner of the structure in the foreground:

12.8.23.more men_construction detritus

12.8.23.more men_construction detritus.close of men

Two years later, thanks to the efforts of these men, a substantial amount of progress had been made. By March 1925, the main footprint of Salisbury House was apparent. The garage – featured prominently in the images above –  is barely visible on the far left side of this photograph.

3.23.25.b_

Though the exterior walls have taken shape, a closer look at this image shows a house far from complete.

3.23.25.b_south door detail.

The east wing of the house extends only to the first floor.  Carl’s and Edith’s bedrooms remain but a twinkle in the architects’  eyes. There is no trace of the sixteenth-century, half-beam ceiling in the Great Hall.  Daylight and oak trees crown the room instead.

3.23.25.b_south door detail.2

A view of the north entrance tells a similar story.

3.23.25.a

The application of the famed flint-work on the Tudor wing of the house appears in progress on the left side of the frame.

3.23.25.a_men detail

The two men in this photograph illustrate the human realities of building Salisbury House. The man on the right was possibly an architect from Boyd & Moore, the local firm responsible for the design and build of the house (perhaps even Byron Bennett Boyd or Herbert J. Moore). As for the man on the left – perhaps a crew foreman? Their markedly different attire certainly suggests differences in occupation and/or class.

3.23.25.a_men detail.2

Progress marked the entire property in this spring of 1925.  Below, the northeast approach to Salisbury House neared completion.

Undated_driveway

Our homburg (or fedora?) -wearing gentleman from above appeared again:

Close up bosses

The three men in the foreground dwarf the workmen (at right in the full-sized photograph) who continued to toil away while the bosses posed for the camera.

Working men detail

Another wonderful detail appears in this photograph. The driveway slope dominates the image’s middle distance, with the majestic silhouette of Salisbury House beyond. Near the crest of the rise, a sign appeared at the base of a tree.

Flower sign

Flower sign_up close

WILD FLOWERS IN IOWA ARE GETTING SCARCE                                                                                                             ONLY THE UNINFORMED GATHER THEM

This sounds like Edith’s doing, as she was an enthusiastic gardener.  To modern-day sensibilities, the sign suggests a vague similarity to the current mania for pet-shaming signs. If this sign were hanging around the neck of one of the Weekses’ canine companions – perhaps after a dig through the Salisbury gardens – they would have had an instant meme on their hands.

Four months after these photos were taken, the progress of construction was documented again. A view from the southeast corner of the property indicated that the workers had been busy during the summer of 1925.

8.5.25.b.

Still, as yet there were no windows in much of the house, including the Common Room and Edith’s Suite.

8.5.25.b.closer

At this point, the Weekses were two years into a five-year, three-million-dollar project.  The pane-less windows, a cluster of barrels, and pile of dirt at photo’s right edge were visible reminders of the work still underway.

8.5.25.b_barrel detail

The view from the north in August 1925 also showed both the great distance already traveled by the Salisbury House builders, and the sizable amount of work left to finish.  Here, the cottage appeared mostly finished – with windows, even! – and a tar-papered roof was in evidence.

8.5.25.a

Still, the main section of the house remained windowless.

8.5.25.a_detail

Makeshift scaffolding and ladders also appeared. Although no workmen were featured in this particular photograph, evidence of their labor remained in the objects they left behind.

8.5.25.a_ladder wheelbarrow detail

A comparison of photos separated by almost a century  offers an amazing study in contrast.

South Collage_Really Use

Collage_North view

Collage_Driveway

Collage_south elevation

Collage_cottage_use

Five years after the first truckloads of bricks and mortar rumbled up Tonawanda Drive, Salisbury House was complete.  The total cost of building and furnishing the home – three million dollars in the 1920s – would be about forty million dollars today.

A local pastor read a blessing during the laying of the house’s cornerstone in 1925. Nelson Owen, the rector of St. Paul’s Church, urged the Almighty to “bring this home to a happy completion.” For Salisbury House – still standing, still magnificent – the preacher’s benediction rang true.

letter.small

Grant Wood Comes to Book Club

It began at book club.

The Salisbury House Young Professionals routinely hosts this event  every couple of months. Literature collected by Carl and Edith Weeks, still housed in the magnificent library today, provide inspiration for the books chosen for discussion.  Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street (1920) was the pick for January 2014.  The selection was particularly apt, as the Weekses purchased several Lewis works over the years, including the 1937 Limited Editions Club publication of Main Street illustrated by Grant Wood.

Following a rousing discussion of both Lewis’ and Wood’s work in Main Street, your correspondent wondered: how else did Wood’s life and work intersect with the story of the Weeks family?

What we found is pretty cool.

First, the Limited Editions Club (LEC) version of Main Street is itself a treasure.  Even if one picked up the book without noticing the Wood references on the cover and frontispiece, his familiar style is immediately apparent in the illustrations.  Wood’s signature appears in the book as well.

Wood Collage.3

This edition of Main Street, published in 1937, appeared at a time when Wood was increasingly well-known in the national art scene.  His first one-man exhibitions took place two years earlier, in Chicago during February and March of 1935, followed by his Feragil Gallery show in New York.

Prior to the opening of the Chicago exhibit, however, Wood attended a January 1935 lecture in Iowa City by fellow regional artist Thomas Hart Benton (R. Tripp Evans’ Grant Wood: A Life details both the visit and the interaction between the two artists).  The two men then traveled to Des Moines where they jointly addressed the Des Moines Women’s Club.

Wood spoke first, followed by Benton.   A Des Moines Register reporter covering the lecture remarked upon both men’s appearance.  “The soft speech of Wood clashes obviously with the vigorous and rough, though exact, words of Benton,” wrote Register journalist Gordon Gammack.  “The latter, as he did Saturday, is the kind of person who can turn abruptly to a lady who has interrupted him and say ‘damn it…’ without being impolite.”

It must have been an entertaining evening.

The Register also included a photograph of Benton, Wood, and the man whose hospitality they had both enjoyed earlier that afternoon: Carl Weeks.  A photograph (grainy and unfocused, sadly) of the three men accompanied the article.  Benton was seated, with Wood and Weeks flanking his right and left.

Wood THB Carl article_cropped

It’s not clear whether or not Woods and Weeks had met before January 1935. Thomas Hart Benton and Carl Weeks, though, knew each other.  One of Carl’s grandsons, Cooper Weeks – who himself lived in the same neighborhood as the Bentons in Kansas City and knew them well – remembered hearing his grandfather talk about Benton, and vice versa.  Cooper recalled that  Benton credited Carl with one of the first big sales of his career, a $500 purchase of an early Benton work that remains in Cooper’s family today.

As for Grant Wood and Carl Weeks, we do know that they kept in touch for a time.  Not long after this Des Moines rendezvous, Wood traveled to Chicago for the opening of his first significant one-man exhibition at Lakeside Press Galleries.  Our records indicate that Carl visited him in the Windy City.   Indeed, their meeting occurred in the midst of a critical moment in Wood’s life: his courtship of and marriage to Sara Sherman Maxon.

An onionskin copy of correspondence from Weeks to Woods, pictured below, was dated March 11, 1935.  Nine days earlier, as Evans’ biography recounts, “Wood’s neighbors read with astonishment that he was to be married that night in a small ceremony in Minneapolis.  The fact that Cedar Rapids’ “bachelor artist” had a secret fiancee was nearly as dumbfounding as the circumstances of the wedding itself – a ceremony conducted with little warning, far from home, and with no friends or family in attendance.”

Weeks’ letter also reflects the surprise commonly elicited by news of the marriage (though he includes none of the misgivings typical among many of Woods’ close friends upon hearing of the nuptials).

Marriage letter

To have been a fly on the wall when Carl Weeks “butt[ed] in on something” between Grant Wood and Sara Sherman Maxon!

Wood and Weeks remained friendly in the months following his marriage to Sara.  Another letter from Carl to Grant in May of 1935 suggests that the two planned, at some point, to meet again.

Carl to Grant

“Taliesin” almost certainly referred to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous property in Wisconsin. Did Weeks and Wood ever visit Wright’s estate together?  Unfortunately, the answer to that question continues to elude us.  Still, the confluence in the lives of Carl Weeks and Grant Wood, occurring as it did in the spring and summer of 1935, provides a  window into a deeply consequential time in Wood’s life.

The union between Grant Wood and Sara Sherman Maxon was not destined for “great happiness,” as Carl wished for them.  Their fraught marriage ended in 1939.  Indeed, Wood famously enlisted his housekeeper as proxy to deliver his desire for a divorce to Sara.

Salisbury House’s Grant Wood-related objects have stories to tell, like so many of our museum’s treasures.  Our collections provide avenues for explorations of  Picasso, The Book of Mormon, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and many, many more.

Our next book club, which will be held in March, focuses on D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  Is there a connection, one may well wonder, between Salisbury House’s holdings and this master of twentieth-century letters?

Yes. D.H. Lawrence is coming to book club.