Cezanne and Corot and Manet, Oh My!

One of my favorite things about Salisbury House is that our museum’s collection, which was originally acquired by Carl and Edith Weeks in the first half of the twentieth century, has remained largely intact. Still, it’s also true that various pieces left the collection over the years. Furnishings and other household items were disposed of in the years immediately following the Weeks family’s departure from Salisbury House in the 1950s. A gorgeous Joseph Stella painting originally acquired by the Weekses brought a record price at auction in 1986.

Indeed, until quite recently, your correspondent believed that the Stella painting ranked as the most significant work to leave the Salisbury House collection.

This certainty has been called into question.

Over the summer, I’d returned my attention to an old inventory of Salisbury House completed in November 1953 as ownership of the property and collection transitioned to the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA). This inventory was a rough draft, completed by Carl Weeks, Ina Carlin (his secretary), and ISEA president Charles Martin. The many emendations, check-marks, and marginalia suggested that the group moved from room to room as they finalized which pieces in the collection would be included in the sale contract. If a work was crossed out in the inventory, it remained with the Weeks family. If not, it would become property of the ISEA.

An entry for George Frederick Watts’ Iphigenia caught my eye. It had a line drawn through it, as if it were not to be included in the sale.  “That’s funny,” I thought, “the Iphigenia is on view in the Common Room today.” Then I looked closer. Someone had written “OK” next to Iphigenia. An adjacent parenthetical read (To replace Corot).

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Corot? As in Jean Baptiste Camille CorotThat Corot?

I read on.

A few pages later, I noticed that a work by Narcisse-Virgilio Diaz de la Peña, which currently hangs in the Common Room, was also crossed out, marked “OK,” and “substituted for….”

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Édouard Manet? Oh boy…

It was, then, with a now-familiar feeling of excitement that I came upon a crossed-out entry, replaced by a J.B. Manson still life (which currently hangs in Edith’s Dressing Room):

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Cezanne. Paul Cezanne, about whom Picasso and Matisse are believed to have said, “He is the father of us all,” was originally part of the Salisbury House collection.

I needed a minute.

…………

Revived, I immediately began to wonder: when were they sold and where did they go? Who sold them?  A search through the Salisbury House archives yielded some promising results.

A clipped newspaper article from the Des Moines Register, dated October 1967, partially answered these questions.

Corot_1967 sale_DSM Register

The article yielded a few key pieces of information.

  • Carl, who passed away in 1962, didn’t sell the paintings himself (nor did Edith, who predeceased Carl in 1955)
  • Since the article indicated that the Corot “belonged to the estate of the late Carl Weeks,” his heirs (sons Charles, William, Evert, and Lafayette), must have sold the works – which of course made sense because these three paintings were specifically exempted from the sale of Salisbury House to ISEA
  • The Corot, the Manet, and the Cezanne were all sold in in this 1967 auction held by Parke-Bernet Galleries (later acquired by Sotheby’s).

The Salisbury House archives also provided tantalizing images of the Manet in-situ.

Manet in Edith's Room

Edith’s Dressing Room at Salisbury House, c. 1928.

Carl and Manet

Carl at the Weeks’ post-Salisbury House residence on Lincoln Place in Des Moines, c. 1961.

 

This was getting good. It seemed time to find the Parke-Bernet auction catalog from October 1967.*

For this, we turned to back issues of The Burlington Magazine, digitally available on that boon companion of all academic researchers, JSTOR. The Burlington, founded in 1903, aimed “to cover all aspects of the fine and decorative arts, to combine rigorous scholarship with critical insight, and to treat the art of the present with the same seriousness as the art of the past.” The periodical has appeared every month since its inception.

Happily, The Burlington also includes gallery and auction catalogs, including that for our 1967 Parke-Bernet sale.
Burlington Cover

The first reference to the Weekses’ paintings appeared below, in a notice for an auction on Thursday, October 26th at 8:00 PM. The notice also referenced the Cezanne, Corot, and Manet:

Weeks brothers_painting descriptions

 

The Parke-Bernet auction notices included images of particularly fine works that would be offered for sale:

Manet in Burlington

 

Corot in Burlington

When the hammer fell for the final time on the evening of October 26th, 1967, all three works from the “Weeks Bros. Collection” belonged to new owners.

So: how much did they sell for?

The Corot sold for $310,000 in 1967 or around $2.2 million in today’s dollars.

The Manet sold for $75,000 or around $550,000 in 2017.

The Cezanne sold for $40,000 or around $293,000 today.

And: where are they now? 

The Corot was purchased by entrepreneur and art collector Norton Simon and his wife, Lucille. Mrs. Norton retained ownership of the work during the couple’s divorce, and it ultimately landed at the Norton Simon Foundation in California. It remains there to this day.

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Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, La Cigale (1865-1875). Norton Simon Art Foundation

Wonderfully, its provenance includes Carl Weeks. Visit the painting here.

Norton Simon entry_Corot

The Cezanne also turned up online.

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Paul Cezanne, Cinq pommes (1877-1878). Private Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Eugene Thaw, New York

This handy Cezanne catalogue raisonné indicates that the painting has remained in private hands since its sale in 1967. Here again, the work’s provenance includes the Weeks family. Visit the painting here.

Cezanne catalog entry

Interestingly, the provenance for both of these works indicate that Carl purchased them in the 1920s from the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris, founded by the famed champion of Impressionism, Paul Durand-Ruel.

The Manet, however, has proved a little trickier to track down.

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Édouard Manet, Jeune Femme au Chapeau (1881).

A digital search party turned up little online in terms of concrete information about the Manet’s post-Weeks ownership. Finally, we reached out to Sotheby’s Museum Services Department for assistance. Our contact there indicated that the piece was most likely in private ownership and that her department would conduct further research. As of this writing, we have not received additional information from Sotheby’s regarding the Manet’s current whereabouts.

The (re)discoveries of artworks previously in the Weeks collection confirm yet again the keenness of Carl’s and Edith’s art collecting and the remarkable quality of the works that they acquired. It is, of course, entirely understandable that Carl decided to reserve the Corot, the Cezanne, and the Manet for his sons during the sale of the property. Still, this curator can’t help a twinge of regret these artworks no longer hang in the halls of Salisbury House.

*For this research, I brought in a ringer. I am indebted to Martha Sibbel, J.D., for putting her prodigious skills to work on behalf of this post.

The Cardinal Comes to Salisbury House

Anthony Van Dyck, a Flemish painter active in the early seventeenth century, was famous for his realistic, non-embellished portraiture.

Van Dyck’s style caught the eye of Cardinal Domenico Rivarola, a wealthy and notable Roman Catholic Cardinal who commissioned Van Dyck to paint his portrait in 1624.

 

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Anthony Van Dyck, Portrait of the Cardinal Domenico Rivarola. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The Cardinal’s portrait is a wonderful example of Van Dyck’s work. Does it catch your eye? In early 1924, it caught the eye of Carl Weeks, who saw the painting in the Jackson. P. Higgs Gallery in New York (the Higgs Gallery was part of the larger and prestigious Bachstitz Gallery in The Hague). Carl would buy the painting for the Salisbury House, but not until almost a year later, and through what Higgs ultimately described as “devious ways.”

Before we begin our story, let’s introduce some significant players:

  • Mr. Anthony Van Dyck– Flemish artist
  • Cardinal Domenico Rivarola– Cardinal who commissioned the portrait
  • Mr. Carl Weeks– founder of Salisbury House; art collector
  • Mr. Kurt Walter Bachstitz– Notable European art dealer active in the 1920s whose main gallery was located in the Hague, Netherlands
  • Mr. P. Jackson Higgs- Art dealer from New York City under Bachstitz; would later form his own gallery
  • Dr. Gustav Glueck– Austrian art historian who helped confirm the portrait’s authenticity
  • Mr. Wilhelm von Bode– German art historian who helped confirm the portrait’s authenticity
  • Mr. Henry Reinhardt– U.S. art collector, influential in the creation of art museums in the American West; created Reinhardt and Son art gallery; died 1921
  • Mr. Paul Reinhardt Son of Henry Reinhardt; Carl works with him to secure the portrait
  • Mr. Hermann Frankl- Austrian art dealer and personal friend to Carl
  • Mr. Landeck- Agent working for Reinhardt and Son
  • Ms. Moore and Ms. Carlin- Secretaries to Carl and the Armand Co.
  • Dr. Wendland- Originally sold the Cardinal to Bachstitz

Thus, our story begins with Carl’s decision to stop into the Higgs Gallery in New York in the early months of 1924. At that time, the price of the painting was $80,000. On March 14, 1924, Higgs reaches out to Carl and offers him a brochure on Van Dyck.

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Carl writes Higgs back a few days later and expresses his interest in the painting, though he declined to buy it at the time due to his current financial situation with building the massive Salisbury House (1923-1928).

Higgs, realizing the value of the Cardinal Rivarola painting, urges Carl to make the choice soon so he doesn’t miss out. On March 31, 1924, Carl writes to Higgs offering $10,000 cash and $75,000 stock in the Armand Co. Higgs writes back to Carl on April 8, informing him Bachstitz did not accept the offer, and has not put the portrait up for sale in Europe yet. Higgs urges Carl to act quickly.

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Carl understands there is real value in the Cardinal portrait, but is worried over the low price he was offered: Carl believes if the Cardinal Rivarola were a true and authentic Van Dyck, it would sell for a much higher price. Throughout the month of March, Carl is unsure of the painting’s authenticity. He wants the piece, but isn’t willing to pay for a fake.

On April 9, Carl writes his Austrian friend Hermann Frankl and asks him to approach Dr. Glueck (without using Carl’s name) to ask about the validity of the painting. Then, Carl receives multiple letters from Higgs urging Carl to buy the portrait.

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On May 29, Frankl telegrams Carl and warns him to be careful around Bachstitz and Glueck. The summer continues with Higgs urging Carl to buy.

On September 6, Carl writes Higgs, sharing Carl’s records of the painting’s ownership, noting and inquiring about a gap in the records. Carl also writes back to Frankl and inquires why he shouldn’t trust Bachstitz and Glueck. Frankl writes Carl back, describing Bachstitz’ bad European reputation and Glueck’s good one.

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On September 29, Higgs responds to Carl about the records of the Cardinal’s ownership to help Carl fill in the gaps.

The same day, Carl writes Frankl asking if he would try to buy the Cardinal from Bachstitz at a lower price than $80,000, making sure to leave Carl’s name out of the picture. At this same time, however, Carl has another plan set with Higgs, who plans to get Bachstitz to sell to him at a cheaper price, and then sell the paining Carl. On November 19, Higgs writes Carl their plan is still on.

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Meanwhile, Carl is using another agency, Reinhardt and Son, to investigate the painting further. On November 24, Carl telegrams them asking what they have discovered.

Reinhardt telegrams back the same day to let Carl know the investigation is still underway, and that they could also buy the portrait at a price cheaper than was offered to Carl (another interesting aspect to this issue is that two portraits of the Cardinal Rivarola were made by Van Dyck: one for the Church, and one for the Cardinal’s personal home. Salisbury House remains in possession of the portrait acquired by Carl, while the other is housed at the Portland Art Museum.)

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Carl and Landeck (the agent working for Reinhardt and Son) have a telephone conversation two days later discussing the price of the Cardinal and how Carl plans to acquire it. The same day, Carl writes Landeck asking him if he could get the Cardinal for under $60,000.

On November 27, Higgs telegrams Carl that the auction for the Cardinal is a week away, and that Bachstitz may go low or as high as $100,000. On November 28, Landeck telegrams Carl to assure him $60,000 is probably a fair price, though he is fairly certain they can get it for $50,000. Landeck tells Carl that he thinks Higgs may still be selling for Bachstitz and tells Carl to use his own judgment when dealing with Higgs.

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On December 2, Higgs writes to Carl he has missed out on the portrait for offering too low of a price. On December 10, Bachstitz writes Carl that the gallery’s contract with Higgs was officially over, and negotiations for the portrait would now be through Bachstitz. Carl offers Bachstitz $30,000, and informs Reinhardt and Son.

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On January 20, 1925, Landeck writes Carl to let him know they have brought in another player, Dr. Wendland, who originally sold the Cardinal’s portrait to Bachstitz. Wendland is now working with Carl and Reinhardt and Son to help Carl acquire painting.

Wendland, acting secretly as Carl’s agent, offers Bachstitz 200,000 Swiss francs for the piece, plus a 10% commission for two reasons: the francs to make Bachstitz think the piece was being sold in the Netherlands, and the commission to make him think he is selling it to a personal client.

Carl authorizes Landeck to go up to 220,000 Swiss francs, if necessary. The same day, Landeck phones Carl letting him know Bachstitz would do 125,000 Dutch guilder,  but Wendland believes they can get the deal for 200,000 Swiss francs, and he declines the offer. Wendland counter-offers the same 200,000 Swiss francs, but without the 10% commission, which he believes Bachstitz will accept.

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Carl writes to Bachstitz on January 26 that he is not longer interested in purchasing the Cardinal, though on January 31, Carl telegrams Bachstitz his offer for the Cardinal at $30,000 is still on the table. On February 4, Reinhardt and Son gallery receives the portrait.

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On February 13, Bachstitz writes Carl that the Cardinal has been sold to someone else, and is sorry Carl missed out on it.

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On March 3, Carl replies to Bachstitz that he believes he will be the owner of the portrait eventually.

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On March 11, Higgs writes Carl that the Cardinal sold, and asks if Carl bought the painting through “dubious” ways. Carl writes back on March 13, stating it was the Reinhardt and Son Gallery, not Carl, who got the Cardinal, though they were saving it for him until his next New York visit.

For nearly a year, Carl engaged in a various methods of subterfuge or, depending on your perspective, strategic business tactics, in order to secure his ownership of this Van Dyck painting.

The deal was ultimately a success from Carl’s point of view. He had originally encountered the Cardinal in early 1924 at the Higgs (Bachstitz) Gallery and it was offered to him for $80,000. In 2017, that would be about $1,200,000. Carl thought he could get a better deal from his Austrian friend and small-time art dealer, Mr. Frankl, whom Carl asked to buy the painting on his behalf at a cheaper price. Carl saw an even better opportunity  through the Reinhardt Gallery, who promised a good deal on the painting by going through their agency. Finally, after Reinhardt’s associate, Dr. Wendland, was able to “buy back” the Cardinal from Bachstitz (to whom Wendland originally sold it), Carl was able to snag the Cardinal for only 200,000 Swiss Francs, or $36,595.

Today, we are incredibly fortunate that the Cardinal still adorns the walls of Salisbury House. Plan your visit here!

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.

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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.

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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.

Woven: A Survey of Salisbury House Textiles

A diverse collection of textiles were among the many fine furnishings and decorative arts acquired by Carl and Edith Weeks for Salisbury House. The collection spans an incredible breadth of space and time, from 1920s Navajo weavings to 16th century French tapestries.

Several pieces are currently on view that suggest the scope of our collection. These textiles, pictured below, are on display for the first time in many years.

Two textiles on display come from our unique collection of Navajo sandpainting rugs. Craftsmen typically incorporated into these weavings ceremonial designs  from the traditional Navajo sandpainting ritual. These pieces were produced for the tourist market in the late 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th century. Carl acquired the majority of his Navajo rugs from the Two Gray Hills Trading Post in New Mexico.

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Navajo sandpainting rug, mid-1920s. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

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Navajo sandpainting rug, mid-1920s. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

In addition to several pieces from the Navajo tradition, the Salisbury House collection contains many Persian textiles. This Kerman pictorial rug was created in south central Iran, and includes some very interesting iconography.

 

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Kerman pictorial rug, c. 1880. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The Khamseh confederation rug pictured below dates to the mid-19th century. This “Khamseh confederation” was a loose grouping of tribes from southern Persia, and became heralded for their skills in rug-making.

 

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Khamseh Confederation rug, c. 1850. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Also from the mid-19th century, but from a different geographical location, is this Bokhara piece from Turkestan. These types of rugs, still produced today, are some of the most popular among collectors.

 

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Bokhara rug, c. 1850. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Tabriz, a city in eastern Azerbaijan, remains well-known for its rug production. This particular Tabriz pictorial rug dates to the first quarter of the 19th century and depicts a pastoral scene.

 

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Tabriz pictorial rug, c. 1825. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Our survey of Salisbury House textiles concludes with a piece from 1650s France. This verdure tapestry portrays several figures, including an individual on a horse, in a wooded setting. The popularity of French verdure tapestries eventually waned with the advent of wallpaper, which provided a lower-cost alternative for wall coverings.

 

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French verdure tapestry, c. 1650. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

These textiles are currently on view at Salisbury House. Visit us at salisburyhouse.org for tour times and information.

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Getting Stoned at Salisbury House

If you think that the title of this post is in reference to biblical punishments or the drug culture of the 1970s, you’d be wrong. I am talking about a little known area of Salisbury House called “Friendship Hall.”

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Friendship Hall

Between 1923 and 1928 when Carl Weeks was building Salisbury House, he was also engaged in one of his favorite hobbies: rock collecting. Whenever Carl was traveling, he would bring home a rock from the area he had visited.

During this time he got an idea. Why not start a Rock Club? Since he had over 45,000 retailers selling his Armand Cosmetics products, he could ask them to join his Rock Club. Thus, Carl suggested that they each send him a rock from their part of the world. This was the start of the “American Rock Club.”

Carl also had a monthly newsletter for his cosmetics business called “The Armand Broadside.” This paper went out to all of his retailers, promoting his business. He decided to utilize this existing network for his rock collection as well. It was a perfect plan.

Was Carl successful? Like most things in his life, he knew that the only way to find out was to try it. Within a year, his collection had grown to over 250 rocks. Some of the rocks sent were accompanied by a letter explaining where it had come from.

Now, Carl had a problem. How should he display such a large collection? Being in possession of a creative mind, he got another idea. Why not incorporate the collection into the walls of the house he was building?

In a little known area of Salisbury House, there was a hallway being planned. It would connect the main house to the garage. This was the ideal place for the rocks. Carl had his workmen inlay the collection into the walls of this hall. He called it “Friendship Hall,” after those who had answered his call for rocks.

Years later, after the family left the house in the 1950s, no one could identify any of the rocks. A plot map was never made. This is where I come in.

My name is David Ross and I hold a degree as a “Certified Gemologist -AGS.” I have always been fascinated by rocks and gemstones. As a tour guide at Salisbury House, I saw the rocks and learned that the stories of the stones had all but disappeared. I thought, I can help with that. Little did I know that the adventure I was about to take would lead me to discover wonderful things.

I received permission from the director of the museum to examine the rocks, identify them, and match them with their corresponding letters. This task, though I didn’t know at the time, would take over four months.

I felt like Sherlock Holmes. I let the rocks tell me their stories. By using the process of elimination, I was able to identify most of the rocks and match some of written correspondence in the Salisbury House archives to the stones. I took pictures of each section of the walls. Then I numbered the rocks, identified them, wrote a report and cross referenced the stones with the letters.

I found a piece of the Rock of Gibraltar, marble from the Temple of Jupiter in Athens, two stones from the Temple of the Sun in Mexico, a piece of copper ore, basalt or lava from Idaho, pipestone from Minnesota, an Iowa geode, water stones, and to my surprise, marble from the Parthenon in Greece.

The privilege of getting to examine the collection, for me, was the thrill of a lifetime. I hope when you visit Salisbury House you will experience the thrill of discovery too. I hope you get to see this wonderful collection for yourself. Get stoned at Salisbury House.

Rock from Gibraltar

Rock from Gibraltar

 

Temple of Jupiter

Temple of Jupiter

 

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun

 

Pipestone

Pipestone from Minnesota

 

Geode from Iowa

Geode from Iowa

 

Water Stones

Water Stones

Preservation Notes from Under the Oaks

Textile preservation is underway at Salisbury House. The pair of Louis XVI style armchairs currently residing in Edith’s Dressing Room has certainly seen better days. The sunshine from the nearby window has not been kind to these two lovely ladies over the years. With the new curtains being installed in this room by the end of December, it was time to stabilize the chairs’ upholstery and preserve what remains of it.

Pair of Louis XVI style chairs.

Pair of Louis XVI chairs from Edith’s Dressing Room. The one on the left has had its upholstery stabilized.

The upholstery of the chair on the left has already been stabilized and originally looked very similar to the one on the right, though more faded. We began with a gentle, low suction vacuum, carefully avoiding all areas of loose threads. Next, polyester organza in a soft buttercup color was inserted under areas of loss on the front of the seat and the top of the back. Using a curved needle and 100% cotton thread, loose edges of the original textile surrounding the loss area were stitched to this sheer underlay. Loose warp threads were straightened as much as possible and secured to the organza to prevent them from moving and retangling. A fine nylon net was then laid over the top and secured around the edges, essentially sandwiching the loss areas and stabilizing the rest of the textile. One more gentle vacuum and the preservation of this Louis XVI style chair was complete.

Close up of underlay
Stitching the historic fabric to the polyester organza underlay.

Two wonderful things about this textile stabilization is its complete reversibility and use of inert materials. If, for whatever reason, we needed to remove these repairs, it would be easy (if not time consuming) to do so and return the chair to the same state it was in prior to the stabilization process. Additionally, polyester organza and nylon are neutral materials that will not harm historic fabric, are inexpensive, and come in a variety of colors, which was perfect for this project. Though cotton thread is not chemically neutral, when paired with acidic silk it will fail before the silk will, provided that we continue to protect these pieces from light damage. After all, we would much rather our repairs fail than the historic fabric!

Before After

Left: Before stabilization and vacuuming. Right: After stabilization and vacuuming.


*Many thanks to Camille Myers Breeze (museumtextiles.com) and the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies (campbellcenter.org) for their professionalism and excellence in preservation education and for providing me with the tools and knowledge to begin the journey of preserving the treasures of Salisbury House.

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.

Best Wishes for Xmas, (signed) James Joyce

The early weeks of December often bring a welcome variety to one’s mailbox: Christmas cards.  These envelopes, a nice respite from the usual junk mail and bills, reflect a long-held tradition of exchanging postal pleasantries at Christmastime.  The Weeks family, who built Salisbury House in the 1920s, kept this custom as well.  Our collections here at the museum contain a few samples of the Weekses’ own Christmas cards, and other cards and holiday greetings penned by well-known artists and writers of the twentieth century.

The exchange of Christmas cards was a practice first established in the mid-1800s.  A British businessman, Sir Henry Cole, is typically credited with producing the first commercial holiday card in 1843.  One of the Cole originals sold at auction in 2001 for over £22,000.

800px-FirstchristmascardSir Henry Cole’s Christmas Card, c. 1843

By the turn of the twentieth century, this December ritual had taken hold in Europe and the United States.  Indeed, a young Carl Weeks had his own Christmas cards printed around this time.  The card pictured below is undated, but the fact that the text includes only Carl’s name – and not Edith, whom he married in 1907 – suggests the piece was printed sometime around 1900 (though, as we will see, Carl did not uniformly include Edith’s name on the family Christmas card even after their marriage).

Just Carl undated

After the completion of Salisbury House in 1928, the family home often illustrated the Weekses’ Christmas cards.

Color CEW undated

CEW BW Xmas late 1930s_1940s

The Weeks boys also appeared in the annual Christmas card from time to time.  A handwritten date on the back of the card pictured below indicates that it was sent “around 1938.”  This is curious, given the inscription: “Holiday Greetings from the Three Bachelors of Salisbury House.”

First of all, the only unmarried Weeks man around 1938 was Lafe (the youngest son, standing in the image below).  William was married in 1935.  Carl, of course, was married to Edith.  Perhaps “Three Bachelors” was meant as a joke…but one wonders if Edith or Margaret (William’s wife) found it particularly funny!

Bachelors Reverse says ca 1938

In addition to sending out holiday cards, the Weekses also received them from a variety of friends and acquaintances.  Joseph Stella, a prolific Italian-American artist of the twentieth century, maintained a long relationship with Carl and Edith.  Correspondence over the years between the Weekses and the Stellas often included a Christmas greeting.

 More broadly, though, Carl and Edith were important patrons of Stella’s work.  Stella inscribed a 1926 photograph of himself in the process of painting The Apotheosis of the Roseone of his major works, with thanks to the Weeks family for supporting his artistic endeavors.  The Rose now hangs in Salisbury House.

Stella combined

The Weekses and Stella remained in touch.  From Paris in 1931, Stella penned the following letter:

Stella 1931 note

Paris – Dec. 14 – 1931

Dear Mr. Weeks,

For Christmas I send to you and to Mrs. Weeks my best wishes.

Cordially,

Joseph Stella

Another holiday greeting, addressed to Carl at his office, came from the writer Maurine Whipple in 1942.   Extant correspondence between Whipple and Weeks was quite extensive, and suggested a unique relationship that was reflected in her 1942 Christmas card.

Whipple 1942

Salt Lake City

Dec. 17, ‘42

Dear Bro in the Gospel:

Just a word of cheer and Season’s Greeting before I go back to my corner of the Lord’s vineyard.  Indeed I am blessed to have a corner to go back to! Since the invasion of the gentiles into our City of Saints the weather has turned so foul that truly I think the Lord is pouring out His wrath.  At any rate, I have had four wisdom teeth out and am completely recovered from last fall’s accident and am now ready to work fifteen hours a day for the Arizona Strip, of which you are slated to receive the first autographed copy! (If I hear from you someday, that is.  I am worried – Satan is abroad!)

Faithfully,

Sister Whipple

The year prior to this Christmas missive, Whipple’s The Giant Joshua, a novel about the Mormon religion, was published to widespread popular and critical acclaim.  This holiday letter from Whipple to Weeks took place at a time in which she was increasingly well-known on the national stage.

Additionally, the historical backdrop of the early 1940s is apparent within this exchange.  December 17, 1942:  the United States had been engaged in World War II for almost exactly one year.  The envelope that landed on Weeks’ desk advertised for war bonds and stamps:

Whipple 3 env

Yet another singular Christmas card arrived at Salisbury House in December 1948.  Mailed to the Weekses from Philip Duschnes, a prominent New York bookseller, the envelope included an astonishing supplement.  A leaf from a fifteenth-century manuscript, intricately illuminated on vellum, was enclosed in a paper mat.

Duschenes 1948

An inscription inside the card provided additional identifying information:

Dechenes xmas 2

Philip Duschnes became well-known during his career as a bookseller for offering high-quality pieces and also for the practice of selling single leaves from significant works.   Weeks, a devoted bibliophile, was clearly a good customer.

Duschnes often collaborated with Otto Ege, a dean at the Cleveland School of Art and lecturer at (Case) Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  One of their joint efforts, titled Original Leaves from Famous Books: Nine Centures, 1122 A.D. – 1923 A.D. remains in the Salisbury House collection today.  The collection, one of fifty made available for purchase, went on the market in 1949.  Leaves from the “famous books” were placed in a paper mat and included a brief description penned by Ege.

Leaves.1

This leaf came from a fourteenth-century manuscript of Aristotle’s Ethics, detailed below by Ege.

Original leaves 4 infor

As Ege notes, a secular writer likely penned this 1365 manuscript.  Compared to the leaf from the Book of Hours included in Duschnes’ Christmas card above, marked differences appear in the production of the manuscripts that suggest the secular versus the religious origins of each.

As amazing as the Duschnes, Whipple, and Stella pieces are, however, there is yet another object in the Salisbury House collections that takes the cool quotient up a notch.  The piece initially appears to be a fun, vintage-y Christmas postcard:

Joyce 1

 The back of the postcard reveals just how awesome this piece is:

Joyce 2

Your eyes do not deceive you.  Yes, this is a Christmas card signed by James Joyce and Nora [Barnacle] Joyce.

The massive geek-out does not stop there.  Attempts to date the postcard yielded a trove of information that takes this piece to epic levels of amazing.

We started with the stamp.  Although the postmark date remained illegible, we were able to track down some reliable-looking information about the stamp’s origins.  Issued in 1927 and dedicated to the French chemist Marcelin Berthelot, the commemorative stamp suggests that the postcard probably dates to the late 1920s.

There’s more.  The Christmas postcard is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. James Stephens.

James Stephens, like Joyce, was an Irish-born writer.  According to an article by Richard R. Finneran published in the James Joyce Quarterly, the two men did not immediately become friends.  Indeed, their relationship remained somewhat antagonistic until the 1920s.   Despite this early frostiness, Joyce and Stephens agreed around 1927-1929 that, should Joyce face insurmountable difficulties in completing Finnegan’s Wake, Stephens would finish the work for him.

This postcard, held here at Salisbury House, surely dates to this very time, during which Joyce and Stephens cemented their friendship and struck their agreement regarding Finnegan’s Wake.  

This postcard, held here in the Salisbury House collections, illuminates the story of one of the greatest literary creations of the twentieth century.

Merry Christmas.