Because documentation has been lacking, relatively little has been written about two crucial years in Joe Brainard’s life, 1961 and 1962 — just after he moved at age 18 to New York City (December of 1960) and just before he moved to Boston (January of 1963). Joe did not keep a diary, nor did he write letters to his closest friends, who had come to New York about the same time as he. His letters — the few that survive — to his parents and aunt back in Tulsa consisted of perfunctory reassurances that he was all right. Recently, however, a group of his letters have surfaced, providing new and important details on this period.
The letters and postcards were addressed to Sue Schempf, a woman he met in Tulsa when he was still a high school student or a very recent graduate. Schempf, a decent Sunday painter, had signed on as a patron; that is, in the early 1960s she was sending him five dollars per month. The financial arrangement appears to have been vague: at several points Joe mentions owing her money and at others he gives the impression that she is due work in exchange or that he is going to repay her. Regardless, the monthly arrival of five dollars was important to Joe.
The first piece of correspondence (postmarked December 15, 1960), addressed to Schrempf and her husband, is a postcard announcement of Joe’s modest solo exhibition at a place called The Gallery, in a small shopping center in Tulsa, to take place on December 17 and 18. The announcement is addressed in the hand of someone other than Joe, who was either in Dayton or New York City at the time. Over the course of the next year, Sue Schempf herself would open a frame shop, which would also be available for small shows.
At some point she bought one of his collages, a 1960 work that not only reflected the structure of the cover design he did for The White Dove Review a year or so before but also proved to be a harbinger of his collages to come 15 years later.
Fig 01 Mixed media collage, 1960, coll. E. G. Schempf 25 × 22 inches
Joe had other patrons as well, among them Ella Rengers, whom he had befriended during his brief stay at the Dayton Art Institute in the autumn of 1960, and Tulsans Faye and Dave Rich, about whom I know nothing. At one point Joe told Schempf that the total patronage was $25 per month, which was enough to cover exactly half the rent of the ratty two-room storefront he was living in by January 21 of 1961, a place that had neither tub nor hot water. Joe set about making the grungy place habitable, battling the cockroaches, cleaning its big plate glass window, placing plants in the window, and adding a large white pull-down shade — for privacy and at least a hint of spiffiness.
Here, at 210 East 6th Street, his friend, the poet Ted Berrigan, soon arrived from Tulsa. They alternated sleeping on the single bed, Ted during the day and Joe at night.
On January 28 Joe mailed Schempf the first of what would become repeated reminders about his $5 monthly installment. This one he signed ‘Joe Brainard, Maker of charts,’ ‘Needer of money,’ ‘Hater of snow,’ ‘Lover of money,’ ‘Liker of N.Y.,’ and ‘Wanter of money.’
Meanwhile, he plunged into the extraordinary visual art treasures of the city — its museums, art galleries, and movie theaters. By February 14 he had begun attending a life drawing class twice a week, an indication of his interest in what he called ‘a new direction: ‘realism,’ a turnabout that came as a shock to him. One wonders, however, about how much realism was in what he described as an enormous collage he had just done on his wall.
By April he was back in Tulsa, where he joined local artist Nylajo Harvey and her husband Bob on a car trip to Mexico, where they stayed for several weeks, visiting Nylajo’s ex-patriot artist friend John Nevin, who was living in Marfil, a ghost town near Guanajuato. Joe wrote to Schempf (on March 11, his 19th birthday): ‘Loving Mexico; my new work; & life in general. Also, me.’ One of the pieces he did on that trip was a Mexican-inflected nude drawing.
Fig 02 Pencil drawing, 1961, coll. E. G. Schempf, 12 × 8 inches
On May 12 he mailed Schempf an illustrated letter saying that he was back in Tulsa for two weeks, was having a quick show there of work from New York and Mexico, that once back in New York he would enroll in art school, and that she should remember to send him the usual five dollars. It seems odd that, being in Tulsa, he would not have met with her or even mentioned the possibility of a meeting.
He sent her another reminder in late June, as he urgently needed rent ($24) and deposit money for a new apartment, this one a fifth-floor walkup at 93 First Avenue. With such a low rent, he felt he would be able to save money for art school. Until his letters to Schempf came to light, I did not remember Joe’s wanting to go to art school back then. I also did not recall his having patrons other than Ellen Rengers. My impression was that he had made a more definite break with Tulsa and had rejected the traditional idea of going to art school.
By the third week of July he had moved and had resumed painting, studying art history, going to lectures (on what subjects we do not know) twice a week, and reading a lot (books such as R.G. Collingwood’s Principles of Art). Of his own paintings, Joe mentioned their ‘mysterious feeling, almost expressing fear.’
A month later he wrote Schempf that he had been doing mostly oil paintings, but the medium was proving too expensive, and that he wanted to attend the Art Students League to study under Robert Brackman. Because the school did not accept scholarship requests until the student had been enrolled for three months, he needed his patron money more than ever. His own work was getting stronger, but he felt ‘so anxious to develop’ and he knew that ‘school will help so much.’
In September he started class at the Art Students League, and in the first week made what he thought was serious progress. Brackman enthusiastically praised his drawings. Joe was working toward what he called ‘an intellectual personal form of realism.’ In saying that contemporary art is in ‘a form of chaos, a transformation period between Abstract Expressionism and God knows what.’ he might have been describing his own transformational period at the time.
In any case, New York was the right place for him to be: ‘Always something new and great to see and do. It’s so stimulating; I don’t see how I could ever live in Tulsa again. It’s a big evil depressing city at times too; especially in my area. I never knew people could be so lost and the world so cruel. Every day I see two-year-old kids using words I don’t even use. And bloody drunken bums lying in the street half nude. I can’t walk two blocks any time of the day without beggars (lots of ’em) grabbing your arm and pleading for ten cents or a cigarette. Also queers and dope addicts all over the place. It really isn’t so dangerous, just damn depressing.’ But ultimately ‘I feel at home here; I can really be myself. I’m happy.’ That is, he feels free to be himself, though he hasn’t quite figured out who that self is, namely that he is queer, though from his I Remember we learn that he had intimations of it as far back as high school.
Meanwhile his patrons grew casual about remembering to send their monthly installments, so he had sold his books, clothes, and blood, was eating little, and had to walk everywhere — to museums, galleries, and more than 50 blocks to school — and when his few friends left town to go home for Christmas, he was so lonely he drank six whiskey sours and spent all night and the next morning doing his first piece of writing, later titled ‘Self-Portrait on Christmas Night, Year 1961 Age 19 Almost 20; Homage to George,’ in which he described how he had broken away from the constraints of life back in Tulsa. He also talked about his attitude toward money, how he needed it to live but whose tyranny he hated.
A week later he told Schempf, ‘I know how valuable my time is and I plan to never ever get a job again.’ (As unrealistic as this desire sounds, it pretty much came true.) And though he had broken from Tulsa, he was still attached to it: ‘I want Tulsa to see what I’m doing.’
I think he meant that he wanted certain people there to see his new work, for in other letters he showed little respect for the level of taste among Tulsa’s art lovers, many of whom bought art mainly to decorate their homes.
At various points Joe tried, unsuccessfully, to clarify what he meant by the ‘realism’ he was pursuing. In its most elementary form it’s simply classically trained draftsmanship and figurative art, though with the figuration placed in an abstract setting or transformed by surprising colors, but by early January of 1962 he referred to using ‘pasted and painted labels… They denote truth, the way things are.’
‘I have found that so many great works of art are disturbing because they ‘face up to things’ in the way they really are.’
His defense of this form of realism was in response to Schempf’s criticism of some of his new work. ‘I’m finding my work more beautiful every day because of its ‘truth.’ I find truth to be the highest, and perhaps the wildest, form of beauty. I hope you’ll see this in my newest work’.
‘that it will demonstrate a new concept of beauty, and a new concept of form and composition which is highly original.’
This is not the tentative voice of the Joe I knew in high school, who had been docile, self-effacing, and eager to please others. Approaching his twentieth birthday, he had now embraced the life he had chosen: ‘I’ll probably [be] a kid all my life; which suits me. I mean, I don’t want to take on all the responsibilities of being ‘mature’… I already feel I’m mature in the ways I want to be mature in; self-dependent, a purpose for living or a reason for not committing suicide, and faith in myself.’ Besides, he is chock-full of ideas about his work: ‘Didn’t go to bed last night at all, and I’m dead tired, but too excited about the work I’ve been doing the past few weeks to really be sleepy.’
Later that month (March), his attachment to Tulsa resurfaced, when he was disappointed to learn that Philbrook, the local museum, had accepted only one of his pieces for their Oklahoma Annual show, rejecting the four others he had submitted. Nevertheless, he hoped ‘to make it home for a couple weeks this summer.’ Home.
At this point Schempf offered him a show in her frame shop, for which he planned on sending her about thirty pieces, mostly small ones. He hoped to be back in Tulsa in early June, but he wouldn’t be able to stay more than two weeks, for he had ‘work to do and a thousand new ideas. I’ve never heard of an artist being overly creative, but this seems to be my problem. I have so many different ideas all at once, that I can’t get them all done, nor really develop any one of them.’ In an artist who was so heavily visual and instinctive in his grasp of form — ‘though subject matter does exist in my work, form does dominate’ — all his talk about ideas sounds unusual until we consider that he is spending most of his time with no one to talk with except himself and that by this point he was occasionally using the Desoxyn (a pep pill) supplied by Berrigan, which also might explain his all-night painting sprees.
During this entire period Joe and Ted collaborated on a number of poem-pictures. When Schempf saw the ones that had words typed and scribbled on American flags, she was so offended that she cancelled Joe’s exhibition at her frame shop, giving the work to artist Bob Bartholic for him to show at his gallery. Below are two collaborative flags from 1962, though I don’t know if they were among the ones Schempf disliked so much.
Joe wrote to Schempf, defending his work: ‘I’m an artist and paint what I must. I am to be criticized for this? I adore America and these collages are my comment on it. My flags were done with love of spirit in mind. … I could never think of them as unpatriotic … Believe me, the American flag has a deep meaning to me too.’ He continues: ‘To call my collages trash is downright cruel. I have no intention of shocking the world. I only want to live in and with it, and to create from it. My intentions are of the finest, and I deserve to be admired for this … I can not be false in order to please.’ He concludes his letter feeling rueful that he and Schempf have such different views, but he will not back down. He promises to repay her $54 she’s given him, as well as the $11.50 she spent on shipping. Schrempf’s son recently told me that after this she never bought another painting from Joe — and it’s likely she stopped sending the stipend — but that later in her life she regretted having been so narrowminded.
Joe almost never dated his letters, but one of them, perhaps his final one to Schempf, mentions his attending a Swedish film festival at The Museum of Modern Art, a series that started on October 10, 1962, and ran for three months. The letter begins, ‘It sure was nice hearing from you. (I’m pretending you wrote me a letter.)’ Then he goes on for a number of pages talking as usual about his life and work, as if there had never been a major rift with her. For example, ‘With oils, I’ve been doing still lifes, women, and self-portraits. Before that, working mostly with collages, I got deeply into pure abstraction. (For the first time in my life.) And per usual, many side tracks and branches.’ This moving back and forth between media and styles proved typical the rest of his artistic life.
By the end of 1962 Joe was feeling that for personal and artistic reasons he needed to make a radical change. His artistic direction had become unclear, and, though he never mentioned it, his sexual orientation remained unresolved. He decided to move to a city where he knew no one and where he had neither lodging nor a job. On January 9, 1963, after giving or lending friends the few art works he hadn’t sold or destroyed, and taking with him only one suitcase and a small amount of money, he caught the bus to Boston.
The approximately ten months he spent there were fraught with loneliness, poverty (to the point of begging and picking up used cigarette butts off the street), depression (sometimes expressed in a semi-delirium), and virtual starvation, though eventually he did manage to get part-time work with an advertizing agency and at one point at a map company. During those ten months, he began making collages and small assemblages that led him to feel, as he put it in an excited letter to Berrigan, dated May 20, that he had ‘grown three inches,’ and in June in a letter to my wife Pat he called his new work the greatest things ever seen.
By then the pull of New York had reasserted itself, and he vowed to return as soon as he had saved enough money for an apartment there. It turned out that extra money remained scarce, but in October he came back anyway, staying with Pat and me in our one-bedroom apartment on West 88th Street, sleeping on the living room couch. We three got along very well, even though — or perhaps because — now there was something different about him, a confidence or determination, though entirely without swagger. He was also without any privacy or work space, so the pieces he created on 88th Street were quite small.
By late December, thanks to Ted, he began sharing an apartment on East 9th Street with the poet Tony Towle. There, with more space, Joe quickly created a startling number of assemblages, haunting, hallucinatory, and beautiful. One of them was built on a toy piano — it had only eight keys — painted baby blue, from which rose a gloved wrist holding an ice cream cone a snake was ascending, along with toy figurines of two Vikings, one of them climbing the wrist, which he gave (or sold for very little) to Frank (O’Hara). The assemblages he created in 1964 went into his first solo exhibition in New York, at the Alan Gallery, in January of 1965. Subsequent exhibitions over the years also had coherent themes or media — small collages or drawings or oil paintings or cut-outs or what he called ‘gardens.’ Years later he acknowledged that he never created a signature style, but that can be seen as something of a signature syle in itself. In any case, by 1964 his work had taken on a new power. Joe had come into his own as an artist, but it would not have happened without the courage, persistence, and exploration of the few years previous.
Below is a gallery of works from 1961-63, many of which have never been seen by the public. I took most of the photographs of them. E. G Schemf, a professional photographer as well as Sue’s son, rescued my amateur snapshots, correcting them via Photoshop. Also, he provided the photos of the three works from his own collection. Unless otherwise noted, all works in this gallery are from the collection of my wife and me.
Fig 05 Untitled (Pat), June or July 1961, oil on pressboard, 15 ¾ × 15 inches
Joe Brainard, Fig 06: “Self-Portrait”,
oil on canvas, 16 ¾ inches by 8 ¼ inches, coll. E.G.Schempf
Joe Brainard: Fig 07: untitled drawing (“Lucky Strike”) 6 ½ by 11 ½ inches
Kornberg and I have been collaborating since 2008, when we were paired for The Poetic Dialogue Project, which linked poets with visual artists to create new works for an exhibition that traveled to several museums in the U.S. Since that time, we have had our work shown in numerous commercial galleries and museums in both group and solo shows. Our first book, Bindle, was published by Ricochet Editions in 2015, with afterwords by Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Prudence Roberts.
Rose Was All There Was, like many of our photo-based, text-image works, revolves around the intersection of scientific and humanistic ways of knowing. I attach our artists’ statement about the piece, as well as the five images in the series.
What do we see when we look? How do we know what we’re perceiving? The questions behind Rose Was All There Was concern visual perception and knowledge — especially the evidentiary knowledge the scientific method produces, one that is paradoxically based on sensory information that is often subjective. In the summer of 2015, we were granted access to the collections at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs. The process of examining marine specimens under the microscope led us from a view of these samples as scientific evidence to a very different appreciation of the visual phenomena we experienced in looking. With the intent of creating a series about the preservation and scientific interpretation of jelly fish specimens — some of which were collected as long ago as the 1950s — we were taken instead with the effects of time and color on these microscope slides: the aging and cracked glass, the decay of the medium used to preserve the specimens, and the accidents of line and color that result. A meditation on these luminous images, the text embraces the notion of the circle and its color fields to explore vision itself. In this way, Rose Was All There Was leaves behind the original purpose of these artifacts — that of scientific study — along with their identifying marks, to ask how we experience something as fundamental as light, as fragile as glass, as transformative as color.
— Dianne Kornberg and Elisabeth Frost
A poet and critic, Elisabeth Frost A poet and critic, Elisabeth Frost is the author of All of Us: Poems (White Pine, 2011), the chapbooks Rumor (Mermaid Tenement, 2009) and A Theory of the Vowel (Red Glass Books, 2013), The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry (Iowa, 2003), and Bindle (Ricochet Editions, 2015, with artist Dianne Kornberg). She is also co-editor of Innovative Women Poets: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and Interviews (Iowa, 2006). Her poems have been published in The Denver Quarterly, The Yale Review, Poetry, and other journals, and she has received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation-Bellagio Center, the Fulbright Foundation, MacDowell, and Yaddo, among others. Frost is Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Fordham University.
— PDF: There is no PDF format of this article.
— Provenance: Original data provided by the main organiser of the Loft readings, Lyn Tranter. Edited by John Tranter, 2014.
This page presents the dates, personnel and some photos relating to twelve poetry readings from late 1982 until early 1984, organised by Lyn Tranter in collaboration with Arnie Goldman, then teaching at NSWIT (now called UTS); about thirty hours of readings by 76 Australian poets in all held on Friday nights at The Loft reading space, NSW Institute of Technology, now the University of Technology, Sydney.
In a letter from Lyn Tranter (then of Lyn Tranter Promotions at Broadway in Sydney) to Paul Brunton of the State Library of NSW (on 17 October, 1991) offering to deposit at the Library a set of flyers and brochures for poetry readings at The Loft at the NSW Institute of Technology (now UTS), Lyn outlined the reading series thus:
‘The Loft’ readings I organised in conjunction with Arnie Goldman in 1982-1984. First I’ll place ‘The Loft’ readings in an historical perspective. I organised the first reading on 29th October 1982. They were held monthly and readers were paid by splitting the door take. In May of 1983 I received a grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council which enabled me to pay the writers a fee of $25 plus any travel expenses. The last reading was held on the 24th February 1984.
Photo, left: Lyn Tranter, 17 December 1983, at the launch at the Courthouse Hotel, Newtown, Sydney, for Martin Johnston’s book of poetry The Typewriter Considered as a Bee-Trap, photo by Trish Davies.
Photo: Toni Hope-Caten, Annandale, July 1984, photo by John Tranter.
At the time of organising these readings I was in partnership with Toni Hope-Caten and Jenny Doyle in a graphic business called Rat Graffix [in Glebe Point Road, in Glebe, Sydney]. All the art work for the flyers was done at the premises of that business, until I started up a new business on my own – Pavilion Press Set [in Parramatta Road, Broadway, Sydney] – in early 1983.
Please find attached [a summary of] what ‘The Loft’ files consist of. There is a complete set of flyers that were either mailed to people or placed on bulletin boards, in foyers etc. One of the flyers is not an original but a photocopy – [the last reading, on] 24th February 1984.
Thinking of the photos on this page, from the early 1980s, I’m reminded of Proust: ‘A photograph acquires something of the dignity which it ordinarily lacks when it ceases to be a reproduction of reality and shews us things that no longer exist.’ From the mouth of Baron Charlus, from Proust’s great novel. Proust is always much smarter than you think. JT.
Friday 29th October 1982: 5 Readers:
Sasha Soldatow, Alan Jefferies, Geoffrey Lehmann, Joanne Burns, Pamela Brown Photo left: Alan Jefferies, Annandale, July 1984, photo by John Tranter.
Photo below: Sasha Soldatow, Annandale, late 1983, photo by John Tranter.
Photo left, joanne burns
Friday 26th November 1982: 5 Readers:
Mark Young, Gig Ryan, Les Murray, Martin Johnston, Barbara Brooks
John Tranter published Gig Ryan’s first book, The Division of Anger, in 1980. He took the cover photo and designed and typeset the text of the book.
Friday 18th March 1983: 6 Readers:
John Tranter, Joanne Burns, Susan Hampton, Martin Johnston, Meredith Quinn, Derek Strahan
Friday 15th April 1983: 4 Readers:
Robert Adamson, Kate Llewellyn, Tim Thorne, Billy Marshall-Stoneking
Friday 29th April 1983: 6 Readers:
Cliff Smythe, Lyndon Walker, Jenny Boult, Lee Stokes, Dorothy Swoope, Geoff Shera
Friday 27th May 1983: 4 Readers:
John Scott, Laurie Duggan, Chris Mansell, Anna Couani
Friday 24th June 1983: 4 Readers:
Andrew McDonald, Dorothy Porter, Adam Aitken, Neil Murray Note on audio cassette: Edited by Bill Turner for Inprint mag.
Friday 29th July 1983: 4 Readers:
Terry Gillmore, Dîpti Sara (Saravanamuttu), Martin Harrison, Geoff Page
Friday 26th August 1983: 4 Readers:
Vicki Viidikas, Grant Caldwell, Luke Davies, Danny Gardner
Friday 28th October 1983: 4 Readers:
Nicholas Pounder, Donna Maegraith, Mary Fallon, Jeremy Nelson
Friday 25th November 1983: 26 Readers:
Open Reading, 26 people read.
Friday 24th Feb. 1984: 4 Readers:
Nigel Roberts, Jill Farrar, Rudi Krausmann, Gary Dunne
(Photocopy of flyer supplied by Gary Dunne)
refrigerate the deal
pouting ain’t pretty
when words lose
their mercantilist lisp
more wealth accumulation
in pursed jaw hibernation
imagine the dna bubbling
in that patriotic swamp while
the quack sleeps between the
lobster and the mousse will there
be free gold curtains any time soon —
the wind blew ~
a delinquent artery
hurtling along the parade
of the damned hopeful
slamming through sound
barriers with skateboard
precision the leviathan
of apartment towers hits
another sinkhole who
pulled the plug in this
city of home improvement,
its duchies of power
drill rodeos hold onto
your tickets and contracts if
that is your heart rate’s
decision but you won’t
get your moolah back —
you’re off the plan
though you’ve done all
the math on your i-phone
see those mass graves of
hard hats rank drains
of delusion ~
the anarchy of sober
noodles does the buck
stop here crazy logic
of lava citadels the swanky
ambiguity of matador pants
a breach in the futurosity of
time blini addicts duck
and cover in their ancestral
glug boots down the blackholes
of juvenilia cosy as irish moss
a stockpile of crime
fiction to glide through
inside christmas a cosyness
of birth death rebirth this summery
staycation guns forensics fists and
gods warm blood thrums as you savour
one death then another another sip cool
g&t-s suck on tamarind tiger prawns
digest dark plums of best seller fear
downstairs along the greasy mile
bashings stabbings screeches and screams
cheap deals of powders and pellets mashed
evidence in the gutters dreary dull
unframed you reach for another novel
& douse your mouth with mango
‘The infinite resources of the thickness of things’
— Francis Ponge
swept snow and kept it.
empty arms waving.
birds erased by wind.
a journal of aesthetics.
a train is the ghost.
slipping through the zoo.
the fog itself is warm.
too primitive to be dreary.
cold mountain beings.
wearing stone clothing.
the history of empty space.
steaming at the table.
the modern world is tender.
snow on all its owls.
to sing an empty room.
go to bed scowling.
a sensuous apprehension.
leaps the world’s meanings.
what do you mean boulders.
along the doorway border.
he called it diamond silence.
hidden by its brightness.
river and its ladder.
sun falling on your knees.
a roaring river fire.
house key in the snow.
must be silence walking.
in three-word groups.
comparable to water.
a white trackless skyway.
dogs sleep on the road.
beneath the sound of scree.
among the honey jumpers.
bleary to the bone.
it’s warm underground.
her lovely snapping eyes.
the world’s leaf laden.
that’s a yellow path.
handprint on the window.
it’s never egret season.
an oath before we sink.
punching holes in water.
blue lupine eyes.
and for a common cause.
eternity’s going slow.
about to take the corner.
who’s immortal now?
the stove’s about to go.
another ragged actor.
your permanent shadow.
naked in that realm.
all laughter is solemn.
distance is in ribbons.
don’t hurry falling down.
it was called the lipstick riot.
I heard strains of music.
the unaccountable stars.
tell a public secret.
crayfish and momentum.
sleeping isn’t resting.
resemblance is a peach.
the sunlight’s whipping now.
a valley three states wide.
and not a single fire.
a life of ledge walking.
seems so normal now.
no tree falls inward.
I’m your gun for hire.
the campfire takes a walk.
across six mountains.
stands near the lake.
screaming at the bees.
river approaching heaven.
glamorous yellow aspens.
it’s snowing in the song.
soon the empty words.
spread of pine needles.
wet feet on concrete.
eternity’s not a game.
the seasons are amazing.
sea greenness and the journey.
dreaming at the gate.
are we in or of the dance?
a handsome secret man.
the shadow of your smile.
fracture of your hand.
comparisons are listening.
blue eyes down the line.
appetite is enough.
he summarized an owl.
snow bank and white towel.
shadow and actor.
I sat down on the fire.
the plums were overripe.
the place seemed familiar.
beauty isn’t endless.
thought dies on the tongue.
nothing is transparent.
everything half done.
what’s original now?
immediate but distant.
naming every gesture.
history is the vestige.
overflow of powerful grammar.
a series of vivid abstractions.
flourishing off the page.
the god of disproportion.
moves in fictive time.
a thought on her face.
submerges once again.
the desperation to mean.
lucidity and madness.
what does ‘ought’ propose?
moral reserves on empty.
the grass is at attention.
a faucet steadily drips.
the light behind an object.
needs no complication.
why is heidegger quiet?
where’s the emperor tonight?
watching with steady eyes.
nothing thinking something.
Define: Mother Tongue
made of flesh or ink
you are not alone
restless at the door
she’s part of the descent
into you and through
on transparent paper
a phantom limb
spoken back into being
and that prime witness
has long since disappeared
only the fiction lives
breathless as a fish
the future is seismic
its needle twitching
the possible appears
fugitive realm of
each moment is a season
its memory scented
your mother sprouts wings
and flies into the sun
the planets stop turning
a red scarf falls
back into the present
into what is
in the pause
a weight falls
to your life
remain forever old
to be exiled
to the place
of not speaking
the thought of
not thinking and
sea of not being
fold over as sound
take a breath
and you’re sleeping
to the breathing
of the world
Paul Hoover has published many books of poetry including Desolation: Souvenir (2012). His translation of The Complete Poems of San Juan de la Cruz, with Maria Baranda, will be published by Milkweed Editions in the Northern Fall of 2018. The author had an online book, The Windows published by Argotist in 2013, consisting of procedural poems. The three poems on this page will be published in The Book of Unnamed Things (Plume Editions) in the Northern Spring of 2017.
«Printing and Publishing in
(JPR title: My Life in Printing)
JPR Interview Third Quarter, Part 2 of 2
an interview for the Library at UCLA,
third quarter of interview, Part Two of Two, JPR 07
page 412 begins here
… It rather surprises me now in looking back over the records of The Primavera Press to find the invoice for the printing of this book [Phil Townsend Hanna’s Libros Californianos, or five feet of books on California J.T.]. It was done in the fall of 1931; it was started while I was still working for Jake. Gregg Anderson had come down [to Los Angeles. J.T.] from the Grabhorn Press [in San Francisco. J.T.] He was working with Hackett & Newell, a firm in which I had one-third interest. He was primarily responsible for the design and the makeup of the book.
We printed an edition of 500 copies and invoiced it to Mr. Zeitlin on December 1, 1931, at $145. [laughter] Also part of that was paid by Jake in a book which he sold to Gregg Anderson at $25.00, I don’t know what the book was now, but evidently the firm took that out of Gregg’s wages. The book sold well; it was a very much needed book and almost immediately we had an order for a reprint, which we finished in record time because it was billed out January 1, 1932, less than a month after the first one. For this second printing of 500 copies, we were paid the munificent sum of $72.00 [laughter].
When I look back at this, I can see why Jake thought the publishing business was great in those days. I must admit this didn’t include the binding because Weber-McCrea did the binding. For the first issue they charged him $92.30 and for the second one $73.50. Jake was a good businessman in those days because I see that he took off a two percent discount for paying right away!
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Soon after this, the Hackett, Newell & Ritchie enterprise broke up, and I went on my own. One of the first jobs that I did for Jake was also a Primavera Press book called Summer Denial by Madeleine Ruthven. [The Scots — it is a Scots name — pronounce this as ‘R I V V E N’. J.T.] I suspect that this was a vanity book. Being a book of poetry, I doubt if any publisher would put his own money into it.
I was amused, though, in running across a letter from Bennett Cerf of Random House, Jake had evidently sent him a copy of Summer Denial, and Bennett wrote, ‘Dear Jake, Thanks for sending us a copy of Summer Denial. We will be very glad to keep this book where it can be seen by anyone who comes into the office. I must be frank enough to tell you, however, that I don’t think anybody is going to spend $2.50 for a book of poems by somebody they have never heard of in times like this. We will be very glad, however, to send any orders that come in for the book to you and let you bill them any way that you see fit.’ [laughter]
The next year after Summer Denial, Jake seemed to have found several poets who were willing to have their books printed by The Primavera Press, and we did a book called Wives Come First by Gladys DuBois, The Lay of a Summer’s Day or ‘Love is Mightier than All‘, by F.H.A. and Weathered Wine by Anita Grey. Now Jake, evidently, had some compunctions because he dropped the Primavera imprint from them, and they were printed under the imprint of the Faun Press.
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Then in 1934, Marguerite Eyre Wilbur came forth with a translation from Alexander Dumas, called A Gil Blas in California. Alexander Dumas evidently had a batch of writers working for him. Occasional authors would come to him with a manuscript which he would take over and rewrite, using their first-hand experiences. It’s doubtful that Dumas had ever been in California but somebody who had [been], gave him the material for this book. Because of its California interest a first translation into English seemed to have sales possibilities.
Jake made arrangements to have Saul Marks at the Plantin Press print this book, and Saul had worked on some designs for it. It was one of Saul’s earliest attempts at book design, and he hadn’t quite reached the finesse that he has now.
Jake,at this time, began to feel that the publishing venture was a little too much for him to handle alone while he was still running his bookstore, so he suggested that The Primavera Press be formed as a corporation by himself, Phil Townsend Hanna, and myself. Jake was to be responsible for the selling of the books; Phil Townsend Hanna for the editorial work; and I for the production of them. This was done in 1934, while A Gil Blas was in the works and as a result I took over the designing of A Gil Blas, but we still had Saul Marks print and produce the book.
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From then on, the books which we did were all legitimate books. We made no attempt to get subsidies for them. There was quite a distinguished group of interesting books. Lawrence Clark Powell had done a thesis on Robinson Jeffers for his doctorate at the University of Dijon in France. We republished it with illustrations by Rockwell Kent.
We did the little book, Americans, by Laura Riding. She had sent the manuscript to me from her home in Majorca. We did The Sinister Shepherd, a translation of Fracastoro’s 16th-century poem in a translation by William van Wyck.
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Ritchie: I’m not quite sure where I left off on our last discussion, but it seems to me that we were right in the middle of The Primavera Press. The Primavera Press, as I mentioned before, had been started by Jake Zeitlin and Leslie Jennings. Eventually, Jennings withdrew from the organization, and Jake continued it himself.
In 1933, he made arrangements with the Plantin Press of Saul Marks and Kenneth McKay to print an edition of 525 copies of A Gil Blas in California by Alexander Dumas. At about the same time, Jake also started a discussion with Phil Townsend Hanna and myself about joining him in The Primavera Press. It seemed like a good idea, and on the 25th day of May, 1933, The Primavera Press was incorporated.
Its purposes were: the publishing of books about California and the Southwest which might have merit deserving of permanent form; the reprinting or reissuing where sheets are available of new editions of such volumes as having proved their worth and desirability and are now out of print; designing, printing and distributing under a subsidiary imprint privately printed limited editions where desired by individuals willing to pay the cost; and printing and publishing books for public school and visual education. Phil Townsend Hanna was to be the editorial and head the press promotion; I was to handle the production; and Jake Zeitlin, sales and
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redistribution. Phil Hanna was also secretary; I was treasurer; and Jake Zeitlin was the business manager.
We each invested $75 at that time, and as the original stipulations read ‘Since Phil Townsend Hanna brings to The Primavera Press, Inc., editorial knowledge and experience of great direct value, and since he agrees to use all his efforts to bring all desirable publication material to which he has access, either through his professional position or personal contacts, to the benefit of The Primavera Press, Inc. so long as such agreement is not prejudicial to his present responsibilities, his proportion of ownership of the one hundred percent of assets shall be thirty percent.’
The second stipulation was, ‘Since Harry Ward Ritchie has an already established private printing business and an expert experience and competence in book production and since he agrees to turn over to The Primavera Press all book production jobs brought to him except private printing undertakings not bearing the imprint of the press and not to be offered for sale by him and also book production jobs done for other publishers. And since he agrees to furnish printing too in his own shop for the Primavera Press, Inc. at a cost of ten percent plus a net time and material cost consumed in the actual production, his proportion of the one hundred percent assets shall [be] thirty percent.’
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And the third stipulation, ‘Since negotiations and pioneer work have been carried on in this direction by Jake Zeitlin for several years and since he agrees to discontinue further independent publishing activities exclusive of those already contracted for under The Primevera Press imprint and since he agrees to transfer all valuable titles belonging to him free of cost to The Primavera Press, Inc. and since he agrees to transfer title to the firm name and goodwill of The Primavera Press and to discontinue its private use at the termination of all present contracts, his proportion of the ownership of the one hundred per-cent of the assets shall be forty percent.’
The initial plans for The Primavera Press,Inc. were first to publish A Gil Blas in California, the printing of which had already been contracted for.
The second was to consider the publication of Lawrence Clark Powell’s book on Robinson Jeffers. This had been printed in a limited quantity in Dijon, France, as part of Powell’s doctorate which he had received from the University of Dijon. At the time, there were a few additional copies available, and Powell allowed Jake to sell them in this country. Of course, they had a ready market through the universities and others who were interested in Robinson Jeffers. So we were quite interested in having a new edition of this book, especially since Larry Powell had received his doctor’s degree, he had returned to America
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and was working at Jake Zeitlin’s bookstore. The book was produced during the next year as one of the Primavera imprints with decorative initials by Rockwell Kent, and some revisions by Powell from his original thesis.
We also considered the reissue of Reminiscences of a Ranger in a new binding, jacket, and format. Reminiscences of A Ranger was a one of the great books about Los Angeles, probably the best book printed in the nineteenth century in Los Angeles about Los Angeles. It had been reprinted by Wallace Hebbara of Santa Barbara a few years before — the printing having been done by the Lakeside Press in Chicago.
Evidently Hebbard had either gone bankrupt or not taken all copies of the book, so the Lakeside Press had made contact with us suggesting that we might be interested in taking over the balance of the sheets of this book which they had on hand.
So one of our next publications was a reissue of this using the Lakeside Press sheets, with a new title page and binding and jacket which I designed. It’s what we would call a real gutsy book, and Phil Hanna who wrote the blurb for the jacket of this new edition played up the gusto and the vitality of the man who had written the book.
The original jacket was quite a sensational comeon for the casual reader; however, the family, being still alive, protested violently and the original jacket had to be withdrawn and a new, less lurid, one produced. As far as I know none of the original jackets are still extant. I
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only have one copy of the book, and it doesn’t seem to be that jacket, so I don’t know exactly where, or if there are any around. The book itself was issued, as I recall, in an edition of 500 copies in this binding. We didn’t buy all of the sheets that Lakeside had available, and I don’t know what happened to the rest of the edition.
We also were considering a group of books called ‘Lurid California Classics,’ but we never got very far with that project. And we projected a book to be called Around the Year with the Lancer by Harry Carr who wrote his column ‘The Lancer’ in the Los Angeles Times and was a very important figure in California journalism at that time, but it was never done.
The next few years — 1934, 1935 and 1936 — saw us publishing a substantial number of books. The year 1934 had the largest group with a total of eight books including A Gil Blas, Robinson Jeffers: The Man and His Work by Powell, an Indian book by Dr. Hartley Burr Alexander of Scripps College, and a delightful book called Who Loves a Garden by Louise Seymour Jones, which was one of the pleasantest books that we ever did.
Also we published, though we didn’t print, a small edition of Recollections of the Grabhorn Press by Gregg Anderson. After leaving Southern California in 1932 Gregg went East and worked for the Meriden Gravure Company in Meriden, Connecticut. While there he and Harold Hugo
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started to do some small projects of their own, and they founded a book club comparable to the Rounce & Coffin Club in Los Angeles, which they called the Columbiad Club. For this club, each of the members was required to print a keepsake from time to time.
Since Gregg had worked for about a year and a half at the Grabhorn Press, he wrote this charming account of his memories of those years. He made it as a keepsake with an extra edition with The Primavera Press Imprint, which we sold out here on the coast to those who were interested in Gregg and the Grabhorns.
John Hodgdon Bradley wrote a charming little nature book called Farewell Thou Busy World which we did in a very small format.
And then we did the play Everyman, Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s version of it, which had been translated by George Sterling. The play was being given in the Hollywood Bowl and sponsored by the California State Chamber of Commerce, and they wanted to have copies of the book available for sale at the Bowl. The Primavera Press undertook this. We did an edition of 5,000 copies of which we may have sold at that time 1,000 or so.
The book supposedly was being underwritten by the California State Chamber of Commerce, but the play Everyman was not quite as successful as they had anticipated, and they ran into a deficit. Unfortunately on these projects, the deficits seem to be passed on to the creditors. The Primavera Press was never paid for the job, or only in part, and as a result The Ward Ritchie Press was
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not paid in full either. That was in 1936.
In 1936, we printed and published China Boy by Idwal Jones — a fine book. As you can see, the books which The Primavera Press published after it had been incorporated were quite unlike the paid-for books which it had published previously. They were all of literary value.
As I have mentioned, upon his return from Europe, Larry Powell worked for Jake Zeitlin in his bookstore, and he was brought into the Primavera organization, primarily as the workhorse. He not only helped us read and decide on the manuscripts, but he filled the orders, wrapped the books, mailed them and did most of the hard work.
Carey McWilliams was also brought into the organization inasmuch as he had drawn up the papers of incorporation and handled the legal affairs of The Primavera Press.
The third new member was an old college and high school and even grammar school pal of Larry Powell’s and mine, Cornells Groenewegen, who was working with an accounting firm in Los Angeles. He handled the accounts.
According to the original agreement, we were to have a Board of Directors meeting at least once a month to discuss the problems of the press, to consider titles, and in general, get together and discuss things. Originally Jake had his little shop at 706 1/2 West Sixth Street, but about this time he moved down Sixth Street a block and crossed the street and had a charming little bookstore
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designed for him by Lloyd Wright. It was here that most of the meetings of The Primavera Press were held. The meetings sometimes turned in to be quite amusing and interesting affairs, as you can imagine with this group of gentlemen.
Phil Hanna was one of the most articulate and precise speakers I’ve ever known. Every word was calculated and was exact. Phil also had a very learned air. He was a bon vivant, he was a gourmet, and he was strangely enough one of the hardest drinking men that I have ever known. He was thin, stooped by arthritis, and you would hardly consider him capable of downing the quantities of alcohol he did.
The meetings were started at Jake’s, but next door there was a little bar. During these days a martini would cost about fifteen cents, or twenty-five cents at the most, and usually we would have a bite to eat in the bar and, of course, we would have a drink or two. Sometimes the drinking consumed most of the evening as Phil was not one who enjoyed stopping once he had started.
Some meetings were not too productive, [laughter] but they were always enjoyable, and the conversation seemed, at the time, to be rather exciting. Jake was always great, and Larry Powell and Groenewegen added their occasional wit.
We had a statement of the assets and liabilities of the corporation as of April 30th, 1936, from Groenewegen. During the year 1935: we issued three titles, and in 1936 we got out one title. So the stream seemed to be running out. Groenewegen, as a postscript to his statement, said:
it is obvious that the sales for the past year and the current asset status are both very unfavorable. Unless this is altered, our current publication will probably be our last.
At about the same time, I had petitioned the corporation to allow me out of the stipulation where I couldn’t print or publish anything on my own, because it became exceedingly difficult for me to rely completely upon printing the publications of The Primavera Press. They were generous enough to allow me this freedom to work independently from The Primavera Press.
The burden of trying to run this independent organization was a little too much for each of us since we all had our own jobs in which we were primarily interested. It had been a pleasant plaything for us. It had started out seriously, but as time went on, it took too much time. So it was decided in 1936 to dissolve the corporation, which was done, and the assets were turned over to me as the surving member of The Primavera Press.
I returned to Jake some of the early books which he had done before the incorporation. The rest of them were stored in our cellar on Griffith Park Boulevard until we sold the place. Before I could remove the books the person who had bought the place [laughter] cleared the place out. Evidently the rubbish man who was called in recognized the books to be of some value because for the next few months, I saw stacks of them for sale at various antiquarian book stores around town.
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Dixon: At least they weren’t burned.
Ritchie: No, they weren’t burned. Well, that is the story of The Primavera Press.
Dixon: Was Libros Californianos published under the incorporation?
Ritchie: Libros Californianos, as I recall, was under Jake’s own imprint. It was done in 1931. It possibly was a Primavera Press imprint, but it was pre-corporation. It was compiled by Phil Townsend Hanna, published by Jake Zeitlin, and printed by Hackett, Newell & Ritchie before I had started my independent printing company.
In the summer of 1933, our family home in South Pasadena was sold. My mother had died in the spring. I had continued living there with my little printing shop in the back, but the family was in no financial position to carry this house. It was sold that summer, and it was necessary for me to seek other quarters.
My older brother, Palmer Ritchie, had always had a great interest in real estate, which he dabbled in — he bought and sold houses and was continually getting something and picking them up. He noticed in the paper a large ad telling of the liquidation of the Moreno Highlands in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles.
Antonio Moreno had married a Canfield girl from a wealthy oil family, and they had a huge house on the summit of a hill between Griffith Park Boulevard and Silverlake* overlooking all of that area. In the twenties, they had developed
‘Silverlake’ sounds like a beautiful place, but it is less beautiful when you know how the name came about. It was a reservoir, not a lake, and it was named ‘silver’ not because it glowed that colour on the moonlight. The neighborhood was named for Water Board Commissioner Herman Silver, who was instrumental in the creation of the Silver Lake Reservoir in the neighborhood, one of the water storage reservoirs established in the early 1900s. The name reminds me of the ‘Moonlight Sonata’, a piece by Beethoven, who never knew it by that name. Wikipedia says that the name ‘Moonlight Sonata’ comes from remarks made by the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab. In 1832, five years after Beethoven’s death, Rellstab likened the effect of the first movement to that of moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne [in Central Switzerland.]
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all of that hill which extended from Silverlake on over to Griffith Park Boulevard and up to Rowena Avenue. It was beautifully done with all underground utilities and curving streets up those hills, but the Depression had come and it was impossible for them to sell their lots. In 1933, they offered them at ridiculous prices.
With my brother, I went over to look at some of these — they were selling them for $300 and $350. We had a little money from the sale of our house in South Pasadena and we decided to grab some of them. We bought a total of five lots.
The plan was for us to build a small studio on one of them, so I could move the printing press there. But while Schindler was getting some plans ready for it, my brother noticed that the original old ranch house on Griffith Park Boulevard was also for sale, quite reasonably. It was situated on five lots, high on a bluff, looking down on Griffith Park Boulevard. We bought that, with the plan to move me and the press in there and with my brother living upstairs in the house.
It was a typical early California house. I don’t know what the original name of this area was, but evidently at one time all of these hills were a cattle ranch. The foreman of the ranch in the early 1900’s who lived in this house was William S. Hart who, being available and suitable at the time that the movies came to Hollywood, was called in to take a cowboy role, and became one of the early stars
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of the motion pictures. But this was the old house in which he had lived for many years before he became a star.
It was on the side of a hill, and the lower part was completely unfinished. This being in the depth of the Depression, there was lots of available labor. My brother was running an apartment house in Alhambra in order to keep body and soul together for himself, and there were several people who were unable to pay any rent because they didn’t have anything with which to pay it.
There was a conductor for the Southern Pacific Railroad who had been let off. There were various people with various skills. He herded a group of [laughter] these together, and each day they would come over. We dug out the hillside under the house and laid a cement floor, paneled it, and created a most attractive studio out of the underportions of this building.
We gathered materials from all over. When I was a little boy I remember on North Broadway the Baker Iron Works. In 1933 they were dismantling it. We went down there and bought half a dozen huge windows. They were about eight feet tall by five feet wide, and we put these around the studio. We whitewashed the inside, and also we had gotten a huge beam, about a 12 x 18, which spanned the entire length of this room, with large 12 x 12 uprights to hold it up, and these we painted black. From my memories of Schmied’s home in the suburbs of Paris, I recollected the
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great candelabra that he had over the diningroom table, which could be let down by a rope to light the candles and also to replace them as they burned out. I found one of these in a junk yard and fitted it with a similar rope arrangement. I bought some beautiful linen curtains at the bankrupt sale of the Cheesewright Decorators in Pasadena for the windows. We covered the walls with examples of printing which I had gathered from everywhere, Eric Gill pieces and old manuscript pages. Included in there was my family’s old grandfather clock, their grand piano and my Washington hand press. It looked much more like a studio or an antique shop than a printing shop when we got through with it. In a little separate room up a handful of stairs was my study, which was completely surrounded with books. It was where I designed while things were going on down below.
It became a hangout for salesmen. [laughter] It was much more interesting coming over to The Ward Ritchie Press and sitting around than it was to be out pounding the pavement, especially since I had a phone available there and each half hour they could phone their office and see if there were any calls for them. There were plenty of books to read, and quite occasionally they would bring along a bottle of booze which they would sip on while reading a book and enjoying themselves.
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The movie studios also discovered this hangout. They came over and took dozens and dozens of pictures of all aspects of it and attempted on various occasions to reproduce it for some of their own sets when they needed a printing scene. It helped augment my income at that time because when they would do one of these scenes, they would also want some of my equipment. The Washington hand press was one which they especially liked to use. The building was on a hillside, and the press was one of the most difficult things to move I’ve ever seen. The poor moving men from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cursed every time they had a picture with a printing scene in it because they would have to bring a truck over to get it. The truck couldn’t get up to the studio because of the steep, curved driveway, so they would have to get rope and pulley [laughter] and planks and work the press down the hill and then in a few weeks bring it back up. But the pay was good; I would get about $25 a day for the use of it.
In some instances they even rented books from me because they just liked the appearance of the books on my shelves. They could have gone down to Dawson’s or any other secondhand bookstore and gotten any quantity of books. But they always felt that they didn’t look like the books which I had — which is true because there were many valuable books. I always worried when they went out because
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I didn’t know what handling they might get on the sets.
This was the studio which Powell so aptly described as ‘Ritchie’s Road House.’ Gordon Newell, my sculptor friend, did a plaque of the printers’ mark which I’d adopted of the skull and the anchor, which we put down in on the street level in front of the studio. Gordon, about the time that I moved in there, discovered a little house on Hyperion Avenue which was a stone’s throw down the hill and which had been the original old mill of that area. In former days before they had built the two highways — Hyperion Avenue and Griffith Park Boulevard, side by side — there had been a little valley with a stream running down the middle of it, and this little building of Gordon’s had been the mill which the ranch had evidently used for grinding the grain. He converted it into a studio for his sculpture. We had an intimate little group around there, with continual good times and camaraderie.
Jake was living nearby, in the hills of Echo Park in a typical charming Jake Zeitlin house. I recall, early in 1934 — I believe it was — being invited to a party at Jake’s. Among his other guests was Sarah Bixby Smith, who had written Adobe Days, which Jake had published some years before. She had written innumerable books of verse.
She was a very talented woman. During the course of the evening, we chatted a bit, and when it was time for her to go home, and her having no transportation, I offered to
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take her. She, at that time, lived on Los Feliz Boulevard in one of those ample mansions. As I took her home, we conversed all the way. She evidently enjoyed our conversation because she soon called Jake and said, ‘I would like you to have another party and invite my daughter to go with Ward Ritchie.’ Jake accommodated her, and I picked up Janet Smith, her daughter. We enjoyed one another and became engaged and eventually married.
It was a most interesting family. Sarah Bixby Smith’s father was Llewellyn Bixby, the first of the Bixbys to come west — in 1852, I believe. He came out here with a cousin, Thomas Flint. They found the digging for gold not as much to their liking as they had expected, but they saw the great possibilities in the State of California. They also saw the need for cattle and for sheep out here.
The Bixbys had come from the state of Maine, and Llewellyn went back there as soon as he could and made arrangements with his other brothers and cousins to come west with him. They bought as many sheep as they could, and how they were able to drive thousands of sheep across the perilous badlands and deserts and bring them safely to California is almost incomprehensible. But they did it and that was the beginning of the Bixby’s fortunes.
The Flints and the Bixbys together acquired a ranch, I believe, near Hollister. Northern California was where they started their sheep ranching. From there, they gradually sent their tentacles out, gathering in more and more land, which included the Cerritos Ranch and the Alamitos Ranch in the Long Beach area, the Rancho Palos Verdes, and at one time they were partners with the Irvines in Orange County.
In time the Flints and the Bixbys decided to separate their properties. The Flints took the northern California ranches and the Bixbys took the southern California ranches. Sarah was born in California, and the story of her early days and experiences is told in her book, Adobe Days.
She attended the preparatory school at Pomona, and there she met Arthur Maxson Smith who was a member of the first graduating class of Pomona College. They were married. He was a handsome man. Sarah was a woman of beauty in her soul, but she was not the most beautiful woman to look at. When I knew her, she was rather plump with very plain features.
All of her children were quite handsome though. Sarah was one of the most generous persons I have ever known and one of the most likeable persons, but in many ways she had a tragic life. She was popular partially because of her family’s position but mostly because of her vibrant personality. I suspect that she had to support her husbands to a great extent.
Arthur Maxson was quite a playboy. He was, at one time, president of Punahou University in Honolulu. But I’m afraid that his amorous inclinations [laughter] were his undoing over there.
I have never been told too much about this episode, but I did read the hundred-year anni-
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versary history of Punahou and the tenure of Arthur Maxson Smith as President is glossed over with about one sentence. [laughter] They lived in Claremont where he taught for a good many years at Pomona College, and that is where the children grew up. There he became enamoured of the live-in household helper, who was also a student at Pomona College. Sarah, I imagine, maneuvered him up to Berkeley in order to thwart this romance, and he became pastor of the Congregational Church up there.
There was quite a scandal when he and this girl ran away together, leaving Sarah stranded. [laughter] The replacement pastor was an energetic young man by the name of Paul Jordan-Smith. To the surprise of the congregation the new pastor replaced the old pastor in many ways and Sarah Bixby Smith and Paul Jordan-Smith were married. Paul Jordan-Smith had three children; Sarah Bixby Smith had five children. They all grew up together.
Eventually they moved back to their house in Claremont, where Paul Jordan-Smith devoted his time to writing. He translated into modern English Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, wrote an explanation of Joyce’s Ulysses and several novels.
As usual, I believe that Sarah was responsible for the expenses and the raising of the children. Janet was the youngest of Sarah’s children and the only girl. Wilbur Smith, now at the UCLA library, was one of Paul Jordan-Smith’s children, and he grew up there with the rest of the family.
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When I first met Janet, she was living with her mother and Paul Jordan-Smith on Los Feliz Boulevard. Sarah, discovering a situation similar to that which had confronted her with her first husband, with Paul Jordan-Smith becoming interested in his cousin, Dorothy, built this house on Los Feliz to divert him. He wanted to be in Los Angeles.
In back of the house, she had built a studio for his books and a place to work, but it didn’t solve the problem. At about the time I met Janet, Sarah and Paul Jordan-Smith had separated. Sarah had one of those great forgiving hearts she was so generous, that she never blamed anybody. She brought to her bosom everyone that was involved in her vast family.
Thanksgivings and Christmas were always great occasions for the Smith family as long as she lived and after. She not only included her past husbands, but their wives if they were around. Paul Jordan-Smith and Dorothy Smith have always been a part of the Smith family gatherings, even to this day.
She loved people and enjoyed entertaining them. She had a continual series of parties. She would say, ‘November; this is my time to have lawyers over.’ So she would get half a dozen lawyers and their families — prominent people in Los Angeles. It was great fun to go to any of her parties because the conversation was stimulating and she would lead it around to subjects interesting to her guests. She knew everybody and everybody knew her. On another
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occasion she’d, say, ‘This is my time to have doctors.’
She would have a half a dozen doctors, and they all had their own points of view, and arguments would go on. It was the same with the artists. We got to know the Arensbergs through her.
Our great loss was her death. Janet and I had been married a little over a year, and our son Jonathan had just been born. We had taken him back to Sarah’s apartment for the first few days after Janet came home from the hospital.
Sara was soon after taken ill. The doctors couldn’t diagnose what it was, and it was feared that it was an epidemic of some sort and she was isolated, especially from Janet and the baby.
But after she died, it was found to be trichinosis. She had had a companion, a German girl, who lived with her, and the German girl loved raw meat, which she would make into steak tartare. She had gone to the market and bought some beef and had them grind it, and evidently the butcher had previously just ground some contaminated pork. Both of them were taken ill. The German girl survived, but Sarah Bixby Smith died. I only had about a year of real acquaintance with her, and it was all too short a time.
The family continued the traditions that she had formulated and this vast family of brothers and sisters and sister-in-laws and their children gathered for years at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a little more difficult
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now because there have been many divorces and new wives and in-laws brought into the family, and the younger members have their own new affinities. You just can’t continue with so many grandchildren and great grandchildren and all of their separate family relationships.
The Smith brothers were all hellions in their youth. I’ve heard them tell tales about Pomona College in the early days.
Once they got into Sumner Hall at night and, somehow or other, found a way into the college office where there was an old safe in which were kept all of the college records. They cut a hole in the floor and lowered the safe down into the subbasement and then shored up the floor again, put the rug over the spot and the next day when the college officials came, there was no safe! And they couldn’t find it. It was months before they finally discovered it. [laughter]
Another time, I remember of their telling of getting into the chapel one night, fixing the seats in the choir section. The choir marched in and standing, sang beautifully. When they finished they sat down in unison and as a group they went phooomp, with their bottoms crashing to the floor! [laughter]
Roger Smith was the next older to Janet. He was thrown out of Pomona College for bootlegging [laughter] but managed to go on to Cal and graduate there and then to Harvard Law School. He’s now vice-president, secretary, and
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legal counsel for Lockheed Aircraft Company. Llewellyn Smith died several years ago. He was with Paramount Pictures in their business office, a graduate of Harvard Business College. The next oldest brother was with the United States Steel Company as their chief economist. That was Bradford Smith. The oldest brother named after his father, Arthur Maxson Smith, Jr., was a lawyer, at one time with O’Melveny and Myers and later independent. They were all successful, competent men who despite their early proclivities for fun, settled down to sane productive lives.
Ritchie: Paul Jordan-Smith was the most lively member of this family that I had married into. As a young man, he always maintained that life was only for the young, and he’d never allow himself to live beyond the age of forty. He gradually stretched this limit as time crept by, and now at eighty he is still vital, with a sparkling tongue. I first met him when I was about nineteen — a freshman at Occidental College — and he must have been on the verge of forty at that time. [laughter]
At Occidental, there was a literary club which Carlyle MacIntyre, my heroic Freshman English teacher, thought to be rather dull. He gathered a few of the younger people around him and started a new club. Gordon Newell was also a member of this club, and one day he mentioned the fact that his friend Raymond McKelvey, who was attending Pomona College at that time, had invited a few of us to attend the meeting of their club at Pomona, at the home of Paul Jordan-Smith. We went out there in great anticipation, and that was my first meeting with both Paul Jordan-Smith and Sarah Bixby Smith.
Paul was at his best that night, reveling in all the young people listening and admiring him. Of course, the impressions of a youth about family relationships could be suspect, but at that time I wondered about this youngish,
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exhilarating man being married to an older drab woman.
Sarah was obviously much older than he and terribly devoted to him. She shadowed and adored him. We were conscious of this and subconsciously felt that he had made a good thing of marrying a rich old widow.
But as we sat around on the living room floor, he talked quite naughty for those days and most stimulating.
He was reviewing literature. He talked about one of his great favorites, James Branch Cabell. I had recently read Jurgen which is a slightly naughty book — or it was considered so then though now it’s quite tame compared to what’s now available. I was quite excited because I had bought with my hard-earned money, working at Vroman’s, a limited and signed edition of Straws and Prayer-Books, by Cabell.
Smith showed me his collection of Cabell. He also had a fine collection of Samuel Butler. Another great favorite of his was Arthur Machen. Paul Jordan at that time was greatly influenced by James Branch Cabell with his intricate, ornate style of writing, with none of the simplicity which we usually associate with great literature. P.J. (Paul Jordan) wrote several books there in Claremont in which he aped this style.
Among the possessions of P.J. which I remember at that time with great envy, were two little lanterns which he had on either side of the fireplace. He told the story of how he had acquired them. He had been in France at the time that Anatole France had died. Being a literary
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hero worshipper, he went to the funeral. He noticed that following the French custom, two lanterns were lit and used in the ceremony at graveside. P.J. waited until everyone had left and then arranged with the gravediggers to buy them in memory of Anatole France.
P.J. has written his own autobiography, which was published by the Caxton Printers in Caldwell, Idaho, so most of his story is pretty well told in that. My memory is only hazy on many subjects. I know that he went to Emory and Henry College for a couple of years. He was interested in religion at that time and after a falling out with his family transferred and worked his way through Chattanooga College. He went into the ministry. He was a vital and dynamic man, very unorthodox.
I recall his getting the pastorate of a broken-down, financially desperate church in Chicago which he managed to build up in no time at all. It always amused me when he told how he’d dramatize everything to get publicity and to draw people into the church. He said that he would wait until the church was filled and people were waiting and restless and then he would dash up the aisle and leap up onto the podium, and as he was turning around, he would start preaching loudly and clearly with gyrations and antics. [laughter]
He explained that tricks like this resulted in greatly increased attendance because the people were always more interested in a show than in a message, though he attempted to give them that, too.
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World War I: found Paul Jordan-Smith a most ardent pacifist. I remember, when a boy, that down the street from our house in South Pasadena there was an influential family by the name of Bent who had quite a large house. I don’t know why I happened to go to a meeting there because I couldn’t have been over nine or ten at the time, but the Bents had mentioned to my mother that they were going to have a speaker and wanted us to come down and hear him. This being before the babysitter era, I was taken along. [laughter]
It was a little scary at the time because here was a pacifist speaking vehemently against America’s participation in the war, and there was the possibility that the place might be raided, or that there would be trouble of some sort with other neighbors. However, this particular night went along peaceably enough.
While I can’t now remember now what P.J., who was the speaker, said at that time, I do remember talking to him many years later about his experiences as a militant pacifist. He laughingly told of [laughter] almost being killed several times and escaping from several unruly crowds.
In the Second World War, he had changed completely. He was the most militant of hawks. I believe he felt that there was definitely something to fight for in the Second World War, because of the Nazi and Fascist philosophy, which he thought would make America and the world untenable if they prevailed. He preached that we should go in there immediately and put all of our might behind our Allies.
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P.J. Is a fascinating speaker. Even at his present age, he’s full of mannerisms and facial expressions that make him a born and absorbing story teller. He also has a great presence of mind. One amusing incident shows the resources of this man many years ago when he was the speaker at some banquet. He arrived late, so he wasn’t able to prepare himself, and he was taken in and wined and dined at the banquet. Then there were these innumerable speeches and introductions, and he was unable to leave the table, though after all of this there was a need’. [laughter}
Finally, he was cornered, and when he was called upon to give his talk, he was in such agony that he didn’t know exactly what to do. But with presence of mind, he got up and humphed and har-r-rumphed a bit and then took the pitcher of water and started to pour himself a glass, but unfortunately he spilled it all down the front of his suit! [laughter] This gave him the opportunity that he needed, and despite the fact that the audience was greatly concerned — the fact that their poor speaker was soaked with water — he was able to continue his speech. [laughter]
During the many years, when the family would gather at Christmas and Thanksgiving, we always enjoyed most of all the contribution of Paul Jordan-Smith. For the thirty-odd years I attended and for many before I came into the family, one of the requirements for Thanksgiving was that each family would prepare some sort of entertainment. Some of the more talented ones would have a song and a
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dance and others, a little dramatic skit, which usually were original. P.J. would do one of his fine monologues which were always of great interest. During the earlier years when most of our children were small, it was also a tradition that there would be a storytelling time for the children themselves.
P.J. was magnificent; his stories were always imaginative. He was always the number one man who would take the children into another room, and he would tell his truly wondrous tales to them.
Uncle Maxson Smith was another very articulate man, a lawyer, who had a rather macabre turn of mind in storytelling. His stories were always grisly and full of horror. [laughter] He would almost send the little children into shock with these terrible things. There was always the cutting off of arms and legs and things like that — and war stories.
I was the third who was involved in this, sort of a letdown I’m sure, after the other two. My stories were fantastic stories about a creature, a man called Any Old Thing. I imagine that this had started at the very beginning when I was called upon to help entertain the children, and I asked them what they wanted to hear about and they said, ‘Any old thing.’ [laughter] So I started out telling them the story of Any Old Thing, and it became progressively a continuous history of Any Old Thing.
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Among other possessions that we had at home at that time was a picture of Janet which Sarah Bixby Smith had painted when Janet was a little blonde girl of eight or nine. It was a sweet little thing. Sarah had a good deal of talent in painting, but it was quite academic. At one early exhibit in Los Angeles, she had submitted the painting, and it was hung among many others. But one of the ‘smart’ young art critics singled it out — it being so academic and so prim — as an example of exactly what the modern artist shouldn’t be doing. He wanted more avant-garde painting.
This was a long time ago, and America was not in the forefront in those days, of contemporary art, as it is now.
Still there was enough seeping over from France with the Cubists and the others, that this critic was trying to stimulate a new approach to art here. Unfortunately for Sarah, he picked on hers as an example of the old academic style which the Americans should be forgetting.
It incensed P.J. to the extent that he said, ‘Well, if that’s the kind of painting they want, I can do it’.’ He took some of Sarah’s paints and started splashing them on some canvas which she had around. One of the first, he submitted to a show in Chicago and was given the first prize for it. He didn’t use his own name; It was under the name of Pavel Jordanovitch.
And he concocted a completely false biography which he had sent along with his paintings, about being a poor Russian who had come to America and this-and-that. The painting was reproduced in some international magazines,
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and he followed with several others. I don’t think any of them quite compared with the first one which was a painting of a Negress at a washtub,in bright and strident colors. There was a watermelon down there, and there was also a small Negro boy that was snatching her purse.
When he was ready to send it to the first show, he couldn’t find a frame that would fit the whole picture. He sliced the end of it off where the little colored boy was. All that was left sticking out was the hand, [laughter] He fitted it into the frame and off it went.
Somehow or other, all these paintings came to us, and we had them around the house for many years, including this little end which somewhere disappeared. I rather suspect that somebody grabbed it. Eventually P.J. exposed himself, and it caused quite a furor that Paul Jordan-Smith could thus hoax American critics.
He laughed about it often. It was always a lot of fun to have these paintings because often when we would have a gathering of artists we would get them out and have an exhibition of Jordanovitch paintings.
Dixon:He’s been written up for that hoax, hasn’t he?
Ritchie: Oh, yes. I remember an article in Newsweek at one time. Previous to that I am certain there must have been considerable publicity when the hoax was exposed.
There was an article a couple of weeks ago about him in the Times, and it mentioned this hoax. The story was a little different than my own memory of it because it didn’t mention
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the Sarah Bixby Smith painting — he was incensed by something else in this story. He used house paint on a lot of these paintings. The way he was splashing colors around, it was a little easier with house paint and a little cheaper [laughter] than ordinary paint and quite as effective.
Walt Kuhn, one of the most eminent of American artists, came to Los Angeles back in the late ’30’s, and Fillmore Phipps, who was running a gallery out on Sunset Boulevard at that time, invited him to come to a party at our house. Kuhn was in Los Angeles because he had decorated a parlor car or a barcar for the Union Pacific Railroad. They were making quite a to-do about the elegant decorations in this lounge car. They had toured him and the car around the country.
When he got to Los Angeles at the end of his trip, he stayed here for a few days. He came over to our place. This was during the Depression when none of us had very much money, but we would often gather and enjoy a party, especially with the artists around this area. When Kuhn came most of the artists joined us to meet with him.
In those days we didn’t ask, ‘Do you want gin, scotch, bourbon,’ or anything like that [laughter]. We would go out and buy a couple of bottles of whatever was the cheapest or what we could afford and that was it. For this party we had a couple of bottles of bourbon out in the kitchen and I asked Kuhn would he like water or soda?
He thought for a minute and he said, ‘Water, please.’ So I went out and mixed a bourbon and water and brought it in.
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He was talking and took one gulp of it and spit it out.
He said, ‘There’s whiskey in that’.’ [laughter]
I didn’t realize that he was a non-drinker. During the course of the evening, Alonzo Cass said, ‘Let’s get out the Jordanovitch paintings.’ So we got them out and spread them across one end of the room and all of the artists — Fletcher Martin, Barse Miller, Landacre and others — were there, all chortling because they knew of the hoax.
Walt Kuhn studied them very carefully, and then quite pontifically he said, ‘You know, these are the best paintings that I have seen since I came West.’
Well, this started an argument because we had some temperamental ‘geniuses’ there, each of whom considered himself outstanding in the West. Kuhn’s appreciation showed that Paul Jordan did have a certain exciting natural ability, which came through without any formal training.
After Janet and I were divorced, we gave the pictures to UCLA. I noticed that they are having an exhibition of his things at the library now, so I expect they would include them.
Well, this little meeting was one of a little organization that we had called, for want of a better name, ‘The Club.’
The Club for four or five years was quite an institution among the younger artists of this southern California area. It started at the suggestion of Dr. Remsen Bird, the president of Occidental College. He was always vitally interested in the artistic development of southern
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California. He was a man full of ideas, but naturally he had little time to pursue them. But he was always suggesting to others that they do this-and-that. Many a time when he would drop by the studio, he would say, ‘Ward, what we need is some sort of club, some place for the artists of southern California to get together and stimulate one another — to talk, to transfer ideas.’ After enough needling, I thought that it might be a good idea.
Our printing plant had been ensconced in our home on Griffith Park Boulevard, where the lower floor had been built to house the presses. But in 1936, we bought a building down on Hyperion Avenue, about a block away, and the press was moved down there, leaving this large studio with the huge windows, empty. A young writer, Peter O’Crotty, from the Disney Studio rented it for awhile. When he moved out the idea of The Club came to mind.
The first meeting was on Wednesday, June the 2nd, 1937. We started out with a luncheon meeting. Gordon Newell and Archie Garner, both sculptors, built a huge table for the occasion and benches made out of 2 x Vs.
It was so heavy that nobody could lift it, once it had been built. [laughter] It was twelve or fourteen feet long, with huge legs.
Gordon’s wife, Amelia, made salad and sandwiches. Onestus Uzzell and Tom Craig brought pictures over with which we decorated the room. Those attending the first luncheon meeting were Dr. Alonzo Beecher Cass; Lawrence Clark Powell; Theodore Criley, the architect; Paul
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Landacre, the wood engraver; Onestus Uzzell, portrait painter who at that time was teaching art at Occidental College; Archibald Garner, the sculptor; Gordon Newell; Peter O’Crotty from Disney’s; and Tee Hee, one of the animators at Disney’s; Gregg Anderson, who was rny partner; and myself.
Originally it was planned to have a luncheon every week, but within a short time we decided to have a sketch class every Thursday night. The luncheons proved to be unwieldy because we never knew exactly who would arrive or how much food to prepare, so they were given up.
But the sketch class survived until 1941 when we moved to La Cañada. The war started soon thereafter, and it became impractical for people to meet at such a far away spot.
Delmer Daves was the main support for The Club. [He was also the director of the Bogart-Bacall movie Dark Passage, set in San Francisco. — J.T.]
During the Depression days, Delmer was one of the few of the group who was making ample money, so he was able to pay his own dues, and also he took care of the dues of many of the artists who weren’t really able to put out. The dues were quite nominal, I believe, $2.00 a month, which paid for the model each week and also for beer. We would always have a case or two of beer at hand. In general, the sketching would come first. We would sketch for a couple of hours, and then the model would go home and we would sit around and compare our sketches and talk. These talk sessions sometimes were interminable, lasting until
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three and four in the morning. But they were wonderful; they were lots of fun.
Occasionally I would make some notes about these things. Here is one:
Present at this meeting were:
Delmer Daves, Karl Zamboni, Barse Miller, Ward Ritchie, Fletcher Martin, Edwards Huntington Metcalf, who was the grandson of Henry Huntington, and Reginald Pole, a Shakespearean actor and poet, who wasn’t a member, (Occasionally we would bring in other interesting people). As I wrote at that time:
No one arrived until eight thirty when Delmer came. Soon thereafter Zamboni dropped in and we discussed books. Miller came, bringing the drawing for his Christmas Card. About eleven, Fletcher called and said he was on his way over. Barse, Delmer, Reginald, Pole, Janet and I waited for him and then started a bull session which lasted until after one o’clock. Most of the time, Fletcher told us of his experiences in the University of Iowa, and especially his feud with Grant Wood. (Fletcher had been away teaching at the University of Iowa during most of that year, and he was back in Los Angeles during Christmas vacation).
It started in New York when Fletch was there recently for the opening of his show at the Midtown Galleries. A girl from Time magazine interviewed him in a bar, and after they had had plenty of drinks, she asked him about Grant Wood.
Fletcher let it be known that they didn’t like Wood at Iowa and that they had been trying to get rid of him for some time. That he was a lousy artist and that he copied photographs in making his paintings.
She sensed a story and so had the Chicago office call Fletcher after he had returned to Iowa City, to the University. Fletch then, sobered, told them that he had nothing to say and that they would have to get in touch with Dr. [Lester D.] Longman, the head of the department, if they wanted any statement.
This they did and turned a panic loose among the authorities at the University who prepared an innocuous typewritten statement for Longman to give to the representative when he came down from Chicago. However, the
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reporter confronted Longman with a letter from which he read with all of the devastating facts, and Longman had to admit that all these things were true.
Then Longman told the reporter that someone had a file of all the photographs Wood had used in painting his pictures. The reporter went to Wood and spent about twelve hours with him. Wood then rallied his staunch friends on the campus, and the place was an uproar of recriminations and fear that the thing would break publicly in Time.
Fletch then wrote Wood a letter, telling him that he thought he was an awful painter and that he would say it to his face so that he couldn’t be accused of saying it behind his back.
In the meantime, Emil Ganso, who also teaches at Iowa, lined up on Fletcher’s side because he learned that Wood had tried to squash his appointment. And also the Time reporter managed somehow to get the box of photographs out of Wood.
That is how the situation now rests, waiting for Time to use the story, unless enough pressure can be applied by the University to quiet it.
Fletcher had said that Wood couldn’t draw, so Wood’s publicity man went to Ganso and said that after Fletch had suggested that they have a public competition out in the square, that he wouldn’t agree to that, but to prove he could draw, he would take a strange model and, given eight hours with her in his studio, he would produce a sketch.
Fletch was sleek, well-groomed and newly haircutted. He said he hadn’t painted much while at Iowa because of too many social engagements and too many parties at his apartment. This was a practice he was going to have to give up unless he could find a house and give up his present abode. Just before he came out here, he said he gave a party in his apartment that became extremely noisy.
After the landlord had phoned, a few times, complaining, Fletch told him off. About four o’clock, the last of the drunks were carted out, and he went to bed. Around noon the next day, his cleaning woman came and, after surveying the place, came in and woke Fletch up, asking him what he wished him to do with that man in under the table. In the meantime, the forgotten man had awakened and staggered into Fletch’s room saying, ‘Well, am I the last one?’ [laughter]
These notes are a little loose as you can see, but they were written late that night after they all had left. But this was a typical example of a club meeting.
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As I mentioned before, Gordon Newell’s studio was across the block on Hyperion Street, in the little old mill. In the back of it, he had flattened out an area which was his yard, full of stones and his tools for sculpturing.
He and many of his friends worked there — Archibald Garner, and Jim Hansen. Another sculptor in our group was George Stanley. George made the motion picture Oscar. He also did the piece at the entrance to the Hollywood Bowl. Archie and Jim Hansen also did some outstanding sculptures. In the Los Angeles Federal Building are two figures — one of Lincoln which was Jim Hansen’s, which was produced in Newell’s little yard, and the other one was by Archie Garner.
The whole group was involved in the Works Projects Administration, the art project during the Depression years. Merle Armitage and Dalzell Hatfield were the men who administered it in this area, and they were sympathetic to the better artists around here. The Federal Building project was one of these projects.
There was also the design of the sculpture in front of the Planetarium in Griffith Park. My recollection is that either Archie Garner or George Stanley got that commission. I worked with Gordon Newell on an idea for the project but it wasn’t the one selected. Archie Garner also did the murals at the Inglewood Post Office.
My own part was in two or three little projects. One was the Declaration of Independence. I cut a big wood engraved initial letter for it and printed it on handmade
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paper in an edition of about fifty copies which presumably was distributed to schools of the State of California. I don’t know what’s ever happened to them. My own copy is now at UCLA; I think they have it at the library so at least there’s one extant. I also did a Lincoln speech and the final was a letter from Armitage to the head of the project in ’Washington upon its consummation.
The way it worked was that they would put you on a salary for a certain number of weeks while you were working on your project or I suppose, if it was big enough, a certain amount of money. They took into consideration your ability and your need and all of such things and also the possibilities of getting works of art to decorate the government buildings.
I had known Gordon since we had started Occidental College together. He transferred to the University of California at Berkeley for his last year and there became interested in sculpture. He got a job working with Ralph Stackpole who was at that time doing the Stock Exchange Building in San Francisco.
There, Gordon learned to use the tools and did the rough chipping for Stackpole before Stackpole refined and finished it. In 1930 he married Gloria Stuart who later became quite well known as a motion picture actress. They moved to Carmel where Gordon started working as a sculptor in earnest. Gloria came to Hollywood, and her rise as a young starlet was quite fast. After several years, Gordon began to feel like the tail behind
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the dog. She was so active in movie circles, and he became a forgotten man whom she would occasionally introduce at a party as her husband. Their marriage gradually fell apart. They had very little in common except an interest in one another’s work, naturally.
So he bought this little mill for practically nothing and moved in there. He began teaching at Chouinard Art School, and he there met a White Russian girl, one of his students, by the name of Amelia Bubeshka. I think Amelia took one look at this handsome young sculptor and decided that he was for her, because she left no rock unturned until she had gotten him.
They were married by our old friend. Judge Harold Landreth, in the big studio room in our place.
Almost as long as I knew Gordon, I had known Paul and Margaret Landacre. Margaret was one of the sweetest women I have ever known, and so self-effacing. She did everything for Paul, who had been crippled by a disease while he was in college at Ohio State.
It was unfortunate because he had gone to Ohio State on an athletic scholarship as the best prep miler in the state of Ohio. During his freshman year, he suffered from some illness that left him a permanent cripple. It caused him in his future plans to realign his life into the field of art.
He had a natural talent for drawing; he turned this into wood engraving, eventually. After the therapy of beginning to draw he took up making linoleum cuts because that was an easy way to make saleable
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prints. He soon started experimenting with cutting his designs on boxwood. While his technique was unorthodox, it was most effective, and he had such talent. He is probably one of the finest wood engravers that has been produced in America. He and Margaret lived quite an idyllic life, completely to themselves.
They had a small house which they had bought up on the Echo Park hills. It was pretty much of a wreck, but Delmer Daves took a great interest in Paul Landacre. While he wasn’t obvious about it, he was always helping. He looked at the house one day and.soon sent over some carpenters and had them reroof it and refurbish it.
When Paul was really on his uppers. The Club commissioned him to do an engraving for them, and we each contributed $25 or so which was given to Paul. In time we all got a print of a special engraving from him. Jake Zeitlin was also a benefactor. Jake organized the Paul Landacre ‘Print of the Month Club,’ and he got enough subscribers so that Paul had enough to live on during the depression years. Eventually Paul began to teach at Otis Art Institute, and he earned enough money to live on.
The great tragedy for Paul was when his wife Margaret died. Just a short while before, Delmer Daves had called me and said that they were doing a motion picture about an author and a publisher. He wanted me to design some book jacket and he also wanted to use some of
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Paul’s work. We gathered some of Paul’s old engravings and I was able to adapt them to three or four book jackets.
At that time Margaret was complaining a bit about some aches in her back, and she was going to the doctor’s to have a barium exploratory. The next thing we knew, she was being operated on. The operation showed that there was very little hope for her.
Paul and Margaret were counting their blessings to a certain extent at that time because the money that they were getting for these engravings was defraying the expense of the hospital and the operations. Paul didn’t realize how serious it was, and I don’t believe they told him right off. Eventually, they both knew.
Margaret died, and the day after, I went up the hill and knocked at the door. There was no answer, so I went back to my car and wrote a note to Paul and went around to back, where the post box was. I was there pushing it in when I heard a noise, something inside the house, I went back and Paul came out. He sat down and said, ‘I didn’t know who it was. I don’t want to see anybody, but with you it’s different.’ So I sat there all afternoon with him while he poured out all of the anguish from his heart. He was quite bitter at the time, as people can be when they see one they love so dearly die in pain right before them.
As Paul continually said, ‘They wouldn’t allow it to happen to a dog. And I prayed to them to just let her get out of her misery. But they persisted on keeping her alive as long as they could.‘
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He then told me that he wanted to have a suicide pact with Margaret toward the end. He told her, ‘With you gone, there’s nothing left for me. You can’t continue in this pain. You don’t like it. Let’s take some pills.‘
And she resisted it. She was a member of the Friends church, the Quaker church, and she thought it wouldn’t be right and correct. Finally he almost convinced her, and she said, ‘Well, let me think it over one more night and I’ll tell you.’ But the next day she had deteriorated so much that she wasn’t able to think or talk it over with him. And so she died.
One of the touching things that he told me was of a few days before she died when at she was lying in the hospital bed they had rented for her. She said to him, ‘I don’t want to sleep in this bed. May I come with you?‘
They had a huge old bed which was out on the porch, and she came and crawled in with him. He said that he put his arm around her and touched her on the thigh, and she said, ‘Oh, this feels so good, so wonderful’.’ And that was their life together.
When I talked to Paul, ‘How can you get along?‘
He said, ‘I don’t know. I can’t put my hat on. (He was crippled so.) It takes me an hour every morning to put my socks on. The neighbors are good. They will see to it that I get food. I have a half-brother down in San Diego and,though I haven’t seen too much of him and don’t
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know him too well all these past years, he kindly has asked me to come down there and live, but I don’t want to.’
About a week later, he decided to finish it all, and he turned on the gas in the bathroom but he evidently forgot to turn off a pilot someplace, and the whole place blew up. He wasn’t killed, but he was badly burned.
The neighbors rushed over and the ambulance came. He fought everybody off just like a demon; he didn’t want to leave the place. He wanted to die right then and there. They took him to the county hospital, and he was on the critical list for about a week before he died. I went down there once to see him, and it was pathetic. He was so badly burned all over his face with scars and scabs. At that time I couldn’t communicate with him at all. They had given him a sedative, and so I sat around for an hour.
Two days later he was dead.
I was asked by his brother to say something at his funeral. It was a pathetic occasion. It was held at one of the little mortuary rooms across from the cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard. Paul’s body wasn’t there; it was a memorial service rather than a funeral service. A few of his old friends had come, including one of the models that had posed often at The Club. She had read in the paper about it and had called me and said she had always liked Paul. So she had come, and, of course, Arthur Millier, the critic for the Los Angeles Times, was there and many other of his old friends.
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Ritchie: The preparation of the talk which I was to give recalled many old memories. I read this little eulogy to him.
We have come here to remember Paul and Margaret Landacre, the warm and loving couple that were friends of all of us. We all have memories of them. Mine extend over many years, and I should like to share them with you. A great many years ago, one night, I thought I’d write something about the Landacres. And I began, ‘Paul and Margaret live a couple of hill over from Silverlake. Their house, like a redwood dam, lies on a steep slope, backing up a few small areas of flat ground where flowers grow and where in the summertime there is the tallest stand of corn in the West. A twisting dirt road encompasses their place around three sides. It is barely wide enough for a car and always presents the hazard of a traffic snarl. But there is so seldom any traffic that the problem has never become acute. When it rains, people wonder if the Landacres will slide down into the valley below. And when with summer the spring grass has become brown and tangled beneath the oaks and eucalyptus trees and the lot cleaners begin to burn off the hills, people ask if the Landacres have survived. Only the initiate can ever get to their place. It even took the tax collector two years to find it. They don’t seem to live where they do. And according to the maps, the streets that should take you to them, don’t. Taxi drivers gave up years ago. And yet up there, the stars are very close. The breezes bring nostalgic music from the trains in the valley below. And the lights of the city make a varicolored pattern that the Landacres love and you would love.
This was as far as I got in writing at that time. Now, in regret, I wish I had completed that which I had planned.
Paul was nearly seventy years old. He was born on July 9th, 1893. Margaret was seventy-two when she died last month. They seemed so much younger. In appearance, I don’t think they had aged a trace in all of the years I had known them. Paul was a superb athlete when he was young. He was interscholastic mile
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champion of the State of Ohio. It was while he was at Ohio State University that he was struck with the illness that curtailed his physical activity the rest of his life. But because of it, he learned to draw. It was a therapy.
And after his marriage to Margaret McCreary on July 9th, 1925, art became a serious part of his life. First, it was etching, then he tried linoleum, before finding his true medium in wood engraving.
Back in the late 1930s,he wrote a short biographical note on himself:
‘My study of wood engraving, which started about thirteen years ago, was conducted almost entirely by trial and error as my only formal art education consisted of some intermittent classes in life drawing. At that time, much less wood engraving was being done, and there was no one in this vicinity to advise me. It was also difficult to find any books on the subject which necessitated my digging it out for myself.‘
My own memories of the Landacres began in 1928. Margaret was working for Jake Zeitlin in his small 10 by 15 bookshop at 714 1/2 West Sixth Street. It is difficult to imagine how much intense excitement about literature and art could have been concentrated into such a small area of Los Angeles.
The books seemed to crowd every cranny, books of the modern presses and artists, and all of the contemporary writers. But there was still room enough for a gallery, and there Jake Zeitlin gave Landacre his first show, and I bought my first print — one of those stark dramatic scenes of the Monterey Hills, which he depicted so well.
In 1931 Bruce McCallister printed and published a book of Paul’s engravings called California Hills. It was a great local success. And when Carl Zigrosser included some of Paul’s prints in his American Printmakers, his work came to national attention, and today his prints are in almost every important gallery in the United States, and his prizes have been innumerable.
Several years later to add to his honor, he was made a member of the National Academy.
Paul was both fun to ‘work with and fun to play with. Grant Dahlstrom and Saul Marks remember a book of poems they worked on with Paul back in 1933. They had a little poet trouble before the book was completed, but it was selected as one of the Fifty Books of the Year. Next year Paul was involved in two of the
I took him a batch of Peter Lum Quince’s poems to illustrate. He was still a little leery of poets, but he agreed for my sake to make some engravings, even though as he said, ‘The poems are lousy,’ not then knowing that I had written them.
He was a wonderful, honest and forthright man. The
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other book Saul Marks, Paul, and I collaborated on was A Gil Blas in California by Alexander Dumas, which was published by The Primavera Press.
There are many more books that he has illustrated, among which I should mention those of Donald Culross Peattie. Paul was a perfectionist and for Peattie’sNatural History of Western Trees he had hundreds of freshly cut branches sent to him from Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite parks all over the West. These beautiful boughs of pine and cedar, spruce and hemlock, were in every room and on the porches as Paul frantically tried to sketch them accurately. For the Landacres it was a beautiful experience, for they lived in their own deep-scented forest for weeks.
His last illustrations were for an edition of Darwin, published by The Limited Editions Club. He studied for months, as he always did with Margaret’s help, to be certain of the accuracy of his drawings. And then over a period of two years, he cut sixty of his most beautiful engravings. The book was printed in Australia, and it was shipped by slow freight.
It arrived just too late, and Paul never saw his last book. Once when Paul was being interviewed he was asked what Margaret did. He thought for a moment and answered,
‘She takes care of the correspondence, answers the telephone, is Chancellor of the Exchequer, drives me to and from wherever I have to go, helps push the lever of the press when I have to print a large block, delivers prints, checks the manuscripts when I am illustrating a book, keeps house and is an excellent cook, and then she acts as a critic and a balance wheel.
‘She boosts my morale when I am discouraged, and calms me if I get too excited over my work at the wrong time. Any art coming out of this studio is a dual production for sure.’
For almost forty years these two lived in intimate harmony. Only a few weeks ago, Paul told me how every thought he or Margaret had was for one another, how the only pleasures for either of them in reading, or going shopping for groceries, or to the class Paul taught at Otis was that of afterwards being able to repeat and to share the little experiences they had. They lived for one another. I think Paul is happy to be with Margaret again.
Archibald Garner was another member of The Club during those years. He was known primarily as a sculptor, but his drawings on our Thursday nights were some of the most delicate and beautiful that were done by any of the
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members of The Club. At that time there was a feeling of voluptuousness in the sketches he made.
He was married to Marie Garner at that time. Marie was an extremely beautiful girl, whose life had been dominated by her mother. Sven after their marriage, they lived most of the time with her mother and her mother’s lover.
The mother was a dress designer of some importance. She had decided, when Marie was a young girl, that she would make her life Important and to that end drove her incessantly.
Marie spent most of her childhood practicing on the piano. She had some talent and her mother took her to Vienna to continue her studies. She developed into a really gorgeous creature, and her mother wanting to capitalize on this beauty introduced her to and forced her to accept the attention of those she thought were Important in the world of arts and might further her daughter’s career. She was allowed, actually forced, to become intimate with several celebrities including, as Marie told me, Theodore Dreiser.
She was also forced to work so hard that she became tubercular. To this problem was added a mental one, resulting from her mother’s ambitions. For a while the whole menage rented our upstairs apartment on Griffith Park Boulevard. I saw quite a bit of them as I was living in the downstairs apartment.
Soon however they moved back to Hollywood, and Jim Hansen, who was working on a sculptured figure, as was Archie, for the Los Angeles Post Office,
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became a frequent caller at the Garner house. Before we were really aware of it, Hansen had moved in and Garner had moved out. [laughter]
Eventually Jim Hansen married Marie, though this too was only for a short period. They were subsequently divorced. Both Archie and Jim Hansen married again, very happily.
Jim was a tall, angular fellow who looked more like Abraham Lincoln than Abraham did himself. It was only natural that when he was doing this piece of sculpture for the Los Angeles Post Office that he should do one of Abraham Lincoln.
He had this great talent at sculpture, but he eventually gave it up to go into the more lucrative advertising field. His talent was such that he could make the transition easily and very successfully. For a good many years he did illustrations for various advertising agencies in Los Angeles, and subsequently moved to San Francisco where he was equally successful, though I haven’t seen or heard of him for several years.
Probably the most interesting of the whole group was Fletcher Martin. Fletcher was a broad-shouldered, physical sort of a man with a huge handlebar mustache, black hair, bright piercing eyes. He had grown up in Idaho where his father was a printer and newspaper editor. He would buy a paper in a small town, run it for a while and then get tired and move to another town.
Fletcher was brought up on farms near these various small towns in
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Idaho. Since he was the oldest boy of a large family of children, he was the one on whom his father relieved all his frustrations. Fletcher has told me that he got a beating every day of his life when he was a child. His father would come home from a hard day, and being irascible, if anything was wrong he would blame Fletcher and flog him for this.
Of course, it was inevitable that Fletch would eventually run away, which he did, to Seattle, where in time he joined the Navy. I don’t recall when he began to draw, but it must have been a childhood talent.
In the Navy, he was a rugged individual and became light heavyweight champion. Many amusing tales he used to tell at these meetings — he was one of the best and most dramatic of storytellers. I recall one occasion when he was telling us an episode in his Naval career.
It was in San Francisco when the Navy was there before going on maneuvers down around the Panama Canal. It was the last leave before departure, and Martin with some of his mates took advantage of this last night on the town. [laughter]
Fletcher Martin evidently overdid it somewhat because the next morning as he woke up he saw the fleet steaming out through the Golden Gate, and here he was still on dry ground in San Francisco together with another of his buddies. Despite their hangover, they felt that it would be important for them to join the fleet before it got too far away.
Knowing that it was going to stop at San Pedro on the way down, they
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floundered out in the street and hailed a taxicab and [laughter] asked the driver if he would take them to Los Angeles. Well, the taxi driver thought it over for a little while and looked at them and decided that he would. So they drove pell-mell down the coast to Los Angeles.
As they sobered up and began considering their problem, they realized that they didn’t have enough money to cover this kind of fare. So as they were going down Broadway in Los Angeles, and the cab had stopped at an intersection, Fletcher hopped out one side of the cab and the other boy out the other side as the cabby screamed like mad [laughter].
Cops chased them. The other fellow got away, but Fletcher not knowing all of the intricacies of Los Angeles, went up a dead end alley where he was caught and delivered to his ship. The officer on board took a dim view of what Fletcher had done, and he was thrown into the brig for the next three months or so.
But he also took a dim view of the cab driver who attempted to take advantage of the two sailors, so that he wasn’t quite as hard on Fletcher as he might have been. The cabby was severely admonished too.
It wasn’t until the fleet had arrived in Panama [laughter] that Fletcher was let out, and, of course, it being his first night of freedom for three months, he got into trouble again that night in Panama.
One other experience — Mrs. Millard’s estate was being liquidated in Pasadena, her magnificent collection of books, and pieces of art and furniture which she had brought to
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Pasadena from abroad — England, Italy, and France, and Spain. For two or three months, these things were sold by the estate at her Frank Lloyd Wright house on Prospect Circle.
It got down to the time when they wanted to close out the estate. Though I was terribly poor at the time and cash was an almost impossible thing to come by, I had known Mrs. Millard so well and enjoyed her treasures so much that I used to go over there occasionally and talk to the gals that were selling and was able to buy several little things which people didn’t want — some of the correspondence that she had had with Thomas James Cobden Sanderson of the Doves Press, and certain books which I liked.
Toward the end, one thing which I did want was a filing cabinet, but it seemed that the filing cabinets also were something that most people could use, and what was left was primarily furniture. There was one extremely large and handsome Italian, fifteenth or sixteenth century, chest, which evidently had been built as a hope chest, with carvings on it of a bride and groom.
It was suggested to me that this was something that I could use as a filing cabinet. So I said, ‘All right.
I didn’t want to pay over $15.00, but this evidently is much too expensive for that.’ They said, ‘Well, why don’t you make an offer of $15.00 then.’ I did, and a week or so later I was called and told to pick up my chest, [laughter] Fletcher and I borrowed a truck from somebody.
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We drove to Pasadena, and heaving and struggling we managed to get the chest out and up onto the truck. I don’t know how we did it to this day. Getting it back to our place on Griffith Park Boulevard was even worse because it was up on the side of a hill with perhaps thirty or forty steps to get it up to the house. We got it up there and left it right in the middle of the living room. We were completely exhausted, and couldn’t move it another foot.
So there it sat until the next Thursday night, which was sketch class. The first one to arrive was Paul Landacre, full of curiosity, and he looked it over and opened it up and then he had to crawl into it. By that time we heard others arriving and Paul said, ‘Don’t say a word.’ So he stayed inside of the chest and of course it was quite a topic of conversation. Fletcher, Delmer Daves, and Gordon Newell, all of them gathered around looking at the carving, commenting, marveling and feeling the texture of the beautiful wood. As we sat down to sketch the model, Paul gave out with just a little groan.
Somebody said, ‘What’s that?’
I said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know.’
Then they said, ‘Have you looked inside the chest?’
And I said, ‘No, it was locked. I haven’t been able to get into it.’
There was some chatter about it, and then we got back to drawing and then another little groan. By this time the
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artists were really getting curious, and there was all sorts of speculation as to what Fletcher and I had brought into the house. [laughter] Well, finally it ended, up with Paul coming out of the chest, happy and full of glee. [laughter]
Fletcher went east to teach at the University of Iowa with Grant Wood, as I have accounted in the note of his little running battle with Grant Wood while they were there. One or two wives later, he settled in Woodstock, New York, an artists’ colony.
He has illustrated several books, a couple for The Limited Editions Club. His paintings have been used by advertisers several times, and he is now one of the artists of the Famous Artists Group — a school sponsored by Norman Rockwell and others. He illustrated a couple of books for me — one, the book called Of Ina Jeffers in which he did a drawing of Tor House, the rock house that Jeffers had built by hand, and a unicorn, Una’s favorite symbol, which we used on the title page of the book.
Fletcher’s closest friend and fellow artist was Herman Cherry, and it was a strange combination because Fletcher was tall and broad-shouldered. Cherry was a small round-faced fellow; his head was like a ball; and his curley, kinky hair came down almost to his eyebrows. Yet, he was an extremely intelligent and jovial fellow and quite a good craftsman. He was married to a girl by the name of Denny Winters, who was probably a better painter than he was, which tends to hurt a man’s ego and pride, as it did his.
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We did a Scrapbook of Art together. At the time it sounded like a wonderful idea for teaching art to young people. It was made as a loose-leaf book. Cherry wrote an article about each of the famous modern painters which we printed and then added many blank pages after each painter on which could be pasted pictures by that artist cut out of magazines. In time, they would have their own scrapbook of modern art.
It was an easy way to save pictures which one has no way of handily preserving. Alex Brook, whose painting had recently won the Carnegie first prize, was out here at the time and wrote an introduction for the book. Alvin Lustig did a colorful cover for it.
After Fletcher went back to Woodstock, Cherry followed him back there and became what I would call a scavenger artist. He picked up anything — old pieces of glass, debris of all sorts — which he put together. He had quite a bit of success, enough success that Life magazine once devoted a page to the things which he had made up of the odds and ends which he had found.
Barse Miller was also one of those who frequented the place. Barse was a great watercolorist, one of the most facile that we had. While the others were mainly sketching the model, he quite often would come with his brushes and do two or three water-colors during the evening. We had a commission to do a book for the Book Club of California.
It was a collection of early California poems called Ballads
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of Eldorado. As I was conceiving the book, I got an idea that I would like to make it a running picture of San Francisco, starting with the cover. Here is a picture of the waterfront which showed on the cover, and as we turned the page, the illustration on the cover continued right on to the flyleaf, across it, as you go up to the hills of San Francisco. Then, as you turn the next page to get to the title page, it flows right into that; so you had a series of paintings.
I talked about this to Barse Miller, and he was quite enthusiastic about the idea. One Thursday night I brought a book dummy along with me, and while the others were sketching, Barse and I sat at the dining room table, he with his water colors, and as we outlined these things he did the whole concept right in the book.
When he finally did the finished drawings, all he had to do was copy what he had done. It was so completely perfect, this first thing, that there was really no problem except that we wanted the colors separated and so he did it over from that.
World War II broke up The Club. Barse became a captain in the Air Force and spent most of the war in the South Pacific, painting battle scenes. Fletcher became a painting correspondent for the Life-Time group and was sent over to the African and European sector. Another great friend, Millard Sheets, was sent over to India to draw on
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the Burma front. Barse and Fletcher were also extremely good friends and vied in many respects.
Fletcher, as you know, was strong as an ox and Barse at that time was almost as strong. I recall especially one incident. In addition to our Thursday night sketch classes, The Club loved to give parties. A good many of them were held right in our studio because it was handy, though every member at one time or another had a party for The Club.
They varied; once we had a gin tasting. [laughter] Another time we had a wonderful Halloween party in which everybody had to decorate a pumpkin and bring it. What this particular occasion was I don’t recall, but in the dining room we had a round table which we had covered with sandwich makings, mayonnaise, all of the things for later in the evening. As Barse came by, he knocked something off of the table, and he picked it up and went out to get a broom and came back with it just as Fletcher came by. Fletcher said to Barse, ‘Now don’t bother with this, let me do it.’
And he grabbed the broom from Barse and Barse said,
‘No, I spilled it, let me do it.’
Well, in a moment they were both struggling for the broom. This led to more serious strugglings. The next thing we knew the table had tipped over on top of them, with everything on the floor in a mess, which hardly made them pause.
Before long the party was a shambles. Finally as they looked at the complete destruction, they fell into a gale of laughter and left the
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cleaning up to us. [laughter]
There were many who came and enjoyed those. Tom Craig, a talented watercolor artist, was a student of Millard Sheets while attending Pomona College. He painted some magnificent watercolor scenes of the California coast before he became interested in raising flower seeds and went down to the Coachella Valley and gave up his art.
Onestus Uzzell was primarily a portrait painter, a fashionable portrait painter in Texas and Miami Beach and other places, who had been discouraged by his own success in that field and wanting to do more substantial painting had turned his back on his lucrative clientele to come and teach at Occidental College.
Ted Criley, though basically an architect, (a man who now is responsible for a good many of the buildings, in the Claremont college complex; he’s done all the buildings at Pitzer College, some at Scripps, and Harvey Mudd, and the rest), was a thwarted watercolorist.
As an avocation, he would go down to Ensenada and other places to paint. Tom Craig and Ted Criley both have enough facility to really enjoy the sketch class.
Dr. Alonzo Beecher Cass was an old friend of mine from grammar school and high school, and we had roomed together at Stanford. He’s an eminent pediatrician who’s done so much work on blue babies. But his chief avocation has always been painting. He has covered the walls at his home with Cass creations. A. Maxson Smith, my brother-in-law,
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while a lawyer, also became intrigued with painting and would come to these classes. His drawings were quite pixie, and he had a wonderful linear quality. He had no training at art, and when he started to draw, he seemed to draw a line around an idea. When it ended up, he would have a picture of a girl.
He got into one extremely interesting evening. I had brought a canvas to sketch class one night with a couple of dozen tubes of paint, and a palette. I thought I would do a real painting. I conceived it. It was a woman picking flowers; it was quite a fat little old lady with a kindly face who was stooping over to pick up a single daisy. As the others were sketching, I went to work with my paints.
Finally Fletcher Martin came over to look at it and said, ’’Ward, let me use that brush.’ So he started and I could just see myself getting into the National Academy with this painting. [laughter] Fletcher was working on it, and he was doing a beautiful job. And then Onestus came over, and he had to add something to it.
Then Tom Craig came, and he added his bit, and it was beginning to look pretty good. Then Delmer Daves came over, and he stuck a cigarette in it and then somebody else came and felt that it needed more paint at one place and emptied a whole tube on it. [laughter]
Well, before we got through with this, it was the most over-painted object that I have ever seen. Every tube of paint was completely gone and it was a good inch thick on the canvas. That was one of the
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great masterpieces of the art group. I wish I had saved it. Today, it would be ‘in.’
Delmer Daves was the most successful of all of the members of The Club. Delmer had been at Stanford when I was there, and he was the type of person who is successful from the beginning. He was chairman of the rally committee; he was the outstanding actor in most of the plays on the Stanford campus. He created the posters that were used.
He was a campus politician. He was into everything and on the top of the heap always. When he graduated, his acting ability naturally brought him to Hollywood where he thought he could get into the movies, and he did work in several of them. They were making a college movie which he was in.
The typical Hollywood producer’s and director’s concept of what a college was, was so childish that Delmer sort of took charge, and explained and arranged and helped them along with it. The next thing he knew he was writing motion picture scenarios in Hollywood which was what he was still doing during the era of The Club. He was most successful at it, and since then, he has risen to be his own director and producer, as well as writer, and has done some of the large movies to come out of Hollywood. [including the 1947 Bogart-Bacall movie set in San Francisco, titled Dark Passage. J.T.]
There was a chap by the name of Peter 0’Crotty who came and rented the lower studio after we moved the presses to Hyperion Avenue. Peter had just gotten a job at Disney Studies as a story board man, and as a writer. He was one
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of the most intriguing men I have ever known. He had complete charm, good looks and ability. He wrote several very fine short stores which Rob Wagner had published in his magazine in Hollywood, and had a very checkered career. Before taking his job at Disney, he had been a newspaperman in Hawaii where he had married a cute little girl called Betsy. They had lived for some time in Carmel where he edited and published a small newspaper until he was run out of Carmel.
O’Crotty could never let anything alone long enough to get settled. He could get the best jobs in the world, but after a while he became restless and had to agitate.
In Carmel, he got a little tired of the artsy-craftsiness of the place, and so on one occasion he thought, ‘I’ll make the town really interesting.’ [laughter] So he arranged with some of the more daring girls of Carmel to meet him very early in the morning before anybody was awake. He planned to do a brochure for ‘Carmel, the Nudist Colony.’
His approach was very matter-of-fact. Among the pictures there was one of a car in the service station. You could see two or three nude service girls cleaning the windshield, and putting oil into it. Then there was also a picture in which the girls were gossiping in typical housewifely fashion in the entrance to the P.O., ‘Going to the Post Office.’
He took dozens of such pictures and gave them such prosaic captions as one might find in any real estate pro-
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motion folder. [laughter] He and a printer up there decided they would publish a little book, and they went as far as having all of the engravings made when news leaked out and O’Crotty was asked to leave Carmel. [laughter]
He brought the engravings down to Los Angeles and tried to induce me to publish the book for him, but we never got around to it .
O’Crotty could last in a job about six months. He could always talk himself into a new one without any problem, but he could never last long because of this restlessness that got to him. After he had been at Disney about four or five months, he decided what the Disney studio needed was to be unionized. He started agitating and getting everybody upset; and this wasn’t the time when Mr. Disney wanted to have the unions in there. So O’Crotty left. He was the most magnificent name dropper I’ve ever run into.
You could go into a bar with Peter O’Crotty and you’d sit down and he would order this. Then obviously he was talking to you in a voice that was just loud enough so that the people nearby could hear. He would drop some names and incidents, and finally everybody would crowd in to hear more about it. Somebody would start talking to you and before you knew it everybody there knew O’Crotty and what a great man he was and what he had done, because he had been almost everyplace and had done almost everything.
I saw him quite often in the next few years because every time he got a new
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job he would come over to me and have a new card printed, [laughter]
Dixon:He could keep you in business.
Ritchie:It kept me going except that O’Crotty, through friendship, didn’t think to pay for these cards. He did get a job with Grover Jones at the Grover Jones Press one time as assistant editor on the magazine Jones which was Grover Jones’ hobby.
Grover Jones was the highest paid writer in Hollywood at that time, and he lived on Sunset Boulevard, out towards the beach. Somehow or other he got intrigued with the Linotype machine, and he found that the linotype operated just fast enough for him to think. He had one installed in the studio in back of his house, and he wrote all of his movie scripts on this linotype machine.
He would set a line on the keyboard and it would take just long enough to cast it to organize in his mind the next line he wanted to write. Through this he became interested in printing and having enough money at that time, he decided to do a little magazine for his friends which he called Jones.
He had various people write articles, and he wrote a good number himself and got it out every two or three months. It was a substantial magazine of sixty or seventy pages.
While O’Crotty was living at our place,I was working on a screen scenario about Johann Gutenberg, since we were approachingthe 500th anniversary of
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Gutenberg’s birth. As I wrote it, Betsy O’Crotty typed it up for me. I showed it to Delmer Daves once, and he seemed to like it and gave it to his agent. His agent got it around, and finally a director by the name of Lothar Mendes took an option on it and I could just see myself in big money. [laughter] Just at that time (it was around 1940) the Nazis invaded France and the Germans were not the most favored people in Hollywood, and since Johann Gutenberg was a German, the idea of the pictures was dropped.
But when O’Crotty started working for Jones on his magazine, he remembered this and told Jones, ‘Here is one of the most exciting stories you ever had.’ He asked me if they could publish it. It had to be rewritten because movie scenario style hardly makes good magazine style.
Jones got it and was so intrigued by it that he produced it in what he thought to be a fifteenth-century style, looking like a manuscript with great medieval illustrations. He also had a separate edition made which he gave directly to his friends.
But, again, O’Crotty lasted there only for five or six months and wandered on to become a photographer for the Union Pacific Railroad. The last two times I heard about O’Crotty was once when I had an article in the ‘Chefs of the West’ in Sunset magazine. In the same group there was a ‘Malibu Fish Dinner’ by Peter O’Crotty.
In 1950, whenever the centennial was of the State of California, they had a great pageant at the Coliseum and Peter O’Crotty was
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running that and always appearing in pictures dressed as a politician of the 1850’s.
One of the club parties was held at Delmer Daves’ place off Sunset Boulevard near UCLA, in the late ’30s or early ’40s. We decided to place a time capsule (with everyone present putting something into it) into the wall of the new studio which was being built for Delmer at the time. And now twenty-five years later I often wonder, ‘What’s in that capsule?’
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Ritchie: The Club, in addition to its weekly meetings and occasional social events in town, also had some most interesting experiences visiting some of the places that its members had out of town. I remember several parties at the Criley’s ranch, the old Stevens’ Ranch above San Dimas. But possibly the most interesting of these parties was at Delmer Dave’s cabin which was on Crestline up towards Arrowhead and Big Bear. I wrote about one of these parties, saying:
It was two weeks ago that we went on the Immortal Weekend to Delmer Dave’s cabin near Crestline. Gordon, Amelia and Hal Newell (Hal was Gordon’s son), George, and Bee Stanley, Fletcher and Henriette Martin, Paul and Margaret Landacre, Tom Craig, Filmore Phipps and his fiancée Helene, Onestus Uzzell, Delmer Daves and Janet and myself.
We met at the corner of Allesandro and Riverside Drive a little after noon and started towards the mountains, in a caravan. Janet and I went in Delmer’s car with the Landacres. The top was down, and the wind was fresh and warm. All stopped at Wilson’s in Claremont for lunch. We sat the length of one big table and confused the waitress with our orders. Leaving, we proceeded in caravan, arriving at the cabin a little before dusk.
At San Bernardino, Delmer had stopped for provisions and after looking around the cabin the girls started preparing dinner of spaghetti and wine. First we had cocktails which set everyone on a fine edge, except Gordon, who with a cold decided to go to bed. And we had dinner and a long cheery evening before the fire. Jokes, games, stories, and hilarious dancing made it very enjoyable.
The next morning, quite early, Tom, Janet, and Fletcher went out to the edge of the mountain that looked out over the San Bernardino Valley and made watercolors. After lunch, we all went to the point and drew. It was quite a sight to see them all sitting around sketching or painting. Tom and Delmer both drew a picture of me sitting on a big stump there. Afterwards Tom and I
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went over to where Janet was, all the rest returning to the cabin. But Tom wanted to do a couple of more water-colors and we stayed with him. I brought a couple of cans of beer along and was feeling very jovial.
It was beautiful. The sun streamed its light from the far west, the pine trees were a very dark green, almost in blackness, silhouetted, but the young oaks reflected the late light and their leaves shown yellow-green. Down below where the whole valley stretched out, a blue mist held the land with the tops of distant hills and more distant mountains looking like strange dark islands. A long cloud strung darkly across the whole sky. Above it white whiffs hung motionless. Everything was silhouetted in that light.
Tom sat painting, trying to get the color in the valley. Janet watched. The wind which whipped us a short time before when everyone was there became still. There was not a sound. The trees stood as in a Japanese painting. The ferns which covered the hills around us were yellow with the fall. A few crickets began to make noise down the little valley at our side. It became darker and Onestus came with the car to take us back to the cabin.
Tom finished two pictures there and gave me one which had on the back the one he had done of me on the stump. He was not happy with them.
The weekend ended. Each car headed for home separately. We stopped again at Wilson’s for dinner. It was a beautiful and perfect time, and everybody was congenial and happy.
Nothing could have made it better. Experiences like these helped to [congeal] (make) the members of The Club (more congenial; see the end of the last sentence above) and also interested them in having some permanent place.
I mentioned this at one time to Garner Beckett who was president of the Riverside Cement Company which owned Warner’s Ranch, and he mentioned that there was an old Butterfield Stage Station, an adobe, down there on the ranch, and possibly if we would like to take it and fix it up it could be ours on a permanent loan. So Roger and Rosamond Smith and Janet and I made the tour down there to see it and it was a most enchanting spot.
[ breaks off here, near the foot of page 480 of the original text.]
[ This is the end of the third quarter of the Ward Ritchie interview.]
[ Here is the first Part of the third quarter of this interview: Part One ]
«Printing and Publishing in
(JPR title: My Life in Printing)
JPR Interview Third Quarter, Part 1 of 2
an interview for the Library at UCLA,
third quarter of interview, Part One of Two, JPR 07
You can read the first quarter of this fascinating interview in JPR05, which includes bibliographic information about when the interview was conducted, who typed it up and so on, here, and the second quarter of the interview, which takes in Paris, the Balearic Islands including Majorca (Mallorca, in Spanish) and the town of Deyá (Deià), and Laura Riding, Robert Graves and Robert’s marital misadventures, in JPR06, here. The bibliographic information is done away with for the second and third instalments, which begin in medias res, as the Latin poet Horace advised. Photographs have been added; there were no photos in the original typescript.
The last section ended with George Macy writing to Merle Armitage:
Possibly you will not grow apoplectic at all, you may be so busy with your war work in Detroit that you cannot possibly undertake to produce this book for us; you may even have been wondering how you could let me down. If that is so, I will be greatly relieved. If you have been planning on designing the book, and will now conclude that I am letting you down, I will
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be very sorry. Cordially yours…
Merle was in the Air Force at that time. In 1942 he had enlisted as a major and at that time, was stationed in Detroit in the material procurement division, working with General Motors, Ford and others.
Merle didn’t take Macy’s suggestion sitting down. On April 13th, he wrote:
It was my suggestion that you do a book with Edward Weston’s photographs.
I have a written agreement with you to design Leaves of Grass with photographs by Edward Weston.
The fact has been advertised.
At your written suggestion, I proceeded with the designs.
My work in furthering this enterprise, including considerable personal effort and expense — as well as my achievements as a designer, are involved.
I cannot and will not accept the implications in your letter of April 10th.
Yours very truly.
On April 17th, Macy replied.
I am disappointed in the letter which you sent me on April 13. I ask you to look again at the letter which I sent you on April 10, and to compare it with your letter. It seems to me, as I look them over, that my letter to you is eminently friendly in tone, and does not justify the peculiar quality of your letter in reply.
In my letter to you, I reported the receipt of the photographs by Edward Weston; I asked your permission to turn this book over to another designer, I even suggested that, because you are now in Detroit, you would not be able to undertake to produce the book if you were the designer. Now you tell me something about the implications in my letter. Will you not explain this? To me, my letter seems forthright, I can see no implications in it.
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Would you also tell me what you would like to do?
Do you want to be paid, for the work you have done upon this edition of Leaves of Grass? There is no doubt whatever, of the fact that I asked you to serve as designer of our edition to contain the photographs by Weston, and that you prepared a dummy. I am very willing to pay your fee for doing this work, within the terms of the previous fee I have paid you.
Do you want to continue with the planning of this book? In this case you have two obligations: You would, in the first place, have to satisfy me of your ability, in Detroit, to plan the book which would be printed elsewhere; you would, in the second place, have to show me a dummy with which I would be satisfied. As you know I did not like your first plan.
Please believe, Merle, that very few of the plans which men make go smoothly. It is my job to produce some beautiful books for the members of The Limited Editions Club; but I have never yet been able to produce them without some difficulty. This edition of Leaves of Grass was planned for a series called ‘The Ten Great American Classics.’ That series was abandoned. At the present time, I am not planning further books for The Limited Editions Club, until I discover what effect the war will have had upon our members. Therefore, I am not planning to insert Leaves of Grass into our regular membership series, I am planning only to issue it as a special publication in an edition limited to only one thousand copies. If this plan does not work smoothly, I will have to abandon the idea of publishing the book until after the war. You must remember that I, like most business men, am beset with troubles, and will not willingly invite more of them.
Therefore, if I suggested turning this book over to another printer, it was only in order to cut down a measure of my troubles. Having disliked the first dummy which you prepared, I felt that there was no assurance that I would like any further dummies any better. Knowing that you were now in Detroit, I anticipated a great deal of difficulty in getting the book done if you were to design it while so far from your printing shop; and it is in my mind that this edition of Leaves of Grass must be published in August or September.
That is why I ask you to tell me what has annoyed you, whether you simply think I’m trying to evade the payment of your fee, or whether you feel that you must insist on designing the book no matter what the difficulties are.
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That leaves only one point which I must bring up. It is exactly true that you spoke to me about getting a book illustrated with photographs by Edward Weston. But so have dozens of people. Many years ago Miguel Covarrubias and Alexander King joined in presenting me with a copy of your book about Edward Weston, and at that time said that I ought to get some photographs by him to illustrate a book. The idea, that Weston should illustrate Leaves of Grass, was originated by me and not by you; this is contained in the correspondence, and there could be no doubt of it. I do not mean to make this point in an unfriendly fashion,
I consider it important only that you and I understand each other.
April 22, 1942.
My dear George Macy, Your letter of April 10, together with yours of April 17, demands a reply of some length and necessitates going into certain matters which may seem far afield, but which have a very direct bearing on my attitude.
In answer to your complaint that your letter was eminently friendly in tone, and questioning the tone of mine, I must say that your letter may be friendly in tone, but the content and the proposition which it outlines is anything but friendly.
So that you have no misunderstanding about my attitude, let me say that I shall resist with every legal, physical and moral device at my command, the proposal made in your letter of April 10, and amplified in your letter of April 17.
I first encountered the work of Edward Weston almost exactly twenty years ago and, since that time, I have constantly endeavored, by various means, to bring it to the attention of a wider public. I believe Edward Weston to be one of the significant American artists; and I further believe that no painter or artist in any other medium has a greater right to the term ‘distinguished’ than this photographer.
My interest has taken the form of presentation of Weston photographs to several museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York; I have written many magazine articles regarding it; I have assisted in arranging exhibitions, etc., in addition to producing the Edward Weston book in 1932. I’ve come to know him and his ideas; and this friendship has matured and stood the test of years.
It may interest you to know that the acceptance on
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the part of Edward Weston of your offer to do the photographs for Leaves of Grass required a great deal of consideration on his part. I made a trip to Carmel to talk this whole matter over with him. The amount of money paid him by you nowhere near covered his actual out-of-pocket cost of making such a trip, as it necessitated buying a new automobile and special clothes and equipment, in addition to the expenses of auto camps, hotels, gas, oil, tires, etc. Furthermore, it meant being away from his home for such a long time that his ordinary source of income from the sale of his photographs and from portrait settings would be seriously affected by the interruption. It was known that it would take several months to restore this patronage to normal.
It was only because a book of poems of Walt Whitman, with photographs by Edward Weston, and designed by Merle Armitage seemed a very robust idea, that Weston finally accepted.
It appeared to both Weston and me that this could be a monumental volume — one of those rare opportunities to match content, pictures and format to achieve something very much above the ordinary.
I keenly recall your verbal opposition when I proposed that Edward Weston should illustrate a book for you, during my visit to your summer home in the mountainside in Vermont in the spring of 1940. I have your letters of protest against photographs as book illustrations, in which you cite the work of Steichen as achieving only the effect of ‘stills’ from a motion picture in a book which he illustrated for you.
I observe,in your letter of April 17th, where you explained that many years ago two artists joined in presenting you with a copy of a book about Edward Weston and urged you to get photographs by him to illustrate a book, the following facts:
A: That you were apparently not impressed sufficiently with Weston’s photographs at that time.
B: That the book which was presented to you was a book which I had previously produced on Edward Weston.
C: That nearly ten years elapsed before there was interest on your part.
There is in addition, the very curious letter you wrote me while Weston was enroute, explaining that you were very much frightened by the type of photographs and subject matter that Weston was taking. Because of all this resistance I have little confidence in what you might do with an Edward Weston book. Nor am I impressed with the bows you are now taking for being proud of yourself for having thought of the idea.
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You would have to satisfy me that there was a designer available who could be trusted to achieve that certain contemporary, yet universal, feeling in the format and design of the book which would be proper and authoritative. After all, the man who designs this book must appropriately set the stage for two tremendous men, Whitman and Weston. Further, he would have to compensate in some manner for the fact that you have advertised me as the only man in America to design a book containing photographs (or words to that effect), in announcing this Leaves of Grass edition. I don’t think it is probable that you will satisfy me either as to another designer, or as to compensating me for the announcement.
I have no copyright on Weston, nor am I his manager. Nor shall I attempt to influence him in any way in regard to your proposition. I have, however, just received a letter from him telling me he has received a letter from you saying that you have not accepted my design and explaining about the Lakeside Press in Chicago. He says, ‘All this change is news; sad news to me.’ I obviously have no obligation toward Weston to fulfill.
There are some curious statements in your letters which are so very far off the beam, that I shall have to correct them. I will take one at a time:
1. You say, ‘Having disliked the first dummy which you prepared, I felt that there was no assurance that I would like your future dummies any better.’
This is a red herring statement. It is obvious that you have given many designers more than one opportunity on a job. You gave me three opportunities on Looking Backward. Further than that, I question your taste and understanding in this regard.
2. You say, ‘I anticipated a great deal of difficulty in getting the book done if you were to design it while so far from your printing shop.’ As you well know, I do not and never have had a printing shop. You have not experienced any impossible difficulty in working with printers as far away as England, Japan, China or Africa. It is my experience that the mails are still operating in this country.
3. Certainly you suggested that Weston should illustrate Leaves of Grass but only after I’d been campaigning for it for nearly two years and after it was impossible for you to get our first choice, Death Comes for the Archbishop.
You say, ‘You would in the first place have to satisfy me of your ability in Detroit to plan a book which would be printed elsewhere.’ The book, my dear George, is planned; it is now up to a good printer to execute it.
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I’ve written at length so as not to be under the charge that my attitude in this matter is obscure.
Your attitude is perfectly plain. You have used my name is announcing the book; you have commissioned me to design it; you have accepted my assistance and corresponded with me about the book on numerous occasions — and now — without regard to my reputation as a designer, or for the idea of a Whitman-Weston-Armitage book as an entity, or for the fact that when one makes an agreement, one attempts to live up to it; all these things are disregarded when you attempt to casually enlist my compliance in shifting me out of the picture.
I think that Ward Ritchie should print this book, as he has had plans for doing the halftones, which would have given a remarkable result; and you, yourself have stated that his presswork is impeccable.
But that’s up to you and Ward Ritchie — and I know what action should be taken if I were in Ward Ritchie’s place.
However, if you intend to have the book printed at the Lakeside Press, or any other press, I shall insist that the dummy which I have prepared with reasonable modifications, shall be used, with full credit to me as designer.
For the record I am sending a copy of the correspondence both to my attorney in Los Angeles, and to Edward Weston.
One of the great regrets resulting from this incident is that I am always loathe to lose a friend.
I have thoroughly enjoyed you; always found you a most just and likable human being. I am reluctant to have to believe otherwise.
May 21st, 1942.
Dear Merle: The letter you sent to me on April 22nd is the damnfoolist letter I have ever received in my life.
I now offer you three alternatives:
1. I will agree to release Edward Weston’s photographs to any publisher or printer who will pay me for them the actual amount which I have paid Mr. Weston and will take over my obligation to Mr. Weston. If you know of some such person, you may want to act upon this offer.
2. I will agree to pay you the sum of two hundred and fifty dollars now, the agreed total fee for your
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work in designing an edition of Leaves of Grass for us, if you will agree to discontinue further correspondence between us. If you accept this alternative,
I will of course make other arrangements for the designing and printing of the book.
4. I will agree to permit you to continue as the designer of this book. If this is the alternative you desire, there are certain necessary conditions of which you must be reminded.
a. It will be necessary for you to give me the assurance that you, a commissioned officer in the United States Army, are free to begin this work and carry it through to a proper conclusion.
b. It will be necessary for you to give me the assurance that you, now resident in Detroit and working with a printer in Los Angeles, can complete this work within a reasonable time. Please remember that Leaves of Grass is not an ordinary book to plan typographically; one cannot set up a sample page, as one could do with a novel, and expect this page to prove suitable for the entire text; there are textual problems arising on page after page, which the designer of the book must solve.
It will be necessary for you to present to me a typographic plan for the book with which I am satisfied, before the printer may proceed. I do not think this an insuperable difficulty: I have greatly admired some of the books you have planned in the past, although I have considered that others of your books show little taste or sense. When you showed me a dummy for Carmen, I thought it was very bad; and struggled out of a feeling of affection for you, to get you to drop the book without being hurt and take up Looking Backward instead. When you sent me a dummy for Death Comes for the Archbishop, I thought it very bad; but I told you I was not interested because the top copyright was not available. When you sent me a first trial for Leaves of Grass, I thought it very bad; but I told you only that there were some things I didn’t like about it, and then postponed a decision about the plan for the book. I now regret infinitely these hypocrisies on my part.
If you will send me a new dummy for Leaves of Grass, I will give you my comments bluntly. If you wish to send me the old dummy, I will comment upon it in detail. I will, of course, hope that you will show me a typographic plan with which I will be satisfied, in order that this matter may be concluded; but if you desire this third alternative, it is necessary for you to remember that I will not risk thousands of dollars of my company’s money upon a
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typographic plan with which I am not satisfied: this satisfaction having been implicit in all of our dealings. Affectionately yours.
May 25th. This is a letter from Merle Armitage to me.
Dear Ward:It looks as though we have won our battle with Macy. I received a letter from him today, cursing me wildly but giving me three alternatives, one of which is for us to go ahead as we originally planned. Now it is your turn to laugh!
In the meantime, will you please get in touch with Elise and take off her hands the matter of shipping me the dummy?
He also wrote to George Macy on the same day.
My dear George:
We have a little sign in our office which says, ‘Nothing short of right is right’ and I think the third alternative stated in your letter of May 21st is decidedly in that category.
I am having the dummy sent on from Los Angeles, and I am sure there is nothing to prevent all of us from doing a swell job.
You are certainly entitled to your opinions about some of my books and I know you will allow me to have my opinions about a great percentage of yours. Those are matters upon which no two people agree — let alone fifteen hundred — could ever possibly agree.
I am taking up the matter of my handling the revisions and the proofs with my Commanding Officer, and I see no reason why I should not be able to handle that part of the work, as I am naturally interested in seeing it all through to a logical and unified conclusion.
I hold no rancor and see no reason why we cannot have a very pleasant and profitable experience working together again.
Then on June 1st, Armitage wrote Macy that he had received from his commanding officer a clearance, saying, ‘This has been checked. As long as no Government funds are involved, you are at liberty to proceed on this project
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to any extent you may desire and at will.’
He also wrote to George Macy the same day.
My dear George,
I am mailing you the dummy of Leaves of Grass tomorrow, Tuesday.
I believe the cover of the book in both its design and its tonality should remain substantially as indicated; also, the end papers which are striking but not undignified. The sub-title page with the W W and the E W holds well, seeing it again after six months had elapsed, and the same is true of the title page.
I should like to standardize on putting the chapterheads on a lefthand page facing the beginning of each chapter but, I believe, we could find a more handsome type for the text. The text must be printed in a type heavy enough to live and stand up against the impact of the photographs and, in reviewing all the typefaces I can think of, I believe Bodoni is the one which will do it, using about the same size as the Garamond in which the proofs in this dummy are made.
It is true that each page will require individual handling and this I am prepared to do; and I am used to working with the Ward Ritchie Press on similar details. In the back of the book, I have folded in a proposed design of the lettering for the spine.
I would be very glad to have your comments and, remember, that this is a dummy in a very rough state.
On June 10th, 1942 Macy replied.
I acknowledge receipt of the dummy for our forthcoming edition of Leaves of Grass, which you have sent to me. This is, so far as I can see, the identical dummy which you sent me over a year ago and which I told you I did not like. I am sorry to have to tell you that I do not like it now. But I will
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give you details.
1. It makes a big and heavy and clumsy book.
Since the text is so long and since the illustrations will have to be printed as halftones on coated paper, I don’t know how we can avoid making it into a big, heavy and clumsy book; although one method would be to divide it into two volumes, each volume being easier to handle. I bring up the fact that further delays in the production of this book may cause a serious trouble, since the assurance has been given that coated paper will be the first kind of paper to be cut down when the cutting down starts.
2. So far as the design of the outside of the book is concerned, I am pleased with the fact that you have chosen black and grey as the colors; black and white, as you used them on the outside of your own Weston book, would be the ordinary colors to think of, black and grey are a little different. But the method of running the title in a ladder down the spine, but on only one side of the spine, and the method of running a grey strip down the outside of the cover, does not appeal to me; I do not see that they have any value so far as pleasure is concerned, they seem to me to be different only for the sake of being different. The idea for the end papers, of a design of actual leaves of grass, seems to me too obvious for it to be placed in so fine an edition as ours is supposed to be.
3. The title page may be dynamic but I find no pleasure in it, and I feel that the lettering itself is no good.
4. This is what I feel about the type selected for the text. Garamond bold may have color with which to match the color of the photographs, but it is in itself, a bad letter-design, bad because it is not easy to read. The width of the measure for this size of type, seems to me impossible; I can think of no psychology laboratory in the world which would defend this width of measure with the statement that the human eye will go all the way to the end of the line without being tired. If the line is to be so long as this, then the type itself must be larger; if the type is to be as small as this, then the line has to be narrower; this may sound dogmatic, but it is based upon the first criticism that may be made of any book, that the book cannot be read with ease and pleasure.
Since you have elected to send me, as a project for the creation of our edition of Leaves of Grass, the same dummy which you sent me last year and which
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I did not like, I must now ask you the simple question: ‘Where do we go from here?’
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Ritchie: We shall continue with the correspondence between Merle Armitage and George Macy regarding Leaves of Grass. This letter, dated June 12, 1942.
My dear George:
I agree with you that Leaves of Grass should be two volumes, making it easier to handle and less heavy.
The matter of running the title and the letters on one side of the spine is to get away from the static and wholly uninteresting placement in the center. I am surprised that the value of this would escape you, as it has been understood by the Chinese since recorded history, and by practically every other generation of artists who have made any contribution.
The grey strip down the outside of the cover carries the tonality of the photographs, themselves, and relieves the cover from the funereal aspect which it would have if only the grey lettering were on a completely black book.
As for the end papers, the repetition of the grey and black tonality is achieved by introducing a frieze of ‘Leaves of Grass’ which certainly is not an ‘obvious’ effect but something quite stunning.
The lettering on the title page is only a rough job to give the general effect which, I took for granted, you would understand. The fact that you find no pleasure in it is certainly not criticism.
As for the type, if you will read my last letter, you will see that I proposed Bodoni. If you go into two volumes, then the type can be larger. The use of the Garamond of that size, set wide, was to make the book as compact as possible.
I see no reason why, in as much as you know the number of photographs you are going to use, the coated paper cannot be ordered immediately, whether or not it is a one or two volume edition.
Now, my dear George, you must understand one thing. When you engaged me to design the book, I gave it a great deal of thought, and, never in anything I have ever done, has it been done for the sake of being different. I have always tried to explain the
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reasons for these various things to you, but I have never been able to communicate with you. You are in the modern world but certainly not of it, as far as design is concerned. If you wish to call this revolting and violent as you did of my other letter, that’s your privilege.
It would seem to me as a very good business man that you would understand that when you engage a book designer to design a book, he is supposed to design the book; otherwise, why engage him? I am certainly not going to put my name on a book which you design.
The objections which you have made to the rough dummy seem to be wholly devoid of a critical or constructive attitude. You have simply expressed your own whims and stated that something or other did not give you ‘pleasure’. If I design a book to give you “pleasure” it would certainly be nothing I would want to sign my name to.
It is stated again that my job, as I see it, is to give an appropriate setting to the photographs of Edward Weston and the text of Walt Whitman; and that is what I think this design — when refined as it certainly will be after it goes through the various processes — really accomplishes.
As to where we go from here — that, my dear friend, is entirely up to you. I know where I am going.
On 2 June, 1942, Macy replied:
I must conclude that your letter dated June 12th puts a final period to our correspondence about the production of an edition of Leaves of Grass to contain the photographs of Edward Weston.
When I got the notion, that Mr. Weston might want to make photographs to illustrate Leaves of Grass, I asked you to approach him in the project and I also asked you to design the book. But it is a stated part of every negotiation into which I enter, that I as publisher must be satisfied with the work which is done for The Limited Editions Club. That is proved in the contract with Mr. Weston, the fact that his work must prove satisfactory. That has always been understood in any negotiation I have had with you. It was clearly repeated in the letter which I sent you on May 21;
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I gave you three alternatives, and stated that, if you were to decide that you wanted to continue as the designer of the book, it would be necessary for you to present to me a typographic plan for the book with which I am satisfied.
In writing to me on May 25, to decide that you would like to proceed with the third alternative, you automatically assumed the obligation of presenting me with a typographic plan with which I would be satisfied. What you did was to send me a dummy, representing a typographic plan, with which I had already expressed dissatisfaction. I rendered you the courtesy, when I got this dummy, of sending you a detailed letter of criticism.
Now you write me to say that you do not think my criticisms are worth anything, that you consider them whims. You add that, if you were to design a book which would give me pleasure, it certainly would be nothing to which you would want to sign your name.
I cannot spend this corporation’s money upon the production of a book with the typographic plan of which I am not satisfied. Since you say that you will not undertake to produce a book which will give me pleasurable satisfaction, this means that you state an intention which precludes any further need for wasting time upon additional correspondence. I am attaching a check for $250, in full payment of the fee which it was understood would be yours for the production of a design for our forthcoming edition of Leaves of Grass. I consider myself free now, to arrange to have this book designed and printed elsewhere.
June 29th, 1942.
My dear George Macy,
It is impossible for me not to accede to your latest demand because of the fact that Edward Weston is involved.
An injunction against the publishing of this volume, or any other prohibitive measure would naturally result in Weston’s not receiving his full compensation for work completed.
I am accepting the check in payment for the actual work accomplished on preparing the dummy and the typographical design of Leaves of Grass.
There are still many other scores to be settled,
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including the insulting broadside sent to the subscribers with copies of Looking Backward.
In the announcement of Leaves of Grass, it was stated in print, sent out to your subscribers and to book dealers, that Merle Armitage was the one man in the United States to design a book containing photographs, or a similar statement. It did not state that Merle Armitage would design it providing the design he submitted gave you pleasure. Therefore, this matter is still to be settled. I will expect an immediate answer from you, giving me your views on how you propose to handle this matter, as I shall demand that it be handled satisfactorily to me. In other words, I do not intend to be publicized widely as a designer of a book without the matter being satisfactorily concluded.
The devious manner in which you have gone about this whole affair brings up a number of philosophical questions. We are, at this moment, fighting to preserve freedom in this country, but it is not my conception that freedom includes protecting questionable practices.
I am putting the check received from you in a special fund, and it will be kept there until you and I have reached a conclusion of our differences.
I may want to investigate the whole status of the socalled ‘Limited Editions Club, Inc.’ Is it a Club, or is a one-man dictatorship? Obviously, I am the victim of a man or an organization which has the authority of a critic, but without the qualifications for that position. I cannot — and will not — be complacent about such a situation.
That ended the correspondence as far as I know, except for one more letter, dated December 11th, 1942, from Merle Armitage:
‘My Dear George: I took Leaves of Grass home last night and have changed my mind in regard to my comments, as I think, in justice to you, something should be said.
You and your associates have succeeded magnificently in turning out the world’s most deluxe grass seed catalog. Sincerely.‘
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There was an amusing epilogue to this correspondence — unfortunately I can’t find the letters at this time, but I remember them in essence. George Macy wished to join the Navy and get a commission. Merle was a major in the Air Force at that time and had some knowledge and influence. George wrote Merle a very friendly letter, asking him if he would give him a letter of recommendation which he could use in his application for enlistment. Merle replied with a glowing letter, extolling the virtues of George Macy, suggesting that he would be a fine addition to the Naval forces of the United States. Their differences had been forgotten.
In 1963 when Armitage wrote an account of this episode for a catalog of an exhibition of his books held at the University of Texas he summarized it as follows: ‘The late George Macy of the Limited Editions Club was a friend, and I designed two books for him. Then I suggested an edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, with photographs by the late Edward Weston. Macy was enchanted with the idea. He at once commissioned Weston to take a tour of the country and make the photographs, and asked me to design it. Macy eventually got the photographs, and decided to design the book himself.
‘But when Edward Weston heard of this switch, he was dismayed and angry, and wrote me that he would cancel his part of the agreement, as it was distinctly understood
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that this was to be a Merle Armitage book. I advised Weston against this and he reluctantly went ahead. I happened to be with Weston when the two-volumed edition arrived. Macy had printed a pristine Edward Weston photograph in green for the cover, and then had placed a green border around every print in the book. Weston was ill with disappointment and revulsion.
‘Throughout this edition, the typography appears accidental and unrelated to the crisp, deeply felt and evocative photographs. The dummy of what I would have done with this opportunity exists to prove my point.’
Merle was busy during the war. The greater portion of it was spent in Detroit renegotiating contracts, primarily with General Motors and the Ford Motor Company. Later he was given the job of helping rehabilitate Air Force officers who had been in combat too long. There was a facility at Atlantic City and also one in Santa Monica. Pilots would be brought back and allowed to live in luxury for three or four weeks to get over their combat fatigue. It evidently was quite an important position which Merle held. He seemed to be in charge of this whole program.
At the end of the war, I don’t know whether he received a medal, but among other things Merle sent me some letters from various commanding officers, recommending him for a medal for his work in this effort.
Also, inasmuch as my partner Gregg Anderson had been killed in the Normandy Invasion, Merle was quite interested
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in the possibility that there might be an opening or a chance to join me at the press after the war. However, when Mrs. Anderson decided to come in and take Gregg’s place, it eliminated that possibility for him. He did come back to California and looked around for a job.
At one time he was being considered for the directorship of the Los Angeles County Museum. Unfortunately Merle had the facility of making enemies as well as making friends, and some of his enemies were much more violent in their feelings about him than his friends were. So there was enough resistance for this county job, and he wasn’t given it.
During the war, he had flown over the Mojave Desert, and remembered a beautiful section of it with great rock pinnacles. Coming back to California after the war, he sought out the place and homesteaded several acres of it.
During the war, he had divorced Elise and married his secretary, a handsome, earthy girl by the name of Elsa [Stuart]. In addition to her physical attributes, she had a keen mind but not much background, except that she had at one time been the bowling champion of her hometown. Under Merle’s tutelage she grew immensely.
Merle had so many contacts and friendships with artists and writers and she absorbed, from the conversations that she heard, a great deal of knowledge and culture. She and Merle, when they moved back to California after the war, made several camping trips up to the desert area that had intri-
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gued Merle so much and decided that they would eventually like to build there.
In the meantime, Merle was appointed art director of Look magazine. Look magazine at that time was a very sleazy imitation of Life magazine. It was done cheaply; the layouts were bad; the paper was inferior. It didn’t have the reputation nor the sales of Life. I don’t know how or what brought about this job, but I do know that Merle was running around Los Angeles for a few weeks prior to going to New York, getting ideas from everybody he could, and having some of the typographers set sample pages.
Merle did do a fantastic job in redesigning and upgrading the magazine. He was there for several years and a real right hand to Cowles, who was the editor and owner of the magazine. He was included in most of the top management and editorial discussions, and he gave the magazine a bold, clean appearance.
He was probably there for three or four years. We visited Merle and Elsa in their New York apartment a couple of times and got to know Elsa better. Finally the amity between Russell Cowles and Merle Armitage cooled. Merle was given a nice settlement in leaving, plus a three or four years’ continuance of his salary.
After leaving Look he consulted as art director for a couple of very small magazines in the East, but these weren’t enough challenge for the talents of Armitage. An opportunity
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came for him to come to California as art editor of Western Family. With his usual enthusiasm he rearranged the appearance of the magazine. He put paintings by his artist friends on the cover, and made many editorial suggestions. Within a short time Merle was in charge of everything — editor and art director.
But Western Family, for some reason or other, was not a successful magazine, and eventually it went under, which gave Merle plenty of time to devote himself to his house on the desert.
It seemed an unlikely project, because there was no water within ten or twelve miles from the place. It was mere sand and rock. There was no road to it. It was necessary to leave the Joshua Tree-Victorville Highway and follow a mere path for a couple of miles and then take off over the sand for several more miles until you found his ‘Manzanita Ranch.’
The first visit we made was while the place was still under construction. We had a letter from Merle inviting us to come out to his desert paradise, and neither my wife nor I knew where it was, except it was in the desert area somewhere in the vicinity of Palm Springs. My wife prepared herself as if she were going to Palm Springs. We met Merle in Joshua Tree because he knew very well that one couldn’t find the place without guidance, and we followed him across the desert until we got to his hide-out.
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Our first view was most interesting. The main house was under construction. It was a concrete block house which they were building, and as we drove in, we looked with astonishment upon the beautifully endowed Elsa enjoying an open air primitive type shower. She waved at us with glee while the workmen, up on the building, pounded away hardly interested in her nudity. This was typical of Armitage’s and, of course, Elsa’s feeling about conventional attitudes. They had no inhibitions. Life was completely natural.
The Armitages, that night, slept inside their partially constructed building. We were given a cot and a mattress outside in the sand. The ‘facilities’ were also quite primitive. Armitage called it the ‘illusion of privacy’. It consisted of a large hole in the ground, about a hundred yards from the house, with two boxes straddled with a plank. Life in the open and in the raw was what we experienced.
But we had a fine time — avoiding rattlesnakes, wandering up the hills and over the desert. Armitage insisted that we also get some land out there; so we spent a good deal of time in his four-wheeled truck, running down dry stream beds and over manzanita and cactus looking over possible places. Unfortunately it was almost impossible to tell which plot was which without a surveyor.
Eventually, Merle built an incredible complex of buildings — as one would expect, interesting in architectural
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design and concept. He says that he has put about a hundred thousand dollars into the place, which I can see he could have easily done. But still, no water.
Eventually, he bought a water truck. Once a week or so, he would drive to a well several miles away and fill up the truck. He’d put it up on the side of the hill in back of his complex and attach hoses and have running water, to a certain extent. We were always warned not to use it too extravagantly.
It was always fun being with Armitage because of his great enthusiasms. One time when we were out there, he had ‘in residence’ a New York sculptor working in one of the barns, back around the hill. He was a welder of metal, which he had picked up here and there. He made one piece for Merle which is ensconced in a huge boulder on the hill overlooking the house — a symbol of the ranch.
Merle continued to design and publish a certain number of books. In a sense, the books that he has designed vary somewhat in quality dependent upon the ability of the printers that printed them for him. He has had a number of them interpreting his layouts.
Kistler, as I mentioned before, was the first. We printed several for him. Rudge in New York printed some for him. Others have been printed by smaller houses, not too knowledgeable or too experienced in book printing, and the result in these is sometimes a bad use of type and sloppy execution. While his design
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shows through, it becomes an uninteresting book.
Merle has always been his own best publicist. He would get out a book and then write you a letter advising you that you had ordered a copy: As for instance:
For once — you have got to buy a book — my autobiography — Accent on America — it is to be published next year in a Limited Edition and Weyhe had to know the number of subscribers by Nov. lst — (it looks like 3,000). So I sent in my check for your copy — along with orders from a group of other friends. So send me a check for $5.50 to balance my books!
Also, Ward, and none of your procrastination, send me the cut of the little eagle we used on page 275 of the Navy book! Have your office do this — and wrap it well.
Also, you owe me two letters — and when I hear from you — I will give you all my news and there is a lot of it. I have a new appointment and a new project, new address: Biarritz Apts. 37 S. Iowa Ave, Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Love and kisses.
Eventually, Elsa must have tired of Merle with his constant activity. Of course. Merle was fifteen or twenty years older than she. I think that that may have been one cause. She went abroad one year, and Merle was a little unhappy about it because he found out that she had travelled with, I believe, the music critic of Life or Time magazine. Merle later said he’d be darned if he was going to pay for this chap’s vacation with his wife. So they broke up.
Merle soon after married one of Elsa’s very close
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friends, [Isabelle Heymann], a French girl who had been in the underground in France during World War II and had come to America afterwards. They settled on the ranch. In time, Merle helped to get her children away from a French husband and brought them to live with him. Her mother also came and lived there. So they had quite a menage.
It must have been an extremely lonely life for a woman. Once a day, of course, there was the going to town, fifteen or so miles, to get the mail. She turned more and more to her religion during this time, having little’ else to occupy her time.
And then unfortunately he wrote something (I’m not sure in what book it was), that caused him to be fearful of a libel suit. He transferred his assets, including the ownership of the ranch, into his wife’s name. We hadn’t heard from Merle for some time. I sent him a Christmas card and mentioned that we hadn’t heard from him lately. We received one of the strangest Christmas letters ever.
Dear Marka and Ward:
It was just wonderful, having your note. When you receive the enclosed shocking letter, you will know why I am glad to have 1964 back of me and a new day ahead.
I am at the Manzanita Ranch, (in which I have a life tenure) and starting life over again. So that you will know some of the things I have been up to, I am sending books — a package containing four… two of them reconstructed reprints, two of
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I will eventually send you the Atomic magazine, which I redesigned for the Los Alamos Laboratory… before and after copies. Got to find them first.
Beginning about January 15th, I am sort of tied up with Dr. Elmer Belt, who is about to do some work on me, and I assume I will be incapacitied (How is that for spelling) for several weeks. After that, I want to come and see you.
Am so glad you are out of that other house, it never seemed right for you, but dark, forbidding and old world. The new place sounds fine, and I suppose all of the kids have taken off.
My Chama (his daughter) is a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College, where she is leading her class. I am sending a picture of her, not very good, as she looks mad, but the best I have. She really is not mad… just had a fine letter from her. Fortunately I had just sent Chama $15,000.00 to take care of her four years at College, a week before Isabelle drew all of the cash out of our joint account, prior to telling me she was getting a divorce. I must say, my life is a demonstration of the fact women have the wrong chemistry for me, loving them as I do!
Drop me a line, and be happy.
Enclosed was this printed Christmas letter for 1964.
Since Isabelle was divorced on last July 24th in Las Vegas, New Mexico, I have received dozens of letters and telegrams asking for an explanation, and until now, I have been too depressed to make coherent answers.
Isabelle and I met in New York when she was with Lily Daché and I an executive at Look magazine. At my Manzanita Ranch, she recovered from a very fast life in New York, and eventually, at great legal and travelling expense, we were able to bring her mother and her two children here. This took a great battle with her ex-husband, and after rescuing Agnes and Marc, we saw them through naturalization, and an education. Marc caused us a great deal of expensive trouble.
To accomplish this I sold my very select library, my correspondence with celebrities, and many of my works of art. Eventually, Isabelle became increasingly absorbed in religion, to the point that no conversation, except on religious matters, was
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possible. This lead [led] to our removable [removal] to Santa Fe, where she could be close to the Church and Monsignor Rodriguez, her spiritual advisor. After one year in Santa Fe, Isabelle curtly informed me that we had reached the end of the road and that she was obtaining a divorce. When I inquired why?, she said she wanted to live as austere and solitary a life as a nun, and that a man in the house made that impossible.
She belongs to the Altar Society, sings in the choir at the Cathedral, teaches religion at St. Francis School, studies theology at St. Michael’s College, teaches religion and ethics at Loretto Academy (although twice divorced) and is now the secretary of the Santa Fe Archdiocesan Council.
Despite all of these pious pretentions, she coldly informed me that she would keep my Manzanita Ranch, stocks and bonds, income property and some of my choicest works of art, including some very rare Picassos, Paul Kleés, Kandinskis, a stunning Goya and a great Miro. Also, a Henry Moore which she gave me as a present a year ago. All these things had been put in her name on the advice of counsel when I had been threatened with a very heavy lawsuit, although all were my property before we had ever met!
I am seventy-two, and have devoted the last eleven years of my life to her welfare, and spent a modest fortune on her and her family. When I asked her how she could, in Christian conscience and charity, be so sadistic, she informed me that she would look after her conscience! It is a matter of fascinating speculation how her confessor and eventually, God, will see it.
Isabelle Heymann Auerbach still insists on using the name Mrs. Merle Armitage.
The most bitter of Isabelle’s actions which I have had to accept is her shattering betrayal of my daughter, Chama. Manzanita Ranch which was ten years in the building, and which cost approximately $100,000, (worth twice that now) was, of course intended for my daughter, Chama. Although this was all completed (except two rooms built on for her family) before I met Isabelle, she has held it. In the richest of faith and love, it was put in her name in a time of trouble. Isabelle’s daughter Agnes, on the other hand, was rescued from her cruel father in France, given an American education, and received into a Convent, (her dearest wish) at my expense in worry, litigation and money.
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What seems so apparent now is that our marriage had one ghastly flaw. From the first, Isabelle used me, my friends, my influence, my connections (we had the Look Magazine lawyer in Paris) to establish herself in America, and to rescue her children. With all these things accomplished, came the climax which she had planned, the divorce!
Well, you can see that Merle was pretty bitter at that time. He came to see us a few weeks ago and stayed overnight, and possibly some of his bitterness had worn off because Merle was his jovial self again.
He was happy working on new projects. We got a note from him later to say that he was at Los Alamos on another project. All in all, Merle’s contribution to our time will be considerable. He has little use for the traditional printers, and many of them have little regard for him. But you have to admire the vitality of the man, and his basic feeling for design.
I think this is exemplified in an instance several years ago. He visited Santa Fe and dropped into [in to] the Laboratory of Anthropology. He looked at some of their publications. He particularly noticed one book with beautiful colorplates inside it, but with a dull cover typical of many institutional books. It was extremely dull, in stodgy grey wrappers.
The Museum director complained that despite the importance of the material they couldn’t seem to sell the book. Merle suggested that if they’d give him a couple of hundred dollars to play with he thought he could sell them.
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They agreed, and Merle designed a jacket with color and some Indian motifs. They put this jacket around the old cover. Visitors started picking them up, and once they’d seen the material inside, they bought. It was a matter of merchandising and Merle recognized that an attractive package would sell a product.
George Macy, to follow on with his story, had been doing The Limited Editions Club books since 1928. The Twenties was a booming time for private press books, and Macy took advantage of it. Then came the crash of 1929 which practically killed off the fine book market. Macy was able to survive and was able to keep his 15OO subscribers through most of the Depression years.
He was one of few that survived along with the Nonesuch Press and the Golden Cockerel in England. The Grabhorn Press in San Francisco was also among the survivors through their ‘Western Americana’ series. But they were selling these books to subscribers for two and three dollars a piece, while Macy continued to charge ten dollars a copy. He issued a book once a month.
We printed Looking Backward designed by Merle Armitage. Macy had wanted to have a very modern designer do this book of the future. We also started a Carmen, after Looking Backward, and Armitage had designed it. We had set it completely in type before Macy decided not to do it, or not to have Armitage do it. I have forgotten
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now which it was, but we were paid off completely. There was another book on which I worked with Macy which also fell through. This was Ambrose Bierce’s Tales of Soldiers and Civilians for which Paul Landacre was to do the illustrations, and I’m afraid that in this particular case, it was my design which Macy didn’t like.
Then several years lapsed until the early fifties. Macy was out here in Los Angeles, and while discussing doing another book, I suggested Millard Sheets as an illustrator. The Macys, Helen and George, met Millard and were fascinated by him. In many respects, Millard is like Armitage with abundant vitality. Each is capable of doing a dozen things at the same time and each has an incredible facility to work and create. Millard may have more talents and many more accomplishments but they both were talented and somewhat controversial.
Sheets started out as a painter, as a youth at Chouinard Art School. He early won several prizes which meant that at seventeen or eighteen he had already achieved a reputation as a leading California artist. In addition to his painting, he has designed buildings all over the United States. He created the mall at Pomona which was a forerunner of the rejuvenation of depressed downtown areas. I believe he’s working on one at Sacramento right now.
The most spectacular of his works have been his murals and frescos. The one at the library of the University of Notre Dame is, I would say, about seventy-five
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feet high. It covers the whole side of the library.
It was a breathtaking job. He made a small sketch for this originally. Of course, no studio would be large enough to encompass this whole thing, so he had to lay it out in sections. On the wall of his studio in Claremont he would draw a section on paper in color and then designate which piece of colored rock would go in each spot.
He got samples of colored rocks from all over the world to match the colors he needed in this huge fresco. They were put together by a firm in the east following the exact, and precise instructions on these pencilled layouts and inserted in concrete, I would surmise, on the façade of the library. It is in the tradition of the frescos with which the great artists of Mexico decorated their university. Millard’s now dominates Notre Dame more than the Golden Dome does.
This meeting of Millard and the Macys started us on a joint venture for The Limited Editions Club. The text selected by the Macys for us to do was The Beach at Falesá by Robert Louis Stevenson. Millard had done quite a number of paintings of South Sea subjects. He had visited Hawaii many times and had a sympathetic feeling for the area. At this time, he was also intrigued with the process of silk screen printing. That year, for his Christmas card, he had printed a picture of a South Sea girl in silk screen. Our first idea was for this to
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be the first book illustrated in silk screen. Millard was going to make the screens, and he was going to have his students, working under his supervision, print all of the illustrations in the book. It was an intriguing project.
Millard starts a project with incredible enthusiasm. If you can get him started immediately he creates so fast and with such extraordinary facility, that it is done beautifully within a matter of days. But if he puts it aside and gets on to any of his dozens of other projects, then it’s almost impossible to get him to finish.
This book lingered on for three years or so. We had the type set all of this time, and from time to time I would be prodded by the Macys, and in turn would prod Millard. He and I would get together, but in the meantime, all of the plans that we had previously made had been forgotten so we would have to start over again. It wasn’t until George Macy died of cancer that Millard settled down to finish his drawings. We finally got the book out in 1956. Unfortunately Macy never saw the project he had planned so many years before.
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Ritchie: I recollect that we were talking about George Macy and the fact that we had been working on a book for his Limited Editions Club, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Beach of Falesá which Millard Sheets was illustrating, and the fact that it had taken so long to do that and Macy had died before it had been completed.
George and his wife Helen had been in the habit of coming to California every year, primarily as a vacation. But incidentally, as a good businessman like Macy would, also to make contacts with artists and printers. They usually stayed at La Quinta for the month of February and would come into town for incidental visits with some of us, either on their way to La Quinta or on their way back.
Occasionally, we might be invited down there to spend the weekend, which was very pleasant. It must have been about 1955 when George was stricken by a terrific back pain. The local doctor was baffled and called in Dr. Elmer Belt from Los Angeles, who diagnosed it as cancer. George was taken into Los Angeles where he was operated on, and one of his kidneys was removed.
After a short time in the hospital, he was removed to a suite in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was while he was recovering there that Paul Landacre and I wanted to send him a get-well card. Paul at that time had been
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working on the illustrations for Lucretius, for The Limited Editions Club and we, of course, were working on The Beach of Falesá. Paul pulled out one of his old woodcuts, and I set up some appropriate words, and on a hand press, we printed a pleasant sentiment on some nice handmade paper and sent it to George.
The next time Marka and I went to see him in his hotel room, he was sitting, propped up in his bed, talking like a magpie. He was so full of talk and ideas that we couldn’t stop him. Helen would come in from time to time and say, ‘George, you must stop and let the Ritchies go.’
And he’d say, ‘No, no, let them stay for another ten minutes or so.’
He was quite interested in the card which we had sent him and he said, ‘You know, you printed that wood engraving of Landacre’s so beautifully, I would like to have you print the Lucretius, if you would.’ Well, this naturally pleased me very much. And then we got into a discussion as to the design.
He said that Bruce Rogers had been his choice to do the Lucretius design and that Rogers had submitted style pages, but he didn’t really like them. There was very little sympathy between Bruce Rogers and Landacre. Bruce Rogers had made his design following the pattern of his latter days. He had done the World Book Bible with the same type of illustrations, and it was not Rogers at his best. Macy was disappointed.
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Landacre’s illustrations were quite modern. Lucretius is a tough book for an illustrator to interpret because there is so little to portray graphically.
Landacre had done quite an inspired job, I thought, in making abstract woodcuts. When he first got the commission from Macy, he had rushed over to see me, and tried to think of some way that he could handle the illustrations and make them interesting. At that time, we discussed the possibility of a sort of Japanese treatment with the main illustration and with an imprint in a little block, in red, down the corner. We worked out some trial pages, and this treatment seemed to please Landacre.
Eventually he submitted his illustrations in that way to Macy but these just didn’t fit in with Bruce Rogers’ typographic ideas. The two had no compatibility. So Macy asked me if I would like to try my hand at designing the book. Naturally I was most flattered, because it’s not very often that one is asked to replace the great master of book design in our time, Bruce Rogers.
I worked out a title page and some sample text pages which I showed to Macy a few days later, and he seemed to be very happy with them and said, ‘Go ahead.’ So at that time, we were printing two books; neither of them were completed before his death, but at least he did get to see the pages of the Lucretius in a fairly complete form.
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He stayed out here for a month or two, taking cobalt treatments, and he was finally thought to be cured — they could find no more traces of cancer. We jubilantly saw him off from the hotel. He left his filing cabinet.
His working habits were to bring all of his correspondence along with him on a trip together with his filing cabinet. During the day, he would dictate his notes and letters and these would be sent to his New York office to be typed and processed. The filing cabinet seemed to be a little cumbersome to take back and as it had been somewhat dented in transportation, he said, ‘Here, this is yours.’
After he left, I got it out into our station wagon and I found that he had written on one of the Limited Editions Club’s labels, which had been beautifully and colorfully designed by W.A. Dwiggins, ‘Bless the house this file is in. Keep Old Pappy off the gin; Help Mamma to put on weight. Damn the boys when they are late.’
It was a cute and wonderful remembrance from George Macy and that was, of course, the last time that I saw him alive. He returned to New York, and within a month or two there was a recurrence of cancer in his other kidney, and he passed on very soon thereafter.
Helen Macy stepped in the breach and has continued to operate the Limited Editions Club and the Heritage Club quite satisfactorily. She missed George, his
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vibrant enthusiasm and selective intuition, but the people that were working for George helped to continue the Clubs in his original concept and they are still flourishing.
Millard, finally, after George Macy’s death, felt compunctions and finished the illustrations for The Beach of Falesá. We printed it and we bound it, also here in Los Angeles, and sent the books on East, where they were distributed to the members, as was the Lucretius, which we finished a few months later.
The next book that we were asked to do for The Limited Editions Club was Jack London’s Call of the Wild. We made preliminary plans for this. My wife and I were to be in New York, and Mrs. Macy asked us to come over and discuss the plans for the book with the man that they had selected to illustrate it, Henry Varnum Poor.
We arrived in The Limited Editions Club office, and I was delighted to meet Mr. Poor, one of the fine artists of America. He was a big burly, bewhiskered man. We sat down and to the consternation of all present, he produced all of the finished drawings. Mrs. Macy was quite perplexed by this because they were only in the discussion stage with him at that time. They hadn’t decided on format; they hadn’t actually decided on the treatment, but here they were. He had gotten a letter from her and started reading the book and had become so excited by it that he had gone to work.
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Well, it produced a problem for us because the way that the illustrations were done would necessitate our printing them in four-color process, which would have made the book more expensive than The Limited Editions Club wanted. Naturally, they didn’t want to throw Poor’s work out because it was good. I thought there might be a way of salvaging them and still keeping within the budget.
I took a few of the drawings back to California with me, and we photographed them in black and white. We printed these up in single colors — a grey blue, a warm brown and others. These we sent back to Poor and he put an acetate sheet over each of the prints, and with black brush strokes, reconstituted his paintings, so we were able to reproduce the drawings in two colors rather than in four color process as we would have had to do if we’d followed the original drawings.
We didn’t bind Call of the Wild out here. It was bound in the East, and I was quite surprised when I saw the binding.
George Macy’s idea was to dramatise each book and naturally was continued by those who followed him. As for example, when they printed the Golden Ass many years ago, they bound it in ass skin. Macy also wrote a tempting letter which was sent out before each of his books was shipped, telling what was to be expected. He liked to have a gimmick of this sort to excite the imagination and whet the appetites of those who were to
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receive the book. For our Call of the Wild, he was able to get some of the material they use in making lumber jackets. It was a heavy plaid material. It made an extremely interesting and possibly unique binding. You can see how it made an interesting tie-in for The Call of The Wild. Though it might not be in the best taste of bookmaking, it added an imaginative punch to the book.
Next time Mrs. Macy was out, we talked about doing another book, and she wondered who would be a satisfactory artist. The book she had in mind was Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’.
After several considerations, we decided that probably Millard Sheets was the most competent. She had some misgivings after our last experience, but I thought if we could kindle Millard’s enthusiasm enough he might get into it and finish it in no time, as he could. He is so extremely facile that once he puts his hand to any work, it takes him a matter of days or a week at the most to finish it.
The problem is that there are so many people attempting to excite him for a project. He hasn’t the ability of saying no. Almost anyone who comes to him with an interesting position gets a yes, and before he knows it, he is involved in so many places, with so many things, and with so many speeches (because he does that too), that he has no time for any of his projects until a final deadline comes. Then he has to forego everything else and concentrate on this one.
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These books of ours were never of that exigency. While, I believe, The Limited Editions Club paid him $2,000 for illustrating a book, the very paintings and drawings that he did were worth many times that. Compared with other projects for which he is commissioned — his buildings, murals, mosaics and paintings — illustrating a book could mean very little in either prestige or money.
In the case of this book, I didn’t rush it immediately into type, as I had on the previous one with Millard, because letting type sit around for three years, being moved from place to place, is a little hazardous. Anything can happen to it, including lots of banged letters.
We did set up style pages, and we got approval of them. Actually, what I did was to have our own artist, Cas Duchow, rough in some sketchy drawings to show how we wanted the pages to look. After the Limited Editions Club approved them, I turned them over to Millard to go on from there.
Time dragged, and Mrs. Macy would write frantic letters, pleading letters. I would talk to Millard on the phone or see him, when I was in Claremont. He would get enthusiastic about the book. Finally one day he called me and said, ‘Ward, I have done my color illustrations.’ He made six illustrations in full color. I shipped them to Mrs. Macy, and she liked them. The time had come, I thought, to set the type — which we did.
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But there were a dozen or more incidental illustrations for chapter headings and tail pieces which had to be done. These were things, I thought, which wouldn’t take Millard very much time but then the Notre Dame fresco intruded and the Pasadena Home Savings and Loan mural and other jobs. He never had time for these little drawings.
When he finally did them, they didn’t look like Millard Sheets’ work. They didn’t have his quality. Our artist Cas Duchow came to me and said, ‘Ward, you can’t allow Millard to put these into a book. They look like very poor early Rockwell Kent.’ Well, it’s a little difficult to tell an artist of the stature of Millard Sheets that his things aren’t good, but I think Millard himself realized this in this instance.
There were many problems. He hadn’t followed the spirit of my layout. He had just made some drawings. In attempting to fit them into the pages, it made uncomfortable situations. What I did was to make some line cuts of them (he hadn’t done the color part of them) and sent them back to him. I also sent back some of the original layouts to show him that I didn’t think these fit [fitted] very well. Millard called me (I had made no suggestion whatsoever) and said, ‘Ward, I’m going to do these over.’
He did. and they were completely different in feeling and more compatible to the book and our conception of its
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design. The book was eventually finished and we were able to maneuver Millard over to the shop for two days to sign all of the colophon pages, as each copy of a Limited Editions book is autographed by the artist. That was our last responsibility.
As we were sitting around afterwards, he said, ‘Ward, I don’t know if we’re going to be liked after this book.’ Of course, I knew what he meant because the word ‘nigger’ is a little touchy.
When the project had first been suggested to us, Millard and I had wondered about the propriety of doing the book at this particular time. I had written Mrs. Macy about it, and she wrote back that this was a classic. It was a kindly treatment of the colored boy in the story. Then she sent the introductory essay, which also felt that this was too great a book to be allowed to be in any way embarrassed by a title which had become unfortunate. We had continued with it, but still Millard had some qualms to the end even though the title was available in paperback in all of the book stores.
Back in 1931 (this was soon after I had returned from my sojourn in Paris and had worked that memorable month for Jake Zeitlin in his bookstore on Sixth Street before Jake had suggested that I might make a better printer than a bookseller), I started working with the firm of Hackett & Newell, which we later changed to Hackett, Newell & Ritchie. Gregg Anderson had come down from San Francisco to work for us as a compositor in this little
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printing shop. We had great friendship for Grant Dahlstrom, another printer. And we all were quite close friends of Jake’s. Arthur Ellis, a lawyer in town and also an avid collector of books about printing and about the West, suggested one day that we should form a bibliophilic organization.
The idea appealed enough to the four of us to lead us to gather on October 28, 1931 for dinner together at the French Restaurant and then sojourn to Jake’s book shop to talk about the formation of such a group.
There was another such organization in Los Angeles, the Zamorano Club, which was made up of the older, wealthier and more staid book collecting members of the community. Naturally, we felt deprived, not being members of this older organization, so we decided, with Arthur Ellis’ blessings, to form our own.
I believe that I was responsible for initially calling it the Thistle Club because of my great admiration for Bruce Rogers, who used as his mark the little Scotch thistle. As we sat around in Jake’s shop, we decided to make some type of formal organization. We selected Grant Dahlstrom as the first president, and I was selected as secretary-treasurer. In order to be secretary you have to take minutes, naturally, and Jake scurried around looking for something on which I could take minutes. He found a dummy book which Bruce McCallister
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had submitted to him for Sarah Bixby Smith’s Adobe Days. Aside from the title page and the green unstamped binding, it was a completely blank book. I immediately started taking notes of this first meeting. It was decided to meet once a month or whenever the spirit or an incoming distinguished guest moved us.
The members present, the founding members, were Jake Zeitlin, Grant Dahlstrom, Gregg Anderson, and Ward Ritchie. We, at that time, considered some of the other younger men around town — Bill Wooten, for one. Bill had worked or was, working with Jake at the time. He had a great flair for calligraphic design, he was interested in printing and books. Later he became more interested in music and forwent the graphic field.
Saul Marks, a young printer; Lawson Cooper, another printer; Karl Zamboni, who worked at that time for Jake Zeitlin, a great bibiliographic mind he had; Roland Baughman, who was a young librarian at the Huntington Library; Lindley Bynum, also at the Huntington Library; Orson Durand, who worked for the Satyr Bookstore on Vine Street near Hollywood Boulevard and had a little press up on the balcony of the bookstore; and Thomas Perry Stricker, another blossoming young printer. These were the people to be considered for future membership in the club.
It was also decided that the meetings were to be held, the third Thursday night of each month. The next
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meeting was held on November 19, 1931, it was still called the Thistle Club, by the secretary. It was held at Jake Zeitlin’s home. He lived up in the Echo Park area at that time, at 1559 Altivo Way. Jake, Gregg, and myself gathered there for dinner. Grant Dahlstrom came late, bringing with him Saul Marks.
Jake suggested that we should never take in more than two new members at a time. Then, of course, we had to go through this trying session of deciding on what the dues were going to be. Jake suggested twenty-five cents a month, which evidently was considered.
He also thought we should have a publishing venture and in this way support the treasury. We could do a combination book between the various printers. He suggested Gods in Exile.
There’d been a Mexican artist up here who had done some very delicately-fashioned woodcuts or wood engravings, I believe they were, for Jake and Grant for their Ampersand Press. I think Grant had set some sample pages of the book and had planned to print it on the hand press. It was never followed through. It must have been about thirty years later when Grant finally did a small edition of the Gods in Exile, using these blocks which had been around all that time. Jake’s suggestion was booed as too much ripe commercialism.
Then some new names were suggested for the club — Rounce & Coffin. I believe Grant was the one who sug-
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gested Rounce & Coffin, though Jake may have had an influential finger in this. The rounce is the part of the old hand press, the handle which cranks the bed in and out, and the coffin is the bed of the press upon which the type is placed before it’s printed. While it has to most Americans a sort of a college fraternity sound, it actually has a very authentic place in the history of printing.
Other names were: the De Vinne Club, after the eminent American printer; and the Merrymount Club, after Updike’s press. As usual it was decided to continue thinking about it rather than to make a decision at the time. Grant Dahlstrom was delegated to set up a letterhead with Rounce & Coffin and Ward Ritchie was to make one for the Thistle Club.
Then we got back to dues, and they were confirmed at fifty cents a month. It was also moved that each new member selected must present the club a printed souvenir as a credential. Saul Marks and Paul Landacre were elected to membership. The secretary was required to print and send out announcements for each of the meetings. Sure enough we collected dues of fifty cents from everyone present, as the treasurer’s report shows for that month.
For the first year the club was pretty consistent in having a meeting every month at the various members’ houses. The next one in December was at Grant Dahlstrom’s
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house. Landacre was there — his first meeting — and since Landacre wasn’t able to produce much in the way of cash he suggested that he would give a print which Jake Zeitlin could sell and that would be enough to cover his dues.
We thought this was a great idea. The club still didn’t have a name, and typical of procrastinating printers, neither Mr. Dahlstrom nor Mr. Ritchie had come forth with a letterhead as suggested during the previous meeting. But Mr. Zeitlin, according to the minutes, unnecessarily prolonged the meeting with a carefully prepared oration to move that the name of the club be called the Rounce & Coffin Club.
The motion was greeted by huzzas and boos. The huzzas seemed to have won. Then it was also decided that Landacre and Dahlstrom, this time, would design and present a letterhead. Zeitlin would write copy for an initiation certificate. The next meeting would be held at Ritchie’s, and the presentation of credentials by Marks and Landacre would be postponed until that time.
The next meeting in January was held at Ritchie’s house. Hugh King was there as a new [sic] neophyte. Hugh King and his brother had worked in Lime Rock, Connecticut with Dard Hunter, who had his little paper mill there. The King boys evidently were the craftsmen in the mill. The money for this mill had been put up by an uncle of theirs, a man by the name of Beach who had staked Dard Hunter in this endeavor.
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During the Depression, of which this was about the bottom, the sale of handmade paper was extremely limited throughout the United States and the mill had closed down. The King brothers had moved west to California, still with great enthusiasm for papermaking. One of the first things they did was to have a demonstration in the basement of the Los Angeles County Museum.
They actually set up a small paper mill there. They ground the pulp. And with a borrowed paper mold from John Henry Nash, with John Henry Nash’s watermark in it, they demonstrated to people as they came to visit, how paper was actually made. The Kings were quite an addition to the small coterie of printers around here.
Also, they brought with them from the east many reams of Dard Hunter handmade paper, which I believe supported them for the first year of their life out here.
It is amazing how inexpensive this beautiful paper was at that time. For many of my earliest projects, I bought and used their paper. I used it for some of Mrs. Doheny’s books, for one of Mrs. Millard’s catalogues, and several others. It was necessary to learn how to dampen paper before printing it, but it had such beautiful texture and such great quality — I’ve never seen anything better since that time. Hugh King was the newest member of the club, and at this particular meeting, he gave us a talk on the paper that he had made at the Los Angeles Museum. Finally
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the man who suggested the founding of the Rounce & Coffin Club, Arthur Ellis, came to a dinner. This was on March 17, 1932, and we held this meeting at Saul Marks’ shop, in the Printing Center building on Santee off Pico Street.
Mr. Ellis brought a paper mould to show us, which John Henry Nash had given him, and he talked about the history of printing — the earliest printing in the United States by Stephen Day — and told about the two early presses in the Smithsonian Institute and the Franklin Hall in Philadelphia.
The Rounce &Coffin Club from the beginning was informal and fun loving — a tradition which was started in the early years and has continued. Except when there might be a distinguished guest who would be offended by the hilarity and horseplay of the members, the meetings are most informal.
Usually the guests quickly acclimated to this jovial informality of Rounce & Coffin Club meetings and joined in the fun. Recently Ray Nash from Dartmouth was at a meeting with R.Hunter Middleton of Chicago. It just broke loose, and they were as witty as any Jake Zeitlin that we ever had.
At a much earlier meeting at Jake’s house, Edward Doro came as a guest — later he became a member. He had been born in California and as a young man had gone to England to write. He had a small volume of his poems privately printed there and he sent a copy to Conrad
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Aiken. Conrad Aiken was impressed with them and took him under his wing, giving him praise and publicity. Later, he wrote a foreward to a subsequent book of Doro’s poem.
With Doro at this meeting it turned mostly into a discussion of poetry, with Doro reading many of his own.
The next meeting was at Saul Marks’ home and Doro was further pushing his own ideas on the Club, and he even suggested that we have a supplementary organization devoted to the promulgation of the members’ poesy. The lay members applauded the plan, under the influence of vinous liquids. There was an amount of bad verse originated during the evening. Examples of it are:
There was a young printer named Ritchie
Whose type stick was unusually itchy.
In a furious rage
He set up a page
And drowned all his sorrows in Vichy.
There was a fine printer named Dahlstrom
Who spiked all his ink with bay rum
Not inking his type
He guzzled the tripe
And spilled all his lunch on the rostrum.
The devil was his mother
The devil ’was his dad
Those were the only parents
Landacre ever had.
Most of these sad effusions came from Ed Doro, so Dahlstrom finally retorted:
Eddie the poet
He laughed like goat
The blankety-blank poet.
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Finally there was an epitaph for Saul Marks:
Here Marks is spilled
His going was our gain
He went to pi *
But by and by
He’ll set him up again.
* A pi font: A font of assorted mathematical or other symbols, designed to be used an an adjunct to one or more text fonts. Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style, page 294.
The Rounce & Coffin Club has had a considerable influence on Western bookmaking. Until 1935, the club had followed a haphazard path, having only occasional meetings at various member’s houses, when Gregg Anderson returned from a three-year stint at the Meriden Gravure Company in Meriden, Connecticut. Roland Baughman, Gregg and myself formed a steering committee.
The three of us had many meetings, and Gregg, being a practical fellow, wanted to make the club into a serious organization. Previously, each announcement had been imaginative. Landacre had made little engravings for some and found old engravings for others and had lots of fun with them. But serious Gregg decided that the announcements would be a plain card saying what was the subject and speakers and where it would be. We changed the meetings away from various members’ houses to the Constance Hotel in Pasadena.
A couple of years later, at his suggestion, we decided to have a Western Book Show. The American Institute of Graphic Arts in New York, of course, had had the Fifty Book Show for many years. The conditions
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were different here on the West Coast. We usually printed books in small editions, individually designed and produced. It was the product of the individual craftsmen rather than the product of industry, such as it was getting to be in New York where book designers were completely separated from the printing business. There, the books are designed and then put into a printing plant to produce. The printers themselves are not involved in the actual appearance of the book.
So we decided to have a Western book show — the first of the regional book shows. We got out announcements and sent them to all printers that we could think of on the West Coast, and in 1938, the first of these shows was held. They continued until World War II.
After the war we had a retrospective show of the books produced during the war years — and since then every year, the Rounce & Coffin Club has sponsored the ‘Western Books.’ For the last several years, there have been two showings of each of the selections going to libraries all over the West and some in the East. The American Institute of Graphic Art shows it. It goes to Boston; it goes to Texas; it goes to Kansas; it goes to Chicago. We don’t have enough time available for all of the libraries that want to have this show.
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The meetings of the Rounce & Coffin Club now are held irregularly and only when a distinguished person in the graphic arts field visits Southern California. For instance, the last one was when Brooke Crutchley, the printer to Cambridge University, was visiting here. We will soon have another one for Beatrice Warde of the Monotype Company in England and we have had one for Hermann Zapf from Germany, when he was here. [Wikipedia: ‘German: (tsapf); November 8, 1918 — June 4, 2015) was a German type designer and calligrapher who lived in Darmstadt, Germany. He was married to the calligrapher and typeface designer Gudrun Zapf-von Hesse. Typefaces he designed include Palatino, Optima and Zapfino.’]
They are held about three times a year at the most at a variety of restaurants. It still has some of the warm frivolity of years past, though possibly not quite as much as previously because a great many of us who have been members for thirty years or more are not quite as kittenish as we were at one time. But when you get Jake Zeitlin, and occasionally Larry Powell, and some of the others, you have an exciting and interesting meeting, and the visitors seem to enjoy it.
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Ritchie: Arthur Ellis, who had suggested the formation of the Rounce & Coffin Club, certainly can be considered the father of book clubs in California. It was he who was primarily responsible for the formation of the Zamorano Club, the oldest book club in California. After its formation, he was also instrumental in starting the Roxburghe Club, a similar organization in San Francisco. The reason for starting the Zamorano Club was to help one of the grand old men of books, W. Irving Way.
Back in the nineties, Way had a publishing firm in Chicago, Way & Williams, which did some of the best work of that time. Among other things, he had the Helmscott Press in England print a book which was distributed in America by Way & Williams, the only commercial work that the Kelmscott Press ever did. This was Rossetti’s Hand and Soul. The firm of Way & Williams didn’t last too long in Chicago, and Way eventually made his way to California. I don’t know if he had any occupation at all; he seemed to support himself primarily by selling an occasional book from his own library. It was in this way that he became acquainted with some of the local book collectors in Los Angeles.
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I believe the first one was Gaylord Beaman who was a catalyst of a sort. When I first knew him, he was in the Insurance business, but he was better known as the greeter of Los Angeles. When any distinguished person in the literary or the printing world arrived in Los Angeles, it was always Gay Beaman who met him at the train, escorted him around, introduced him to the people who’d interest him.
Gay belonged to all of the clubs to which it was possible to belong. He always circulated at the meetings of these clubs. He was shaking hands with this one and chatting with this person and seldom even sat down to eat. Well, Gay Beaman introduced Irving Way to Will Clary, an eminent lawyer with the firm of 0’Melveny & Myers, who in turn introduced him to Arthur Ellis.
These men felt that they would like to do something for Irving Way. They didn’t want to offer him money, so they had a meeting one evening in October of 1927 to talk about books. It was on the night of October 19th. Arthur Ellis, Will Clary, Garner Beckett, who later was the president of the Riverside Cement Company, gathered together with Irving Way. The four of them discussed the possibility of a book club for Los Angeles. The seeds were then planted, and on January 25, 1928, a club was formally organized. They had, in the meantime, surveyed the bookish people in the Los Angeles area and among the original members were Robert Schad, curator of
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rare books at the Huntington Library; Bruce McCallister, an eminent Los Angeles printer; Charles K. Adams, one of the kindliest and most scholarly of all the early Zamoranans — he worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, was an omnivorous reader and collector of all sorts of literary material; Gaylord Beaman; and Thomas Treanor, who at that time was president of the Riverside Cement Company.
W.Irving Way was elected to honorary membership, and he was also made librarian of the club, though at that time they had no books, but by this gesture they were able thus to offer him a small sinecure. I doubt if it was more than $50 a month, but they felt this was a way to give him something, though it’s never been in the official records that this was the purpose for the founding of the club.
I was told by early members that this was the reason for its formation, and it did give Irving Way a little help in his later years. They had Way’s portrait painted in life-size which hangs in the club rooms, but unfortunately, he didn’t live too much longer. But the club, founded then, has survived to this day and grown.
The first officers were Arthur M. Ellis as president, William. W. Clary as vice-president, and Garner A. Beckett as secretary-treasurer. These in addition to the other members I’ve mentioned were the founding nucleus, and inasmuch as it was thought important that everyone have a
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position (there were eight founding members), a Board of Governors of seven was decreed as the ruling body. The eighth member was the secretary-treasurer. It was decided that each member of the board would serve for seven years, and one new member be elected each year. So the original board had to draw by lot to see who would serve one year, two years, up to seven years. As new members were admitted to the club, they became eligible to eventually be chosen as a member of the board.
The club decided that they would like to have quarters, and early they took a room in the Bradbury Building. Soon after that, they got a suite in the old Alexandria Hotel at Fifth and Spring Street. They paneled it with wood, and it was really a very Impressive-looking room.
The Depression did not curtail the activities of the club, but it did have its effect on the Alexandria Hotel. One meeting night, the manager explained to them that the hotel was closing down, and they would be expected to get out of their paneled rooms which they had done at their own expense. It was a heartbreaking experience, but the club was able to arrange for new quarters at the University Club on Hope Street, where it has remained since then, in very nice rooms with their library around the walls in bookcases which have been built over the years. It will soon have another move, as the University Club is being
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torn down. The University Club itself is being housed in the new building of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association at the corner of Sixth and Hope. The Zamorano Club, however, will move to the Biltmore Hotel.
I was invited to become a member in May of 1934, at the suggestion of Robert Schad. The club has a luncheon roundtable every Wednesday, except the first Wednesday of the month when they have an evening meeting at which there is a speaker. Occasionally, an outsider is asked to come in and speak to the club, but in general — and this was probably more true during the early years than in the later years — the papers are given by members of the club.
The first one that I gave was on the evening of Wednesday, April 24th, 1935, when I divided the evening’s time with Bruce McCallister. We spoke on the subject of private presses; McCallister spoke about those in the United States and I about the private presses of Europe. As it says in the announcement, at the close of the speakers’ remarks the meeting will become an open forum for further discussion of this subject.
We had many questions at the time, and I had brought along among my notes some of the impressions I had of printers in Europe at the time I had been a student over there. I pulled out these diaries and read the account of Bruce Rogers when he was there working on the Great Oxford Bible, the lectern Bible which he designed and was printed at the University Press.
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This evidently impressed Dr. Max Farrand, who was the director of the Huntington Library, because several years later the Huntington Library and the California Institute of Technology sponsored a series of talks by Daniel Berkeley Updike, who along with Bruce Rogers was the most eminent of American printers of that era.
Updike, in addition, was a great scholar; his two-volume book entitled Printing Types is considered the greatest scholarly work to be produced in America, or possibly in the world, on the subject. I believe there was a series of three lectures divided between the Huntington Library and the Athenaeum at Caltech. Following these, Dr. Farrand wished to entertain Mr. Updike and the members of the Zamorano Club at his home on the Huntington Library grounds.
Farrand had been one of Updike’s most ardent admirers and had collected perhaps the most complete library of Merrymount Press books in existence — later given to the Huntington Library as the basis of the great Updike collection now housed there.
Much to my surprise, Farrand called me, at the time he was making arrangements with Updike to come West and asked if I would be willing to be the speaker on that evening for Mr. Updike. With many qualms, I accepted because you don’t turn down the director of the Huntington Library. He suggested the subject to be on type ornaments. To be asked to speak before the great authority on
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printing types and type ornaments, on a subject of which he knew much more than anybody else, caused me considerable consternation and worry. But it turned out to be a most delightful and educational experience for me because it required that I delve extensively into the subject, not only historically but also into the contemporary use of type ornaments.
These little pieces of decoration had been used by printers since the 15th Century. You can combine them in innumerable ways with an almost endless variety of decoration. They were contrived originally by the printers who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to use new art work or new engravings for each book. By using these in different arrangements, they could put decoration into their books with material on hand.
It stemmed, I suppose, from the decorations of the Arabs. Certainly, it had been suggested by the ornamentation of the bookbinders; the bookbinder’s tools were very much like the original printer’s flowers and they probably evolved from them. In some eras, they were used to a greater extent than in others — especially in France during the 18th century, when Fournier developed them to the peak. The French arrangements were extremely beautiful and handsome and innumerable variations were available at that time.
During the latter part of the 19th century, there was another vogue in quite a different tradition. The
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English and the American type founders created a great deal of pictorial material which could be pieced together in various arrangements. We think of it now as Victorian printing. The style was quite fussy, and went along with the exotic types which were developed during the latter part of the 19th century.
In the early part of this present century, along with the revival of the many classic typefaces following William Morris, there was a revival also of many of the early type ornaments and type flowers. Sir Francis Meynell was one of the first who began delving back into the beautiful Caslon ornaments and his early Nonesuch books used this type of decoration to a great extent.
In America, there were many experiments with the geometric ornaments that came into vogue in the 20th century, being considered ‘modern.’ They were quite often used to build pictures or as with Alvin Lustig, they were used to make interesting abstract designs.
The man who created the most impressive of these type pictures was Albert Schiller, who worked at one of the type houses in New York. I had seen some of the creations he had made — large, complicated and fairly realistic pictures made of a variety of rules and ornaments and geometrical squares and circles. In working on this paper on printer’s flowers, I wrote to Schiller, among others, and he explained that he did one of these
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pictures each year to be sent out as a Christmas gift by the firm for which he worked. He devoted practically a whole year to each of these projects — they were so intricate and elaborate. He would start out with a sketch or a design and then gradually piece together the elements over the year. These were printed in many colors and were quite pictorial. You would never realize that they were made out of extraneous pieces arranged together. But, while they are most interesting examples of a typesetter’s ingenuity they are important primarily as curiosities, showing what can be done with this material. They are tours de force and don’t have the charm that many simpler and less forced designs using type ornaments have.
I also corresponded with William Addison Dwiggins, who, I think, was the best of the American book designers of this era. He is now dead. While Bruce Rogers and Daniel Berkeley Updike are usually considered the great ones of that time, they didn’t create a new style. They absorbed from the past and refined and perfected it.
But Dwiggins was originally an artist and his books are conceived more as an artist would design them than as a printer would. He inserted a new feeling, a new quality that no previous books have had. He early illustrated some books for Updike and other printers. But he concluded that as an accompaniment to type one should have
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done to here
decorations other than a drawn illustration. He envisioned something new, but in the tradition of the printer’s flowers type of things.
He started experimenting with stencils. He would cut in stencil various small abstract designs which he would piece together in much the same way that the printer’s ornaments were put together. Only he had a more freedom with this method since he could maneuver and manipulate them in various ways, where the printer’s ornaments were pretty set and rigid.
During our correspondence — generous and wonderful man that he was — he got out all these stencils and put them on a single sheet, which you’ll see. There are literally hundreds of them. Some of them are quite abstract while others show little figures and simple flower shapes. With these, as you can see, he could make a great variety of wonderful decorations to enhance a book. His bindings were especially handsome using these decorations. He loved to use a shiny black cloth with lots of gold stamping.
He wrote on the showing of his ornaments, ‘Elements for making pattern to be used with type. Cut in celluloid, .075 mostly. These discharges show the stencils as cut. Some of them are made with the idea of touching in the tie breaks with a pen to finish, but mostly used as cut. W. A. D. August 26th, 1940.’ Then he adds, ‘The
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property of Ward Ritchie. Will he consent to have it copied via photostat if the occasion for so doing might arise. W.A.D.’ [laughter]
Updike did arrive. Updike gave his lectures and I gave mine too. I had several nice letters from Updike about it. He died a few years later.
The Zamorano and Roxburghe Club, while they had similar purposes and were founded approximately the same year, had had absolutely no contact with one another. There had been a few members who had belonged to both clubs inasmuch as they had moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles or vice versa. So there was some communication and we knew of one another. It must have been about 1952 or ’53 that the suggestion was made by Theodore Lilienthal of the Roxburghe Club and Dr. Marcus Crahan of the Zamorano Club that the two clubs join together for a meeting, that the members could become more friendly and get to know one another. The Roxburghe Club in San Francisco made the first gesture and invited us up to meet with them. It was my duty that particular year, as president of the club, to arrange for the Zamorano part of meeting and to herd all of the Zamoranans up to San Francisco for the weekend of September 11th and 12th of 1953.
I arrived up there and found out, among other things, that I would have to make a speech to the Roxburghe mem-
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bers, as one of their members was to make a speech to us. As I was working on something to say, I thought that there should be a keepsake for this memorable occasion. In one of the little antique shops, I found a battered old pewter plate. [laughter] Albert Sperisen and I inscribed on it the signature of Agustín Zamorano, the first printer of California, for whom the Zamorano Club had been named, and also we tried to put on it the coat of arms of the Duke of Roxburghe for whom the Roxburghe Club had been named. During the course of my presentation of this to the club, I fabricated a meeting between these two great and illustrious men and explained how this particular plate had happened to belong to both of them. [laughter]
This ‘priceless’ pewter plate has become a treasured part of the Zamorano-Roxburghe tradition, now, and it is passed back and forth from one club to the next. The next year, the Roxburghe Club encased it in a beautiful leather and velvet box when they returned it to the Zamorano Club.
These meetings started out to be yearly affairs, but it was found that it was too much of a chore to gather forty or fifty men and entertain them for two days every year, so now it’s every other year. One year the Zamorano Club will go to San Francisco, and the next time they will come down to Los Angeles. The object is to show off the bibliographical treasures of one part
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against another, so naturally we have visited all of the libraries and museums and places of bibliophilic interest in both areas. There is always one big banquet on Saturday night and for the rest of the time we are bussed around to the points of interest, interspersed with food and cocktails.
Both the Zamorano Club and the Roxburghe Club have published several books. The most important one, I believe, that the Zamorano Club has done was the splendid biography of Augustín Zamorano which was written by George Harding of San Francisco, who is a member of both clubs. Many others have been done, including Bullion to Books by Henry Wagner, Islands of Books by Lawrence Clark Powell.
A few years ago, in 1961, when the Grolier Club of New York came West to visit both the Roxburghe Club and the Zamorano Club on a tour, the Zamorano Club took upon itself the production of a keepsake for them which was called A Bookman’s View of Los Angeles. It was printed by the various printer-members of the Zamorano Club, at that time consisting of Gordon Holmquist, who printed one section; Saul Marks, who printed another section; Grant Dahlstrom, who printed the third; and ourselves, who printed the fourth section. W.W. Robbinson wrote for it a profile of Los Angeles and its cultural background. Then, the directors of the four
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important libraries here — the Clark Library, the Honnold Library, the Huntington Library and the Southwest Museum Library — wrote about their libraries.
Tyrus Harmsen, the Occidental College Librarian, wrote a history of the Zamorano Club, and I attempted to summarize the history of fine printing in southern California which seemed to flower during the late ’20s, and continue through the ’30s and ’40s, and is still to a certain extent in its bloom. During the ’30s there were many small presses developing and trying to do fine printing.
It’s pretty much come down to Dahlstrom and Marks and our own enterprise now. Each of the printers designed his own piece. The first one, the profile of Los Angeles by W.W. Robbinson, was done by Gordon Holmquist, and then the section on the four libraries was printed by Saul Marks, and I did the one on fine printing, and Grant Dahlstrom did the little history of the Zamorano Club. We all got our handiwork in.
Back at the time when these book clubs were being founded, the first serious attempt at publishing also started in Los Angeles. Books had been done haphazardly by many printers, as you can tell by going through the section of Los Angeles imprints at the UCLA Library. But they seem to have been the work of printers who were given a job to print by an author or some organization. The
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Powell Publishing Company had done a series of books on Western history and there may have been others who actually published, but this is the first legitimate publishing venture in Los Angeles of which I am aware.
After Bruce McCallister had done the superb Warner’s ranch history, he became bitten by the possibility of doing another fine book. He talked to Jake Zeitlin about it, and Jake was naturally enthusiastic about anything that had to do with creating books. At the time, Marguerite Eyer Wilbur had been translating a German book about Los Angeles. I believe it was calledEin Blumen… I don’t know the exact German title (I have a copy of it someplace), but she had translated it under the name of ‘ Los Angeles in the Sunny Seventies.
Certain portions of it had been appearing in Touring Topics, the magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California. Jake talked to Phil Townsend Hanna, the editor of this magazine, about the possibility of making a book out of it, and Phil thought it was a great idea. Naturally, Marguerite Eyre Wilbur was interested in this. Bruce McCallister was happy because this was the type of book he would like to do.
Oddly enough, when I first went to see Bruce McCallister about getting into the printing business and he had sent me over to Frank Wiggins Trade School to learn something about it, he mentioned to me this book and said that he and Jake were planning to publish it. He wanted
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it to be a fine book and he would like to have it hand set. And if I could learn typesetting fast enough and was competent enough, he might give me a job, working on this book. But it turned out he was a little impatient [laughter] and couldn’t wait that long, and had it set by Monotype, I believe. He and Jake issued the book, and it was the earliest book that Jake had really sponsored as a publisher.
It set Jake’s mind to work, too, and a young poet that he met through Sidney King Russell came to see him. His name was Leslie M. Jennings who was at loose ends at the time, and they concocted the idea of starting a publishing firm — which they did under the name of The Primavera Press. This was about the end of 1929, or was operating in 1930.
From the early records, it would appear that it was a vanity press and that the earliest publications were paid for by the authors. The first one was a book by the name of Enoch by a Mrs. Nichols; and another book, Cavalcade by David Weisman; and An Anthology of Southern California Verse by the Verse Writers Club of Southern California.
Then a rather important book came to them, Adobe Days, which had been written by Sarah Bixby Smith and had been published or printed for her by the Torch Press of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in a rather miserable looking little edition,
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many years before. She wanted to have a really nice edition of this book, which Jake took upon himself to do with the help of Bruce McCallister. It was printed and designed by the firm of Young and McCallister and published by Jake. Jake owned a two-thirds interest in The Primavera Press and Leslie M. Jennings a one-third interest.
But the arrangement, while it was profitable to a certain extent to both of them, wasn’t completely satisfactory, and Jake, by the end of 1931, had taken it over himself. While there was a still a certain amount of vanity printing done by The Primavera Press, it gradually became legitimate, and they began selecting books because of their intrinsic value rather than because somebody was willing to pay for them.
The first of these was Phil Townsend Hanna’s Libros Californianos, or five feet of books on California, which became an important tool for the collector as the first discriminative selection of valuable California books for the collector. Phil Hanna, in addition to his own selection, included those of Robert Cowan, Henry Wagner and, I believe, Leslie Bliss, the Librarian of the Huntington Library. The publication of this book came right after I had been working for Jake, and one of the compensations I got for leaving him was the privilege of printing the book at the firm of Hackett, Newell & Ritchie.
Blonde girl, stay in this empty room
& sleep your infections away.
Dust settles on the coverlet
& runs to the soft suction
of your thin nostrils
& flees from the small sirocco
of your heat-cracked lips.
Your hands clench
& point beneath the coverlet;
your pale feet catch the light
outside the scarlet border of the quilt.
Crowds wait for you to rise in your
wrinkled shift; rise in Pre-Raphaelite
splendor, sick in soul and womb;
rise like a billboard Marilyn
by some Oklahoma highway
where not a single car has passed all morning.
Your daddy stank of alcohol,
& told us how your beauty humbled him
as you stood before us with your hair
twisted up, the best way to look ‘fancy’
that you knew. We held our breath
in Billy’s Bar as your voice took us to a far, sweet place
& kept us high in our cooling sweat
till your daddy stood to leave, and pocketed
my ten to see him down the road.
Before he left he pressed our hands together
& told me to take care of you,
his gifted girl.
That night I asked for ‘Amazing Grace’
& you sang it in your slip.
We finished off the Walker
as the sun came up
over Lake Michigan. The tall ravens
landed in the yard,
& barked like skinny dogs
& dueled for leathery droppings
in the street.
Before you closed your eyes
You said you wanted me to sing for you
in my own fashion,
bitter and low,
from out of my cockeyed, handwritten book
& willingly accepted my words
for your adornment
like those long intricate ear rings
making soft music on the pillow,
as you laughed & wept & dozed.
The radiator squatted
on gryphon feet
& fell into the sun
with no more sound
than a tea-kettle on the boil.
It was your friend & protector
through the autumn hours of that dry Monday
till I returned from work with mostly empty hands.
All I can give I gave you then:
a mattress on the floor,
canned beans and ground beef,
one hundred dollars for the doctor,
a white plastic radio,
a mirror for your own applause.
Now finally — these words:
they’ll be here when you awake again.
‘The bite of the tarantula fixes a man in his purpose, that is in what he was thinking about when he was bitten.’
— Leonardo da Vinci
Shatniel — I begin by writing the name
of an angelic being found at random
(more or less), in Gustave Davidson’s A Dictionary of Angels — because
I am fond of celestial citizens,
having spoken to one as a dreamy boy, and
later, staring at the east, when
puberty finally arrived, I saw in clouds
above the barns and silos, the angel
Gabriel, his silver horn, and the crossed
nails of sorrow. (The great warriors
of the air come less often to me now,
and the gift of seeing the signature of the
invisible powers in minerals and flowers
faded as I became a man. Now,
like the scarab beetle, I roll my pill of dirt
along the ground.) ‘Shatniel,
… a name found on an Oriental charm for
warding off evil. — auspicious sign
for a reader of Swedenborg, and
The Seeress of Provorst, but for the rest of us?
Mid-day, the collapsing
sun sucks at our insteps. Now
it rains. Drear winter
keeps coming. Downstairs
a child writhes in arms
it abhors. The clock
Ticks & Ticks & Ticks & Ticks.
We are immortal for
precisely 52 seconds.
Then the Scream
finds us, rides the air
for nanoseconds of eternity.
We are hushed in
its presence (i.e.
not immortal). It
jostles the cardboard
planets beneath the
ceiling, settles in
our lungs. The child
explodes in a fistful of red clay.
I throw the first card
down. You read. Shrug.
Drag the cup to your
lips. Can’ t we remember
a better time? A pale
woman on a beach
adding rows of numbers
in her head just to
delight us? We found
a horse shoe crab half
buried in the sand — it
brought glad tidings from
an obtuse world
of amethyst and amber.
An osprey sliced a wave.
You pointed it out —
called it ‘Frater’
or ‘Soror.’ (I forget
which.) One cyclic claw
yanked a fish to the
sun; one drop of sea
from a cloudy fin
colonized the flat
of your hand. You
thought it an omen, a
talisman — you were
careful to guard this
— ‘hint of immortality
in the girl-scented
beach house’ —
till the wind reclaimed it.
Then you dug into the
clay & we witnessed
bone turns to elegant stone,
while dog-like reptiles
frolicked in the surf:
like us they gloried
in their youth. Like
us they never saw
the sword flash above
the mauve horizon.
Gravity was gentler
then, objects never
fell when dropped, but scratched
roses at our finger ends.
Breath followed breath
through our lips
to their husbands’ pyres.
We gladly knelt upon
the butcher’s block
as if to tempt the
but knife & mallet
turned to scrolls
incised with the nib
of inexorable law.
& All that night
the glittering pistons
of the moon moved the
carousel, and each
skewered on a twizzle
stick, carried a
thoughtful muse, her
knuckles on her brow.
Now turn, now scratch
a Jack of Diamonds
across a seven. Blond
heat sifts through the grate.
In the wall a cricket
pulls on angels’ robes, its
song a relic of that
summer day. Snow’s grown
rotten by the lake.
Blue ice cracks
with a Berliozean
fervor. Diesel fumes,
like pretty children,
turn on a single toe.
The Italian barber
apes the white frenzy
of Socrates, his
dance among the
No hemlock cup.
An old man carries
trash to a dumpster.
I yawn. Stretch arms in
a gesture of the
empty thrones orbit
above us. The rich
do not eat styrofoam
but dine on the flab
They are Marduk and
as they pass the bread
line. Toll-free numbers
tell us to be poor.
Two placards grace
SINNERS TAKE HEART
A rat-torn lip
gives the tongue
more room to articulate.
The dead are happier
than they know.
can a lover give?
Deal a new card to
me, I will crack these
walls wide enough to
sink a fist between
the continents and
loop the orange cords
of longitude and
my knuckles. You would applaud
this gesture. Instead, I push
a pile of matchsticks
in your lap. You mention
holocausts, then drop
your eyes, embarrassed
by the obscene pressure
of the word. I invoke
Goethe, The Dignity
of Man, but the Scream
reappears with epaulets
of blood on either shoulder.
It nods. Points into
darkness where we
step like timid children,
fingers without rings
pockets full of ash.
And if we ever
return I’ d wager
we will be half-blind
bat-like things, tapping
our puckered brows against
the lintels of the wind.
How can one dream in a place like this?
The sun leans its terrible weight upon the city.
The golden lash rises and falls. Buses
sigh at the intersections where we stand
clacking our gums in the heat. Shadows
contain our boldest thoughts, and if we brave
the day we find ourselves watching the lake
clap its hands in idiotic glee, then tear
at its own flesh. A ragged arc burns
through new clouds. As the orb brightens
— becoming more perfect —
we close our eyes against it, yet
the black disk remains drifting above
brain-grey marl. You lift a curio
from its cabinet. Smile appraisingly. A head
with a crown of fractures glows dimly
in the belly of a pebble (handed down,
you say, for many hundred years.) Its eyes
are furred with scratches and its mouth gapes.
‘Press this rock against your forehead
and see the angels burn upon their thrones.’
I throw the stone away.
crawling with flies.
of desiccated flesh,
dense as marl
laid out on muddy
by a bicycle-mad street
where the Mao Jackets
& cleared their septic
under a sky threatening
& pale-eyed Northerners
with braided beards
‘not to be trusted’ (translator’s
to noon loafers
the wonders of Tao,
dragon bones, lion teeth cures.
Dressed in robes
of luminous smog, one
pats his lower back
& mimes a cup of charnel tea
downed in a gasp. Another grabs
his thing & laughs! Good health! Pee free!
He sings the price in black market Mao,
then artlessly spoons a nostril
with one cultivated nail.
One clacks two metal bars
to draw a crowd:
pigeons scatter in the factory yard.
He waves me near. I shake my head.
The loafers grin derision.
All smirk the tongueless foreigner away
& once again begin to dicker.
— Fujian, 1993.
The son kills his father the King with a sword, Armand,
But the old man’s corpse is clever
And in turn chews the son’s head off;
In fact he goes on to swallow the son’s
Torso & lower extremities
In a no-nonsense manner, but the son’s
Sword-holding arm will not slide down
The patriarchal throat. See, LIFE WANTS
TO HAPPEN, even if the complexity of the son
Is due to a rather primitive interaction
With his environment. Furthermore, the fond corpse
WANTS to clarify itself into low-grade gold, but because
Of condemnations by church and local government
Relaxes into a pile of ancient oak leaves instead.
Nevertheless, the results are stunning. The son’s phantom limb
Moves at right angles to civilization as we know it
Casting a phallic shadow across retorts and alembics.
Furthermore, the brain can be removed from the son’s head
And replaced by a cell phone, a calculator
Or a goddess ready to erupt full-blown, depending on the latest CNN polls
And the highly charged desires of the Tourists
Who take turns dressing in the old King’s blood.
See? The dead DO STEP in the same river twice, Armand,
But is this cruelty alchemy, science, or post-post-modern entertainment
Of questionable taste?
Jesse Glass has lived in Japan for twenty-five years. His work will be featured in Golden Handcuffs Review, and his collected Painted Books and Sequences is available from The Knives Forks and Spoons Press.
you can’t frisson like that any more
still bothered about beauty you have to put out
in the field let the field decide
whatever memes happen to me today
’s okay if we can handle the strange handles of
you who’ve so many more lovers
lining up online people who look up to
& down at you willing god that your selfie game balloons out
till you pop / filter or block what you come to
what else can we plonk
in your deep dark dank poem?
/ flowers are still nice but you need to be them
or buy them / induced by business to quit & drive
a Tractosaur thru delphiniums
humming songs from Mad Max & Sanditon
/ boys’re okay still too i s’pose
but beware of the ones who were once in bands
& those who don’t seem to be able to
look up to the sky
’cause there are other cats
of similar ilk & words too
to play down / dumb down / play dumb w/
in a minor key so that lyric heads can come to unlock
Lacan’s writing desk broke the internet
went bonkers like a Japanese knock-off when you got shared
for playing instrumentally
a badly doctored cover that saw the sea
oscillate b/w love & hate its feedback screaming
down a slippery slope
something ought to be
written about the banality of evol (sic)
the aesthetic chills you get when streaming & how the feels
feed your poetry: a mind cluttered w/ empty things
isn’t the death of you / a generation
/ people’ve always tuned out / mashing our genials together
pining transmits itself anyway the way a tree breathes
dark b/w breaths if only for the sake
which tastes coldly great on another’s tongue or limb their ache
to also communicate
how leaving you now
’s the only way for understanding to dawn on me & so ruin
the mystery as it comes undone
All the Skies above Girls on the Run
a big boom was passing over my head lugubrious in the dark air
& a really bright light exploded above the barn
words fell like spring rain from lips
a sprinkle of diamond confetti over confused lands
the girls ran along tonight’s question mark
loomed in the agate sky pointing them toward dewdrops
& madness tears in the rain
wondering whether any of them had seen the big flash
in the sky in the comet of the lighthouses
plastic star removal continues
the real message is being written in all those big air bubbles
it was snowing a portent of shooting stars to come
the droplets made diagonal streaks
in the air where pterodactyls had been climbing
to get a better view of the stars & the harvest moon
waxing as it waned into delirium tremens on the birdbath night
’s purple wrinkles danced like moonflowers
to the great here & there skies
gilded & armoured dawn was unsealing
the tips of tall buildings swayed to & fro in time
under the fluted covers of a big naked cloud
pushing rudely into the foreground
a giant paw over the moon
so that not even the dimpled sun as it coasted
majestically by these geese
sun burning his way thru flowers he thundered
pus of the sun brooding in sunburnt earth
could vale the sea
air was like sludge & yellow
winds turned the trailer park to dust
i gave some of my substance to the wind
lauding all future dust-storms it slithered over sandbars
in the coloured environment of sky moths buzzed
one had the courage to come out
far into the misty seasoned twilight from a distant patch of loam
the stealth of horizon neared us haply
a speck was arriving it was this side of sunset
again from which other squall daffodils
& the girls depended
on sliding toward some remainder of light i felt stretched away
into the hyacinth distance
blue was materializing a pink boomerang
that crested at where the nearest cloud-scraps had been
exploded in a geyser of impatience
a great plane flew across the sun the sun shone on
it was green like an elephant
green sky explains more about tomorrow
under whatever sun they send up to be worshipped
imbibed in the twilit nest of evening something was coming undone
the sun was going down & down & down
for the last time sun on this broad day you make us forget
dissolve in the crystal furnace
how serious we are as we dance in the lightning of your rhythm
like demented souls did we outwit you
dense night pouring over us & over the horizon
tidying us into pits of darkness where only the sky had hung before
Images from the internet, after a search for ‘Darger’: illustrations from Henry Darger, of Chicago, who has become famous for his posthumously discovered 15,145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story. John Ashbery’s poem Girls on the Run deals with the same themes, and its cover — it is a book — features the last image above, cropped. — J.T.