Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Closing the Tabs

One should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good, and one should not let one's open tabs prevent one from doing other writing. To that end, I (MrsDarwin, posting under Darwin's name in a blast from the past) am clearing out a number of things I've been reading recently (or even not so recently) and chewing on, and wishing I could discuss with others, or, rather, know that others have read so that even if we're not directly discussing them, we share a common mental library.

(Alas for all the many tabs that have been lost, and the discussions that might have been!)

My grandfather died before I was born, and he remains to me a mostly mysterious figure. As is true of many people born poor who are committed to bettering their lot, his hours were taken up with work, family, and church; not much was left for that luxury item we call personality. A big man with paws for hands, in 1926 he got a job with the Consolidated Gas Company as a digger, busting up roadways and digging trenches for the laying of pipe. With his wife he raised six children in a two-bedroom apartment on 145th Street in the South Bronx. During his working life, he went to Mass on Sundays; during his brief retirement, he went to Mass every day. When I asked, people would tell me, “Your grandfather was a very good man,” and leave it at that. He left behind few stories.

But one story about him has stayed with me. He worked six days a week, but on some Sunday afternoons he would take the subway into Manhattan and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He often went alone, because no one else in the family wanted to go with him. But his most frequent companion was my mother, who as the fifth child and fourth girl was perhaps the least regarded member of the family and wanted attention. After he died, she reflected on those museum afternoons.

“He didn’t say anything,” she said. “He would just walk through the galleries silently. He never pointed out particular paintings or statues, or expressed any particular enthusiasm. I wish I had asked him why he went—but I never found that out. He must have gotten something out of it, because he went over and over again. But he had no words.” My mother was to study at City College and become an elementary school teacher. She would visit museums all over the world, sharing her thoughts about art with anyone who would accompany her. I have her journals; they are about the art she saw. Art became a part of our family life. And behind it all was my mother’s unsatisfied curiosity about what motivated her father, the silent man in the museum.

There is always a residuum of mystery in individual choice. But I now see one obvious reason why my grandfather came to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: He had been invited. A group of wealthy men had built the institution in the hope that men like my grandfather—ditchdiggers, pipe fitters, bricklayers, and others who labored to manufacture, build, and repair—would learn of the glories of men and women who likewise worked with their hands: artists. But the story of the museum begins far away, in Paris, and with Richard Morris Hunt, the man who more than any other brought the fine arts to New York City.

The brothers — Ferruccio, Attilio, Furio, Getulio, Masaniello and Orazio — deftly juggled dual professional identities. While their main business was executing the visions of famous sculptors like Daniel Chester French, whose design for the figure of Abraham Lincoln the Piccirillis carved out of 28 blocks of Georgia marble weighing 150 tons for the Lincoln Memorial, they also sculpted their own original works.

Attilio and Furio were academically trained in Rome, and Mr. French esteemed the two men so highly as artists that he acquired original works by both for the Met while serving as the head of the museum’s board of trustees sculpture committee in the early 20th century.

...Nonetheless, the Piccirillis have been largely forgotten, lost in the shadow cast by renowned American sculptors like Mr. French himself.

Now, Eduardo Montes-Bradley, a 63-year-old filmmaker reared in Buenos Aires, wants to elevate the brothers’ legacy, casting a new spotlight on their work in a documentary he has been working on for two years. The film, “The Italian Factor,” portrays these carvers not as stereotypical unskilled immigrant laborers in “funny paper hats,” as he puts it, but rather as prodigiously talented artisans indispensable to public art in the city and in America at large.

  • Only related thematically: Meet Mr. Mincione, a longform interview at The Pillar with Raffaele Mincione, the "Anglo-Italian investment manager who sold a London building to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State".
Mincione’s name has become synonymous with the scandal of Vatican finances, and linked inextricably to the other nine defendants with whom he is on trial, some he has done business with, and some he’s never met. 

Along the way, Mincione has faced serious questions about his work for the Vatican, and his relationships with the other defendants, none of which he’s been willing to answer at length in public before.

But Mincione is adamant that he is innocent, an honest businessman unfairly caught up in a scandal in which he’s become as much a victim as the Vatican — and potentially standing to lose even more.

After years of declining interview requests, Mincione agreed last month to speak with The Pillar. In the course of several phone calls, he offered to answer any questions about his dealings with the Vatican and, as he put it, “back up everything I say with documents.” 
  • A delightful piece about persistent research, in which an obscure and seemingly useless federal project turns out to have very human origins in the needs of a specific community: The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge, by Tyler Vigen.

  • While searching for the price of yarn in Jane Austen's day, I came across references to this new book, which I've just reserved through our interlibrary loan program: Jane Austen's Wardrobe, by Hilary Davidson. 
  • That same search turned up this lovely blog post on Austen's approach to turning one article of clothing into something new and fashionable through retrimming and touching up, and how the world needs more of the same: Jane Austen, Scarcity, and Mawmaw's Quilts, by Jeni Hankins.
  • The best £10/month (the only £10/month) I spend is my Patreon subscription to Victorians Vile Victorians. One does not need to pay to read VVV's delightful daily dose of Victorian flash fiction, inspired by period paintings, but the Blitherer has delighted me enough over the years that I'm happy to subscribe. Patreon is often used, I feel, as a monthly charity, but in this case, there is really a daily return, for which I am pleased to contribute.

1 comment:

Aria Griffey said...

Ah, so cool that you read Ted Gioia! I recently discovered his newsletter and have been trawling through the archives. Such a fascinating man with many fascinating ideas.