Friday, October 26, 2012

A Saint for Modern Times

While doing some research for my blog post last week, I discovered quite by accident that Flannery O'Connor used to subscribe to the Catholic Worker, the weekly newspaper founded by Dorothy Day in 1933.  This factoid caught my attention for two reasons.  First, I just finished Jim Forest's superb biography of Day, All is Grace.  Second, even though O'Connor was a voracious reader, I was surprised to find out that she would take a publication that espoused views that often contradicted her own.  In a 1956 letter to Betty Hester, O'Connor asked, "Do you see the Catholic Worker?  It irritates me considerably because I don't go for the pacifist-anarchist business, but every now and then you will find something fine in it." (The Habit of Being p. 173).  At times Dorothy Day herself  took actions that O'Connor could not countenance, as for instance when she visited Koinonia, the Christian agricultural community in Americus, Georgia.  Near the end of her visit to the farm, Dorothy Day was nearly killed when a drive-by sniper shot at her car.  When Flannery heard about this terrifying incident she quipped to her friend Betty Hester: "All my thoughts on this subject are ugly and uncharitable - such as: that's a mighty long way to come to get shot at, etc.  I admire her [Day] very much.  I still think of the story about the Tennessee hillbilly who picked up his gun and said, 'I'm going to Texas to fight fuhmuh rights'...I wish somebody would write something sensible about Koinonia - as  you say it is something regressive which is getting all the benefit of martyrdom.  I think they should be allowed to live in peace but that they deserve all this exaltation I highly doubt.  D.D. [Dorothy Day] wrote up her trip there in the CW [Catholic Worker], which I duly enclose  It would have been all right if she hadn't had to stick in her plug for Their Way of Life for Everybody." (The Habit of Being, pp. 218-220).  Though Flannery remained conflicted about Dorothy Day and the work she was doing, she kept up her subscription to the Catholic Worker, and it was in the pages of that paper that she discovered the Prayer to St. Raphael, the prayer that ever afterward she repeated before she went to bed at night.

Every now and then, the idea gets kicked around that Flannery should be canonized.  While that is probably not going to happen in my lifetime, the official process is well underway in the Church to recognize Dorothy Day.  Because of her lifetime of care and advocacy for the poor, the forsaken, the hungry, and the homeless, Dorothy Day is indeed a saint for modern times.  However, when Day was approached once and told that some people considered her a saint, she replied "Don't call me a saint - I don't want to be dismissed so easily."  One can imagine O'Connor repeating these words to those today who wish to beatify her.
- Mark

Friday, October 19, 2012

Country Hitchin'

It's a beautiful fall day here at Andalusia, much like it was two weeks ago when Stephanie Smith and Vince Vaughn were united in marriage on the front lawn in a beautiful ceremony at sunset.  Though we're aware of at least a couple wedding receptions out here in the past, this is the first time in the Foundation's history that a couple has ever tied the knot on the premises. I have sometimes wondered why it's taken this long.  You couldn't ask for a prettier place to have a wedding and, for a Flannery O'Connor fan like Stephanie Vaughn, why Andalusia is just about perfect.  In honor of the setting, the bride chose dresses for her attendants in peacock hues of  blue, purple, green, and copper.  Each of the ladies had peacock feathers in  her hair and the bride carried some of the colorful plumes in her bouquet.  Even the wedding cake was decorated with peacocks.  Now that's an O'Connor fan!  You can see more photos from the wedding and reception by clicking this link.  Congratulations Stephanie and thank you for sharing your wedding pictures.  Thank you, too, for your kind words on Facebook.  All of us here at Andalusia wish you and Vince many happy years together. 
- Mark

Friday, October 12, 2012

"What about the picture in the dining room?"

With the interest that last week's post generated, I thought I would devote this week's to another piece of art visitors to Andalusia sometimes ask us about: the framed picture over the living room/dining room mantle.  Though a bit water-stained, it is a print of the painting "Crossing a Highland Loch," by the nineteenth-century British painter Jacob Thompson.  Finished in 1858, the title of the composition is a bit misleading as it looks more like the travelers depicted are crossing the cow pond at Andalusia rather than a lake in the Scottish highlands.  Though largely forgotten today, Thompson was a popular artist in his day, and his work was much in demand.  Born in 1806 to a family of prosperous Quakers, he decided early on that he wanted to pursue a career as an artist.  Unfortunately, he received no encouragement from his father who believed his son ought to find something more practical to do with his life.  So he was soon apprenticed to a house painter to learn that trade.  In his spare time, however, Thompson continued to cultivate his talent as a landscape painter.   He soon attracted the notice of Lord Lonsdale who introduced the young artist to the painter Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830).  With this valuable connection Thompson managed to get accepted into the Royal Academy of Art.  He started exhibiting his work in 1824.   From the very beginning of his career until he made his last brush stroke, Thompson cleaved to a rather prosaic, academic style that evinces little artistic growth or maturity.   After living in retirement forty years, Jacob Thompson died on  Dec. 27, 1879. 
- Mark

Friday, October 5, 2012

Schmalz[y] Art

Occasionally visitors to Andalusia ask us about the painting in Flannery's room by Robert Hood.  On Tuesday, however, someone asked me about the picture in the upstairs guest room.  I must admit that I drew a blank, mainly because I hadn't been upstairs in a while and thus had a hard time recalling it.  After this visitor left, I ran upstairs to take a look at the painting she was referring to.  I then did a Google search and discovered that our picture is a print of the painting, Return from Calvary, by the relatively unknown British artist, Gustave Schmalz. Relatively unknown among Pre-Raphaelite painters, Schmalz's art is characterized by an overwrought emotionalism that some, with our jaded 21st-century sensibilities, find repugnant.  Be that as it may, Schmalz's work was quite popular in its day.  He was born in England in 1856, the son of a German father and English mother.  He received his art training at the South Kensington School of Art and later at the Royal Academy of Arts.  He studied with Frank Dicksee, Stanhope Forbes, and Arthur Hacker.  He then went to Antwerp to perfect his style of conventional history painting.  After a trip to Jerusalem in 1890, Schmalz created a series of paintings with New Testament themes, Return from Calvary (1891) being his best known piece.  In the late 1890s Schmalz switched to painting portraits.  In 1900 an exhibition of his work was held at the Fine Art Society on Bond Street in London.  He was friends with other English artists including William Holman Hunt, Val Prinsep, and Frederic Leighton.  After Germany was defeated in World War I, Schmalz changed his name to John Wilson Carmichael.  He continued to be active in London until his death in 1935. 
- Mark