Walker Hancock

Pegasus and Warrior (Courage), Walker Hancock, 1937

Together, the warrior and mythological Pegasus represent courage. The warrior’s sure control of Pegasus’ head contrasts the horse’s ready to take flight open wings. This plaster model is one of four (Courage, Vision, Loyalty and Sacrifice) that artist Walker Hancock (1901-1998) created in preparation for sculpting their full-scale versions that flank Soldiers Memorial in downtown Saint Louis. That memorial is undergoing a massive renovation and is currently closed, but is scheduled to reopen next year on Veteran’s Day. 

Walker Hancock was also a Monuments Man. During WW II, a commissioned group of men and women from thirteen nations was formed. Composed of museum directors, curators and artists, the mission of these people was to track down stolen art that the Nazis had plundered. In the 2014 movie, “The Monuments Men”, John Goodman plays a character that is based on Hancock.

Nature & Politics

Sun’s Glow Kissed Maple

There is a certain crispness in the air these day. When it is sunny out, the trees glow brightly with all the warm colors of the spectrum. Walking down the road causes dry leaves to rustle at your feet. Fall has fallen, autumn has awakened, as nature displays one last spectacle, before winter dark and dreary comes our way.

With southern summers and northern winters, Saint Louis has never been known for nice weather. Years ago, during a brief period of uncharacteristically fine conditions, this city’s mayor quipped that if the weather was like this all of the time, then none of us could afford to live here. There is one season though that Saint Louisans can reliably count upon and that is this one. Fall is our season.

Tokamak Asdex Upgrade Interior 2, Max Planck IPP, Garching, Thomas Struth, 2009

I enjoyed a cool autumn walk today, when I hoofed it over to the art museum. I went to see the new show there, entitled “Nature & Politics”, by Thomas Struth. This photography exhibit’s title is intended by the artist as a “partly comical provocation.” The subjects of his photos are complex technological constructs, like aircraft factories, robotics labs, and nuclear fusion reactors (pictured above). All these sites represent humanity’s attempts to understand and harness unseen forces of nature, often at great cost of resources. Quoting the artist, “Nothing that you see would be thinkable without nature but in everything you see, there is politics because there’s political strategies that impact you subconsciously.”

As artist statements go, I find his to be suitably obtuse and sufficiently artsy. I found this show interesting, full of images of high-tech wizardry, but also lacking in beauty. Maybe, it is because I spent my career working in and around environs, similar in form if not function as the ones depicted. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. The devices portrayed are not lovely to behold. Often they’re a jumbled mess of wires and tubes. What gives them true beauty is the secrets of nature that they help to unlock, but you can’t see that in a photograph and Mr. Struth purposely avoids any explanations of his subjects. Leaving we his audience to gawk ignorantly. Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Maybe making magic is what Struth was shooting for. That would certainly explain the odd selection of images from Disney’s Magic Kingdom in his show.

Paul Jacoulet

Paul Jacoulet (1896–1960) was a French-born, Japan-based woodblock printer with a style that mixed traditional ukiyo-e and his own techniques. Above are two of his prints that are on display in the Saint Louis Art Museum’s Century of Japanese Prints show. Born in Paris the son of a French diplomat, he lived most of his life in Japan. Doted on and encouraged as an artist by his mother, he was often sent south during winter. She believed that the South Pacific could do as much for her son’s art as Polynesia had done for Gauguin. His father left Japan when WW II began, but he and his mother remained. She began living with a Japanese general. Jacoulet survive the war years by moving to the countryside and raising vegetables and poultry. He was a shameless self-promoter and sent his prints to famous people. MacArthur always got a Christmas gift and his work hung in the General’s Tokyo HQ. Near the end of his life he was barred entry to the US due to his “undesirability” as a gay. Undeterred and dressed in a white suit with a silver headed cane, he walked into the US at Niagara Falls. He primarily printed figures and frequently portrayed rural Japanese in traditional dress. These traits have given his work modern anthropological significance. 

Century of Japanese Prints

The Saint Louis Art Museum’s new show, Century of Japanese Prints presents a selection of modern Japanese woodblock prints. This exhibit differs markedly from the museum’s previous Japanese woodblock show, Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan. That one, as its name implies was martial in nature. This one is decidedly not. The exhibit unfolds over 100 years, but I have selected to share only three pictures here and they all happen to be from the same period. Commercial woodblock prints brought a modern sensibility to the traditions of ukiyo-e, “pictures of the floating world,” a school of Japanese art that depicted beautiful women, kabuki actors, landscapes, and scenes from everyday life that flourished in pre-war Japan. Kobayakawa Kiyoshi’s “Tipsy” depicts a “modern girl”, Japan’s answer to the 1920s flapper. Kawase Hasui excelled at night scenes and his pictures of famous places were popular with Western collectors. The Torii Kotondo print is a modern allusion to 8th-century poetry, where the lovelorn wife refuses to comb her hair in her lover’s absence. There were also a pair of Paul Jacoulet prints in the show too.

The most amazing part of our visit occurred by way of chance meetings. On our way into the museum, we met Susan. She, her daughter Annie, Dan and Anne did a version of the great American road trip. Has it really been seven years? Both moms took their children out west on this trip to LA art schools. Susan is retired now. She and her friend Lisa had been in the park enjoying some of our autumnal heat, but escorted us into the museum for a little cool down, don’t you know. Our other meeting was with a visitor to Saint Louis. Clark, a retired sports writer from Atlanta was in town for a wedding. He was friendly and we just struck up a conversation. Susan and Lisa breezed by again, on their way into the prints exhibit. Eventually, all good things come to an end and we bade farewell to him, but we did not leave the Slammer just yet.

Anne had to exit through the gift shop and then we lunched at Panorama, the museum’s relatively new and new to us restaurant. Anne had their regional artisan cheeses, with fig jam, tomato chutney and crusty bread. I had their spring zucchini, kale and mushroom entrée, with creamy goat cheese polenta and romesco sauce. What really intrigued me though was the sautéed airline chicken breast. I envisioned something à la TWA, but as it turns out an airline chicken breast is a meat cut, where the wing is left still attached.