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Auction Announcement: William Spratling and William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans

In American History, Arts & Letters, Books, History, Humanities, Literature, News and Current Events, News Release, Southern History, Southern Literary Review, The South, Writing on April 5, 2013 at 8:45 am

Famous Creoles

William Spratling and William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans, published by Pelican Bookshop Press, New Orleans, 1926, first edition, first issue, number 217 of 250, bound in green boards, with label on front cover, interior of back cover with a label printed “Rebound in L’ATELIER Le Loup” and dated in ink “1986”.

Provenance: From the collection of Stephanie Durant, by descent from the collection of Ray Samuel.

A special copy of a rare and fragile book described by The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans as “one of the great literary curiosities in the city’s history.” The book comprises Spratling’s drawings of himself, Faulkner, and 41 of their acquaintances–artists, musicians, academics, preservationists, and socialites, “artful and crafty ones of French Quarter” with some of their uptown friends and patrons. One was novelist Sherwood Anderson, and Faulkner’s introduction parodies Anderson’s style.

 

The note above is taken from the catalog description of an extraordinary book that will be sold at auction on April 19.  The book has been given by Stephanie Durant of New Orleans to be sold for the benefit of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the sale will be conducted by the New Orleans Auction Galleries, which will donate its commission to the museum as well.

This copy is uniquely valuable because it is signed by 41 of the 43 persons included,

in a few cases with personal notes to its original owner. (See below for a complete list.) That number of autographs is certainly a record: The only other copy I know with more than a dozen or so is one with 31, and it was stolen from a Charlottesville, Virginia, bookshop some time ago.

The catalog description is accurate as far as it goes, but there is a great deal more to be said about this odd little book, written by two young men who went on to become arguably the greatest American novelist and the greatest Mexican silver designer of the twentieth century.  Those depicted include both figures well-known at the time, like writer Grace King and artist Ellsworth Woodward, and some who would become well-known later, like artist Caroline Durieux and writer Hamilton Basso. The title, an obscure joke, refers to a book of caricatures entitled The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans, by Vanity Fair cartoonist Miguel Covarrubias (to whom Famous Creoles is dedicated). The “Pelican Bookshop Press” was a fiction: Spratling and Faulkner paid a local printer to produce 250 copies. Spratling (though, note, not Faulkner) signed and hand-tinted some images in 50, mostly for the friends who were included. There was a second printing of 150 copies, somewhat less valuable on the rare book market. The book was not at all sturdy, and it is not unusual to find copies that have been repaired or, like this one, rebound. Many copies have presumably fallen apart and been discarded. Musician Harold Levy’s hand-tinted copy was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

The original owner of this particular copy, Stella Lengsfield Lazard, signed her name in ink on inside front. In 1926 Mrs. Lazard was 43. Her husband, Henry Calme Lazard, was a stockbroker related by blood and marriage to several distinguished mercantile and financial families in New Orleans and elsewhere. The couple had one grown son, and lived with her parents uptown on St. Charles Avenue.  (Her father was a successful cotton factor.)

Mrs. Lazard had literary, historical, and musical interests.  In 1925 she wrote a series of feature articles for the Times-Picayune on the mayors of New Orleans, and a few years later she served as narrator for a weekly musical program on WDSU radio, “Sweet Mystery of the Air,” featuring a trio of local musicians: harpist, violinist, and tenor.  To judge by the inscriptions in her copy of Famous Creoles, she was friends with a number of those included.  For instance, one reads, “To Stella, the star, from the stellar Helen Pitkin Schertz”; Flo Field wrote “Love to my old staunch [?] friend”; and William “Cicero” Odiorne, who was in Paris, wrote “When are you coming over?”

Others who did more than simply sign their names include writers Sherwood Anderson and Roark Bradford; artists Conrad Albrizio, Marc Antony, and Virginia Parker Nagel; Tulane cheerleader Marian Draper; and Lillian Friend Marcus, managing editor of the Double Dealer magazine. The presidents of Tulane and of Le Petit Théatre, A. B. Dinwiddie and Mrs. J. O. Nixon, simply added their institutional affiliations.  Natalie Scott just signed the page with her picture on it, but a note in Mrs. Lazard’s hand identifies a building shown in the picture as the Court of Two Sisters (which Miss Scott owned).  One amusing addition: On an almost blank page Arthur Feitel, a 34-year-old bachelor architect, wrote “Me, too” and signed his name.  Feitel, whose picture was not included, was a Tulane graduate who had studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts; he would later serve as president of both the Art Association of New Orleans and the board of the Delgado Museum.

Only two “Famous Creoles” did not sign Mrs. Lazard’s book. One is easily explained. By the time the book appeared Ronald Hargrave was pretty much incommunicado; he was painting in Majorca, and he never returned to New Orleans. But the other missing signature is that of William Faulkner. It seems to me that Mrs. Lazard went to a great deal of trouble to track down people to sign her book (William Odiorne signed it, and he was in Paris), so it is almost inconceivable that she didn’t ask Faulkner. He must have refused to sign, possibly just out of general cussedness — he was known for being moody and sometimes difficult, and he didn’t sign the 50 copies that Spratling hand-tinted either. In addition, however, Faulkner didn’t care for “artsy” uptown people he thought were dilettantes (unlike Spratling, who enjoyed their company), and he may have viewed Mrs. Lazard as one of them. Whatever the explanation, in some ways Faulkner’s absence may actually be more interesting than a perfunctory autograph would have been.

Mrs. Lazard’s copy was eventually acquired by Stephanie Durant’s father, J. Raymond Samuel, a well-known historian, collector and (in his retirement years) dealer in books and art. On his death the book passed to Mrs. Durant, who has now generously given it to benefit the Ogden Museum.

 

–John Shelton Reed, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,

Author of Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s

 

Inquiries about the auction should be directed to :

 

Jelena James

New Orleans Auction Galleries                                                        <jelena@neworleansauction.com>

801 Magazine Street                                                                          800-501-0277
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130                                                        504-566-1849

 

“Famous Creoles”

(with ages in 1926)

Signed Lazard copy

Conrad Albrizio, 27

New York-born, serious artist, Spratling’s neighbor, Arts and Crafts Club

stalwart

Sherwood Anderson, 50

“Lion of the Latin Quarter,” eminence gris, generous to respectful younger

writers

Marc Antony and Lucille Godchaux Antony, both 28

Love-match between heiress and lower-middle-class boy, local artists

Hamilton “Ham” Basso, 22

Star-struck recent Tulane grad, aspiring writer, good dancer

Charles “Uncle Charlie” Bein, 35

Director of Arts and Crafts Club’s art school; lived with mother, sister,

and aunt

Frans Blom, 33

Danish archeologist of Maya, Tulane professor, colorful resident of

Quarter

Roark Bradford, 30

Newspaperman, jokester, hit pay dirt with Negro dialect stories

Nathaniel Cortlandt Curtis, 45

Tulane architecture professor, preservationist, recorded old buildings

Albert Bledsoe Dinwiddie, 55

President of Tulane, Presbyterian

Marian Draper, 20

Ziegfeld Follies alum, Tulane cheerleader, prize-winning architecture

student

Caroline “Carrie” Wogan Durieux, 30

Genuine Creole, talented artist living in Cuba and Mexico, painted by Rivera

Flo Field, 50

French Quarter guide, ex-journalist, sometime playwright, single mother

Louis Andrews Fischer, 25

Gender-bending Mardi Gras designer, named for her father

Meigs O. Frost, 44

Reporter’s reporter; lived in Quarter; covered crime, revolutions, and arts

Samuel Louis “Sam” Gilmore, 27

Greenery-yallery poet and playwright, from prominent family

Moise Goldstein, 44

Versatile and successful architect, preservationist, active in Arts and

Crafts Club

Weeks Hall, 32

Master of and slave to Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation, painter, deeply

strange

R. Emmet Kennedy, 49

Working-class Irish boy, collected and performed Negro songs and stories

Grace King, 74

Grande dame of local color literature and no-fault history, salonnière

Alberta Kinsey, 51

Quaker spinster, Quarter pioneer, indefatigable painter of courtyards

Richard R. Kirk, 49

Tulane English professor and poet, loyal Michigan Wolverine alumnus

Oliver La Farge, 25

New England Brahmin, Tulane anthropologist and fiction-writer, liked

a party

Harold Levy, 32

Musician who ran family’s box factory, knew everybody, turned up

everywhere

Lillian Friend Marcus, 35

Young widow from wealthy family, angel and manager of Double Dealer

John “Jack” McClure, 33

Poet, newspaper columnist and reviewer, Double Dealer editor, bookshop

owner

Virginia Parker Nagle, 29

Promising artist, governor’s niece, Arts and Crafts Club teacher

Louise Jonas “Mother” Nixon, 70

A founder of Le Petit Theatre and its president-for-life, well-

connected widow

William C. “Cicero” Odiorne, 45

Louche photographer, Famous Creoles’ Paris contact

Frederick “Freddie” Oechsner, 24

Recent Tulane graduate, ambitious cub reporter, amateur actor

Genevieve “Jenny” Pitot, 25

Old-family Creole, classical pianist living in New York, party girl

Lyle Saxon, 35

Journalist, raconteur, bon vivant, host, preservationist, bachelor

Helen Pitkin Schertz, 56

Clubwoman, civic activist, French Quarter guide, writer, harpist

Natalie Scott, 36

Journalist, equestrian, real-estate investor, Junior Leaguer, social

organizer

William “Bill” Spratling, 25

Famous Creoles illustrator, Tulane teacher, lynchpin of Quarter

social life

Keith Temple, 27

Australian editorial cartoonist, artist, sometimes pretended to be

a bishop

Fanny Craig Ventadour, 29

Painter, Arts and Crafts Club regular, lately married and living in

France

Elizebeth Werlein, 39

Suffragette with colorful past, crusading preservationist,

businessman’s widow

Joseph Woodson “Pops” Whitesell, 50

Photographic jack-of-all-trades, French Quarter eccentric,

inventor

Daniel “Dan” Whitney, 32

Arts and Crafts Club teacher, married (two) students, beauty

pageant judge

Ellsworth Woodward, 65

Artistic elder statesman, old-fashioned founder of Newcomb art

department

Did not sign Lazard copy

William “Bill” Faulkner, 29

Needs no introduction, but wrote the one to Famous Creoles

Ronald Hargrave, 44

Painter from Illinois formerly active in Quarter art scene,

relocated to Majorca

 

From Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s,

© 2012, LSU Press.

Review of John Shelton Reed’s Dixie Bohemia

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Southern History, Southern Literary Review, The South, Writing on October 31, 2012 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

The following review first appeared here in Southern Literary Review.

John Shelton Reed’s Dixie Bohemia is difficult to classify. It’s easier to say what it isn’t than to say what it is.

It isn’t biography.  It isn’t documentary.  It isn’t quite history, although it does organize and present information about a distinct class of past individuals interacting and sometimes living together in a unique, definable space.

It isn’t quite sociology either, although Reed is, by training and profession, a sociologist, and sociology does, every now and then, sneak its way into the pages.

Maybe it’s best to suggest that the book is a bit of all of these, but it’s also an annotated edition of Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans.

Written and compiled by William Spratling and William Faulkner, whom Reed affectionately dubs the “Two Bills,” Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles, first published in 1926,was something of a joke: its oft-rambunctious subjects weren’t really creoles, but simply friends of the authors, and most weren’t, by most measurable standards, famous.

Reed’s stated goal, one of them at least, is to provide an “introduction to a Bohemian crowd of artists, writers, journalists, musicians, poseurs, and hangers-on found in the French Quarter in the mid-1920s.”  This eclectic and creative crowd comprises what Reed calls a social circle, or, in more academic parlance, a “loose network of relationships linked by friends in common,” “by association with the same institutions,” and “by common interests.”

Reed explains that social circles, by nature, “have no formal leaders, but they may have their notables,” and they have their cores, too.  The leader of the so-called “famous Creoles” is Sherwood Anderson, and the core, as you might have guessed, is the French Quarter.

Tulane University, with all of its energy, entertainers, and eccentrics, enabled and sustained the circle that produced the local arts, literature, and culture.  The area and its residents gained a national, indeed international, reputation.  As Meigs Frost, a reporter who made the cut as a famous creole, put it, “So many of us here are internationally famous locally.”

Reed’s subtly sociological introductory chapters place his subjects, which were also the two Bills’ subjects, into their historical context—and what a wild, exotic, and at times erotic context it is.  His comprehensive research is delivered with such wit and enthusiasm that one can forget this work is scholarship written by a former professor and published by a university press.

His occasional use of the first person and confessional, qualifying asides—“as far as I know,” “Some may find it easier than I do,” “to my mind artists should not be judged on what prejudiced observers see in their work,” “It is difficult to discuss this,” “I have mentioned,” “I know of someone,” “it’s fair to say,” “It’s hard to imagine”—will let you know, or let you guess at, where he stands on an issue or acknowledges an assumption on his part.  Such delicate humility—or is it just honest colloquialism?—is rare for a person who made his career in the university, and it would be a shame if readers neglected to notice it.

Peopled with absinthe-drinking, music-loving debauchers, 1920s New Orleans was a place where madams and brothels were as common as jambalaya and gumbo; where music poured into the streets, which smelled of spices, sex, and booze; where bootleggers (this was the Prohibition Era, remember) set up shop next to cops (who were customers of the brothels and the bootleggers); where the only limit on free love, it seemed, was the stultifying effect of alcohol; where parties—especially costume balls—were considered failures if nobody got naked; and where vivacious theater, daily newspapers, and edgy literary periodicals flourished.

If this milieu seemed excessive, radical, intemperate, even libertine, it was also in a way conservative: there was among its dwellers a ubiquitous impulse to preserve and maintain.  History, both that being made and that made already, was important to the artists and writers.  The districts, the streets, the homes, the buildings, the sidewalks—all of them required and received care and protection, and all of them underwent systematic revitalization.  The literati, as conservationists, were afraid that the world they had inherited, and to some extent made, was endangered.

Fans of Reed have come to expect certain things: the informal idioms and plain speech he uses while dissecting, with surgeon-like precision, complex people and institutions; the surprising clarity he brings to understudied topics; and the delightful, conversational prose with which he arrests your attention, transports you into another world, and then releases you back into your own world.

In this, his latest, he does not disappoint.  As always, he delivers—and in so doing provides telling insights into a minor renaissance in American literary history.  His discussions of race and sexuality will inspire (or provoke) future study, but more importantly he has addressed some of the least known phases of some of the most known American litterateurs.

Reed doesn’t need my endorsement.  But he’s got it.

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