Editor’s letter, November/December 2014

Editorial Staff Opinion

In the nineteenth century there was an oft-repeated tale about the young Thomas Coleentering New York from the far reaches of rural Pennsylvania and being met with hosannasfrom the city’s artists. Like most oft-told tales this one turned fact toward myth (to beginwith, Cole had arrived from nowhere more obscure than Philadelphia), and yet it suggests somethingintriguing and durable about the artist: clouds of transcendent glory do seem to clingto him. Alexander Nemerov, in one of his aerial feats of art historical criticism that we are luckyenough to publish in this magazine, suggests why this should be so. “Thomas Cole’s hat, or What is it to be an artist?” looks beneath the hat on display at the Thomas Cole house in Catskill, New York, to consider what we can and cannot know about a creative mind attuned to a different world while living in this one. The article is, if I may be oxymoronic for a moment, an effortless tour de force, so hang on to your hat and take the ride. It will be worth it. There are further adventures in our annual painting and sculpture issue and they bring to my mind a rivulet of satire that runs through Henry James’s late novel The Golden Bowl. James’s American millionaire Adam Verver has been roaming Europe buying up rare objects of beauty for a museum he will bestow on the philistines of American City, a place in the hinterlands where he has no intention of living (though James sends him there in the end). I will glide over the complexities of The Golden Bowl to guess that James would certainly be intrigued and probably pleased by the number of American collections recently formed in a democratic spirit quite different from Verver’s high-handedness in places heretofore considered the hinterlands. A year ago we featured the fine collection of maritime art in Winona, Minnesota. In this issue you will find the equally distinguished Johnson Collection of art inspired by the South in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the Western art in the new Haub Family Galleries of the Tacoma Art Museum, and the extended hymn to working class Detroit in the photographs of Bill Rauhauser, whose images show an artist possessed of the greatest of all Jamesian qualities, the capacity to be fully present in the world. At one or two moments in The Golden Bowl James lets Adam Verver drop the jumped-up diction he has cultivated in Europe and say something corny like, “Oh, shucks!” When he does this Prince Amerigo notices that “it is when he talks American that he is most alive.” I like to imagine Verver exiled in American City, talking American, being alive to the local scene, and also bestowing exquisite gifts. He’d have been ahead of his time for sure, but he would be right at home in ours.