Wendell D. Garrett, 1929-2012

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff Magazine, Opinion

from The Magazine ANTIQUES,  January/February, 2013 |

The editorials that Wendell Garrett wrote for this magazine over forty years radiate a quiet confidence in American democracy. But if you read a great many of them alongside the notebooks of quotations he kept throughout his life you begin to see a man who was actually turning over the topsoil of our democracy in search of solid ground to justify that confidence. As he synthesized the thoughts of the founding fathers and of historians past and present into the mini lessons of his editorials, he had to admit, like his hero John Adams, that democracy was often its own worst enemy, that in Hawthorne’s words (which he copied into his quote book), “in this republican society…somebody is always at the drowning point.” Surely Wendell’s early life as a child of sharecroppers who was born just before Black Tuesday taught him that our liberties can be placed in the service of power until many citizens really are at the drowning point.

Despair is easy and Wendell did not  succomb to it either in print or on the  streets of New York-where he powered his  wheelchair through harrowing traffic and  indifferent crowds protected by nothing  more than his particular brand of  optimism. Not surprisingly, among the  writers often found in his quote books is F.  Scott Fitzgerald who understood courage  as the capacity to know the worst yet think  the best. Surely Wendell’s ability to think  the best came in part from his admiration for the great, solid things our democratic citizens have made-the architecture, paintings, furniture, and decorative arts-that endure, unsullied and uncompromised. He dedicated his life to them and, we can agree, they have repaid his faith.

Click below for a photographic tribute to Wendell, along with a few quotations from his little black books.

  • The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely as they will be, by the better  angels of our nature.

    Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, 1861

  • “Democratic nations…will therefore cultivate the arts that serve to render life easy in preference to those whose object it is to adorn it. They will habitually prefer the useful to the beautiful, and they will require that the beautiful should be useful.”

    Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America

  • “I believe man will not merely endure, he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice but because he has a soul, a spirit, capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

    William Faulkner, Nobel Prize speech, 1954

  • Be the evils what they may, the experiment is not yet played out. The United States are not yet made; they are not a finished fact to be categorically assessed.

    John Dewey, 1927

  • “Business has destroyed the very knowledge in us of all other natural forces except business.”

    John Jay Chapman, 1898

  • “What is the chief end of a man?–to get rich. In what way?–dishonestly if he can; honestly if he must.”

    Mark Twain

There will be a celebration of Wendell’s life at the Winter Antiques Show on January 28, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. It will be a joyful occasion. This was a joyful man.