Blogs by Kentuckians: Four to Consider

Woodford Spears & Sons Feedmill in Paris, Kentucky from The Kentucky Junker

Woodford Spears & Sons Feedmill in Paris, Kentucky from The Kentucky Junker

Since removing to Kentucky last year it has been a pleasing thing to reorient to a Bluegrass state of mind (or is that commonwealth of mind?). In my decade long absence there has been a renaissance of Kentucky self-consciousness, which I believe is a good thing. I started my own Kentucky-centric blog over at Eat Kentucky last year (visit early and often), and have enjoyed discovering some other Kentucky blogs. Below are four that I think are worth your time.

J.D. Bentley writes at Bourbon & Tradition where manly themes meet, well tradition and Kentucky. He is an admirer of my old boss Russell Kirk, which is a mighty fine recommendation. Imagine if Hemingway came from Kentucky and was a Tory. Currently he is matrimonial exile in Brazil, but plans to return to Kentucky as soon as practicable. Friendly caution, there is some, shall we say, manly language used.

Take a look at Bentley’s post ‘A Roman Emperor’s Advice to Justin Beiber’

Peter Brackney runs the local history site Kaintuckeean, the name drawn from an early form of the Indian word that became “Kentucky.” Peter is an attorney, although don’t hold that against him, and the author of the recent book Lost Lexington. Peter is a board member of the Blue Grass Trust, an organization dedicated to protecting and preserving historic buildings and landmarks in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region.

Read Brackney’s ‘A Lost Fall Tradition: The Haggins’ Huge Party at Elmendorf’

Kevin, the Kentucky Junker, is a thrifter with a keen eye and mad thrifting skills. His blog is photography driven, but if you like old stuff and the treasure hunt of discovering lost treasures. When I find Kevin I may or may not be the guy following him around to learn his thrift route. Just take the time to browse the site. It’s a treasure trove.

Courtney Hall, the Bourbon Soaked Mom, is based in Hazard in eastern Kentucky. The blog focuses on local history and also thrifting and such. Growing up in bordering Clay County, Courtney writes a lot of interest to me. Courtney, I discovered, is also the daughter of my first cousin’s husband’s brother. That’s one of the most Kentucky things that can ever happen to you.

Read Courtney’s ‘Glory Days: A Story of Hazard’

Do you have any favorite Kentucky blogs?

 

At NMWA: Wodehouse & the Dandy Set

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

There’s really no one more fun to read than P.G. Wodehouse, known to most as the author of the Jeeves & Wooster series so brilliantly adapted by Fry & Laurie for the BBC.

My latest at No Man Walks Alone is ‘P.G. Wodehouse: Comic Laureate of the Dandy Set’:

One might expect the author of nearly one hundred books over a seventy-five year career to produce checkout-line boilerplate. But despite his own self-description as “a writing machine,” P.G. Wodehouse earned the name “The Master” from none other than Evelyn Waugh. Decades later Douglas Adams said, “I aspire to write like P.G. Wodehouse,” a wish one can easily detect in Adams’s work.

Wodehouse began his writing career at the dawn of the 20th Century, and soon introduced one of his most enduring characters, Psmith (the P is silent, of course), the first of Wodehouse’s classic dandies. Through Psmith we are also introduced to Blandings Castle, a fictional setting Wodehouse returned to time and again, and currently the subject of the BBC television series Blandings.

Click on over to No Man Walks Alone to read the whole thing.

Wodehouse illustration

Scarves: The Warm Elegance of Double-Sided Scarves

Scarf stack

Outside of the all silk, and mostly decorative, opera scarf, the double-sided scarf is perhaps the most elegant. But don’t all scarves have two sides, you ask? Yes, certainly, but double-sided scarves typically are made by sewing a layer of silk (or, in the past, rayon) onto usually a solid scarf of wool or cashmere, thus the sides are not only different in design but are also made of different material.

The silk side of such double-sided scarves traditionally have been printed foulards, sometimes ancient madder, with paisleys, pines, and dots. I recently picked up a vintage Cisco scarf from the legendary Washington, D.C. clothier Julius Garfinckel & Co., which has striped repp silk rather than the typical foulard.

Cisco scarf

Double-sided scarves are meant particularly for wearing with dressier overcoats the lapels on which typically leave an open V-shape at the chest. Scarves are perfect for plugging this hole, providing useful warmth with splash of color in what typically are long, solid gray, navy, or tan coats.

Unlike the standard wool or cashmere scarf, the double-sided scarf’s silk side offers a more elegant, dressier look while providing the wool/cashmere warmth against the body. And although silk can be cool to the touch, it actually gives a practical double layer of warmth on a double-sided scarf. Silk, while often thin, is quite insulating.

Brooks Brothers scarf

Drake's scarf

Double-sided scarves are not easily found these days. British scarf and tie maker Drake’s usually offers a selection. And although the price is not for the faint of heart, the quality from Drake’s is always unquestioned. As is often the case, turning to the secondary market will save one quite a bit of money. England’s Tootal and Sammy are names frequently associated with vintage double-sided scarf, although both use alternatives for the silk side, usually rayon or Tricel. Vintage scarves from traditional men’s clothiers like Brooks Brothers will turn up from time to time as well.

For those times when you pull out the dressier overcoat, a double-sided scarf is an elegant, and rarely seen, option to have in your wardrobe.

scarf group

Off the Shelf: Wendell Berry’s ‘The Wild Geese’ From Black Swan Books

Readers of Pinstripe Pulpit well know that I am an admirer of the writing of Wendell Berry, the letterpress printing of Gray Zeitz at Larkspur Press, and the bookselling of Michael Courtney at Black Swan Books. It is always a happy confluence when the three come together.

Wild Geese title

This past year, 2014, was the 30th anniversary of Lexington’s Black Swan Books. I recently wrote a feature article at KYForward about Michael’s commemoration of the event with a new Larkspur Press letterpress printed broadside of a poem by Wendell Berry.

A broadside is a single sheet of paper printed on one side and meant for framing. The anniversary broadside features a poem by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry whose works are a specialty of Courtney. Black Swan’s broadsides are printed using century-old equipment by Gray Zeitz of Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. The work of Berry and Zeitz is in such demand that half of the copies of the anniversary broadside were sold within the first two weeks.

The broadside edition of ‘The Wild Geese’ is limited to only 150 copies, each of which is signed by Wendell Berry and numbered. Broadsides also serve as celebration of letterpress printing itself. You can see and feel the texture of the mouldmade paper, the bite of the type in the dampened printed paper.

Courtney Wild Geese

And with limited editions printed from handset type, there is a natural scarcity. Like true “first editions” of old, once the type is broken down and returned to its drawer, that exact edition can never be recreated. Thus a moment in time is captured–preserved–but it cannot be remade.

“What we need is here.”

Wild Geese colophon

Scarves: Feel Like a Schoolboy Again

J Press schoolboy

I like scarves. They’re utilitarian, of course. Wrap one around your neck to keep off the cold and wind. But they’re also a way to sneak some color and pattern into even a casual ensemble. I think I’ve been hooked since Tom Baker wore his in old Doctor Who episodes when I was a kid.

Scarves come in variety of types, but one of the most traditional and classic is the schoolboy scarf. Schoolboy scarves are so called because of their association with colleges and prep schools. They are made of vertical stripes of contrasting woven wool, typically incorporating an institution’s signature colors, sometimes with an added school crest.

The primary maker of the traditional schoolboy scarf is Cambridge, England based Luke Eyres. The company says the scarves were born during wartime privation, proper wool yarn being unavailable for proper knit scarves. They developed the sewn vertical stripe design using woven wool fabric, and offered it to Cambridge’s colleges in lieu of the knit versions. When World War II was over, the colleges opted to keep the new schoolboy scarves.

Schoolboy labels

Soon other colleges began adopting them, including colleges and universities across the pond in the United States, particularly Ivy League institutions. The legendary J. Press, the shop so closely associated with Ivy League prep, became the go-to shop for American schoolboy scarves. It’s still a signature item for them.

Not everyone’s alma mater has an official schoolboy scarf, but I give you permission to cheat and choose one that uses your school’s colors. I found that a small private school in Connecticut used the colors of my own University of Kentucky in its schoolboy scarf, and grabbed one during a seasonal sale from J. Press several years ago. It’s a favorite during the winter months.

There few places to buy a quality schoolboy scarf. In the U.S., O’Connell’s Clothing is a reliable option, and seems to source from Luke Eyres. (Also take a look at Smart TurnoutRyder & Amies, and The Tie & Scarf Company.) Other classic designs such Argyle & Sutherland are also available in schoolboy scarf design, so these days the options are limitless. Luke Eyres will even make one up to your custom order. 

With the cold weather of winter ahead of us, schoolboy scarves are a great way to show loyalty to the alma mater while adding a bit of traditional style as well.

Schoolboy stack

The Sport of Kings: My Latest at No Man Walks Alone

Polo - vintage

The word “polo” is inextricably linked to menswear, but there’s more to the connection than a ubiquitous clothing brand with an easily recognizable logo. The game of polo, one of the world’s oldest and most venerable sports, has given us classic and iconic additions to menswear. My post exploring three of polo’s most important contributions is now up at No Man Walks Alone:

The button-down shirt collar, that most quintessentially American classic style detail, was actually borrowed from English polo players, whom John E. Brooks saw using buttons to keep their collars from flying up during play. In 1896 he introduced this new button down collar in his family’s New York shop, Brooks Brothers, and called it the polo collar. Style icons from Fred Astaire to Andy Warhol to Gianni Agnelli were famously devoted to the polo collar.

You can read it all at ‘The Sport of Kings: Polo’s Contribution to Menswear.’

The Long Passing Away of the Visible: Fred Chappell Limited Edition Letterpress Broadside Available For Sale

Fred Chappell Back in my active letterpress printing days, the details of which I will at some point record here, I was blessed to work with wonderful writers like Wendell Berry, James Still, and Jane Gentry (Vance). The one non-Kentucky poet I worked with was North Carolina legend Fred Chappell, one of my favorite writers and later the poet laureate of North Carolina. (Adela Press was really a cover for me to work with writers I admired. Shhhh–don’t tell anyone.) If you’ve not read his novels I Am One of You Forever and Brighten the Corner Where You Are you should be locked in a room and not released until you finish them.

Fred provided me with an original poem he had written in honor of his late friend Jim Wayne Miller, a North Carolina native who graduated from Kentucky’s Berea College and taught at Western Kentucky University. Both are well known Appalachian writers, and it is fitting that Chappell begins the poem with the image of a mountain.

I handset the poem in Victor Hammer’s Hammer Uncial type, and printed it using a hand-pulled iron Washington press at the University of Kentucky’s King Library Press. The poem was hand inked in three colors and printed in one pull on dampened mould made Hahnemuhle Biblio paper in a numbered edition of 100, each signed by Fred Chappell.

Long Passing - title

It was the last thing I printed, and also the best thing I did in my short letterpress career. Fred Chappell liked it, too, writing in correspondence to me:

“It is lovely, edible, swoon-inducing.”

and

“I’ve never had such an opulent presentation, I think–in fact, I’ve rarely seen any so well done.”

True or not, I liked hearing it.

As I moved on to other things (probably should have stuck with letterpress) soon thereafter, I’ve ended up with several unsold copies that would be better on your wall than in my storage. So if you’d like to own one of Ol’ Fred’s limited broadsides, I’m offering some for sale. You can contact me via the Contact Page.

$35 each, including shipping in the US. I prefer Paypal.
12″ x 7 7/16″

Long Passing Away broadside

Long Passing colophon

Wool Challis & Ancient Madder Ties at No Man Walks Alone

wool challis

My new post ‘Fall’s Ties: Wool Challis & Ancient Madder’ is up at No Man Walks Alone. The two tie types are perfect for the seasons’ cooler weather and muted tones:

There are two classic neckties that do just that for fall and winter: ancient madder and wool challis. Each has a softer hand than most year-‘round ties with a dusty, muted appearance, easily blending with the autumn palette. Both are beautifully at home with a cold weather kit of tweeds, cords, and tattersall shirts, but they are still refined enough to dress up with flannel suits.

They hearken back to 19th C England, and the designs were blocked by hand until only a few years ago:

The designs traditionally used on both fabrics are paisleys and neats, from geometrics to pines. Wool challis will not infrequently feature equestrian and hunting themed designs as well. Many of these designs were produced by David Evans & Co. which stood as an iconic name in English silk and hand blocking for a century and a half, until the factory’s closing in 2002.

Keep your eyes open at thrift stores for classic examples, although wool challis seems to be particularly yummy to moths. Pictured is a tie dating from at least the 1960s, maybe much earlier, with a classic pedigree. Alas, it was not in good enough shape to take home.

Head on over to No Man Walks Alone to read all about it, then go buy some ties.

Legendary Tailor & Holocaust Survivor Martin Greenfield’s Vow of Revenge

Greenfield Book CoverAnyone familiar with quality American tailoring knows the name Martin Greenfield. Now 84- years old, the Holocaust survivor has released a new memoir, Measure of a Man. In it he writes of his odyssey from the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp to becoming a Presidential tailor.

The New York Post ran an excerpt in which Greenfield writes of his revenge on a beautiful woman who was responsible for him receiving a severe beating:

“No! Please!” she quavered. “The baby, please!”

I aimed the machine gun at her chest. The baby wailed. My finger hovered above the trigger.

“Shoot her!” one of the boys said. “Shoot her!” The woman’s outstretched hand trembled in the air. My heart pounded against my chest like a hammer.

His joy ride with some fellow liberated prisoners:

What a sight we must have been: three teenage Jews in striped prisoner uniforms, armed with machine guns, driving a black Mercedes in Weimar, Germany, on our way back to the Buchenwald concentration camp. We smiled, laughed, and talked tough like the men we weren’t.

And the foreign policy advice he sent to President Eisenhower:

During the Suez Canal crisis, Greenfield was frustrated and thought the US needed a stronger response. So he wrote an anonymous note and left it in the pocket of a jacket he was making for Eisenhower.

Read the entire excerpt. The book sounds fascinating.

Portrait of the Artist: In Memory of My Friend Jane Gentry Vance

I will miss Jane Vance. I knew through mutual friends that Jane was sick, but one often underestimates such things from a distance, focusing on one’s own problems until it’s too late. I had checked for her at her house a couple of times when driving through Versailles, but hadn’t found her.

Jane Gentry VanceI knew Jane for over twenty five years, extending back to my earliest days as a student at the University of Kentucky. My cousin Jennifer and friend Dave developed earlier relationships with Jane. Jennifer idolized her. Dave worked with her on the Honors Program literary magazine JAR.

She was from old Kentucky stock that extended back to Daniel Boone’s Fort Boonesborough. She was raised not far from there in southern Fayette County on ancestral land in Athens (pronounced with a long “a”). Jane had left Kentucky for Hollins, then for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She was a student of the great Southern scholar Louis D. Rubin, Jr. But the pull of Kentucky is strong. She came back to teach English at the University of Kentucky.

Jane worked with my good friend Dr. Raymond F. Betts in UK’s then excellent Honors Program, which they built into a Great Books survey of Western Civilization. For many of us, the Honors Program was the defining experiencing at UK. It is one of life’s injustices that Jane Vance did not become director of the Honors Program when Dr. Betts left as Director.

I finally had Jane in class as a sophomore in Honors 202, a Great Books focus on the modern period. She loved, and taught, T.S. Eliot to us. Before I learned Eliot through the lens of my boss Russell Kirk, Jane introduced me to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land.” She was a thoughtful, and reasonable, expositor of texts, teaching us well how to think and write about these giants on whose shoulders we stood.

Jane remained one of my favorite teachers. I remember being invited to her home for a Christmas party, my first time on Morgan Street in Versailles. When I wrote my final column as Editorial Page Editor at UK’s student newspaper The Kentucky Kernel, I listed Jane along with Raymond Betts and Jim Force as my favorite teachers. I admit I gave some priority to Dr. Betts and Dr. Force (I had both in multiple classes). Jane joked to me that she felt like Shakespeare’s wife being left the second best bed.

Among my teachers, though, was Jane Vance who would remain my good friend for decades to come.

I moved back to Kentucky after graduate school in South Carolina, newly married and looking for a place to live. Jane told me about an apartment, a flat, in a historic home a few houses down from her on Morgan Street in Versailles. It was owned by Lexington art gallery owner Heike Pickett, who was (understandably) somewhat skeptical of us (particularly of my wife’s cat). I’m pretty sure she let us in because of Jane.

I am thankful to Jane for opening the door to Morgan Street, which will forever be the most perfect place we lived. The old 19th Century house had slanting floors, no air conditioning, and cantankerous elderly upstairs tenants. We had no money. But Morgan Street was lovely and historic. You felt special living there.

And, of course, we had Jane herself just down the street. We would sometimes housesit for her, watching after plants and cats, playing with word magnets on her refrigerator. (Fun Jane fact, the exterior of her house was used in the movie Elizabethtown, which actually was filmed in Versailles, not in Elizabethtown.)

It was during this time that I apprenticed under Gray Zeitz at Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. Gray is one of America’s foremost letterpress printers, a key figure in Kentucky’s literary scene for four decades. I wanted to print some of my own projects, which I began doing under the imprint of Adela Press, named after the small community where I grew up in Clay County.

The most straightforward project to start with was a broadside poem. A broadside is a larger piece of paper printed on one side and, these days, often framed as a piece of art. But who of note would be willing to let me, an unproven and inexperienced printer, potentially make a disaster of a valued poem?

Well, my poet neighbor Jane, of course.

I nervously approached Jane about the idea, and, of course she graciously jumped on board the project. She had just written a poem about pigs as part of a poetry group of which she was a member. It was called “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig.”White Pig illustration

White Pig broadsideAmong our Versailles neighbors was gifted artist Laura Lee Cundiff. She kindly agreed to illustrate the poem. The broadside came together as a Versailles confluence of poet, artist, and printer. I handset the poem and printed it in an edition of only seventy five copies (in hindsight, I obviously should have printed a hundred of them), signed by both Jane and Laura Lee. A few people even bought them. I’m just happy to have it hanging on my own wall.

Amazingly for me, “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig” later became the title poem of Jane’s second collection of poetry for LSU Press. The artwork I commissioned from Laura Lee for the broadside was used on the cover. Such is my minor contribution to Southern belles lettres. I can’t help but confess how pleased I was that our little project made such a ripple.

White Pig bookJane later became Kentucky’s Poet Laureate, a well deserved honor. There was no confirmation that “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig” put her over the top when the honor was bestowed.

I saw Jane infrequently in the decade I was away from Kentucky. A couple of years ago, driving home for a visit, we drove up Morgan Street as I do every single time I drive through Versailles. Jane was home, so we stopped, uninvited and unexpected, but always welcome. We sent our girls to play in the backyard, and sat on the porch talking to Jane, catching up on this and that. It was a visit I think about again and again, the last time I visited with Jane on Morgan Street.

I did see Jane one more time, at the funeral for my cousin Jennifer who had idolized Jane so, who had reached out to Jane for counsel when times were hard. It was an example of how kind and considerate Jane was. We hugged and spoke briefly.

St Johns window Versailles

Window at St. John’s Church

All of these things ran through my mind at Jane’s funeral. It was a beautiful service in Versailles’ beautiful St. John’s Episcopal Church, and it all well reflected beautiful Jane herself. I saw Heike and Irwin Pickett and Laura Lee Cundiff from those old Morgan Street days. (When I told Irwin I had just moved back to Kentucky he replied, “Kentuckians always come back.”) My friends lawyer Dave Abner and writer David King were there, fellow students of Jane’s at UK. The three of us went for coffee and talked about Jane, the UK Honors Program, and the old days. And I met local chef Ouita Michel, who I learned was Jane’s student, too. She told me Jane was her constant supporter and one of her best customers. If you needed Jane’s support, she would give it.

How wonderful, indeed, was Jane’s life. What a powerful impact she had on so many people. And I am thankful that I was able, in some way, to be part of that life. I will miss Jane Vance.

When I awoke one day, my bloom
was past. Those who loved me first were dead,
and promises had blown away like chaff
or clouds, which dazzle now only in the moment
of their height and roll.
The years have given back the thing itself.
from “My Life Story,” by Jane Gentry Vance

Watch this fantastic interview with Jane by my old friend, and fellow Eastern Kentuckian, Gurney Norman.