‘Kentucky’: The New Book of Bluegrass Photographs by Pieter Estersohn

Gainesway Farm, via Garden & Gun

Gainesway Farm, via Garden & Gun

One doesn’t take long in the Bluegrass to recognize so many scenes are picture perfect. That’s clearly what celebrated New York photographer Pieter Estersohn thought when he turned to the Lexington area as the subject of his new book, Kentucky: Historic Homes and Horse Farms of the Bluegrass Region.

There’s been something of a media blitz to promote the book, which provide interesting perspective on the beauty and culture of the Bluegrass from an outsider’s perspective. Sandy Keenan at The New York Times has a brief interview with Estersohn. We learn how the project sent Estersohn to the hospital, and what Bluegrass house Estersohn would like to call home. Keenan also asks him “why Kentucky?”:

For a guy who grew up in Manhattan, California and Paris,  why did you pick Kentucky?

One of my oldest friends, Antony Beck, whose family is in the international business of both horses and wine, lives there with his wife and five children, at Gainesway Farm. He’s the godfather of my 10-year-old son, Elio. So we were always going there to visit, staying in the Norman-style guesthouse. As someone very passionate about history and architecture, I got to experience bluegrass country over time, and the pieces started to fall together. It seemed like a very underrepresented part of the country, which hadn’t been fully fleshed out in a dedicated way.

Keeneland Magazine‘s Debra Gibson Isaacs also features Estersohn in the Spring issue. She writes:

Masterful photography allow readers to see everything from the smallest details in silverware to the normally unseen panoramic views revealed through aerial photographs. In all, there are 150 color photographs. “This is a special and unique American region,” Estersohn said. “I love the history. I love that it was part of Virginia and was English. The whole history of how horse breeding and racing came to the region is fascinating as is the reference to Lexington being the ‘Athens of the West.'”

And don’t miss the Garden & Gun gallery of selected photographs from the book. Even for those of us who live in the Bluegrass, Estersohn opens the door to places that most of us are never able to see.

Off the Shelf: Wendell Berry’s ‘The Wheel: For Robert Penn Warren’

Wheel 1When collecting an author’s works one of the challenging–and thus fun–areas to collect are limited editions. Poets often have some works issued first as limited edition broadsides, larger single sheets printed on one side. Private presses, particularly letterpresses, will issue poetry broadsides in limited editions, often numbered and/or signed by the poet. The often look wonderful framed on your wall.

Broadsides have their origins in the early days of printing. They were usually announcements or advertisements, and were considered disposable. A broadside was essentially what we would call a flyer.

Wendell Berry has issued a number of his poems first in broadside form from a number of different private presses over the decades. One of his earliest broadsides is from North Carolina’s legendary Palaemon Press. Palaemon specialized in Southern authors, and its author list is a veritable who’s who. (Duke has a handy checklist of Palaemon’s publications on its website.)

Palaemon printed a folio of poems dedicated to Kentuckian and Southern legend Robert Penn Warren. Apparently outside of this collected folio was another poem dedicated to Warren, Wendell Berry’s “The Wheel.”

Wheel detail 1

Issued in an edition of 126, one hundred were numbered for sale, while 26 were lettered for private distribution. This is a common limitation size and practice by private presses. This copy is designated as “W,” which means that it was part of the 26 lettered copies, and thus is slightly more desirable than the numbered copies. Along the bottom is a deckled edge, a hallmark of handmade and mould made paper often used by letterpress printers.

Berry would later use “The Wheel” as the title poem to a palm sized 1980 collection of poems published by the late lamented North Point Press.

“The Wheel” uses the motif of dance to illustrate the themes of community, both living and generational, that are so key to Berry’s worldview. And looking back almost thirty five years, we can see that the poem speaks to Berry’s position as heir to Warren as Kentucky and the South’s great active writer.

Wheel colophon

Thrift: May Finds in Nashville & the Trap of Sales

Oxxford sc - May14My family had to make a quick trip to Alabama over the weekend, and we took the opportunity to hit a couple of favorite thrift stores on the north and south ends of Nashville along the way. By happenstance we stopped on 50% off day.

Sometimes you hit the motherlode, a donor has dropped off a large number of items, shirts, ties, or sport coats. More often, however, you will find a select item or two. These build up over time.

Thrift buying, especially when items are on markdown even from thrift prices, can be fraught with danger. There is always the temptation to grab anything and everything that looks interesting. Cheap prices means you start comprising on quality and condition. Don’t fall for the trap. While mistakes are inevitable, it’s better to walk away with nothing than with item after item that will only frustrate and disappoint you.

Seersucker + Madras - May14

Finds included interesting books (reading copies), a DVD of a favorite movie, a cashmere Royal Stewart scarf (made in Scotland), some summer wear (seersucker trousers and a vintage madras shirt), and the big discovery: an Oxxford sport coat in near perfect shape. I carried around a few other things that I put back. I was torn at the time, but I don’t regret not buying them.

Scarf - May14

While the summer items are great finds this time of year, always look for off season items like scarves. Make sure you hold the scarf up to the light to see if the moths have found it. One scarf I put back when I saw the light through the bite holes. Remember always to look for the reason why an item is at thrift in the first place.

What are some of your recent thrift discoveries?

Books - May14

British Exploration: Collecting Books the (Very) Right Way

via Sotheby's

via Sotheby’s

There is a vast difference between collecting books and merely accumulating books. Accumulation is the enemy of the collection. The accumulator merely grabs what strikes his fancy at the moment, perhaps with an emphasis in certain areas. The book collector has a very narrow focus. He rejects more than he buys. His commitment to the exactly right volume is paramount.

The ever interesting Prufrock email newsletter edited by Micah Mattix (you should subscribe) linked a Telegraph article about an upcoming Sotheby’s auction of what has been dubbed the finest exploration library assembled in a century. It is a true collection in the purest sense.

Built volume by volume over five decades by Franklin Brooke-Hitching, the parameters were set very specifically: “each book had to be about a British explorer, and it had to be in mint condition: ‘God’s copy,’ in his words. So, most are centuries old, but their covers gleam.” He buys nothing published after 1939 because exploring had simply become travel.

He became so devoted to his self-appointed task, Brooke-Hitching quit his job with an investment firm and became a rare book dealer. Now he is selling his 1,400 volume collection at Sotheby’s. It’s is expected to realize over £5 million. You can view his collection on the Sotheby’s website.

As an aside, I was in full agreement with this from the Telegraph article: “he does not want them to end up in museums, which he fears would not keep them in good condition.” I think this is on the whole, correct. This is particularly dangerous if one has rare books that you donate to a library. They are likely to end up in a fundraising book sale, scattered to the wind for pennies. I write this as one who has purchased some of those donated books over the years. Before you donate to an institution make very sure they really want what you have.

As someone who both collects and accumulates books, the discipline shown by Brooke-Hitching is impressive. I am curious what other books he owns. Does he ever accumulate rather than collect?

For many who are serious about books at least some part of what you buy becomes a collection. A particular topic or author interests you, and you may start with hardcovers, then perhaps first printings. Soon one becomes aware of condition, and the prices increase. The danger is trying to buy too widely. You simply cannot do it. There is too much. Success as a book collector begins with as narrow a focus as possible.

Do you collect or accumulate?

Douglas Southall Freeman & Lost TIME

BSB stickerMy friend Michael Courtney at Lexington’s Black Swan Books has been touting his new promotional stickers, and recognizing it’s a rare day indeed when you can get something free from Michael, I figured I had to acquire a couple.

You also never know what you’ll find setting on Michael’s counter. There amidst the old volumes and miscellaneous papers was an old TIME magazine from October 18, 1948. The cover caught my eye,. It featured revered Southern historian Douglas Southall Freeman. Freeman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his multi-volume biographies of George Washington and Robert E. Lee (don’t miss Dr. Sean Busick’s thought’s on Freeman’s Lee). Freeman also wrote a multi-volume companion series to the Lee biography, Lee’s Lieutenants, a set of which I picked up years ago for a pittance at a library sale. It’s the rare historian who makes the cover of TIME magazine, and the rarer historian who ought to. If any historian should ever be on the cover, Freeman was the man.

Freeman Lee's LieutenantsOld magazines are paper time capsules. Not only are the articles valuable to the historian, but the advertisements often give an even clearer window into the society that would produce such a magazine. The cars, the movies, the clothes, even the shoes, speak of a far different level of taste and manners. If I could drive an Austin car, wear old American made Florsheims, dress in a Timely coat, and go to the theater to watch Jimmy Stewart in Rope, then I would be well equipped, indeed.

I tried to get Michael to sell me the magazine to no avail, but I did leave with some stickers. While he was talking I snapped some shaky pictures. Enjoy the time capsule.

Freeman cover

British Walkers ad


Hanan Shoes


Timely Clothes


Austin of England




Bibles at The Cambridge University Press Bookshop

Cambridge window

Cambridge University Press has long been a stalwart of fine Bible publishing. Names like Cameo, Concord, Pitt Minion and Clarion can inspire drooling. I had the chance to stop by the official Cambridge University Press Bookshop and took a few snapshots to share.

CUP sign

Bible Display IMG_9298 IMG_9299 IMG_9300 IMG_9301 IMG_9302 IMG_9303

Cambridge Display Window

Cambridge Window Street

Then the next morning when leaving town I discovered that the headquarters is right beside the train station. Through the train window as we rode by:

Cambridge Press HQ

Book Shopping in Cambridge: The Haunted Bookshop & G. David, Bookseller

Cambridge Evening

When one finds himself in Cambridge, home of higher learning for over 800 years, the sensible thing seemed to be to look for a used bookshop. With only a couple of hours to spare before a supper appointment, G. David Bookseller seemed to be the best target.

Ryder & Amies

David’s had the charming address of 16 St. Edward’s Passage, but—and this may come as a bit of a surprise—cab drivers don’t often know exactly where used bookshops are off the top of their head. Still, he got me close, and after a brief stop in Ryder & Amies, University Outfitters, I found an alleyway that seemed like the right spot.

Books signMy eye quickly caught a sign with that magical word “Books” on it. This wasn’t G. David, but a place called The Haunted Bookshop. Now with a name like that it can go one of two ways. Either it’s a kitschy unserious sort of place, or it’s filled with all kinds of awesome. The books in the window indicated awesome, indeed, awaited. A Haunted Bookshop in Cambridge? I couldn’t help but think it was the sort of shop Russell Kirk would have loved.

The Haunted Bookshop was the proverbial hole in the wall with books everywhere, double stacked on the shelves. They were heavy on children’s books, and there are few things more fun than old British children’s books.

Haunted Bookshop

Haunted Bookshop Window

I was browsing away when the proprietress asked if I was looking for anything in particular. Usually I giving a smiling “just looking around” at this point, but there was something that I had been keeping an eye open for since my trip to Charleston last year. I missed out on a cheap, albeit ex-library, copy of C.S. Forester’s Poo Poo and the Dragons at an outdoor library book sale. So now I asked, and was told, “Oh, I know it’s around here somewhere.” Thus began a search through the piles and double-stacked shelves for the Forester.

“Is the bookshop actually haunted?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. We have our own ghost.”

“Is she a happy ghost or an unhappy one?”

“She seems to be pleasant.”

“I suppose one ought to be content with one’s lot in life.”

“Or death.”

Meanwhile, I was dispatched up the narrow stairs to check the shelves there. Finally a shout of success from below. It had been on the desk all along. Having gone through all of that I felt somewhat obligated to buy it, and after my hard swallow upon seeing the price, she rang it up.

Haunted Books

Haunted Books 2

Haunted Stairs

Haunted Upstairs

It was then I turned to see the C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot volumes in a previously unexplored bookcase. It was like being a kid in a candy store, but I had to pace myself. A first edition of Lewis’s Miracles seemed like the best bet, and at a price I could stomach. Who could resist buying a Lewis first edition in Cambridge where he finally received his academic due? (Clearly I had made an unconscious decision only to buy books by authors whose first initials were “C.S.”.)

Lewis & Forester

I finally extricated myself before more pocketbook damage was done, and was pointed around the corner to G. David, my initial target. David’s stock is mostly remaindered books. And while not a bad thing—quite good in its place, actually—remaindered wasn’t what I was after. Then I found the rare book room. I looked at my watch. I wouldn’t leave until closing time.

G. David

Old leather bound volumes dominated, many from centuries ago. It was a pleasure to stroll through the shelves, examining the occasional volume. Most prices were well beyond reach for me, but far too many were just on the outer edge to where one might stretch. It was not a safe place to be. There were early editions of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, including leather bound versions. Affordable and tempting were volumes of the Annual Register from the 1760s back when a young Edmund Burke was associated with the publication.

Old Leaves

The area that finally caught my attention was the large island where old maps and prints were kept. I sorted through a picked over stack of leaves from a seventeenth century Bible, only £10 each. Most “popular” passages were gone, but I grabbed the opening page of Habakkuk, a favorite of mine. I added to this a small late eighteenth century map of Asia, including India from where I had just flown.

Finally closing time came. I wish I could have returned, but time and finances did not allow it. I am sure there were many more treasures to be discovered in Cambridge, but I am more than happy with the gems I uncovered.

Cambridge Dusk

Off the Shelf Redux: Wendell Berry’s ‘November 26, 1963’

Shahn illust manAfter last week’s look at the Ben Shahn/Wendell Berry book collaboration November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three I gained some additional information from Wendell Berry.

While there is not much insight he can add, Berry writes, there are interesting tidbits about the project. He notes that his friend Denise Levertov was poetry editor at The Nation at the time. And as Shahn implies in his introduction to the volume, the project idea was the artist’s rather than Berry’s. Poet and artist never met.

Berry writes, “Most important to me is that when Ben Shahn inscribed my poem, he did not reproduce my lines as I wrote them. It seems he is not referring to a change in the text itself, but rather the calligraphic liberties Shahn took in adding multiple line breaks when Berry wrote the poem in relatively long lines of verse. Such a change can cause a difference in how one reads, and even understands, the poem. But Shahn’s was envisioning the project as a graphic whole. While Shahn did not change the words or their order, he clearly did view them as malleable, a medium with which he was free to work.

Berry Nov 26 text 3

Berry points the reader to the original printing in The Nation “to see the poem as written.” On this November 26, fifty years after the original date of the poem, yes, enjoy the moving Ben Shahn interpretation, but don’t forget The Nation’s faithful rendering as Wendell Berry wrote it.

C.S. Lewis Off the Shelf: Remembering the Other Jack

“I would read other books, of course, but in my heart I knew that I read them
only because there wasn’t an infinite number of Narnia books to read.” – Neil Gaiman

Lewis shelf

When they both died fifty years ago today, November 22, 1963, it would have seemed an odd debate as to who would have the most impact fifty years on: the President of the United States, icon for the nation, or an Oxbridge Don, known for his children’s books and popular Christian apologetics. Today, certainly, the television coverage is dominated by the President: JFK and his legacy.

Lewis TIME coverNonetheless, Lewis is far from forgotten. His popular Narnia series still sells, and a movie version of The Silver Chair has been announced. Lewis was popular in his day, we shouldn’t forget, a popularity that led to a certain unpopularity and marginalization at Oxford that prompted his move to Cambridge. He even appeared on the cover of America’s TIME magazine. Indeed, as Jonathan Merritt notes, Lewis is now more popular than ever.

I had the great pleasure of reading Alan Jacobs’s fine biography of Lewis, The Narnian, this year. I couldn’t recommend it to you highly enough. (Don’t miss Jacobs’s Lewis inspired thoughts at Books & Culture.) The biographical insight puts Lewis in a new light. Lewis was a man who led an unorthodox personal life, to be sure, and I find it extraordinary that he was able to write as much as he did under the circumstances. Belief in God was something Lewis struggled with. The atheism of a young intellectual finally gave way to the considered reflection of belief. Aslan was on the move. Lewis had lived it.

Lewis ScrewtapeWhat to read from Lewis? It’s hard to pick. Everyone should read Narnia, of course. Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters are probably best known among his apologetics. But there is more, which shouldn’t be ignored. Lewis wrote so much worth reading he becomes a friend who stays with you decade after decade as you read, discover something new, and read again.

Of the curious fact of that Lewis and Kennedy died on the same day, along with Brave New World author Aldous Huxley, the always delightful Peter Kreeft made use in his book Between Heaven and Hell. In the imaginary dialogue “somewhere beyond death” the men discuss the meaning of life, and, of course, it is Lewis who points the way to Christ. He has done that through his books for decades now. And of those who died on this day fifty years ago, it is hard to deny that it is Lewis who is still on the move.

Lewis Narnia

Off the Shelf: ‘November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three’ by Wendell Berry & Ben Shahn

Berry Nov 26 text 1

So much symbolism is bound up in John F. Kennedy it is difficult to separate the myth from the reality. For those my age, and even a decade older, JFK is someone we know only from photographs and old video clips. It is that last video clip from Dallas that transformed the man into the legend.

Wendell Berry, a novelist and poet still in his twenties at the time, was understandably moved. In response to Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, and his state funeral on November 25, Berry wrote his reflections in verse as “November 26, 1963,” a consideration the day after.

Berry Nov 26 text 2

Berry published the poem in The Nation magazine (December 21) where it was read by artist Ben Shahn (1898-1969). Lithuanian born, Shahn’s father had been exiled to Siberia by the czars as a political dissident. Eventually the family emigrated from their homeland to the United States.

Shahn embraced leftist ideology in his politics and social realism in his art. Among Shahn’s famous subjects were Sacco and Vanzetti and, later, Martin Luther King, Jr. for TIME magazine. He was also well-known as a Depression-era photographer for the Farm Security Administration.

Shahn Nov 26 illust horse

Kennedy’s assassination was, then, a perfect subject for Shahn, and Berry’s poem was the perfect vehicle. Shahn writes,

It was shortly after those shattering few days that the following poem appeared in The Nation. I found it extraordinarily moving. It was right in every way; it was modest and unrhetorical. It examined soberly and sensitively just this event in its every detail. Its images were the images of those days, no others. In so sharply scrutinizing his own feelings, the poet has discovered with an uncanny exactness all our feelings. His words have created a certain monument, not pretentious, but real, and shared.

When I read the poem, I wanted it preserved, read, not lost in the pages of a last week’s magazine. I turned it into a book, accompanied by the images that it invokes for me. I have hoped, in some small way, to help monumentalize those days so that we may not so soon become inured to an unacceptable violence, a failure, a profound sadness.

What resulted was a lovely oblong slipcased volume published by George Braziller in May 1964, only Berry’s second book. Shahn frequently used a block style calligraphic text with his artwork, and he employs the technique with great effect here. His hand drawn title fills the front cover, and the text of the poem is rendered in the same style throughout faced with Shahn’s illustrations on the left.

Berry Nov 26 cover

There are two editions, a limited signed edition and a regular trade edition. According to Russell Freedman’s Wendell Berry bibliography, 3013 copies of the limited signed edition were issued, printed on hand laid paper from the Italian mill Fabriano. Somewhat mysteriously, online bookseller Daedalus found a cache of new, uncirculated copies a few years ago, and sold them for a reasonable sum (I’m sure all are long gone now). The trade edition, also slipcased but slightly smaller in size, is fairly easily found for not too much money. The black slipcase is often faded, and the cloth cover is often foxed.

Berry Shahn signatures

As the nation remembers its most recent fallen president, take a moment to read Berry’s thoughtful poem. It well captures the mood of our nation fifty years ago.

Shahn Nov 26 illust color


See also: Off the Shelf Redux: Wendell Berry’s ‘November 26, 1963′