Luther Allan Weigle

Luther Allan Weigle, from the 1976 book The Glory Days: From the Life of Luther Allan Weigle, compiled by Luther’s son, longtime St. John’s College President Richard Weigle. Used with permission of Friendship Press.

In St. John’s circles the name “Weigle” immediately evokes our own Richard Daniel Weigle, President of the College for thirty-one years and the man whose vision, energy, and dedication to our distinctive model of liberal arts education ultimately brought St. John’s College to Santa Fe. Dick Weigle, however, was not the only member of his family to leave a lasting mark upon the world of education and of great books. His father, Luther Allan Weigle, a prolific writer and professor of Philosophy who served for twenty-one years as Dean of Yale’s Divinity School, was a force in his own right, and an individual whose efforts on behalf of an influential translation of one particular work on our Program ought perhaps to be more widely known in our own community. 

Among the Meem Library’s primary mandates is to collect comprehensively English translations of all Program works. In the case of the Bible, a compendium of writings with roots in three distinct languages that was assembled in variously evolving forms over the course of more than a millennium, the perennial question so often raised at St. John’s of just which translation to read becomes especially complex, given the sprawling diversity of editions and options available on our Library’s shelves. Perhaps one distinguishing characteristic of our particular College is that here, in the course of both our Language Tutorials and our Seminars, we explicitly acknowledge that the questions arising around the issues of translation are themselves fundamental and deeply interesting and not merely incidental to the reading itself. With respect to the Bible, significant portions of which we read here in both our undergraduate and our liberal arts graduate programs, these questions become especially fraught, for the implications of translation can be momentous not only for seminar discussion but also for what finally stands as theological doctrine.

It was in this arena of Biblical translation that Luther Allan Weigle left his name most prominently in the annals of history. For nearly four decades Luther Weigle served as chair of a committee of scholars appointed by the National Council of Churches, which represented 44 different Protestant denominations, to draft a new translation of the Bible, a translation that in 1952 was published with much fanfare as the Revised Standard Version, a thorough revision of the American Standard Version of 1901 that was itself a revision of the King James Version first published in 1611. The rationale behind this new translation was clearly laid out by Weigle in his essay “The Revised Standard Version of the Bible”, as follows:

1. The King James Version was based upon a few late medieval manuscripts, and these, especially in the New Testament, contained the accumulated errors of many centuries of manuscript copying.

2. The previous seventy-five years has been an age of discoveries in the archaeology of the Near East and has afforded to scholars new knowledge of the history, geography, and cultures of Biblical lands and rich new resources for understanding the vocabulary, grammar, and idioms of the Biblical languages.

3. The seventeenth-century English of the King James Version is increasingly a barrier between it and the reader. The greatest problem is presented by the hundreds of English words that are still in constant use but now convey a different meaning from that which they had in the King James Version. These words were accurate translations of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures in 1611 but had become misleading.

4. The general excellence of the King James Version as “the noblest monument of English prose” must not blind us to the fact that it contains a substantial number of errors in translation, some infelicities of expression, and some renderings that are ambiguous or obscure.

Upon its publication the Revised Standard Version was for the most part well-received, selling two-and-half million copies in its very first year. But it was also not without controversy, occasioning at least two actual book burnings (one in Ohio and one in North Carolina) by those who saw some of its translational choices as both “pro-Communist” and outrightly heretical. Much of this controversy centered on its rendering of Isaiah 7:14, which in the King James Version reads: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The Revised Standard Version translates the original Hebrew word almah more literally as “a young woman,” which changes this same verse to the following: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Since this particular passage of Isaiah has often been read as prophesying the virgin birth of Jesus, this translational choice immediately put a spotlight on the Standard Bible Committee and on Luther Weigle himself, who pointed out that this translational correction in Isaiah did not in any way alter the Greek of the New Testament, in which the word “παρθένος” remains translated as “virgin.” Weigle, himself a Christian, thus remained a staunch defender and advocate of the accuracy of the RSV for the remainder of his days.

For those interested in learning more about the challenges of Biblical translation generally and the Revised Standard Version project specifically, the 1999 documentary “The Bible Under Fire,” in which Luther Weigle figures prominently, makes for a fascinating watch:

1999 documentary featuring Luther Allan Weigle

Luther Weigle, who over his many decades of teaching, Divinity School deanship, and chairmanship of the Standard Bible Committee authored more than a dozen books and more than a hundred articles on all manner of topics theological, remained vigorous and productive until his passing in 1976 at the age of 95. That very same year his son Richard, then just a few years from his own retirement as longtime president of St. John’s College, compiled a small volume of his father’s core writings which was published by Friendship Press under the title The Glory Years: From the Life of Luther Allan Weigle. This volume, two copies of which the Library owns, includes a detailed account and defense by Luther Weigle of the reasoning behind the Revised Standard Version and many of the specific translational choices the committee had ultimately made (the same account from which the above-quoted passage is drawn). In addition, it includes a poignant Foreword by Dick and two personal reminiscences by Dick’s two sisters, reflecting the three sibling’s deep pride in and affection for both of their parents.

The Meem Library collection also include several other titles with connections to Luther Weigle. Two of these, The Genesis Octapla: Eight English Versions of Genesis in the Tyndale-King James Tradition and The New Testament Octapla: Eight English Versions of the New Testament in the Tyndale-King James Tradition, were edited by Luther Weigle and include lengthy introductions by him, with one of our copies of the New Testament Octapla also signed by him. Each of these titles presents in parallel eight different historically significant English Biblical translations: the Tyndale (1530), Great Bible (1539), Geneva Bible (1560), Bishop’s Bible (1568), Douay (1609), King James (1611), and Revised Version (1881), culminating with the Revised Standard Version (1952) to which Luther had devoted so much of his own life. This parallel format allows for clear facing-page comparisons of the RSV’s specific translational choices with seven other translations spanning more than four centuries, providing a feast for both the scholarly and the simply curious.

Also in the Library’s collection is a copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary inscribed by Luther Weigle to his granddaughter (Dick Weigle’s daughter) Marta on November 25, 1969. This book came to the Meem Library following Marta’s passing in Santa Fe in 2018. Of particular interest is the original invoice from Blackwell’s, which remained tipped into the book; its date of May 24, 1955, suggests that this particular volume was likely Luther’s own personal copy for many years before he ultimately passed it along to his elder granddaughter as he neared his 90th year.

Marta, who attended the College in the Annapolis class of ’65 before going on to complete her undergraduate degree at Harvard, was later to find her own renown right here in New Mexico as both a professor of Anthropology and American Studies for forty years at the University of New Mexico and as a writer of numerous books on New Mexico history and folklore, along with several works on women and mythology. Richard’s younger daughter, Constance (“Connie”), was herself a member of the first graduating class at the Santa Fe campus, ultimately going on to attend the same Yale Divinity School at which her grandfather Luther had served as Dean for more than two decades.

Marta Weigle at the board in William Darkey’s Mathematics class
Constance (Connie) Weigle, SF68

Taken together, these several books connect three generations of one remarkable family of educators and scholars, a family whose name, like those of Barr and Buchanan, will be forever bound up with the name “St. John’s College” and with its Santa Fe campus.

The 1994 Meem Library “Books By Women Project”

Original Circulation Desk Poster for the 1994 Books by Women Project

As mentioned previously, the opening of the Meem Library in 1990 dramatically increased the campus’s library shelf space. Along with substantial Library acquisitions of Eastern texts during the early 1990s, in support of the College’s new Eastern Classics Master’s program, came a significant student-driven initiative, the 1994 Books by Women Project. Conceived by then-senior Heather Malcolm, the Books by Women Project sought donations from faculty, staff, students, and friends of the College with the goal of adding more books by women to our new library’s shelves. An article that appeared in the Fall 1994 issue of The St. John’s Reporter showcased this project and included the following interview with Ms. Malcolm:

How did the Books by Women Project get started?

I think it really happened because I got to the end of my senior year and realized I had been bothered for four years about the issue of women in the program but had never done anything about it. I realized part of the reason I hadn’t done anything is that there’s so much controversy over what can be done to remedy the problem, so I wanted to do something that was voluntary in terms of participation but that everybody would have access to. I figured if I couldn’t put a hundred books by women in the program I could at least put them in the library.

How did you solicit books?

Basically, I wrote letters to people I knew and my sister, Allison, designed the book plates. I talked to [Library Director and 1987 Santa Fe alumna] Inga Waite, and she set up a little display in the library. I also should thank my mom. She was really supportive throughout the whole thing and encouraged me when I felt like it was going to be an impossible project.

How many books have you acquired?

We have 110 books now and they’re still trickling in slowly.

What kind of books have been donated?

We got so many different kinds–poetry, biography, philosophy, a few history books by women. We got
some strange things like The Book of Women’s Firsts. I was impressed by the variety.

Did you ask for specific titles or categories?

I guess I really wanted the community to say what they thought was important, for one thing because books by women is uncharted territory. I actually made up a big list of books we might want, but people didn’t really end up using it. They seemed to have a book or books they really cared about that they wanted to donate.

What has the response been?

It’s been really interesting because it’s taken awhile for people to sort of catch on. As time has gone on people have warmed up to it. We ended up getting a lot more books than people thought we would.

Which books have you personally donated?

I’ve only donated a couple so far because I wanted to wait and see what was not there. I did donate Joyce Carol Oates and I will donate a hard cover copy of The Second Sex.

Do you think there is a place for women authors in the program?

I think it’s a myth that there aren’t really women who have been influential in our society, but I think they get lost and people forget about them. One of the reasons I did the project is that it might help lay the groundwork for future consideration of books by women. This year I gave my seminar a speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It was the start of the women’s suffrage movement. I did it when we did the civil rights readings. It really fit in well and it was a short reading. My tutor, Mr. Taylor, was going to take it to the Instruction Committee. I think that’s one thing that could definitely be in there. I’d also like to see us stop switching the readings by women around so much because that makes it look like they’re interchangeable and not worthy of a permanent place on the program and that they’re actually there as a sort of lip-service to women. I’d also like to see people do more stuff in precepts.

Why do you see it as important to include more women in the program?

I think something like Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own gives a perspective no male author could ever give us. That’s one reading that tells us what the silent half of the world might be thinking.

Do men and women think differently?

I don’t think we’ve talked about it enough to know.

This 1994 initiative ultimately yielded nearly two hundred and fifty titles for the new Library’s collection. Among the more than one hundred authors included across a broad spectrum of genres were Arendt, Atwood, Beauvoir, Byatt, Chicago, Chute, Dillard, Doerr, Faludi, Gilman, Giovanni, Gordimer, Hildegard of Bingen, Hrdy, Kingsolver, Lessing, Markham, Morrison, Munro, Murdoch, Parker, Plath, Porter, Sarton, Stein, Steinem, Tan, Walker, Weil, and Welty.

In the nearly three decades that have now passed since Ms. Malcolm’s graduation, the Library has increased its holdings by some twenty thousand volumes, representing literally thousands of authors across a myriad of genders, races, and ethnicities. For those who find the time, or make the time, for reading outside the prodigious demands of the Program, the Library stacks offer endless reading opportunity. Patrons browsing our stacks with a keen eye can still come across many of the very same volumes that first came to us as part of the Books by Women Project, with their original bookplates intact. This includes, for instance, the very first book received by the Library from this project, a Library of America edition of the works of Harriet Beecher Stowe donated by then-President of the Santa Fe campus John Agresto.

Also still on the shelves are titles donated by several longtime Santa Fe Tutors, including Linda Weiner Elmore, who passed away this last June, and recently retired Tutor Emerita Susan Stickney.

Further browsing also turns up the copy of Mary Wollstencraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women donated by Ms. Malcolm herself twenty-seven years ago.

And finally–included among these many original donations is one treasured volume that resides safely in the Library’s non-circulating Special Collections: a signed and inscribed copy of Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise, donated by then-freshman student Amy Filiatreau, of the Santa Fe class of 1997.

Ford K. Brown

Ford K. Brown

While the primary mission of the Meem Library is to support the College’s academic programs, the Library also maintains various peripheral collections dedicated to the general reading and archival interests of the campus and College community. Among these is a dedicated Faculty Collection, located in the Library’s formal Ault-Evers room and comprised solely of works authored by St. John’s College Faculty. While publication is not and never has been an expectation for our College’s tutors, whose primary duty always remains teaching, a significant number of faculty each year do publish. The Faculty Collection ensures the Library retains an archival copy of each such title, in addition to any copies that are catalogued for circulation in the general collection.

Due to its archival nature, the Faculty Collection includes certain volumes with particularly rich associations for the history of the College. One such volume is a 1961 edition of Fathers of the Victorians: The Age of Wilberforce, authored by Ford K. Brown.

Ford K. (Keeler) Brown holds a special place in the histories of both St. John’s College generally and the Santa Fe campus particularly. In 1937, when Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr took the reins of St. John’s and instituted the New Program the College still follows today, Ford Brown had already been a professor of English at the College for 12 years, since 1925. As described in Tutor J. Winfree Smith’s 1983 history of the New Program In Search for the Liberal College:

Shortly after becoming president, Barr had assembled in his office the incumbent faculty members who were in Annapolis that summer. This was before he has made any announcement to the press about the form and content of the curriculum. There were only about twenty-five faculty members in all. He explained to those assembled that there were three groups of the faculty: (1) those who would be interested in the program and teach successfully in it; (2) those who would be interested but who, for one reason or another, would find that they could not be successful teachers in the new curriculum; and (3) those who would not be at all interested and would prefer to leave and teach elsewhere. He promised help in finding employment for all those who might want to leave or might have to be dropped. There was nothing in the way of organized opposition from the faculty as there might have been in a college or university where there were strong departments…. Some of the faculty left right away, some stayed for a few years, and four continued to the end of their teaching careers: George Bingley, a mathematician; Ford Brown, a former Rhodes scholar and an authority on the Evangelicals in the Church of England; Richard Scofield, another Rhodes scholar who had previously taught art and English and very quickly proved the breadth of his interest and ability by the excellence of his teaching within the new program; and John Kieffer, in whom the program got a warm welcome because of his background in classical languages and literature.

As Winfree Smith indicates, Ford Brown continued on at the College for many years. After Richard Weigle assumed the presidency in 1949, Brown took the lead in the College’s adult education program, through which St. John’s tutors conducted seminars in Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington, and Easton. Brown also appears in living color in the lecture segment (at the 12:40 mark) of the 1954 recruitment film “The St. John’s Story,” available on the College’s Digital Archives here.

Ford Brown’s influence was, however, not confined solely to the Annapolis campus. As the new Santa Fe campus of St. John’s prepared to open its doors in 1964, an initial roster of ten faculty was recommended by the two deans and the members of the Instruction Committee. Among this group of ten who would constitute the inaugural teaching slate for the new campus, now thirty-nine years after he had first arrived at St. John’s and twenty-seven years after serving as one of the New Program’s founding faculty in 1937, was Ford K. Brown. When the members of the Board, government officials, delegates from other institutions, and friends of the College converged on Santa Fe in October of 1964 for the formal dedication of the new campus, Ford Brown, as senior tutor on the Santa Fe faculty, served as marshall for the procession (and was described pointedly by Richard Weigle as “resplendent in the crimson and blue of his academic gown, for he had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.”)

Brown taught only that very first year in Santa Fe, but an anecdote Weigle relates in his history The Colonization of a College is indicative of the impression he made:

An incident during the spring of the College’s second year of operation illustrates the spirit which pervaded the campus at the time. Ford Brown, an Annapolis tutor, had come out for the first year of the Santa Fe campus. He had returned to the East in the summer of 1965 but was invited back to lecture on Thucydides in the spring of 1966. Students were delighted, so they formed a washboard band to greet him at the railroad station in Lamy, the stop nearest Santa Fe. As the train came to a halt and the porter opened the car door and set the steps for debarkation, the band struck up an appropriate tune, and cheers arose from the assembled students, many of whom had had Mr. Brown in seminar or tutorial. The porter was greatly impressed and turned to Mr. Brown. “Just who are you?” he inquired. Ford Brown was equal to the occasion. He drew himself up and replied, “I am the Secretary of Defense.” The students loved it.

Ford Brown had married in 1921, four years before he joined the faculty at St. John’s. Within a few years of his arrival at St. John’s his spouse, Zenith Jones Brown, had begun her own writing career, publishing crime fiction under two separate and simultaneous aliases (David Frome and Leslie Ford). Over the next 33 years she would publish several dozen books in the genre, at a rate of more than one a year. Ford, meanwhile, continued with the research and writing he had first begun with the assistance of a Guggenheim fellowship in 1928, eventually publishing his own magnum opus, Fathers of the Victorians, in 1961. According to the New York Times:

The book recounts the national reform movement begun in England in the 1770s by a handful of men and women who were shocked at the moral conditions in England at the time, a national scene described by Dr. Brown as a “spectacle of horror, a nightmare of depravity, vice, sin and infidelity.” It received an honorable mention in the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize given by the American Historical Association for the best work on European history published by an American.

As mentioned above, among the books in the Meem Library’s Faculty Collection is a copy of this same Fathers of the Victorians, signed and inscribed to the library by Ford Brown on September 3, 1965.

Ford Brown continued to teach at the College through 1968, passing away in 1977 at the age of 82.

The Meem Library, Eastern Classics, and the Diamond Sutra

Cover of the 1995 Eastern Classics Catalogue

With the opening of the Meem Library in 1990, the Santa Fe campus’s library shelving space, which for twenty-six years had been severely limited by the lack of a dedicated library building, nearly doubled. Along with this new shelving space came both needs and opportunities to grow the Library’s collection.

The seeds of the first significant need appeared at nearly the same time as the Library’s construction, as Santa Fe faculty study groups began their focus on the Indian, Chinese, and Japanese texts that would soon become the foundation of the Graduate Institute’s Eastern Classics master’s program. Eastern Classics, or EC as it has come to be known here on campus, first began as a pilot program (the “Institute for the Study of Eastern Classics”) in 1992 and has run continuously as a St. John’s College graduate degree program since 1994. The history of the founding of Eastern Classics on the Santa Fe campus has been told many times through the years in various College publications available on the College’s Digital Archives, and most recently in a 2017 article by tutor and former Associate Dean of the Graduate Institute David McDonald. As tutor James Carey (Class of 1965), under whose deanship the early development of the Eastern Classics program occurred, has remarked:

How could we not be interested in what the human mind does when it has leisure and letters and it’s free from political persecution—what fundamental questions arise for it … and what form do they take, particularly if they’ve not been touched by Greece, or by Jerusalem? So the idea of looking at the thought of ancient India and ancient China was immensely appealing….

With the addition in the 1990s of an entirely new reading list rooted in great works of the East came a need for new core library acquisitions, including multiple class copies in a wide range of English translations for each reading, original language editions of these works, and texts and reference materials to support the program’s two new Language Tutorials in Sanskrit and Classical Chinese. As has so often been the case through the years at a College like our own, where the central place of books is undisputed, our alumni and friends quickly rallied on behalf of this new program and the Library’s collection. This included significant acquisitions funding during those early years from three members of the very same family, all of whom became EC graduates and advocates: Louise Heydt (EC95) and her son and daughter-in-law William (AN95, EC98) and Elizabeth (SF85, EC03) Rohrbach. Their joint efforts over the course of a full decade led to three crucial grants from the William H. and Mattie Wattis Harris Foundation that together were instrumental in building the Library’s Eastern holdings into the strong collection we now have today. It should also be noted that the College’s annual Rohrbach Memorial Lecture, which each year brings a guest scholar to the Santa Fe campus to speak on some topic related to the Eastern Classics, is funded in honor of this same William A. Rohrbach, who passed away suddenly in 2013. Now, nearly three decades since the beginning of the EC, two of our three staff librarians have themselves been through the campus’s Eastern Classics program, and the Library continues to expand its Eastern collections with additional primary and secondary literature, new translations, and supplementary works on Asian art, calligraphy, and other topics supporting our reading and understanding of these texts.

While the Eastern Classics program is sometimes viewed as a latecomer adjunct to our Liberal Arts programs, it is worth noting that the Western tradition owes to the East a debt of which many readers may be unaware. This debt lies not in the content of Western great works, but in the very medium of their survival and dissemination–in the actual technology behind the printed book as such. Physical books are, after all, the vehicles by which the texts we read at our College have made their journeys down through the millennia and centuries and decades and into our own hands today. If the existence of books as physical objects seems merely incidental to our questionings and reflections, it bears remembering that their physical existence is in fact the sine qua non of all our reading and discussion. The being of books, we must occasionally remind ourselves, lies not only in the ἐπιστήμη of those who wrote them; it is also literally bound up in the τέχνη of the mostly anonymous multitude who through the ages have printed, preserved and purveyed them.

As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space
an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble
a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning
view all created things like this.

Diamond Sutra, tr. Red Pine

Through this lens both our undergraduate and graduate Liberal Arts programs have deep roots in China, for it is to the Chinese that we owe the invention of that essential and now ubiquitous material all readers and book lovers have come to take for granted: paper. While the West continued to struggle with the fraught and limited media of papyrus and parchment and vellum up into the 11th century, the Chinese had already discovered the process of paper-making by the start of the Common Era, a full thousand years before. Initially used primarily as a convenient and pliable packing and wrapping material, by the third century paper had begun to be recognized for its value as a textual medium and soon became a powerful catalyst in the growth of China’s written culture. It was only through the paper-making process’s slow migration from the East westward through the Islamic world that paper as a technology finally reached and then began to take hold in Europe around the year 1100, leading to the ubiquity we know today.

Nor is it only for paper-making that the literary West owes a debt to the East, for printing as a means of efficiently duplicating texts also had its origins in China. Here, in the history of book-making, we actually find a direct connection to our own EC program, for it so happens that one of the seminal works on the Eastern Classics reading list, the Diamond (or Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā) Sutra, provides the text for the oldest complete dated printed book in existence. Printed by woodblock on paper sections subsequently connected into a five-meter long horizontal scroll, the renowned Dunhuang copy of the Diamond Sutra was unearthed from a sealed cave (known since as the Library Cave) in northwest China in 1900. With a colophon dating its production to May 11, 868, this copy had been interred with some forty thousand other manuscripts and artifacts sometime in the 11th century and then lost to time for nearly one thousand years. Acquired by the British Museum in 1907, it can now be viewed in high-resolution digital form on the British Library website as part of the International Dunhuang Project, a collaboration among institutions across several continents that seeks to make more than 100,000 manuscripts, paintings, and artifacts from Silk Road sites available worldwide on the Internet.

A brief and fascinating account by the British Library of the conservation of this early example of Chinese printing can be viewed here:

Finally, for those interested in exploring in more depth and detail the discovery and significance of the Dunhuang Diamond Sutra in the context of early book-making, we recommend the following talk by Susan Whitfield, Director of the International Dunhuang Project, given at the Getty Center in Los Angles in conjunction with the 2016 exhibition Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on the Silk Road, which brought this unique book to the United States for a brief period:

The Meem Library’s Edouard Manet Portrait of Charles Baudelaire

Portrait of Charles Baudelaire, Full Face, after a photograph by Nadar, 1868. Edouard Manet

Between two study carrels situated along the north wall of the Meem Library, easily missed from the main atrium but visible to anyone with a keen eye browsing our French Literature shelves, hangs a small etching of Charles Baudelaire by his close friend Edouard Manet, whose signature is visible in the lower right of the plate. (The inscriptions of both artist and printer also appear in the lower margin.)

A gift to the Meem Library in 1994 in honor of Santa Fe Tutor Katharine (Mulford) Boaz, who passed away this last November at the age of sixty-nine, this 3 11/16″ x 3 3/16″ plate imprint on thin handmade paper had its origins in a portrait etching of Baudelaire executed by Manet in 1865. This fourth and final state, completed in 1868, was one of two portraits of Baudelaire by Manet that appeared in Charles Asselineau’s 1869 biography Charles Baudelaire, sa vie et son oeuvre, published two years after Baudelaire’s death.

That Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (a senior language reading in Santa Fe) has left a deep mark on a significant number of our students and alumni, is borne out by a catalog search of our Archives, which shows no fewer than forty-nine senior essays written on that work since 1973, averaging to nearly one a year.

Perhaps even less well-known than the existence of the Library’s Baudelaire etching is that, for a period, Manet himself once held a place in our curriculum–this in the form of his painting Olympia, first exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1865, the very same year in which Manet rendered the first version of the image that would become our own Baudelaire portrait. While Music, as one part of the Quadrivium, has always been an integral part of our Program, the College has at various times in its history discussed and even explored on a trial basis the addition of a visual arts element. Making space for yet more works within our Program’s already full list and schedule has traditionally proven challenging, since adding one reading or class almost invariably requires cutting or removing another. And so the Visual Arts Tutorial that seniors on the Santa Fe campus once took during the spring semester, and in which Manet’s Olympia once featured, is no longer.

Still, these traces of our College’s and campus’s past live on in our Library’s Archives, which retains copies of the original Visual Arts Tutorial manuals, as well as the boxes of slides and carousels once used to project these art images onto our classroom walls for discussion.

The Meem Library’s Painting of Felice Swados (Part 2)

Artist Margaret Lefranc and Santa Fe campus President Emeritus John Agresto

It was during the 1993 retrospective of Margaret Lefranc’s work in the campus’s Peterson Art Gallery, held when the artist was eighty-six years of age, that a fortuitous encounter occurred that led to the gift of this painting to the Meem Library. In 1994 Ms. Lefranc provided the Library with the following account of this incident, along with the story of the painting itself.

In November 1993 Dr. John Agresto, [President] of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, came to the opening of my exhibition “A Lifetime of Imaging” at that institution. Of the 65 paintings shown, there was one in particular to which he was drawn. It is the portrait of a young woman seated at a typewriter which is on an old-fashioned small table. She is outdoors in the middle of an apple orchard situated in the Catskill Mountains.

He inquired as to the identity of the person depicted in the painting. Who was she and what was she writing? I explained that she was a friend and that she was spending time with me at my summer home. She was writing her first novel. Her name was Felice Swados, and she later married the historian Richard Hofstadter.

“How interesting! Hofstadter’s son, Danny, has just been to see me. I have always been a fan of his father, Richard…. So this is Danny’s mother and Richard Hofstadter’s wife. What a coincidence.” Dr. Agresto then expressed a desire to acquire the painting.

When the connection became clear, I later made arrangements for the gift of this painting to St. John’s library.

In 1932 I met Felice Swados at a summer camp for girls. I was head Arts and Crafts counselor and she was hired as my assistant. She was a precocious sixteen year-old, looking and acting beyond her age. She had a wonderful sense of fun. Pretty soon the seven year difference in age vanished and we became lifelong friends.

In 1916 Felice Swados was born in Buffalo, New York. She was the daughter of a physician who ministered mostly to the poor and a mother who was a gifted artist. A brother was added to the family. Harvey Swados became a noted novelist. He died young. Felice graduated from Smith College with a degree in sociology. During her undergraduate years, she worked in a women’s reform school. It was there she garnered the material for her novel House of Fury which she wrote while vacationing with me at my Catskill farmhouse.

She became the first woman editor at Time magazine and was probably their youngest editor. She wrote the medical and later also the science columns.

My family’s summer home in the Catskills had become run down from fourteen years of abandonment and subsequent misuse by vagrants. Once I acquired the quitclaim deed for the price of back taxes, the Hunter, NY property became my project. The house’s eight bedrooms were soon occupied by my friends who had serious work to do and needed a haven for thinking and producing. In lieu of rent we all chipped in with shared repair work to the house and some chores with me as coordinator and supervisor. Time wasters were asked to leave. As a consequence, manuscripts, paintings, and other projects were born and completed. Fun and many lively political discussions took place at our nightly cooperative meals. Later Jim Fadiman would call me the Ur hippie. However, we all grew to be solid citizens.

Felice and Richard Hofstadter were important components of this mix spending every weekend at the farm. It was there they decided to get married. Nothing would do but that I go with them on their honeymoon, a motor trip through the South to examine the health problems of sharecroppers’ and miners’ children. Felice did the research for lead articles in Time magazine; Richard came along as husband, driver, and critic; I was artist chronicler and arbiter of arguments about social welfare and the government’s role in our private lives.

In the relaxed moments, they were a happy and compatible couple. Richard received his law degree. Felice continued her work at Time. But suddenly she developed an unusual physical condition. When the temperature dropped below 55 degrees, her circulation would decrease to the point where she could barely function.

Richard decided to give up law and focus on his great passion, American History. He returned to Columbia University for his graduate degrees, ending up teaching there for the rest of his life. Felice would laughingly say, “Dick is very lazy, but he is thorough when he decides to work. He will write only half a dozen history books, but they will become classics.” Hers was a prophecy which was fulfilled perfectly.

Felice gave birth to a son Danny, named after my brother. Shortly after his birth, she was discovered to have liver cancer. In 1945 she died, to the despair of her father, the physician who could not save his own daughter. She was 29 years of age.

Among the Meem Library’s Special Collection holdings is a first edition copy of House of Fury, the 1941 novel upon which Felice Swados was working in this painting, inscribed by the author to Margaret Lefranc, whose personal copy this was.

The Library’s circulating collection also includes a number of works authored by her husband, the renowned historian Richard Hofstadter. Among these is his Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, a work that won the Pulitzer Prize in Non-Fiction in 1964, the very same year in which the Santa Fe campus of St. John’s College was founded.

The Meem Library’s Painting of Felice Swados (Part 1)

Portrait of Felice Swados, 1940. Oil on canvas by Margaret Lefranc

All those who are familiar with the Meem Library likely recognize the above painting, which has hung above the Library’s west staircase landing since 1994. But the story behind this painting’s artist, its subject, and its arrival and placement in the Library is less known. That story begins with an exhibition that took place in the Santa Fe campus’s Peterson Art Gallery in November of 1993, chronicled in an article by Mary Jo Moore that appeared in The St. John’s Reporter in December of that same year:

A retrospective of sixty representative oil paintings, etchings, monotypes and drawings by New Mexico artist Margaret Lefranc opened November 7 at the St. John’s College Gallery. The show centered around key periods of a 70-year career which has included exposure to German Expressionism in Berlin, cubism, surrealism and abstractionism in Paris, and which culminated in a return to the United States and a definition of her own style. Born in New York, Margaret knew she would be an artist at age 5. She attended the Art Student’s League in New York at age 12. In her adolescent years she lived in Berlin, and later in Paris with her family. She was offered a scholarship to Bryn Mawr and had the choice of going there or to Europe with her parents. Since she wanted to be an artist anyway, she decided to join her parents in Paris.

Her first major piece, a charcoal drawing done at the age of fourteen in Berlin, was included in the show, as were a number of large oils done at ages 16 and 17. In a recent interview at her studio, Margaret pointed to a large oil: “This is the last self- portrait I did of myself. I wanted to show what happens when you get old, and it’s not exactly what you’d call pleasant. It’s a document,” she said of her painting.

The particular flavor of her experience is evident in the following statement about her career. “I have lived a long time and in many places. Between the ages of barely 14 to almost 17, I resided in Berlin. There I saw the works of Marc, Kollwitz, Lehmbruck, Heckel, the Bruecke, Klee, Kandinsky to name a few. The great old masters in museums I adored, but it was the modernists who stimulated me profoundly.

“From 17 to 25 years of age, I lived in Paris observing the growth of art away from naturalism and impressionism. Every conceivable experimentation in the creative arts was taking place, from cubism, expressionism, surrealism to abstraction, and then some. I studied with the brilliantly gifted Russian refugees from Bolshevism, and, of course, with the original yet supremely logical French, in particular, Andre L’Hote. So much went on with studying, arguing, and drinking of cafe au lait in bistros! But I lived for the excitement of drawing and painting, as all of us artists did.

“Then the ominous shadow of Nazism forced me to leave the successful beginning of my career as an artist in Paris. I returned to the country of my birth. On her return to the United States from Paris in 1932 she opened the Guild Art Gallery to give young American artists an opportunity to exhibit their works. She occupied a space at 57th Street right off of Fifth Avenue, opposite of Betty Parsons, which whom she later became friends. Mrs. Rockefeller owned the building and accepted paintings when there was no money for rent. “The gallery was a successful experience,” she said. “I got to be quite expert at arranging shows, and was very much liked by the press. Arshille Gorky had his first one-man show in New York, at my gallery. We sold one of his drawings to the collector Kathryn S. Dreier. She was quite a lady and she paid me $75 for that drawing of which I got $25 and Gorky got $50.”

“I closed the gallery down, and in 1939 I went to see the country of my birth. I got into a dilapidated old car and I traveled throughout the whole of the United States-going from New York down South, down into the Keys, into Louisiana and Texas; and from Texas I went to New Mexico. The scope of my reaction to the enormously vibrant land commanded me to use all of my knowledge at hand. I let emotion flow through pen and brush without the sieve of intellectual analysis and considered self-criticism.

“When I got to Santa Fe, I knew instantly that I was going to live here. I knew it. I felt comfortable. I finally said to myself that I would move here as soon as I had $1000 dollars of my own money, and that’s precisely what I did,” Margaret said.

Margaret moved to New Mexico in 1945 with a friend who got a Rockefeller grant to work in San Ildefonso Pueblo near Santa Fe. That was the late author Alice Marriott. “Alice said to me, why don’t we team up and you do the illustrations for my book?'” Her drawings were featured in five books by Alice Marriott, two of which won the Library of Congress’s One Hundred Best Books of the Year award. Throughout her life she has supported herself as a portrait artist, as a textile designer and as an illustrator. “I didn’t get much money for the illustration, but I sold my sketches,” she said. “I had three exhibitions at the Fine Arts Museum [in Santa Fe] which then had an open door policy. “I taught a lot.”

(Continued in Part 2….)