Dreams

Dreaming of what might be has been one of the great joys of my life. Often these dreams come from reading. I become seduced by books. When I was in grade school, reading animal books made me fall in love with horses and dogs. Reading Black Beauty made me want a horse. My mother allowed us to have riding lessons and go horseback riding occasionally, but getting a horse was out of the question, so I began having dog dreams. I had my heart set on a collie after reading many books by Albert Payson Terhune, starting with Lad, a Dog. Collies were from Scotland, so I read Scottish Chiefs and books about Robert Bruce. I dreamed of walking across the moors with a collie by my side. My first taste of research came from looking into dog lore. I studied types of dogs, dog care, shots and food. I swore to my mother that I would do ALL the work, that she wouldn't have to do anything for him. I pored over pictures of collies. I studied the advertisements in the papers to find out what the market was, how much a collie would cost. At ten I became an expert on collies. I talked of nothing but collies. I drew collies. I studied traditional Scottish names, "Bruce" was an early favorite. When I graduated from seventh grade, my reward was a collie, Robin--Robin Adair Hood.
I got him as a pup from a kennel. He had papers. The only defect was that his ears didn't tulip but stood straight up. I tried putting tape on the tips of his ears to make them flop over;one eventually did.
Having Robin conferred status on me. The Schweigers had Queenie, a German Shepherd, but otherwise there weren't many dogs in the neighborhood, and everyone came to see the rolly new puppy. I enjoyed the fame but not the chore of training him.

One dream that came true: getting a dog. Robin and his admirers: Helen Schweiger, me, Joe, Kathleen.

Once I had Robin and had taken him around the neighborhood to show him off, I had to settle into a routine, and I was too impetuous, too free a spirit to be tethered to a dog's leash. Mother swore at me frequently when Robin relieved himself on the living room carpet. Finally, he was confined to the basement, then to the laundry and furnace room, where he might relieve himself and I would have to clean up after him. Eventually someone trained him; it may have been Mother or Kathleen. It was not I. I did enter him in a dog show where he won a ribbon: only three had entered.

Hiking with Robin leads to wanderlust

Virginia Lenge

Robin grew up as a member of our family. He became not my dog but the family dog. Robin lived to be fifteen, but I was only home for five of those years. Mother fed him and looked after him. Kathleen and Carol in turn loved him.
In the years I was at home, I went with Robin at my side on long walks through fields and roads and green paths--not in Scotland as in the romances, but in Kansas City. With Kathleen and my friend Virginia Lenge (accompanied by her Airdale Kerry), we hiked wherever on sunny summer afternoons the wanderlust led us, losing ourselves in nature. Sometimes we headed east along Meyer and 63rd till we arrived at Swope Park, where we had woods to get lost in and shelters to wait for showers to pass. Other times we headed west along Meyer Blvd out to Ward Parkway, then down 63rd across State Line and into Mission Hills, where we followed the winding roads and creeks , crossed small bridges beside Mission Hills Country Club. There, on the banks of creeks or ponds, we lay on our backs and looked at the clouds, pointing out shapes of camels, deer, human heads, or sometimes dogs in the high piling clouds.

Virginia--a wonderful painter even at that age-- educated me about dogs and about artists. She had fallen for Rembrandt and used to copy his self-portraits. She subscribed to American Artist. She knew the best brushes and all the colors and their combinations. Mother approved of Virginia; in fact, Virginia's aunt was one of her friends. We often took our paints along on our hikes. Kansas City has wonderful fountains and sculptures spread throughout the Country Club District; these were our destinations. The Verona Columns; Mirror Lake; the Plaza, the Nelson Gallery.

Dreams of the grand art tour

 

On hikes like these we dreamed of our futures. Virginia and I both wanted to be artists. I had been growing up surrounded by art at home. After my father graduated from Notre Dame in architecture in 1922, he spent the summer traveling by boat and bicycle on a grand classical tour around the Mediterranean, visiting Italy, Egypt, Turkey and the Holy Land with a fellow architect Homer Pfeiffer from the University of Illinois in 1925. He returned with a lifelong love of classical art to which he introduced us.Our walls always had art-- picturess of the ruins at Delphi in the rec room, a church at Williamsburg in our living room, a DaVinci head of Christ on the basement wall. We had absorbed this silently.

I also absorbed the romance of the grand tour, of traveling to exotic places--Greece, Istanbul, Egypt, the Holy Land. I would take after my father. He loved classical art and Gothic art.

Dreams of living in earlier times.

 

Two poles were present in my life. My religious world was the dark Gothic world of my school and church. The old St. Peter's Church was Gothic--dark, mysterious and inspiring , it awed me with the solemnity and majesty of religion, making me feel small, far from the altar. St. Peter's School was a dark, oppressive place, with narrow halls and large heavy dark desks bolted to the floor. We were also bolted to our desks with religious discipline, allowed to speak only when called on.
By contrast, on our hikes we went sometimes to the bright spacious classical world of the Nelson Gallery. Its broad green lawn stretched down from the classical portico to Volker Drive. I could stand up close to statues and touch ancient marble lions. I got my first sense of time and eternity, of permanence and impermance there, as I tried to absorb the dates on the statues: The Egyptian rooms--1200 BC!, the Greek sculptures --500 BC! the Medieval sculpture gallery 1300 AD, the Asian galleries 300 BC.

Just as my imagination ranged the world of books and I vicariously lived in those far off times, so on our walks through the Nelson Gallery, I imagined myself living in the ages that produced those hieratic figures of pharoahs, emperors, gods and saints. I could relate to the sublime otherworldliness of the Egyptians' imposing frontal dieties, staring into space. I could relate to the ideal beauty and perfection of human forms of Greek sculptures. I couldn't relate to the Gothic sculptures of saints draped in heavy clothes carved in dark wood rather than marble, but I intuited the religious atmosphere surrounding their creation as akin to the same one that I felt in my dark church, and I admired their deep spirituality. In the Asian galleries I loved the serene, graceful Buddhas and many-armed dancing Shiva. I drew the Shiva Naranja in charcoal. I loved the bronze replica of Rodin's Thinker outside north of the Gallery. There I sketched and painted.

Dreams of being an artist.

Next to the Nelson Gallery is the Kansas City Art Institute. There I took drawing and painting classes when I was in high school. There I met creative, clever people like Verbena Hoffman and Nick, who played Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges. They were much cleverer than I was, funny and free. Their irreverence made me long to broaden myself and become a bohemian. I began to imagine an artistic life, beyond the reach of home, not realizing how far such a life was removed from the current that was carrying me along. I definitely felt the pull away from home as art opened other worlds to me. I would have liked to spend more time with these new friends, but when I told my mother about them, she did not allow me to meet them at other times. She did not know them or their mothers, so she did not approve.

Beginnings of becoming an artist.

One day I was doing a charcoal self-portrait from my image in the mirror over t the dressing table in our bedroom. I had been taking life drawing, and had ventured to do a self-portrait. I drew the oval shape of the face, the arching eyebrows over deep-set eyes. I looked up at the face in the mirror to capture the exact shape of the eyes. It was a fairly good likeness. I had a sort of epiphany; no one had ever told me I had any beauty, yet here I had caught the likeness of someone with a mature, not ungainly,beauty. The picture didn't frown, as I might have; it didn't smirk, didn't scowl, didn't grimace into agonies of emotion. The portrait stared back quietly, poised, rational.
I have always been able to appreciate and understand the raw material of life when it is rendered through art.

Virginia I shared dogs, art, and an understanding of the "bohemian" art world. I've always found that artists understand me. Our collaboration spilled over to school, where, with Helen Schorfeide, we became the class artists. We were called upon to decorate for dances, paint the backdrop of Jerusalem for the crib scene in the entrance of Hogan at Christmas, and finally to be the art editors for the Maroon, the school yearbook. We also became involved with the newspaper, sketching portraits. Our celebrity as artists at school brought us some attention and interest from other students . When I sketched The Thinker at the Art Institute, I had an audience, including my first boyfriend (Jim Hense). My status as an artist gave me an added dimension. I was not just a bookworm; I was an artist.

Romantic dreams of a musical career

 
Another outlet for my growing romantic imagination was music. We had a piano at home. Mother's German aunts loved music and had encouraged her on the piano. She claimed to have practised nine hours a day, hoping for a career as a concert pianist. Occasionally we heard her play Schumann or Rachmaninoff . We took piano lessons for about 4 years, during which time Kathleen and I did learn the difference between the bass clef and the treble clef and could read music. All of this was nothing but a duty to me, until I was in high school and fell in love with Chopin (helped by the movie A Song to Remember), and discovered Liszt's Second Hungarian Rhapsody. Liszt and Chopin, those romantic composers, seduced me. I bought sheet music for pieces by them, then branched out to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I sat at the piano and imagined myself a pianist, but my technique was not up to the task. Still I romanticised musicians, and found music a vehicle for dreaming. I spent summer afternoons in the cool basement listening to Standchen or Adalaide, on old 78's given us by the Sisters at Clyde.

Dreams of the life of a poet.

 

I had loved poetry as a child. In high school the life of the poet Dante caught me. I read A New Life, which I found in our basement library. When I came to the part where he saw Beatrice for the first time on the Ponte Nuova and immediately recognized her as the love of his life, I dreamed that something similar could happen to me.
Poets fighting tyranny and exiled from their cities seemed to me the greatest heroes. I adored Byron, read his biography, memorized his poetry and wrote my senior term paper on him. I liked his "my head is bloody but unbowed" attitude. Similarly I found inspiration in the vagabond poet Francois Villon, and imagined him writing his ballads in the dungeon. And I memorized Sir Walter Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel, Man without a Country excerpt and recited it whenever I got the chance.

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.

Dreams of becoming an architect.

 
Probably my summer courses in drawing made my father decide to take me on for the summers in his architecture office on Broadway, in the Congress Building. There for four summers I typed specifications, inked in borders, drew title blocks, typed letters to architects and contractors and designers and suppliers. I loved drafting and rendering. Frank Grimaldi, who had just graduated from Notre Dame had just come to work for my father. He introduced me to Elial Saarinen and other architects and kept us abreast of new books on architecture which I bought or borrowed. He had been referred to my father by Frank Kervick at Notre Dame. Frank had a good sense about books as well as architecture. He was religious as well. Perhaps it was through him that I got to know about the Liturgical Arts movement and read Liturgical Arts magazine, edited by Maurice Lavanoux. Through reading that periodical, I discovered Dominicus Boehm and European architects of the liturgical movement. His studies for churches made me try my hand at designing my own ideal church, which was semicircular, with a nice closed in intimate feeling, with everything radiating from the altar at the center of the semicircle. At about the same time, think, I was reading Thomas Merton's Seven Story Mountain which had just been published. Did I want to be a monk or an architect? Perhaps if women in the 40's went to graduate schools or studied architecture, I would have chosen to become an architect, but the currents of my life were tending toward monasticism.

A 1947 party with our cousins the Spellmans and our neighbors the Schweigers.

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