We moved offices recently—and you all know what a joy moving can be. We’re now on the far west side of Midtown Manhattan, the neighborhood where two of New York’s great fictional characters resided: Nero Wolfe, the ingenious, orchid-fancying, and largely housebound private detective, and his much more dynamic legman and chronicler, Archie Goodwin. Both would be amazed—or, perhaps more likely, appalled—by the glass-sheathed towers of the Hudson Yards project now rising near the site of their old brownstone. Then again, nobody appreciated the urge to turn a buck more than Wolfe.
On the plus side, the move unearthed a number of treasures from our archive and you see a few of them arrayed in the photo below. They include an actual Western Union telegram sent in 1953 by Electra Havemeyer Webb, the founder of the Shelburne Museum, to her friend Alice Winchester, the second editor of The Magazine ANTIQUES. The telegram sits atop a bargello waistcoat that Winchester needlepointed for her successor, Wendell Garrett. (I have never tried it on, for fear it would spontaneously burst into flames rather than be worn by me.) Also atop the waistcoat you see some of the myriad black-covered record books in which Wendell wrote down in his careful hand—often using a fountain pen—interesting thoughts and quotations he’d come across in the work of writers, poets, statesmen, and historians.
I spoke about these artifacts and about Wendell with my predecessor as editor here, Elizabeth Pochoda. A short time later she sent me a reminiscence about the memorial for Wendell held, not long after his death, at the Park Avenue Armory, during the Winter Antiques Show, on January 28, 2013:
There was no better time or place to honor Wendell, American historian and unofficial dean of American decorative arts. The joyful modernism of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, a favorite of his, summoned the crowd to the Armory’s Tiffany Room. The printed program for the event was set by hand in a circa 1797 typeface made by America’s first successful typeface foundry, Binny and Ronaldson of Philadelphia.
There were tributes, of course, and “Monticello,” a poem by the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Robert Hass, was read by Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Threaded through it all were readings from Wendell’s notebooks—pungent lines from John Adams, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others that expressed the hopes and concerns of a man who had been born to sharecroppers and never stopped pondering the complex fate of his country.
And then a moment of silence broken by Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” played by trumpeter Woodrow English, a retired US Army sergeant major, behind the crowd, unseen in the darkness of the Veterans Room.
I am sorry that I never knew Wendell Garrett, but I’m glad to have the company of his notebooks.
The waistcoat is nice to look at, too.