Lunch with my old prof is a weekly pleasure and frequently by the time we leave the restaurant she's said "come in when you take me back, I've got things to show you." A small woman of strong education and deep culture who graduated from the University of Illinois the year I was born, whose house, as all repositories of long lives must be, is a reflection of her mind – its walls and shelves filled with books and pictures, its cupboards and drawers filled with accretions of half-forgotten, once-interesting things ready to be brought out when she thinks someone might have use or need. And so it was last Friday – not that I knew it at the time – when she loaned me two brochures about Robert Allerton Park at the University of Illinois – she handed me a hitherto unknown paragraph in my Connections series about gay men, decorators, their clients and friends, men long dead and whose work is now, in the scramble for attention amid ever-irrelevant history, almost completely forgotten.
I had intended to write again about books because I'd found a downloadable copy of Harriet and Vetta Goldstein's excellent Art in Everyday Life where the two sisters (my old prof's mentors – she was their last graduate assistant before their retirement) gave good advice which I quote at the end of this post about how to arrange books on shelves. And so it was when I saw Robert Allerton's library in one of the booklets I thought it perfect, and perfect for my purposes – my all-too delayed return to my theme. (The fact that his sofas resemble mine exactly has nothing to do with it).
Allerton's main library above, one of three in the house, converted from the music room, was designed by John Gregg, the man with whom, after the stock market crash of 1929, Allerton was to spend the rest of his life. In fact, in 1959, after a change in Illinois law, Allerton adopted Gregg as his son. According to Wikipedia they were one of the most prominent same-sex couples of their time.
The "butternut" library, paneled in lumber cut on the farm,
was considered by Robert Allerton as the "family" library
The stable, no longer needed after the gift of an automobile,
was converted into the "barn" library with a garage underneath
It might be that I am the only person left in this country who did not know about Robert Allerton and John Gregg but in case there is anyone else as ignorant as I of a moment of gay history I shall continue with a paragraph or two more. Assuming, that is, in a time when, arguably, homosexuality did not exist simply because no-one talked about it, two men living together as companions, with one eventually adopting the other, could lead one to believe there might just be something more than sharing expenses to their relationship.
Glyn Warren Philpot
"The Man in Black"
Robert Allerton by Glyn Philpot
Robert Allerton by Glyn Philpot
I am struggling with facts that might be already well-known to many but it comes as a surprise to me that Glyn Philpot first visited Robert Allerton in 1913 when he painted a portrait of Allerton for which the latter then declined to pay. The portrait, "The Man in Black" now hangs in the Tate Gallery. This portrait was one of Glyn Philpot's works that earned him the designation of RA at the young age of thirty.
Clearly I need to find and read a biography of Philpot before I take this idea of connection much further - despite the fact that this artist recently has been on my mind. Philpot painted the murals that once accompanied this fireplace that I found, forlorn, in a Victoria and Albert Museum corridor this past July – though considering the fate of the murals I'm glad it was bought by the museum. But, that's a whole other post.
"So simple a thing as the arrangement of books will add to or detract from the beauty of a room. The very plainest books can make a beautiful effect in a room if they are grouped according to size and color. To do this so that the result may practical as well as beautiful, divide the books according to their subject-matter, and then within these groups arrange the colors and the light and dark books so that they will present the appearance of well balance groups rather than a light book here and there, an occasional dark one, and bright ones scattered all about. Keeping the lighter books near the top and around the center line, for well placed emphasis will help to complete an interesting color pattern.
"Books and magazines which are easily accessible will do more than anything else to make the living room seem home-like. Books are always more inviting if they are placed on open shelves instead of being shut off behind glass doors. They should be placed so they are convenient for use, and if there are interesting books and magazines on small tables in the room, in addition to the generous shelves, it will add immeasurably to the enjoyment of the room."
After all the discussion of vignetting, I thought you might like this. It's the tail end of a catalogue that dropped in the mailbox this week.
"The Man in Black" from the Tate Gallery
The Philpot self-portrait from Wikipedia
Philpot Murals from "London Interiors" John Cornforth, Aurum Press, 2000
Libraries photographs from brochure about Robert Allerton Park, published by the Univerity of Illinois. 1951