Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Straddling two worlds

The Waning Crescent Moon floating above lower Park Avenue. 6:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, January 24, 2018. Rainy and warmer, yesterday in New York with the temperatures nearing 60 in the early afternoon, dropping to the high 30s in the late evening.

Today is the birthday of our friend Peter Rogers. If you don’t know Peter, or have never heard of him, well, you have no matter. In his golden youth Peter was in the Advertising Business back when it was just about the most glamorous business in all of Manhattan.

Peter with the late beloved Liz Smith and Ann Richards.
Peter was famous for (among other things) his "accounts." Or, his "accounts" were famous because they were clever. "If you don't look good, we don't look good ..." Okay, tell me the name of the product. Or, very famously "What becomes a legend most?" The latter became one of the most famous advertising campaigns EVER! So much so that Peter wrote a memoir because of it, has had museum exhibitions because of it, and is now about to publish a book of those famous images, because-of-it. Along with the dish that goes with the shoots, one presumes, no?

Anyway, Peter's story is he was a kid in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who had an after-school job working at the local department store owned by a Mr. Fine. One of the young Peter's assignments was doing the window display. Whatever he did, his boss, Mr. Fine was so impressed that he advised the boy to NOT go to college but to go to New York instead and get into the advertising business. Well ... the kid was smart enough to take Mr. Fine's advice and that's what New York was (and still is) all about. That's why after-school jobs still matter!

Peter, incidentally now lives in New Orleans, a choice he made at this time in his life because it was the "city" he knew as a very young man, and closer to his roots. (Those Southern boys never quite get over it.) He moved there several years ago and he knows everybody in town (or they know him) and he loves it. He doesn't miss New York, he says, although he owned the town for so long, part of it still misses him. Especially on his birthday (he'd have picked up the check at the best restaurant in town).
Peter when he was living up in Kent, CT before becoming a full time New Orleanian.
Today we’re running two segments of the photo archives of Ellen Glendinning  Fraser Ordway who was born in the first decade of the 20th century and died in the eighth decade. Mrs. Ordway was a native born member of what made up Society in the New York-Philadelphia-Boston-Newport-Northeast Harbor-Palm Beach axis of that century. Her generation were the grandchildren of Mrs. Astor and the society that Edith Wharton chronicled. They were the moderns who were born into the automotive age, the first to take for granted the technologies of the telephone, the electric light, the automobile and the airplane. For them it was a revolutionary time although they wore it with elan and acceptability. It was “progress” and everyone was up for it.

Elizabeth Rodman Fisher Carpenter Glendinning and her daughter Ellen, c. 1901.
When you look at her photos you see a world that is not unfamiliar even if not personally accessible. The photographer was of the (more) modern generation, the first one out of the Victorians. Mrs. Ordway, who was born in Philadelphia and kept a pet fox to guard the family flower gardens, lived most of her life in Philadelphia and more frequently in Palm Beach.

The camera was one of the new technologies of her generation and she had a natural relationship to it, photographing everybody and everything as she moved through her life. Selfies were not her style although she was always camera ready. Her archives are one of the most important examples of American upperclass life of the first three quarters of the 20th century, for she was a natural born photo journalist.

Hers was a time when most people tended to avoid the focus of the lens and so you see people in their real environment with their real (unposed) faces.  In her photos many of them were heirs or tycoons of the generation that came to be after the Great Depression and the Second World War. They were the generation who were the subject of Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and John O’Hara. It was a world where booze played a role and multi-marriages became kind of the “norm.” Women were emerging from the roles their grandmothers played. And the world was opening up to their curiosity.
27 January 1952. The Great Pyramid & Sphinx, Giza, Egypt. For a trip around the world, Ellen and Lou Ordway, center, were joined by Arthur Lewis, far left, saddled on a camel, and Tom Evans, far right, straddling a donkey.
We ran more than four dozen of Mrs. Ordway’s photo memories over a period of more than a year. They are still in our archives if you want to look them up and they were impeccably organized, edited and produced by Augustus Mayhew.

It is a record and a chronicle of the privileged American upperclass mid-20th century life when it was beginning to be melding into Everyman, as it has continued into the present. Those of us who were born at that time can recognize the styles and the habits of Mrs. Ordway’s subjects (her friends and family) because it was a world in which everything was exposed to everybody in terms of fashion, lifestyle and social behavior. There were rules, for example, often called etiquette, which were taught (at home) to everybody, and followed seriously throughout life (by almost everybody).
The groom, Robert G. "Rippie," Frazer, the groom's mother Ellen Glendinning Frazer, and the bride Diana Dunning Frazer. The couple honeymooned on Palm Beach.
Speaking of otherworldly, this past Monday night, the Frick Collection hosted their annual dinner for the Board of Directors and their associates. Called “the Director's Circle dinner” it was served in the dining room of the great house with about sixty attending, including internationally famous architect Annabelle Selldorf, and the Aga Khan. The evening’s program included a presentation by Xavier F. Salomon, Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, on the portraits of Sir Griffith and Lady Boynton by Francis Cotes, recently installed in the Dining Room gallery, and on loan to the museum from the collection of Mrs. Henry C. Frick II.
Emily T. Frick (Mrs. Henry C. Frick II) and Chief Curator Xavier F. Salomon
Frick Board of Trustees Chairman Betty Eveillard and Jean-Marie Eveillard
Director Ian Wardropper and Prince Amyn Aga Khan
Deputy Director for External Affairs Tia Chapman, Lysa Price, and Noi Noimany
Director Ian Wardropper, Board Chairman Betty Eveillard, and Annabelle Selldorf
Mark and Rochelle Rosenberg
Davide Stefanacci and Ronnie West
Margot Bogert with Henry P. and Susan Johnson
Annabelle Selldorf, Helen Clay Chace, and Thomas Outerbridge
Tai-Heng Cheng and Ingrid Edelman
Dining Room ambience
Chief Curator Xavier F. Salomon discusses the portraits of Sir Griffith (1769) and Lady Boynton (1768) by Francis Cotes in the Frick’s Dining Room gallery

Photographs by Christine A. Butler

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