America is Not Made of Bubble Wrap by Jake Purcell

Every time any kind of cultural-historical object or building is destroyed overseas, someone who has never written about cultural heritage before (they never have!!! I don't know why!!!) feels the need to (please don't click on this link) lay down some truth: Maybe that item of cultural heritage would not have been destroyed if it were in the West, hmmm! It's the whack-a-mole of cultural heritage takes.

Bubble Wrap America © Brianna Nofil
because turns out it's very hard to find photos of art breaking.

The idea is bad for... many reasons. In addition to the gross paternalism and colonial hangover, there are never any policy corollaries for this suggestion. Do we move all objects to the U.S.? Or is it possible that takes like the one above serve only to exonerate probable criminals from blame? Who can say.

Also, these writers all seem to be under the impression that America is just a giant museum made entirely of bubble wrap and padding. Listen, it is not true. All of the highest-value heists have happened in "the West," a huge amount of art is in private hands and not in museums, and, historically, shit breaks all the time when private owners get their hands on it. Let's look at a small selection of things that William Randolph Hearst broke, shall we?

  1. An antique bed.
    "The bed that Bill is using upstairs is going to pieces through... lack of attention. When a piece falls off somewhere the maid puts it away and later throws it out."

    Hearst's solution was to hire a technical assistant to oil, wax and re-glue things. It was pretty normal for collectors, dealers, and museums to perform this kind of unscientific touch-up work, which now feels more like HGTV than actual conservation.
  2. An alabaster mantle. 
    "Alabaster mantel at Charles was broken by his men. Tell him he must take mantel back and off my account, as he is responsible for gross carelessness of his experts, or else make substantial reduction in price."

    Ok, this one is actually a dealer's fault. Sorry, WRH.
  3. A lot of glass (see playlist)
    Possibly including "the blue and white porcelain garden seats, the three glazed pottery statues, the Wedgewood blue and white Jasperware urns and other small items." The breakage in this shipment led to an extended insurance dispute!
  4. Santa Maria de Ovila.
    "About one percent of the material... was broken and about two percent more had lost its wrappings and had been slightly damaged."
  5. Some fine urns. 
    "Our fine urns came smashed. [I] am confident that boat shipment increases hazard through double handling and also careless handling. [H]ereafter kindly ship absolutely nothing of my art material by boat. [A]ll unnecessary handling should be avoided..." 
  6. Tables, chair legs, whatever else. 
    "The car was beautifully packed and wedged--no shifting apparent--but on unpacking, a number of articles were broken in ways that suggest that as the shocks the car received had to be absorbed and passed from crate to crate because wedged as a whole, the strain went through the crates to the articles which may not have been crated with this in mind; i.e. were too nearly the size of the crates, and giving with them, took up the impulse by cracking such things as table pedestals where fancy, chair legs, etc. We fortunately had good men on hand and most of the repairs are already made."

    By this point, Hearst had had a decade to figure out how to move things from New York to Los Angeles. A decade!
  7. Early American furniture sent to the De Young Museum for display.
    "Lot #345 had a broken piece wrapped and placed in a drawer. This has been properly glued and replaced. Lot #29 had a piece of veneer missing on one of the drawers and we are having this repaired by an expert cabinet-maker. Lot #338 had a picture frame broken in two places. The damage was noted by your Los Angeles warehouse man." 
  8. Medieval stained glass.
    "[The] carloads arrived largely wrong. The windows for which glass was wanted, as I carefully explained to Chris, are eight feet tall. He sends me glass from Demotte eleven feet high. These eleven feet high windows are very valuable and must be sent back to New York. Some of the glass has broken in transport, through bad packing and lack of bracing in cars."

    This broken glass causes an extended dispute between Hearst and his warehouse chief, and a lot of confusion about whether or not insurance covers broken glass. It does, it turns out, so Hearst can become a little pious: "Very glad insurance covers breakage. However please urge our warehouse organization necessity of personally supervising packing and placing in care, as even insurance does not compensate for loss of fine things."
  9. Who even knows!
    Hearst asks his chief logistics specialist to please stop sending objects from New York to California via Examiner, "as everything is consistently lost or misplaced." This telegram may (extremely hard maybe) refer to SS Examiner, which was torpedoed during WWII, so I guess I'll give Hearst a point for foresight.

There are, of course, limits to this take. The chapel at the Detroit Institute of Arts comes from a building that was bombed in World War II, though it appears to be the only building "saved" from the kind of hypothetical destruction posited by anti-repatriationists. And I suspect that institutions are better at moving objects now than Hearst's rag-tag warehouse team was many years ago. Finally, the objects above represent a small portion of the enormous amount of "fine things" that Hearst moved west. It is, frankly, a miracle that he didn't spend all of his time complaining about things being broken. Still, the above list represents some of the small and large ways that things could go wrong in transport. And it also doesn't include, you know, decades of items sitting in leaking warehouses or the five-plus times that Santa Maria de Ovila was set on fire in a park.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from the chaos factory that was Hearst's warehouse enterprise!

MEDIEVAL AMERICA: The Playlist by Brianna Nofil

Fact: Hearst was an early investor in Beats™ by Dre.

Fact: Hearst was an early investor in Beats™ by Dre.

Reading about medieval buildings dragged to the United States can be exhausting. Who can keep all of these Clairvaux's straight and how do customs taxes work anyway and also what music should I listen to while I ponder both of these things? 

I am here with a solution to that last part.


1. Detroit Rock City - KISS
We are going to not make a million rock puns because, lowest common denominator humor, let's be real. But this song is a helpful reminder that a medieval building, the chapel from the Chateau de Herbeviller, ended up at the Detroit Institute of Art.

2. Fire Burning - Sean Kingston
Santa Maria de Ovila, Hearst's second monastery purchase, sat in Golden Gate Park for several decades because no one could figure out what to do with it. During that time, it caught fire five times, damaging many of the stones. Arson was suspected, but never proven.

3. The Ambassador - The Hold Steady
This song is about a drugged-out young woman who is pretty much living at a nightclub called The Ambassador. But do you know who lived at a very fancy Los Angeles hotel called The Ambassador? Our boy WRH! In the late 1920s and early 1930s, virtually all of WRH's correspondences come from this hotel residence.

4. Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect - Architecture in Helskinki
A musical tribute to the many very good architects Hearst drove to insanity during their tenure, especially the GOAT Julia Morgan <3

5. Man from Milwaukee - Hanson
Milwaukee also acquired some medieval buildings! The St. Joan of Arc Chapel was sold to Gertrude Gavin Hill (I guess not a man and also not exactly from Milwaukee) in 1927 and was donated (by Marc Rojtman, a man) to Marquette University (also not a man, but IS in Milwaukee) in 1964.

6. Tubthumping - Chumbawumba
A song about refusing to take no for an answer when Spanish authorities say "wait, no, that's against the law, stop dismantling that."

7. Don't Like.1 - Kanye West, et al.
Wow there were SO MANY things WRH did not like, including but not limited to: the art of El Greco, his bear pits (too small), the incinerator in his home (too loud, too flammable), his terrible art dealer Permain (literally the most useless man in the history of men, according to WRH's letters), etc etc. Also note the use of the word FRAUD in the first verse, an obvious reference to the frustrating world of artistic fakes and forgeries.

8. Walking on Broken Glass - Annie Lennox
Among the things WRH does NOT LIKE is art breaking in transit. How hard is it to ship stained glass panels across the ocean??? Please see Jake’s forthcoming good and thoughtful blog post re: broken stuff (including but not limited to: glass.)

9. Ain't Too Proud to Beg - The Temptations
There is a lot of groveling in the greater Medieval America project. Here’s a typical letter from Julia Morgan (the architect) to Arthur Byne (the dealer) about how much Hearst needs more medieval art: 

“He is very anxious to get a cloister, a big well—mantles like illustrated in the magazine you sent once—an important doorway—a mallets railing—the bigger, more architectural things, we need just now. You must wonder what we do with it all!” (Hahahaha so light hearted while also being deadly serious.)

We also see Byne beg Hearst for timely payments, Morgan beg Hearst not to be a monster to his dealers, everyone involved beg the Spanish authorities to keep quiet, etc etc.

10. Gimme More - Britney Spears
This song is obviously about early 20th century U.S. art collecting.

11. Outrageous - Britney Spears
See above.

12. The Dealer - Stevie Nicks
A tribute to the people who made it possible for rich American lunatics to procure things there is no reason they should’ve been able to procure—pressing on through revolution, angry priests, the on-set of sugar beet season, flooding, labor shortages, exciting new tariffs, etc. Hearst’s dealer Arthur Byne wrote of the exportation of Santa Maria de Ovila, "No one will ever know the difficulties and consequent anxiety I have passed through with this project.” (A thing I have said word for word about my dissertation.)

13. Mary Ann - Ray Charles
Marianne was Hearst’s elephant who lived at San Simeon, along with a host of other creatures including chimpanzees, bears, seals, etc. A typical Marianne-related inquiry to Hearst looked like this: "The elephant is getting far to big for her house. The house is too small and not strong enough. She is acquiring a bad habit of breaking thru..” followed by the related note, “How about the moving of the giraffes to the hill top?” Y’know, typical, relatable problems

14. Streets of Philadelphia - Bruce Springsteen
Philadelphia: also has medieval buildings! The Philadelphia Museum of Art got the deal of the century from the George Grey Barnard estate and scooped up a bunch of the pieces acquired after he sold the Cloisters to the Met.

15. Material Girl - bitch, it's Madonna.
A song about material culture and the history of objects and idk maybe reuse studies, who can say.

16. Rich as Fuck - Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz
The song that will play in the trailer if I ever make a genre-bending, very anachronistic film about American robber barons.

17. Bitch Better Have My Money - Rihanna
Of all the songs on this list, I would argue that none more thoroughly capture the spirit of the WRH archive than this masterpiece. WRH does not pay anybody on time, ever, and most correspondences with dealers reflect their mounting frustrations, their threats to stop working with him. Byne writes to Julia Morgan in a particularly low moment:

“To tell the plain truth, Miss Morgan, I cannot do business with Mr. Hearst. Since my first disastrous dealings with him I have found out a great deal from him from dealers in Paris. He makes a business (and incidentally considerable gain) of holding people off for years and then settling on his own terms."

As per usual, Morgan smooths things over and they are back to doing business in no time--after all, it was hard for a dealer to fully abandon a client as wealthy and art-hungry as Hearst, even if they were a massive flake.

18. I'm Stone in Love With You - The Stylistics
This will be show-stopping ballad that Hearst sings to a pile of rocks in the Broadway adaptation of this project.

Thank YOU stone much for listening to this playlist.

FDR's Mother by Jake Purcell

Caveat: This post is going to be more serious than most, and will actually articulate some ideas about why there is Medieval architecture in the U.S., both things we try to avoid on this platform like the plague. But the topic is important, and we would be extremely remiss if we did not point out that medieval art collecting, as part of the history of medievalism more generally, can have a lot to do with white supremacy. It doesn’t come up that often in our research, for two reasons that we’ll explore in this post. First, most people can muster at most a watery enthusiasm for the Middle Ages, and then only if it is not too expensive. Second, because white supremacy often looks awfully innocuous in the sources.

While searching ProQuest for any material about the Detroit Institute of Art's late gothic chapel, I found a small handful of articles about a weird moment in French-American relations. Shortly after FDR was re-elected in 1936, the mayor of the small town of Lannoy, France, cabled to offer his congratulations, since the ancestors of FDR's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, had lived there. Weird telegram, but OK.

FDR &amp; Mom (Photo:  NARA/Wikimedia Commons )

FDR & Mom
(Photo: NARA/Wikimedia Commons)

A few days later, on November 11, the White House held a small Delano genealogy event (what?). Daniel Webster Delano, "a research scholar" and the president's fourth cousin, presented his studies of the Delano family, which reporters dutifully rehashed. The Delanos/de Lannoys were authoritatively traced back to the 1621 arrival of Philippe de Lannoy in the U.S. on the second pilgrim ship to Plymouth, Fortune, and could possibly be traced back to Hugues, count of Lannoy in 1096. If you really wanted to believe, the Delanos could even be traced back to the Roman Actii family through Alfred the Great, Charlemagne, the Merovingians. (Going forward in time, the story has a kind of charming coda: Eleanor Roosevelt was made a citizen of Lannoy at a ceremony in 1952. They mayor welcomed her, then 68, as "a returning child.")

"Perhaps the smallest town in France." (Photo:  NARA/Wikimedia Commons )

"Perhaps the smallest town in France."
(Photo: NARA/Wikimedia Commons)

Media interest in the medieval origins of FDR was… underwhelming. The reports weren't that widespread, the articles are basically short notices heavy on space-filling technical detail about family linkages and lions rampant. The AP is extremely skeptical about the shaky connections between FDRs and the medieval "Greats," Alfred and Charles, but still uses the outrageous claims to carry the story. When a Washington Post writer tried to make a little more out of the genealogy, the Delano narrative became about the Colonial American struggle rather than European greatness. In this version, Philippe's son Jonathan represents the family; the "noble ancestry was forgotten" as Jonathan makes his own name by killing American Indians in King Phillip's War

People in mid-century America do not seem to have cared that much about the Middle Ages. Americans who bought medieval art liked that it was old and fancy, and they could afford to pay for aesthetic. When they no longer wanted their buildings, for whatever reason, they sometimes struggled even to give away medieval architectural elements. Explaining what drove collecting of Gothic art is a challenge, and, to be historianly about it, there's not a ton of evidence for any collective cultural enthusiasm in the United States, particularly for the purchase of any individual object.

It's when people do express enthusiasm for the Middle Ages that things get dicey; this was as much true in the 1930s as it is today, hence the need for a post explicitly acknowledging where medieval art collecting overlaps with racial discrimination. White supremacists regularly use medieval imagery; their fondness for it is grounded in a historically inaccurate fantasy of a purely white Middle Ages. Josephine Livingstone wrote an introduction to medievalism and white supremacy at The New Republic, Dr. Dark Age made an incredible list of discussions and resources on Twitter, People of Color in European Art History demonstrates exactly how inaccurate "racial purity" myth is, and In the Middle is a go-to resources for these subjects and particularly how they affect the profession. While most of the current conversations focus on race and the Anglo-Saxon or Norse traditions, there is also sixty years of scholarship on Germanic ethnicity that explicitly addressed the misuse of medieval history, though it feels now that it has tragically failed in its political goals.

Family resemblance??? (Photo:  Wikimedia )

Family resemblance??? (Photo: Wikimedia)

So, back to FDR's mother. What's strange about the short-lived, lukewarm media interest is that it's not actually presenting anything new. Three years earlier, the Atlanta Constitution ran an effusive series, in two-page spreads full of images and literal trees with family members as branches, on the "never before published" wonders of the Delano family. The Delanos certainly did come from Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, the Capets, William the Conqueror, and Richard the Lion-Hearted, and the Constitution had the unreadably long genealogical descriptions to "prove" it.

So far, not so different from the later descriptions of FDR's ancestry, which are, hmmm, politely skeptical. The Constitution, on the other hand, thought that blood tells--specifically European blood:

If there be such a thing as 'history-making blood,' it flowed through the veins of Jonathan Delano and Mercy Warren, who were married in Plymouth town on this Sunday in 1678. Their wedding directly linked Europe's past conquerors to America's future ones... No wonder President Roosevelt has, as he sits in the White House, a sense of being independent of time and place, and linked to the main course of human history. And no wonder his fifth cousin, 'Tom' Delano, whistles as he goes about his daily task of caring for the parks and pavements in his Nevada town. The most active, aggressive blood of the human race is in their veins.

Here we get a very explicit statement of the problem: to equate efficacy with conquest, to attach efficacy to blood (or genes or whatever biological term), to localize that blood in Europe, and to express that this blood-unit is bounded and also superior to whatever it is separated from. Every one of these leaps is fundamentally flawed; collectively they form a worldview that constitutes an existential threat to whoever does not belong to the central group.

At least one American purchaser of a medieval building wanted to recreate the same sense of imagined medieval harmony and order. Thomas C. Williams, Jr., purchased part of the English manor house Agecroft Hall to bring to the U.S. and erect at Windsor, a family estate near Richmond. Assembled between 1926 and 1928, the building was the subject of a pamphlet by Virginia historian Mary Newton Standard: "Windsor Farms, Hauntingly Reminiscent of Old England." The pamphlet cited Williams’ “vision of again planting an English village… on the banks of the James River,” and his plan to “literally” bring England to America. At first glance, there’s nothing obviously off-putting about this flavor of antiquarian nostalgia. Who doesn’t want a little respite from the modern “industrial” (we would probably say “capitalist”) world, and, uh, I guess someone without a huge amount of historical expertise could think medieval England is where you’d go to find it.

Agecroft Hall. Feel uneasy. (Photo:  Wikimedia Commons )

Agecroft Hall. Feel uneasy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

But, you know, context. And the context is… bad. The desire for an explicitly Anglo-Saxon past wasn’t random, it was an effort to identify with a history and culture distinct from those of the central and southern European immigrants working in factories, people who were often blamed for the problems of modern, industrial society. Williams’ project was part of a larger effort to define America in terms of the contributions of the earliest English settlers – a phenomenon that can also be seen in the genealogy articles above, and has links to both new immigration quotas and a growing Klan presence in the 20s. Bringing a chunk of Europe, rather than slapping a Tudor or Stuart facade on a building, suggests something more than a vague appreciation for that nice English aesthetic was at work, too.

What is crazy to me about the information in above paragraph is that it’s all stated explicitly in the 1978 application to add Agecroft Hall to the National Register of Historic Places. The building is worthy of inclusion on the list not because of its unusual, medieval origins, but because it’s a beautiful, haunting manifestation of a moment in American history when fear and the desire to recreate an ethnically pure society drove interest in the Middle Ages. In the 70s! When did we forget?

Everyone Wants Free Art by Brianna Nofil

The owners of the Gimbel Bros. Department Store look at a Hearst antiquity they hope to sell for the price of Not Free. (Retrieved from the Library of Congress, &lt;;)

The owners of the Gimbel Bros. Department Store look at a Hearst antiquity they hope to sell for the price of Not Free. (Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>)

In 1938, things were not looking so great for William Randolph Hearst. Though the Depression had not hit him as hard as many of his insanely-rich peers (Hearst had relatively little money in the stock market) he had still suffered significant financial losses. His advisors began pressuring him to sell his massive collection of art and artifacts. By 1938, Hearst had five, multi-story warehouses, as well as multiple mansions, filled with antiquities. Many of these objects he had never actually seen. Surely he could let some of them go, his advisors insisted.

In March 1938, a dispatch from the United Press appeared in local newspapers throughout the country, announcing that Hearst would begin dismantling his art collection. Most would be sold at auction, but the article also suggested that Hearst might make some donations to worthy cultural institutions. 

The possibility of getting a piece of the Hearst bounty for free opened the floodgates. Within weeks, dozens of letters poured in from all over the country—mostly polite inquiries, asking if Hearst would consider a small donation to an individual or institution. You won’t even miss your antique dueling pistol/17th century wooden commode/French late gothic column, eager Americans assured him.

Nearly all of the letters tried to make a personal connection to Hearst himself. A representative  of the Springfield Art Museum reminded Hearst that his mother was born in the Missouri Ozarks, and claimed that their mothers had taught school together. The writer requested Hearst “favor his mother’s native land.” The Superintendent of Whitmire Public Schools in central South Carolina wrote “I realize there is no reason, no real reason of logic, why you should make any gift of art to the State of South Carolina,” but proceeded to mention that Hearst's grandmother was born in South Carolina, and perhaps this locale could become a “point of pilgrimage” for Hearst enthusiasts.

Others made their loyalty to the Hearst empire known—one letter writer included a P.S. mentioning that she had subscribed to the San Francisco Examiner (Hearst’s flagship newspaper) for 25 years.

But the majority of the inquiries came from small, off-the-beaten-path museums, far from the coasts. Places like Little Rock, Arkansas’ Museum of Fine Arts stressed that this was an opportunity for Hearst to engage with Americans who would never otherwise have the chance to see such works. “Having something from the ‘Hearst Collection,” wrote a curator, “would mean so much to our Museum and to Arkansas.” A representative from Bucknell University wrote that their average student “comes from typical American homes in the low income class, who have little opportunity to see such paintings as you have collected.”

In the end, very few of these cultural institutions received parts of the Hearst Collection. Hearst’s antiques stayed concentrated in institutions on the coasts, with substantial donations to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Met. Still, many communities ended up with pieces of the Hearst Collection thanks to local philanthropists who traveled to Hearst’s firesale, seeking to bring a part of the world's cultural history to small-town America.

Fast Times in SLO County (You have to make a SLO pun or else is our understanding) by Brianna Nofil

Jake examining drawings from the Julia Morgan Collection at Cal Poly

Hey Fellow Hearstheads!!!!!

Jake and I are in San Luis Obispo, a town we previously knew nothing about but are now VERY INTO. It's hard to say what the defining charcteristic of SLO is, but a weird number of people have assured us that SLO is "known for its barbeque," which... as a Southerner... I am just so confused by. (that classic Central California BBQ?? Has anyone EVER heard of this?? Plz comment. #engagement) We tried it and, in the name of diplomacy, it was...fine. But SLO has many other things going for it including: a dope mountain (how could all these yelp reviewers be wrong! also who has the gall to leave a negative yelp review of A MOUNTAIN does nothing satisfy you people???), coffee shops where the baristas had a working knowledge of Hearst, and Cal Poly Special Collections where we had the most pleasant research experience imaginable.

We visited Cal Poly to look at the papers of Julia Morgan, Hearst's main architect and a serious trailblazer for women in the industry. Morgan served as a conduit between Hearst and many of his dealers, most notably the Bynes--the art dealing-couple in Spain that would eventually secure Hearst multiple medieval monasteries. One of my favorite documents we found was a 1924 letter from Julia Morgan casually mentioning that Mr. Hearst has been thinking he would like a cloister. Arthur Byne writes back and basically says that's crazy, it would be so expensive, it would be a logistics nightmare, it isn't really legal. But he ends the letter:

"However I shall do all I can; who knows, stranger things than this have happened in Spain."


Does Giada eat garlic ice cream??????

Non-research highlights of our trip have included getting stuck in an hour-long traffic jam in between SF and SLO and finally discovering that the traffic was backed up for something called the GILROY GARLIC FESTIVAL. (which somehow involved both Giada De Laurentis AND the crowning of a Miss Gilroy Garlic.) We pulled off at a produce stand and got garlic ice cream which Jake resoundingly rejected but I thought was surprisingly good--I think it is very clear which of us is making a play for 2018 Garlic Queen.



BUT perhaps the real highlight was stopping in San Simeon, a small town where Hearst Castle is located. We briefly visited the Castle, but I crushed Jake's dreams of breaking into on-site warehouses, leading to a lot of resentment but also saving us from having to call our advisors to bail us out of a Central California jail.

Since we were not in jail, we went to the William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach which is across the road from the Castle. And who was there but *multiple humpback whales* !!!!!!!! We were on the dock and they were maybe 20-30 feet away from us and it was 100% the most magical thing that has ever happened to me. Everyone on the dock kept collectively gasping because we all know humanity does not deserve whales.

In conclusion, California has been great and productive, whales are too good for us, and I am VERY EXCITED to tell you more about all the crazy histories we encountered in these archives.