Ferner Nuhn presentation by Cherie Dargan


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This presentation is about Ferner Nuhn, husband of Iowa author Ruth Suckow, and a writer, literary critic, and artist. He founded the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association and he and Ruth lived in Cedar Falls Iowa for several years in the 1940s.They were involved with the Quakers, were opposed to WW2, traveled to Writers Workshops, and were friends with people like Robert and Frances Frost.

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Ferner Nuhn presentation by Cherie Dargan

  1. 1. Cherie Dargan Webmaster, Ruth Suckow Memorial Association website Ferner Nuhn: Writer, Literary Critic, Artist, and Activist
  2. 2. Ferner Nuhn (July 25, 1903-April 15, 1989)
  3. 3. Overview of Ferner’s life  Ferner Nuhn was born and educated in Cedar Falls Iowa  He went to North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, graduating with a B. A. in 1924  He was interested in writing, literature, and art  He worked as a teacher and wrote about the teaching of literature in American schools  He was a literary critic, and met his future wife after reading and reviewing her work.  He married Iowa writer Ruth Suckow in 1929
  4. 4. Overview of Ferner’s life, cont.  They enjoyed their life together, doing extensive traveling for the first few years, going to various Writers’ Retreats, and going to Washington, D. C. for two years, when Ferner was hired by the Department of Agriculture.  Eventually they returned to Cedar Falls, Ferner’s hometown, to help his ailing father run his business.  While there, they became part of the community and helped to establish several important organizations.  Eventually they retired to California, where Ruth died.
  5. 5. Ferner’s early career  Ferner enrolled in Graduate School at Columbia; however, he dropped out when H. L. Mencken accepted one of his stories for the American Mercury.  Historian Dorothy Grant says that Ferner said, ―I decided I already knew too much,‖ and stopped taking classes to have more time to write.  This led to the publication of a number of stories, reviews, and articles in The New Yorker, The Nation, The New Republic, The American Mercury, The Christian Century, and other magazines, especially Quaker publications. [7]
  6. 6. Ferner’s wife, Ruth Suckow  Ruth Suckow published a dozen books and wrote numerous articles, reviews and short stories.  Ferner read her work and wanted to meet her.
  7. 7. They met in Earlville  Ruth kept bees in Earlville for 6 years or more, spending her winters in New York city, writing. She had learned the apiary business from a woman in Denver, while attending college.  Ferner wrote to her and asked if he could drive to Earlville and meet her. So he got in his Model T and drove there in 1926.
  8. 8. Marriage  Ferner and Ruth married in San Diego, California on March 11, 1929.  Ruth wrote to her aunt, ―We start out with several things in our disfavor, but a very great deal of love in our favor.‖  An observer said, ―Ferner found an artist who could translate the Midwest, and in Ferner, Ruth found a critic who could understand the translation.‖
  9. 9. Their life together  They traveled extensively for the first seven years of their marriage, going from one Writers’ workshop to another.  Here is an article about their lives together in Cedar Falls.
  10. 10. Their life together, cont.
  11. 11. Ferner's writing  Ferner wrote a number of essays, reviews, and articles.  He is the author of one book, The Wind Blew from the East, which was originally planned as a two book project.
  12. 12. “The Ice Wagon”  He wrote this booklet for the Cedar Falls Historical Society: it is a collection of essays that recalls his childhood.
  13. 13. “The Farmer Learns Direct Action”  Ferner wrote an article for The Nation in 1933 that is available online. It describes witnessing a forced farm sale in Iowa and described this practice in the March 1933 issue.  The article begins with the comment that ―Some may think of farmers as conservative, but that view ignores a long tradition of rural radicalism in the United States. In the early years of the Great Depression, that radicalism found powerful expression in the subverting of farm foreclosures and tax sales.
  14. 14. Editor's note  Nation magazine reporter Ferner Nuhn witnessed such an auction sale in Iowa and described this practice in March 1933.  These efforts saved the livelihood of many South Dakota and Iowa farmers who were devastated by the depression, but they were not enough.  Between 1930 and 1935, about 750,000 farms were lost through foreclosure and bankruptcy sales.
  15. 15. Ferner Nuhn's article, cont.  The technique was simple—when a farm was foreclosed for overdue taxes or failure to meet mortgage payments, neighbors would show up at the auction and intimidate any potential buyers.  Then the farm and equipment would be purchased at a token price and returned to the original owner.‖
  16. 16. His descriptive opening  A raw, chilly day. The yard of the farm, churned black in a previous thaw, is frozen now in ruts and notes. Where the boots of the farmers press, a little slime of water exudes, black and shiny. Through a fence the weather- bleached stalls of corn, combed and broken by the busking stand ghostly in the pale air.  The farm buildings machine-shed, chicken-houses, pig- houses, corncribs—sprawl and gather again in the big, hip- roofed red barn, and strike a final accent in the thrust of the tiled silo. The farm is kempt and has a going air; there is nothing run down about it. The fields spread away, picking up other farm dusters sections off— remote, separate, dim under the big gray sky. One feels the courage of the isolated units, each swinging its big segment of earth. Perhaps they call for too much; perhaps the independence is doomed; but something of worth will be gone if it goes.
  17. 17. Newspaper clipping from action in Nebraska
  18. 18. Setting the scene  There are 300 farmers here. It is a Quaker community, long established, conservative. The farmers are mostly middle-aged, very workaday in overalls, sagging sweaters, mud-stained boots. They talk quietly in their slow, concrete manner, move about little.  They are neighbors of a farmer who can no longer pay interest on a $2,000 mortgage. These farmers have known him for years; they know he would pay if he could. They know the debt and the interest are three times as hard to pay off now as when the mortgage was given. Some of them know that soon their own property may be endangered by defaults. They know that this particular mortgage was given on stock, and that the farmer has offered the stock in settlement. And they know that the mortgagee refused the offer, demanded a sale instead—a sale of personal property, as provided by law.
  19. 19. Farm house of the 1930s
  20. 20. The auction begins  …. The auctioneer goes through his regular cry. The mare is sixteen years old, sound except for a wire cut and a blue eye. What is he offered, what is he offered, does he hear a bid? He tries to make it sound like an ordinary sale. But the crowd stands silent, grim. At last someone speaks out. Two dollars. Two dollars! Unheard of, unbelievable, why she’s worth twenty times that!  The silence of the farmers is like a thick wall. The rigmarole of the auctioneer beats against it, and falls back in his face. The farmer holding the mare stands with his head hanging. At last, without raising his eyes, he says, ―Fifteen dollars.‖ This is a new and distressing business to him, and he is ashamed to make a bid of less than that. . . .
  21. 21. Depression era farm sales
  22. 22. The crowd refuses to bid against the farmer  ―Do I hear a twenty, a twenty, a twenty? Why, she’s worth twice that much.‖ The auctioneer is still going through the make-believe. He keeps it up for five more minutes. A pause, and a voice speaks out. ―Sell her.‖ It is not loud, but there is insistence in it, like the slice of a plow, with the tractor-pull of the crowd reinforcing it. The auctioneer hesitates, gives in. The silent, waiting crowd is too much. ―Sold.‖  After that there is less make-believe. Three more horses are offered. They are knocked down to the farmer, with no other bids, for ten dollars, eight dollars, a dollar and a half. The farmer is learning. The machinery comes next. A hay rack, a wagon, two plows, a binder, rake, mower, disc- harrow, cultivator, pulverizer. A dollar, fifty cents, fifty cents, a quarter, a half a dollar. Sold to the farmer. His means of livelihood are saved to him.
  23. 23. Farm animals and equipment
  24. 24. The farmers gather  …. That night there is a meeting in the country chapel. It is a strange affair; nothing like this has happened in this community before. …. Ten-cent corn to pay seventy-five-cent debts; a quarter, perhaps almost a third, of all Iowa farms lost to their original owners in the last seven years for inability to meet obligations.  But a dream does not die easily. Heat generates from it even in this conservative audience. Old phrases are spoken, spoken with a new meaning. ―Justice above the law.‖ "The Boston Tea Party.― "The right to save our homes.‖ Someone describes the affair of the afternoon. The farmers cannot help being pleased at its success. It is a taste of direct action. They organize to use it more effectively.
  25. 25. Conclusion  At any rate, the farmer is not taking the threat of loss of ownership of his land lying down. He has tasted direct action. He may use it more drastically.  Source: Ferner Nuhn, ―The Farmer Learns Direct Action,‖ Nation 136 (March 8, 1933): 254–256. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5060/ History matters website.  You can read the entire article at the Nation website.
  26. 26. History Matters website The essay can be found online on the following website. Ferner Nuhn, ―The Farmer Learns Direct Action,‖ Nation 136 (March 8, 1933): 254–256. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5060/ History matters website.
  27. 27. Figures of the 30s  At the MacDowell Colony, in Peterborough, New Hampshire, Ferner began a series of oil character sketches he later called ―Figures of the Thirties.‖  Dorothy Grant notes that the collection provides valuable insights into the political scene as well as the Arts during the 1930s.  He made copies of the sketches, wrote up a booklet with comments, and then made copies of the booklet for the people he had sketched. Later, copies were given to the Hearst Center for the Arts, while the original is in the Special Collections Department at the University of Iowa library in Iowa City.
  28. 28. People included in the sketches  Others on the list of people he sketched include:  William Rose Benet--poet and playwright  Charles Wakefield Cadman--composer  Carl Carmer--novelist, editor, and conservationist  Leo Fisher--sculptor  Felix Fox--composer  Frances Frost--poet, fiction writer  Robert Frost--poet  Horace Gregory--poet, critic, and editor
  29. 29. People included in the sketches, cont.  Albert Halper—novelist  Roy Harris—composer  Charles Hearst—Iowa farmer  Jeffrey Levy—painter  John Cowper Powys—novelist, poet, essayist  Evelyn Scott—poet, novelist  Ruth Suckow—novelist  John Brooks Wheelwright—poet, critic  Henry A. Wallace— agriculturist, author, statesman [15]
  30. 30. Ferner's picture of Ruth This is one of my favorite portraits done by Ferner--it shows Ruth holding a cat
  31. 31. Poet Robert Frost and his wife
  32. 32. Charles Hearst  Charles was a farmer in Cedar Falls, Iowa and a long time friend of Ferner and Ruth.  His brother James was a poet.
  33. 33. Figures of the 30s
  34. 34. Figures of the 30s, cont.
  35. 35. Figures of the 30s, cont.
  36. 36. Figures of the 30s
  37. 37. Figures of the 30s
  38. 38. Figures of the 30s
  39. 39. Figures of the 30s, cont.
  40. 40. Ferner’s other paintings  Two other paintings remain of Ferner’s, now housed at the Ruth Suckow Library in Earlville.  One is of Ruth’s cottage, while the other one shows one of their cats (always white). Ferner also designed a bookplate for Ruth, including a cat.
  41. 41. Ferner’s paintings—now at the birthplace
  42. 42. Life in Cedar Falls  Ferner and Ruth were both active in the community and enjoyed being part of the literary and social life of Cedar Falls. Dorothy and Martin Grant became acquainted with Ruth and Ferner at this time. The two couples were part of a circle of friends who enjoyed many dinners and ―fun and game‖ evenings.
  43. 43. Founding the Cedar Falls Art League  He founded the Cedar Falls Art League in the early 1940s and his mother, Anna, let him have a large upstairs room over the Miller Shoe store at 319 1/2 Main Street for the exhibits.  This was an active organization, offering art classes for children and adults, displaying artwork in exhibits, and sponsoring receptions.  The Hearst Center for the Arts grew out of that earlier organization.
  44. 44. Founding the Cedar Falls Supper Club  A group of men--Bill Reninger,Jim Hearst, Paul Diamond, Martin Grant, and Ferner Nuhn talked about organizing a discussion type club. By the fall of 1940, basic plans had been put together.  There would be twelve members, half town, half Gown, with a wide range of interests. Meetings would be once a month in a place where a meal would be served in a private room.  There would be a minimum of business, with no officers except a Secretary who notified the members of the coming meeting, requested, and made reservations for the dinner. Each member would be assigned a certain month to give his paper and be responsible to inform the Secretary of the title.
  45. 45. Supper Club, cont.  The group met for the first time in 1941  Local historian Dorothy Grant wrote a self published booklet on the history of the supper club.  She describes Ferner’s first talk, by recounting an interview done with Iver Christofferson, then 94. He remembered Ferner’s talk as one of the most controversial Iver experienced in his years in Supper Club. Ferner talked about Conscientious Objectors.
  46. 46. Ferner’s skills with Carpentry  Dorothy Grant also notes that Ferner enjoyed carpentry work and built a solid walnut desk for Ruth while they lived in Cedar Falls; she used the desk until they moved to Arizona.  Later, the Grants purchased the desk in 1949 and donated it to the Ruth Suckow Memorial Library in Earlville in 1991.
  47. 47. Health Problems • Ruth developed arthritis and Ferner had allergies, so in the late 1940s they moved west, hoping a milder climate would help both of them. • They first settled in Arizona and later moved to California.
  48. 48. Ferner and Ruth in the later years
  49. 49. Retirement to California • They ended up in Claremont, California. • Ruth continued to write. • Ferner taught at the local college. • They both became active in the Friends (Quakers) and Ferner began writing pamphlets for the national organization
  50. 50. Her later writing • She published her memoir & a collection of short stories in 1952, Some Others and Myself. • In 1959 Viking Press brought out The John Wood Case, her last novel, which concerned an embezzlement case in a church. She died in 1960 at her home in Claremont. Source: Wikipedia article on Ruth Suckow
  51. 51. Ruth’s Death • Ruth died in 1960. She was at work on a new novel at the point of her death. • She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls, Iowa. • Ruth is buried next to her father, William Suckow.
  52. 52. Suckow graves in Greenwood Cemetery
  53. 53. Ferner remarried • After Ruth's death in 1960, Ferner remarried a wonderful woman named Georgeanna, (or Georgia) who was also Ruth's cousin. • Her husband had died a few years earlier.
  54. 54. Ruth’s papers • They worked together to preserve Ruth's legacy, collecting and organizing her papers for the Special Collections at the University of Iowa library.
  55. 55. Georgia’s display for the library in Earlville  Georgia created an exhibit for the Suckow Library in Earlville, donated a bookcase from Ruth's Father, and helped gather mementos to display in a glass case.
  56. 56. Other Memorials to Ruth Suckow • Ferner and Georgia worked with the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association to establish several memorials to Ruth: • The Park in Earlville, Iowa (on the grounds where Ruth’s cottage & apiary once stood) • The Library in Earlville, Iowa • The birthplace in Hawarden, Iowa
  57. 57. The Ruth Suckow Memorial Association • Ferner and Georgia met with a group of people in Earlville in the 1960s: they discussed Suckow’s characters and stories and formed the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association (RSMA). • The RSMA still gathers each June: members come from all over the midwest.
  58. 58. The Ruth Suckow Memorial Association
  59. 59. Hawarden: the Suckow birthplace
  60. 60. Earlville: the Ruth Suckow Park
  61. 61. Earlville: Ruth Suckow Memorial Library
  62. 62. Dedicating the Ruth Suckow Park Ferner and Georgeanna were there for the dedication of the Suckow park in Earlville in 1982. Here they are with Barbara, Ferner's niece.
  63. 63. Earlville: the Ruth Suckow Park
  64. 64. Earlville: Ruth Suckow Memorial Library
  65. 65. Early leaders & scholars
  66. 66. People pictured on the previous slide  Clarence Andrews is the gentleman in the light blue jacket on the front row; he wrote a book about the literary history of Iowa that included a chapter on Ruth Suckow.  He titled her chapter, ―The Poetry of Place‖  Andrews calls her ―close to being the best Iowa writer of fiction…‖  (A Literary History of Iowa, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1972)
  67. 67. Leedice Kissane, biographer  Next to Andrews is Leedice Kissane, seated in the middle of the front row.  She wrote the definitive biography of Ruth Suckow, one of the Twayne’s United States Authors series (1969, New York, Twayne Publishers)  She also served on the 1992 Centennial observation and gave feedback on the play ―Just Suppose,‖ which told the story of Ruth and Ferner.  Kissane describes Suckow’s writing style as ―quiet and restrained, it was characterized by detachment and almost stark simplicity.‖  Suckow is sometimes called a regional writer and other times as a realistic writer.  All of Suckow’s stories have Iowa settings for the most part.
  68. 68. Others in the picture  Ferner is in the back row, at the far end. The other two men are Joseph Wall, historian at Grinnell College, and Dale Bentz, from the University of Iowa Library.  Clarence and Leedice were both involved with the RSMA and their efforts as scholars helped to establish her literary legacy.  Margaret Kiesel, a teacher at Grinnell College, wrote articles about Suckow, edited its newsletter and served on the RSMA Board. She is seated on the end of the front row.
  69. 69. Georgia’s death • Georgeanna (Georgia) Dafoe Nuhn, a founding member of the RSMA, died on May 28, 1984 in Claremont, California. She was 79 years old. • She is buried in Tecumseh Cemetery, Tecumseh, Johnson County, Nebraska. • Ferner wrote a moving tribute to her life and work in the Fall 1984 issue of the Ruth Suckow newsletter. He remembered her role in the efforts to establish the park: "The event was a fitting climax to Georgia's long labor of love in memory of Ruth Suckow.‖
  70. 70. Hawarden: the Suckow birthplace
  71. 71. Ferner’s death • Ferner moved into a retirement home in Claremont. He died at age 85 in 1989. • After a funeral in California, his body was returned to Iowa where he was buried beside his beloved Ruth in Greenwood cemetery in Cedar Falls. • However, it wasn’t until 2009 that a headstone matching Ruth’s was put in place. • Finally, Ruth laid between the two men who had influenced her life so much: her father and her husband.
  72. 72. Ferner’s Stone -- 2009
  73. 73. Ferner’s Literary Legacy  While Ferner was not the prolific writer that Ruth was, he was a critic, scholar and accomplished writer. He captured the plight of the Midwestern farmers during the Great Depression in his essay for the Nation about farm sales.  In addition, he is credited with writing about the Society of Friends (Quakers). Furthermore, without his efforts to establish the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association and related activities to reprint some of her books, it is not certain that the current generation of readers would be able to read some of Ruth Suckow’s books.
  74. 74. Ferner’s Literary Legacy, cont.  Two of Suckow's earlier books were reprinted, largely due to his advocacy and the establishment of the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association. The University of Iowa Press, in Iowa City, Iowa released The Folks (1992) and New Hope (1998).  In addition, A Ruth Suckow Omnibus came out in 1988; this contained eleven of her short stories. It also included an introductory essay by Suckow Scholar Clarence A. Andrews, a longtime member of the RSMA. Without Ferner Nuhn's persistence, these books would not have been published.
  75. 75. Ferner’s Literary Legacy, cont.  In the meantime, some of his work can still be enjoyed online: a collection of his short stories, book reviews, and articles can be viewed at Unz.org.  In addition, he wrote several booklets published by Historical Societies and the Quakers.
  76. 76. Sources of images for the slides  Slide 11 -- http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30s/ money_10.html  http://www.flickriver.com/photos/jacksnell707/sets/ 72157626333189712/ farm equipment
  77. 77. Sources on Ruth and Ferner  ―Ferner Nuhn,‖ Wikipedia entry. Cherie Dargan, editor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferner_Nuhn  Christian, Rebecca. Just suppose, the story of Iowa novelist Ruth Suckow : a one-woman show in two acts. 1992  Christian, Rebecca. "She wrote of Iowa and of Life."  Grant, Dorothy. Self-published booklet, "History of The Cedar Falls Supper Club." (June 1993)  Grant, Dorothy. Ferner Nuhn: His Art and Writings. The Ruth Suckow Newsletters, Summer 1998. Martin Mohr, editor. Published at Luther College, September 1998. Decorah, Iowa.
  78. 78. Sources on Ruth and Ferner, cont.  Grant, Dorothy. Ruth and Ferner: Their Years Together in Cedar Falls. The Ruth Suckow Newsletters, Summer 1998. Martin Mohr, editor. Published at Luther College, September 1998. Decorah, Iowa.  Nuhn, Ferner. ―The Farmer Learns Direct Action,‖ Nation 136 (March 8, 1933): 254–256. History Matters. ―Like a Thick Wall‖: Blocking Farm Auctions in Iowa http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5060/  Nuhn, Ferner. Biographical note on the book jacket of The Wind Blew From the East. Harper & Brothers, 1940. New York & London.  Nuhn, Ferner. Biographical notes at the conclusion of a brochure written by Ferner, The Ice Wagon and Other Vanished Wonders, a booklet written for the Cedar Falls Historical Society, May 8, 1981. (Cedar Falls, Iowa)
  79. 79. Sources on Ruth and Ferner, cont.  "Ruth Suckow." Wikipedia entry. Michael Dargan, editor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Suckow  The Ruth Suckow Memorial Association Website. Cherie Dargan, Webmaster. http://www.ruthsuckow.org/  Suckow, Ruth. A Ruth Suckow Omnibus (A Collection of Short Stories). With a New Introduction by Clarence A. Andrews. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City. 1988.  Suckow, Ruth. Some Others and Myself: Seven Stories and a Memoir. Rinehart & Company, Inc. New York, 1952b.  White, Lee. Biography of Ruth Suckow Nuhn. http://www.uni.edu/historyofblackhawkcounty/peopbio
  80. 80. Links to Websites  Ruth Suckow. Hall of Fame. Iowa Commission on the Status of Women. http://www.women.iowa.gov/about_women/HOF/iafame- suckow.html  The Ruth Suckow Memorial Association website. Cherie Dargan, webmaster. http://www.ruthsuckow.org/  Ferner Nuhn on Unz.org http://www.unz.org/Author/NuhnFerner A list of 19 articles, book reviews and short stories  Nuhn, Ferner. ―The Farmer Learns Direct Action,‖ Nation 136 (March 8, 1933): 254–256. History Matters. ―Like a Thick Wall‖: Blocking Farm Auctions in Iowa http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5060/  Ruth Suckow and Ferner Nuhn. John Cowper Powys website (One of the people Ferner sketched) http://www.powys-lannion.net/Powys/America/Suckow.htm There is a brief bio of Ruth Suckow mentioning Ferner and their wedding picture, as well as a quote from an essay written by Ferner Nuhn.
  81. 81. Links to websites, cont.  Ruth Suckow Collection. Penrose Library, University of Denver. http://library.du.edu/site/about/specialCollections/colle ctions/m061.php  Ruth Suckow's papers. Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec- coll/msc/tomsc750/msc706/suckowaugust2005.htm  Supper Club blog. Michael Dargan, webmaster. http://cedarfallssupperclub.blogspot.com  White, Lee. "Biography of Ruth Suckow Nuhn." http://www.uni.edu/historyofblackhawkcounty/peopbio graphy/Nuhn/Nuhn.htm  Category:Articles created via the Article Wizard