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History Lives Here Text

George Rickey, Master ofKinetic Sculpture

In FebruaryDavid Lee who works with the archivesof kinetic sculptor George Rickey visited Fennville in an effort to discovermore about the seven months that his boss spent in western Michigan in 1939. According to Rickey, whois still living and active in his profession at the age of 90, the cottagewhere he stayed in 1939 was "close enough to the lake to walk there."Lee stopped at the Fennville library and quickly discovered that it was apretty long walk to the lake from Main Street.


The librariansuggested to Lee that possibly Rickey had lived on the lakeshore south of Douglas, an area that has always had a Fennville mailingaddress. Lee visited Saugatuck and took home a copy of Painting the Town: A Century of Art in Saugatuck and Douglas, thebook published in conjunction with last year's museum exhibit. He hoped to showthe book to Rickey and also to use the illustrations to help identify thelocation of some of the artist's early paintings.


In a recent letter David Leereported:


As you mayberemember, I visited you last February with questions about the man for whom Iwork, George Rickey, and his time in the wilds of Fennville back in 1939. Thebook Painting the Town was quitehelpful. I have been able to identify the pavilion both in a drawing and apainting. George was very interested to see the book, but he did not recognizeany of the artists as having been in communication with him in 1939.


I believe I'veestablished the primary inspiration for Mr. Rickey's retreat to that part ofthe state as having come from the writer Sherwood Anderson. George remembersthat perhaps Andersonrented or owned some sort of cottage along the lakeshore. Do you have anyinformation on this?


Lee also sentphotocopies of three pieces of art. One, a painting entitled "SaugatuckLandscape," is a beach scene painted probably in 1939. In 1981 it was abequest of Mrs. Luike J. Hemmesto Kalamazoo College and is now in their collection.


The secondpainting is of Saugatuck harbor from the approximate location of thepresent-day St. Peter's Church. The Big Pavilion, Mt. Baldhead(still partially bald) and the Congregational church are prominent in thepainting. It is in the collection of the WashingtonCounty Museumof Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland. The painting wasdonated to the museum by Hyman Horn, whom Lee identifies as the brother ofMilton Horn, the Carnegie artist-in-residence at Olives following Rickey.


The thirdpiece was a pencil sketch of the Big Pavilion, bridge and Lake Kalamazoofrom the top of Baldhead which Lee found in one of the artist's old sketchbooks.


Rickey wasborn in South Bend, Indiana,in 1907, and educated in Scotland,England and France. Hereturned to the United State in 1930 and maintained a studio in New York. He was a copyeditor at Newsweek magazine in 1936and from 1937 to 1939 he was artist-in-resident at Olivet Collegeon a Carnegie grant. During his time there he created a mural that stillexists.


From August toDecember 1939 Rickey spent time at the cottage near the lakeshore. Lee said theimpression he got was that he had gone there as a vacation from all of thesocial interaction that his work at Olivet called for, and that he steeredclear of other artists in the area.


In December hebegan work as director of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and served on thefaculty of Kalamazoo College a post he left in 1940 to go to Knox Collegein Galesburg, Illinois, on another Carnegie grant. Thisgrant also called for a mural.


After servicein World War II Rickey used the GI bill to attend the Institute of Fine Arts atNew York University and the Institute of Design in Chicago. He then began work in the medium ofabstract sculpture. After more experimentation he specialized in outdoorkinetic sculpture, mostly made from stainless steel shapes, balanced to moveslowly and more or less continuously in available air currents.


He has beennationally recognized and his work is displayed in many museums and outdoorlocations in the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art and theGuggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Kresge Art Center at Michigan State University, and theCity Hall of Fort Worth, Texas. In Europe his sculpture is very popular in Germany, and ison display at many museums and universities and the Mercedes-Benz headquarters.Worldwide he has kinetic sculptures on displayed in Jerusalem,Israel; Seoul,Korea, and at the Tokyo City Hall. He currently maintains studios in East Chatham, New York; Berlin, Germanyand Santa Barbara, California.


SherwoodAnderson had been a guest lecturer at Olivet Collegein January of 1939, for three weeks, and returned to the college for a writer'sconference July 26, 1939. There has been no previous mention of him visitingthe Saugatuck area, where he would have discovered the cottage that Rickeylearned about (most surely rented), but it would not have been unreasonable.


There were anumber of famous Chicago writers who lived orvisited along the west Michiganlakeshore. The father of Edgar Lee Masters, Hardin W. Masters, owned Wavecrest south of Douglas still in Saugatuck Township(but with a Fennville mailing address) and his famous son often visited. Thisproperty was later a cottage resort. The poet himself had a cottage at Spring Lakefor several years.


Literarycritics from the beginning noted the similarities between Masters' Spoon River Anthology and Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and, although the two writers wereacquainted they were not especiallygood friends. However in 1916 Anderson took asthe second of his four wives, a Jackson, Michigan, native named Tennessee Mitchell who had been a girlfriendof Masters' 1909 to 1910. It is probably no coincidence that also in 1916Masters uses an incident from his courtship with Tennesseein the romantic poem "In Michigan"which was published in Songs and Satires.The opening lines are:


You wrote:

"Come over to Saugatuck

And be with me on the warm sand,

And under coolbeeches and aromatic cedars." And just then no one could do a thing in the city

Carl Sandburg,another of the Chicago writers, and a friend of both Masters and Anderson,visited Douglas as early as 1908 and lived from 1926 to 1945 on the LakeMichigan shore at Harbert, near Benton Harbor.


L. Frank Baum,writer of the Oz stories had a cottage at Macatawa,on the south side of Macatawa Bay near Holland butwithin the boundaries of Allegan County, from 1899 to 1909.


MargaretAnderson, founder of The Little Review, aliterary magazine based in Chicago beginning in 1914 and later in New Yorkand Paris, was a frequent visitor to Saugatuck where her sister, Mrs. JeanPalmer, owned The Little Ferry Store on the west side of the river 1940-49.Although no relative Margaret Anderson was well acquainted with both SherwoodAnderson and Carl Sandburg.


Anyone withinformation on Rickey's stay in the Saugatuck area, isasked to call Kit Lane,857-2781, or write a note to the society box. We are also looking forinformation on Sherwood Anderson and a connection to this area.


Famousvisitors to the Saugatuck area will be a feature of the 1998 exhibit"Heroes, Rogues and Just Plain Folks." Visitors in addition to Rickeyso far discovered include Amelia Earhart, CarlSandburg, pianist Paderewski, Thor Heyerdahl, Christian writer E. Stanley Jones, actor RobbyBenson, Susan B. Anthony, Magic Johnson, and the model that posed for Salvadore Dali's "Crucifixion."