12 Days of Significance (16)

By: Joanne McNeil
December 28, 2016

One in a holiday-season series of posts that will reprint stories written — by 12 HILOBROW contributors — for the 2009–2010 SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS project. (In 2012–2013, we reprinted 12 stories by HILOBROW contributors that were also to be found in the Fantagraphics-published collection Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things.)

The following story is by Joanne McNeil. Enjoy!




Among the many misconceptions that prevail about my great-grandfather, Hartford Townes Hastings, the most infuriating is the idea that he was a disinterested playboy benefactor, squandering the family fortune on “women and dreams,” as the New York Sun obituary put it. He was reserved, but kind and idealistic, a vegetarian since childhood. I never saw him drink or cuss or eat more than a few bites of anything. I believe history will redeem him as a frustrated artist, rather than a failed businessman.

After Amherst College, rather than a position at the family surgical dressings business, he went to Paris to create “surrealist craft art,” elaborate wood carvings and collage. None of his work survived the return back over the Atlantic, although he salvaged parts of “Birds Nesting in Quilted Landscape.” He stored the ceramic eggs and mushrooms, dried flowers, and bits of grain in an old pill box and preserved it in glass. My great-grandfather kept the “little grain thing” at his bedside for twenty years, as a reminder never to give up on art.

In 1925, he married my great-grandmother Rose Fox Townes Hastings, the daughter of a New York police officer and the face of Elizabeth Arden’s first print ad. Together they conceived of The Museum of Modern Craft. It opened in 1941, when the world had other priorities. In fact, it was a thinly disguised plan to display his own art, as “Pierce Mancini.” He even displayed the grain keepsake near the entrance, attributed to his pseudonym as “Wistfully, lingering away in the Heartland, 1929.” Due to enormous losses, the museum closed seven years later. The building was sold to the city and turned into an administrative office. My great-grandmother divorced him shortly thereafter.

His tea importing business was a disaster, he lost millions in multiple real estate developments, and a typhoon flooded the small island he purchased in the South Pacific before the 300-suite artist colony could open. The idea behind each of these pursuits was that one day he might secure the funds to reopen The Museum of Modern Craft.

Later in life, at the encouragement of Joseph Cornell, his best friend since Andover, my great-grandfather returned to his “surrealist crafts,” scouring junk shops from Cape Cod to the 6th arrondissement for anything to cobble together. He and Cornell had plans to create an entire city of old dollhouses. The project was abandoned after Cornell’s death in 1972. I have the sketches for it, as well as thirty-seven of my great-grandfather’s unfinished pieces.

My great-grandfather declared bankruptcy in 1992 and died in 1995, in a manufactured home in Woods Hole. I found his “little grain thing” among a dozen other thrift store treasures in a cardboard box marked in black sharpie, “For Joseph.”


SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018). 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE . ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.

CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators