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Sunday, 25 October 2009

"A child's things speak..." (Joseph Cornell)


A child's things speak of the shock enigma world forever
star charts movie actresses ballerinas soap-bubble sets

marbles toy birds seen though the magic prism
a child's vision the mind assembling a cosmology
a bricolage of bits of this and bits of that
maps pieces of cloth illustrations in encyclopedias

the child grown alone noting down on scraps
ephemerae envelopes cafeteria napkins slips
of paper inserted into books each particulate
of dream and wanderlust

explorations obsessive quests for the materials
to objectify dreams and then for the systems to order
to contain
those objects in assemblages

boxes private universes of buttons movie photos stuffed birds bottles globes corks liqueur glasses elusive texts mystery things

sequins toys feathers spools of thread in the dead season prowling
five and dimes
in Flushing and Manhattan an unexpected
"flowering in the teeth of winter" (a Woolworth's window display)

Angels fairies "sylphides" populating "shadow boxes"
windows facing in
facing out -- searching for dreamgirl
shop clerks waitresses librarians "sales girls"
"Courtesy Drugs check-out girl -- seen in Food Shop
Piled up hair again -- warm light

brown corduroy slacks, no socks
but the same dreamy docileness remembered
the immense innocence + beauty of expression"

Intense imaginal "relationships" longings mood
swings violent turbulences creative
elations out of nowhere lifting the undisclosed soul
into the clouds in the suburban
back yard

"temoignages" moments of witness to a condition
of sudden grace marked in diaries
by a star as "special signs" the gold threads in the weave
the inexpressibility of life's fleeting moments its transitory
a brief shading of light on the side
of a building

the abrupt rising of a flock of birds into the air
a piece of classical music heard on the radio
a face on the bus a brother's smile the odd buoyant
being-alive quality everywhere a rare harmony and calm
as if a dark sky opened suddenly
to reveal with wondrous clarity the constellations
he so loved

Dec. 9, 1948 (Wednesday)

the "all over" feeling that makes of the incidental a never ceasing wonder and spectacle of the spiritual

(Diary entry from Joseph Cornell's Theater of the Mind)
Joseph Cornell boxes:
Cassiopeia 1, c. 1960 (Estate of Joseph Cornell)
Untitled (Soap Bubble set), 1936 (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford)
Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall), 1945-46 (Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago)
Untitled (Paul and Virginia), c.1946-48 (Collection Mr. and Mrs. E.A. Bergman, Chicago)
Grand Hotel Semiramis, 1956 (The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation)
Untitled (Solar set), c. 1956-58 (Collection Donald Varshan, New York)
Untitled (Pharmacy), c.1943 (Collection Mrs. Marcel Duchamp, Paris)
Untitled (Grand Owl Habitat), c.1946 (Collection Mr. and Mrs. Richard H. Kaplin, Toledo, Ohio)
Toward the Blue Peninsula, c. 1951-52 (Collection Daniel Varenne, Geneva)
Verso of Cassiopeia 1, c. 1960 (Estate of Joseph Cornell)


Delia Psyche said...

Tom, don't you think Cornell's quirky (but touching) habit of shadowing innocent-looking youths has cinematic possibilities? Imagine a bony, oh, Billy Bob Thornton tailing an angelic shopgirl around a Hopperesque Manhatten--like James Stewart and Kim Novak in San Francisco. And then, in Travis Bickle fashion, he writes about her in his diary.

TC said...


Well, I am trying to imagine JC, in the basement of his mother's cramped little house at 37-08 Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens, staring into the mirror of one of his boxes and saying, "Yah talkin to ME?"

Anonymous said...

This is toooooooooooooooooooooo long for me Thomas, way too long and you expect me to read such! Oh my!
I do not know this Mister Cornell. I am going to have to go research.
The loss of all those 'Caps' has me confused now. I am so use to them with you. Just wait until I start using them, I will confuse you! There is also no punctuation! Why? Ok leaving that aside, the images within are striking and I am especially liking the
'marbles toy birds seen though the magic prism
a child's vision the mind assembling a cosmology
a bricolage of bits of this and bits of that
maps pieces of cloth illustrations in encyclopedias'
Thought provoking words, you.

. said...

There's magic in those boxes,of pasts and imagination. Cornell makes us focus on the rose-tinted maps of our own lives. And i also really like how you've written this piece - filling your own boxes. I don't know if JC ever wrote poetry, but if he had, they would have been in this style.

TC said...

Thank you SarahA and Leigh.

My little lowercase dust-bit lines were meant as a sort of helpful filler, not so much captions as microcosmic asides, floating between and giving breathing space to the discrete worlds of Cornell's magical bricolage.

(It is true that this time a flock of the usual Caps were left out to graze in the back pasture overnight; I think maybe a little airing every now and again does them a world of good.)

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know I did go 'research'. I am now knowing a little bit more about this 'self taught' artist and am seeing how your words connect.
See, I should do that first before commenting *sigh*
But thank you Thomas, for educating me.

TC said...

The path of knowledge in these regions is always a two-way street.

Anonymous said...

A stream of conscioussness on which I felt adrift, immersed in the waters of things to be treasured.

TC said...


It may be the world of a child's wonder -- or of the wonder of the sensitive soul who remains a grownup child -- is a sea of treasures, dreams and mysteries in which all minds are forever drifting boats (barcas a la deriva).

Marcia said...

These images, your words are the guiding principles I think of when I write -- that accumulation of detail, the tidbits of life, woven into some fabric. I'm working on that in mixed media, as well, but will never reach Cornell's level.

TC said...


I will definitely benefit from re-reading your work in light of this comment.

Yes, the intrication and implication of the particulars of the memoria, the places and the persons and the fragments of epiphanic retrieved landscapes, are very Cornellian -- if we were to be able to posit a Cornell transported out of his cramped little basement in Flushing to do his collecting of images and objects in the probably equally mysterious expanses of the plains.