21. A writers’ retreat and the Wild West

There are no letters in any of the collections I visited covering the period between April 1929, when Evelyn was living in Greenwich Village with Jack, and July of that year.  It is not known whether they  have been lost or destroyed; so we know little of the events that took Evelyn to Yaddo, just outside Saratoga Springs, New York, for the first time.

Yaddo post card.PNG

Yaddo was first opened as an artists’ colony in 1926. The house belonged to Spencer Trask, a venture capitalist, and his writer wife Katrina. The couple wished to give something to society and, after the deaths of their four children, it was Katrina Trask’s wish to create a haven where artists could work and flourish. It still flourishes, albeit in a slightly different form, today.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of Yaddo to both Evelyn and Jack.  It provided them with generous board and accommodation at a very reasonable price but, more importantly, the other guests were a cross-section of American intellectual life.  They included artists, writers and critics and Evelyn found their company supportive and stimulating.  Yaddo’s executive director, Elizabeth Ames, provided Evelyn and Jack with much-needed artistic support and financial succour on several occasions.

* * * * *

To Maude Dunn

“Yaddo”, Saratoga Springs, New York
July 2, 1929

Yes, dearest mother, you are very beautiful in your patience about money.  If I could ever get through with doctors and dentists I would be enormously nearer being of proper help to you.  I shall have to go again in Santa Fe for I have infected philopean1 tubes and it takes a long time to treat.  Also there is proud flesh growing outside where the stitches came out and that will sometime have to be cut off.  Still I think I am better as we made a very difficult journey up here in a terribly crowded train, stood most of the way.  I had to help carry baggage, and still seem to have no very bad effects.  I knock on wood however.  I couldn’t have done that before the operation.

In a money sense our trip up here was unfortunate.  We just made it.  The round trip for us both was ten dollars each.  That was bad enough.  But breaking up Perry Street we had to take so many things with us, typewriters etc, and had to have porters.  We also missed the bus from Yaddo and had to take a taxi there.  That made five dollars extra just for luggage.  But as I told you this place once arrived is extraordinary.  It was left by some people named Trask to be used as a summer home for people doing work in arts and sciences, and of course the board is nominal and doesn’t half pay the expense.  You have to be recommended by the trustees and there is always a long waiting list.  And you can only come once.  I hope Jack can stay on after I go.

It is a beautiful estate of five hundred and seventy acres.  Part is public gardens, the rest meadows and farm.  The main building is a kind of imitation of a baronial hall, very much on the grand scale.  The reception rooms are tapestries, paintings, a fountain, impressive draperies, old Italian furniture.  For our seven a week each, the cheapest imaginable board, Jack and I were escorted to a huge double bedroom with a view of miles of lush country and the Green Mountains of Vermont like blue clouds that never move behind.  We have a private bath.  I am writing in a room as big as Perry Street and mine for work while I am here.  Jack has a studio of a rustic type about a quarter of a mile from the house.  There are fifteen artists as guests, some for a fortnight, some for all summer.  We were asked for long but account of Jig could not accept.  Breakfast is served on trays in bedrooms.  Lunch is optional—upstairs or down.  Tea downstairs.  Dinner downstairs.  Plenty of servants all very quiet and English trained.  The hostess is a Mrs Ames2 whom I like very much.  No dressing to match surroundings, fortunately, as most guests are supposed to be poor.

Dearest love and more soon as able.  I hope for better news on money later.
elsie

Fallopian.  Evelyn continued to suffer from gynaecological problems arising from Jig’s birth.

Elizabeth Ames, the administrator at Yaddo, was very supportive of Evelyn and Jack in a number of ways over the years.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

care Mrs Cyril Kay-Scott1
415 San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico2
July 3 [1929]

Otto, dear:

Your letter written while Louise was in Paris was a treat to friendship.  I didn’t answer it the same day as I felt like doing, only because I can not write perfunctorily to my dearest beloveds. Now we are up at “Yaddo” there is breath.

Otto, this “Yaddo” place is to all intents and present purposes paradise.  Lola is here for one thing, but there are permanent reasons as well.  The estate is five hundred and seventy acres.  Jack and I have a huge double room which makes you feel should hold levees.  We have a private bath and a studio each.  All this costs seven dollars a week.  And I can only stay a fortnight, having decided to make a bee line to Santa Fe while the money was good.  It is a test of maternal feeling that I can.  From an acre of window, I now look down a terrace lacking powdered hair and peacocks, to a fountain that would delight a proper marquise, and then to meadows of hay, and then to hills lavish as they only grow in America, and then to the Green Mountains of Vermont—chalk blue and stern and invitingly aloof.  Rain clouds are swelling dark on the sky.  The pine trees converse in aromatic threats.  The bird songs pepp up and die away like the freshest of small musical water.  The bees behave as bees should.  It is so still my typewriter sounds like a blasting machine.  We have breakfast in bed. What, what more can you ask.  And none of the people so far are unpleasant.

After the 15th I go to Santa Fe.  Hope Jack can stay here until his book is done.  I have 22 letters to write.  Literally.  Love and love and love, evelyn

Note that Cyril had already “divorced” Evelyn. It is hard to know whether she was not aware of this at the time of writing, or if she was in denial over the “divorce”

Despite the Santa Fe return address, this letter was written from Yaddo.

* * * * *

To David Lawson

Santa Fe, New Mexico
July 28 [1929]

Davy, dear:

I called you up Thursday morning several times, but nothing doing.  Did you leave early after all I wonder.  From what Jack said from Yaddo you didn’t seem to be there yet.

Davy, also it would very much help if you wrote the thing about Cyril’s work.  It still helps with the prospectus of the school, anything like that, and will be much appreciated.

I feel the altitude here.  It makes my head ache a lot, but they say you get used to it.  If I can get in shape physically, I shall enjoy every minute—first in work, and second in looking at an old land of the gods which somehow got into this western world.  Burnt and bitter and lovely and colossal—the half desert with its little green flows to plateaus dead of everything but more vivid than life.  The Indians are suspiciously affable—rather broken winged birds, but they still belong in their clothes that mingle their civilization with Mexico.  Mary G is here on visit and asked us to her hotel to see Indian dance.  Sun dance—great fat man leading had sun made of eagle feather around a white plaque, wonderful bonnet—not much else.  Stamping and hopping very agile, while chorus chanted monotonously and drum thumped.  Then Eagle Dance by two men who wore huge wings, and headdresses and tail feathers.  It was very fine in a plastic way.

Haven’t written a line yet and so MUCH mail.  I won’t write often and I suppose you never.  Yet I do so long to hear how Lola and that magnificent poem go and how you are and the gamble of the examination.  won’t you sometime tell me?

Very deepest love to you and her, Davy dear,
evelyn

If you ever can vacation here—gee.  I think you’d love it, Davy.  And Lola would make the world ring with what she saw.  Gee, gee.

Santa fe
Modern view of 411 San Francisco Street [Google Earth street view]
To Lola Ridge

Santa Fe, New Mexico
late July 1929]

Lola, lovely and dear:

I was sorry to hear through Jack1 that you had been having more hard times, my precious. 

Sweet, I don’t see how you could bear the trip unless it were done gradually like a pilgrim’s journey, but Lord you would love this country.  Half of it hangs in the sky.  The rest is hot colossal nudity—burned in all the warm tones of flesh, but aloof, aloof—old and still in the west with which it seems to unrelated.  Of course there are more intimate aspects, when the pines dress whole hillsides in crisp dark petticoats—but the old and angry and the burning yellow is the best.

Until we got to the Kansas prairies all was America as I have known it too well.  You have seen them doubtless, so know how that more rugged sea of the earth seemed to hurl itself on the train, more capaciously than any waters.  I went to bed in the lake of grass and grain on Thursday and at three am Friday morning looked thru my window and felt that the tide has suddenly been arrested.  That great rocks had been startled out of the night to meet us.  That was Colorado which I didn’t half see.  It wasn’t till reaching Lamy at ten and being met by Cyril and Phyllis (Phyllis is far finer than any of us conceived, Lola.  She is a beautiful, staunch person, humanly clear and sound straight thru) and Jig, that I began to realize yet another world—mountains blazing with white cloud wreaths, and a solemnity of no pioneer remembrance merely, but of the only eternal our senses can approach.

The Indians I don’t hope to “understand”.  But I felt their sulky pride of children under the affability of broken spirit.  It is as if inside they had retreated from man like the land—gone inward to die, not quite beautifully, but with unimpaired dignity, but with something alive and hatefully protected against the rest of us.

Jig is a delight.  Sends his love to you.  Cyril wants to have a permanent school here.  El Paso was hell.2  To that end if I can I shall help buy a plot of ground and a three room adobe house for a beginning (don’t tell).  It is what I can do if at all for Jig who feels free and happy here and released from the east, no place for youth.  Nobody has any luxuries and Cyril can’t paint, but it is being alive and somehow sanely and more comfortingly.

Cyril is recognised as distinguished as a teacher and there is hope, but it takes capital and a long time.

Bless my dear and her work.  Give my love to Davy.  Cyril sends his to you two.
evelyn

Jack was at Yaddo, with Lola, while Evelyn was in Santa Fe with Cyril and Jig.
Cyril had opened his first school of art in El Paso the previous year.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Santa Fe, New Mexico]
August 11 [1929]

Darling one: I am in a panic.  My mother has written that relatives are turning her out and that my cousin Elizabeth, past insulter of all I love, who lives in Tarrytown, has my address and is coming out here to get the low down on me and find means of sending mother to me.  It makes me feel suicidal, but in a nightmare way, as the literal result of mother’s descent on me is too awful to be believed in, so that truly I don’t believe in it.  I have written post haste to Sophie about an old ladies home—the kind to which you pay an entrance fee and are recommended socially.  Of course I believe that mother would have to be taken to it in a straight jacket.  Mother says the Graceys simply do not believe that I can’t afford to keep her—my trips to Europe and all that.  Mother is in agonies herself.  She affects me as a rabbit!

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

Santa Fe, New Mexico
September 5 [1929]

Dearest Otto:

Well, Cyril has given up El Paso as too much of a hell hole of mediocrity for a life residence, and the school is being reorganized up here.  I think it is going to make a smashing hit.  All the big bugs on the new board, and town giving studio.  But it is, very privately, the usual strain to get through the preparations financially.  There will be nothing coming in until the new school is actually under way, and they are buying a house and a bit of property and there is the removal of all the property portable from El Paso.  It’s the first home Jig has ever had except the Bermuda fake.  And thank god for once in my life I’m being able to do at least a ninetieth as much for them as they have for me (q.t.).

Cyril has worked on it a long time but now has the town by the ears and the artists here quite frankly are unanimously for him and his teaching and work.  All the good ones are on his board, including John Sloan and so on.  So I think it ought to go.  Of course he won’t be able to paint for another couple of years, but I still pray he’ll get the chance for that in the end.

Jig is the joy of me life.  I enclose a notice of the hanging of his picture in the school exhibition at the museum.  He has the goods as an artist, but has a poverty complex from watching his parents sweat.

Darling old Jack has spent a productive, but I hope to some degree lonely summer at Yaddo, and has finished his book.  He is now dickering with publishers in NY, and expects to come down here the middle of the month where, as living is cheaper than in NY, we hope to stay until January.

Love from everybody here to you all, and from me from the ‘eart, always, old dears, evelyn

PS Otto don’t tell but I have put my eyes out on a nursery story.1 Hate it.  Never do another.  Began it before knew The Wave would go.  Isn’t quite done yet.  Hell hell hell to write, don’t dare let anybody know I did it, nom de plume.

Evelyn is referring to Blue Rum, which was published in 1930 under the pseudonym Ernest Souza.

* * * * *

To Maude Dunn

[Santa Fe, New Mexico]
[November 7, 1929]

Dear Vava,1

I do hope you do not feel sore but I have been living cowboy fashion for the last week and one cannot write letters twenty miles from nowhere.

The cowboys sure are a tough lot.  They ride all day (I rode 50 miles bareback), sleep in snow, get up with the sun, and shoot and cook their breakfast in the freezing cold.

After having roped (lassoed) the horses, an hour is spent in resting and packing, and then off again.

I froze my feet and both ears the day before yesterday.  I have acquired a good bird dog by the name of Sadie, whose only lucid thought is food.

I sure appreciate the cufflinks, and will wear them with my cowboy shirts.

Much love from;
Jig

Jigg’s childhood name for his grandmother

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

586½ Camino del Monte Sol, [Santa Fe, New Mexico]
December 27 [1929]

Sweet, sweet, sweet:

To think I have left your letters unanswered over two weeks.  To think I sent you no message for Xmas—or Davy—and not even one to Cyril, Jig or Jack.   I was ill for all of three weeks after I got here, and am still unwell, but this is not important, being no more than altitude and a state of mind. I am so full of disgust for Santa Fe I cannot express myself even in profanity.  No use going into it, but the divorce between Phyllis and Cyril, my return here without Jack, Jig’s love affair with a girl older than himself1, and the fate of the Art School have unleashed that almost impersonal malice of a small town, and I have been through many of the same things I did when Cyril and I first separated.  Current assertions:  I came here last time to break up Cyril’s home.  I succeeded.  I am back because I am in love with him.  (If I try to defend Cyril against the most scurrilous falsehoods that is the answer.  You see his leaving here for Denver infuriated those who had profited by the Art School boom here.)  I have left Jack to become the mistress of Don Clark2.  Cyril only went to Denver because he had played fast and loose with art school funds.  (There weren’t any.)  And the whole rigmaroles about Jig and Selma.  Oh, to have some real escape into this country whose vastness at present seems to exist only to emphasize the picayune nature of humans.  I look at the very mountains as if they had betrayed me by being gorgeous and aloof.  My weakness is such a profound aloneness among my kind that when I am literally living alone I lack the fibre to bear it.  If I have one human who is mine, to whom I can turn for re-affirmation of everything of which the crowd is unmindful I can be as contemptuous of crowds as the pride of my mind would have.  But this has happened to me before, and when there is not a human being to turn to for complete trust it seems beyond me to keep going at all.

From your nostalgic and loving,
evelyn

Camino del sol
Modern view of Camino del Monte Sol [Google Earth street view]

Selma Hite, then Cyril’s secretary, was 7 years older than Jig. They eloped the following June and moved to Greenwich Village, where Selma later ran off with a man her own age. Evelyn and Cyril managed to get the marriage annulled.
American reviewer for New York Times and previously a lecturer at University of California

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Santa Fe, New Mexico]
[early 1930]

I feel sort of emotional today over decision I am making, if lawyer can get me out, to lose what I paid on the mud Mexican cottage and give up the idea of living in Santa Fe.  It isn’t the Phyllis Cyril problem, as so many people thought it would be, but another nest of complexes uncovered all relating to small towns and N Orleans.  I have an obsession to the effect that I am being looked askance at morally and that people are trying to cut me.  It’s quite horrible to have this infantile throw back come on like an attack of measles.  I couldn’t understand myself until, after much analysis, I harkened back to New Orleans, my mother’s idea of being cut after my father got broke and my grandmother got crazier.  Only cure for morbid reflex is, apparently, to accept the invitations and go in for social life—and that spoils writing.  Didn’t you ever hear of anything so nearly batty!  Living remotely superior, and suddenly here I feel as if people were being deliberately nasty to me, when my intellect tells me that is impossible.  However, I have just about decided that I can not settle down in a small southern town.  It only hurts because of spoiling nice plans for Jig.

And it does look so pretty here!  love and love, evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Santa Fe, New Mexico]
[February 1930]

Beautiful love;

What I feel pretty awful is that I have run through my own prosperous year and have nothing to show for it.  Misfortunes seem to be with Cyril forever as far as money goes and as it is I let the piece of property go and—was a fool, I don’t know—lost outright what I had put into it.  Because to have gone on would have meant borrowing at eight to ten per cent from money lenders who had to be pain in the year.  So that idea of making Jiggy’s future safe is certainly a fluke.  Cyril still has three thousand dollars to get paid up on his part, and seems pretty sure to have no income at all here during the winter months, as the attendance at art school is for summer only.  I don’t want this to go beyond you and Davy and Glad, however, as bluff as usual is still the thing.  But what actually scares me is the idea of leaving here and leaving Jig with them when they may be reduced to ten dollars in the world as they were last week.  And then if they don’t pay up on the house they lose the whole thing, which is several thousand of investment already.  Cyril’s too old1 to ever get back into any business, and if this don’t work I don’t know what will.  Makes me sort of sore that the people who profess to like him and admire him (a la Stieglitz,2 for gods sake never mention that!) never have made any effort to sell his work.

The mother thing is another crisis.  No Home will admit her in any state but Tennessee and that is the one place she hates to go, and as I slumped from sending her a hundred a month for a little while down to twenty-five and the relatives had to take on things again, they are again after me.  They write that I have sold a hundred thousand copies of my book and must be rich.  That makes me angry, but at the same time it is sentimental vanity still and I ought to be more honest about the home arrangement and brutal.  I suppose it’s loving Jig so makes this mother stuff get me so much.

Santa fe courthouse.PNG

But in between such tiresome consequences occasional time to remember what really important, eh!  Such as the white fog of perpetual snow in the pines on the mountains—the spirit look of fresh snow-falls when I look out the kitchen door at night and see a silken back yard and silver and silver drifting faintly down.  I really love snow now.  Then I can think of “wash his pale hands in the milk of the light” and things like that.  Also that acceptance to the scheme of life which is mostly hell brings some sort of immediate unwordable compensation which adds a dimension to living—only I only achieve it sporadically—it seems nearer a perfect surmounting of all the limitations of literal action when you realize it.

Blessings and love forever.  evelyn

Cyril was 59 at the time.
The influential American photographer Alfred Stieglitz was said to have praised Cyril’s paintings

* * * * *

Marraige cert.PNG

On March 17, 1930, Evelyn and Jack got married in Tierra Amarillo, New Mexico, about 90 miles north of Santa Fe. There are no letters extant referring to the decision to do so, nor to their choice of that town (although Evelyn says later in  a letter dated November 23, 1953 that they chose such a remote place to avoid any chance of being pursued by the sensationalist press). Nor do any of the letters refer to the fact of their being formally married:  however, as they had been posing as married for some time, they may not have felt the need to emphasize their new status.

* * * * *

To David Lawson

Santa Fe, New Mexico
July 23, 1930

Darling Davy:

Have tonsillitis today and pretty sick.  Wanted to answer you properly but things just keep on coming up.  So glad Lola lovely dear is off to Yaddo.  I await the next miracle from her typewriter.  I hope she’s better and that you are easing up a little, Davy.

Thank you about Cyril and art school.  It has done very well this summer.

Davy darling, I am just too sick to write—tho not serious—just same old thing.  Book troubles me because I must leave here and can’t seem to finish.  However have come thru before so maybe will now.  I’ll be in NY around sept 1st.  Jack and I aim to go to England few weeks thereafter as not enough money to finish book here but might string it out with cheap English living.

Cyril’s love and mine and Phyllis’s regards, and Jig has always thought a heap of you.

my love dear Davy as always,
evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

449½ Hudson Street, NYC
August 5, 1930

Dearest Lola,

What do you mean, I should like to know, by signing yourself my “friend if I want you”?!  Don’t talk so!  You should know I want you as a friend!

Poor Evelyn was thinking of packing up to leave Santa Fe when she fell ill,- bad tonsillitis and also a broken tooth-bridge. So that means delay.  She hopes to have the bridge fixed and be well enough to travel by about the 14th or 15th of this month,- and will first go to Clarksville for this awful family pow-wow about her mother.  I am hoping to be able to meet her when she arrives at Clarksville and see her through the unpleasant business.  Golly, how glad I’ll be when we’re together again.  I have been missing her terribly, Lola, so badly, finally, that I get too restless to settle down to good work.  But it won’t be long now I hope.

Drop me a line whenever you can, and good luck, dear Lola, with health and work.

Very much love, and kisses from
Jack.

PS Please remember me affectionately to Mrs Ames.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis and Louise Morgan

Care Mrs M T Dunn
739 Madison Street, Clarksville, Tennessee
But reply to:  care F Sommers, The Attic Shop, 449½ Hudson Street, New York City

August 24, 1930

Dear Peoples,

Here we both are in Clarksville savouring the dilapidated South in company of our mother and mother-in-law respectively.  A hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and much much coffee is found useful, and sustains us through the day.  However, all good things must come to an end eventually and we are probably leaving here this week.  Then about 3 weeks in N York and then England.  We shall probably be in London for a few days round about end of September or early October.  Oh what fun to see you people again!  Blessings to you, and hugs and kisses from us both.

Jack (“John”)
and Evelyn

* * * * *

This letter marks the end of Evelyn’s time in New Mexico, although she did continue in contact with Cyril. Some time in the early autumn (and again, letters relating to their decision to travel are missing) Evelyn and Jack sailed to England and to the start of a new chapter in  their lives.

* * * * *

 

Continue reading “21. A writers’ retreat and the Wild West”