Francis H. Bacon: Bearer of Precious Gifts from the DardanellesPosted: June 9, 2019
I first came to know Bacon’s name when, as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1989-1990, I was asked to report on the Assos Excavations during the School’s trip to Asia Minor. Assos, an affluent, ancient Greek city in the Çanakkale Province and a colony of Lesbos, is known for having erected the only Doric temple in Asia Minor, where the dominant style was Ionic. Francis Henry Bacon (1856-1940) was the architect of the excavations, which were funded by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and took place from 1881 to 1883, as well as one of the three co-authors (with Clarke and Koldewey) of a final publication that was not completed until 1921. Although Bacon’s name appears second, the publication would not have appeared without his dedication and persistence. Joseph T. Clarke (1856-1920) had given up on it long before, and Robert J. Koldewey (1855-1925) had dedicated most of his life to uncovering Babylon.
In 1996, as the recently hired Archivist of the American School, I met one of Bacon’s nieces, Helen Bacon Landry (1924-2007), who was visiting the School. She left me with a photocopy of Bacon’s “Assos Days,” a collection of letters and journals that he had transcribed at some later point in his life: “for the benefit of Family and Friends, but interesting chiefly to Himself.” It appears that Bacon made at least three copies in 1934, and one of them came into the possession of Lenore Keene Congdon (1935-2014) in 1966. Subsequently, she published parts of it in Archaeology magazine in 1974. In 1998, Anastasia [Tessa] Dinsmoor presented to the Blegen Library a second copy that Bacon had given to his friend Alexander (Alec) Maley. I do not know about the other copies, but this one also contains a detailed biographical note composed by Bacon himself. (However, this second copy did not come to my attention until years later when the library handed it over to Archives for special protection.)
In the final pages of “Assos Days,” Bacon describes his initial visit to the Calvert mansion in the Dardanelles in 1883, where he first laid eyes on his future wife Alice: “I had never been at their house! Found the two young ladies at home… and also another one (the eldest), a Miss Alice, just as pleasant as her sisters; in fact, they are three about as nice girls as I’ve seen in this country! Their father [Frederick] died a few years ago! He had been quite wealthy and had built an enormous mansion on the sea with a magnificent garden about it! When he died the house was unfinished. Here these three girls live with their mother and their father’s brother, Mr. Frank Calvert, our consul! … A part of their property is a large house called ‘Thymbra Chiflik” in the Trojan plain about four hours ride from town! The girls all ride horse-back splendidly, each having her own horse. Then they play tennis, going winters to Smyrna, Egypt or Constantinople… These old Levantine English families form quite an aristocracy! They are nearly all well to do, and all seem to be related to each other.” Not only would Bacon marry Alice shortly after their meeting, but a few years later, in 1893, his younger brother Henry would also wed another of the Calvert sisters, Laura. (Henry Bacon [1866-1924], is the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.)
In 2002, Susan H. Allen published a long essay that dealt with the history of the ill-fated excavations at Assos, from its beginning until its delayed publication more than thirty years later (Allen 2002). Other than these two publications, information about Bacon still remains sketchy, especially for the period between the “Assos Days” and the publication of the excavation in 1921.
A Leading Designer
It appears that Assos was an interlude in an otherwise significant, although poorly documented, career as an interior designer that started immediately after his graduation from M.I.T. in 1876. At first he worked briefly for McKim, Mead & White, the famous architectural firm, for $20 per week, but, when in 1880 the Herter Brothers, a decorating firm, offered him $35 per week to help them design furniture for William H. Vanderbilt’s new house on Fifth Avenue, Bacon could not resist. In 1881 he joined the Assos Expedition for two years. After his return to America in 1883, Bacon realized that it would take him years to establish a profitable reputation as an architect, so he decided to switch careers to interior design. “I finished my [Assos] drawings in midsummer, 1884, and was now anxious to earn a living as in the meantime I had become engaged to be married! So through Mr. Norton I got a position with H[enry] H[obson] Richardson, the architect in Brookline!” noted Bacon in the Epilogue of the “Assos Days,” composed in 1923. While working for H. H. Richardson (1883-1886), another prominent architect, Bacon, who wanted to become financially independent, decided finally to give up architecture for interior design “as being more profitable!” “Got an introduction to Mr. A. H. Davenport of Boston and entered his employ in the fall of 1884! I went to Constantinople in June, 1885, and was married there in the Crimean Memorial Church to Miss Alice Calvert.”
Within a few years, Bacon would become the leading designer for A. H. Davenport and Company, a renowned furniture making firm that had formed partnerships with major architects, including Richardson. Through Richardson, Bacon designed some of the furniture for the Glessner House in Chicago. According to their web page, Bacon decorated Mrs. Glessner’s new Steinway piano, which weighed 900 pounds and was delivered on Christmas day of 1887. In January 2015 while attending the AIA meetings at Chicago and during one of the worst recent blizzards in the Midwest, Jack L. Davis and I managed to pay a visit to this exquisite house, which is now a museum, and to inspect the piano. While there, I noticed that there was other furniture in the house that could have been designed by Bacon, who is credited with introducing classical elements to a style known as Colonial Renaissance. (Bacon’s career as a furniture designer remains sketchy and unexplored and would be a great topic thesis for an architectural historian.)
In 1914, A.H. Davenport merged with another successful furniture firm, Irving and Casson. In the website of Historic New England, which acquired the Irving and Casson – A. H. Davenport Co. archive, I discovered several of Francis Bacon’s designs, easily identified by his signature initials: FHB. One of the most important clients of the merged firm was the great American entrepreneur and founder of Eastman Kodak, George Eastman (1854-1932). Bacon designed most of the furniture for Eastman’s house in Rochester, New York (now the George Eastman Museum). In addition, signature chairs by Bacon are on display both in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I was pleasantly surprised to find in a letter from Edward Capps, the Chair of the ASCSA Managing Committee, to Edward D. Perry that Bacon had been asked to design some of the furniture for the newly built Loring Hall (1929) at the ASCSA; this furniture must be saved during its upcoming remodeling. “And he [W. Stuart Thompson, the architect of Loring Hall as well of the Gennadius Library] has ordered the furniture for the whole shebang, the nicer pieces from Bacon and the simpler ones from a New York house… Thompson is certainly a daisy of the first water…” confided Capps to Perry on September 3, 1929 (ASCSA AdmRec Box 311/4, folder 4).
Relieved at Last!
When not designing furniture, Bacon must have worked on the Assos plans and drawings. In the Epilogue of his “Assos Days”, Bacon described how it fell upon him to finish the publication of Assos. When Clarke finally abandoned the project in 1896, he handed over to Bacon all the drawings and notes; Bacon sent immediately for Koldewey. The two of them “went over all details and agreed as to the manner of their publication! It was to be a book of plates with descriptive text and notes. Then I began a task which proved for me more than I expected, deciphering others’ notes, drawing over things long forgotten, all in the midst of other active business!”
He would go back to Assos in 1904, only to find the site more ruined than ever. “Stop at the theatre, now all ruined, and the scena built over as a goat shelter hardly recognizable… How I wish Koldewey was here! …The Agora plateau a ruin! Stoa all smashed and columns gone! The Bouleuterion is now a goat enclosure! … What an enormous place Assos is! Ten times the size of Priene! … Down to the tombs. What a ruin is there –all broken and smashed! They are evidently using the place a quarry as dressed lintels and sills are lying ready to be carried off! …Fortunately we have every stone on paper, as the place is now a scene of desolation.”
Before leaving Assos, Bacon presented to the village “the Book of Assos, Part 1, which I have had bound… to always remain with the head man for the benefit of travelers and others. I had a Turkish scribe at Dardanelles put in a dedication in large Turkish script, and all the inhabitants crowd around to see the pictures… Many of the people are recognized in the pictures to their great delight! Great excitement, and the future visitor to Assos will have to look at this book whether he wishes to or not; but judging by the way the ruins are disappearing, the book will be all that’s left ere long!” wrote to Charles Eliot Norton, the President of the AIA, on June 23, 1904.
Assos was finally published in 1921, “and if ever a man felt relieved of a burden, that man was Francis H. Bacon” wrote Bacon in September of 1923. By then, Francis (Frank) and Alice had moved back to the Dardanelles. One final search combining Bacon’s name with Calvert’s led me to the fascinating website for Levantine Heritage. This is where I found this photo of Francis and Alice and other members of the extended Calvert family.
Safeguarding Frank Calvert’s Legacy
Back in the 1990s, as I was familiarizing myself with the archival collections that the School had amassed over the years, especially with the history of their acquisition, I came to realize that a small part of the Heinrich Schliemann papers had come to the School through Bacon, several years before Schliemann’s children, Agamemnon and Andromache, deposited their father’s rich archive at the Gennadius Library in 1936.
In 1923, while on board a ship bound for New York, Bacon wrote a letter to the Director of the American School, Bert Hodge Hill, asking him to accept eighty-nine letters that Schliemann had written to Frank Calvert, the U. S. consular agent in the Dardanelles, in the early 1870s, as well as penciled drafts of a few letters that Calvert wrote to Schliemann. Bacon had found them while cleaning the destroyed Calvert mansion at the Dardanelles. With both men dead (Schliemann in 1890 and Calvert in 1907), Bacon wished, through the letters, to preserve for posterity the complicated relationship and secret rivalry between Schliemann and Calvert. As a member of the Calvert family, he would have heard stories about the injustice that Schliemann had done to Calvert by not crediting him with the discovery of the site of ancient Troy.
“Perhaps you may know that Dr. Schliemann came to the Troad with the intention of excavating for Troy at Bounarbashi, but was persuaded by Mr. Calvert to begin at Hissarlik where Mr. Calvert had already bought a field… Dr. Schliemann never gave him credit for directing him to Hissarlik” wrote Bacon to Hill in his accompanying letter.
Susan H. Allen in Finding the Walls of Troy juxtaposed the life and work of both men, finally giving credit to Frank Calvert for the discovery of Troy. Their different personalities, the shrewd and flamboyant Schliemann on one side, and the modest Calvert on the other, can best be seen in the grave monuments of the two men. Their respective antiquities had a similar fate. Calvert’s rich collection was dispersed to various museums in America and Europe, sometimes with no indication that the objects belonged to him, while Schliemann’s Trojan collection remained almost intact and was given to the Berlin Museum. Its “disappearance,” however, in 1945, when it was stolen by the Russians as spoils of war, and its reappearance at the Pushkin Museum fifty years later, where it is on partial display, represents history’s revenge on Schliemann.
For reasons unknown to me, but most likely owing to an absence of regularized archival procedures at the time, the papers of Frank Calvert were not catalogued and marked as a separate collection, i.e., the Frank Calvert Papers, but were incorporated into the Schliemann papers when the latter came to the American School –never having received the credit they deserved. Once again, Frank Calvert was eclipsed by Schliemann.
The Calvert papers were the first gift that Bacon sent from the Dardanelles, but not the last. A few years later, in the late 1920s or early 1930s, Bacon must have brought another important gift to the American School; this time, a small statuette of alabaster (height: 0.145 m) from the third millennium B.C.: The Stargazer. This rare (there are about thirty known pieces) statuette was found at Kilia near Gallipoli, in an excavation directed by Frank Calvert in 1901.
Following his retirement Francis and Alice Bacon returned to the Dardanelles. The Calvert family’s property was in decline having suffered both from the Battle of Gallipoli and the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922. Frank Calvert’s once rich collection of antiquities had been dispersed to various museums, or lost in natural or human catastrophes. What little was left was finally given to the local Canakkale Museum in 1934. But, for some reason, Bacon chose to take the small statuette out of Turkey and bring it to the American School. I have found no evidence, so far, in the School’s administrative records or in the personal papers of people that knew Bacon (such as Hill or Carl W. Blegen, or Gorham P. Stevens) how the statuette ended up at the School. In June 1932, the new director of the American School Richard Stillwell claimed that he had found the statuette in the director’s roll-top desk, unaware how it had arrived at the ASCSA:
“Provenance: Unknown. Found by me in roll-top desk, June 1932, and left by me in ditto. R. Stillwell.”
Forty years later, another Director of the School, John Caskey, who published the Stargazer in the American Journal of Archaeology in 1972, also claimed that he had no idea how the statuette had come into the possession of the School. Caskey was the one who identified the School’s Stargazer with the photograph of a similar statuette in an old German catalogue of Calvert’s collection that he had seen in Istanbul in 1937; next to the photograph there was an added a penciled note: “geschenkt an Amer. School of Archaeol. Athens.” Since 2006, the Stargazer has been on loan and display at the Museum of Cycladic Art.
Drawing in Full Size (F.S.D.)
Bacon’s third gift to the School was his portfolio of full-size drawings of moldings and rubbings. Unlike the Stargazer, this gift was fortunately accompanied by a letter that Bacon had sent to the Director of the American School in 1933, explaining the nature of his gift. Bacon wanted a safe shelter for a series of drawings, most of them rubbings at full-sale, of relief decoration of funerary monuments, capitals, and friezes from ancient monuments in Asia Minor and Greece.
Trained at M.I.T., which had adopted the European tradition of making measured drawings, Bacon learned to draw architectural details in full scale. (At M.I.T. Bacon studied under William R. Ware, the architect of the ASCSA (core) building in Athens, his only European project.) In fact, Bacon at Assos and Howard Crosby Butler in Sardis in the early 1910s were the first American architects to produce full-scale drawings of archaeological remains. The practice of full-scale drawing of architectural details remained popular in the United States until the mid-1930s (Edlung-Berry 2005, p. 3), and Francis Bacon can be credited as being a pioneer in this art. In 1936, a few years after the publication of the Erechtheum had come out, Bacon criticized his friend Gorham P. Stevens for not executing full-scale drawings of the monument (Edlung-Berry 2005, p. 8). In his late 80s, after a successful career in furniture designing, Bacon had returned to his original vocation. From 1929 until 1931, he travelled in Asia Minor and Greece drawing architectural fragments at full-scale.
In the end, Francis Bacon made not one, but three valuable gifts to the American School. Without the Calvert Papers, the story of Troy’s discovery would not have been complete. Although a rare type of Early Bronze Age sculpture, the Stargazer’s object biography also speaks to us about past and recent practices of private collecting. Finally, Bacon’s unique rubbings, aside from their pioneering value, tell us about an architect’s esoteric dialogue with his objects: As he himself wrote, “when you draw a full size of a good Greek original, you shake hands with the man who made it… Half size will not do; it is not the same thing” (Edlund-Berry MAAR 2005, p. 4).
On June 18, 2019, I received some additional and highly interesting information from Mr. Eric Pominville of Washington D.C. about Francis H. Bacon, some of which I am sharing below:
–“I think it worth mentioning that F.H.B. is credited with the design for the Library of Congress Declaration of Independence Shrine which was dedicated in 1924. This display shrine can be seen when actor Jimmy Stewart views the Declaration of Independence in the 1939 Frank Capra movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The transfer of the Charters of Freedom to the National Archives and a more modern exhibit shrine did not occur until December 1952.”
–“One of the most interesting first-person accounts connected to the story of the AIA excavations at Assos is William Cranston Lawton’s charming essay “From Venice to Assos” published in the Atlantic Monthly in April 1889. “No one who knows him will wonder” Lawton wrote of Frank Bacon “that they followed to the world’s end for love of adventure and of his companionship.”
S.H. Allen, Finding the walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik, Berkeley 1999.
S.H. Allen, “Americans in the East.” Francis Henry Bacon, Joseph Thacker Clarke, and the AIA Assos,” in Excavating our Past: Perspectives on the History of the Archaeological Institute of America, ed. S. H. Allen, Boston 2002, pp. 63-92.
L. Caskey, “The Figurine in the Roll-Top Desk,” American Journal of Archaeology 76 (1972), pp. 192-193
T. Clarke, F. H. Bacon, and R. Koldewey, Investigations at Assos: Drawings and Photographs of the Buildings and Objects Discovered During the Excavations of 1881-1882-1883, Cambridge Mass. 1902-1921.
I. Edlund-Berry, “Architectural Theory and Practice: Vitruvian Principals and “Full-Sale Detail” Architectural Drawings, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 50 (2005), pp. 1-13.
L. Keene Congdon, “The Assos Journals of Francis H. Bacon,” Archaeology 27 (1974), pp. 83-95.