I loved finding this photo of my great great grandfather, Pierre Gentieu, who worked for DuPont Powder Company in Wilmington, Delaware, and his connection to Toledo.
It’s totally art related, with the renowned dog painter, Edmund H. Osthaus, who, at the invitation of David R. Locke (creator of the Petroleum V. Nasby letters), came to Toledo in 1886 at the age of 28 to head up the Toledo Academy of Fine Arts.
In the 1890’s, at the beginning of Du Pont’s smokeless powder manufacturing, Osthaus was commissioned by DuPont to make paintings of hunting dogs for advertisements and calendars. The affiliation with DuPont lasted over 20 years, until after the first world war, when Du Pont transitioned from making explosives to making chemicals.
This is Pierre at the Sportsmen’s Exposition (an early trade show) at Madison Garden in New York, circa 1899. Osthaus, as an original member of the Tile Club, was one of the artists who started the Toledo Museum of Art.
It’s a sad day when we the citizens of Toledo have to take it upon ourselves to vote on whether or not we should protect our huge wonderful life-giving nurturing Great Lake Erie from poisonous nitrogen and phosphorus dumping. But that is our task on Tuesday, February 26, 2019. Our elected representatives won’t do it.
Toledo had a national emergency in August 2014 when the city of Toledo admitted that the water was so toxic, we couldn’t drink it for three days. Four and a half years later, we drink water we buy at Aldi’s to hedge our bets for living in this cesspool, hoping we won’t get cancer or some other dreaded disease from the toxic environment that nobody seems to want to take care of.
The Lake Erie Bill of Rights
Believe it or not, Toledoans are voting on whether we have the right to defend our Great Lake Erie from harmful, poisonous dumping. Which is one way of saying enough is enough to the harmful effects of corporate greed, industrial dumping and fertilizer run off into our lake and the water we drink. We are water too. We are the lake, the lake is us.
Le Monde: In summer, from space, large portions of Lake Erie take on fluorescent tints —
Happy Birthday Pierre! (Who would have been 177 years old on January 26!) I made this book, with 113 of Pierre’s photos that I printed from his glass plate negatives, in the order that he had them organized, with the captions in his own words. It includes a 16-page memoir he wrote in 1902 about his work at Du Pont, along with some family photos etc. Original source material and “just the facts, ma’am!” was the mantra for this book.
Photo by Anonymous: Felix Nadar’s second ascension of Le’ Geant in Paris on October 18, 1863 (my mother’s birthday), shown aside a regular size balloon to contrast its gigantic size, on the ground where the Eiffel Tower now stands, Champ de Mars. Le’ Geant floated all night, but in the morning, it infamously landed (by crashing across the countryside in a high wind for 30 minutes, no one escaped injury) in Hanover, Germany (where King George V took them in). Nadar’s efforts to advance aviation were praised by Jules Verne, who in his next novel, modeled the main character Ardan after Nadar in Journey From The Earth To The Moon, where he was sent to the Moon in a cannon!
I know it’s a little weird. But I’m probably not the only one in the extended Gentieu family wishing our ancestor, Pierre Gentieu (1842-1930) a Happy Birthday today, January 26 – as if we knew him personally – he would be 177 years old! After all, Pierre owned the entire set of Jules Verne’s approximately 30 science fiction novels, translated into English (when you just know he read the books in French!) so it’s no wonder to find him projected in our hearts, three, four, five generations later.
Consider this 1863 Parisian balloon scene and how different it is from the photo of the firing of the cannon, happening concurrently across the ocean. Imagine Pierre in 1863, age 21, as a carefree bohemian in Paris drawing satirical cartoons for underground papers, writing poetry, hanging out in salons, exploring his creativity, and perhaps he went ballooning. But instead he sailed to America, fought in the war to abolish slavery, married Binie Weed from New Canaan Connecticut, and Voila! Here we Are!
So Happy Birthday to Pierre, who spoke French (and English), stood up for his principles, fought in nine Civil War battles, and knew quite well that there was a more progressive use for the cannon than as exemplified in the photo above. At 177, he may or may not have gone to the Moon (who can really say), but astrologically, he is definitely completing his sixth Saturn return. (I checked his chart!) That is one wise old great great grandfather.
On the day we left for good, it was Winter Solstice, the best light of the year. When I came in that morning, the window light was touching the far wall. I photographed it at about 10:10, when the light from the east just happened to be centered on the well-worn floor. I went outside and photographed the building from every angle as if by doing so I’d take it with me.
“This loft has beautiful light,” my neighbor down the hall commented. I thought back to the first thing he ever said to me. The loft has beautiful light. Every day for ten years, each time I opened that door in the morning and found that empty space flooded by sunlight ready for me to transform it into something great because I was so fortunate to have it, I felt that beautiful light.
I looked around for one last time. The light streamed absolutely parallel down the length of the loft. I left at 2:20, the exact time of the winter solstice, I heard later on the news.
That sun in the studio—stripes of pure bright even light, straight through the south windows and up the 80 foot length of the open loft touching where my desk used to be. I’ll never forget that blazing sun. I could have left after the sun went down, to experience once more the light in its full cycle, reaching and embracing its way around the large empty space, then settling in the strange orange spectrum of sodium vapor street lamps that came on so early that time of year. I could have bathed in golden darkness one last time. But I left at the moment of Winter Solstice. I left my studio glowing at the best moment on the best day of the year.
In honor of the Armistice Day Centennial Celebration, November 11, 2018
the modest great war story of a modest great uncle
“I am in your place over here so that America returns to France your services,” George Gentieu wrote in a letter to his father from St. Nazaire, France on January 5, 1919. “Best Wishes 1842 – 1919, France – America, Father and Son.”
George is Pierre Gentieu’s third son, born in 1878. He was 40 when he served in the Army in France during World War 1. He liked to say that he served in France so that America could return to France the service of his father in the Civil War. Pierre Gentieu came to America from France in 1860 and was not even an American citizen when he fought in the Civil War. (In fact, 150 years later, Pierre’s descendants are still saying it was amazing that Pierre volunteered to fight in the Civil War when he was not yet a citizen.)
The Civil War had an enormous impact on Pierre’s family, because fighting in the Civil War profoundly affected Pierre’s entire life. Pierre’s involvement in Civil War veteran activities and all things military and commemorative influenced George, along with each one of his five siblings. For example, in 1901 George was Captain of the Appomattox Camp, No. 2, Md. Division of the Sons of Veterans, in Wilmington, Delaware.
George moved to Imperial, California. When the Big War came, George wanted to “give the Germans a sample of what we are in America when we get fighting mad.” He wanted to show solidarity with the French by fighting in France. Even though age 35 was the limit for military enlistments and George was 39, he filed for an age exception.
“I feel more fit at 39 years than I was at 20, know more, can take care of myself and am stronger,” he wrote. An age exception was made and in August of 1917, George enlisted in the California Army National Guard, which he joined because he heard they’d be going to France. This group formed the 143rd Field Artillery Regiment of the 65th Artillery Brigade, 40th Division, and George became a corporal. They were sent to France in August 1918, just four months before Armistice Day, November 11, 1918.
George did not face combat but did serve during the transitional period. Soldiers with technical skills were kept in France long after the war ended. As an engineer, George stayed in France until July 1919. He was granted three furloughs during that time, which he used to visit his father’s family in Orthez and Bordeaux three times.
George went to great lengths to become a soldier in the Great War against Germany, much like the efforts of his father in regard to the Civil War 55 years earlier. After all, George and Pierre were descended from soldiers who fought in Napoleon’s Army – the grandfather and great uncle of Pierre. “I want to uphold the honor of the country and the name of Gentieu,” George wrote to his mother on April 1, 1917. While accomplishing that, he had the good fortune of getting to know his French aunts, uncles and cousins. George experienced the culture of the ancestral home that was so important to the new American Gentieu family, because they so loved and honored their father, Pierre.
George and siblings, photographs by Pierre Gentieu. (George is usually the boy on the right.)
George never married and never had children. He was an investigative writer and owner of an industrial plumbing business. He died in Tucson, Arizona of a heart attack at age 52 in January 1931, just six months after Pierre passed away. He is photographed below with Pierre in 1919 after World War 1, and in 1929, the last photograph taken with his father.
June 6, 1919 letter George wrote to the folks from his station at St. Nazaire, France
The World Trade Center in the 1980's. We lived on Thompson Street, about a mile or so north, and the tall architecture loomed over us. We also had many freelance photo shoots in and around the World Trade Center, and made some beautiful photos of the New York Harbor from Windows on the World, which was on the top floor of North Tower.
Seventeen years ago
It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and we were living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I was working from home that morning, making arrangements for a big shoot scheduled for the next week. Clients would be flying in from San Francisco for the shoot. Tom came in from outside and said that he saw the super, who said that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. We lived about five miles east of downtown Manhattan. We ran up to the roof to see it. It was unbelievable to see a tower up in smoke. Later on, we witnessed the actual collapse of one of the towers.
Anna, who was 11 at the time, was safely at school in our neighborhood, so before noon that fateful morning, being in a bit of shock, we walked up to 7th Avenue, to the Rite Aid store. The air on our street was permeated with dust and smelled like burnt metal. At the store, the shelves that had medicine and first aid supplies were completely empty. The clerk said that people had been buying things up to donate to first aid centers.
We then walked to the nearby hospital to see if we could donate blood. They already had more people donate than they could handle, but we could check again later.
It was the worst moment in history that we have ever witnessed. The city was in mourning that week and the week after, and all work stopped.
My photo shoot had been postponed to the week after that. The clients told me that under the circumstances, they would not be flying to the shoot after all. The first day back in the studio, we had the casting for the shoot, and it was a record turn-out. We were all overwhelmed with grief and sadness, but we were all ready to get back to work.