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Collecting One’s Self
RDF at HPL's grave - 1999.
Last Halloween I moved into an apartment in Salem and have been struggling to make it into a home. It’s been a few years since I’ve lived with a woman and the choices I’ve made furnishing the apartment shows this plainly. Now, I’m too old to have centerfolds or beer-ads up on the walls, though I do have a signed and personalized “Alien” print by H. R. Giger in my bathroom. I’ve made some poor decisions (like cheap pots and pans and homemade drapes), I continue to deeply miss a woman’s touch concerning such things, but collecting one’s self and moving ahead is necessary. Choices right and wrong are made and we’ve got to live with them.
I’ve always believed what a person has on their walls is a fair reflection of that person. As these things go, I’d left behind a mailing-tube with some art-prints with an ex-girlfriend, and retrieving it was one of my first steps into making the Salem apartment into a home. In 1980, while living several miles away in Lynn, I attended a gallery show in Boston which featured the works of Barry Windsor-Smith (best known for his work on the Marvel comic, Conan the Barbarian), and Robert Gould (most often associated with illustrating Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone book-covers), and purchased the gallery print signed by both artists. Well, that fell off the wall and the broken glass ruined the print. A second copy was purchased from Bob Gould (and signed by him), while he worked at Framer’s Workshop in Brookline. That copy disappeared when one of my relationships went bad. Several years back I bought an unsigned third copy at a sci-fi bookstore in Chicago. Upon retrieving it from Brooklyn, I had the print framed at Framer’s Workshop. Gould hadn’t worked there in many years, though there are still many photographs of him and the staff on their walls. It felt right to frame it there and it feels right above my couch here in Salem. It gives me a sense of continuity (or, at the very least, persistence).
Other signed prints followed. Barry Smith, Jeff Jones, Alan Lee, and Frank Frazetta all combine, on my walls, to demonstrate my appreciation of fantasy art, and that they’re up at all signals that lack of “a woman’s touch” I mentioned above. Through marriages and live-together relationships I’ve always had an office, a study, or just a separate room to work, and my books and prints were naturally there. Now, I’ve got a signed Frazetta in my kitchen! This bachelor stuff is difficult.
Recently it occurred to me that perhaps I’d been placing too much emphasis on fantasy art and not on my other interests. I started investigating the purchase of autographs by favorite authors and the first one I happened upon (which I could afford) was Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, Barsoom, and much more. It was a cancelled check, signed and featuring his printed name and Tarzana, California address. My family history holds that my grandmother worked at Sears in Chicago at the same time as Burroughs, when he wrote his “Under the Moon of Mars,” later published as A Princess of Mars. His second novel, Tarzan of the Apes, assured his literary immortality, but I’ve always preferred his ‘Mars’ series. And ‘Venus’... And ‘Pellucidar’... But, the first several Tarzan books were okay. In my heart, it was settled: Edgar Rice Burroughs belonged somewhere on my walls!
So, I bought the cancelled check. As these things go, one needs a nice photograph to go with the autograph, so I telephoned Danton Burroughs, the grandson of ERB, and head of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., for a suggestion as to where I might acquire a good photograph of his granddad. He chuckled, asked me a few questions, mentioned some sources, then let out a deep sigh. “I’ve got just the photograph,” he said. Then he made a nervous sound, as if he’d just remembered something, and added, “But, the girls [I believe this refers to his secretary and co-workers; RDF] remind me I should ask for ten dollars to cover postage and handling.” Polite fellow, he seemed genuinely interested in my appreciation of his granddad’s writings, and ten bucks is a six-pack and smokes. I informed him of an online service that was selling his family copyrighted photographs for big bucks. He didn’t sound happy upon hearing about that. So, I dropped a check in the mail and waited.
A couple of weeks later I opened my mail-box and saw a thick, folded envelope inside. I knew instantly what it was and what had happened. Danton, or one of his “girls,” had sent the requested photograph of ERB, protecting it with corrugated cardboard, didn’t write Do Not Fold on the envelope, it traveled safely from Tarzana, California to Salem, Massachusetts, and because my regular mail-woman was either sick or on vacation, some punk substitute folded the envelope and shoved it in my box. He/she could have left it on the floor, like others do. The cardboard was thick and had to have made a loud noise as it was bent. Later, I mentioned this to the regular mail-woman, but the damage was already done. It shouldn’t have been, but it was. The photograph is on quality paper, but there was still a noticeable crease down the middle, and I had to dry-mount the photograph before framing. The dry-mounting took out, perhaps, ninety percent of the crease. The check and photograph are now framed together and enjoy a place of prominence in my home. Things happen, we go on...
[Note: I believe I mentioned in a recent column that there’s a local fellow who says he’s got a short, signed letter from J.R.R. Tolkien, has an entire wall of Burroughs’ material, and I tried to trade my framed autograph and photo for the letter. He can’t find the letter, but the offer is still on the table. I may never be able to afford a Tolkien autograph, but I could afford another Burroughs’. It’s a collector-on-a-budget thing and if you don’t understand, that’s okay. Different collectors collect different things.]
Having Burroughs up changed things. Oh, I’ve got a signed poster of Tim Leary and Richard Alpert’s return to Harvard after twenty years up, a framed cover of ESOP Vol. 20 (featuring my “Karanovo Zodiac”), and soon I’ll begin to frame all the old photographs of stone enigmas and inscriptions that I’ve been collecting, but I began to reach within and think about what I really wanted to represent me. I thought of the late Roy Krenkel...
Among a certain crowd Krenkel’s work with E.C. comics, his Burroughs’ material, his getting Frazetta into painting book-covers, and his love of drawing, is legendary. He’s regarded with the finest, and that he so loved what he was doing, puts him near the top of any list. Two memories come to mind: the first, from 1974, is when Cities and Scenes from the Ancient World (by Roy G. Krenkel, Philadelphia: Owlswick Press, 1974), was released, my buddy Danny bought a copy, and I chose instead to invest twenty bucks in an ounce of herbal medication. Today, Danny’s copy has long since been sold, the book goes for $135 or more, depending on condition, and I better move on, as discussing what-ifs could take a long time. At 15 I’d been a fan of Krenkel for a third of my life, and that leads to my second associated memory, from 1990 (perhaps 1991), when I visited the Frazetta Museum in E. Stroudsburg, PA, began talking with Ellie (Frank’s wife), others joined in, Krenkel was brought up, and we all passed a wonderful half-hour discussing Krenkel, Wood, and Williamson, barely mentioning Frank, at all. Krenkel commands that degree of gee-whiz. When I was younger, Frazetta ink sketches were going for $50 and $100, depending on complexity and subject. Krenkel? $10-$25, if you could get them. Today, some of those same Frazetta sketches are selling for $1000 to $1750, and more. Krenkel? I jumped into E-Bay and decided to find out.
Some of that “certain crowd” who
Krenkel were apparently online and several Krenkel works were for
A small, brown colored-pencil sketch captured my fancy. It was of
a young woman riding on a bird-like creature, in my opinion,
a Burroughs’ scene, perhaps from Thuvia,
Maid of Mars, or Llana
of Gathol. Simple lines. Confidence. Dead
on vision. The bid was then a little over a hundred bucks and
were a couple of days to go in the auction. I got excited.
A purportedly signed Krenkel sketch purchased on E-Bay..
I tried to place a higher bid on E-Bay, the online auction service required I register, immediately informed me I’d registered some time before that ...and they didn’t like my password. I spent an hour trying to convince E-Bay’s programming to believe I was a nice guy. Then I noticed some small print that informed me some AOL subscribers might have problems. Yeah, I’m on AOL, but worse was that I’d recently upgraded to AOL/Verizon DSL service with that nasty AOL.6. Time was running out, easy answers didn’t look promising, this was an affordable Krenkel at auction, and I decided to make things happen.
A friend of mine has a non-AOL online service, has participated in purchases with PayPal, and I called him up and screamed, “You must bid now! I’ll guarantee the money! Do it now!” He laughed, said if it was a computer problem I had to come to his computer and do it myself. Fair enough. The next morning I bid (in my friend’s name) on the Krenkel sketch. It was around $130 or so at the time, I put in a secret proxy bid of no more than $250, and after a couple of back-and-forths, the sketch was mine for $156 and postage. I would swear I afterwards walked around for a couple of days at peace with the universe. All seemed right. You guessed it; it wasn’t.
The artwork soon arrived with several photocopies about a Sotheby’s auction which featured a Krenkel lot, an invoice from one dealer to another, and copies of e-mails sent between one dealer and a couple of Krenkel experts. There seems to be a good chance that the sketch is authentic, but the signature is highly suspicious. It’s Roy G. Krenkel, or RGK; the sketch is clearly signed RFK. Peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and there’s a reason why we have mandated waiting periods to buy a gun. The sketch was not listed on E-Bay as having a signature that was unusual. The gif of the sketch was small, blurry, and had a huge watermark. And, I should have noticed the RFK in the online gif. Damn!
Collecting one’s self is seldom easy. And, it’s probably not meant to be. It took me nearly a half hour to decide on the frame and mat. Brown colored-pencil art with a normal graphite signature. Deep reds, rich browns, black, and beige all figured in. I believe I own an original sketch by Roy Krenkel, that it very well could be from a Burroughs or Burroughs’ influenced setting, and it has an initialed signature either poorly forged, executed in his later years, during poor health, and his pencil jumped from the page and didn’t complete the ‘G’, or that somehow we live in the Twilight Zone and Krenkel was thinking about Robert F. Kennedy, my admiration for him, and that my initials are RF. Damn! I’ve got a Krenkel, just like I’ve always wanted, but with a signature from Scully knows where! Collecting one’s self and moving ahead are necessary.
Back to the walls. I derive a great deal of pleasure from looking at certain fantasy art, but it’s with the literature which inspired those certain works I find myself much closer to home. The Tolkien letter remains unlocated, there was a batch of Robert E. Howard letters that were sold a dozen years ago and are out there somewhere, and I went back to E-Bay and looked under Lovecraft. We sometimes take a step forward, before we take a step backwards, so as to better understand where it is we truly stand.
Ah, New England! Whether with Thanksgiving, the Salem Witch Trials, Edgar Allen Poe staying in Boston’s Bay Village, Lovecraft and Providence, RI, the daytime soap-opera Dark Shadows, or now Stephen King and Maine, there’s a gothic perversity about New England which has long claimed me. Oh, and then there are all those funny stone structures and weird marks. Enough said. On E-Bay I found a most precious letter on auction. It was from Sonia H. Davis (1883-1972) to Sam Loveman, a friend and correspondent of her second husband, H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). [Note: In 1921 when HPL first began writing to Sonia, she was Mrs. Sonia H. Greene, a widow; "Davis" was from a third marriage.] An idea seized me: what if I could collect letters from husband and wife, though divorced, and bring them together again. Right. Mr. and Mrs. Lovecraft together in Arkham. Silly. I should worry about stem-cell research, fix my car, or find a woman who can assist me in making a home. Still, it’s a grand idea and I'll give it a go.
Their marriage was brief and troubled, but Sonia cared enough about HPL to keep in touch with his friends and even write up a couple reminisces (see: The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft, by Sonia H. Davis, West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, and Lovecraft Remembered, edited by Peter Cannon, Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1999.) A somewhat rare find is The Normal Lovecraft, edited by Gerry de la Ree, Saddle River, N. J.: Self-published by de la Ree, 1973, containing "The Normal Lovecraft" by Wilfred B. Talman, "Sonia and H.P.L." by L. Sprague de Camp, and "When Sonia Sizzled" by Gerry de la Ree. Some myths and misconceptions regarding Lovecraft, homosexuality, and Sonia and the occult are clarified here.
Sonia Haft Greene; pic "borrowed" from a Spanish Lovecraft site.
So, it seems a trip back to Providence sometime soon might be in order. I haven’t visited Lovecraft’s grave in a couple of years, the John Hays Library at Brown University has an extensive HPL collection and could have some nice photographs of Sonia, and the downtown area has really blossomed of late. As far as visiting any of those new “gentlemen’s clubs,” I’ll have to wait and see who I travel with.
RDF at the Phillips/Lovecraft Family Monument, 1989.
Any suggestions, information, or opinions about the Krenkel sketch would be appreciated.
avoiding collection services,