Marianne Moore: Poetry

September 27, 2010

George Plank, Artist and Illustrator

George Wolfe Plank, the American illustrator and designer of magazine covers, was born on March 25, 1883, near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Growing up, he lived for a time in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, about six blocks from the Moore household. A self-taught artist, he worked in factories and department stores before moving to Philadelphia about 1907. In 1911, he was hired by Vogue and continued to supply illustrations and cover designs for the magazine until 1936. So popular was his fashion illustration that for a benefit for the Loomis Sanitarium, given at the Waldorf in New York, society matrons posed in tableaux vivants based on his Vogue covers.

Vogue Cover, November 1917

Vogue Cover, April 1916

Vogue Cover, November 1915

In 1914, Plank moved to England with his Philadelphia friends, James and Mildred Whitall. (James, a Quaker and wealthy scion of the Whitall Tatum Glass Company, was related to M. Carey Thomas, president of Bryn Mawr when Moore was there). Plank’s gift for friendship enabled him to move easily in all ranks of London society and his artistic talents were in great demand.

H. D.'s Hedgehog He drew illustrations for his friends’ books, including E. F. Benson’s The Freaks of Mayfair in 1916, Dorothy Wellesley’s Genesis in 1926 (Lady Gerald Wellesley, Dutchess of Wellington, friend of Yeats and the Sackvilles), Whitall’s English Years in 1832, H.D.’s Hedgehog and Marianne Moore’s The Pangolin and Other Verse in 1936.

The Pangolin and Other Verse

For Louis Untermeyer’s Food and Drink (1932), he drew one hundred “good things to eat and drink.” He also supplemented his Vogue income by designing costumes, sets, and programs for Edith Craig’s productions (Edith was the daughter of Ellen Terry and Edward W. Godwin, and sister of Gordon Craig); painting posters for the Red Cross during the First World War; designing chintz cloth and interior decorations for Lady Sackville, mother of Vita Sackville-West; and designing stationery and bookplates for H.D., Lady Carter, and Pauline Pappenheim, and many others. In 1936, Bryher hired him to illustrate Moore’s A Pangolin and Other Verse published by her Brendin Press. He even completed two royal commissions, including a map of South America in 1918, showing the Queen’s Needlework Guilds and, in 1921, the King’s bedroom for a dollhouse designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Queen Mary.

King's Bedroom, Queen Mary's Dollhouse

In 1927, Lutyens designed and built a house, Marvells, for Plank in Five Acres, Sussex, where he resided for the rest of his life. During World War II, Plank joined the Home Guard and nearly died of hyperthyroidism. He was naturalized as an Englishman in 1945 and spent the rest of his days gardening at his house, Marvells. George Plank died in his sleep on May 4, 1965 in a nearby nursing home.

Note: This text is adapted from the Beinecke Library, Yale University, Finding Aid for the Papers of George Wolfe Plank housed in the library.

August 21, 2010

“The Icosasphere”: Background

Published in Imagi 5, 2 (1950), 2, Moore’s poem contrasting economy and excess features a process  by which an engineer used Plexiglas to model a way to cut steel economically from flat sheets into triangles to be fitted together as a sphere. She cites an article from the New York Times which indicates that a steel globe was made in this way for the Navy.  Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map displays the principle whereby twenty triangles make a sphere:

Dymaxion Map Unfolded

Dymaxion Map Sphere

What Moore perhaps did not know was that Mr. J. O. Jackson, the inventor, worked for Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel; that may not have mattered much to her, but in 1967, she may have noted that this was the company that constructed the “Gateway Arch” at St. Louis, her first home stomping-ground (and would surely have inspired another “Granite and Steel” had it been completed earlier).

Moore credits the first four lines of “The Icosasphere” to Edward McKnight Kauffer, an American graphic artist (1890-1954) whom she met after he returned to the States from London where he had a successful career as an advertising poster artist, principally for the London Underground.

Edward McKnight Kauffer

Kauffer and Moore became close friends. His wife, Marion Dorn, an interior designer, referred to herself and Moore as “The Dromios,” given the similar pronunciation of their first names.  For a first-hand treatment of Moore’s relationship to the Kauffers, see Grace Schulman’s article “Marianne Moore and E. McKnight Kauffer: Two Characteristic Americans,”
Twentieth Century Literature (30:2-3), 1984 Summer-Fall, 175-80. Kauffer and his work were brought to the attention of American Airlines through Bernard Waldman, Schulman’s father, and he became a family friend.

Today, Kauffer’s posters have become classics. Exhibitions abound, the internet has many images of his work, and one poster from 1918 recently sold at Christie’s for more than $40,000.

Kauffer never created a poster for “Buckinghamsire hedgerows” but there is one that may give some sense of his art at a not too distant remove.

"North Downs" by Kauffer,

“The North Downs,” 1916, advertised transportation to the chalky hills that run for many miles through Surrey and Kent down to the Dover cliffs. While in the opposite direction from London as Buckinghamshire, which lies to the northwest on the way to Oxford, the hedgerows in the image must bear some resemblance to those further north. In any case, Kauffer’s description of birds building nests in “parabolic concentric curves” is an excuse to enjoy, here, one of his posters.

Two online biographies give further details about Kauffer: AIGA official cite is

The British Design Council has a slightly different version at

Kauffer’s design for the jacket of Ulysses (Random House, 1946) may be the most familiar image for Americans:

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