Monday, August 15, 2011

The Mystery of the Zinc Duck Plates

Or did Olive really go to New York?

I am a student of the Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie school of detect work, and I pride myself on being the first person in the movie theater to know who the killer was. This whole project speaks to me on a gut, junior high sleuth level. And here’s something that has been bugging my inner detective: I can’t find proof Olive attended Art Student League of New York. Several articles reference it, but we just can’t find proof. Between listening to "Toy Story 3"on Audio Book and handing out Trader Joe’s snacks in the car I was looking forward to some time with our little black book to do some sleuthing. (If you don't want to read all our musings and sleuthing, just skip to the bottom of this entry for The Big Reveal!)

Over the last week we have printed every article we can find on Olive and her family from The Wyoming Newspaper Website, and compiled them in chronological order. Our little black book has almost 200 mentions. Some of them are minor, some are sad, but all of them place Olive in a specific place and time, and give us a more complete picture of her. We can track her comings and goings just as easily if she had tweeted “Gr8 trip 2 Billings.” So I put on some kids rock-n-roll, handed everyone a bag of kettle corn, got out my little black book, and my Nancy Drew thinking cap. It’s clear Olive went to Art Institute of Chicago (1916-1918), and that she attended UW (1918-1919), although we use “attended” very loosely as her transcripts indicate she didn’t complete a single class over the 4 quarters she was there. But we just can’t substantiate the claim of Art Student League. We received an email from the registrar stating they have no record of Olive Fell, but asking if there could be another name she studied under. Olive was a shrewd brander, and was precise in always using Olive Fell. Even though she produced a lot of work while she was married we haven’t found a piece with Kuentzel on it. But we were still hopeful, so we sent the registrar all the spelling we have thus far for “Dinty Moore” (more about that later, but yeah, he had a real name, however everyone called him Dinty Moore. Yikes.) Kentzel, Kuentzel,Kensel.

In the car we tried to piece through the times she could have gone. The May 7, 1919 Wyoming Herald says:

Miss Olive Fell returned Saturday evening from Laramie where she has been taking a special art course. She reports everything very active at the State University and reports the “Cody bunch” which this year consists of nearly twenty students to be the real thing. Miss Fell expects to spend the summer months in Cody and next year to finish her art work at the Art Students League in New York City.

If she went to New York it would have been big news because at that time the “Goings On” section of the paper mentions every ice cream social and “motoring to Billings” that happened in Cody. A young woman headed to New York would have gotten top billing. However, our next reference for Olive doesn’t come up until May of 1920 when she and Amanda Clement are back in Cheyenne and are clearly planning to start a tearoom. The Shadowette opens Sept 15, 1920. (When I investigate The Secret of the Shadowette Tearoom, we’ll post more.)

After selling the business in 1922 Amanda planned to return to teaching at the University of Wyoming, and “In the fall Miss Fell expects to enter an eastern art school.” (Wy State Trib July 9,1922)

Clearly, she didn’t make it. Dec 27, 1922 “Miss Olive Fell, who has been visiting friends in Sioux City, Iowa for some time arrived to spend Christmas with her mother, Mrs. F.W. Oskins, and incidentally to attend the wedding of Miss Betty Beck with whom she attend the local schools.”

In 1923 she decorated a tearoom in Missoula, Montana, and in 1924 she took a job at the Cody post office. She opened the Pine Needle Bear in April of 1925, closed it after Christmas to take a class back at Art Institute of Chicago. Pine Needle opens again in the spring of 1926, and August 21, 1926 she married Sidney S. Kuentzel. So her window for attending Student Art League is small. Maybe Fall of 1920, or maybe during a murky time in 1922-23. But since theregistrar doesn’t have a record, and because no papers are mentioning it we didn’t think it was possible.

I wanted so badly for her to have attended Art Student League. It would help with the whole Georgia O’Keefe story, and I loved the idea of a scrappy Wyoming gal taking on New York. Preferably during prohibition. In her chaps and spurs. But as we put together Olive’s story I’m also seeing a shrewd business woman, who learned from one of the great huckster, Buffalo Bill. Was it possible that her desire and plans to go to New York never came true, but she folded it into her narrative anyway? Could she have fabricated a story about herself that was just taken as fact?

But then we started opening the crates.

Special mention has to be made about the crates, which have been moved from The Old Red Barn to the house. And although they used to be sitting in old orange cardboard crates they have now been moved into fancy plastic boxes from Walmart. My dad has been painstaking in getting everything ready for our visit. I don’t know how many hours it took him to sort and stack everything for us, but it is amazing. Now sitting in the garage are 6 plastic boxes of Olive’s work. Neatly organized and ready for inspection.

Saturday night while the kids watched The Little League World Series the adults had cocktails in the garage and opened boxes. Most of what we found will be for other posts, some treasures, and several reams of greeting cards. We had laid out all the ceramics on the tailgate of the truck, and were discussing the crude horse figurines while we left Matt to put everything away. He pulled out some zinc plates still neatly wrapped and bound. And that’s when he found the smoking gun. Or smoking duck!

You can see the final print here.

If you look closely at the zinc plate you can see the initials OFK. So sometime after her marriage in 1926, but before her divorce in 1936, Olive really went to New York. Amazingly, this is the only piece we have that includes the Kuenztel initial. Hopefully with the dates narrowed down that can help Art Student League turn up her registration.

Another question answered! It was Mrs. S.S. “Dinty Moore” Kuenztel in New York with an etching tool! Now Nancy Drew and her trusty driver are headed to The 4 Bear Ranch today to have a look around. Lots of photos to come, so stick around. Next mystery in the series, The Secret Names of "Fenced Sagebrush".

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