‘Such Friends’: The Quinn family, my brother and me

John Quinn was born in 1870, the first of eight children to Mary Quinlan, who had come to Ohio from Ireland as an orphan almost 20 years before, and James W. Quinn, whose family emigrated from County Limerick around the same time. Only five of the other children survived—a good percentage for those days—one younger boy, James, and four girls, Anne, Jessie, Clara and Julia. I haven’t been able to track down birth dates for any of them.

When my brother Patrick and I went searching for John Quinn in his hometown of Fostoria, Ohio, we naturally started with the graveyard, where we found a large Celtic cross and plain flat headstones for most of the family members.

Here’s me again with the Quinn cross:

Me and Quinn

I was particularly interested in the Quinn plot because family deaths are what sparked John’s first trip to Ireland, leading to all of his other international adventures.

Quinn’s father died in either 1896 or 1897,

James W Quinn

when Quinn would have been in his late twenties, a successful lawyer in New York City with law degrees from Georgetown and Harvard Universities. According to one report, he took his father’s death quite hard, perhaps because he spent most of his time in New York rather than with the family back in Fostoria.

Right after the turn of the century, his mother,

Mary Quinn

 

and one or two of his sisters,

Annie

Jessie

died within either ‘days’ or ‘months’ of each other, depending on which source you believe.

Clara became an Ursuline nun, so might be buried with her order, and Julia married a local druggist, Will Anderson.

Julia Quinn Anderson

Have no idea what happened to his brother, James, but it sure looks as though he died:

James

One thing Patrick and I noticed was that John Quinn’s headstone had been there a lot longer than the others:

John

So he was probably first in and the others, whether deceased before or after him in 1924, were moved there later.

The deaths of the women in his family so close together is what motivated John to travel to Ireland for the first time, in the summer of 1902, when he met William Butler Yeats, then 37, Lady Augusta Gregory, 50, and other members of the Irish Literary Renaissance. This was the beginning of his life as a supporter of the arts and friend to the artists of his time.

After my Dad died in 1992, I too went to Ireland in the summer, 90 years later. It was my second trip, and I took part in an archaeological dig. ‘To find out if your roots are brown or red,’ as one friend told me.

On that trip I met Tony and the Dixons, the beginning of my life as an international traveller and Irish wife.

After visiting the graveyard, Patrick and I stopped in the Foster’s Museum on Main Street:

Foster's museum

and picked up a DVD about Fostoria that I have yet to watch.

It was created by Leonard Skonecki, so my brilliant brother decided to Google ‘Fostoria Historical Society,’ and was able to leave a message that we were researching Quinn and wanted to talk to him.

After we had seen what we needed to in Fostoria, we headed down the road to Tiffin, Ohio, where the Quinn family lived when John was born. They moved soon after, but we figured we might find something.

Halfway there, Patrick’s in-car phone rang. It was Mr. Skonecki! He was very helpful and suggested that we forget Tiffin and high tail it over to the Fostoria library. He told us which librarians are in charge of the Quinn collection, and gave us his blessing to use his name. Thank you, Mr. Skonecki!

Patrick did a quick U-turn in the middle of OH State Route 18 East and back to Fostoria we went.

The Lovely Helpful Staff of the Fostoria library showed us binders filled with papers and clippings and letters and print outs of emails, all related to Quinn. And then pointed to the clock to emphasize that we only had about one hour to deal with it before they closed.

So Patrick and I spent an hour in a whirlwind of skimming, copying, collating, and stapling. I came home with a whole pile of stuff to go through at my leisure.

One of the most interesting finds was an article, ‘Quinn—Unsung Fostorian,’ in a publication dated July of 1972. With this picture. Seems as though something has happened to the Quinn Celtic cross since then:

Quinn celtic cross3

Next time I’ll tell you what I found thanks to the Lovely Helpful Staff in the New York Public Library. And after that, about Quinn’s relationship with Charles Foster’s daughter Annie…

This year I’ll be piecing together my planned biography of John Quinn (1870-1924). Read more about him on the link to your right: ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man.’

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

‘Such Friends’:  John Quinn and me

Some of you are familiar with my near-obsession with John Quinn (1870-1924), the Irish-American art collector [to put it mildly] who appeared Zelig-like in all my research into early 20th century writers’ salons [Cf. ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man,’ on the right].

Last summer, on my trip to the States, I spent a tax-deductible day with the helpful staff at the New York Public Library, going through his papers. And thanks to my wonderful brother, Patrick J. Donnelly, we spent a whole day driving around Ohio where Quinn was born and grew up.

I owe it to all those who helped me, and to John Quinn, to finally embark on my long-planned work on his life and his role in the birth of modernism.

For the past 15 months in this blog I’ve been chronicling ‘my writers’ with stories of what they were doing before and during their times as ‘such friends’ hanging out together in living rooms and cafes in Ireland, England, France and America. My original plan was to keep going and tell the stories of what happened to them after their time in these groups. Let me know if you are heartbroken that those blogs are now on hold.

Instead, I am going to chronicle my search for Quinn. I could just write and self-publish a standard biography of him on Amazon. But—why? He’s an interesting guy, but there is a bigger picture.

Quinn was both an observer of and participant in the Irish Literary Renaissance, the Armory Show and the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He was in Dublin, London, Paris and New York when the salons were happening. What a point of view!

And, even more important, he supported the arts and the artists. In unusually creative ways. I think we can learn a lot from him that would help today’s W B Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Dorothy Parker. And Joyce.

Come with me on my journey. John Quinn and me. We are ‘such friends.’

johnquinn

John Quinn      1870-1924

 

 

 

In the west of Ireland, outside Gort, Summer, 1897…

…poet William Butler Yeats, just turned 32, traveling with a friend, visits a mutual acquaintance, amateur playwright Edward Martyn, 38, at the Martyn family home, Tullira.

Tullira today, in private hands

Tullira today, in private hands

Lady Augusta Gregory, 45, a friend of Edward who lives a few miles away, stops by.

Willie and Augusta [OMG! That’s our cats!] have met before in her London apartment where, as wife of an MP, she held salons for the Irish Protestants living there. But this is the first time the two have had a chance to get to know each other.

To continue the conversation, Augusta invites Willie and Edward over to hers, the nearby Coole Park, family home of her late husband, MP Sir William Gregory.

Coole House, which is no longer standing, located in Coole Park which is open to the public.

Coole House, which is no longer standing, located in Coole Park which is open to the public.

As Lady Gregory writes later:

Though I had never been at all interested in theatres, our talk turned on plays…I said it was a pity we had no Irish theatre where such plays [as Martyn’s] could be given. Mr. Yeats said that it had always been a dream of his, but he had of late thought it an impossible one, for it could not at first pay its way, and there was no money to be found for such a thing in Ireland …We went on talking about it, and things seemed to grow possible as we talked, and before the end of the afternoon we had made our plan.”

As Yeats marches around the drawing room dictating, Lady Gregory types, and they draft letters to send to her wealthy and influential friends, asking for money to start their theatre.

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

In Tiffin, Ohio, 145 years ago, on April 24, 1870…

…John Quinn was born, the first son of two Irish immigrants. He grew up in middle-class Fostoria, Ohio, and went to the University of Michigan. While working full-time in a government job in Washington, DC, he went to Georgetown University law school at night. After receiving his law degree, he earned an advanced degree in international relations from Harvard. Not bad for the son of a shanty-Irish baker.

Quinn then moved to New York City, which was to be his home for the rest of his life, so he was there when the Algonquin Round Table wits were in the newspapers every day. He predictably landed a job with a major New York law firm and worked on high profile corporate cases. During a two-year period there were quite a few deaths in his family—parents, sisters, etc.—and he began to explore his Irish roots by going back to ‘the old sod.’ While attending a Gaelic language festival in the west of Ireland, he met Lady Augusta Gregory and other friends of W B Yeats involved in the Irish Literary Renaissance. While helping them found the Abbey Theatre, he started his own law firm in 1906.

John Quinn, 1870-1924

John Quinn, 1870-1924

Quinn became involved in New York’s Tammany Hall politics, but when his candidate didn’t get the nomination at the 1912 Democratic Party convention, he became disgusted with the whole system (go figure). After that he turned his considerable energies to art and literature.

During the first two decades of the 20th century he managed to:

  • Help organize the Armory Show, securing paintings from Roger Fry’s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit in London, and Leo and Gertrude Stein’s collection at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris,
  • Fight Congress to have the tariff on contemporary art changed,
  • Bail out the Abbey Theatre after they were arrested for performing The Playboy of the Western World in Philadelphia,
  • Have an affair with Lady Gregory and a number of other much younger women,
  • Support Yeats’ father in New York City by buying his paintings,
  • Argue the original case to have excerpts of Ulysses published in the United States,
  • Support James Joyce in Paris by buying his manuscripts of Ulysses as he wrote them,
  • Fund the transatlantic review where Ernest Hemingway worked when he first came to Paris, and
  • Amass an incredible collection of modern art, stashed around his Manhattan apartment, focused primarily on European painters and sculptors.

During that time he kept up a detailed correspondence with all of the above as well as Ezra Pound, Joseph Conrad, Augustus John and other cultural luminaries of the early 20th century. When I did my research, Quinn kept popping up, Zelig-like, in photos such as this one:

James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn in Paris

James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn in Paris

Quite a guy. I get tired just thinking about all he accomplished.

Quinn died of intestinal cancer at the age of 54, and, having no heirs, willed that his art collection be sold off and dispersed among museums and collectors around the world. And it was.

This summer I’m planning to visit the States—including Ohio, where he grew up, and New York City, where his papers are. And [you read it here first], on this date, five years from now, 2020, his 150th birthday, I plan to publish an autobiography of this amazing man.

So happy birthday, John Quinn!

100 years ago this month, October 1914…

In America…

Lawyer and art collector John Quinn, 44, has plenty to worry about.

John Quinn, 1870-1924

John Quinn, 1870-1924

He is looking out for—and financing—Irish painter John B. Yeats, 75, father of his friend, Irish poet William Butler Yeats, 49. When the younger Yeats was visiting New York recently, the two friends agreed that Quinn would buy some of WB’s original manuscripts, and the poet would use the proceeds to pay for some of his father’s expenses.

But Quinn is more worried about Walter Pach, 31, one of his partners in the Armory Show of

the year before. They have decided that the Germans probably won’t occupy Paris soon, so Walter can sail off to France for a full month to convince European artists like Pablo Picasso, about to turn 33, Henri Matisse, 44, and others that they should lend their latest works to galleries in New York.

Pach and Quinn are determined to continue the work of the Armory show by organizing

–and financing—continual exhibits of the latest in art from Europe.

Once in Paris, Pach gets in touch with Matisse through fellow American Michael Stein, 49, who encourages the French artist to lend his works. Quinn had just bought Matisse’s Blue Nude from Michael’s brother Leo, 42, for a bargain basement price.

Blue Nude by Henri Matisse, 1907

Blue Nude by Henri Matisse, 1907

Leo is eager to get out of Paris, away from his sister, Gertrude, 40, and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, 37. The siblings have been fighting over who owns which paintings, so Leo is happy to sell what he can rather than leave it to Gertrude.

Quinn decides he will make good use of his own political contacts to help Pach on his

mission. He writes to the son of a friend, who is working in the American embassy in Paris,

‘I don’t want to burden you with unnecessary things, but I have told Mr. Pach that I was a

personal friend of your father’s…and that there was some poetic justice in my writing you about Mr. Pach’s mission, because it was your father and I that were really responsible, I feel, for the free art provisions in the Underwood Tariff Bill.’

Quinn and Congressman Oscar Underwood senior, 52, had managed the year before to get

US law changed so that works of art less than 20 years old would no longer be subject to higher import taxes. That was a big enough battle. Quinn is not going to let something like a world war stop his fellow Americans from experiencing the latest in European art.

Pach gets the paintings.

For more information about John Quinn, see the page to your right, https://suchfriends.wordpress.com/about-such-friends/i-want-to-tell-you-about-an-amazing-man/

And for more about the Armory Show, see the piece: https://suchfriends.wordpress.com/about-such-friends/the-armory-show-1913/