Digital Library and Archives
Milka Bliznakov Prize Final Report
submitted by Claire Bonney
Introduction | Work list Adrienne Gorska | Other useful information | Documents of interest |
Claire Bonney, Ph.D.
International Archive of Women in
12 July, 2002
Dear Milka, Donna, Marcia and members of the IAWA Board,
Research on Adrienne Gorska for the Milka Bliznakov Prize of the International Archives of Women in Architecture proved to be more complicated than even I had expected. Upon receiving the prize money in the summer of 2000, I spent more than half a year trying to get someone from the Foxhall family in Houston to speak or write to me. In the meantime, Adrienne Gorska's niece, Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall, who was to be my main informant, passed away. After finally tracking down one of Kizette's daughters, thanks to the kind assistance of Sandy Parkerson, a Houston art dealer, I was assured that the 45 boxes of documents in her mother's cellar were not going to be sorted out in the coming months. Although I did not completely given up hope of gaining access to these documents, I switched my attention to research in France. The small museum in Beaulieu-sur-Mer where Adrienne Gorska died had never heard of her or of any of her relatives. Laura Claridge, the author of a biography on Gorska's sister, the painter Tamara de Lempicka, said she no longer knew the address of Françoise Dupuis de Montaut, Gorska's stepdaughter, although she had corresponded with her as late as 1998. There are more than 20 Françoise Dupuis listed in France's white pages. I called them all, getting responses such as, "I don't believe my wife would want to talk to anyone like you," and leaving messages with telephone answering tapes to no avail. The architect's stepson, Jean-Pierre de Montaut, also failed to respond to telephone messages and a letter. In the Fall of 2001, Frédéric Migayrou, a curator at the Centre Pompidou, called me, I imagine, after having read the blurb on the Milka Bliznakov Prize on the internet, to accuse me of blocking all research on Adrienne Gorska. He informed me that if any documents or pieces concerning Gorska were available, he would purchase them for the museum immediately. He and I then traded photocopies of the scanty information we both possessed and I was jolted into attempting to pursue a less traditional academic approach to ferreting out Gorska than I had previously.
At the end of May this year, I spent a week in Paris in an attempt to find just what remains of Gorska's work. While the cinemas I located have all been renovated, I was able to find two buildings that bear testimony to Gorska's hand: the apartment house at 3, rue Casimr Pinel in Neuilly-sur-Seine,and the house of the fabulously wealthy American Barbara Harrison in Rambouillet. There, I was lucky enough to meet with town's historic preservation officer and show him my documentation. Never having heard of Gorska or Harrison, but being familiar with Mallet-Stevens, he was fascinated and promised to take action on the house immediately. I left him another pile of photocopies and promised to remain in contact.
Let me regale you with just one story to give you a picture of my life as an itinerant architectural historian. Before leaving for Paris, I had decided to ascertain whether or not the Harrison House in Rambouillet was still extant. Having no street address and not being able to imagine just cruising the town and hoping for luck, I contacted the Bibliothèque nationale where I was assured that telephone books for all of France were in their holdings. Monday morning of my first day in Paris: I trek down there to Perrault's new masterpiece, not letting myself be daunted by the huge expanse of boardwalk to be crossed nor allowing myself to contemplate which of the four megatowers could possibly contain phone books, I duly reported in at the next entrance. After a purse search and passport perusal, I was admitted to admittance. After a 20-minute wait, the kind woman at the desk suggested that I would be much better served at the smaller, free-of-charge Bibliothèque de la Ville de Paris. Out of library, into construction site, back to the center of Paris. Another purse and passport search. Another 20-minute wait. Inscription into library. But no - this library has only metropolitan Paris phone books and Rambouillet is, in fact, a suburb. Ladies there, however, also very kind, suggest the Musée de la Poste in Montparnasse. Having already learned something on my first day in Paris, I cleverly telephoned first. No, they do not have the telephone books but a new museum in the suburbs does. Phone number noted. Phone number wrong. Re-telephone. Very nice woman this time trying to explain to me how to get to Ivry-sur-Seine by public transport. It is still only 10:30 in the morning and I am exhausted and drenched at the unroofed and hence mugger-free public telephone booth. "I'll be right down," I say. "No, don't come today," replies the voice at the other end. For heaven's sakes why not?, I wonder. "The bobinette is occupied for the whole day." Out of a previous life of high school French lessons wafts the fact that a bobinette is a microfiche reader. The new museum has only one. The museum is located on a street bearing the same name as the famous French singer Serge Ginsbourg with whom I am surely familiar. I will be admitted tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday: up at 6.30, in Ivry-sur-Seine after a mere three metro changes. Following my Leconte Plan de Paris, the main street here should be Rue Lénin. It is no longer, having been renamed, I imagine, following the thrall of economic globalization (mental note made to update my Leconte). Orienting myself on a church and the railway lines rather than trying to follow street names, I arrive at the outskirts of Ivry-sur-Seine and the rue Ginsbourg, a neighborhood in smells and sights highly reminiscent of the Bowery. Stepping carefully over broken glass and keeping an eye on the only person I had seen on my half-hour walk in case he is a stalker, I locate the museum at 9 a.m. Early and relieved, I crunch kitty-corner on more broken glass to a café to treat myself to coffee and a croissant as a reward. The place is occupied by two customers and a bartender shouting in an Eastern bloc language to hear themselves over the high-decibel loudspeakers pouring in the radio's disco station. Cigarette butts from the last two weeks are pressed 10 inches high to line the bar where it meets the floor. A weary elderly janitor shuffles to and fro carrying overfilled black plastic trashbags from a gaping bathroom door to the garbage skip handily located just outside. Moving into my detective V.I. Warshawski mode, I place my order. Restored by this petit déjeuner, I make my way back over the glass to the museum. The bobinette is free; the correct microfiche roll was waiting for me. Within 30 seconds, I have the Harrison address at Boulevard Voirin, 2 in Rambouillet.
By 9.40 I am charging across Paris to access a high-speed train to Rambouillet at the Gare Montparnasse. This train, once the automatic credit-card user friendly ticket machine has been mastered, bullets me past Versailles at a speed where not only the chateau but every single tree is indiscernable. Awash in a fuzzy green blob of dizzying countryside, I land in bucolic Rambouillet at 11.45. To my infinite dismay, the village map, neatly posted in front of the train station, does not indicate a Boulevard Voirin. Quick thinking makes me RUN to the library before it inevitably closes at 12 for two hours and throw myself at the mercy of the local librarian: "Yes indeed, Boulevard Voirin, an address from the 1930s. That street was renamed after the war, Madame. Unfortunately, eight of your compatriots liberated it." Why was that so unfortunate?, I want to know. "For them it was unfortunate; they were fusillaged," he said. 12:15: I find the house. Whoever lives here is surely just sitting down to lunch. How embarassing to be here precisely at this moment. I would dearly like to run away. I hear myself telling my students how easy it all is. All you have to do is knock; all they can do is say no (Okay, try to forget that fellow in New Orleans who shot the disoriented Japanese tourist on his front porch because he thought he was breaking and entering). I straighten my rumpled trench coat (de rigueur for both architectural historians and detectives) which is somewhat mottled by baby bottle-milk stains, reshuffle my papers and photocopies, and try to look cool, professional, sophisticated and sincere. I knock but could still run away. The door opens. I shove my photocopies under the woman's nose and stammer my mission in French so execrable that it would have the Académie in tears. A flurry to get husband and son, a cheese exporter who is just back from New York and Japan. How nice that I am from New York too. How wonderful to see these old pictures. Oh, that old mosaic bath. We tore it out when we moved in. It was fairly run-down anyway.
What follows is the filtering in of all information, informants' names, useful addresses that I have thus far encountered into the main body of my proposal. I intend to carry on research myself but if anyone else wanted to continue this work, I will at least have saved them a great deal of time and effort.
With many thanks for your enthusiastic support and best regards,
Title | Introduction | Work list Adrienne Gorska | Other useful information | Documents of interest |
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