Sunday, January 15, 2017

SOLD! Eventually, the right buyer always finds his book.

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Events of nearly a century past are in the headlines today, as Texas has 426,000 miles of gas and oil pipelines, so maybe it is no surprise the last big empty part of that vast state is getting one run through it by a Mexican billionaire. It’s called the Big Bend Country:

Here, remoteness lends a sense of timelessness. The nearest commercial airport is a three-hour drive. Fewer than 10,000 people live in Brewster County, which is far bigger than the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and almost all of them in the town of Alpine. If you have seen the final moments of the 2014 film Boyhood, you know what the mountainous Chihuahuan desert landscape looks like. The best-known place is Marfa, the improbable artsy enclave beloved of New York feature writers.

A Tennessee school teacher, Horace Wilson Morelock (1873-1966) ended up in the big empty that was the Big Bend Country, and spent the 1930s and ‘40s on two great visions: turning the struggling Sul Ross State Teacher’s College into a fully accredited university; and preserving 1250 square miles of the Big Bend as national park.

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Henry Bemis Books is pleased to offer a truly rare specimen of Texas history:

Morelock, Horace Wilson Big Bend Panorama: Observations, Speeches and Reflections of a Pioneer College President (The Naylor Co., San Antonio, 1st ed. 1953). Born in Cleo, Tennessee in 1873, Horace Morlock migrated to Texas to become a school superintendent in 1904, took his MA from Harvard, and in 1922 became the second president of what is now Sul Ross University, then all of two years old. Morelock spent 23 years at the helm, building and then defending the college from the Texas legislature, while becoming a part of the fabric of the Big Bend Country. At 80 he collected essays, articles and reminiscences of his times into this interesting and rare volume; this copy is inscribed to his sister-in-law in October, 1953. Morelock continued as Sul Ross’ president emeritus until he died, at 93, in 1966. Hardcover, red boards with a yellow dust jacket; some tears around the head and at the edges. Black and white photos; indexed. HBB price: $30 obo.

Fifty years after Morelock’s death, the fate of his great project is uncertain at best. In the current issue of Believer Magazine, Stephanie La Cava gives an account of the undoing of Horace Morelock’s vision:

As of last week, there have been over a dozen cases of condemnation proceedings against local landowners in Western Texas in the interest of Energy Transfer Partner’s private contractors beginning work on the 143 mile Trans Pecos natural gas pipeline. The three companies in the ETP (two helmed by billionaire businessmen) argue that the pipeline will bring tax revenue and jobs, as well as purported environmental benefits. Opposition believes these jobs will be short-lived and and leave the pristine desert landscape destroyed. There are concerns about the transparency of both the ETP and government. It’s a complicated argument. I wanted to ask two very different sometime residents to talk about their personal history of creative production in Marfa in particular.

The undisturbed land has a rich cultural context. It’s not valuable because of any one legacy. “Marfa’s become self-aware, and that is a bit of a problem,” Flavin Judd tells me. “It’s Marfa’s price to pay for not becoming a ghost town, which was the other alternative. Don didn’t like the idea of an artist’s community and thought it was ridiculous, so that was not his intention or interest. His interest was finding a beautiful place to learn, think, and work.” Judd is the son of the late artist Donald Judd, known for his minimalist works, the subject of a MoMa retrospective next year. It was Donald Judd who put Marfa on the proverbial cultural map, establishing his studio, residence, library there surrounded by site specific works that maximize the landscape’s space and light.

Eileen Myles bought a house in Marfa just last year. I emailed her to ask how she feels Judd’s presence around her there. “Marfa is so inflected by him,” she says. “You take the tour… I was never so interested in NY. Minimalism was what I walked into when I came to NY so I thought of it as very 70s and Soho and then there it was writ large. You kind of get infected. I want a big long table like that. I want that wall. Half the town looks like Judd. He makes more sense there with the scale and the surrounding land. He got something right.”

All this said, Flavin’s brief account of his father’s beloved Marfa is moving in this context. We spoke earlier this week in New York. He was visiting from Los Angeles, where he currently resides. Every six weeks he returns to Marfa.

“For Don, it was all about the landscape Marfa just happened to be in the landscape. As soon as we got there, he rented some land below town just to camp out while we stayed in the town. The idea, the goal, was to be out in the landscape.

Don was from the Midwest, he lived in Dallas; Omaha; he lived in Kansas City. He moved to New York because that’s where the art world was, that’s where you had to be. As soon as he had some money, he bought a land rover and we started driving down to Baja California. We’d drive out to LA, go to Baja, and drive back, but for reasons that had nothing to do with culture or landscape he couldn’t establish a house in Mexico. It was too complicated. So, he looked on this side of the border, and found Marfa—specifically the landscape around Marfa.

I remember driving into Marfa the first time. He’d said ‘Oh, I rented a house.’ I kept pointing at houses saying “Is that it? Is that it?” In 76, he bought the first ranch and that was the finalizing of the reason to be there and after that we were going to the ranch every weekend. The thing about the land is that it doesn’t change. The ranch looks exactly as it did in 1977.

It was the realest real thing.There’s absolutely nothing else more present, for him. It was the most powerful thing there was, the reality of the land and, the landscape of the Southwest and that area where you don’t have [Laughs] basically a lot of trees blocking your view. Which, for him, made it the most beautiful and present thing. He was always grumpy in New York. [Laughs] It was very clear.

In the early 90s, there was an attempt to establish a nuclear waste dump near Marfa and we fought that in a multi-year process. It was us versus a couple of big companies and I think the state of Texas.

The rationale is that you have pristine land in one of the few remaining pristine places in the country, you don’t mess it up because someone can’t figure out what to do with their nuclear waste. The same reasoning goes here (for the pipeline): you have a pristine landscape that has remained that way for millions of years, you don’t mess that up because a billionaire from Mexico is trying to sell gas. It’s short-sighted and clearly not for the benefit of the people there. If you have to steal other people’s property to make your money, you are doing it the wrong way.

The gas is to be sold. Let’s be completely clear. It’s not hooking up to any local anything without millions and millions of dollars, you could spend half of that and set up a solar array and have the problem solved. There’s no even financial way it makes sense.


Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at  Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory; for pricing on this or others items, kindly private message us. Shipping is always free; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like. #Charlotte #RareBooks #HenryBemisBooks #Horace Morelock #TexasBigBend

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