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Virginia Myers

I was in an Antique Store in Amana, Iowa, and saw this print. (Photo with envelope) My attention was initially drawn to this as this is my mother’s maiden name. I know this is not my mother because my mother never lived in Iowa City. It was attached to a large piece of white poster board. I was intrigued, so I purchased the print.

After a little research, I discovered that Virginia Myers was quite an artist and a professor at the University of Iowa. The envelope was sealed with this print and came from Midwestern University in Wichita, Texas. I took the shrink-wrapping off the art piece and discovered an entirely new piece of work (Photograph #2) with a note written under the print.

“…of Jim Hoggard for the title page of his book. Yesterday we heard of the murder of Martin Luther King, and today a photograph of Washington burning on the front page of the Dallas News. Strange the students spoke little of it. The distance kept them immune from responsibility. They don’t change very much, do they? People, when will we learn that such violence only begs violence? When? It seems that men must judge symbols, not individuals and I fear that will never change! I look forward to receiving your prints and shall write of their arrival.”

I couldn’t read the signature (if it is one). But after comparing it with some of Virginia’s other works, it does not look like any of the signatures.

Still curious, I penned an email to Midwestern University. I initially sent an email to a general information address and did not receive a reply. The first note I sent was before I had removed the shrink wrap and discovered the back. I then sent an email to the Director of the College museum. I asked if there might be any corporate knowledge as to the origin of this print and why it was being mailed to Virginia Myers.

I noted that according to the postmark, it was mailed on April 8, 1968. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1964, and the note indicates, “Yesterday we heard of the murder of…”

So, the note had to be penned on the 5th of April 1968. I can only imagine the journey this piece might have traveled in the 55 years since it was mailed. I was not sure of what I was asking but asked for any information or assistance to decipher the signature would be appreciated.

I started to look for Jim Hoggard's books so I could see if any of the art appeared in any of them. It turns out that he was prolific in his published works. I imagined that my next step would be to go to the library and look at the title page in all of the Jim Hoggard books I could find. There weren't any in the library, but I did get one from the Inter-library loan program. There was nothing in the book. I was discouraged as this was going to take a lot of time to find and look in all of the books he had written.

But - A Quick Reply - Perhaps Answers?

The Interim Director of the Museum of Art at Midwestern University sent a reply to my inquiry.

"Hello, Robert,

What a fascinating letter and incredible journey this piece of mail has had! My initial response is that the print and handwriting belong to Richard Martin Ash, who was the printmaking professor for MSU from 1968-2008. Although that is not Richard's signature, Richard was great friends with Jim Hoggard.

Let me reach out to Richard's widow and see if she has any information she might be able to give."

A day later, I received another email from the museum director with information from Richard's widow:

"Jim Hoggard's widow has checked all of his books, and the art doesn't appear in any of them; the signature is “Susan K” and would be Susan Kemenyffy. Here is the link: Susan Hale Kemenyffy She (Susan) taught for one year here, right before Richard began. This was in the 1970s. By the time I was in graduate school (1979-1981), Susan and her husband, Steven, were more well known for co-creating a body of figurative ceramics."

I have sent a couple of inquiries to Susan Kemenyffy but have not heard anything in return.

My Version of the story as I attempt to answer the question: Why was this being mailed to Virginia Myers?

Susan Kemenyffy received her MA & MFA from the University of Iowa (Printmaking) in 1966.

Virginia Myers came to Iowa City in 1955 to study under Mauricio Lasansky. She went to Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship from 1961-62 and then came back to Iowa to teach printmaking. By 1986 she invented the Iowa Foil Printer, which allows foil stamping through a special double-sided heating process. She received her B.A. in drawing and painting from the Corcoran School of Art in 1949. She earned her M.F.A in painting from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. She taught printmaking at the University of Iowa for 50 years, rising to Professor Emeritus.

My theory is that Susan Kemenffy was a student of Virginia Myers and was sending this piece to Virginia, who, I am assuming, was her professor and mentor.

I delicately removed the envelope, which had been taped on the print, and once removed the entire piece was visible, and another unknown signature, good grief! (There was nothing in the envelope)

It is still a mystery. (1) Whose signature is on the front piece of Art? (2) Why was this being mailed to Virginia Myers,? And, (3) Where in the world has this been for 55 years?

If the mystery is solved, I will generate another post.

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