It keeps you humble. Writing does that. Recently I wrote a series about Lake Bracken. I said I was writing about what I knew about. Well, writing keeps you humble. I was only writing about what I thought I knew about.

A reader sent me a copy of an article from the May 3, 2004 issue of The New Yorker. It’s not a magazine that I normally read. No, I’d better confess the reader is actually a reader, but she is also a niece. You see, I do have a basis for believing that only relatives read my articles. Anyway, the article was about Dorothea Tanning. The very first line of the article mentions Galesburg in 1928. The young 18-year-old Dorothea was leaving Galesburg to rent a cabin "…in the woods, about an hour from town, on a lake with the memorable name of Bracken." It’s news to me; it’s time to be humble.

It is an interesting article about Dorothea, famous painter and self-proclaimed "oldest living emerging poet" who is in her 90’s. She also happens to be the widow of Max Ernst. I’m not going to re-hash the New Yorker article, at least not too much. If you are interested in the details, you can probably find an issue in the library (maybe?).

But the article did mention that she was from a good Swedish father who was a friend of Carl Sandburg. Dorothea was often forced by her mother to recite at a Swedish Lutheran Church in Galesburg. Now her mother would have been fun to know. When she traveled to France in the late 1950’s she saw the Chartres. It is claimed that her mother said "Well, we have many beautiful churches in Galesburg." Now you just don’t get much more Midwestern than that. I bet she made a good Swedish Rye Bread too.

For a Galesburg girl who was a Swedish Lutheran, it appears that Dorothea lived as a pretty free spirit. This is true not only judged by Galesburg’s standards, but also by New York’s as well. That’s doing something. Before heading to New York in 1935, Dorothea spent some time at Knox College. She pushed the edge, even when she was 18 and in Galesburg. There is a photo that shows her nude from the waist up (viewed from the back), taken while she was at a cabin at the Lake (presumably Lake Bracken, although the article is less than clear about this). Pretty interesting for a girl who claimed she lived alone at the cabin. She was also attributed to be an exceptionally beautiful woman, but Swedes have had their fair share of them, so I can’t argue with that assessment.

Just goes to show that not only can you take the Swede out of the Midwest, but apparently you can get the Midwest out of the Swede. Dorothea must not have taken notes when she was raised in Galesburg. She set her own path and "did her own thing" before people talked about doing "their own thing." In her 90’s she is still going her own way.

It also just goes to show. Be careful what you write. Just ‘cause ya think ya knows som’un, doesn’t means ya does. Who knows what happened in that lonely cabin on the shores of Lake Bracken in 1928. Perhaps it may have helped inspire the self-proclaimed "oldest living emerging poet."

I did a little Internet research on Dorothea. She was, and maybe is, a pretty racy woman for her day. She has an autobiography that recently came out – Between Lives, An Artist and Her World. At age 91, she should have a lot to recall, and probably a lot of folks aren’t around to feel offended or to offer a differing slant on the story.

She married the French surrealist painter, Max Ernst, in 1946. They were married for over 30 years. As far as her painting style, my assessment stops at "pretty racy." An assessment by a gallery on the Internet offers a longer version – "…she painted young women and their sexual fears and fantasies in a hyper-realistic way; beginning in the 1950s, however her work became more abstract with sexual and violent images not quite clearly discernible." Like I said, "pretty racy."

So there is a little more about Galesburg and the Lake Bracken connection. Who know what may have happened at Lake Bracken in the late 1920s. Keep those cards and letters coming, or email me at the Zephyr. The editor is really good about forwarding emails to me. (Never hurts to say a good thing about the editor). Send me a note, even if you’re not a relative. I’d like to hear from you.

Who knows but what there is another "free spirit" currently living at Lake Bracken. In fact, I do know of some pretty wild pool parties. But that’s another story, best not told for another 50 years.

Additional information

Dorothea Tanning. 2004. Between Lives, An Artist and Her World. Northwestern University Press

Jane Kramer. 2004. "Self Inventions". The New Yorker (May 3, 2004)