Sunday, October 26, 2008

Joseph Cornell: The Boy

Dec. 24, 1903: Joseph I. Cornell is born in South Nyack, New York. The sixth in a row with that name, he would never know what the 'I' stood for.

February 1905 and February 1906: Cornell's sisters Elizabeth and Helen are born.

c. 1909: Cornell spends time with his family on Coney Island, playing with penny arcades, riding waterslides, and taking family photos in front of western backdrops.

June 6, 1910: Cornell's younger brother Robert is born with Cerebral Palsy. He was not mentally retarded, but he could only speak in grunts, and get around with a wheel chair. Cornell would care for him for the rest of Robert's life.

April 30, 1917: Cornell's mother tells her children to look out the window and wave goodbye to their father "because," she said, "that's the last time you'll ever see him." Cornell's father dies of Pernicious Anemia that night.

September 1917: Cornell is sent to Phillips Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts. He'll be remembered at a "loner" who was often ill with indigestion. The only class he does well in is French. He will always have a love for all things French including the composer Debussy and the poet Mallarme.

c. 1918: Cornell writes a paper for school about his childhood experience watching Harry Houdini perform at the Hippodrome in New York City. He would forever be fascinated with the idea of escape. The metal rings and suspended chains would often appear in his boxes. It is understandable that Cornell would be drawn to someone who could escape any restraint, after all, he wanted nothing more than to see Robert overcome the restraints of Cerebral Palsy.

c. 1919: Cornell goes antique shopping for the first time and feels the connection to the past that objects provide for him.

c. 1920: Cornell's sister wakes up to find Cornell in her room, trembling. He has been studying the concept of infinity and is both delighted and terrified of it.

June 1921: Cornell leaves Phillip's Acadamy after four years, but without graduating.

Utopia Parkway by Deborah Solomon

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