“I felt more than a little used” – Don Stacy’s Correspondence with Vilém Flusser, 1973-1976

Donald L. Stacy (1925-2008), known primarily as Don Stacy, was an artist and art teacher born in New Jersey, who lived and worked for most of his life in New York City. Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), pictured below– a Czech-born philosopher who lived for a long period in Sao Paulo, and later in France– wrote on media and technology, and on communication and artistic production, among other concepts. Flusser’s writings are extremely influential and are still being enthusiastically taken up today.

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The correspondence between Don Stacy and Vilém Flusser in this collection takes place primarily between 1973 and 1976 (Don Stacy correspondence with Vilém Flusser, Ms. Coll. 1261).


Though Stacy and Flusser discuss many fascinating concepts surrounding philosophy, art, and creativity, I found myself most compelled by an exchange early on in their correspondence in 1974. Stacy wrote to Flusser to express his displeasure at their first in-person encounter; Flusser had asked Stacy to set up contacts for him in New York City so that he could give lectures, and Stacy revealed in his letter dated May 1, 1974, that he felt used by Flusser as a result of Flusser’s time in New York City.

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Ms. Coll. 1261, Box 1, Folder 2

The two men work through this disagreement, with Stacy appealing to Flusser on an emotional level and Flusser maintaining an intellectual stance—one wonders if their different approaches are as a result of their respective cultures—and go on to share further ideas regarding art and philosophy and develop their friendship over the years to come.

Another aspect of the collection that struck me was the self-conscious nature of the correspondence, in that the two men were clearly aware that their letters would be collected one day. The letters from Stacy in this collection are unsent draft copies and, in his last letter to Flusser (dated March 7, 1983), Stacy notes “You could publish a book – letter to an unknown artist!” (For additional resources relating to the correspondence between Don Stacy and Vilém Flusser, please see the Berlin Flusser Archives and the Brazil Flusser Archives.)

Though Stacy avoided the spotlight and expressed to Flusser his disdain at networking, it’s a shame that he’s not more well-known today. It’s telling of his good nature, for instance, that Stacy never corrected Flusser, who persisted on calling him “Dan” instead of “Don” throughout their correspondence. The dynamic, playful, and curious mind of this “unknown artist” lives on in these letters.

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Woodcut by Don Stacy, printed in Main Currents in Modern Thought, 1966 (Box 1, Folder 7)

This collection is now open to researchers.

 

Text Me Back! The Cunnington and Lee Family Papers

Have you ever texted someone and then waited … waited … waited for a response? Navigating relationships in the age of texting can cause a lot of uncertainty, impatience, and disappointment. How dare your romantic interest like that photo on Instagram or comment on that Facebook post without having responded to that meme you just sent?! I was reminded that the frustration of communication between romantic partners is not new when I recently processed the Cunnington and Lee family papers, 1813-1866.

William P. Cunnington (1804-1871) led the orchestra at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and traveled with orchestras in Baltimore and New York. While on an extended business trip to Baltimore, he wrote to his wife, Jane Cook Cunnington (1808-1872), and very freely described his displeasure at the infrequency of her letters (and of the topics on which she wrote).

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Ms. Coll. 1258, Box 1, Folder 3

Baltimore
Nov 25, 1846

My dear Jane—

I scarcely know whether to feel more distressed or incensed at your conduct. I have been here nearly two weeks & not one word from you. I wrote to you last Friday night & sent the letter by Rink on Saturday morning. I wrote as much as it was possible for me to do situated as I was. I begged of you to sit down on Sunday & write to me & I felt as certain of having a letter on Monday as I did of seeing the daylight. I counted the hours for the office to open but I only experienced the bitter disappointment. I have been to the office every day…. I could scarcely believe my own senses when told again this morning & again this afternoon that there was no letter.

Wow—tell us how you really feel, Willy! William and Jane did have three children—William H., Oldine, and Francis—so it’s possible that Jane’s infrequent missives were a result of taking care of the children and not because she was trying to “distress” or “incense” her rather impatient husband.

Another highlight of this collection is an example of a crossed letter. A crossed, or cross-hatched, letter contains two sets of writing on top of each other at right angles. This practice was done in the nineteenth century to save paper, as well as postal charges. (Even after paper became more readily available, some people practiced crossed writing as a show of thrift.) As you can see from the example, it’s a challenge to read such crossed letters!

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Ms. Coll. 1258, Drawer 55

The Cunnington and Lee family papers also contain the papers of antiquarian William H. Cunnington (1754-1810) of Heytesbury, Wiltshire, England. In addition to the family letters—which are concerned with issues such issues of daily life as health, the settling of estates, and travel—the collection contains poems written by, and apparently copied by, the families. The poems are primarily concerned with love and death (is there anything else?).

This collection is now open for researchers. After perusing the collection, perhaps you will be moved to show more patience toward your paramours than William showed poor Jane.