FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 213 H. L. Mencken (Feature on artist Karen Karnes )



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Top Ten Quotes Of H. L. Mencken

H. L. Mencken Interview

Published on Aug 1, 2013

Finally, H. L. Mencken is interviewed

H. L. Mencken

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
H. L. Mencken

H. L. Mencken in 1928
Born Henry Louis Mencken
September 12, 1880
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died January 29, 1956 (aged 75)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Occupation Journalist, satirist, critic
Notable credit(s) The Baltimore Sun
Spouse(s) Sara Haardt
Relatives August Mencken, Jr.
Family August Mencken, Sr.

Henry Louis Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English.[1] Known as the “Sage of Baltimore”, he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the twentieth century. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements. His satirical reporting on the Scopes trial, which he dubbed the “Monkey Trial”, also gained him attention.

As a scholar, Mencken is known for The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States. As an admirer of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, he was a detractor of religion, populism and representative democracy, which he believed was a system in which inferior men dominated their superiors.[2] Mencken was a supporter of scientific progress, skeptical of economic theories and critical of osteopathic and chiropractic medicine.

Mencken opposed American entry into World War I and World War II. His diary indicates that he was a racist and privately used coarse language and slurs to describe various ethnic and racial groups.[3] Mencken also at times seemed to show a genuine enthusiasm for militarism, though never in its American form. “War is a good thing,” he once wrote, “because it is honest, it admits the central fact of human nature… A nation too long at peace becomes a sort of gigantic old maid.”[4]

Mencken’s longtime home in the Union Square neighborhood of West Baltimore was turned into a city museum, the H. L. Mencken House. His papers were distributed among various city and university libraries, with the largest collection held in the Mencken Room at the central branch of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Early life[edit]

Mencken was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 12, 1880. He was the son of Anna Margaret (Abhau) and August Mencken, Sr., a cigar factory owner. He was of German ancestry and spoke German in his childhood.[5] When Henry was three, his family moved into a new home at 1524 Hollins Street facing Union Square park in the Union Square neighborhood of old West Baltimore. Apart from five years of married life, Mencken was to live in that house for the rest of his life.[6]

In his best-selling memoir Happy Days, he described his childhood in Baltimore as “placid, secure, uneventful and happy.”[7]

When he was nine years old, he read Mark Twain‘s Huckleberry Finn, which he later described as “the most stupendous event in my life”.[8] He became determined to become a writer and read voraciously. In one winter while in high school he read Thackeray and then “proceeded backward to Addison, Steele, Pope, Swift, Johnson and the other magnificos of the Eighteenth century”. He read the entire canon of Shakespeare and became an ardent fan of Kipling and Thomas Huxley.[9] As a boy, Mencken also had practical interests, photography and chemistry in particular, and eventually had a home chemistry laboratory in which he performed experiments of his own devising, some of them inadvertently dangerous.[10]

He began his primary education in the mid-1880s at Professor Knapp’s School, located on the east side of Holliday Street between East Lexington and Fayette Streets, next to the Holliday Street Theatre and across from the newly constructed Baltimore City Hall. The site today is the War Memorial and City Hall Plaza laid out in 1926 in memory of World War I dead. At fifteen, in June 1896, he graduated as valedictorian from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. BPI was a mathematics, technical and science-oriented public high school, founded in 1883, which was then located on old Courtland Street just north of East Saratoga Street. This location is today the east side of St. Paul Street in St. Paul Place and east of Preston Gardens.

He worked for three years in his father’s cigar factory. He disliked the work, especially the sales aspect of it, and resolved to leave, with or without his father’s blessing. In early 1898 he took a class in writing at one of the country’s first correspondence schools, the Cosmopolitan University.[11] This was to be the entirety of Mencken’s formal education in journalism, or in any other subject. Upon his father’s death a few days after Christmas in the same year, the business reverted to his uncle, and Mencken was free to pursue his career in journalism. He had applied in February 1899 to the Morning Herald newspaper (which became the Baltimore Morning Herald in 1900) and had been hired as a part-timer there, but still kept his position at the factory for a few months. In June he was hired as a full-time reporter.


Mencken served as a reporter at the Herald for six years. Less than two and a half years after the Great Baltimore Fire, the paper was purchased in June 1906 by Charles H. Grasty, the owner and editor of The News since 1892, and competing owner and publisher Gen. Felix Agnus, of the town’s oldest (since 1773) and largest daily, The Baltimore American. They proceeded to divide the staff, assets and resources of The Herald between them. Mencken then moved to The Baltimore Sun, where he worked for Charles H. Grasty. He continued to contribute to The Sun, The Evening Sun (founded 1910) and The Sunday Sun full-time until 1948, when he stopped writing after suffering a stroke.

Mencken began writing the editorials and opinion pieces that made his name at The Sun. On the side, he wrote short stories, a novel, and even poetry, which he later revealed. In 1908, he became a literary critic for The Smart Set magazine, and in 1924 he and George Jean Nathan founded and edited The American Mercury, published by Alfred A. Knopf. It soon developed a national circulation and became highly influential on college campuses across America. In 1933, Mencken resigned as editor.

Personal life[edit]


In 1930, Mencken married Sara Haardt, a German American professor of English at Goucher College in Baltimore and an author eighteen years his junior. Haardt had led efforts in Alabama to ratify the 19th Amendment.[12] The two met in 1923, after Mencken delivered a lecture at Goucher; a seven-year courtship ensued. The marriage made national headlines, and many were surprised that Mencken, who once called marriage “the end of hope” and who was well known for mocking relations between the sexes, had gone to the altar. “The Holy Spirit informed and inspired me,” Mencken said. “Like all other infidels, I am superstitious and always follow hunches: this one seemed to be a superb one.”[13] Even more startling, he was marrying an Alabama native, despite his having written scathing essays about the American South. Haardt was in poor health from tuberculosis throughout their marriage and died in 1935 of meningitis, leaving Mencken grief-stricken.[14] He had always championed her writing and, after her death, had a collection of her short stories published under the title Southern Album.

H.L. Mencken, All American Cynic

Great Depression, war and after[edit]

Mencken photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1932

During the Great Depression, Mencken did not support the New Deal. This cost him popularity, as did his strong reservations regarding US participation in World War II, and his overt contempt for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He ceased writing for the Baltimore Sun for several years, focusing on his memoirs and other projects as editor, while serving as an adviser for the paper that had been his home for nearly his entire career. In 1948, he briefly returned to the political scene, covering the presidential election in which President Harry S. Truman faced Republican Thomas Dewey and Henry A. Wallace of the Progressive Party. His later work consisted of humorous, anecdotal, and nostalgic essays, first published in The New Yorker, then collected in the books Happy Days, Newspaper Days, and Heathen Days.

Last days[edit]

On November 23, 1948, Mencken suffered a stroke, which left him aware and fully conscious but nearly unable to read or write and able to speak only with difficulty. After his stroke, Mencken enjoyed listening to European classical music and, after some recovery of his ability to speak, talking with friends, but he sometimes referred to himself in the past tense, as if he were already dead. During the last year of his life, his friend and biographer William Manchester read to him daily.[15]


Preoccupied as Mencken was with his legacy, he organized his papers, letters, newspaper clippings and columns, even grade school report cards. After his death, these materials were made available to scholars in stages in 1971, 1981, and 1991, and include hundreds of thousands of letters sent and received; the only omissions were strictly personal letters received from women.


Mencken died in his sleep on January 29, 1956.[16] He was interred in Baltimore’s Loudon Park Cemetery.[17]

Though it does not appear on his tombstone, during his Smart Set days Mencken wrote a joking epitaph for himself:

If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.[18]

The man of ideas[edit]

In his capacity as editor and man of ideas, Mencken became close friends with the leading literary figures of his time, including Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Hergesheimer, Anita Loos, Ben Hecht, Sinclair Lewis, James Branch Cabell, and Alfred Knopf, as well as a mentor to several young reporters, including Alistair Cooke. He also championed artists whose works he considered worthy. For example, he asserted that books such as Caught Short! A Saga of Wailing Wall Street (1929), by Eddie Cantor (ghost-written by David Freedman) did more to pull America out of the Great Depression than all government measures combined. He also mentored John Fante. Thomas Hart Benton illustrated an edition of Mencken’s book Europe After 8:15.

Mencken also published many works under various pseudonyms, including Owen Hatteras, John H Brownell, William Drayham, WLD Bell, and Charles Angoff.[19] As a ghost-writer for the physician Leonard K. Hirshberg, he wrote a series of articles and (in 1910) most of a book about the care of babies.

Mencken admired German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—he was the first writer to provide a scholarly analysis in English of Nietzsche’s views and writings—and Joseph Conrad. His humor and satire owe much to Ambrose Bierce and Mark Twain. He did much to defend Dreiser, despite freely admitting his faults, including stating forthrightly that Dreiser often wrote badly and was a gullible man. Mencken also expressed his appreciation for William Graham Sumner in a 1941 collection of Sumner’s essays, and regretted never having known Sumner personally. In contrast, Mencken was scathing in his criticism of the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger whom he described as “an extremely dull author” and whose famous book Philosophy of ‘As If’ he dismissed as an unimportant “foot-note to all existing systems.”[20]

Mencken recommended for publication libertarian philosopher and author Ayn Rand‘s first novel, We the Living, calling it “a really excellent piece of work”. Shortly after, Rand addressed him in correspondence as “the greatest representative of a philosophy” to which she wanted to dedicate her life, “individualism”, and later listed him as her favorite columnist.[21]

Mencken is fictionalized in the play Inherit the Wind (a fictionalized version of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925) as the cynical sarcastic atheist E. K. Hornbeck (right), seen here as played by Gene Kelly in the Hollywood film version. On the left is Henry Drummond, based on Clarence Darrow and portrayed by Spencer Tracy.

For Mencken, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the finest work of American literature. Much of that book relates how gullible and ignorant country “boobs” (as Mencken referred to them) are swindled by con men like the (deliberately) pathetic “Duke” and “Dauphin” roustabouts with whom Huck and Jim travel down the Mississippi River. These scam-artists swindle by posing as enlightened speakers on temperance (to obtain the funds to get roaring drunk), as pious “saved” men seeking funds for far off evangelistic missions (to pirates on the high seas, no less), and as learned doctors of phrenology (who can barely spell). Mencken read the novel as a story of America’s hilarious dark side, a place where democracy, as defined by Mencken, is “the worship of jackals by jackasses.”

Such turns of phrase evoked the erudite cynicism and rapier sharpness of language displayed by Bierce in his darkly satiric Devil’s Dictionary. A noted curmudgeon,[22] democratic in subjects attacked, Mencken savaged politics,[23] hypocrisy, and social convention. Master of English, he was given to bombast, once disdaining the lowly hot dog bun’s descent into “the soggy rolls prevailing today, of ground acorns, plaster of paris, flecks of bath sponge and atmospheric air all compact.”[24]

As a nationally syndicated columnist and book author, he commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements, such as the temperance movement. Mencken was a keen cheerleader of scientific progress, but very skeptical of economic theories and critical of osteopathic/chiropractic medicine.

As a frank admirer of Nietzsche, Mencken was a detractor of populism and representative democracy, which he believed was a system in which inferior men dominated their superiors.[2] As did Nietzsche, he also spoke out against religious belief (and as a fervent nonbeliever, against the very notion of a deity), particularly Christian fundamentalism, Christian Science and creationism, and against the “Booboisie,” his word for the ignorant middle classes.[25][26][27] In the summer of 1925, he attended the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, and wrote scathing columns for the Baltimore Sun (widely syndicated) and American Mercury mocking the anti-evolution Fundamentalists (especially William Jennings Bryan). The play Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized version of the trial, and, as noted above, the cynical reporter E.K. Hornbeck is based on Mencken. In 1926, he deliberately had himself arrested for selling an issue of The American Mercury that was banned in Boston under the Comstock laws.[28] Mencken heaped scorn not only on the public officials he disliked, but also on the contemporary state of American elective politics itself.

In the summer of 1926, Mencken followed with great interest the Los Angeles grand jury inquiry into the famous Canadian-American evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. She was accused of faking her reported kidnapping and the case attracted national attention. There was every expectation Mencken would continue his previous pattern of anti-fundamentalist articles, this time with a searing critique of McPherson. Unexpectedly, he came to her defense, identifying various local religious and civic groups which were using the case as an opportunity to pursue their respective ideological agendas against the embattled Pentecostal minister.[29] He spent several weeks in Hollywood, California, and wrote many scathing and satirical columns on the movie industry and the southern California culture. After all charges had been dropped against McPherson, Mencken revisited the case in 1930 with a sarcastically biting and observant article. He wrote that since many of that town’s residents acquired their ideas “of the true, the good and the beautiful” from the movies and newspapers, “Los Angeles will remember the testimony against her long after it forgets the testimony that cleared her.”[30]

In 1931 the Arkansas legislature passed a motion to pray for Mencken’s soul after he had called the state the “apex of moronia.”[31]

In the mid 1930s Mencken feared Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal liberalism as a powerful force. Mencken, says Charles A. Fecher, was, “deeply conservative, resentful of change, looking back upon the ‘happy days’ of a bygone time, wanted no part of the world that the New Deal promised to bring in.”[32]

Damn! A Book of Calumny, Satire Audiobook, by H. L. Mencken


The striking thing about Mencken’s mind is its ruthlessness and rigidity … Though one of the fairest of critics, he is the least pliant. … [I]n spite of his skepticism, and his frequent exhortations to hold his opinion lightly, he himself has been conspicuous for seizing upon simple dogmas and sticking to them with fierce tenacity … true skeptics … see both truth and weakness in every case.

— Literary critic Edmund Wilson (1921)[33]

Theology: An effort to explain the unknowable by putting it into terms of the not worth knowing

— H. L. Mencken[34]

Racism and elitism[edit]

In addition to his identification of races with castes, Mencken had views about the superior individual within communities. He believed that every community produced a few people of clear superiority. He considered groupings on a par with hierarchies, which led to a kind of natural elitism and natural aristocracy. “Superior” individuals, in Mencken’s view, were those wrongly oppressed and disdained by their own communities, but nevertheless distinguished by their will and personal achievement, not by race or birth.

External video
Booknotes interview with Charles Fecher on The Diary of H.L. Mencken, January 28, 1990, C-SPAN

In 1989, per his instructions, Alfred A. Knopf published Mencken’s “secret diary” as The Diary of H. L. Mencken. According to an Associated Press story, Mencken’s views shocked even the “sympathetic scholar who edited it,” Charles A. Fecher of Baltimore.[35] There is a club in Baltimore called the Maryland Club which had one Jewish member, and that member died. Mencken said, “There is no other Jew in Baltimore who seems suitable,” according to the article. The diary also quoted him as saying of blacks, in September 1943, that “it is impossible to talk anything resembling discretion or judgment to a colored woman. They are all essentially child-like, and even hard experience does not teach them anything.”

However, Mencken opposed lynching. For example, he had this to say about a Maryland incident:

Not a single bigwig came forward in the emergency, though the whole town knew what was afoot. Any one of a score of such bigwigs might have halted the crime, if only by threatening to denounce its perpetrators, but none spoke. So Williams was duly hanged, burned and mutilated.

Mencken also wrote: “I admit freely enough that, by careful breeding, supervision of environment and education, extending over many generations, it might be possible to make an appreciable improvement in the stock of the American Negro, for example, but I must maintain that this enterprise would be a ridiculous waste of energy, for there is a high-caste white stock ready at hand, and it is inconceivable that the Negro stock, however carefully it might be nurtured, could ever even remotely approach it. The educated Negro of today is a failure, not because he meets insuperable difficulties in life, but because he is a Negro. He is, in brief, a low-caste man, to the manner born, and he will remain inert and inefficient until fifty generations of him have lived in civilization. And even then, the superior white race will be fifty generations ahead of him.”[36]


Rather than dismissing democratic governance as a popular fallacy or treating it with open contempt, Mencken’s response to it was a publicized sense of amusement. His feelings on this subject (like his casual feelings on many other such subjects) are sprinkled throughout his writings over the years, very occasionally taking center-stage with the full force of Mencken’s prose:

Democracy gives [the beatification of mediocrity] a certain appearance of objective and demonstrable truth. The mob man, functioning as citizen, gets a feeling that he is really important to the world—that he is genuinely running things. Out of his maudlin herding after rogues and mountebanks there comes to him a sense of vast and mysterious power—which is what makes archbishops, police sergeants, the grand goblins of the Ku Klux and other such magnificoes happy. And out of it there comes, too, a conviction that he is somehow wise, that his views are taken seriously by his betters—which is what makes United States Senators, fortune tellers and Young Intellectuals happy. Finally, there comes out of it a glowing consciousness of a high duty triumphantly done which is what makes hangmen and husbands happy.

This sentiment is fairly consistent with Mencken’s distaste for common notions and the philosophical outlook he unabashedly set down throughout his life as a writer (drawing on Friedrich Nietzsche and Herbert Spencer, among others).[37]

Mencken wrote as follows about the difficulties of good men reaching national office when such campaigns must necessarily be conducted remotely:

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.[38]

H. L. Mencken: Confessions of a Believing Critic


Mencken supported biology and the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin but spoke unfavorably of physics and mathematics. In Charles Angoff’s record, Mencken said:

[Isaac Newton] was a mathematician, which is mostly hogwash, too. Imagine measuring infinity! That’s a laugh.[39]

In response, Angoff said: “Well, without mathematics there wouldn’t be any engineering, no chemistry, no physics.” Mencken responded: “That’s true, but it’s reasonable mathematics. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, division, that’s what real mathematics is. The rest is baloney. Astrology. Religion. All of our sciences still suffer from their former attachment to religion, and that is why there is so much metaphysics and astrology, the two are the same, in science.”[39]

Elsewhere, he spoke of the nonsense of higher mathematics and “probability” theory, after he read Angoff’s article for Charles S. Peirce in the American Mercury. “So you believe in that garbage, too—theories of knowledge, infinity, laws of probability. I can make no sense of it, and I don’t believe you can either, and I don’t think your god Peirce knew what he was talking about.”[40]

Mencken also repeated these opinions multiple times in articles for the American Mercury. He said mathematics is simply a fiction, compared with individual facts that make up science. In a review for Vaihinger’s The Philosophy of “As If”, he said:

The human mind, at its present stage of development, cannot function without the aid of fictions, but neither can it function without the aid of facts—save, perhaps, when it is housed in the skull of a university professor of philosophy. Of the two, the facts are enormously the more important. In certain metaphysical fields, e.g. those of mathematics, law, theology, osteopathy and ethics—the fiction will probably hold out for many years, but elsewhere the fact slowly ousts it, and that ousting is what is called intellectual progress. Very few fictions remain in use in anatomy, or in plumbing and gas-fitting; they have even begun to disappear from economics.[41]

Mencken repeatedly identified mathematics with metaphysics and theology. According to Mencken, mathematics is necessarily infected with metaphysics because of the tendency of many mathematical people to engage in metaphysical speculation. In a review for A. N. Whitehead’s The Aims of Education, Mencken remarked that despite his agreement with Whitehead’s thesis and approval of his writing style, “now and then he falls into mathematical jargon and pollutes his discourse with equations”, and “[t]here are moments when he seems to be following some of his mathematical colleagues into the gaudy metaphysics which now entertains them”.[42] For Mencken, theology is characterized by the fact that it uses correct reasoning from false premises. Mencken also uses the term “theology” more generally, to refer to the use of logic in science or any other field of knowledge. In a review for both A. S. Eddington’s The Nature of the Physical World and Joseph Needham’s Man a Machine, Mencken forcefully ridiculed the use of reasoning to establish any fact in science, because theologians happen to be masters of “logic” and yet are mental defectives:

Is there anything in the general thinking of theologians which makes their opinion on the point of any interest or value? What have they ever done in other fields to match the fact-finding of the biologists? I can find nothing in the record. Their processes of thought, taking one day with another, are so defective as to be preposterous. True enough, they are masters of logic, but they always start out from palpably false premises.[43]

Mencken also wrote a review for Sir James Jeans’s book, The Mysterious Universe, in which he said that mathematics is not necessary for physics. Instead of mathematical “speculation” (such as quantum theory), Mencken believed physicists should just directly look at individual facts in the laboratory like chemists:

If chemists were similarly given to fanciful and mystical guessing, they would have hatched a quantum theory forty years ago to account for the variations that they observed in atomic weights. But they kept on plugging away in their laboratories without calling in either mathematicians or theologians to aid them, and eventually they discovered the isotopes, and what had been chaos was reduced to the most exact sort of order.[44]

In the same article which he later re-printed in the Mencken Chrestomathy, Mencken primarily contrasts what real scientists do, which is to simply directly look at the existence of “shapes and forces” confronting them instead of (such as in statistics) attempting to speculate and use mathematical models. Physicists and especially astronomers are consequently not real scientists, because when looking at shapes or forces, they do not simply “patiently wait for further light”, but resort to mathematical theory. There is no need for statistics in scientific physics, since one should simply look at the facts while statistics attempts to construct mathematical models. On the other hand, the really competent physicists do not bother with the “theology” or reasoning of mathematical theories (such as in quantum mechanics):

[Physicists] have, in late years, made a great deal of progress, though it has been accompanied by a considerable quackery. Some of the notions which they now try to foist upon the world, especially in the astronomical realm and about the atom, are obviously nonsensical, and will soon go the way of all unsupported speculations. But there is nothing intrinsically insoluble about the problems they mainly struggle with, and soon or late really competent physicists will arise to solve them. These really competent physicists, I predict, will be too busy in their laboratories to give any time to either metaphysics or theology. Both are eternal enemies of every variety of sound thinking, and no man can traffic with them without losing something of his good judgment.[44]

Mencken also ridiculed Einstein’s theory of general relativity, saying “in the long run his curved space may be classed with the psychosomatic bumps of Gall and Spurzheim”.[45] In his private letters, he said:

It is a well known fact that physicists are greatly given to the supernatural. Why this should be I don’t know, but the fact is plain. One of the most absurd of all spiritualists is Sir Oliver Lodge. I have the suspicion that the cause may be that physics itself, as currently practised, is largely moonshine. Certainly there is a great deal of highly dubious stuff in the work of such men as Eddington.[46]


Mencken countered the arguments for Anglo-Saxon superiority prevalent in his time in a 1923 essay entitled “The Anglo-Saxon”, which argued that if there was such a thing as a pure “Anglo-Saxon” race, it was defined by its inferiority and cowardice. “The normal American of the ‘pure-blooded’ majority goes to rest every night with an uneasy feeling that there is a burglar under the bed and he gets up every morning with a sickening fear that his underwear has been stolen.”[47]


In the 1930 edition of Treatise on the Gods, Mencken wrote:

The Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of. As commonly encountered, they lack many of the qualities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence. They have vanity without pride, voluptuousness without taste, and learning without wisdom. Their fortitude, such as it is, is wasted upon puerile objects, and their charity is mainly a form of display.[48]

That passage was removed from subsequent editions at his express direction.[49]

Author Gore Vidal later deflected claims of anti-Semitism against Mencken:

Far from being an anti-Semite, Mencken was one of the first journalists to denounce the persecution of the Jews in Germany at a time when The New York Times, say, was notoriously reticent. On November 27, 1938, Mencken writes (Baltimore Sun), “It is to be hoped that the poor Jews now being robbed and mauled in Germany will not take too seriously the plans of various politicians to rescue them.” He then reviews the various schemes to “rescue” the Jews from the Nazis, who had not yet announced their own final solution.[50]

As Germany gradually conquered Europe, Mencken attacked President Roosevelt for refusing to admit Jewish refugees into the United States and called for their wholesale admission:

There is only one way to help the fugitives, and that is to find places for them in a country in which they can really live. Why shouldn’t the United States take in a couple hundred thousand of them, or even all of them?[51]

However, Jewish historian Michael Kazin accused Mencken of being “a lifelong anti-Semite with a reverence for German culture so strong it blinded him to the menace of Nazism.”[52]

Inheriting Mencken

Published on Dec 24, 2007

H.L. Mencken was a Baltimore journalist who wrote with wit and passion about the encroaching monopoly state, the suffocation of American liberty under the smothering breasts of Big Mother. In this clip from Inherit the Wind, Gene Kelly gives a charming portrayal of Mencken



Mencken’s home at 1524 Hollins Street in Baltimore’s Union Square neighborhood, where he lived for sixty-seven years before his death in 1956, was bequeathed to the University of Maryland, Baltimore on the death of his younger brother, August, in 1967. The City of Baltimore acquired the property in 1983, and the H. L. Mencken House became part of the City Life Museums. It has been closed to general admission since 1997, but is opened for special events and group visits by arrangement.


Shortly after World War II, Mencken expressed his intention of bequeathing his books and papers to Baltimore‘s Enoch Pratt Free Library. At his death, it was in possession of most of the present large collection. As a result, his papers as well as much of his personal library, which includes many books inscribed by major authors, are held in the Library’s Central Branch on Cathedral Street in Baltimore. The original third floor H. L. Mencken Room and Collection housing this collection was dedicated on April 17, 1956. The new Mencken Room, on the first floor of the Library’s Annex, was opened in November 2003.

The collection contains Mencken’s typescripts, newspaper and magazine contributions, published books, family documents and memorabilia, clipping books, large collection of presentation volumes, file of correspondence with prominent Marylanders, and the extensive material he collected while he was preparing The American Language.

Other Mencken related collections of note are at Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, and Yale University. In 2007, Johns Hopkins acquired “nearly 6,000 books, photographs and letters by and about Mencken” from “the estate of an Ohio accountant.”[53]

The Sara Haardt Mencken collection at Goucher College includes letters exchanged between Haardt and Mencken and condolences written after her death. Some of Mencken’s vast literary correspondence is held at the New York Public Library. “Gift of HL Mencken 1929” is stamped on the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Luce 1906 edition of William Blake, which shows up from the Library of Congress online version for reading.



  • George Bernard Shaw: His Plays (1905)
  • The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1907)
  • The Gist of Nietzsche (1910)
  • What You Ought to Know about your Baby (Ghostwriter for Leonard K. Hirshberg) (1910)
  • Men versus the Man: a Correspondence between Robert Rives La Monte, Socialist and H. L. Mencken, Individualist (1910)
  • Europe After 8:15 (1914)
  • A Book of Burlesques (1916)
  • A Little Book in C Major (1916)
  • A Book of Prefaces (1917)
  • In Defense of Women (1918)
  • Damn! A Book of Calumny (1918)
  • The American Language (1919)
  • Prejudices (1919–27)
    • First Series (1919)
    • Second Series (1920)
    • Third Series (1922)
    • Fourth Series (1924)
    • Fifth Series (1926)
    • Sixth Series (1927)
    • Selected Prejudices (1927)
  • Heliogabalus (A Buffoonery in Three Acts) (1920)
  • The American Credo (1920)
  • Notes on Democracy (1926)
  • Menckeneana: A Schimpflexikon (1928) – Editor
  • Treatise on the Gods (1930)
  • Making a President (1932)
  • Treatise on Right and Wrong (1934)
  • Happy Days, 1880–1892 (1940)
  • Newspaper Days, 1899–1906 (1941)[54]
  • A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources (1942)
  • Heathen Days, 1890–1936 (1943)
  • Christmas Story (1944)
  • The American Language, Supplement I (1945)
  • The American Language, Supplement II (1948)
  • A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)

Posthumous collections

  • Minority Report (1956)
  • On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe (1956)
  • Cairns, Huntington, ed. (1965), The American Scene.
  • The Bathtub Hoax and Blasts & Bravos from the Chicago Tribune (1958)
  • Lippman, Theo jr, ed. (1975), A Gang of Pecksniffs: And Other Comments on Newspaper Publishers, Editors and Reporters.
  • Rodgers, Marion Elizabeth, ed. (1991), The Impossible HL Mencken: A Selection of His Best Newspaper Stories.
  • Yardley, Jonathan, ed. (1992), My Life As Author and Editor.
  • A Second Mencken Chrestomathy (1994)
  • Thirty-five Years of Newspaper Work (1996)
  • A Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter’s Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial, Melville House Publishing, 2006.

Chapbooks, pamphlets, and notable essays[edit]

  • Ventures into Verse (1903)
  • The Artist: A Drama Without Words (1912)
  • The Creed of a Novelist (1916)
  • Pistols for Two (1917)
  • The Sahara of the Bozart (1920)
  • Gamalielese (1921)
  • “The Hills of Zion” (1925)
  • The Libido for the Ugly (1927)

See also[edit]

In Note 49, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers’ first name is incorrectly given as “Mary”. It is correctly given as “Marion” in your Bibliography section.

Top 20 H. L. Mencken Quotes (Author of A Mencken Chrestomathy)



Francis Schaeffer

I remember like yesterday hearing my pastor Adrian Rogers in 1979 going through the amazing fulfilled prophecy of Ezekiel 26-28 and the story of the city of Tyre. In 1980 in my senior year (taught by Mark Brink) at Evangelical Christian High School, I watched the film series by Francis Schaeffer called WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE HUMAN RACE? Later that same year I read the book by the same name and I was amazed at the historical accuracy of the Bible and the many examples from archaeology that Schaeffer gave and recently I have shared several of these in my current series on Schaeffer and the Beatles. The reason I did that was because many people in the 1960’s had taken non-rational leaps into such areas as communism, the occult, drugs, and eastern mysticism,  but sitting right there in front of them was the historical accurate Bible which contained sufficient evidence to warrant trust.

(Adrian Rogers met with Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.)


(This was the average sanctuary crowd when I was growing up at Bellevue Baptist in Memphis)


Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows that politically Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan were my heroes. Spiritually my heroes have been both Francis Schaeffer and Adrian Rogers. An interesting fact about both of these two men and that is they both believed the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God. Both men defended the historical accuracy of the Bible even though both of the religious denominations they belonged to started to shift to the liberal view that the Bible contains errors in it.

H. L. Mencken
H l mencken.jpg

J. Gresham Machen

J. Gresham Machen

Francis Schaeffer’s battle on this issue came in the 1930’s when he got to know Dr. J. Gresham Machen was involved in a battle with  the Presbyterian Church USA over their leftward shift in theology. Francis Schaeffer observed:

H.L. Mencken died when I was a young man and I read some of the stuff he wrote and he came at just the point of the total collapse of the American consensus back in the 1930’s or a little before. H.L.Mencken was very destructive to the American consensus and he was way out. It is he who said the famous thing about Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Dr. Machen was the man who was fighting the battle for historic Christianity against the liberals in the big denominations and expressly the Presbyterian denomination and the liberals were trying to laugh Machen out of court. But H.L. Mencken said a remarkable thing, “Well, if you really want to be a Christian there is only one kind of Christian to be and that is the Machen kind.” This is wonderful. This is exactly where the battlefield is. When you take Christianity and chip away at it like the liberals wanted to do then you don’t have anything left. This is no halfway war. If you are going to be a Christian you have to be a biblical Christian. Machen and Mencken understood this and this is my position too.  

Adrian Rogers also was that type of Christian too. Recently a relative told me that his Bible Study Teacher at the church he started attended recently started a series on Genesis and he said on the front end that evolution is true. I encouraged my relative to ask the simple question: DO YOU BELIEVE IN A LITERAL “ADAM AND EVE?” I sent him the sermon on Evolution by Adrian Rogers and here is a portion of it below:

H.G. Wells

H. G. Wells, the brilliant historian who wrote The Outlines of History, said this—and I quote: “If all animals and man evolved, then there were no first parents, and no Paradise, and no Fall. If there had been no Fall, then the entire historic fabric of Christianity, the story of the first sin, and the reason for the atonement, collapses like a house of cards.” H. G. Wells says—and, by the way, I don’t believe that he did believe in creation—but he said, “If there’s no creation, then you’ve ripped away the foundation of Christianity.”

Now, the Bible teaches that man was created by God and that he fell into sin. The evolutionist believes that he started in some primordial soup and has been coming up and up. And, these two ideas are diametrically opposed. What we call sin the evolutionist would just call a stumble up. And so, the evolutionist believes that all a man needs—he’s just going up and up, and better and better—he needs a boost from beneath. The Bible teaches he’s a sinner and needs a birth from above. And, these are both at heads, in collision.

What is evolution? Evolution is man’s way of hiding from God, because, if there’s no creation, there is no Creator. And, if you remove God from the equation, then sinful man has his biggest problem removed—and that is responsibility to a holy God. And, once you remove God from the equation, then man can think what he wants to think, do what he wants to do, be what he wants to be, and no holds barred, and he has no fear of future judgment.

Francis Schaeffer & the SBC

Actually Francis Schaeffer’s good friend Paige Patterson talked Adrian Rogers into running for President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979 and the liberal shift was halted. In the article “Francis Schaeffer ‘indispensable’ to SBC,” (Thursday, October 30, 2014,)  David Roach wrote:

The late Francis Schaeffer was known to pick up the phone during the early years of the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative resurgence. Paige Patterson knew to expect a call from Schaeffer around Christmas with the question, “You’re not growing weary in well-doing are you?”

Patterson, a leader in the movement to return the SBC to a high view of Scripture, would reply, “No, Dr. Schaeffer. I’m under fire, but I’m doing fine. And I’m trusting the Lord and proceeding on.”

To some it may seem strange that an international Presbyterian apologist and analyst of pop culture would take such interest in a Baptist controversy over biblical inerrancy.

But to Schaeffer it made perfect sense.

He believed churches were acquiescing to the world, abandoning their belief that the Bible is without error in everything it said. A watered-down theology left the SBC with decreased power to battle cultural evils. To Schaeffer the convention was the last major American denomination with hope for reversing this “great evangelical disaster,” as he put it.

Thirty years after Schaeffer’s death, Baptist leaders still remember how he took time from his speaking, writing and filmmaking schedule to quietly encourage Patterson; Paul Pressler, a judge from Texas with whom Patterson worked closely during the conservative resurgence; Adrian Rogers, a Memphis pastor who served three terms SBC president; and others.

By the early 1990s, conservatives had elected an unbroken string of convention presidents and moved in position to shift the balance of power on all convention boards and committees from the theologically moderate establishment. But at the time of Schaeffer’s annual calls, the outcome of the controversy was still in doubt.

(Paige Patterson)

“I strongly suspect that he was afraid I would not hold strong,” Patterson, now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, told Baptist Press. “He had seen so many people fold up under pressure that he assumed we probably would too. So he would call and ask for a report.”

Schaeffer’s interest in engaging culture made him particularly appealing to Southern Baptist conservatives. He helped provide them with a “battle plan” to fight cultural evils and what they perceived as theological drift in their denomination, Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, told BP.

Along with theologian Carl F.H. Henry, Schaeffer was the key intellectual influence on leaders of the conservative resurgence, Land said. When conservatives started to be elected as the executives of Baptist institutions, Henry spoke at Land’s inauguration at the Christian Life Commission (the ERLC’s precursor), R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky and Timothy George’s at Beeson Divinity School in Alabama.

“If Schaeffer had still been alive, we would have had him come,” Land said. He noted that Schaeffer was “close” to Rogers and “admired” by Bailey Smith, two conservative SBC presidents. Edith Schaeffer and Patterson’s wife Dorothy were close friends and traveled together in the early 1980s speaking on the importance of the home.

Clark Pinnock, a former New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor who mentored conservative resurgence leaders before taking a leftward theological turn in his own thinking, served on Schaeffer’s staff at L’Abri.

(ADRIAN ROGERS, chairman of the committee that drafted changes to the Baptist Faith & Message, joins Al Mohler, Chuck Kelley and Richard Land in a news conference shortly after the new statement of faith was adopted by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, Fla)

Mount Sinai is one of the most important sites of the entire Bible. It was here that the Hebrew people came shortly after their flight from Egypt. Here God spoke to them through Moses, giving them directions for their life as newly formed nation and making a covenant with them.

The thing to notice about this epochal moment for Israel is the emphasis on history which the Bible itself makes. Time and time again Moses reminds the people of what has happened on Mount Sinai:

Deuteronomy 4:11-12New International Version (NIV)

11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fireto the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 12 Then the Lordspoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form;there was only a voice.

Moses emphasized that those alive at the time had actually heard God’s voice. They had received God’s direct communication  in words. They were eyewitnesses of what had occurred–they saw the cloud and the mountain burning with fire. They saw and they heard. Moses says, on the basis of what they themselves have seen and heard in their own lifetime, they are not to be afraid of their present or future enemies.

On the same basis too, Moses urges them to obey God: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen…” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Thus the people’s confidence and trust in God and their obedience to Him are alike rooted in truth that is historical and open to observation…The relationship between God and His people was not based on an upward experience inside their own heads, but upon a reality which was seen and heard. They were called to obey God not because of a leap of faith, but because of God’s real acts in history. For God is the LIVING GOD….”Religious Truth” according to the Bible involves the same sort of truth which people operate on in their everyday lives. If something is true, then its opposite cannot also be true.

From the Bible’s viewpoint, all truth finally rests upon the fact that the infinite-personal God exists in contrast to His not existing. This means that God exists objectively. He exists whether or not people say He does. The Bible also teaches that God is personal.
Much of the Bible is in the sphere of normal existence and is observable. God communicated himself in language. This is not surprising for He  was the creator of people who use language in communicating with other people.
In the Hebrew (and biblical) view, truth is grounded ultimately in the existence and character of God and what has been given us by God in creation and revelation. Because people are finite, reality cannot be exhausted by human reason.
It is within this Judeo-Christian view of truth that, by its own insistence, we must understand the Bible. Moses could appeal to real historical events as the basis for Israel’s confidence and obedience into the future. He could even pass down to subsequent generations physical reminders of what God had done, so that the people could see them and remember.


Dr. Francis Schaeffer – Faith, Seeing & Believing

John 21:1-14New International Version (NIV)

Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish

21 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.[a] It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus[b]), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[c] When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.


The resurrected Christ stood there on the beach of the Sea of Galilee. Before the disciples reached the shore, He had already prepared a fire with fish cooking on it for them to eat. It was a fire that could be seen and felt; the fire cooked the fish, and the fish and bread could be eaten for breakfast.

When the fire died down, it left ashes on the beach; the disciples were well fed with bread and fish and Christ’s footprints would have been visible on the beach…

Thomas, Christ tells us,  should have believed the ample evidence given to him of the physical evidence of the resurrection by the other apostles. Christ rebuked him for not accepting this evidence.He at that time and we today have the same sufficient witness of those who have seen and heard and were able to touch the resurrected Christ and were able to observe what He had done.

Because Thomas insisted on seeing and touching we have a more sure witness than we otherwise would have  had. In the testimony of those who saw and heard we have a sure witness and this includes Thomas’ doubt and his personal verification which removed that doubt. WE SHOULD BOW BEFORE THE TOTAL WITNESS OF THE RECORD WHICH WE HAVE  IN THE BIBLE, OF THE TESTIMONY OF THE EXISTENCE OF THE UNIVERSE AND IT’S FORM AND THE UNIQUENESS OF MAN. IT IS ENOUGH! BELIEVE HE HAS RISEN.

John 20:24-29New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”



Dr. Francis Schaeffer – The Biblical flow of Truth & History (intro)

Francis Schaeffer – The Biblical Flow of History & Truth (1)


Dr. Francis Schaeffer – The Biblical Flow of Truth & History (part 2)


Is Propositional Revelation Nonsense?

Tim Brister —  July 26, 2006 — 6 Comments

In the appendix of his book, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, Francis Schaeffer wrote a little piece called “Is Propositional Revelation Nonsense?” Schaeffer explains that, “To modern man, and much modern theology, the concept of propositional revelation and the historic Christian view of infallibility is not so much mistaken as meaningless” (345). The 20th century came with many challenges to theological formulation, not the least of which was the assault on propositional truth and revelation. Such camps as existentialists and logical positivists attempted to remove religious truth from the reason and revelation while others sought to justify meaning, reality, and truth with other criterion of verification such as experience and perception. However, center to the Christian faith is the belief that God has spoken and revealed himself in the written Word of God. In this revelation, God used language as the medium to carry and convey biblical truths and realities. This is not to say that God has revealed himself exhaustively, but it does mean that he has revealed himself truly and definitively. Schaeffer makes two points which I would like to mention here:

  1. Even communication between one created person and another is not exhaustive; but that does not mean that for that reason it is not true.
  1. If the uncreated Personal really cared for the created personal, it could not be thought unthinkable for him to tell the created personal things of a propositional nature; otherwise, as a finite being, the created personal would have numerous things he could not know if he just began with himself as a limited, finite reference point.

Schaffer makes some salient points here that deserve to be brought up in the 21stcentury. While we do not disagree that revelation is also personal, we cannot flinch on the assault on propositional revelation. God has revealed himself to us, his nature and his acts, through propositional revelation (i.e. the Bible), and the implications of this truth is that we do not have the rights to reinvent or rename the God Who Is There. If we do not begin with God and his revelation, Schaeffer is correct to conclude that there are many things we could not know about God based on such a limited, finite reference point as ourselves. It is no coincidence that, at the time of Schaeffer’s publishing of this book (1972), John Hick was advancing his pluralistic hypothesis which argued for the ineffability of the “Real” which argued that one cannot know anything about God as he is (ding an sich).Adapting the Kantian model of the noumenal and phenomenal worlds, Hick argues that God (“Real”) has not and cannot reveal himself truly and definitely; furthermore, it is impossible to know anything at all about the Real (except that it is ineffable and that it exists which is something he claims to know). The result when God is not the beginning, the reference point, the apriori grounds of knowledge and revelation, then knowing and defining God is a free-for-all to anyone who wants to postulate their phenomenological interpretations as religious truth. Schaeffer concludes his little article with this important paragraph in which he said:

“The importance of all this is that most people today (including some who still call themselves evangelical) who have given up the historical and biblical concept of revelation and infallibility have not done so because of the consideration of detailed problems objectively approached, but because they have accepted, either in analyzed fashion or blindly, the other set of presuppositions. Often this has taken place by means of cultural injection, without their realizing what has happened to them” (349, emphasis added).

In the days ahead, I hope to share how propositional truth is foundational to personal truth and give a few examples of the redefinition of revelation in contemporary contexts.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Hebrews 1:1-2


The Bible and Archaeology – Is the Bible from God? (Kyle Butt 42 min)

You want some evidence that indicates that the Bible is true? Here is a good place to start and that is taking a closer look at the archaeology of the Old Testament times. Is the Bible historically accurate? Here are some of the posts I have done in the past on the subject: 1. The Babylonian Chronicleof Nebuchadnezzars Siege of Jerusalem2. Hezekiah’s Siloam Tunnel Inscription. 3. Taylor Prism (Sennacherib Hexagonal Prism)4. Biblical Cities Attested Archaeologically. 5. The Discovery of the Hittites6.Shishak Smiting His Captives7. Moabite Stone8Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III9A Verification of places in Gospel of John and Book of Acts., 9B Discovery of Ebla Tablets10. Cyrus Cylinder11. Puru “The lot of Yahali” 9th Century B.C.E.12. The Uzziah Tablet Inscription13. The Pilate Inscription14. Caiaphas Ossuary14 B Pontius Pilate Part 214c. Three greatest American Archaeologists moved to accept Bible’s accuracy through archaeology.

Featured artist is Karen Karnes


Mark Shapiro: The Ceramic Art of Karen Karnes (at 11 min mark discusses Black Mountain College) 

Published on May 23, 2012

Mark Shapiro gave a presentation about the life and work of ceramic artist Karen Karnes at the 2012 American Craft Council Baltimore Show.

Smithsonian Oral History Interview: Karen Karnes

Oral history interview with Karen Karnes, 2005 Aug. 9-10, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Karnes, Karen, b. 1925, Potter, Morgan, Vt.

An interview of Karen Karnes conducted 2005 Aug. 9-10, by Mark Shapiro, for the Archives of American Art’s Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at the artist’s home and studio in Morgan, Vt.

Karnes discusses her childhood in Brooklyn and the Bronx as the daughter of Russian and Polish immigrants working in the garment industry; living in a cooperative housing project built especially for garment workers and their families; attending the High School of Music and Art, New York City; going on to Brooklyn College, and fortuitously landing in the class of Serge Chermayoff, who taught primarily in the Bauhaus style; meeting her first husband, David Weinrib, with whom she eventually moved to Pennsylvania; David bringing home a slab of clay for her to work with, her first experience with the material; traveling to Italy and working in a ceramics factory there; attending a summer session at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and taking a class with Josef Albers; moving to Stony Point, in Rockland County, N.Y., to start Gatehill Community; her first gallery relationship, with Bonniers, New York City; the birth of her son Abel in 1956; the first time she used a salt kiln, while at the Penland School of Arts and Crafts, Penland, NC, in 1967, and its effect on the character of her work; her relationship with the Hadler-Rodriguez Galleries, New York City; the pottery show in Demarest, New Jersey; her teaching philosophy and methods…meeting her life partner, Ann Stannard, in 1970; Ann’s home in Wales, and living there before settling in Vermont; the fire that destroyed their home and studio in 1998; the issues of privacy and isolation in an artists life; her expectations about her career, especially as a Jewish woman; and her feelings on the work of contemporary potters.

Karnes also recalls John Cage, Soetsu Yanagi, Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada, Charles Olsen, Marguerite Wildenhain, Paul and Vera B. Williams, Mary Caroline Richards, Goren Holmquist, Paul J. Smith, Mikhail Zakin, Jack Lenor Larsen, Isamu Noguchi, D. Hayne Bayless, Zeb Schactel, Warren Mackenzie, Garth Clark, Joy Brown, Robbie Lobell, Paulus Berensohn, and others.


Featured artist is Karen Karnes

Many Paths: A Legacy of Karen Karnes

Catalog essay for the show that Mark curated at the Penland Gallery, March 22–May 8, 2011.

show announcement

People often ask whether I was a student of Karen Karnes. It is always somehow awkward to answer. I first say no, explain that she doesn’t really teach, that I have gotten to know her over the years, that her work and place in the world are deeply important to me. That she is a mentor even though I never actually studied or worked with her.

My hunch is that many potters feel this way. The thirteen artists whose work is represented in Many Paths: A Legacy of Karen Karnes certainly do. In fact, Karnes’s outstanding career of over sixty years has touched several generations of potters. She has inspired many young potters to pursue their unlikely vocation, and artists of her own generation—even those working in other fields—to take up clay. Her influence derives mostly from her quiet personal magnetism, integrity, and the uncanny power of her work. An encounter with Karnes is often a transformational event.

Unlike many of the well-known figures of the studio pottery movement, Karnes never taught for any length of time at a university, influencing students as they passed through. Nor did she have apprentices working in her studio to internalize her attitudes and protocols and carry them forward, nor books extending her following. Many of the prominent mentors in modern ceramics have arisen out of such contexts. For example, the British potters Bernard Leach and his apprentice Michael Cardew not only influenced the many apprentices who worked in their studios, but their seminal writings reached thousands of readers. University professors such as Karnes’s contemporary, Warren MacKenzie (who himself apprenticed with Leach), have had important impacts on younger potters [1].

In the Studio

Karnes has preferred to work in the quiet privacy of her studio, rarely employing assistants, and never directly on her work. Though she did share her studio at several points over her career—at Black Mountain College in 1952–4 with her then-husband sculptor, David Weinrib; and for several years with Weinrib and the poet, painter, and scholar M.C. Richards at the Gate Hill Cooperative in Stony Point, New York—she did so in the spirit of cooperative engagement with partners and peers. (She shared a studio again two decades later when she formed a life-partnership with Ann Stannard, an accomplished educator and artist, this time for a decade or so until Ann’s interests moved on to other areas.) But generally, Karnes fiercely protected the privacy of her studio and worked alone.

Growing up, McKenzie Smith was an occasional visitor to Gate Hill, where Karnes had her studio for 25 years, and Smith’s aunt, Johanna Vanderbeek, was also a resident. He recalls Karnes’s formidable presence, amidst the wildness and freedom of the scene at Gate Hill in the late 1960s—“flat-out naked hippieville,” it seemed to him, in contrast to his more conventional Florida upbringing. Karnes stood apart, literally, as her studio was separated from two clustered hillside quadrangles, and in her serious and disciplined persona. She might indulge the band of roving boys McKenzie was tearing around with by giving them each a small lump of clay, but after a brief time she would indicate clearly that it was time for them to move on so that she could return to work.

Her studio solitude only shifted as she entered her 80s and welcomed Normandy Alden, a student she’d met teaching with me at Haystack School in 2005, to share her studio in northern Vermont. By then Karnes was producing much less work and needed help maintaining her studio and rural homestead.

The Question of Teaching

Karnes is sometimes erroneously described as having been on the faculty at Black Mountain College, but actually she and Weinrib were artists-in-residence and did not officially teach. Curious faculty and students would visit the pot shop; M.C. Richards, for example, began working more seriously in clay there with the couple’s encouragement.

Later, at Gate Hill, after she and Weinrib split up and MC moved back into the city, Karnes taught some classes in her studio, but she strictly limited her teaching to one afternoon a week and stopped when her pots sold more reliably. It was in these studio classes, though, that Mikhail Zakin, who had been working in jewelry and sculpture, took up pottery; eventually she helped Karen build her salt kiln. Zakin, five years Karnes’s senior, might be said to be the earliest and longest bearer of her influence.

In the 1960s, as workshop teaching opportunities expanded with the growth of the craft movement, Karnes taught sporadically, twice at Haystack School and, notably, once here at Penland, where in 1967 she first salt-glazed, a career-changing event. From then on her primary material vocabulary turned to salt surfaces and her work for the next dozen years took on the iconic orange-peel texture and rich tonality that we associate with classic Karnes. But though many studio potters became regulars on the workshop circuit, Karnes did not. She was simply too absorbed with the private pleasures and demands of the studio, now irresistible as she was finding her voice—and market—with this new approach.

Still, one workshop she gave at the Wesleyan Potters studio in Connecticut broke the pattern. It was so compelling that the students arranged to continue meeting every few months on an ongoing basis. The “Continuum,” as they called it, met periodically in different studios over half a dozen years until 1979, mainly under Karnes’s leadership, but also under guest presenters such as British potters Mick Casson and David Leach. It was as a peripheral participant in this group that Malcolm Davis first encountered Karnes.

Old Church

The institution, however, most associated with Karnes’s legacy is the annual pottery show at the Art School at Old Church Cultural Center, in Demarest, New Jersey, just north of Manhattan. The weekend show, which she has curated since 1974, each year features 25 potters from around the country. Potters donate a third of their sales to benefit the art school, which Zakin had founded in an old abandoned church. For years, the show was the main fundraising event for the school. When Zakin originally came to Karnes with the idea of the show, Karnes accepted her curatorial role on condition that the potters be “really treated well”: the school would provide them with housing, food, and prepared display spaces, take care of sales and packing so they could enjoy each other, mingle with the customers, and maybe even spend an afternoon in the city. This was to be a show by potters forpotters. And the potters, Karnes was adamant, would be promptly paid. The atmosphere would be celebratory and coalesce around a festive potter’s dinner on Saturday night. The idealism with which the show was conceived is consistent with Karen’s early history of communitarian self-sufficiency, and reflects the values of mutual aid among the tradespersons living in the Bronx “Coops,” the first worker-owned housing project in New York City, where she grew up with her parents, who were garment workers and socialist union activists.

Each year, Karnes introduces younger potters among the regulars who rotate in and out of the show. A few participants enjoy a kind of tenured status—Zakin, who has participated from the beginning; Rob Sieminski, since 1977; Scott Goldberg since 1980; and Malcolm Davis a few year later. All of the potters in Many Paths (with the exception of Alden, who is currently in graduate school, and Paulus Berensohn, who worked in other media and did not produce pots in quantity) have shown multiple times at Old Church. They all remember feeling honored and encouraged by Karen’s belief in their work, and especially grateful for the sustaining sense of community that she fostered.

For many, the show was their first national professional venue, a chance to put work next to peers and senior practitioners in the field and in front of a savvy public. The event has been a rite of passage for many, myself included. Malcolm Davis’s first experience of the show is typical. As he was just beginning to make pots seriously, Karnes responded to something incipient in his forms, and invited him to exhibit, though he didn’t feel his work yet merited it. “She saw something in my pots and opened a door to professionalism and gave me courage. It was a huge stroke.”

Karnes and Zakin set up the show to give concrete economic support to the potters. Not only did it connect potters to enthusiastic buyers each December, but the invitations dependably went out considerably in advance, and first-time potters were given a several-year commitment. All this meant that the show could be part of a longer-term plan, giving potters a respite from the uncertainties of juried craft shows. Rob Sieminski, knowing he could count on an income stream every December, felt greater freedom to take bolder risks in his work because of this and the sense of Karnes’s unqualified support for his creativity. As he says, “pots with nails fired into them” (a feature of his work for a number of years) “weren’t exactly an obvious popular direction.”

In the case of Robbie Lobell, Karnes’s support extended to the sharing of her pioneering formula for making flameware—low-expansion clay and glazes that could be put directly over a burner. These were the basis of Karnes’s famous line of casseroles that sold so well over almost four decades. Lobell felt the practical intent of Karnes’s generous gesture. “She always talked about how hard it is to be a potter. She was handing me something that would allow me to make a living.”

Bob Briscoe notes, “Karen proved that there is strong support for functional ceramics in the general public. By recognizing and nurturing this support, Karen has shown that it is possible for numerous potters to make their living doing what they love.” In fact, the show has become a model for several others around the country, notably the Northern Clay Center’s American Pottery Festival, which Bob Briscoe and Mathew Metz initiated after brainstorming on their long drive back to Minnesota after participating in Old Church in 1998 [2].

The Woman over Time

From very early on, Karnes was a strong and successful woman, making her living by selling her wares independently and on her own terms, without the backup of a professional spouse’s income. She built her own kiln (with Zakin) and began firing with salt at a time when such activities were quite male-dominated. Mary Barringer and Aysha Peltz, whose sights as young potters were set on making a living from studio production, were particularly encouraged by Karnes’s example as a successful independent craftswoman. Barringer’s words speak for scores of women who encountered Karnes as they were thinking about making a life in clay: “I visited Karen at her Stony Point studio, and I can still recall the impact that seeing her in her own working space had upon me. Seeing with my own eyes the evidence of a working woman potter opened a door in my mind that I had not realized was closed. Karen’s example sent me forth into my working life.”

Karnes’s vitality, continued productivity, and constant creative growth well into her 80s is one of her most admired qualities, remarked on by many but particularly meaningful to younger women. Regardless of the limitations of her body, she has never ceased to make new work, experimented with different firings as a guest in colleague’s kilns—and last year even building a new salt kiln. And she has continued her role as Old Church curator. “As a woman aging in a physically demanding field, Karen is a hero for me,” says Silvie Granatelli. Working alongside Karnes in her Morgan, Vermont, studio, encouraged Normandy Alden to “look expansively at my own life in clay and consider how I might prepare for an aging body that inevitably comes.” Gail Kendall hopes to “match her vigor and engagement in the field over time. She is always changing, growing, and exploring.”

Life and Art

Karnes seems to have achieved an almost perfect merging of life and art, perhaps any artist’s highest aspiration. As Scott Goldberg puts it, “Karen has devoted her life to her work. Through the years, she steadily, self-confidently, invents, and holds to ideals that express exquisite, subtle form and meticulous craftsmanship. Her unwavering approach to the merging of the crafts of life and art has been an inspiration to me.” This seemingly effortless representation of her whole being in her work, the way it encompasses her environment, body image, all the rhythms of her days is truly remarkable. Peltz sees this fluid and peaceful integration of experience and expression at the heart of Karnes’s accomplishment, “her self, sources, and experiences are present in her work with an organic ease that few potters achieve.”

This resonates with my sense of Karnes as an embodiment of the complete artist, one confidently in pursuit of a transformative vision, in harmony with the world, at peace with her refusal of its distractions, organically and inexorably moving with her work into new places. As she says in one of her rare pronouncements about her creative process, “The pots kind of grow from themselves—it’s a feeling. The forms will extend themselves—or contract. I feel my forms live in my body, on my breath.” It is this somatic integration of her creativity, her beautiful embodiment of it that makes her so compelling.

Even her very physical presence carried Karnes’s art. Maren Kloppman remembers the “magical moment” she met Karnes during a thunderstorm. Karnes’s “keen eye and gentle honest criticism inspired ambition and possibility in me,” says Kloppman. For Paulus Berensohn, the encounter was fateful. He was a young New York dancer, was attending an annual picnic at Gate Hill, when he wandered off from his hosts and happened to see Karnes at her wheel—no surprise that she was hard at work even during such an event—through the window of her studio, facing away from him. As he describes it, “she was seated throwing a cylinder her back long straight and beautiful. She reached a graceful arm toward the slip bucket and without for a second taking her eyes off the spinning pot, picked up the waiting sponge. I just had to learn that dance.”

The graceful confidence that she exudes physically flows in part from how completely she is at peace with her choices and accepts their moral implications. She rejects compromise of her artistic intent for worldly gain and eschews any distraction from her muse. I am reminded of a dealer who, knowing of the demand for Karnes’s classic large-scale work, her need for funds, and the limitations of her aging body, suggested that she hire a young thrower to make her forms. Karnes, baffled, responded, “Why would I ever do that?” Zakin sums it up eloquently: “Karen is somebody who lives with total integrity to her value system. That has been the great lesson for me—that it can be done, that you can live that way.”

Mentors and Patrons

These stories focus on Karnes’s influence on and mentorship of other artists, but it seems important to circle back to her early days as an artist, her own experience starting out. I have mentioned how Karnes’s conditions for curating the Old Church show reflected the ameliorative engagement of her childhood milieu, a commitment to helping others that is in her blood. This instinct was also nurtured by mentors and patrons who played different supportive roles in her early career.

As a student in the 1940s, her creative gift was recognized by Serge Chermayeff, the Chechen-born modernist architect and designer who headed the art department at Brooklyn College. Chermayeff believed in her strongly and encouraged her to apply to Harvard in architecture. Though she declined, she is one of the only former students he singles out in his Chicago Architects History Project interview (1986) in which he calls her pot an example of the “brilliant… awfully good” students he taught at Brooklyn [3]. He later arranged for her full fellowship at Alfred University in Charles Harder’s studio. She was again recognized during her stay in the Italian pottery town of Sesto Fiorentino when her work caught the eye of leading designer Gio Ponti. Ponti was so taken with her work that he featured it in his prestigiousDomus magazine. Chermayeff and Ponti were both masters in fields somewhat peripheral to Karnes’s chosen one, and were in positions to offer avenues of advancement to the young Karnes.

At Black Mountain College, Karnes experienced a different kind of a transformational teaching when she encountered a master working in her own material, the legendary Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada, who along with Bernard Leach, Soetsu Yanagi, and Marguerite Widenhain came to the college to give a seminar the first summer of her residence. She describes “breathing in” his spirit as he quietly worked, uncomplaining, with the available clay while Leach went on and on about proper clay, plasticity, etc. She says that whenever she had any doubts about throwing pots in front of a group she would recall Hamada’s peaceful undistracted presence.

At the college she also enjoyed the support of the college’s rector, poet Charles Olsen. While in the 1950s, pottery was somewhat marginal to the heady abstract discourse of the students, Olsen wanted to move the college toward a curriculum based on his “institute model” where students would study consecutively four of bodies of knowledge that would begin with crafts, with pottery enjoying parity with weaving, architecture, and graphics. As he stated in a 1952 letter to Wildenhain (who he tried to recruit to the college before Karnes signed on), “…it damn well interests me as an act, (pots do)” [4].

Finally, the architect Paul Williams extended generous patronage to Karnes (and the other residents at Gate Hill Cooperative), building her house and studio and even providing a VW bug for the community to use, enabling Karen to pursue her passion at a time when she had few material resources at her disposal. The consistent support Karnes has extended to others over her long career, then, is a reciprocation rooted in the legacies and support from which she herself benefited.

The diversity and excellence of the work of the multigenerational assembly of artists in Many Paths and their connections to Karnes and to one another is testimony itself to Karnes’s rich legacy. Though the space here at the Penland Gallery has limited this group to a baker’s dozen, many more in the Penland community and around the country also carry her as a touchstone of excellence and a model of commitment, community, and integrity. Potters everywhere have been transformed by the fierce beauty of her life and work. Karnes is not just essential to the many paths taken by the artists in this show; her presence runs through generations of American ceramists.


I am grateful to Karen Karnes for being the inspiring artist and person she is; to Kathryn Gremley at the Penland Gallery for encouragement and putting the exhibition together; to the Penland School for funding this essay; and to the thirteen artists in the show, for their work and their thoughts about Karnes’s influence that are at the heart of Many Paths. Finally I am indebted to my wife Pam Thompson for her incisive editing and unwavering support.


1 MacKenzie exemplifies this model of mentorship. From his position at the University of Minnesota, he created a vibrant ceramic culture and taught many students, notably an exceptional group of potters in the late 1960s, including Michael and Sandy Simon, Mark Pharis, Randy Johnston, Wayne Branum, and Jeff Oestreich.

2 The highly successful St. Croix Pottery Tour has since extended this legacy. The Tour, a circuit of six host studios north of the Twin Cities, hosts an additional three dozen guest potters and includes social events that reflect the community spirit that Karnes nurtured at Old Church.

3 Serge Chermayeff, interview by Betty J. Blum. Wellfleet, MA, 23–4 May 1985. Chicago Architects Oral History Project. (Chicago: Ernest R. Graham Study Center for Architectural Drawings. Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago) 26.

4 Charles Olsen, letter to Bernard Leach. 24 May 1952. Black Mountain College Papers, II. 25.

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