Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten – Mina Loy Biography Project

Gallup, Donald. “Carl Van Vechten.” The Yale University Library Gazette, vol. 55, no. 2, 1980, pp. 53–94, www.jstor.org/stable/40858746.

Donald Gallup published this article in conjunction with a centenary exhibition of Carl Van Vechten’s gifts from his collection to Yale University, including original manuscripts of poems, photographs, and personal writings from some of the most influential artists of the century. Gallup reflects upon Van Vechten’s status as one of the foremost American collectors and patrons of the arts. Van Vechten’s collection exhibits his affinity for the work of black artists, boasting original manuscripts from Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright, as well as white artists like Herman Melville, Henry Miller, Man Ray, Aaron Copland, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Wallace Stevens. The three documents from Mina Loy present in the collection demonstrate the frequent correspondence between the two after their meeting in Florence. The first is an undated letter from Loy to Van Vechten signed “Saltino, Italy” and enclosed with some fashion drawings. The next item Gallup describes is an 18 by 12½ inch signed pencil drawing of Van Vechten. The final item from Loy is a photograph dated 19 December 1937.

Hanscombe, Gillan E. and Virginia L. Smyers. Writing for their Lives: The Modernist Women 1910-1940. Northeastern University Press, 1988. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/loy/bio.htm

In Writing for Their Lives, Gillian Hanscombe and Virginia Smyers assemble a mosaic of influential female modernists through a series of comprehensive biographical entries. Mina Loy’s entry focuses on her influences from and correspondences with other figures in the movement. Hanscombe and Smyers assert Loy occupied a central position within the New York avant-garde, illustrated when a group of poets “disaffected” with strict editorial policies founded Others magazine and chose Mina Loy as “their rallying point.” The entry elaborates upon Loy’s relationship with her literary agents, Mabel Dodge and Carl Van Vechten, with whom she entrusted her work for publication in “appropriate little magazines in New York” (112-128).

Kouidis, Virginia M. “Rediscovering Our Sources: The Poetry of Mina Loy.” Boundary 2, vol. 8, no. 3, 1980, pp. 167–188, www.jstor.org/stable/302972.

In this article, Virginia Kouidis contextualizes Mina Loy “in her cultural and literary milieu” while arguing modern scholarship must recognize Loy’s status alongside her avant-garde and modernist peers (168). She describes the avant-garde partnerships Loy cultivated at Villa Curonia, Mabel Dodge’s Florence home. Kouidis argues Dodge and Van Vechten, who also stayed at Dodge’s villa as her guest, served as agents and ambassadors for Loy’s poetry, “and confirmed her desire to visit America” (170). Kouidis’ article offers a transatlantic bridge between Mina Loy’s life in Italy and her voyage to New York in 1916.

MacLeod, Kirsten. “The ‘Librarian’s Dream-Prince’: Carl Van Vechten and America’s Modernist Cultural Archives Industry.” Libraries & the Cultural Record, vol. 46, no. 4, 2011, pp. 360–387, www.jstor.org/stable/23053604.

Kristen MacLeod’s 2011 article traces the wide-ranging influence of Carl Van Vechten, “a cultural chameleon” invested “in the worlds of music, theater, film, literature, art, and photography” (361). His success at promoting avant-garde writers such as Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, and Mina Loy demonstrates his influence as an “unofficial literary agent” (361). MacLeod argues Van Vechten’s “collecting has been largely overlooked in favor of” his Harlem Renaissance associations (362). She believes Van Vechten’s “most important role” was “as a collector and archivist of American modernism” (360). The article explores Van Vechten’s entrance into the world of collecting as a professional and amateur, and his contributions to the archives of “twentieth-century American cultural life.” (362).

Parmar, Sandeep. “The Mina Loy papers: Archival spectres.” Reading Mina Loy’s Autobiographies: Myth of the Modern Woman. Bloomsbury Academic. 2013.

In this 2013 study, Sandeep Parmar responds to Roger Conover’s argument in the introduction to the 1996 edition of The Lost Lunar Baedeker that Mina Loy has been denied a voice of her own. Parmar seeks to amend this gap in scholarship by analyzing seven of Loy’s unpublished autobiographies, exploring their implications for our understanding of modernist literature and what insights they give us into Loy as a “modern woman.” In her introduction, Parmar examines Loy’s web of connections to other modernist artists and patrons, including Carl Van Vechten. She characterizes Van Vechten as a vital part of Loy’s initial exposure in avant-garde circles, “not only an influential editor… but also Loy’s first literary advisor and friend” (“The Mina Loy papers”).

Schmid, Julie. “Mina Loy’s Futurist Theatre.” Performing Arts Journal, vol. 18, no. 1, 1996, pp. 1–7, www.jstor.org/stable/3245807.

In this article, Julie Schmid argues Mina Loy’s Futurist plays present “one of the only feminist responses to… the futurist dramatic aesthetic,” an anomaly in a sea of male voices (1). Schmid traces the origins of Loy’s dramatic works, Two Plays (1915) and The Pamperers (1916), to her poetic awakening while living in Italy between 1906 and 1916. It was during this period of creative flourishing that Loy first met Carl Van Vechten in Florence. Schmid establishes context for Loy’s first encounters with the American and European avant-garde artists living in Florence such as Vechten, Mabel Dodge, Gertrude Stein, and Filippo Marinetti (2). Schmid argues Loy’s “brief interest in futurism” was the catalyst for her poetic career, referencing a letter to Van Vechten in which Loy states “Marinetti influenced me – merely by waking me up” (2).

Biographical Information:

  • Name: Carl Van Vechten
  • Date of Birth: June 17, 1880
  • Place of Birth: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S.
  • Date of Death: December 21, 1964 (aged 84)
  • Place of Death: New York City, New York, U.S.
  • Country of origin, citizenship: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: White
  • Kind of Artist/Cultural worker: Author (abandoned novel writing in 1930 and took up photography), Publisher, Patron, Photographer, Art critic at the New York Times, Literary executor of Gertrude Stein, “Unofficial” literary agent of Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, and Mina Loy (MacLeod 361).
  • Dates & Places of Overlap with Loy: Florence (1906~1916), New York City (after 1916)
  • Avant-garde movements the figure was associated with: Harlem renaissance, Modern dance
  • Biographical/Historical significance: First American critic of modern dance, Helped “popularize” the Harlem Renaissance to white audiences (McLeod 360-361). Donated his enormous collection to various organizations, including the New York Public Library, Museum of Modern Art, Yale, Howard University, Princeton University, and Lincoln Center (McLeod 362).
  • Brief summary of the figure’s Relationship to Loy: Loy and Van Vechten met in Florence, presumably at Mabel Dodge’s villa where they both stayed. Van Vechten became Loy’s unofficial literary agent and helped her publish her poems in New York avant-garde magazines. They corresponded regularly.
  • What was the nature of their overlap or connection? They shared a social, professional, and personal connection, as Van Vechten patronized and published her work.

Work Cited:

Gallup, Donald. “Carl Van Vechten.” The Yale University Library Gazette, vol. 55, no. 2, 1980, pp. 53–94, www.jstor.org/stable/40858746.

Hanscombe, Gillan E. and Virginia L. Smyers. Writing for their Lives: The Modernist Women 1910-1940. Northeastern University Press, 1988. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/loy/bio.htm

Kouidis, Virginia M. “Rediscovering Our Sources: The Poetry of Mina Loy.” Boundary 2, vol. 8, no. 3, 1980, pp. 167–188, www.jstor.org/stable/302972.

MacLeod, Kirsten. “The ‘Librarian’s Dream-Prince’: Carl Van Vechten and America’s Modernist Cultural Archives Industry.” Libraries & the Cultural Record, vol. 46, no. 4, 2011, pp. 360–387, www.jstor.org/stable/23053604.

Parmar, Sandeep. “The Mina Loy papers: Archival spectres.” Reading Mina Loy’s Autobiographies: Myth of the Modern Woman. Bloomsbury Academic. 2013.

Schmid, Julie. “Mina Loy’s Futurist Theatre.” Performing Arts Journal, vol. 18, no. 1, 1996, pp. 1–7, www.jstor.org/stable/3245807.

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