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When Donal McLaughlin '33BArch graduated from the School of Architecture, the centerpiece of his portfolio was a design for a planetarium in New York’s Central Park. “I dreamed once of seeing my designs in brick and stone,” says McLaughlin with a laugh. “And instead, the thing I’m best known for is a button.”
But what a button. The design McLaughlin created as a lapel pin for the first United Nations Conference in 1945 was soon adopted as the UN’s emblem. It has since been seen by millions of people on every continent in every corner of the globe. It’s hard to imagine a greater legacy for a designer.
McLaughlin’s career put him at the center of some of the major events of the twentieth century, but it began inauspiciously. “It was the bottom of the Depression. Architects were not working anywhere.” Luckily, an old friend got him a job at the National Park Service in Washington, which led to positions in the New York offices of the famed industrial designers Walter Dorwin Teague and Raymond Loewy. There he worked on the Kodak and U.S. Steel exhibits for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. And he learned he was good at something: making complicated information understandable. A few months before Pearl Harbor, Washington called again.
“‘Wild Bill’ Donovan [the legendary head of the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency] asked Loewy to create a war room for FDR, using the kinds of advanced techniques we'd developed for the World’s Fair. It was to be built under the White House.“ McLaughlin didn’t like Loewy’s concept for the project and quit, but the experience led him back into government service: he moved to Washington and joined the OSS’s Presentation Branch as chief of its graphics division. (The war room was never built.)
Throughout World War II, McLaughlin’s services were constantly in demand. His group—which included architect Eero Saarinen, a Yale classmate—designed films, displays, insignia, and diagrams, work he remains proud of to this day. “My time at Yale and my time at the OSS were really the great standout years of my life,” he says now. “We weren’t advertisers. We weren’t trying to sell anything. Our whole message during the war was simply to take information and put it into forms that people could easily understand.” The Presentation Branch produced everything from Army orientation films to cigarette-paper packages printed with diagrammatic instructions for derailing German trains. Toward the war’s end, McLaughlin’s team created not only the visual displays that helped convict Nazi war criminals in the Nuremberg Trials, but the distinctive arrangement of the courtroom itself.
It was around that same time that McLaughlin was given his most memorable assignment. The State Department had announced that in June 1945, in San Francisco, it would convene the United Nations Conference on International Organization. The OSS’s Presentation Branch was asked to create displays, certificates, maps, and guides for the delegates, as well as one seemingly minor accessory. “It was my good fortune,” McLaughlin says, “to be assigned the problem of designing a lapel pin for conference identification.”
He went through dozens of designs, struggling with the challenge of combining a suitable image with the conference’s name, date, and location, all within a circle one-and-one-sixteenth inches across. McLaughlin describes his solution as “an azimuthally equidistant projection showing all the countries in one circle,” flanked by crossed olive branches. It appeared on the delegates' pins and was stamped in gold on the cover of the United Nations Charter. On June 26, when the charter was signed by delegates of 50 nations, the United Nations was established. McLaughlin, without fully intending to, had designed its emblem.
After the war, McLaughlin stayed in Washington and entered private practice. His long career has included many striking achievements, including the design of Tiffany and Co.’s flagship store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, as well as designs for countless government agencies, public institutions, and, according to friend and client Carolyn Mackenzie, “every nonprofit in the world.” (She adds, “I’ve never heard of him saying no.”) He has taught at Howard University and American University, and is looking forward to his 100th birthday on July 26. But, after more than 60 years, that one project stands out for him. “It’s like an old, warm friend,” he says of the UN emblem. Then his mood darkens: “The fact that some in our current administration have treated it with contempt really bothers me.” McLaughlin was an idealist then, and clearly he remains one today. “I still believe that the UN is really our best hope for world peace.”
You Can Quote Them
Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx was a comic philosopher of great profundity. But one of his best-known jokes is a fine example of the proposition that, in humor, “there is nothing new under the sun.” (That includes aphorisms. Ecclesiastes 1:9, King James Version: “There is no new thing under the sun.”)
Woody Allen quoted Groucho’s witticism in Annie Hall. His character, Alvy Singer, says the joke is
Was Allen serious about the Freud derivation? Hard to say. But the wisecrack does not appear in Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious. It does appear in The Groucho Letters (1967), which Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations gives as the source of the joke. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has Groucho and Me (1959) as the provenance.
In fact, the “club” joke appeared much earlier. In an article by the Grouchster in Look magazine, March 28, 1950, he explained his resignation from the Friars Club as follows: “I do not care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”
Several predecessors of the joke anticipate the structure and psychology of the mighty line. Here are a few—going all the way back to 1867:
Now, finally, we arrive at the ur-joke. Ecclesiastes was right. The quintessential twentieth-century urban comedians, Woody and Groucho, shared the same insight into human nature as the towering prairie humorist of the nineteenth century:
One man has suffered the failure of his annual harvest. A woman’s child is inexplicably sick. A house has mysteriously burned to the ground. Neighboring villagers are suspected of poisoning a farmer’s goats.
These vexations call for the services of the nganga, the ritual priest, healer, and diviner among the Kongo people, who live along the Atlantic coast of Central Africa. His instruments for determining guilt and prescribing punishment are fashioned from things of the natural world, but they embody the ethereal world. These physical bundles of power, called nkisi, are sometimes in the form of human figures. Chief among these figures is the one called nkondi.
Robert Farris Thompson '55, '65PhD, Yale professor of African art history, has studied the use of Kongo nkondi figures and described their use in confrontation, exposure, and punishment. When a case is brought by a plaintiff to the nganga, he drives a steel nail, a spike, or a shiny metal shim into the body of the figure in order to force its spirit to enter into the case at hand. The spiritual force is a flash, like lightning, or like the flash of the shiny spike. The violence of driving a nail into the wood parallels the associated crimes, such as murder or injury, that the ritual is meant to redress. Then the final agreement between the priest, the client, and the spirit is secured by the binding of twine around the spike.
The protruding abdominal container (kudu) may be filled with man-made and natural elements such as bone fragments, leaves, nuts, seeds, horns, ashes, beads, and bits of metal. These materials are prescribed for each nkondi by the nganga; their proper combination creates a great spiritual power to discover and combat the causes of diseases and misfortunes and to unmask antisociability, thievery, and malevolent forces. The mirror covering the container refers to the watery passage between the worlds of the living and the dead, where the priest serves as intermediary. The mirror is the “eyes” of the nkisi bundle—sealed with resin and obscured with a patina of blood and other materials—that see the evil that works in the night.
The Yale nkondi [in the Charles B. Benenson collection of African art at the Yale Art Gallery] is an exquisite bundle of power, embodying the spirit of aggression and righteous indignation that characterizes so much of the art of the Kongo. Its central message is that spiritual power is found in all of nature.
Prize Shocks “Shocking” Poet
When a panel of judges chose Wellesley professor Frank Bidart as the newest winner of Yale’s Bollingen Prize in American Poetry—putting him in the company of such legends as Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and W. H. Auden—the only hitch was getting Bidart to believe the news.
Upon getting word by telephone from prize secretary Patricia Willis, Bidart said, “This is a joke, isn’t it?” and pronounced himself “stupefied.” Because the prize doesn’t have nominations, it “sneaks up on people,” says Willis, curator of American literature at the Beinecke. The $100,000 prize, first given in 1949, was endowed by Paul Mellon '29.
The judges (English chair Langdon Hammer '80, '89PhD, poet Ellen Bryant Voigt, and Stanford professor Nicholas Jenkins) agreed that “Bidart’s poems—eerie, probing, sometimes shocking, always subtle—venture into psychic terrain left largely unmapped in contemporary poetry.”
In “The Third Hour of the Night,” from his volume Star Dust, an Australian sorcerer addresses the Italian sculptor (and murderer) Benvenuto Cellini: “In this universe anybody can kill anybody / with a stick. What the gods gave me / is their gift, the power to bury within each / creature the hour it ceases.” The poem hums with the uneasy relationship between violence and beauty, and the knowledge that only through such tension is great art born.
Bidart taps into unsettling ideas, and that, to Jenkins, is the job of the poet: “People shouldn’t read poetry to have their beliefs confirmed, but to enter unmapped territory.”
Mellon’s Centennial, on Two Continents
Paul Mellon '29 loved horses, foxhunting, and England, and he loved to collect art. To his lasting credit, he also loved to give his art away. In the centennial year of his birth, the many U.S. and British institutions that benefited from Mellon’s generosity are mounting exhibitions to showcase the remarkable depth of his collections. The Yale Center for British Art is currently highlighting rarely displayed works on paper, bringing out for public viewing a wide range of Mellon’s British watercolors, prints, drawings, and rare books.
These works, along with some of the center’s most important paintings, will travel back to England in the fall for an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. Another 88 watercolors will go to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in the summer, and then to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Below is a sampling of Mellon centennial events:
Paul Mellon’s Legacy: A Passion for British Art
The Road to Yorktown
Reflections on a Life With Horses: Paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art
Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art
Paul Mellon: A Cambridge Tribute
Treasures from Paul Mellon’s Library
Straight Talk About God
Speaking of Faith
When I was a Yale undergraduate in the late '70s and early '80s, my friends and I used to gather late at night in a Jonathan Edwards College dorm room to argue. I was an evangelical Protestant at the time, and the other regulars included a secular Jew, a conservative Catholic, an atheist, a liberal Catholic, and a mainline Protestant. There was also a secular Muslim who took on and cast off new identities at will, playing a Stalinist, then a nihilist, and then (thanks to my ministrations) a born-again Christian.
Many of our arguments concerned economic and political theory. But we argued about religion too, not least about whether it made sense to follow one God, one scripture, and one leader in a world populated by millions of Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists.
Today in the religious studies courses I teach at Boston University I try to recreate the conditions that existed in that Yale dorm room. I try to get my students not only to talk about religion but also to argue—to bring into the classroom their deepest convictions and confusions. This is a difficult task. Above the din of our cultural mantra of religious tolerance, it is almost impossible to utter, much less to hear, any religious confession whatsoever. Saying what you believe about heaven or hell or God or Satan is now seen as ill-mannered. Meanwhile, religious literacy has eroded to such a point that most Americans no longer know enough about Christianity or Islam, the Bible or the Koran, to get up an intelligent religious conversation anyway.
Still, I perceive a hunger, at least among young people, for real conversation about spiritual matters. The nationally syndicated public radio program Speaking of Faith represents one effort to foster just such a conversation. So does a new book of the same name by that show’s host, Krista Tippett '94MDiv.
Tippett speaks on air not just with a calm voice but with a voice that seems to be praying that calm might come. Her new book—part spiritual memoir, part theological tract, and part manifesto—models a new way of speaking about religion that, in Tippett’s words, “defuses the usual minefields.” Steering clear of the shrill proclamations of our culture wars' field generals, Speaking of Faith appeals instead to “the vast middle” of Americans who are desperate, in her view, for a detente of sorts between faith and fanaticism, science and religion, the Religious Right and the Secular Left.
Tippett’s on-air conversations accent stories. Her own begins in Baptist Oklahoma, where she faithfully attended church under the watchful eye of her grandfather, a fire-and-brimstone preacher. It extends to a stint as a journalist in Cold War Germany, a master’s degree at Yale Divinity School, marriage, a child, divorce, and struggles with depression.
But more than this vita, it is Tippett’s “life of conversation” that constitutes the subject of her book—a life that finds her musing over the theological provocations of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr '14BD, '15MA, and then transforming those musings into provocative on-air exchanges with the Zen poet and activist Thich Nhat Hanh, the quantum physicist- turned-Anglican priest John Polkinghorne, and the Benedictine nun Sister Joan Chittister.
The arc of Tippett’s narrative runs from a youthful fundamentalism of easy answers to a more mature faith of difficult questions, and she leaves no doubt that this is an Exodus tale of liberation from bondage. “We are all theologians,” Tippett affirms, and hers is a theology made wise by experience—a theology of everyday life that sits hard by suffering rather than trying to eradicate it, that ventures out into storms rather than taking refuge from them.
In Speaking of Faith, Tippett commends the virtues of complicated religion. The Bible, she writes, is neither “a catalogue of absolutes” (as many conservative Christians claim) nor “a document of fantasy” (as secularists sometimes argue) but an elegantly complex record of flawed human beings wrestling with God. Echoing Elie Wiesel, she contends for an understanding of morality that is less about following simple rules than about seeking out the hidden will of God.
Tippett proves herself to be just such a seeker when her theological reflections turn a spotlight on her own life, particularly her experiences of divorce and clinical depression. Rather than understanding our private desolations as evidence of God’s absence from the world, she interprets them as opportunities to incorporate the hope that God is with us even, and perhaps most importantly, when we seem to be utterly and absolutely alone.
This inspiring book is a bit too inspired by antifundamentalism for my tastes. And I wish that her conversational theology had made a place for arguments about doctrine as well as narratives about experience, since in my experience the head has always proven to be at least as effective an avenue into divinity as the heart.
But Tippett is right that the time for ignoring religion is long past. We need to take religion seriously. We need to give voice in our national life to religious and non-religious people alike who understand, as Tippett does, that the crooked line dividing good from evil runs through each of us.
One of the ironies of recent American history is the demise of the public theologian. Over the last few decades, religion has rampaged into the public square, but we have few thinkers nowadays of the stature of Reinhold Niebuhr, that theologian of the unintended consequence—who, more than anyone but Tippett herself, serves as the animating spirit of this book. Those who might, like Niebuhr, speak publicly of irony, sin, social ethics, and human frailty are badly muted in contemporary America. Until such thinkers move once again onto the covers of news magazines and into television studios, we should be grateful to Tippett not only for amplifying voices of sane faith but also for modeling in herself a public theology that manages to derive faith out of doubt and hope out of paradox.
Your Heart: An Owner’s Guide
The authors—a cardiac surgeon and a cardiologist—liken this book to “an unlimited office visit” with a heart specialist. They explain the function and malfunctions of the body’s most tireless muscle in clear, well-organized prose. One chapter is devoted specifically to cardiac issues in women.
Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood
after a Lifetime of Ambivalence
“I’m pregnant”: with those words, the author jettisoned 15 years of indecision. Walker was “raised to view motherhood with more than a little suspicion,” she writes. In this memoir she recounts her pregnancy and the process of overcoming her doubts.
The Power of Privilege: Yale and
America’s Elite Colleges
“Even Americans unfamiliar with the word embrace meritocracy as if it were a birthright,” writes Soares, who taught sociology at Yale and uses the university as a test case for a stinging indictment of how far Yale and similar colleges fall short of the meritocratic ideal. He also offers provocative suggestions for reform.
A Political Education: Coming of
Age in Paris and New York
The Yale of the mid-1950s did not, notes Schiffrin, welcome socialism. “Nonetheless, like a missionary among the heathens, I felt I needed to give it a try.” The longtime publishing director at Pantheon and founder of the New Press tells his side of the era’s tumultuous story.
More Books by Yale Authors
Ellis Amdur 1974
Robert Kim Bingham 1965
Holbrook Bradley 1940
Catherine A. Brekus 1993PhD, Editor
Stephen Clarkson 1959
Barnaby Conrad 1944
Tom Dolby 1998 and Melissa de la Cruz, Editors
John Mack Faragher 1977PhD, the Arthur Unobskey Professor of American History, and Robert V. Hine 1952PhD
Timothy J. Farnham 2002PhD
Robert Pierce Forbes 1994PhD, Lecturer in History
Arthur T. Hadley 1949
Michael H. Hunt 1971PhD
Jeannine Johnson 1998PhD
David Joselit, Professor of the History of Art
Lawrence Kramer 1972PhD
Jocelyn Liu 1980
Frederick H. Lovejoy Jr. 1959 and Robert J. Haggerty
Robert P. Moncreiff 1952
R. Barton Palmer 1973PhD, Editor
John Pepper 1960
Lindsey Pollak 1998
Christopher A. Puello 1976
Joan Shelley Rubin 1974PhD
Anish Sheth, MD, Clinical Fellow in Internal Medicine and Digestive Disease, and Josh Richman
David Slavitt 1956, Translator
Shawn Smallman 1995PhD
David O. Stewart 1973, 1978JD
Kim Todd 1992
James Wilcox 1971
Trees in Fact and Fable
From the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Charter Oak, trees and images of trees are sprinkled throughout our language, history, and literature. A display of nearly 150 items—including works by Ovid, Dante, Longfellow, and Joyce Kilmer—illustrates the widespread use of tree imagery in our culture.
Good intentions and selfish motives draw Americans into a clash with the residents of an African town. This comedy by Bruce Norris is directed by Anna D. Shapiro.
Made for Love: Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana
Thirty-nine works of American folk and decorative art from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries exemplify the material symbols used to express affection between men and women, parents and children, students and teachers, and friends.
The 80-voice chorus of men and women students performs its annual Commencement concert in Sprague Hall. Call for tickets.
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