Howell Chambers Brown

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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howell chambers brown screen closeup lady with lions
Closeup of a screen painted by Howell C. Brown, part of the Pasadena Fenyes mansion (official site) collection. Image by L. M. Clancy.

Howell kept Leonora Muse Curtin abreast of Pasadena happenings while she was in Santa Fe, as in the June 23rd letter below.

Friday afternoon the three bores all came to tea at the same time -- The Old House, Mrs. Sharp and The Count de Beaufort and his wife (?) [the question mark is curious] -- we always think it bad enough to have one but all three!!! The Count is Doctors pet bête-noire [archenemy] and he numbs him whenever he gets the chance, but it does no good. Mrs. Worshington was there. She is just the dearest little lady and we all like her so much.


Did Mrs. Fenyes write you that Benjamin and I made mother a present of a Nash Carriole [a type of car without an open top]? She is enjoying it immensely and we quite swagger with our expanse of plate glass and disk wheels. It was getting so that she often had to stay at home rather than go out in an open car.


My paper was out and I was too lazy to go down stairs for more. Hence the official stationary. Please remember to Mr. Parson and any other friends you may see. I have to smile at the name of your hotel "La Fonda Hotel" What a queer combination. FCP B96 F23 06/23/1923

Howell wrote Mrs. Curtin a six-page letter on August 2nd 1934 that detailed his trip to Europe, then wrote another letter on August 15th 1934 whilst still abroad. Despite the absence of romantic hints, they were very close friends and knew so.

<blockquoteI have so many things to tell you I hardly know where to begin. I write to the two of you more than anyone, first because you are our dearest friends and second because I know you will be interested in our various little adventures. FCP B96 F23 1934 Aug 15

Although he did not receive any responses because the Browns were moving quite rapidly through Europe, Howell persisted in writing extensive and detailed letters during his extended time abroad. A week after his last letter, Howell wrote Leonora on August 22nd 1934 from Morocco.

We are gathering wonderful material that we can use later. Sometimes we sit down and make a careful sketch but usually we make a pencil sketch, put a few color notes on it and then move on. In this way we can get much more as a sketch takes a couple of hours and in that time we can make four or five notes. FCP B96 F23 1934 Aug 22

While Benjamin Brown was noted for his plein air artwork, it is possible that they did not have their fast-drying tube paints available due to unavailability or due to cost amidst the Great Depression (which is alluded to later in the letter).

We have been going so much that no letters have caught up with us but hope to find some at Madrid. About the only things we know about the United States is they killed Dillinger ad the San Francisco strike was ended. Dahl wants to know if life in the U.S. is not very unpleasant with so many gansters!? Oh yes we know F.R. now is demanding all the silver. What next. FCP B96 F23 1934 Aug 22

Unfortunately, the weather did not agree with the Browns for their entire trip.

We spent twelve days in London and it rained every day while we were there. As a result we did not see much of the country but met quite a few of the artists in London and went to some of the galleries. Everyone tried his best to make our stay pleasant and the main trouble was trying not to eat and drink too much. FCP B96 F23 1934 Aug 27

At one point, Howell sent Leonora Muse Curtin two excerpts regarding politics. He did not seem to just send these as a form of propaganda, but spent time typing them (or having somebody else do so) and included the hand-written note, Many thanks for "Figures." Found here are two I think will interest you. HB. FCP B96 F23 1939 Feb 18

As Canadian Eyes See Us


It has been the most colossal spendthrift in history and without results; it has weighed upon its platform promises of retrenchment; it is squandering the money of the people in partisan propaganda; it has elevated many a political accident to high office, including the Supreme Court; it has badgered and impeded business big and small; it has held up to public ridicule and hate the producers of material wealth, for party purposes; it has built up power by exploitation of the misery of thirteen million of unemployed; and has accomplished nothing for the latter after five years of glib promises and the expenditure of twenty billion dollars; it has sapped the morale of the people by inculcating the idea that the government owes everybody a living; it has adopted the policy of scarcity, paying the farmers for that which they did not raise, and at the same time spent billions to increase productivity of the soil; it has murdered hundreds of thousands of pigs while human millions cried for sustenance; it has encouraged class hatred by abuse from high places; it has tacitly sanctioned mob expropriation, and it has abridged personal freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.

We are tired to death of pink Communism and sick at heart that a great nation, leading the world in initiative and individualism should have been brought perilously close to its knees by a Pied Piper of the air, fatuously fluting in rag time.

Its whole mistaken popularity has been based upon the sob appeal that a third of the nation is ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clothed, and a collateral idea that the national sock is overlastingly full. No decent man, here or elsewhere, begrudges one penny paid out for the aid and sustenance of thos [sic] really in want, but the New Deal has squandered billions in deliberate drunken-sailor prodigality and concealment of facts and intent.

We believe that the richest country in the world has known is headed for New Deal catastrophe, if a halt be not called at once; that its people, and there are none finer, are being brought down to a shameful misery by the most colossal stupidity that political insanity has yet devised for its own self-perpetuating ends. FCP B96 F23 1939 Feb 18

And attached to that document was a poem with unknown author entitled Rejected about President Franklin Roosevelt.

A stranger stood at the gates of hell
and the Devil himself had answered the bell.
He looked him over from head to toe
and said, my friend, I'd like to know
What you have done in the line of sin
To entitle you to come within.
Then Franklin D., with his usual guile
stepped forth and flashed his toothy smile,
When I took charge in thirty-three
A nation's faith was mine said he,
I promised this and I promised that
And I calmed them down with a fire side chat
I spent their money on fishing trips
And fished from the decks of their battle ships
I gave them jobs on the W.P.A.
Then raised their taxes and took it away
I raised their wages and closed their shops
I killed their pigs and ruined their crops.
I double crossed both old and young
And still the fools my praises sung.
I brought back beer and what do you think
I taxed it so high that they couldn't drink.
I furnished money for government loans
And when they missed a payment I took their homes.
When I wanted to punish the folks you know,
I put my wife on the radio.
I paid them to let their farms lie still
And imported food stuffs from Brazil.
I curtailed crops when I felt real mean
And shipped in corn from the Argentine.
When they'd start to worry, stew and fret,
I'd get them to chanting the alphabet,
With the A.A.A. and the N.L.B.
The W.P.A. and the C.C.C.
With these many units I got their goats
And still I crammed it down their throats.
My workers worked with the speed of snails
While the tax payers chewed their finger nails.
When the organizers needed dough
I closed up the plants for the C.I.O
I ruined homes and I ruined health
And some, who couldn't stand the gaff,
Would call on me and how I'd laugh.
When they got too strong on certain things
I'd pack and head for old Warm Springs
I ruined their country, their homes, and then
I placed the blame on nine old men.
Now Franklin talked both long and loud
And the Devil stood and his head was bowed.
At last he said, let's make it clear,
You'll have to move, you can't stay here
For once you mingle with this mob
I'll have to hunt myself a job....
FCP B96 F23 1939 Feb 18

After writing a letter letter to Leonora dated February 4th 1943 from Mexico City D.F., Howell wrote another letter dated Sunday 5th 1943. This letter included some insight into crossing the US-Mexican border.

When you come into this country now you certainly go through plenty of red-tape. Part of it includes a session with a board of three men. You go into a room, the door is shut and you are seated in front of three men on the other side of a big table. They are Military Intelligence, Naval Intelligence and FBI and ask you all sorts of questions. Then you go through a seance with the Immigration man and this is followed by Customs. All of them are very nice and courteous but it is easy to see what would happen if they were not satisfied with your answers. FCP B96 F23 1943 Mo? 05

The Browns were indefatigable travelers, and Howell's letters to Leonora illuminate aspects of Mexico and himself in the context of the era. The following letter was written from Hotel Belmar, situated on Avenida Olas Altas in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico.

This is a Spanish typewriter and I dont [sic] know if it will speak English with a Spanish accent or not but you can probably make out what it is trying to say.

The country down here has changed very much since I knew it (of course after 35 years) but changed for the better almost everyone now can read and write and even the boot-black kids sit around reading. This coast is making plenty of money raising tomatoes and asparagus for the American market and packing tomatoes for BEW to send to Europe. Once company in Los Mochis has a contract with BEW for 250,000 cases of canned tomatoes a year. Good roads are being built and they are making a good start on sanitation, disposal of sewage, watching the milk and meat supply etc. Schools are scattered everywhere and it is compulsory to send the children every school day.

Autos have practically displaced horses although riding one on some of the back country roads is about as exciting and dangerous as riding an outlaw bronco. When I wanted to go out to my old ranch there was no road so they managed to scrape together three horses and a mule. Nothing was left of the old house except some adobe bricks. It felt pretty good to be on a horse again but we only stayed two weeks up there as I did not want to impose on the old friends but I really enjoyed it more than I had expected. It is always rather a dangerous experiment to try nad [sic] relive old times but they were all so genuinely glad to see me that every minute was a pleasure. We were three days at one ranch where the owner was an old friend and is one of the old-fashioned types of rancheros. He couldnt [sic] do too much for us and it gave Sibley a big thrill to see the real [partial underline] old spanish [sic] type of life. I was one of the two "ambassadors" who went to ask his wife's father to give his daughter in marriage (the owner of the ranch where we stayed) so he and his wife both look on me as almost one of the family.

I have been very much interested in the big fields of jojoli growing down here. It seems that seeds are shipped to the states for the manufacture of some of the margarines. Wish I could share with you some of the delicious papayas that we have everr [sic] morning for breakfast. I asked why they didnt [sic] ship them to the states and they say they are not permitted entry, I dont [sic] know why.

I hope that the old tummy has been behaving itself and letting you enjoy dear Santa Fe. Also hope Alcala has been making progress towards getting translated although I should think it would be hard to sit down and dig at a book with all out-doots [sic] calling. FCP B96 F23 1943 Aug 31

It is unclear what Alcala means, although perhaps Babs (Leonora's daughter) was hired to translate Spanish and English text or communications between Mr. Alcala and Mr. Harrington (see below). By this time Babs was working at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Tell Babs I am ashamed of her leaving poor old Alcala all by himself for such a time. Harrington must be pawing the air and burning up the air-mail stamps trying to get more. All joking aside I think she is very wise not to try and keep at it too steadily. FCP B96 F23 1943 Oct 03