Irish Shamrocks, American Roots

By the Archives

March 15, 2013

Illustrated poem about John Henry Bradley Storrs
Poem about John Henry Bradley Storrs, 191-?. John Henry Bradley Storrs papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

That there are more than a hundred poems in the papers of modernist artist John Henry Bradley Storrs grabbed my attention. Puzzled by the quantity, I clicked my way through the collection, noting that some stanzas were written by him, and others were penned by authors both known and unknown. When I electronically opened folder 25 in box 11, I stopped, for here was an illustrated document.

This stanza, decorated with watercolor shamrocks, appears to be a rhyming tribute to Storrs, who was born in Chicago, grew up in America, then settled in France. But why shamrocks, the national symbol of Ireland, I wondered, and why is there a reference to George Washington?

Although we don’t know who wrote or illustrated this poem, it is tempting to connect the sprigs of clover to a monumental sculpture Storrs designed for a church in Cork, Ireland. Letters and photographs in his papers and related to this 1929–1930 commission, a figure of Christ the King at the new church in Cork, point to the work’s importance in the artist’s artistic production. The poet’s concluding suggestion that his sculptor-brother “Jonny Storrs” will “make von Grand George Washington” may be an oblique reference to Storrs’s American roots.

Jenifer Dismukes is managing editor of the Archives of American Art Journal.