Friday, November 28, 2008

Sadakichi Hartmann

The mosaic hat above represents Sadakichi Hartmann, one of dozens representing New York artists and entertainers in the 23rd Street R station in Manhattan. It's part of artist Keith Godard's "Memories of 23rd Street".

Hartmann (1867-1944) was a New York poet and critic of German and Japanese descent. He was a friend of Walt Whitman and the anarchist Emma Goldman. He was an excellent pickpocket. He wrote a play called "Christ" that was banned in Boston for obscenity when he was 23. And he may have been the first poet to pen a haiku in English.

He once wrote, "I have devoted my long literary career largely to a promotion of a National U.S. Art and a lifelong plea for tolerance in religious matters. I wrote six dramas to prove that every religion has profound merits and deplorable defect."

But he wasn't a total success. He tried writing screenplays in Hollywood but became a fixture in bars, drinking with John Barrymore's entourage. George Knox writes in a 1970 bio:
His tales of Whitman and Mallarmé, of Isadora Duncan and Greenwich Village characters -- tales related with a half-mocking quality and often fantastic embellishments -- were regarded as sheer invention by the Hollywood crowd that kept the old man in drinks in order to be entertained by his talk, recitations, and bizarre dancing. They liked this shabby self-proclaimed genius with termagantish tongue, and they brought him to parties as a put-on guest to shock the easily outraged. But they were convinced, nonetheless, that he was essentially a hoax and a poseur. How else explain the sly mockery of a man who would outrage all credibility by beginning an anecdote: "On a day like this, there were Rodin, Whitman, myself and three beers in a cafe in Vienna . . ."
But at that same time, writes Knox, Hartmann was also championing and encouraging young painters.

Although Hartmann was a citizen since 1894 and wrote a lengthy history of American art, he was tormented by the FBI for his German and Japanese heritage during WWII.

Hartmann died in St. Petersburg, Florida at a daughter's house at the age of 77 in 1944.

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