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“Sir, you are my most neglected correspondent.” So said Stanley Horn in the first sentence of a 1960s-era letter to one of his associates, writing in his capacity as Tennessee’s state historian. In 1982, Jim Kelly, then curator at the Tennessee State Museum, told me over breakfast at the Loveless Café—one of several Nashville equivalents to Woodward’s in Spartanburg—that the museum was hungry to acquire the Bass Otis portrait of Andrew Jackson from Mr. Horn’s estate. The imposing portrait was then hanging in the late writer’s home, now occupied by Horn’s daughter, Mrs. Sims Crownover, to whom Jim had introduced me.

Museums and private collectors, of course, often work through dealers to acquire those things they desire from private sources, sometimes to protect their identity or downplay their interest. The Tennessee State Museum, obviously, already had a fine relationship with the late Mr. Horn, but found Mrs. Crownover a tad difficult. Jim simply asked that I bear that burden. Mr. Horn’s passionate interest in the history of his native state had informed his collecting of objects of importance and interest. His was the antiquarian’s eye—though one tempered with an understanding of aesthetics, a quality so rare among collectors today. I wish I had known him.

Jim added that there were numerous other treasures there, but it was only the portrait he was after; anything else I could consider a finder’s fee for his having made the introduction. Horn had owned the drawings Thomas Jefferson made for the French silversmith Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot, as well as the actual “Jefferson” cups that resulted. These prizes were split between Horn’s two children; the son’s cup eventually went to Monticello, while the other was removed from the estate with surgical precision by a local collector who advised Mrs. Crownover on various matters. There were other paintings documenting the great state of Tennessee, most of which came to me after the museum had added what it could to their holdings, to include Nashville from Lower City Island and Suspension Bridge, Nashville. Each of these early oils is by a painter unknown to us today and not known to Mr. Horn then. Perhaps with time, scholars will address such mysteries, and additional footnotes to history will be made. The inherent importance of each of these works to Nashville and to Tennessee was understood by Mr. Horn, who I am quite sure did not slow down in the least because he couldn’t find a signature, to borrow a turn of phrase.

My good fortune in the exchange came in a selection of rare books and the correspondence, especially the one line about tardiness. The letter was a typescript, and I am quite sure I tossed it when it became too ragged. But I clipped that line, and it migrated around the top of my desk for years, becoming over time the crux of a test I give myself. I will admit to occasional procrastination, an illogical putting-off generally applied to the most important tasks before me. The lesser things get done, but I tend to sidestep those of greater consequence. The mind being what it is, I reassure myself that I avoid them only in order to do them full justice in due time. If the reader of this book has received a missive from me that began, “Sir, you are my most neglected correspondent,” then you are not alone, and I am guilty of quoting out of context.

Gilbert Gaul (1855-1919)
Van Buren, Tennessee (1881)
Oil on canvas
30 x 44 inches
Owner: The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
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