Gifting a GLBT legacy
by Michelle Simmons
January 2, 2010
Allen Tanner (right) was a close friend of many literary and artistic luminaries, such as the poet Edith Sitwell. At left is Tanner’s partner, the painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Sitwell, reportedly, had an emotional attachment to Tchelitchew.
During her time at Dickinson, Liz Hamill ’82 made annual
visits to Missouri to see her paternal grandmother, Gertrude Hamill. There Liz
met her acclaimed cousin Allen Tanner, former concert pianist and accompanist
for the Ballet Russes. Tanner and his partner, the painter Pavel Tchelitchew,
had been part of an inner circle of expatriates living in Germany and France
during the 1920s and ’30s—including Gertrude Stein, Edith Sitwell and Igor
Stravinsky—who would go on to define the Modernist canon.
born in 1898, was long retired, and he lavished attention on Hamill. “Allen was
trying to help me, to protect me as a young teenager who didn’t quite know that
she was gay,” she recalls. “I know that he knew. He was always talking about
Gertrude [Stein] here and Alice [B. Toklas] there.”
to a photo of him with Tchelitchew and Stein. “There were many, many more like
this. He would say, ‘Here we are laughing, here we are eating a crust of bread,
here’s the cheese.’
the other great man in my life [besides Buddhist lama Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche],”
she continues. “The first time as a young person I heard the word ‘Tibet’ was
through him. … He always talked about the mystical in music, especially the
music of [composer] Alexander Scriabin. There was a piece called ‘Album Leaf’
that Allen played for me—I remember being really affected by that.”
died in 1987, Hamill inherited his collection of letters, posters, sheet music,
albums and photographs. “My grandmother said, ‘These are for you. Allen wanted
you to have them.’ ”
on to his papers for decades, not knowing what to do with them. Yale University
already had an extensive collection of Tanner artifacts—along with those of
Tchelitchew, Stein, Sitwell and Charles Henri Ford—so she considered donating
the boxes there.
2009, she learned that Dickinson had recently co-hosted a gay-straight alliance
student conference. When she saw the efforts the college was making to welcome
gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) and questioning students, she
decided that Tanner’s papers belonged in Carlisle.
have wanted to have this framework and to discuss it in ways that have a
historical, literary, musical, religious and philosophical value,” she says.
“There’s a treasure trove [in Tanner’s papers] for young, questioning
students—and parents who are dealing with their children who are coming out—to
have historical role models.”
contacted Dickinson librarian Kirk Doran, who connected her with Malinda
Triller, special collections librarian. In March, Hamill brought the two boxes
she had been holding to Archives & Special Collections.
ideal collection for interdisciplinary research—from music to American studies
to gender studies,” Doran says. “There’s literature, history, life in Paris,
Jim Gerencser ’93 agrees. “It’s a very rich collection. Tanner lived a long and
full life—the materials span 60-plus years, from the 1910s to the 1980s.” He
adds that because of the collection’s complexity—some items are in French and
require translation—it will take time to appropriately catalog everything and
would be an excellent project for a student intern.
back on her own student days, Hamill says, “Any person who was GLBT had kind of
a scarlet L or scarlet G. We all had to pass through that, or just remain
hidden. … My motivation [for this gift] is to help protect and save the lives
of young gay and lesbian people and their families, to create avenues of
connection, understanding and acceptance on all kinds of levels.”
To learn more about Hamill, read "Dharma in two Keys."