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A Portrait in Two Parts


Douglas Crase (View Bio)
Hardcover: Pantheon, 2004.


Both is the enchanting account of a remarkable fifty-year relationship: Dwight Ripley, the child heir to an American railroad fortune, and Rupert Barneby, the product of a wealthy, baronial English upbringing, shared an obsession with botany from the moment they met at an exclusive boys’ boarding school in England. Together they embarked on a lifelong pursuit of rare plants, first in Europe and then in the United States, where they migrated in the late 1930s. Every spring they explored the American Southwest in a sputtering Dodge, discovering new species and cultivating the spoils at their renowned home gardens. Barneby published so many taxonomic findings that he became a world authority on legumes. But the two men had other interests as well: they were intimates in the expatriate circles that included W. H. Auden and Peggy Guggenheim, and early collectors of painters such as Jackson Pollock and Joan Miró. Ripley, a prescient artist himself, whose startling work in colored pencil was lost in a trunk for several decades before being rediscovered, used his fortune to bankroll much of the avant-garde art scene of the early 1950s.

The lives of Ripley and Barneby were shaped by a passion for knowing the world in all its lush particulars. Douglas Crase, who received an education in character when he came to know Barneby in the 1970s, offers us not just the brilliantly told story of "both," but a vivid portrait of the bohemian postwar period they inhabited, bristling with the energy of the new.

"Both is clearly a labor of love: a tribute to a relationship that endured for half a century. It is not just one story, but two.... Both offers a pair of windows on two worlds: the outdoor world of plants, particularly in the American West, and the indoor world of the postwar avant-garde art scene... Crase's emphasis, however, is not so much on portraying the social-sexual milieu as on showing us the hidden connections among the seemingly diverse endeavors of painting and botanizing. He has filled his book with many wonderful illustrations — pictorial and verbal — that not only demonstrate the special qualities of both men's work but also enable us to appreciate the underlying values (the philosophy, so to speak) that informed their scientific and artistic endeavors.... Unlike so many writers one comes across these days, Crase neither condescends to his subjects nor tries to fit them into preconceived categories. Admirable for its sensitivity and sympathy toward its subjects, its scrupulous regard for truth and facts rather than gossip and innuendo, Both conveys what bound this pair together and what made each of them unique." — Los Angeles Times

"This is the story of Harry Dwight Dillon Ripley and Rupert C. Barneby, whose 'partnered lives...blended productively into the worlds of botany and art.'... Crase's engaging style makes the dual biography a pleasure to read." — Booklist

"Discerning, admiring profiles of Rupert Barneby and Dwight Ripley, who had a profound impact on botany, the 20th-century avant garde, and each other.... Chronicling a relationship that lasted 48 years, from their schoolboy romance at Harrow in 1925 through a move to the US in the late '30s to Ripley's death in 1973, the author neatly delineates the canny fit of their lives, the way in which botany and art fueled each other. Their work speaks volumes on its own, but Crase gives liveliness to Barneby's affinity for plants and playfulness with Latin, the 'pungent hauteur' of his taxonomic writings, and his imitation of avant-garde art, itself an imitation of intimating. Ripley's modest trust fund helped the men pursue their objectives, but he also gave a large percentage of it to support the work of Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, Helen Frankenthaler, Fairfield Porter, John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and Kenneth Koch, all of whom helped alter post-WWII conventions. Crase draws a heartfelt portrait of the two men as life companions, supporting and egging on each other with Barneby's clarity and Ripley's psychological thrashings. Just as the men would have wanted, Crase swimmingly describes two lives that were free of the limelight, yet satisfyingly committed to the artistic and intellectual movements of their time." — Kirkus Reviews

"This elegantly written story of the partnered lives of botanist Rupert Barneby and aesthete Dwight Ripley is steeped in enjoyable anecdotal detail. Poet and critic Crase draws on his long friendship with Barneby to evoke Barneby and Ripley's luminous social circle, which included Peggy Guggenheim, W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Clement Greenburg, and Jean Connolly.... Writing with lilting appreciation and gentle humanity, Crase is clearly at home in this rarified aesthete's world, weaving a deft tapestry of interconnecting relationships that provides intriguing biographical detail for anyone interested in 1950s visual, poetic and critical culture." — Publishers Weekly

"Their partnered lives blended the worlds of botany, art, music, and literature, and they are chronicled in Both.... Ripley and Barneby are recognized giants in the botanical world of the 20th century, and their botanical skills have been widely touted. Both illuminates these achievements and provides a full portrait of the social and artistic circles these two men inhabited." — Rock Garden Quarterly

"Their modesty and my lack of perception kept me from realizing how extraordinary Dwight and Rupert were. Both brings them to life, as botanists and artists, with great charm and wit and intelligence. At last they can be appreciated." — Grace Hartigan

"Both, for me, recalls beautiful memories of visiting Dwight and Rupert in Wappingers Falls: delicate lunches and tours of their fascinating gardens. Dwight supported John Myers' Tibor de Nagy Gallery and the Second Generation New York School. Now, in this delightful book, we have the whole story of the part they played in the literary and artistic life of their moment, and a fresh account of that moment in all its vibrancy." — Helen Frankenthaler

"The fascinating account of the lives of two avant-garde English botanists who played a hitherto unrecorded role in the vibrant New York art scene of the 1950s." — John Ashbery

"The author and his lover, close friends of the late botanist Rupert Barneby, were given several hundred drawings made by Barneby's partner of forty-eight years, Dwight Ripley; here Crase honors that legacy.... Crase's work, as its title playfully suggests, is itself a reclassification, in which taxonomy becomes poetry, paintings serve as love letters, and gardens rival art. Barneby and Ripley owned a birdcage topped by a fishbowl; from certain angles, the glass sphere appeared to contain bird and fish together. Crase's intricate construction — capturing now one man, now both — is similarly tantalizing." — The New Yorker

"Latin binomials pepper the first half of Both, Douglas Crase's dual biography of Rupert Barneby and Dwight Ripley. As children, Barneby and Ripley found plants an escape — from oppression at Harrow — and formed a life-long attachment based on their mutual delight in binomial syntax. Mr. Crase, a successful poet, also seems comfortable with the aural mischief created by the Latinate names.... What becomes of such a pair? They end up cavorting with Peggy Guggenheim.... In describing Barneby and Ripley, Mr. Crase throws up a heap of clashing, colorful details.... One of Mr. Crase's felicities is to have made these two unlikely lives seem plausible, even on the page: He writes about botany, English castes, the cold war, and abstract expressionism with equal immediacy." — The New York Sun

"This new dual biography...is about how two men endured in spite of everything life and society threw at them.... Admirable.... What starts out as a memoir about a friend who became a village elder evolves into something more: a moving tribute to a father." — Palm Beach Post

"With this uncommon glimpse into an era when the passionate pursuit of knowledge and the arts had still not lost its sparkle, Douglas Crase has delivered a touching love story. Effortlessly present here are the glowing affections of two remarkable men, not just for one another but for the joy of life and learning that they wove seamlessly throughout their lives. It is quite easy to hear their exclamations in the field, as Both translates the undiluted pleasure of their discoveries into ours." — Daniel J. Hinkley, author of The Explorer's Garden

"Friendships rarely last forever, but Dwight Ripley and Rupert Barneby enjoyed a unique relationship that endured for more than half a century.... Douglas Crase's picture of these two largely unknown figures brings them vividly to life and casts new light on the arts after World War II." — Dallas Morning News

"Crase tells the curious tale of the author of that superb monograph on Astralagus.... He has carefully and sympathetically unpicked the story of two lifelong intimate friends.... By drawing together the details of the two lives, Crase not only emphasizes how botany spans both science and arts (despite the best efforts of the modern academic establishment to unhook these two approaches), but bravely explores a facet of the botanical world 'that dare not speak its name.' For botany, like horticulture and garden design, is a profession that attracts a substantial gay constituency.... This book offers a fascinating, offbeat look at some neglected corners of 20th century botanical history." — Plant Talk

"This sweet, minor portrait-in-miniatures concerns American polyglot millionaire Dwight Ripley and his companion, the British plant taxonomist Rupert Barneby. The pair met in boarding school in the 1920s, where their wealth, physical comeliness and shared love of botanical obscurities cemented a lifelong, though not always placid, love affair. Crase, a poet and critic, covers their many specimen-hunting jaunts to the American Southwest, sojourns among the stars and expatriates in Beverly Hills, and final tenure amid New York's glittering cultural avatars and Village people of the period. Their sparkling circle including Cyril and Jean Connolly, Peggy Guggenheim (with whom Ripley had a torrid affair), Clement Greeenberg, and the decidedly odd couple of Willard Maas (with whom Barneby had an equally torrid affair) and his wife, experimental filmmaker Marie Menken. The talented, unfulfilled Mr. Ripley achieved some fame with his witty Firbankian verses, jewel-like colored pencil portraits, and collection of Pollocks and Mirós, before drinking himself to death in '73. The brilliant Barneby settled in as éminence grise of the New York Botanical Garden, where he worked almost until his death in 2000.... Both is a great read for botanists, lovers of obscure biographies laden with precious insider gossip and folks who yearn for a time when New York was the center of the world." — Time Out New York

"I became 'victimized' by this captivating biography, reading 'til the weetime.... A lyrically written and exceptionally riveting account of the intertwined lives of Rupert Barneby, botanist par excellence, and Dwight Ripley, more the horticulturalist of the two, also a poet and an accomplished artist, and 'fluent in fifteen languages, and able to read and write in perhaps thirty.' Scions of old British and new American wealth, and rather more of the latter of millionaire Ripley, the 48-year relationship began in 1925 in an English exclusive school and flourished on a variety of levels, including botanical-horticultural, literary, linguistic, artistic, and the super-rich.... Both is so multidimensional it cries out to be cast as a movie. Superbly written and totally engaging, read and enjoy Both; both for the botany and horticulture, and especially for the tales of the artists, the actors, the writers, particularly the expatriate literati, and the moneyed. With Both the whole is indeed much greater than the sum of its parts." — Taxon

"Charming and intimate, a lovely object to hold and to view as well as a delicately substantial poet's vision of town men who met...in 1925 and for fifty-five years thereafter shared their devotion to botany (especially taxonomy and the discovery of new species) while cultivating parceled independence.... I shall always want [in my library] Douglas Crase's Both...for the staple satisfaction of reading. A poet, Crase has put his discoveries not only into the story of two exceptional men but also into his language, a patinaed prose with iridescences of humor and good sense. His book takes us gently beyond information in order to arrive, more than once, at wisdom, the wisdom of the subject. For example, Crase and his partner saw Rupert Barneby for the last time on the older man's turf at the New York Botanical Garden, long after Dwight's death. Rupert, after saying good bye, turned back, as Crase writes: 'and said, not Take care, not even Take care of each other, but Take care of both.' Both — a world of meditation in a single word. For its simplicity as well as for its innovating from the commonplace in evoking fundamental human relations, both is a genuine find — as is Douglas Crase's Both." — The New Mexican

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