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Editor's Note, January/February 2008

By David Skinner | HUMANITIES, January/February 2008 | Volume 29, Number 6

Cue the tango music, because this issue of Humanities magazine is all about passion, that often celebrated, but most unruly element of human character. We as a culture seem to like passion these days. It smacks of creativity and expressiveness, a bringing out of the wild inner you that in other times might have been kept hidden under the bed with your old love letters, various pieces of inappropriate clothing, and an airplane-sized bottle of tequila from that time you went to . . . well, enough said.

Yet, in this issue, we find passion restrained, flying high but tethered to a venerating respect for tradition, beauty, and—that oldest, corniest thing in the world—hard work.

William Brumfield’s passion is for old Russian architecture, and there is certainly something incautious and unmeasured about his decades-long photographic pursuit of the beautiful ruins of that great country’s feudal past. One of the pleasures of editing a photo essay like Brumfield’s is that you are forced to examine and re-examine the same images many times over. If the photos weren’t this good, it would begin to feel like a chore. But since they are so good, each time you look, a new thought occurs.

My last thought as I looked at the old Kimzha church Brumfield photographed in the Russian north was, Oh my, each one of these hundreds or even thousands of circular pieces of wooden sheathing must have been cut by hand before being applied to these amazing curvilinear surfaces of these old onion domes. How many carpenters must have worked on this building! And for how long, and how did they even figure out how to do this?

The passion for beauty that drove Henry du Pont was also a most powerful thing. More famous for the elegant interiors of his estate home, Winterthur in Delaware, du Pont was also a great horticulturist. Tom Christopher visits the master gardener and master landscape designer’s achievement on the grounds of Winterthur.

Thomas Saunders, whom the Chairman interviewed for this issue, is no stranger to passion—even less so his wife, Jordan. Their passions for success, for art, for American history, and American institutions have made them into well-known philanthropists. A major player on Wall Street in his time, Tom became a major player in American higher education when he persuaded the Board of Visitors overseeing the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia to forgo state funding in return for more autonomy. A passion for excellence, and a desire for Darden “to be the type of institution we want to be,” drove Saunders to utter the dreaded word “privatization” and helped set the entire University of Virginia on the path to achieving a great new level of financial support from private giving.

About the Author

David Skinner is editor of Humanities.