WHAT 291 MEANS TO ME
To me “291 ” represents an Idea. The Idea has been physically em-
bodied in the Little Gallery and its exhibitions. It has been spiritually in-
corporated into the consciousness of those who have been privileged to share it.
In my own case, the background of the Idea is a deep affection for the
man who has inspired it. For, in the first and final analysis, “291 ” is an
expression of the soul of Alfred Stieglitz. It was his intuition that visioned
the Idea and his patient logic that has shaped the circumstances which have
ensured its continuity of growth.
And the Idea has grown because the Idea itself was growth, the principle
of movement as the instinctive need of life. In the early days, for the sake
of a name, we called our adventure in Idealism “Photo-Secession.” It rep-
resented movement away from something, not positively stated; for it was
of the essence of the Idea that it should in no wise become formulated and
be thereby doomed to sterility. It was a strategic retirement, preparatory to
advancing, and again toward no definite objective. For the soul of the Idea
has been the liberty of spiritual growth.
“291” has been a little home of liberty. No introduction was needed
and no formalities expected. One was free to say nothing or to speak out.
Only the word said or the thing done must bear the impress of sincerity; the
mark of the man or woman’s own self, pure of selfish motive and unbiased
by fear or favor. And through this contact with other free spirits, whether
the latter were present in person or represented in their works, one’s own
freedom grew in liberality. In learning to understand others’ need of liberty,
one could enlarge one’s own.
In other words, the Idea of “291 ” has involved the broadening and deep-
ening of spiritual sympathy. We have learned to feel life through the needs
and aspirations of others. This did not imply unqualified agreement or even
escape from oppositions, but it has helped to lower the barriers that neces-
sarily part one human soul from others and to widen the horizon of spiritual
And in promoting sympathy it has helped us to share in the privilege and
beauty of personal service. It has led to a fuller and more discerning inter-
est in human values and developed a closer spiritual comradeship.
Accordingly, my love of “291” is enriched with gratitude. It has helped
me through a period of life in which there is more than a little tendency to
become mentally and spiritually fossilized. It has helped me to grow in
humanness and to preserve something of the freshness of an ideal.
As a local habitation “291 ” will pass away, and the memory of its name
will endure only for a time. But its Idea will continue as part of the imper-
ishable spirituality of life.
Charles H. Caffin