Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Christine Nelson Fairchild - The Men in Her Life

Seventh and final in a series of posts about Carlotta Nelson Fairchild and her family.  Today's post is about Christine Fairchild, daughter of Carlotta and Louis Fairchild.

As the youngest daughter of Louis Howes Fairchild, Christine Nelson Fairchild in 1912 was born into a life of privilege.  But it is doubtful that she knew just how privileged her life was until she was much older.  As the only child born to her mother, and as the youngest child of an aging father, Christine was likely indulged by both parents. But then her father died in 1918, Christine's life changed in a number of ways.  According to the U. S. Census of 1920, it appears that Christine's mother, a New Orleans society matron, was working and had two boarders residing in her rented home. But once the succession of the estate of Louis Fairchild was complete, the Fairchild family, including Christine, once again became part of the New Orleans social scene.  Without a doubt, Christine's early education at the Newcomb School and later at Sophie Newcomb College, brought her in contact with other young women and their families who would influence Christine's life.  

One of these young women was Jane Smith, a classmate of Christine's at Sophie Newcomb College.  Jane's interest in art and photography meshed with Christine's interest in architecture, and both young women became involved in the New Orleans arts scene. At some point, Jane became an art student at the new and trendy Arts and Crafts School, where a well-known artist and newcomer to New Orleans, Paul Ninas, was an instructor.  Jane's association with Paul Ninas would begin a relationship that eventually led to their marriage in 1933. During this same period, Christine was accepted by the architecture school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.).  
Although Jane was now married with a husband and Christine was attending school in Boston, Christine's visits home during holidays and the summer allowed her to maintain her friendship with Jane Smith, which now included Jane's husband, Paul Ninas. A fourth individual soon would be added to this friendship when New York photographer, Walker Evans, arrived in New Orleans.

In the early 1930's, as the nation suffered the effects of the Great Depression, the U. S. Government saw a need to record, in paintings and photographs, the economic and social conditions of individuals living throughout the United States and in particular, poverty-stricken residents of the rural South. And it was Walker Evans who was hired to complete the photography portion of the project. When Evans was sent to New Orleans to photograph conditions in that area, he was told to contact Paul Ninas.  At his first meeting with Walker Evans at a local restaurant, Paul Ninas brought along his wife, Jane.

Soon after his arrival in New Orleans, Jane and Paul Ninas, Christine Fairchild, and Walker Evans became close friends.  According to at least one biographer, Walker Evans was immediately attracted to Jane Ninas and soon invited her to accompany him to photograph rural areas within a day's drive of New Orleans.  Paul Ninas did not seem to mind, partly because he was busy with his art school and his own art work, but largely, it was alleged, because he may have had a mistress, his wife's friend, Christine Fairchild. Although Christine may have been involved with Paul Ninas, she continued to see other men, including at least one named Freedie von Helms.

The four friends spend many hours together, both in New Orleans and in Waveland, Mississippi, at the Fairchild beach cottage.  Although Jane Smith and Walker Evans may have already fallen in love, those who were close to them during the time have said the two managed to maintain a platonic relationship. But after Evans completed his project and had returned to New York, the two continued to correspond.  Eventually, Jane left Paul Ninas, moved to New York, where she and Walker Evans were later married.

In 1938, Christine Fairchild graduated M.I.T. with an architecture degree.  Fairly soon, the new architect would be back in the South, living in Mobile and doing architectural work on defense housing. Although Christine was back near family and familiar surroundings, her base of friends had changed during the years she was away in Boston. Jane Smith was now Jane Ninas Evans, having married her long-time paramour in 1941. 

Little information is available about Christine's association with Paul Ninas, if there was one, after she returned to the Gulf Coast area. What is known is that Paul Ninas remarried, on July 1, 1942, to Grace Chavonne, a union that produced one child, a daughter named Paula.  

Later that summer, Christine Nelson Fairchild was married to Paul David Magriel, son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Louis Magriel, of Southampton, Massachusetts.  At the time of their marriage, Magriel was serving in the United States Army and working as the art director at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. The ceremony took place on the morning of August 15, 1941 at Christ Episcopal Church in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, with the Rev. Warwick Aiken, Rector, officiating. The bride, who had no attendants, wore a dress of pale pink linen, a large white hat, and carried a bouquet of summer flowers. Her groom's only attendant was Charles van Buren Gresham. An informal buffet luncheon followed at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard K. Nicholson, the bride's half-sister and her husband.  Later that day, the newlyweds left to honeymoon at Weyanoke Plantation, near St. Francisville, Louisiana, owned by the Towles family.

Later, Paul and Christine Magriel moved to the East Coast, where they lived first in Washington, D.C. and eventually New York and in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Paul was a successful author and art collector.  Their marriage produced two sons, Paul Magriel, Jr., a well-known author, backgammon, and poker expert, and Dr. Nicholas Magriel, a sarangi player and teacher.  Paul Magriel, Jr. named one of his sons Louis Fairchild Magriel, in honor of his paternal and maternal grandfathers, who were both named Louis. 

Christine Nelson Fairchild Magriel's life was indeed one of privilege.  The granddaughter of Danish immigrants and the daughter of well-bred parents, Christine lived through many changes to the world in which she was born.  In 1986, she died in Provincetown, Massachusetts, just four years before her husband's death. 

"Privilege is an immoral and unjust thing to have. But if you've got it, you didn't choose to get it, and you might as well use it." - Walker Evans.  

Sources:, U.S. Census of 1920, accessed online January 18, 2011.
Times-Picayune.  Archived newspaper archives, 1900 - 1945.  Accessed online January 17 - 19, 2011
Walker Evans, by James R. Mellow.  GoogleBooks, accessed online on January 18, 2011

1 comment:

  1. Janice,

    Enjoyed reading your series about Christine, her parents and grandparents. My folks would say Christine turned out well.