“Het leven is kort, dus wees goed!”

Traversing the canals and dikes of the Netherlands in April 2006, I was charmed by windmills, espaliered linden trees, step-gabled houses, and Delftware flower pyramids. But nothing compared to seeing Petronella Oortman’s dolls’ house at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Contained in a cabinet decorated with tortoiseshell marquetry and engraved pewter, this captivating showcase of luxurious miniature objects was assembled by a wealthy silk merchant’s wife in the late 17th century. It offers a fascinating glimpse at how well-to-do Dutch homes of Petronella’s day were furnished.

Not long before Petronella commissioned craftsmen to create this work of art for her, a gifted artist was amassing his own exceptional collection of interesting objects, not to display in a cabinet, but to use as props in the Biblical and Classical history paintings that he created in the studio of his Amsterdam home. The exceptional paintings of Rembrandt van Rijn and his contemporaries became the hallmarks of the Golden Age of Dutch painting.

Dozens of Dutch Golden Age artworks are on view in Life in the Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Masterpieces from the Dordrecht Museum, an exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art through June 16.

The Netherlands flourished during the 17th century. Thanks to trade and industry, middle-class Dutch leaders had money to spend on art to decorate their homes. Artists responded to these insatiable collectors by painting portraits, landscapes, seascapes, genre scenes of everyday life, still lifes, and architectural interiors. As in Petronella’s dolls’ house, the details in these works provide a fascinating look at that world.

Several Rembrandt etchings on view demonstrate his pioneering technique of employing subtle hatching to create dramatic lighting effects and expressive subjects. However, it’s worth spending time appreciating how Dutch painters realistically captured the flat horizons, cloudy skies and folk dress that characterize their homeland.

Winter scenes with ice-skaters emphasize the longstanding tradition of both recreational and practical skating in Dutch culture.

A pair of ice skates displayed nearby makes the scene all the more appealing.

Tulips are most commonly associated with the Netherlands, and in the 17th century, these flowers became such prized and popular status symbols that they were sold for exorbitant prices. “Semper Augustus” tulips, with flame-shaped red markings on white petals, were the most expensive of all; if the flowers themselves weren’t affordable, artists gladly accepted commissions to paint them instead. The frogs included at the bottom of the painting convey how precisely Golden Age artists depicted the natural world.

The arrangement of objects in sumptuous still lifes and popular genre paintings suggested hidden meanings meant to spark conversation. Can you detect the clues to what the artist was trying to say in this allegory? (“Life is short, so be good!”)

The whitewashed walls of stripped-down Dutch Protestant church interiors transform scenes into beautiful light-filled, distraction-free spaces, sometimes portrayed with dogs, who were allowed to wander inside.

In contrast, imagine how opulent seven floor-to-ceiling landscape panels on view would have seemed when they were originally installed on the walls of a Dutch interior. The exhibit also features works of The Hague School, a late19th century artistic movement that depicted Dutch rural life. Darkly lit, with a thickly applied palette of grays and browns, the paintings recall Rembrandt’s style, while their spontaneous brushwork shows the influence of French Impressionism.

Several carefully chosen objects complement the paintings. Silver salt cellars in the form of a male and female fish seller indicate the importance of seafood to the Dutch economy, while Chinese porcelain vases suggest how international trade led to financial prosperity.Two unusual silver goblets are particularly captivating. A “windmill cup” was filled with wine; then, the drinker blew into a tube to make the windmill blades turn, and tried to drink all the wine in the cup before the blades stopped spinning. A “Hansje in the Cellar,” used when a family was expecting a baby, had a tiny figurine hidden within a chamber at the center of the goblet that popped up as the cup was filled. To see how a goblet like this works, click here, then skip to 0:53.A high chair with a rounded shield in front to prevent the baby from slipping out resembles that in The Troublesome Guest, a Hague School genre scene.

Nineteenth-century Dutch children carried their books, paper and pens to school in this decoratively painted wooden box that could also be used as a writing surface. I would love to carry one of these!

This 17th-century Dutch drinking glass is called a roemer; its stem is covered with little balls of glass called prunts, to help the drinker hold on to it. It’s similar to one pictured in a Flemish still life hanging nearby.

For more, read Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art: Treasures from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, by Ruud Prie; Masterpieces of Dutch Painting: The Detroit Institute of Arts, by George S. Keyes, Susan Donahue Kuretsky, Axel Rüger and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr.; The Tulip: The Story of a Flower That Has Made Men Mad, by Anna Pavord; The 17th-Century Dolls’ Houses of the Rijksmuseum, by Jet Pijzel-Dommisse, translated by Patricia Wardle, and The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton, a novel inspired by Petronella Oortman’s dolls’ house.

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Posted in Art, Holland, Museums | 1 Comment

The Rockettes Are Right: From Subway To Steeple, New York City Is The Place To Be At Christmas Time

There are a million things to do in December, but the most thrilling of all take place under a glittering 900-pound star topping a 72-foot-tall, 12-ton Norway spruce tree. It’s time for another Christmas installment of our “15 Hours in New York City” adventures!

Three million Swarovski crystals cover the new, nine-foot star architect Daniel Liebeskind designed for this year’s Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Miniature versions of the star in the window of the Swarovski store inside 30 Rockefeller Plaza sparkled across the room as we had breakfast watching the 7:00am start of the First Skate of the Day at The Rink at Rockefeller Center.

We crossed West 50th Street to Radio City Music Hall, where we were among the first in line for the day’s first performance of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes. Every year, more than a million people make the show part of their holiday festivities. Now we know why!

Financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and overseen by live-theater promoter Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel, the dazzling Radio City was designed to offer quality entertainment to revive both the theater industry and its audiences during the Great Depression. When it opened in 1932, it became the largest indoor theater in the world, with seating for 6,000 people. Since then, it has held more than 700 movie premieres, including “King Kong,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Inside Radio City, it’s Art Deco at its most magnificent, with Bakelite, aluminum and chrome finishes creating its streamlined look. The four-story-high Grand Foyer has a geometric music-themed carpet, with a 35-foot-tall, 3,000-pound Christmas tree-shaped chandelier made of 10,000 Swarovski crystals hanging overhead. Metal bas-relief elevator doors open to reveal wood paneling adorned with Classical mythology motifs. Each public restroom has an adjoining lounge with its own unique mural, like Witold Gordon’s hand-painted History of Cosmetics and The History of Nicotine, commissioned by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and imprinted on aluminum foil. Noted Depression-era artists created sculptures especially for the building, like William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance (Rhythm). Fabric-covered walls in the auditorium feature modernistic silhouettes of musicians, performers and horses.

But Radio City is best known as the home of the Rockettes, the legendary chorus line of 80 dancers known for their radiant smiles as they energetically execute their intricately choreographed routines and signature eye-high kicks with precision and uniformity. Proficient in tap, jazz, ballet and modern dance, the Rockettes separate into two casts, alternating to perform multiple shows each day during the Christmas Spectacular’s eight-week run.

As we settled into our orchestra-section reddish-brown plush seats, organists on each side of a proscenium arch framed by a series of bands — said to resemble a setting sun — played festive bell melodies and familiar Christmas songs. Then, the musician-filled orchestra pit rose up and out across the stage, and a 150-member cast began putting on an incredible 90-minute show in which every second is worth every penny paid to see it.

We put on 3-D glasses to see Santa fly in to New York in a charming animated sequence, and marveled at the 36-channel digital projections that changed on both a 90-foot LED screen and the walls of the auditorium. But nothing compared to those amazing Rockettes! Wearing their signature MAC Russian Red lipstick and their hair in a French twist, the dancers performed a series of numbers, one more dazzling than the next. They pranced on stage dressed as reindeer with jingling bells and sparkling antlers, then pulled Santa in his sleigh. Wearing candy cane-inspired costumes and custom-soled shoes, they tapped their way through “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Microphones stored inside the heel pick up the sound of the rhythmic taps, amplifying them so that the audience can hear. They put on their microphone tap shoes again for their “Rag Dolls” number, which ends with an amazing surprise.

Wearing plaid coats, later revealing sparkling red and green dresses underneath, they boarded a full-scale double-decker sightseeing bus in “New York at Christmas.” Positioned on a rotating section of flooring in the center of the stage, the bus moved past images of the city projected on a 90-foot LED screen. We loved watching the precise formations in “Here Comes Santa Claus,” where the dancers rose and rotated above the stage – even grabbing handbells – making an incredible sight. Try to duplicate this number at home in this workout!

Two numbers have been part of the Christmas Spectacular since 1933. In the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” with its extraordinary finale in which the Rockettes slowly fall backwards like dominoes, the dancers wear red buttoned jackets, stiffly starched white pants and hats nearly three feet tall, a costume that has remained unchanged since it was originally designed in 1933 by Vincente Minnelli. Live animals join the Rockettes on stage for the “Living Nativity.” Three camels, two sheep and a donkey – blessed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan – take daily early-morning and late-night walks on the streets outside Radio City for their exercise.

In this year’s new finale, “Christmas Lights,” aerialists and 100 Intel Shooting Star mini drones provide an incredible choreographed light show. The Rockettes wear costumes custom-embroidered to resemble tangled strings of Christmas lights, in 11 jewel-toned shades, with over 3,000 Swarovski crystals and sequins. Their custom-made shoes are painted to match their unique skin tones, with almost 600 crystals hand-glued on each pair. Take a behind-the-scenes look at the finale in this November 23, 2018 NBC Nightly News segment.

We emerged from Radio City into an equally spectacular crowd, with barricades on the sidewalk and in the streets to shuffle everyone along like farm animals in a corral. Clustered on the corner, waiting for the light to change, we saw it was only 10:45. Where to next?

Cutting through the Edison Hotel, whose lights were turned on for its 1931 opening when Thomas Edison flipped a switch in Menlo, New Jersey, we emerged right in front of the Richard Rodgers Theater, where Hamilton is currently playing. Passing the bronze sculpture of entertainer George M. Cohan in Times Square, we gave our regards to Broadway and scurried along to our next destination: Bryant Park.

First a potter’s field, then a reservoir that supplied water for the city, next a Crystal Palace exhibition hall and observatory, and finally a Civil War encampment, this Midtown Manhattan square became a public park in 1884, when it was named for William Cullen Bryant, the Romantic poet who led the campaign to create Central Park. In the 1930s, the park was redesigned to feature a large central lawn, complemented by formal paths and terraces, stone balustrades, allées of London Plane trees, and an oval plaza with a fountain. It went through a rough patch during the 1970s and 1980s, but improvements in recent years have brought a carousel; chess, ping-pong and pétanque, a French game similar to bocce ball; a porch equipped with swings and lounge furniture; a restaurant and outdoor cafe; and hundreds of the park’s signature moveable wooden bistro chairs, painted a custom shade of green and engraved with “BRYANT PARK” on the top slat of the backrest. There’s even a new version of an outdoor reading room the park’s neighbor, the New York Public Library, began operating during the Great Depression. In warm-weather months, the library provides books, newspapers, magazines and literary events here for all ages.

The holidays transform Bryant Park into the Winter Village, a popular attraction with free ice skating and a Christmas market of over 170 custom-designed kiosks selling food and artisanal gifts. It was so packed that as we shuffled our way to our next destination, a man shuffling along next to us said, “That should take about four hours to walk over there!”

We were bound for the Stephen A. Schwarzman building of the New York Public Library, which became Bryant Park’s neighbor in 1911. In fact, two floors of book shelves, known as the Bryant Park Stack Extension, are beneath the park’s lawn.

Checking in on Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends was the excuse for our visit, but other pressing business got taken care of too. I applied for my very own limited, special-edition ‘Knowledge is Power’ New York Public Library card. Released in late October, it’s a reminder that all citizens must be informed, and libraries are the place to help us learn, grow and succeed in society. And I finally acquired a long-admired red bronze bracelet from the Rose Main Reading Room Rosette Collection, inspired by the decorative plaster rosettes that ornament the ceiling of the library’s largest, most splendid room. Ceiling murals of billowing clouds in an ethereal sky are surrounded by carved plaster cherubs and scrolled woodwork.

Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins, a special exhibition on view through February 17, 2019, introduced us to the Victorian-era Englishwoman who created the first book to be illustrated with photographs. Anna hand-printed each page of Photographs of British Algae (issued in parts, 1843-1853) using the cyanotype, that vibrant blue photographic image produced without a camera that we know today as the blueprint. You can see more of Anna’s cyanotypes here.

“Time marches on,” so off we went to check in on Christmas gifts at Scandinavia House. Next came 346 Madison Avenue, the 10-story building on the northwest corner of Madison Avenue and 44th Street. Completed in 1915, it is better known as the flagship store of the oldest haberdashery in the United States: Brooks Brothers.

Celebrating its bicentennial year in 2018, Brooks Brothers has been an innovator of American style, from its trademark Golden Fleece logo (a symbol of fine wool since the 15th century), to how to display and sell quality ready-made clothing. It introduced Scottish Harris tweed and Shetland sweaters, Indian Madras fabric, the English button-down polo shirt, and the Lacoste pique polo shirt from France to United States. It partnered with Dupoint to produce “Brooksease,” a quick-drying cloth fabricated to look neater longer. When Vogue featured its classic pink button-down shirt, resized to fit a woman, on the cover of its August 1949 college issue, it became a best-seller.

An English bear lives at one New York landmark, but an American one in green overalls lured us to the Museum of the City of New York. On view until June 23, 2019, A City for Corduroy: Don Freeman’s New York explores examples of how the author of the classic children’s picture book, Corduroy, documented life in New York City during the 1930s.

Freeman, a native Californian, moved to New York City to study art, making his living as a jazz trumpeter. When he lost his trumpet on a subway train, he began writing and illustrating children’s books. His lesser-known drawings of New Yorkers hanging laundry and eating at the automat hang alongside original artwork from other Freeman books, such as Pet of the Met, about a mouse who lives at the Metropolitan Opera House, and Norman the Doorman, the rodent who stands watch at the door of the Majestic Art Museum, based on the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. There’s also an issue of Newsstand: One Man’s View of Manhattan, his magazine, for which he printed limited-edition offset lithographs and bradded them together between colorful paper covers between 1936 and 1941.

Across the hall, we peered inside a remarkable two-story, 12-room dollhouse created betwen 1916 and 1935 by Carrie Walter Stettheimer, whose Upper West Side home was one of New York’s artistic and intellectual centers. Renowned avant-garde artists of the day contributed original works especially for this miniature replica of her home, including Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and Gaston Lachaise’s alabaster Venus. A miniature Mah-Jongg set in the library, a nursery collage frieze depicting the animals hurrying into Noah’s Ark, a bath thermometer and outdoor furniture made from carved chalk are other charming features.

Before we left, we got engrossed in Timescapes, a 28-minute documentary film narrated by Stanley Tucci. Projected across three screens, animated maps and archival photographs from the museum’s collections present the history of New York City. Watch clips of it here.

Stopping next at the Frick Collection, I remembered something Don Paterson wrote in “Sanctum in the City,” his essay about the museum in Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Visit Great Museums. “Wandering in off the street – the sirens, the shouting, the car horns used instead of brakes – you discover the architectural equivalent of a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones. The place is so quiet, the effect is less of silence than of deafness. How could such a still space be carved from such a noisy city?”

We had wandered in here, not only for a restorative break in our action-packed day, but also to see two things in particular. One was the beautiful Rococo panels in the Fragonard Room; the other was Hans Holbein’s 1527 portrait of Sir Thomas More, the English lawyer and counselor to Henry VIII who is also venerated as a Catholic saint. Frick Diptychs, a new series of books published by the Frick Collection, pairs an interpretive curatorial essay about an important work in the collection with a related literary contribution. The first volume, released in April, features Holbein’s magnificent portrait of More, so precious to Frick that after he acquired it in 1912, he hung it to the left of the fireplace in the Living Hall, where it has hung ever since.

An exquisite table centerpiece of gilt bronze inlaid with precious stones and miniature representations of ancient Roman monuments, crafted by 18th-century silversmith Luigi Valadier, is on view with other fine examples of his work through January 20, 2019. The Charterhouse of Bruges: Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, and Jan Vos, one of the New York Times’s “10 Art Exhibitions That Should Be on Your Must-See List” and on view until January 13, 2019, reunites two masterpieces of early Netherlandish painting for only the second time in their history. The panels are presented with objects providing context to the monastic charterhouse, in a small gallery recalling a monk’s cell. Watch this short video about it that we watched in the Frick’s Music Room.

As dusk fell on the city, we attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, then devoted the rest of our evening to seeing a few holiday window displays. Bergdorf Goodman’s “Bergdorf Goodies” windows were fanciful displays inspired by gingerbread houses, soft-serve ice cream, macarons, chocolate truffles and nonpareils. “The Holidays Made by Tiffany” pays tribute to Gene Moore, Tiffany & Co.’s late artistic director who introduced chrome drawing figures into some of the windows he decorated for the store for 39 years.

Our last stop was Henri Bendel, at 714 Fifth Avenue, near 56th St. Constructed in 1908, the building was converted into an emporium for the Parisian House of Coty perfumery. In 1912, Coty commissioned Parisian glass master and jewelry designer Rene Lalique to replace part of the facade with an elegant three-story window installation. Over 275 14-by-14-inch panes of glass form an Art Nouveau relief trellis of vines and poppies. Foot bridges in front of each set of these rare windows create observation levels on each of the three floors. Antique perfume bottles, powder boxes and labels Lalique designed for Coty are displayed in a corner of the first floor.

For more on the places we visited, see The Radio City Rockettes: A Dance Through Time, by James Porto; The Radio City Music Hall: An Affectionate History of the World’s Greatest Theater, by Charles Francisco; Sun Gardens: Victorian Photographs by Anna Atkins, by Larry J. Schaaf; Brooks Brothers: 200 Years of American Style, edited by Kate Betts; Brooks Brothers Centenary 1818-1918: Being a Shirt History of the Founding of Their Business together with an Account of its Different Locations in the City of New York During This Period; The Prints of Don Freeman: A Catalogue Raisonné, by Edith McCulloch; A Fabulous Dollhouse of the Twenties: The Famous Stettheimer Dollhouse at the Museum of the City of New York, by John Noble; and The Stettheimer Dollhouse, edited by Sheila W. Clark.

“Sanctum in the City” is an essay about the Frick Collection by Don Paterson, in Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Visit Great Museums, edited by Maggie Fergusson. The Charterhouse of Bruges: Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, and Jan Vos, by Emma Capron with Maryan Ainsworth, Till-Holger Borchert; and Luigi Valadier, by Alvar Gonzalez-Palacios, are the catalogues for the special exhibitions there. Holbein’s Sir Thomas More, by Xavier F. Salomon and Hilary Mantel (author of Wolf Hall), is the first book in the Frick Diptych series; the recently released second book focuses on Johannes Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid, with an essay on the painting by Margaret Iacono and “Two Letters a Day in the Early 1660s,” by film director, writer and producer James Ivory.

New books about the New York Public Library and its collections include Lost in the Library, a picture book about the library’s famous lions, Patience and Fortitude, by Josh Funk and Stevie Lewis. With a foreword by Roseanne Cash, 100 Christmas Wishes offers a selection of vintage holiday postcards from the New York Public Library’s Picture Collection, a free, online picture resource. The Story Collector, by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, is a fictional account of the adventures of the Fedeler children, who lived in the New York Public Library for a time, when her father was its superintendent from 1910 to 1941.

Posted in Art, Fashion, History, Holidays, Libraries, Museums, New York, Shopping, Travel | Leave a comment

See What Happens When You Give A Librarian $100

Leave it to a librarian to come up with an idea so good that Dayton, Ohio will celebrate it all next year.

Linda Clatworthy was head librarian at the Dayton Public Library from 1905 to 1913. Her library had sponsored art exhibits, developed a collection of art books, prepared bibliographies and collected reproductions to inspire art appreciation among its patrons, but she envisioned more. She wanted to bring beauty to Dayton by making it an art center. She returned home from a 1912 trip to Europe with an idea to do just that.

Soon, several influential local businessmen joined her in thinking that way, and gave her $100 to start her project. Off she went to Washington, D.C., where she sought advice on how to develop interest in art among her community.

Not long after she returned to Dayton, the Montgomery County Art Association was founded. Five years later, it became the Dayton Art Association, and it bought its first painting for $200. In 1919, it became the Dayton Museum of Arts, and moved into a now-demolished home at the corner of Monument Avenue and St. Clair Street. Julia Shaw Carnell, the widow of Frank Patterson, one of the founders of the National Cash Register Company, purchased the first recorded work of art in the collection: Joy of the Waters, a sculpture by Harriet Frishmuth. In time, Mrs. Carnell contributed over 500 more items to the museum.

When the collection grew too big for its home, Mrs. Carnell pledged almost $2 million to construct a new museum building atop a hill overlooking the Great Miami River, while the community committed to endowing and paying for its operations. Buffalo, New York architect Edward B. Green designed an Italian Renaissance structure modeled after the Villa d’Este near Rome, using yellow sandstone and a red tile roof. He fashioned a grand staircase leading from Riverside Avenue to the museum’s original entrance, almost exactly replicating the staircase at the Villa Farnese in Caprarola, Italy.

First intended for displaying large plaster-cast reproductions of noted sculptures for art students to study and copy, the Great Hall was accessed through doorways surrounded by carvings replicating those Mrs. Carnell saw in Florence, Italy, including the Palazzo Vecchio.

The floor’s green marble tiles were imported from Europe; the stone is no longer available today.

Mrs. Carnell also chose, bought and imported several pieces to create two unique cloisters within the museum. Picturesque views of both cloisters can be seen through windows from a few of the galleries, some of which are screened with elaborate wrought-iron grills Mrs. Carnell purchased in Italy.

Enter the Hale Cloister through a doorway topped by a 16th-century Latin inscription reading, “An enclosed space, forever to be used for study or pleasure.” A red tile roof shelters Roman earthenware and 14th-century columns. Joy of the Waters became the focal point of the cloister’s fountain, but was later relocated inside and replaced by a replica of a fountain from at the Smithsonian Institute. A red Japanese maple once shaded both peacocks and those who attended musical concerts held on summer Sunday evenings.

The Harry A. Shaw Gothic Cloister contains arches and stained-glass windows reminiscent of Gothic cathedrals…

as well as spiral-carved columns topped by stone frogs and a red marble lion head that was once part of a fountain. Art students created the stencils on the ceilings of both cloisters.

Music was also emphasized in the development of the Dayton Art Institute. The new building included a music room with a coffered Italian walnut ceiling painted with representations of sculpture, painting, music and literature. The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra gave its first concert there in 1933, and continued to offer concerts two Sundays each month for years. A Skinner pipe organ was acquired for the museum’s auditorium, where concerts featuring the rare organ are still held.

After the museum was completed in 1930, it was given its current name to reflect its art school. It became a center of art, music and learning, so loved that it was soon referred to as “Dayton’s Living Room.”

Today, its collections include art from Europe, Asia and North America. There are works by big names on view, like Rodin’s oversized study of a hand, a vibrant portrait by Gilbert Stuart and a larger-than-life bronze statue of Chief Massasoit by Cyrus Dallin. There are examples of Cincinnati artistic talent, like Eve Disconsolate, by the Neoclassical sculptor Hiram Powers; Free Sample, Take One, D. Scott Evans’ 1891 trompe l’oeil still-life of peanuts; and Mayan Ruins, Yucatan, by Robert Scott Duncanson, who created the eight large murals depicting the American West in the Cincinnati mansion that is now the Taft Museum.

Beyond paintings and sculpture, there are wonderful decorative arts, including examples of Tiffany glass; a porcelain-and-enamel centerpiece from the Wiener Werkstätte; Brussels lace; and a Queen Anne-style daybed attributed to John Goddard and Job Townsend, the leading Colonial-era cabinetmakers of Newport, Rhode Island.Robert Koepnick’s circa-1930 bronze sculpture of Huck Finn, which once spouted water from a marble pedestal in a private home, and Gaston La Touche’s Dinner at the Casino are some museum works that inspired regional artists to create original artworks for Dayton Metro Library branches through its ReImagining Works project. The museum also holds a significant collection of Pictorialist photographs by Jane Reece (1868-1961), a Dayton photographer. Although the bulk of her work is in black and white, she also experimented with early color photographs known as autochromes, a type of glass-plate photography in which grains of dyed potato starch, carbon black and silver emulsion capture an amazing range of hues. In “The Rembrandt,” her downtown Dayton studio, she made her signature self-portrait, The Poinsettia Girl, and took “Camera Cameo” portraits of Helen Keller, Robert Frost, and fellow Daytonians, including the father of the Wright brothers and the mother of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. She retreated to “The Bird’s Nest,” her three-room cottage in the Far Hills neighborhood of Dayton, where she captured the rising waters of the 1913 Flood. At her home and studio at 834 West Riverview Avenue, she covered the walls in burlap, added Moorish arches and had flying birds painted on a ceiling, creating a place where the community gathered for concerts, dramatic readings and dance recitals. Jane Reece Park is next to her home.

Next year, the Dayton Art Institute will celebrate the centennial of its founding. To mark the occasion, the museum is preserving the original appearance of its historic hillside by restoring its grand double staircase, which has been closed for years; adding new exterior lighting; and turning on its fountains, which have not operated in over 50 years.

Today, museum visitors enter through a rotunda, added during a 1997 renovation. Dayton artist Hamilton Dixon made a stair railing decorated with naturalistic serpentine forms.

Find a snake on it, near the stairs to the upper level.

For more on the Dayton Art Institute and its collection, read Selected Works from the Dayton Art Institute Permanent Collection; “Dayton’s Living Room:” The Dayton Art Institute in the 1930s, by Lynn Griggs Alexander; and The Soul Unbound: The Photographs of Jane Reece, by Dominique H. Vasseur.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Dayton, Museums, Music | Leave a comment

If Only She Could Talk About Her Days In Venice, Her Trip Across The Alps And Her Stay In Russia

At Columbus School for Girls, students learn wearing a neat seasonal uniform of Campbell or Black Watch plaid skirts, white blouse, sweater and loafers. To keep things unobtrusive and non-distracting, school policy limits accessories to basic pieces like a watch, a ring, one pair of simple earrings, a necklace, and a bracelet.

This demure Venetian lady from Dresden, Germany who is visiting Columbus for a few months would not only have violated CSG’s uniform policy, but also would have broken the luxury laws regulating the amount and type of jewelry that could be worn in public in the Venice of her day. She would have gotten by with her single strand of pearls, but her pearl earrings, hair adornments, ornamental belt and jeweled bracelets would definitely have been out.

Here to celebrate the Columbus Museum of Art’s 140th anniversary, this bedecked beauty is on loan from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Columbus’s sister city. The Lady in White, a portrait painted circa 1561 by the influential Venetian painter, Titian, has traveled only once before to the United States, and never to the Midwest.

Elegantly shown in its own gallery at the Columbus Museum of Art, the painting is complemented by “great walls” of text describing the lady’s mysterious identity, the painting’s home in Dresden, its recent conservation, and the Grand Manner style of portraiture it and other portraits by Titian inspired. To correspond with the opening of the current exhibition, the Gemäldegalerie’s director, Dr. Stephan Koja, gave an insightful lecture about the painting at the museum.

Titian is said to have described the subject of his painting as “the absolute mistress of my soul.” Centuries of scholars have speculated whether the graceful, obviously affluent young woman was Titian’s mistress, his daughter, or his beautiful ideal. The exhibition concludes that she did not exist in real life; therefore, she is his ideal of beauty. Whoever she is, she has real wall presence.

Titian’s subject holds a flag fan, a popular accessory in Venice at the time. Her hair, likely fashionably dyed the color of gold, is pinned up in a bun enclosed in a hairnet and ornamented with pearls, rather than worn down around her shoulders, as a Venetian bride or married woman would have done.

Titian is considered be the father of modern painting because of his choices of rich colors made from pigments of exceptional quality, his decision to paint on canvas instead of on wood panels, and his use of loose, expressive brushwork and paint application. This masterwork is an outstanding example of Titian’s mastery of his craft. Painting in white is difficult, and Titian excelled at it, capturing reflections of the white dress fabric.

In fact, the dress in the portrait is so representative of Renaissance fashion that a pattern of it was fashioned for modern-day seamstresses. Elizabeth Hopkin, a costume seamstress and the Columbus Museum of Art’s associate registrar of collections, spent more than 200 hours creating a silk dress, which is on display in the gallery.

It replicates the elegant garment in the painting: a close-fitting, tightly laced bodice; slender, puffed sleeves with distinctive ornaments at the shoulders; a full skirt with a padded hem; and a chemise worn underneath the dress. Typical of Venetian ladies of the period, the lady in the painting slightly lifts her skirt, which would have provided a glimpse of the chemise’s decorative skirt.

Hopkin contacted an Etsy crafter to make replicas of the pearl-embellished ornamental belt that accentuates the bodice, as well as the golden bracelets alternating rubies with pearls that adorn the wrists of the dress.

This is not the first lady in white Titian painted. He is thought to have sent an earlier version of the painting to King Philip II of Spain, which Peter Paul Rubens later copied, and is thought to have been destroyed in an 18th-century fire.

Photographic reproduction of Girl with a Fan, Rubens’ version of Titian’s Lady in White

Later, Titian painted a slightly different version of the Lady in White and sent it to the Italian Duke of Modena. A subsequent duke who inherited his ancestor’s impressive collection of Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings sold about 100 of them, including the Lady in White, to Frederick Augustus II of Saxony in 1745. The paintings were wrapped in waxed tissue and packed in straw-filled wooden crates tied with ropes for their wintertime journey by carriage over the Alps to Germany.

During his eight-year grand tour of Europe, Augustus II became a connoisseur of art. He wanted to add superb items to the already remarkable collection of art, precious stones, sculptures, scientific instruments, metalwork, natural objects, jewels and porcelain established by his father, Augustus the Strong. The German rulers amassed this unsurpassed collection to impress and to demonstrate their power.

Zwinger courtyard, Dresden, Germany

To emphasize the fineness of this collection of Italian art from the 16th and 17th centuries, and 17th-century Flemish and Dutch paintings, Augustus II decided to display his paintings in a separate room. First housed in a converted stables of the residential palace in Dresden, next to other rooms in the palace, and then, after 1847, housed in a wing of a grand 18th-century building designed by Gottfried Semper and known as the Zwinger, the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) is regarded as one of the world’s premier collections of European art. Raphael’s Sistine Madonna is perhaps the most famous painting in the collection, partly due to the cherubic pair at the bottom of the composition. (Recall my latest trip to Dresden here.)

All of the paintings were fitted with specially designed, gilded frames embellished with a central monogram (AR for Augustus Rex) at the bottom and crowned with Augustus II’s coat of arms. Most of the paintings retain these frames to this day. Based on a sketch Augustus II made, the paintings were hung on green damask-covered walls, from floor to ceiling, in rectangular symmetric arrangements that appear crowded by today’s standards. Important works like the Sistine Madonna were installed in central locations, flanked by pairs of other paintings. Large horizontal paintings topped the space, while small paintings were placed in the lowest row. The exhibit presents a digital reconstruction of where the Lady in White was hung in relation to the Sistine Madonna. (Find the Lady in White in the bottom right corner; the Sistine Madonna is in the center of the bottom row.)The Gemäldegalerie was such a significant achievement that it was opened to the public in 1747. As its fame grew, everyday tourists and celebrated people alike made pilgrimages to see it, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Writing about his trip to Dresden in his autobiography, Goethe recalled that the magnificent collection in the splendid gallery — with its dazzling gilded frames and beeswax-polished floors —- surpassed his expectations.

During World War II, the Gemäldegalerie was closed and the paintings were moved out of the city for safekeeping. When Dresden was bombed on February 13, 1945, the Zwinger was badly damaged, but the paintings were unharmed. During Russian occupation of Dresden, the paintings were transferred to Moscow, where some were conserved; most were returned in 1955. Lady in White has been restored several times, most recently in 2006-07, when extensive retouching, overpainting, and a thick, yellowed layer of surface varnish were removed. Its original brilliant white and golden tones have been restored, revealing Titian’s skill as a colorist.

A current expansion and renovation project at the Gemäldegalerie, scheduled to be completed in 2019, will integrate classical sculpture in the collection with the reinstalled paintings, illuminated by a new lighting system.

Titian’s portraits led the way for what would come to be known as Grand Manner portraiture in the 18th century, where subjects dressed in expensive, fashionable clothing posed in impressive settings, often holding accessories that emphasized their wealth and social standing. To provide context for this exhibition, curators selected four Baroque-era portraits from the Columbus Museum of Art’s collection, including Anthony van Dyck’s Christian Bruce, Countess of Devonshire; John Michael White’s Lady with a Theorbo; and Collina, Sir Joshua Reynolds’s charming portrait of Lady Gertrude Fitzpatrick, known as Collina (a form of Colleen, the name means “little mountaineer,” referring to the girl’s standing on a hill).

Titian’s Lady in White: A Renaissance Mystery continues at the Columbus Museum of Art through December 9. Related souvenirs available in the museum shop include a simulated glass Baroque pearl necklace based on pearl jewelry worn by women in Rembrandt van Rijn’s portraits.

For more on Titian, his Lady in White and the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, see Titian: Lady in White, the exhibition’s companion work, edited by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Stephan Koja and Andreas Henning; Titian: Prince of Painters, catalogue for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, October 28, 1990-January 27, 1991; the catalogue for The Glory of Baroque Dresden: The State Art Collections Dresden, presented by The Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, Inc.; and The Splendor of Dresden: Five Centuries of Art Collecting, an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978-1979.

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“I Hope You Have A Nice Time At The Park Today. Come Back Again Soon.”

Treasured buildings from days gone by. Ingenious objects attesting to American innovation. An attractive setting for learning by doing. There’s nowhere finer to experience this appealing take on the open-air history museum than Greenfield Village, Henry Ford’s famed creation in Dearborn, Michigan.

Reading Liza Mundy’s Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II prompted one of those unrelenting quests of mine to see something for myself. In this case, it was the last remaining cabin where the Dayton, Ohio-based code-breakers lived. So it was off to Dayton, where I not only saw the cabin, but also discovered a wonderful, closer-to-home alternative to Greenfield Village: Carillon Historical Park. Those three elements so important to Ford are also in practice here — even the signage is similar — but they’re presented with some distinctive, clever riffs on the theme.

For example, an incredibly lifelike animatronic figure of Edith Walton Deeds welcomes visitors to the park, explaining why she and her engineer-inventor husband, Colonel Edward A. Deeds, founded this special place that opened in 1950. Entranced by the carillon she saw while traveling in Bruges, Belgium, Mrs. Deeds, an accomplished musician, was inspired to share this special music with her fellow Daytonians. The park’s 151-foot-tall, 57-bell carillon plays automated selections daily, and is also featured in original live concerts throughout the year.

Designed by the Olmsted Brothers, the landscape architects behind New York’s Central Park, the 65-acre campus contains several original historic buildings. Explore a one-room schoolhouse where first- through eighth-graders studied near Springfield, Ohio from 1896 until 1929. Learn about the 1840s Greek Revival architecture practice of making wood siding look like stone by adding sand to the paint. Marvel at buildings that sheltered the area’s first settlers, such as Newcom Tavern, once considered the best house built in Dayton in 1796 and now the city’s oldest standing building. Original furnishings inside include a circa-1810 cupboard that was used as Dayton’s first post office and a table decorated with swirl-painted graining.

Exhibits showcase artifacts highlighting the region’s industrial innovation and transportation achievements. With its vibrant blue-and-yellow color scheme and pagoda-style roof, a 1924 Sun Oil, or Sunoco, gas station recalls how ethyl lead gasoline was developed in Dayton.

A collection of rare and antique bicycles made in the Miami Valley includes the Dayton Motorwheel from 1917, designed to be enjoyed as a bicycle or a motorcycle, with a gas tank mounted over the handlebars and a motor.

Did you know that McCall’s magazines and dress patterns were once printed in Dayton? The park’s print shop recalls the Miami Valley’s role as a leading center of printing during the 1930s. Authentic, operating letterpress printing equipment is still used to produce an affordable, unique line of cards, writing paper and “narrow-minded notepads.”

While Henry Ford was designing the Model T in Detroit, Deeds was building the “Suburban Sixty,” his own motorcar, in the carriage barn behind his Dayton home. He and a fellow National Cash Register employee, Charles Kettering, were joined by other engineers and inventors to design an electric system which could simultaneously operate an automobile’s lights, regenerate its battery and start its engine. Working nights and weekends on the project, the “Barn Gang” was so focused on inventing their automobile self-starting system that they neglected to change the phonograph, so “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” played over and over again. An exhibit inside a replica of the Deeds barn explains how the Barn Gang became the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (Delco). It also displays the world’s first electrified business machine, which NCR introduced in 1906, as well as over 20,000 parts needed to assemble one NCR payroll machine.

The Great 1913 Flood and what happened in its aftermath is uniquely explored in one dedicated building. A blue line above the front doors recalls how floodwaters from the Great Miami River reached 18.2 feet, trapping area residents in the upper stories and attics of their homes until they could be rescued by boat, and killing more than 360. Artifacts from the disastrous flood include a dress and veil made by a bride for her wedding that was to take place the day after the flood, and clothing belonging to an infant who was heroically rescued. Learn about the resulting flood protection plan from a would-be-animatronic surveyor named Arthur Morgan.

Cross a Dayton-built iron bridge from 1881, then a covered bridge built in 1870 over the Little Sugar Creek near Bellbrook, to see the office that once stood in downtown Dayton where tolls were collected for shipping and traveling on the Miami and Erie Canal. Inside, one of those nifty dioramas imagines what traveling on the canal might have been like.The stones from the Miami & Erie Canal Lock No. 17, built six miles north of Dayton in 1833, were carefully numbered and repositioned in the original canal bed dug between 1825 and 1829, which still runs through the park.

Relive the Wilbear Wright experience with a visit to the newly reimagined John W. Berry, Sr. Wright Brothers Aviation Center. Featuring more Wright family artifacts on display than any place in the world, this superb attraction is not to be missed.

Enter through a replica of the Wright Cycle Company in Dayton, where Wilbur and Orville Wright designed and built a giant bicycle-built-for-two, as well as their first three airplanes. Admire woodcuts that the brothers carved on blocks of kitchen stove wood to use in their printing business, as well as photo-engravings of Wright bicycles and parts used in their bicycle catalogs. Overhear their sister Katharine’s telephone conversations. Surrounded by actual objects, such as the camera the brothers used to record their flight experiments, watch a short film that’s a clever, totally immersive experience.

Continue to Wright Hall and use what you just learned (think “Lift-Power-Control”) to understand what you see before you. For the best interpretive experience, see if John is on hand to explain.

The hall houses the original Wright Flyer III, the world’s first practical airplane, a National Historic Landmark, and what Orville considered to be the most important aircraft that he and his brother built. On October 5, 1905, Wilbur used it to stay aloft over Huffman Prairie northeast of Dayton for over 39 minutes, longer than the combined total of all 109 of their previous flights. Orville suggested the building’s interior pit design, which allows you to see the airplane up close and from above, so you can understand how the controls worked.

In the final room, look upward to find the original canoe that Wilbur strapped to the Wright Model A airplane for his 10-mile exhibition flight up the Hudson River to Grant’s Tomb and back, as part of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in 1909. He reasoned that if he landed in the water, the canoe could be used as a pontoon to keep the plane afloat. Orville later painted the red canoe green for use at his summer retreat in Canada.

Restaurants at Carillon Historical Park continue the theme. Culp’s Cafeteria, a Dayton tradition from 1902 until 1960 and was the first air-conditioned restaurant in Dayton, is honored in a modern-day recreation of the lunch counter. Carillon Brewing Company is the nation’s only fully operational production brewery in a museum.

As I left, I caught a glimpse of a circa-1832 printing office, the last surviving remnant of the Watervliet Shaker community, located in the area from 1806 until 1900. Some 80 acres of Watervliet property was purchased by Marianist priests in 1910.  Known as Mount Saint John today, the Bergamo Center for Lifelong Learning at 4400 Shakertown Road is home to an environmental education center, a gallery showcasing work by Marianists and other local artists, and a retreat and conference center. The property features walking trails and a nature preserve featuring over 130 different species of trees, as well as an abundance of native plants. It also includes the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, a replica of the grotto in Lourdes, France, and a labyrinth recalling one at Chartres Cathedral in France.

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Making Bombs And Breaking Codes…In Dayton?

In the secluded Dayton, Ohio neighborhood of Oakwood, two incredible secret activities took place during World War II.

To discover the first one, continue on Oakwood Avenue from Smith Gardens for one more block. Turn left on West Dixon Avenue, then continue one block to Runnymede Road and pause at the stop sign. Straight ahead is the former site of Runnymede, the home of the Talbott family.

In 1927, the Talbotts had a building constructed on their estate that was used both for family Sunday luncheons and as a community recreation center where school plays, recitals, parties, card-playing and sporting events were held. Known as the Runnymede Playhouse, it was the largest free-standing private hall in the nation at the time. The glass-roofed building housed a stage, dressing rooms with Italian marble showers, courts for tennis and squash, a kitchen, a tropical greenhouse and a swimming pool. The Talbott home was torn down in 1937, but the playhouse remained and continued to be used.

During World War II, the playhouse hosted a very different activity: scientific research and production of polonium triggers for the atomic bomb.

Dayton’s central geographic location, together with its tradition of invention and its military air base, attracted the U.S. Army as a place where polonium could be produced. In 1943, the Dayton Project began. The Monsanto Chemical Company organized efforts to learn about plutonium, the newly discovered ingredient used to make atomic bombs, and produce polonium at five research sites around the city. One of those was at the Runnymede Playhouse, known as Unit IV.

A fence and three guardhouses were added to the property to protect the top-secret activities performed by almost 90 workers there until 1949. Oakwood residents had no idea what was going on inside. Although the Army had agreed to return the playhouse to the Talbotts after the war, the interior was so contaminated with radiation that it was dismantled in 1950 and later buried in Tennessee. Driveway cobblestones and seven feet of soil under the foundation were also removed. New homes were built on the site in the 1970s.

To continue on to the second secret site, turn right on Runnymede Road and continue to Thruston Boulevard, passing the Dayton Country Club as it curves to the right and becomes Kramer Road. This area was the former location of a vineyard and garden owned by William Kramer in the 1880s, once a popular destination for Daytonians on Sunday drives. Kramer Road dead-ends into Schantz Avenue. Look across Far Hills Avenue and you’ll see the former Sugar Camp.

This hilltop property overlooking downtown Dayton was owned by John H. Patterson, founder of The National Cash Register Company. In 1894, Patterson established a training school for his salesmen, conducting classes on the grounds adjacent to his factory during the summer. While horseback-riding among his grove of sugar maple trees near Oakwood in 1903, Patterson decided to relocate the training school there. Within 48 hours, tents had been pitched under the trees and the “University Under Canvas” was in session. In 1934, Colonel Edward A. Deeds, the third chairman of the board of NCR, replaced the tents with 60 permanent, but unheated, wood-frame cabins to house the salesmen as they practiced their pitches.

In 1940, NCR paused its cash register production in favor of developing electronic defense equipment for the war effort. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy began recruiting unmarried schoolteachers and recent graduates of women’s colleges (including my Sweet Briar College), often talented in math and with a penchant for solving crossword puzzles, to join the Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES). The women who accepted took an oath of secrecy about their work poring over encrypted messages to break codes.

Three years later, some WAVES were told to board trains in Washington, DC heading west to a mystery location where they would work on a top-secret research project for the U.S. Navy. They disembarked in Dayton, having no idea what they would be doing there. They spent their days locked inside rooms at NCR, helping to build what was later revealed as an improved version of the British Bombe that broke the Germans’ Enigma code, used to send cryptic messages to submarines to sink Allied ships in the Atlantic Ocean.

They began and ended each day by marching one mile in formation to Sugar Camp, where they lived. Each cabin was divided into two bedrooms; each bedroom had two beds, two closets, and two small built-in writing desks illuminated by a gooseneck lamp.  Between the bedrooms was a communal bathroom with a toilet, a shower and two sinks.

The WAVES spent their leisure time writing letters, swimming, playing ball, and taking escorted walks around Oakwood. By the time they left Dayton in 1946, over 600 of them had been stationed in Dayton, and 120 Bombes had been assembled there.

After the war, Sugar Camp reverted back to an NCR training site. Around 1970, the facility was remodeled for year-round use. Decades later, Sugar Camp was permanently closed and the land was sold and redeveloped for use by office buildings and a synagogue. Cabin 22, the last remaining cabin, was moved in 2004 to Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park, where you can explore it and learn more about wartime code-breaking in Dayton.

For more, read Polonium in the Playhouse: The Manhattan Project’s Secret Chemistry Work in Dayton, Ohio, by Linda Carrick Thomas, and Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy.

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Flower Lovers Are Welcome To Browse In This Secret Dayton Garden

After months of trying to see it, I was finally there.

And then it started raining. The unrelenting downpours looked as if they would go on forever, but we decided to wait it out. Finally, the rain stopped.

We approached an iron gate with Mediterranean-style gateposts, at the end of a long fence, bordered with a row of begonias and hostas, almost completely hidden by trees. What came next was a scene straight out of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.

When Mary Lennox, the heroine of the classic children’s tale, found a world all her own in her secret garden, her heart began to thump, her hands shook a little in her delight and excitement as she looked about, and she whispered, “How still it is!”

I felt the same way when I entered this wonderful garden that’s one of the loveliest places you could imagine.

Smith Gardens, a public garden in the Dayton, Ohio neighborhood of Oakwood, is located on less than one acre. It is the former home of Carlton and Jeanette Smith, who began designing their garden in the 1930s. After the couple gave their home and garden to the City of Oakwood in the mid-1970s, the neighborhood’s horticulturist and a team of residents began caring for this treasure.

A brick walkway leads past thickly planted beds of ornamental grasses, flowers, hostas and trees, all retained by ivy-covered stone walls. It ends at a lush landscape in which continually blooming beds of colorful annuals and perennials meander under trees, through carefully placed rock gardens and beside a stream that ends in a small waterlily-filled pond. Evergreens ensure the garden’s attractiveness in all seasons, following Mr. Smith’s wishes.

Thousands of spring-blooming bulbs are planted each fall. Still more annuals are selected and planted in varying ways each year, ensuring that visits to the garden will never be the same.

While Smith Gardens is a sanctuary for birds, butterflies and chipmunks, it’s also a community gathering place, hosting summertime concerts and story hours. A garden house can be reserved for special events. A plaque on an exterior wall features a quote attributed to Mr. Smith: “Flower lovers are welcome to browse in the garden.”

To find Smith Gardens, travel on Far Hills Drive (Ohio Route 48, known as South Main in Dayton) until Oakwood Avenue meets Far Hills, then turn west on Oakwood Avenue. Continue a few blocks, until you come to Walnut Lane. You’ll see the garden’s fence on your right. Smith Gardens is open daylight hours, seven days a week.

Green Byways: Garden Discoveries in the Great Lakes States, by Sharon Lappin Lumsden, includes information about Smith Gardens and other unique public gardens in the region.

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