May My Beautiful Sweet Briar College’s Foundations Ever Be As Strong As Her Hills

When I tuned in to a live webcast of “Shaking Up Retirement: Rethinking Financial Security for Americans” on the morning of March 3, little did I know that in just a few hours, I’d be so shaken up about something that it would be difficult to concentrate on anything else.

As I scanned my e-mails during the conference’s lunch break, a new message titled “Important Update from Sweet Briar” arrived. Eager to read the latest news from my alma mater, I opened the message first.

Sweet Briar College seal“I am writing to you today with important and difficult news,” the message from James F. Jones, Jr., president of Sweet Briar College, began. “At our Board of Directors meeting over the weekend, the Board unanimously voted to wind down academic operations for Sweet Briar College due to insurmountable financial challenges. The Class of 2015 will be our final graduating class, and the College will close on August 25, 2015.”

This stunning news came with no advance warning.  Ever since I read it, I haven’t been able to get this warm, friendly community where everyone works so hard to make young women succeed off my mind. 

Sweet Briar CollegeNestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural Amherst County, Virginia, Sweet Briar College provided me with exactly what I wanted my college experience to be like. Surrounded by delightful fellow students, talented professors, caring staff members, and a breathtakingly beautiful, historic 3,250-acre campus, I flourished.

The campus is a former plantation where a profusion of wild roses once bloomed.  It was the summer home of Elijah Fletcher, a schoolmaster from Vermont, who purchased the property in 1830. His daughter, Indiana, inherited it in 1858, continuing to live there after she married James Henry Williams in 1865 and gave birth to their only child, Maria Georgiana (“Daisy”) in 1867. Sixteen-year-old Daisy died in 1884, Henry followed in 1889, and then Indiana passed away in 1900. To honor Daisy’s memory, Indiana bequeathed practically her entire estate to establish a school that would provide young women with a fine education.  A charter was obtained for a liberal arts college in 1901, and it opened in 1906.

Sweet Briar’s Georgian Revival campus is the work of Ralph Adams Cram, one of America’s leading architects. Cram transformed a portion of the plantation’s undulating landscape into a series of terraces, where monumental flights of steps lead to elegant brick academic buildings and dormitories connected by arcades.  

Sweet Briar College

The buildings surround a central green that culminates at the college’s chapel, a serene place made all the more lovely by hand-stitched pink floral needlepoint kneelers.

Sweet Briar College Chapel

The Anne Gary Pannell Center, the college’s former refectory, is now the home of its art gallery, art library, and classrooms where I discovered the wonderful discipline of art history.Sweet Briar College

My favorite hangout was the Mary Helen Cochran Library’s Browsing Room, a lovely cypress-paneled room with a fireplace and bookcases backed with dark red paint, just like Cram’s own library.Sweet Briar College Browsing Room

Other brick buildings housing campus support services complement Cram’s vision for the campus.  The Boxwood Alumnae House first was a teahouse and an inn for overnight visitors to stay, then became a dormitory, and now serves as the operational base for Sweet Briar’s alumnae association. I spent many happy hours working as a student assistant there, posing for a picture promoting the Alumnae Association’s tulip bulb sale, stuffing mailings to alumnae while watching television coverage of the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush, and making special friends with the office’s staff.

Sweet Briar College, Boxwood Alumnae House

Almost daily, I stopped in the neighboring Book Shop to visit Kleo and Mr. Fitts, try on Susan Bristol outfits, check out the latest pink-and-green Sweet Briar merchandise, and bring home treasures like hand-painted Easter eggs, Dedham Pottery rabbits, Pimpernel coasters, Salt Marsh Pottery Sweet Briar Rose dishes and a hand-knitted Blueberry Woolens cardigan that I still wear.

Sweet Briar College Book Shop

Sweet Briar House, the original plantation home and the home of Sweet Briar’s presidents, may be the finest building on campus. Like Cram’s campus complex, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Virginia Historic Landmark. Built in the late 18th century, the two-story, six-room, red brick farmhouse was originally called Locust Ridge. After traveling to Italy in the 1850s, the Fletcher family remodeled the home, adding three-story Tuscan-style towers with wrought-iron balconies at either end, connecting them with upper and lower arched galleries and painting it pale yellow to transform it into an Italianate villa.Sweet Briar House

Inside, the 22-room home features heart pine floors, keystone arched doorways, two formal parlors, and 12 fireplaces, some with carved Carrara marble mantels imported from Italy. Many of the furnishings on the lower level of the house play an important part of its history, such as a blue enamel and ormolu 19th century Sevres clock and urns, brass and crystal girandoles, great pier and overmantel mirrors, and family portraits in gold leaf frames. Daisy's Garden, Sweet Briar House

Elijah Fletcher planted many of the Norway spruces, cathedral yews, black walnuts, Southern magnolias, hemlocks, holly and horse chestnut trees that surround Sweet Briar House. He also was responsible for the magnificent boxwoods which are such a striking feature of the garden.

Behind Sweet Briar House stands the Garden Cottage – the plantation overseer’s cottage that later served as a guest house — and a one-room 19th-century slave cabin that later served as a museum of farm tools.

Tapped for Tau Phi, Sweet Briar CollegeThe neighboring Sweet Briar Museum houses the Fletcher and Williams family collections of lace, clothing, silver, jewelry and decorative arts, including Chinese and Japanese artifacts from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia. Daisy’s harp is one of the original pieces of Sweet Briar Plantation furniture on display. The museum also displays memorabilia like the daisy pendants given to the first graduating classes and the elliptical class rings with blue, green, purple or black gemstones etched with the Sweet Briar seal and adorned with columns and roses on the shank, immediately recognizable on the little finger of an alumna’s left hand. Other memorabilia illustrate the four class symbols rooted in Sweet Briar plantation history: the swans that swam on the lake; the peacocks that roamed the grounds of Sweet Briar House; the cement lions that flanked the front steps of Sweet Briar House; and the magnificent oak tree that once stood beside Fletcher Hall. Artifacts illustrate other charming Sweet Briar traditions like the tap clubs for which students displaying certain talents or characteristics are selected. I was a member of Tau Phi, a group of 13 juniors and seniors who promote scholarship and learning.

My daily walks were my time to relish Sweet Briar’s gorgeous surroundings. Some days, I’d go to the boathouse and watch fellow students canoeing in the lake that had been formed when the little stream where Daisy used to fish was dammed.  Other times, I’d stroll by the charming homes of professors and staff that line Faculty Row, Woodland Road and Elijah Road, the road to what was in plantation days the only route to Amherst, Sweet Briar’s neighboring town. Sweet Briar College

On my way to check on the 19th-century apple orchard in another part of campus, I’d admire the octagonal-shaped reception room of the Florence Elston Inn and Conference Center. Its mantelpiece, Hepplewhite-style end tables, coffee table, hunt board and butler’s tray were all hand-carved from local cherry wood.

Longer excursions took me on the “Dairy Loop,” a three-mile route that winds its way up and down hills, past fields, woods and dells. The loop begins at the former Sweet Briar train station that was turned into a ceramics studio, with a large red caboose parked outside.Sweet Briar College

A bluebird box-lined gravel path leads to Monument Hill, the burial ground of the Fletcher and Williams family. On Founders’ Day in early October, a bagpiper leads the entire Sweet Briar community to Monument Hill to place daisies on the graves of Indiana, John Henry and Daisy. Monument Hill, Sweet Briar CollegeThe route continues past the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center, one of the best equestrian facilities in the country. Sweet Briar’s national-champion riders train in three spacious outdoor rings, a hunter trials course and one of the largest indoor arenas in the country.

The Dairy Loop ends at the Sweet Briar Farm, which grew and sold feed crops such as hay, alfalfa and corn, and the Sweet Briar Dairy, which produced whole and lowfat milk, cream, butter and for years, the only European-style yoghurt produced in Virginia. From the early 1960s until 1994, Jan Osinga, a native of Holland, supervised the college’s 450 Holstein cows in providing over 3 million pounds of milk to the Sweet Briar community, the Lynchburg area, and the Air Force and Navy in Newport News annually.

Three meals a day at Prothro Commons made those walks necessary. Menus of my day featured fudge pie, made-to-order omelets, scrambled eggs with cheese, London Broil, squash casserole, grilled shrimp, “Cheese Betty,” Mexican buffets and Easter dinners with a huge bunny-shaped sheet cake. Sweet Briar’s signature chocolate macaroons and “Rosa Franklins”– brown-sugar meringue cookies with pecans — are served at special events. On Doughnut Thursday, a Sweet Briar tradition for more than 30 years, at least 135 yeast doughnuts are made by hand with an old-fashioned cutter, fried and glazed by hand each week. For a time, special Sweet Briar events called for the college’s own white, red and Chardonnay table wines, each made from Virginia-grown grapes and bottled in Virginia, with distinctive pink and green Sweet Briar labels.  

This situation may be devastating, but it may not be hopeleSweet Briar College graduation , May 26, 1991ss.  Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. was formed by a group of alumnae. Its mission is to halt the closing of the college and create a plan for Sweet Briar’s long-term viability. 

As I sang at my graduation on May 26, 1991, may beautiful Sweet Briar’s foundations ever be as strong as her hills. 

Posted in History, Sweet Briar College, Virginia, Architecture | Leave a comment

Start Your Engine And Make Tracks To The Honda Heritage Center

Visit the new Honda Heritage Center in Marysville and you’ll discover the Japanese corporation’s contributions to the manufacturing of automobiles, motorcycles, generators, lawn mowers, outboard motors, airplanes and even robots.

Honda Heritage Center

The museum, which opened to the public on January 5, is housed in a sleek complex across the street from Honda’s Marysville assembly plant, where every new Honda Accord sold in America is built.

Honda Heritage Center

Ohio Governor James Rhodes played an important role in Honda’s decision to make Marysville the home of its first manufacturing facility in the United States. In 1979, the company began producing motorcycles there, quickly followed by automobiles. When the plant opened, Marysville-based associates numbered 53; today, about 14,000 wear Honda’s signature white uniform. Emphasizing associate teamwork and plant cleanliness, the uniform was designed with hidden buttons to prevent products from being scratched during production.

The first thing Honda Heritage Center visitors spot is a lineup of key vehicles from Honda’s history, including the first models of motorcycles and cars made in Ohio. For example, the Elsinore was the first Honda product to roll off the Marysville Motorcycle Plant’s assembly line in September 1979. A 1980 Elsinore CR250R is a shining example of Honda’s revolutionary two-stroke motocross bike. The luxurious 1982 GL1100 Gold Wing, produced exclusively in Ohio, is outfitted with saddlebags, a trunk and other eye-catching features like two-tone paint.

Honda Heritage Center

In the main display area, the handprints of Honda founder Soichiro Honda (1906-1991), made during his last visit to Ohio in 1989…

Honda Heritage Center

…join engines and transmissions to encircle a disassembled engine surrounded by suspended parts.Honda Heritage Center

Sports cars and race cars are parked just beyond it. A 2005 Honda Racing Odyssey that was the first minivan sanctioned for racing by the Sports Car Club of America has a custom suspension and brakes, 19-inch sport tires, and a side-exit exhaust system with a high-flow intake enabling a 285-horsepower engine output. Race car fans can step inside two oversized racing helmets and play the Honda Racing Experience, a 3D immersive game.

Honda Heritage Center

Visitors can also see a version of Honda’s humanoid manufacturing robot, known as ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility). This 4’3”, 110-pound robot can walk, run, run backward and hop on one or two legs. ASIMO’s multi-fingered hand allows it to perform precise tasks, such as picking up a bottle and twisting off the cap and communicating in both American and Japanese sign language.

Honda Heritage Center

Along the perimeter of the room, peer inside a Honda jet…

Honda Heritage Center

…then pay homage to the Honda Civic.  Introduced in 1973, the ever-popular Civic was a marked contrast to the hefty V8-powered, rear-wheel drive vehicles popular at the time. With front-wheel drive, a short rear deck, a hatchback and a short hood — made possible by mounting the four-cylinder engine sideways — the Civic earned points for its roominess, utility and convenience. This 1975 Honda Civic featured the low-emission, high-fuel efficiency CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) engine.

Honda Heritage Center

Parked nearby is a 1987 “Civic Renaissance Experimental” CRX Si, an original Honda car for America that could achieve a fuel economy of 50 miles per gallon. This sporty, performance-oriented car enjoyed a following among young drivers of my generation, including a few of my friends.Honda Heritage Center

Other products from Honda’s past include the 1971 N600, the first Honda automobile sold in America in 1970. This peppy, technologically advanced little automobile boasted a top speed of 80 miles per hour and fuel economy of almost 32 miles per gallon. At 122 inches long, it could actually fit between the wheels of some full-size American vehicles that were typical of the time.Honda Heritage Center

While Hondas might be the star attractions of the museum, the vintage Honda ads on display are equally worth admiring.

“You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda,” a circa-1959 marketing campaign, helped establish Honda as the motorcycle of choice for young people looking for practical transportation. In the 1970s, Honda’s “We Make It Simple” advertising campaign introduced simple Honda concepts that became industry standards. For example, when most automobiles required at least two keys – one for the door and trunk and another for the ignition – Honda introduced a car key that not only worked in the door, ignition, hatch and gas cap, but also could be put in the ignition with either side up.Honda Heritage Center

The Honda Heritage Center is located at 24025 Honda Parkway in Marysville, Ohio. Free, self-guided tours are available by reservation only on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:00; Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:00, 10:00 and 12:00; and Saturdays at 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00. The center is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Call 937-644-6888 for more information.

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Spending St. Nicholas Day in New York City Was An Enchanted Experience

Wonderful crowd on the @TODAYshow plaza despite the rain. Thanks for stopping by to visit!!,” NBC’s Weekend Today Show Meteorologist Dylan Dreyer tweeted on Saturday, December 6.

Two hours later, we peeked in the studio’s windows, watched Dylan, Lester Holt and their colleagues for a few minutes, and then embarked on our journey to the northernmost end of Manhattan. During the next 15 hours, we marveled at some of New York City’s famous holiday window displays, explored medieval art and monastery architecture at The Cloisters, dined in a refurbished cobblestone cottage and admired Neapolitan peasants and Stradivarius violins at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rockefeller Center’s glittering angels heralded our arrival at Saks Fifth Avenue. Six animated scenes from classic fairy tales were depicted in Art Deco style, with iconic New York locations providing the backdrop. “An Enchanted Experience” included Rumplestiltskin spinning straw into gold in subway tunnels, Rapunzel swinging by her hair from the Empire State Building, and Snow White being tempted by an evil apple seller in Times Square.Saks Fifth Avenue window, New York City

At Lord & Taylor, we looked through an oversized keyhole of an magical mansion where paintings of pets come to life, redbirds tweet from festive birdhouses and ballerina marionettes pirouette.Lord & Taylor window, New York City

Up Fifth Avenue, at Tiffany & Company, we peered into jewel-box vitrines to see vignettes of life in New York City. Jewelry sparkled from miniature billboards, taxi trunks and around a Central Park campfire. Inspired by the fireworks display created for the Tiffany Diamond at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, massive “jewels” illuminated the store’s façade.Tiffany & Co. window, New York City

We found “Inspiration” across the street at Bergdorf Goodman, where each window was devoted to one of the arts. Theatrical settings and tricks of perspective transformed ordinary store windows into a silent film set, performance stages and studios for architectural drawings, sculpture and painting. In the “Literature” vitrine, portraits of famous writers like Jane Austen and Mark Twain were rendered in tapestry, needlepoint, macramé and felt appliqué.Bergdorf Goodman window, New York City

On Madison Avenue, a black model train wound its way through a forest of white dowels in the windows of Calvin Klein. A block north, film director Baz Luhrmann and his wife, costume and production designer Catherine Martin, created “Baz Dazzled” for Barneys New York. “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived,” read a motto inscribed on a banner over dazzling windows celebrating beauty, truth and freedom.

Barneys New York window, New York City

Beauty is what we found at the end of the M4 bus line, after making our way northward from Madison Avenue to Broadway to Fort Washington Avenue and West 190th Street. Our destination was Fort Tryon Park.

During the Revolutionary War, the area was known as Fort Washington; then, the British renamed it for Sir William Tryon, the last British governor of colonial New York. Later, wealthy 19th-century New Yorkers built elegant estates there. In 1917, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. acquired the land, later purchasing acreage on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River — known as the Palisades — to preserve Fort Tryon’s spectacular views of the river. In 1931, Rockefeller donated the land to the City of New York; in 1935, he hired Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., son of the designer of Central Park, to transform the site into a 67-acre park, with terraces, wooded slopes, and eight miles of pedestrian paths from which visitors could enjoy the view.

The site was so much like the setting of a medieval monastery that Rockefeller decided to have a building erected for displaying magnificent medieval artwork.

The Cloisters, New York City

In 1925, Rockefeller helped The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchase sculptor George Grey Barnard’s extensive collection of Romanesque and Gothic sculptures, as well as portions of cloisters that Barnard salvaged from four French monasteries at Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, and Trie, all dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Rockefeller also donated dozens of medieval works of art from his private collection to enhance the museum’s holdings from this period.

Boston architect Charles Collens designed the building, patterning the northeast elevation after a 12th-century French church. He incorporated features of a tower at Cuxa in his design for the tower, and modeled the Gothic Chapel after 13th-century French chapels. Roof and floor tiles were copied from examples excavated at Cuxa. Beams for the ceilings, planks for the doors, and glass for the windows came from old buildings. The courtyard and the entrance driveways are paved with Belgian blocks, taken from old New York streets in the Wall Street area, suggestive of old European cobblestones.

The Cloisters opened on May 10, 1938. Seventy-five years later, an aura of peace, serenity and quiet pervades The Cloisters, creating the lovely setting for medieval art that Rockefeller intended.

European monastery buildings surrounded a central cloister, an open courtyard bordered by covered, arcaded walkways reminiscent of the peristyles in Roman houses. When monks weren’t meeting in the monastery’s Chapter House, they came to the cloister to meditate and study. At The Cloisters, you can explore a 12th-century Romanesque Chapter House from the French Aquitaine, as well as four cloisters.

Decades ago, I purchased Erica Wilson’s Cloister Garden Sampler from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Store. When I encountered the Cuxa Cloister, the finished sampler that hangs in my bedroom came to life. An arcade of capitals decorated with acanthus leaves, palms, vines, bunches of grapes, rosettes, animals and people borders a garden divided into four quadrants, each planted with a crabapple tree in the center and bordered by flowering plants and herbs known during the Middle Ages. An eight-sided 13th-century fountain from a French monastery is the focal point of the garden. Potted Mediterranean plants like myrtle and bay laurel, together with olive and bitter orange trees, line the arcade during the wintertime.

The Cloisters, New York City

The Bonnefont Cloister garden features a symmetrical planting of herbs and quince trees around a 15th-century Venetian well. In the Trie Cloister garden, a fountain stands at the center of a rectangular plot with 80 species of plants, evocative of the millefleurs (“thousand flowers”) backgrounds of medieval tapestries. Raised beds of herb plantings are bordered by bricks and wattle fences in the Bennefont-en-Comminges Cloister garden. The plants are grouped and labeled according to their medieval usage, from medicinal and culinary needs to those providing pigments used for painting manuscripts and dyeing textiles, such as weld (yellow), madder (red), and woad (blue).

The Cloisters, New York City

As we walked through the galleries surrounding the cloisters, we discovered piece after beautiful piece of incredible artwork.

Yellow stained-glass roundels popular in 15th-century Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands are displayed in windows with leaded glass panes that look out over the river. The natural light from the windows imparts liveliness to the stained glass that is difficult for other museums to convey.The Cloisters, New York City

An unusual circa 1480-limewood statue of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, from a parish church in Ebern, Bavaria, still has much of its original paint. Appliques of gold leaf and glazes that were popular in Germany at the time simulate a brocade pattern on St. Anne’s dress. Burn marks from candles visible along the front edge of the sculpture indicate that it was a devotional image.The Cloisters, New York City

Figures dressed in elaborate Burgundian court costumes adorn the only complete set of painted playing cards known to survive from the Middle Ages.

The Cloisters, New York City

In the recently restored Late Gothic Hall, there’s a huge 16th-century Spanish tapestry celebrating the birth of Jesus that had been cut into four pieces and then rewoven together. Nearby, I spotted an intricately carved lindenwood statue by our old friend, Tilman Riemenschneider of Franconia, Germany.

The Cloisters, New York City

The prized Unicorn Tapestries, six magnificent 15th-century tapestries representing the Hunt of the Unicorn, were a gift of the Rockefellers. Their millefleurs backgrounds represent 101 species of plants typical of the time; 85 have been identified.

The Cloisters, New York City

Other features of this gallery were a Book of Hours and a diptych used for private devotions, together with something I’d never heard of before — an aquamanile. This 15th-century copper vessel in the shape of a unicorn was made in Nuremberg, Germany and was used for washing hands, both in liturgical and secular settings. Water was poured through a covered opening at the top of this distinctive creation and dispensed through a spigot in the unicorn’s chest.

The Cloisters, New York City

The highlight of my visit was the Campin Room, furnished with a late 15th-century painted pine ceiling from the Tyrol, high-backed oak and walnut benches, a wall bracket with a reflector to increase the illumination of candlelight, a Flemish bronze chandelier, majolica and lusterware.

The Cloisters, New York City

There, I found another old friend from my art history classes. The Annunciation Triptych (Mérode Triptych) painted by Robert Campin circa 1375-1444, is a splendid example of northern European art. Strong foreshortening, together with meticulously painted strands of hair, folds of drapery, and the view of a city seen through an open window, demonstrate the careful attention to detail that defines this period of art history. The center panel depicts the Annunciation in a unique secular setting. On the right panel of the oil painting, Saint Joseph works on a mousetrap. Since private devotion was so important during this time, people imagined themselves as witnesses to events in the Bible, so the man who commissioned the triptych and his wife are depicted on the left panel.

The Cloisters, New York City

To ensure a respectful setting for these sacred works of art and provide a contemplative atmosphere in which to view them, The Cloisters relies on digital audioguides instead of captions and wall panels to provide information about the collection. Subdued background colors make for an unobtrusive setting that does not detract from the artwork and architectural fragments on display.

Frequent musical concerts are held in Fuentidueña Chapel at The Cloisters. The day we were there, Ensemble Organum from France and Christos Chalkias, a chanter from Thessaloniki, Greece, gave In Praise of Saint Nicholas, a program of hymns, Latin and Greek Byzantine antiphonal chants, and excerpts from the emblematic manuscript of the Cathedral of Benevento, Italy to celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas.

Fort Tryon Park is also home to New Leaf, a restaurant housed in the park’s original concession building. In 1995, Bette Midler and her friends discovered the dilapidated building in the neglected park, revitalized it through her founding of the New York Restoration Project, and supported its opening in 2001. Its cobblestone exterior, slate roof and granite archways are complemented by oak trusses that support its 18-foot-high ceiling. It’s a wonderful place for brunch on weekends.

New Leaf restaurant, New York City

Finally, we spent a few hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Wayne admired his first glimpse of the towering Christmas spruce on which over 50 silk-robed angels hover over hundreds of figures in a Neapolitan Baroque crèche scene. In the André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments, we admired Wayne as he told us about how Baroque violins are tuned at a lower pitch, have a shorter neck and fingerboard, and are without chin and shoulder rests. Click here to see “The Francesca” violin by Antonio Stradivari that we saw and here for other violins on display.

Angel tree, Metropolitan Museum of ArtTo read more about The Cloisters, see The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture, by Peter Barnet and Nancy Wu; A Walk Through The Cloisters, by Bonnie Young; Creating the Cloisters,” by Timothy B. Husband, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, volume 70, number 4 (Spring 2013); George Grey Barnard: The Cloisters and The Abbaye,” by J.L. Schrader, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, volume 37, number 1 (Summer, 1979), and Medieval Monuments at The Cloisters and The Cloisters: The Building and the Collection of Medieval Art in Fort Tryon Park, both by James J. Rorimer. Also, watch The Cloisters Museum and Gardens – Erica Wilson's Cloister Garden SamplerBehind the Scenes with the Director, a video tour of The Cloisters with Tom Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Peter Barnet, curator in charge of medieval art and The Cloisters. The page also provides links to other videos about the collections, medieval art and The Cloisters; footage of The Cloisters under construction, and “The Hidden Talisman,” a 1928 film telling the story of the history of The Cloisters that was shot at the original Cloisters museum.  This video describes the painstaking restoration of the 16th-century Spanish tapestry in the Late Gothic Hall that took place between 1973 and 2009, including designing and dying yarns specifically for the project.

For more about this year’s holiday windows, see “Holiday Window Displays Lure Them Inside, by Dazzling Outside,” from the November 30, 2014 issue of the New York Times.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Holidays, Museums, Travel | 1 Comment

Splendid Seasonal Music Filled Two Sacred Settings

“Let’s approach this Advent in a new and different way, folks,” wrote the Very Rev. Michael Lumpe, rector of Saint Joseph Cathedral, on the first Sunday of Advent. “Let’s all begin our lives of faith anew, in hopeful anticipation for our Lord, our Savior, and our Redeemer – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

I can always count on Father Lumpe to share some meaningful advice, and this was no exception. One of the ways I followed his suggestion was by taking a break from the busyness of preparing for Christmas to attend two splendid concerts. Both provided welcome opportunities to contemplate and rejoice in the reason for this special season.

First, we spent a delightful hour with the Magpie Consort, a Columbus-based mixed vocal ensemble that specializes in an a cappella repertoire of Medieval motets and plainsong, Renaissance madrigals and sacred polyphony, 18th-century Psalmody, 20th-century compositions and folk songs. Just like its feathered inspiration, the 14-member group produced a rich layer of sounds.The Magpie Consort in concert at St. John's Episcopal Church

In a concert titled “A Christmas Remembered: Seasonal Selections in the Magpie Tradition,” the 14 singers performed 22 selections that first followed the Christmas story from the expectation of Christ’s coming to the Nativity, then announced Christ’s birth in the languages and music of four continents. Percussionist Roland Hatcher accompanied the group on several selections.

Joining in on classics like “Wexford Carol;” “Carol of the Bells;” and “Caroling, Caroling” was tempting, but we kept quiet and enjoyed listening to new favorites like “Taladh Chriosta” (Lullaby to the Christ Child); “I Sing of a Maiden;” “Ecce Novum Gaudium” (Behold a New Joy!), from 17th-century Scotland; and the traditional Neapolitan tune, “Quando nascette Ninno” (When the Baby Was Born).Needlepoint kneeler, St. John's Episcopal Church, Worthington

The setting was St. John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington, built between 1827 and 1831. The singers performed in the sanctuary, where four original pillars constructed from milled solid black walnut tree trunks and encased in plaster still stand.  Besides hand-hewn native cherry and butternut woods, the interior features dozens of beautiful hand-stitched needlepoint kneelers.

Then, we attended Lessons and Carols at Saint Joseph Cathedral. This splendid concert was given by the Cathedral Choir and its director, Paul Thornock; Principal Organist Robert Wisniewski; and the nine members of Cathedral Brass.St. Joseph Cathedral

The choir sung Latin motets from the Renaissance and Victorian eras; Johannes Brahms’ “O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf;” Mormon Tabernacle Choir Music Director Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “Ding! Dong! Merrily on High;” and Hubert Parry’s “I Sing the Birth,” with words by Ben Jonson. The standing-room-only audience chimed in with the choir to sing carols like “Once in Royal David’s City;” Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”; and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Msgr. Stephan Moloney joined members of the Cathedral’s congregation, its deacons and Father Lumpe in reading nine Scripture passages related to the birth of Jesus.

The Magpie Consort will be singing at Franklin Park Conservatory on Saturday, December 20 at 7:00 pm.

The next event in the Cathedral Music 2014-2015 Concert Series is Music for Brass and Organ. It takes place Sunday, January 25, 2015 at 3:00 pm. Additionally, the men of the Cathedral Choir chant the Office of Compline in a 30-minute service at 9:00 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month. Listen to psalms, short passages from scripture, a hymn, a canticle (Nunc Dimittis), a responsory, collect and additional prayers next on Sunday, January 4, 2015. For more information, click here.

Posted in Churches, Holidays, Music | Leave a comment

Antique Christmas Returns To The Taft Museum

The halls of the Taft Museum in Cincinnati might not be decked with boughs of holly, but they’re certainly garlanded with lush evergreens and filled with Christmas trees decorated with charming vintage ornaments.

Whether you’re regular Taft Museum-goers or a first-time visitor, there’s always plenty to admire in Antique Christmas, the museum’s annual display of antique ornaments, decorations and toys. Here are some of our favorites.

Several feather trees are adorned with unique ornaments. One celebrates clowns, another is a nesting ground for birds, and a third is covered in mushrooms.

Antique Christmas, Taft Museum

Sweet little German dolls dressed in festive folk costumes hang from a white feather tree garlanded with antique tinsel.

Antique Christmas, Taft Museum

Other trees are decorated with 1930s foil-wrapped ornaments,…

Antique Christmas, Taft Museum

…1940s glass ornaments…Antique Christmas, Taft Museum

and those made from beautiful swirled glass.

Antique Christmas, Taft Museum

A Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer display celebrates the 50th anniversary of the stop-motion animated television special narrated by Burl Ives that is being commemorated this year.

Antique Christmas, Taft Museum

Displays of antique pull toys, nodding toy reindeer from Germany, Santa figures and miniatures will also put you in the holiday spirit.

Antique Christmas, Taft Museum

Antique Christmas isn’t the only special exhibition to see at the Taft Museum. Paris Night & Day: Masterworks of Photography from Atget to Man Ray includes vintage prints by famous photographers who worked in Paris, while Black, White, and Iconic: Photographs from Local Collections features 10 works by photographers like Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams. To complement Paris Night & Day, The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County partnered with the Taft to offer a community-wide read-along of The Bones of Paris, Laurie R. King’s suspense novel in which Man Ray and other historical figures appear.

Antique Christmas continues through January 4, 2015. The photography exhibitions will be on view through January 11, 2015.

Posted in Cincinnati, Holidays, Museums | Leave a comment

Treat Yourself To Lunch At The Chintz Room

I left my Vera Bradley Stay Cooler at home today and treated myself to lunch with a couple of friends at the Chintz Room.The Chintz Room

Once located on the fifth floor of the F. & R. Lazarus Co. department store in downtown Columbus, the Chintz Room began life as a tea room in 1914, changed its name in 1953, and closed in 1998. 

Since Lazarus was shuttered in 2004, I’ve been recreating some of its classic dishes at home, with the help of recipes that ran in The Columbus Dispatch long ago.  Now, local restaurateur Elizabeth Lessner has updated some of the Chintz Room’s classic dishes and began serving them a few weeks ago in an equally updated space on the ground floor of the Lazarus building.

The restaurant is decorated with artifacts from the store, such as the old dining room lights that are suspended above the bar. Photos from Lazarus hang on the walls, and vintage fashions from its racks are displayed amid the tables.

The Chintz Room

In 1951, 20 dioramas illustrating incidents from the history of Columbus and Ohio were made for the department store’s centennial. In the wall between the bar and the dining room of the updated Chintz Room, you’ll find the sole survivor — a scene celebrating the return of Ohio’s Fourth Regiment from service in the Spanish-American War as the veterans paraded by the store at the corner of High and Town Streets.

Lazarus diorama, The Chintz Room

I ordered the Chintz Room’s chicken salad with toasted pecans and celery, served on thick slices of lightly toasted house-made bread with a side of an updated version of  Lazarus’s signature celery dressing drizzled with chicken gravy. Other classic Lazarus dishes on the menu are the bourbon bread pudding and the “hidden sandwich,” in which more of that delicious house-made bread is hidden under baked ham, roasted turkey, bacon, melted Swiss, shredded romaine and a boiled egg, then topped with Thousand Island dressing.

Chicken salad sandwich and celery dressing, The Chintz Room

The menu also includes some distinctive new dishes like herb-breaded cauliflower cutlets, broccoli cheddar soup served in mix-and-match Fiestaware, and “aggression salad,” mixed greens topped with marinated and roasted beets, grilled eggplant, toasted pecans and feta, tossed in Italian dressing.

Aggression salad, The Chintz Room

I’m hoping that the Chintz Room offers its take on my favorite Lazarus dishes: the Mexican beef sandwich on toasted cheese bread, broccoli mushroom chowder and vanilla ice cream balls rolled in pecans and covered with hot fudge.

Don’t miss the windows decorated with holiday scenes, reminiscent of the ones I loved to see at Lazarus every year.Holiday windows, The Chintz Room

Located at 121 S. High St., the Chintz Room is open for lunch and dinner from 11 am to 11 pm daily.

Posted in Columbus, Food, History | Leave a comment

Would Icelandic Scribes Have Illuminated A Block O With Crowberry Ink?

Spend a few hours at Carmen Ohio chair, Ohio UnionThe Ohio State University’s Ohio Union and you’ll find Script Ohio tiles in restrooms, the Block O on floors and “Carmen Ohio” lyrics carved on chair backs. Meeting rooms showcase memorabilia associated with student service organizations like Ohio Staters, Inc., which sells seat cushions outside Ohio Stadium on home football game Saturdays and provides brochures of “Buckeye Stroll,” a self-guided historical campus walking tour.

In this scarlet and gray paradise, I also discovered that the people of Iceland created something even more beautiful than the Lopapeysa, the iconic Icelandic sweater with a patterned circular yoke that’s knit with lopi, the wool of Icelandic sheep.  The beautiful Medieval manuscripts that Icelanders produced are the subject of research by scholars like Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, a lecturer in Scandinavian history at the University of Cambridge.Elizabeth Ashman Rowe presenting at Texts and Contexts

Rowe introduced fellow scholars to these remarkable documents during this month’s Texts and Contexts, an annual conference at Ohio State that is devoted to Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, incunables and early printed texts in Latin and the vernacular languages. The conference explored recent scholarly research in epigraphy (the study of inscriptions), palaeography (the study of ancient and historical handwriting), and glosses (annotations written on the margins of a manuscript that explain or comment on the text). 

After Christianity brought writing to Iceland in the 11th century, the bishoprics, monasteries and nunneries of medieval Iceland became active centers of learning and book production.  In their scriptoria, scribes copied, translated and adapted religious books like Bibles and lives of the saints into vernacular language. Some of the earliest examples of Icelandic manuscripts are a circa-1100 Easter table that was used for keeping track of eclipses and volcanic eruptions in Iceland and a circa-1300 plan of Jerusalem. 

13th-century plan of Jerusalem, Texts and Contexts

It was expensive to produce manuscripts in Iceland because the vellum on which they were written came from cattle. Since cattle had to be kept in barns during the cold Icelandic winter, farmers figured how much hay they had and how many cattle they could maintain, then killed the rest of their herd. The hides of some of those cattle became vellum for writing. Since there was no lime in volcanic Icelandic in which to soak the skin, ammonia was used instead, resulting in darker vellum. 

Since making vellum was such a labor-intensive process, Icelandic scribes wrote in small script and used abbreviations to save the material. Runic writing was used for everyday writing and short notes, liked this collection of runes carved in wood with a knife. This example of runes, carved in wood with a knife, is from Bergen, Norway and reads, “Thorgeir owns this.”Photo of Runic writing, from Texts and Contexts

Decorated initials in illuminated manuscripts helped readers keep track of their place or find a passage, such as in the Codex Regius of Icelandic laws circa 1250.  They also provided clues to what a section of the work was about, like a decorated initial in the circa-1330 Jónsbók that depicts manslaughter.

Jonsbok page, Texts and Contexts

The Flateyjarbók, an important late 14th-century Icelandic manuscript, is a collection of sagas of the Norse kings. This illustration shows the martyrdom of St. Olaf, who encouraged the conversion of Norway and Iceland.

Flateyjarbok, Texts and Contexts

Icelandic scribes illumined their work with ink made from crowberries native to Iceland and imported plant dyes and minerals. They derived their inspiration not only from pattern books of chivalric and religious illustrations, but also from design motifs seen on carved doors and liturgical vestments.

Rowe also led a workshop introducing participants to medieval Icelandic palaeography. She explained how to interpret the abbreviations that scribes used to write more quickly and save space, and how to recognize individual letter forms, ligatures and styles of handwriting in order to read and understand the text.

Four different types of script exist in medieval Icelandic writings.  Carolingian, developed in the 11th century and named after Charlemagne, became the dominant form of writing in Europe until the first half of the 13th century.  In time, Carolingian script became more compressed, with letters becoming thinner, taller and written more closely together.  Later, Protogothic script came into favor, followed by a formal Gothic cursive that came to Iceland in the 14th century.  Since the Icelandic language called for special letters for sounds that Latin didn’t provide, some script forms are distinctly Icelandic.  

Rowe observed that the development of script reflected changes in medieval architecture. Rounded Romanesque arches are like round Carolingian letters, while taller, more slender letters of Gothic script reflect Gothic arches.

Workshop participants tried their hand at identifying abbreviations developed and used in medieval Iceland, then following the conventions of transcription to document choices about capitalization, punctuation and word spacing in deciphering marginal notes, missing words or letters, illegible letters, text above the line and expanding abbreviations.

In a subsequent conference session, Rowe shared passages from Icelandic books of annals, such as the annals of Einar Haflidason, a 14th-century Icelandic priest.  In these works, scribes used a combination of scripts, employing large writing to indicate the importance of people and church events and a display script to begin the first line of a chapter of a saga.  She also shared examples of digitized Icelandic manuscripts that are collected at, and Ashman Rowe presenting at Texts and Contexts

Other Texts and Contexts conference sessions focused on manuscripts produced at the scriptorium at Gembloux, a Benedictine abbey in Namur, Belgium, and the famous Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy.

Maria Dobozy, professor of languages and literature at the University of Utah, introduced me to the single-leaf prints of Joerg Daxpach and Hans Sachs, a 16th-century meistersinger and poet from Nuremberg, Germany, and how woodcut pictures influenced the performance and reception of their songs about the Battle of Vienna in 1529. Hans Sachs works in the collection of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin have been digitized, so you don’t have to travel to Berlin to see them.

Delphine Mercuzot, a stylish manuscripts curator at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, shared examples of digitized manuscripts of Roman de la Rose, a 13th-century poem. The images are accessible not only in the Roman de la Rose Digital Library, a joint project of the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, but also in Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Zoom in on individual pages of over 100 examples of the poem that are collected here.

The conference also celebrated the centennial of the publication of Elias Avery Lowe’s The Beneventan Script, an important publication describing the development of a bold and beautiful calligraphic form of handwriting that was used in southern Italy between the 10th and 13th centuries.  Lowe (1879-1969) was a Classical scholar who was recognized as the leading Latin palaeographer of his generation.  His great-grandson is Boris Johnson, mayor of London.   

Hope Mayo, the Philip Hofer Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, described the work on Lowe that was begun by Virginia Brown, a palaeographer who was Lowe’s research assistant during the last year of his life.  Mayo presented highlights of Lowe’s career, particularly his graduate studies in Munich, Germany between 1903 and 1907.  Sharing excerpts from Lowe’s diaries, Mayo described what a memorable experience this was for Lowe, especially as he studied palaeography at the home of paleographer Ludwig Traube between cups of hot cocoa and rounds of tennis.

Icelandic manuscript from Texts and ContextsThe workshop and conference were organized by not only Ohio State’s Saga Club, which offers events to encourage students’ interest in and learning of Old Norse-Icelandic language, literature, and culture, but also the Center for Epigraphical and Palaeographical Studies. As the only comprehensive research facility for the study of Greek and Latin inscriptions and manuscripts in the United States, the Center maintains a library of books on epigraphy and palaeography, an extensive collection of photographs and squeezes of Greek and Latin inscriptions, and a number of special collections, including Virginia Brown’s personal library and manuscripts on palaeography and Beneventan script. To watch “Language of the Stones,” an interesting video from the Center about epigraphy and squeezes (copies of inscriptions carved on stone which are retrieved for study by pressing damp paper over the lettering), click here

To read more, see The Paleography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century, by Albert Derolez; Gothic Manuscripts, 1260-1320, by Alison Stones;  The Development of Flateyjarbók: Iceland and the Norwegian Dynastic Crisis of 1389, by Elizabeth Ashman Rowe; A Marriage of True Minds: A Memoir of My Parents, Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter and Elias Avery Lowe, and Other Writings, by Patricia Tracy Lowe; and The E. A. Lowe Papers at the Morgan Library and “E.A. Lowe and the Making of Beneventan Script,” both by Virginia Brown.  

Posted in Art, Books, Ohio State University, Special Collections | 1 Comment