At Herman Miller’s Design Yard, A Way of Living Is Also A Way of Working

Four offices in nine years. My grand tour of my workplace has taken me to two floors, providing various views from different directions.

Now I sit at the end of a hall. After having been deluged with conversation on the highly traveled path to copiers, printers, kitchen and elevator, my quiet, peaceful refuge is perfect. My mind stays on my work, and when I would benefit from a distraction, I go to where the action is, rather than it coming to me.

“Beware!,” said Robert Propst, the former director of research for Herman Miller, the award-winning Michigan furniture company. Since not much traffic goes by my door, I’m ripe for becoming “an automatic involvement loser,” Propst wrote in his 1968 book, A Facility Based on Change.

And then there’s the matter of where I should sit in my office. Do I sit facing the door, where, as Propst says, I’m trapped in a game of continuous salutations, recognizing my coworkers every time they go by, distracted and irritated by exposure overload? Or do I sit with my back to the door, which allows for more concentration, but less comfort?

This conundrum led Propst in 1968 to develop Action Office, a modular design solution featuring interchangeable paneled enclosures, with options to provide office workers with both privacy and access to interacting with others. It revolutionized office design, making the open-plan system the industry standard.

Then comes the matter of being one of a nation of sedentary office-dwellers. Since we spend one-third of our lives at work, our office should be an efficient place to accomplish a variety of tasks, providing an attractive, physically comfortable and motivating environment that leads to organizational success.

Propst had an answer for that too. Researching orthopedic and cardiovascular medicine, biomechanics, physical therapy and ergonomic support for healthy movement, he determined that portable, adaptive office furniture would relieve the difficulties of sedentary office work. His colleagues in the design department found inspiration in unlikely places, from the engineering of the Golden Gate Bridge to the construction of a tennis racquet. Herman Miller’s classic Michigan-made office chairs, together with its newer pieces like the Renew Sit-to-Stand Desk and Formwork, a modular stackable desktop storage system, offer innovative solutions that enhance our productivity, comfort, health, safety and enjoyment while at work.

A fan of Herman Miller and its attractive, functional, human-centered and problem-solving designs for modern living, I jumped at the chance to tour the Design Yard, Herman Miller’s Holland, Michigan complex that has housed its design, development, manufacturing engineering and testing facilities since the 1990s.

Herman Miller employees call the Design Yard the “Farm.” Prefabricated metal barn-like structures, silos and stone buildings are situated in a rural environment, grouped together like a farm’s outbuildings. The barns house design studios, and the silos are conference rooms, with entryways like front porches. This provides employees with enough separation to work without distractions, yet with enough proximity to each other to foster idea-sparking creativity.

My tour started with a refresher on Herman Miller’s history. The company began in 1905, when The Star Furniture Company of Zeeland, Michigan began producing traditional historic reproduction furniture from the wood so abundant in West Michigan. When its president, a former company clerk named Dirk Jan De Pree, and his father-in-law, Herman Miller, purchased a majority of the company’s stock in 1923, its name was changed to Herman Miller.

During the Great Depression, acclaimed furniture designer Gilbert Rohde introduced De Pree to his simple, functional and innovative modern style. De Pree was so taken with De Pree’s designs that he made a radical change in the company’s direction. Within a decade, Herman Miller had entered the modern furniture market, recruiting talented modern designers George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Girard, and Charles and Ray Eames to produce well-designed sectional sofas and tables with tubular metal legs and Bakelite tops, as well as space-saving office furniture that combined to make hundreds of different groupings.

Since then, Herman Miller has manufactured and sold famous furniture like the Eameses’ molded plywood chair; the cozy baseball-mitt feel of the lounge and ottoman they created in 1956 as a birthday present for their friend, film director Billy Wilder; the padded leather swivel Executive Chair and walnut stool/table Henry Luce commissioned them to design for the lobby of the Time-Life Building at Rockefeller Center in New York City; and the familiar Naugahyde-and-aluminum tandem seating in airport terminals. Noguchi’s classic coffee table, together with Nelson’s Marshmallow Sofa and Platform Bench, a versatile piece that functions equally well as a table or seat, are other examples of Herman Miller’s milestone furniture designs.

Furnished with examples of Herman Miller’s iconic pieces, The Design Yard is a workplace designed to feel like a daytime living room. It invites casual interaction among its employees, who are encouraged to offer suggestions for the company’s improvement – even suggesting their favorite books to place on bookshelves in common areas.

The Plaza and its coffee bar are the heart of the Design Yard. As more employees congregated there, researchers were planted there to observe whether the conversations taking place were social or work-related. They found that 80 percent of conversations flipped to business; to encourage that collaboration, harder stools were placed around the coffee bar and more comfortable seating was added around the perimeter of the space.A library just off the Plaza accommodates the need for privacy and focus, while simultaneously showcasing wallpaper and posters created by Herman Miller designers.Semi-enclosed “Haven” settings offer people places for private telephone calls or to concentrate on their work without distractions. Bar-height counters in high-traffic pathways provide a place for employees to work between appointments, while long, bar-height benches next to group workspaces allow for quick meetings and brainstorming sessions to take place. “Jump spaces” with height-adjustable surfaces allow employees to work in a variety of standing or seated positions in their individual workspace.

Inventive thinking is encouraged in residential-style meeting spaces. Working in them is just like being in a living room at home.

Company executives also benefit from this neighborhood-style workplace, where close proximity benefits collaboration and decision-making. Individual workstations and group areas are furnished with casual, comfortable residential-style furniture that can be easily reconfigured.

Archival Herman Miller ephemera is used throughout the Design Yard. These include the bold, colorful designs for Environmental Enrichment Panels, decorative silkscreens Alexander Girard designed in the 1970s for Action Office environments.Posters promoting Herman Miller’s annual employee picnic have such an iconic design that they are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.My tour also included a visit to Herman Miller’s corporate archives.The archives maintains a collection of business records, advertisements, posters, photography, design drawings, as well as vintage furniture and textiles. They are used for research, product design, education about business decisions, onboarding, marketing and storytelling about the company’s history.

The company’s catalogs are some of the most important items in the archives. Considered collector’s items, they were the first in the industry to feature a horizontal layout, with professional photographs and a design statement to accompany product dimensions and information about each piece. Their importance is attributed to George Nelson, who introduced the concept of a corporate identity program featuring an instantly recognizable logo. Herman Miller’s stylized bold-red “M” logo was introduced in 1946 and remains in use today.Herman Miller owns, cares for and curates a house designed by architect Charles Eames for company executive Max De Pree in 1954. The Zeeland, Michigan home was considered a model of trend-setting at the time and is educationally and historically significant today. It was the last part of my Herman Miller experience.Despite Michigan’s cold winters, glass features large in the two-storey, open-plan timber-frame house, from the outer wall of the upper storey to the curved roof of the conservatory that looks out into woodland. Eames also designed the decor for the interior of the house, to which a library, a guest room and an entryway were added before the house was sold in 1975.For more on Herman Miller, read How to See: A Guide to Reading Our Manmade Environment, and Living Spaces, both by George Nelson; Business as Unusual: the People and Principles at Herman Miller, by Hugh De Pree; Facility Based on Change, by Robert Propst; Charles & Ray Eames: Pioneers of Mid-Century Modernism, by Gloria Koenig; Classic Herman Miller, by Leslie Piña; and Herman Miller: The Purpose of Design, by John R. Berry. Herman Miller: A Way of Living, edited by Amy Auscherman, Sam Grawe and Leon Ransmeier, tells the story of the company’s history within the context of popular and design culture. “A Way of Living,” a related exhibition on view this summer at Herman Miller’s flagship New York City showroom and store at 251 Park Avenue South, displays furniture, textiles, catalogs, ephemera and other artifacts from the company’s history.

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Posted in Art, History, Michigan, Special Collections, Travel | Leave a comment

Marshall Fredericks Was Here In Columbus!

Two Bears. Baboon with Chimpanzee. Baboon with Sleeping Child. All sculptures by a Michigan sculptor named Marshall Fredericks, on view at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“How do I know that name?,” I wondered, as my visit there continued. “I’ll check it out when I get home.”

So I did. Marshall Fredericks designed “The Man on the Cross,” the seven-ton, 28-foot-tall crucified figure of Christ at the National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods in Indian River, Michigan, which I saw last year.

A little research led to a big discovery. Marshall Fredericks was here in Columbus!

A graduate of the Cleveland School of Art, Fredericks was a professor of sculpture at Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy during the 1930s. His work was known for its restrained, modern style; animals were a favorite subject. In 1952, The Ohio State University commissioned Fredericks to create a series of unique sculptured bas-reliefs to be placed in succession along the side of an austere building on campus that would become the Ohio Union.

With help from Ohio Historical Society staff and Ohio State faculty members, Fredericks researched and selected six subjects that would powerfully illustrate highlights from the history of the Ohio River Valley. He submitted small-scale preliminary drawings for approval, then made full-scale drawings, followed by sculpturing full-scale clay models and making plaster casts. Fredericks and two assistants worked on site at the Ohio Union, placing the full-size models on the facade of the building, and then carving each eight-foot-tall sculpture on limestone blocks that had been placed in the facade.  Standing on scaffolding, they used compressed air chisels at first and then finished with hand tools. Although it was hard work, this process allowed them to take the actual light conditions into consideration, and afforded students the opportunity to watch the project unfold until it was finished. You can see Fredericks and one of his assistants at work on the project here, and what the reliefs originally looked like here, thanks to images from the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum Digital Archives and Objects Collection.

I’ve admired those reliefs for years, but never realized Marshall Fredericks created them. So, I stopped at the Ohio Union recently to take a closer look.

The series begins with a tribute to the Native Americans who once inhabited the Ohio River Valley, represented by abstract mound designs in the upper right hand corner of the first panel. An 18th-century Miami Indian in tribal dress, holding a peace pipe, stands next to a bear, representing the wild animals that were native to the state.

The hardships men experienced after arriving in the Ohio country are the subject of the second panel. A guide leans on his musket while a traveler who has fallen on his knees to gives thanks for a safe journey to Ohio – the first state in the Northwest Territory. The wagons in the upper left corner represent the arrival of settlers on the National Road, now known as Route 40.Ohio’s agricultural bounty is celebrated in the third panel. Foliage, fruit and birds symbolize the abundant corn, wheat, beef, hogs and dairy products which attracted settlers and later led to the establishment of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College – now known as The Ohio State University — in 1873. At the center of the panel, Johnny Appleseed teaches a boy how to plant a tree while his mother and sister look on. Statesmanship and education are the subjects of the fourth panel. In front of the Great State of Ohio stands Rutherford B. Hayes, who dissuaded his fellow members of Ohio State’s Board of Trustees from selling to storekeepers a strip of land bordering N. High St. from 11th Ave. to Woodruff Ave. – the same land on which the Ohio Union stands. On the right is William Holmes McGuffey, whose influential Eclectic Readers shaped the 19th-century American mind. An early school bell and school desk complete the picture.In the fifth panel, the kneeling figure on the left represents Ohio’s ceramic industry, made possible by the area’s rich chemical and mineral deposits, and then strengthened by the founding of the nation’s first ceramic engineering department at Ohio State in 1894. The standing figure holds a model of the airplane invented by Ohioans Wilbur and Orville Wright, while the scythe symbolizes the importance of agriculture to the state. Fredericks’ final panel represents Ohio’s steel, coal and milling industries. A figure wearing a foundry apron holds a ladle in one hand and a model of a great ore boat in the other, symbolizing the strategic position of Great Lakes cities in shipping iron ore. A crucible is filled with molten steel used in making automobiles, scales, cash registers, electrical machinery and other related products. Miners load their coal into cars in the lower right section of the panel, while the central figure stands with a wheel representing the milling industry. The reliefs won an Honorable Mention in Sculpture from the Architectural League of New York in 1955. When reconstruction of the Ohio Union began in 2007, the reliefs were covered. When the building reopened in March 2010, two new, complementary panels by artist Linda Langhorst and sculptor William Galloway were added to the 12th Ave. facade.

Pathways of Courage honors Ohio’s contributions to the abolition movement. It depicts Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Cincinnati author who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Dayton poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose writings championed civil rights; the symbolic “Freedom Stairway” and a lantern that represents the escape from slavery through the Underground Railroad. Celebration of Arts represents Ohio’s artistic heritage, with artist George Bellows shown with his paintbrush and author/cartoonist James Thurber seated at his typewriter.In 1965, Fredericks created two reliefs conveying the joys of nature, recreation and work — Industry and Other Employment Activities and Recreational Activities — for the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services. He also created two more reliefs — Motion in Nature, expressing how young people take great enjoyment in movement in nature, and Transportation by Man, showing the evolution of transportation from primitive beasts of burden to the modern expressway — for the Ohio Department of Transportation in Columbus. Each relief was made of aluminum and measures 14 feet long. The first two reliefs, which were displayed in the lobby of 145 S. Front St. in downtown Columbus, have been placed in storage by the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, which provided this photo of Recreational Activities.

I’m hoping to see all four in person sometime. Until then, click here to discover more about them through the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum Digital Archives and Objects Collection.

For more, read The Story of the Ohio Union Reliefs, by Marshall Fredericks, and Marshall M. Fredericks, Sculptor, edited by Suzanne P. Fredericks.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Columbus, History, Michigan, Ohio, Ohio State University | Leave a comment

If You Seek The Best Part Of The Meijers’ Collection, Look Under Your Feet

What prompts us to start collecting things?

For Frederik Meijer, the founder of the Meijer retail and grocery chain, and his wife, Lena, it was supporting a project to have Marshall Fredericks create a bronze sculpture of Hans Christian Andersen’s Swan and Ugly Duckling in the Meijers’ hometown of Greenville, Michigan in 1985. The project was so successful that the Meijers started collecting more of Fredericks’ work. They eventually acquired over 30 of his sculptures, including this dramatically posed portrait of Lord Byron.

The Meijers’ collection wasn’t just for their own appreciation; they wanted to share it with the public. So, when some Grand Rapids residents asked the Meijers to fund the creation of a botanic garden in 1992, Mr. Meijer recalled how inspired he was by the Kröller Müller, a museum and sculpture park in the Netherlands. He suggested integrating modern and contemporary sculptures with a horticultural display garden, creating a place where people could enjoy and appreciate art in a natural setting. In 1995, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park was born, opening to the public in 2002. Today, it covers 132 acres of land, with three conservatories, a concert amphitheater, a children’s garden, indoor sculpture galleries, and more than 300 internationally acclaimed sculptures; new acquisitions are added every year. It is open year-round, so the changing seasons ensure that things are “always growing, always beautiful, always new.”

The sculpture park is an open-air museum for dozens of works dramatically placed among plantings of native trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. Tour it with a guide on a tram, or on foot, looking for the “welcoming stones” that lead visitors to engage with the installations. Whatever your choice, you’ll appreciate the creativity and vision behind these artistic creations. Standing 24 feet tall, The American Horse was inspired by a Leonardo da Vinci work. Cabin Creek appears to be a figure of a horse made of branches and discarded planks, but it’s actually a reassembled collection of found objects cast in bronze and welded steel.

Many of the sculptures change as visitors view and interact with them from a variety of vantage points. Male/Female, Jonathan Borofsky’s 23-feet-tall brushed aluminum sculpture, depicts a 180-degree intersection of a male and female silhouette, while Alexander Liberman’s 42-feet-tall Aria suggests musical notes and symbols.

Have you seen a living sculpture? Sabre Larch Hill is a “planting” sculpture made from living saplings that are pruned over time to create a specific composition. It’s situated next to the Japanese Garden, with water features, a teahouse built in Japan using traditional Japanese building methods, and more than 4,000 boulders.

Michigan’s Farm Garden incorporates a replica of Mrs. Meijer’s childhood home, together with a barn, windmill, sugar shack, and flower and vegetable gardens typical of a 1930s farmstead. Continue to the children’s garden, which features tree houses, a five-senses garden, a miniature version of the Great Lakes, a log cabin, a sand quarry, mazes and sculptures with special appeal for children, many of them by Marshall Fredericks.

Plant enthusiasts will appreciate that the English perennial and bulb garden was created by garden designer Penelope Hobhouse. Inside the consevatories, the Victorian garden parlor recalls the popularity of plant collecting and gardening in the Victorian era. In a setting that suggests a sunroom or small home conservatory, potted palms, ferns and orchids are displayed alongside a fountain, sculptures by popular artists of the day, and one of those fabulous Wardian cases, a Victorian terrarium for exotic plants. A five-story tropical conservatory contains over 3,000 orchid plants. There’s also a carniverous plant house and an arid garden that displays small animal sculptures surrounded by hundreds of desert cacti, succulents and living stone plants from Africa.

Stretching across more than 60 feet above the site’s cafe, Lena’s Garden was created by Dale Chihuly, who named it in honor of Mrs. Meijer and her love of flowers.

Book-Tower, a sculpture by Wolfgang Kubach and Anna Maria Kubach-Wilmsen, is made from 27 different types of stones selected from quarries across the world for their color and veining. Reminiscent of marbleized endpapers in books, it’s right at home in the reference library.

The main building’s limestone walls align with the winter solstice sunset and summer solstice sunrise. The corridors are supported by concrete trusses in the shape of trees. Many of the interior design elements are in the shape of a beech leaf.

Look beneath your feet for the most beautiful work of all, in my opinion. It’s the floor.

Covering more than 13,000 square feet, this deep variegated green terrazzo aggregate, mother-of-pearl and bronze floor is a work of art called Beneath the Leafy Crown. Envisioning a Michigan forest floor, artist Michelle Oka Doner created 1,650 unique cast-bronze shapes in the form of leaves, branches, flowers, twigs, bark and pollen, then installed them on site. Click here to watch her create Beneath the Leafy Crown, and see the Meijers experiencing it.

For more, read Gardens of Art: The Sculpture Park at the Frederik Meijer Gardens, edited by E. Jane Connell; America’s Garden of Art, by Joseph Antenucci Becherer, David S. Hooker and Larry Ten Harmsel; Landscapes for Art: Contemporary Sculpture Parks, edited by Glenn Harper and Twylene Moyer; A Love of the Beautiful: Discovering America’s Hidden Art Museums, by Susan Jaques; and Marshall M. Fredericks, Sculptor, edited by Suzanne P. Fredericks.

Posted in Art, Gardens, Michigan, Miscellanea, Travel | 1 Comment

“Come Down to Holland in Tulip Time”

Fancy the fresh taste of Fortuin’s Wilhelmina peppermints? Hankering a flaky, buttery Aviateur almond round pastry or a caramel-filled Stroopwafel? Craving the crisp sugar shell and soft filling of Mentos sweets? Ready for a piece of Rademaker Hopjes coffee candy?

These imported Dutch treats can transport your tastebuds to Holland. But why not treat your eyes to a place where tulips, step-gabled buildings, windmills and wooden shoes are just as prevalent as in the Netherlands? Let’s travel to Holland, Michigan for Tulip Time!

Indian tribes first inhabited the forests on the shores of Lake Michigan. In the 1840s, Dutch immigrants began settling in this virtually unpopulated area because of the promise of profitable woodland. Their passion for making things led western Michigan to develop a manufacturing-based economy. As neighboring beach resorts began to flourish by the early years of the 20th century, the city of Holland sought ways it could promote itself to tourists. It found its answer in Lida Rogers, a Holland High School biology teacher who was a member of a local women’s literary club.

During a club meeting in 1927, Rogers suggested celebrating Holland’s natural beauty and cultural heritage by planting tulips around the city and holding a tulip festival. She concluded her talk on “Civic Beauty” by reading a poem called “Come Down to Holland in Tulip Time.” The following year, Holland’s city council purchased 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Netherlands to be planted in city parks and along streets. The bulbs were also offered at one cent each to residents who wanted to plant them in their yards.

The tulip-planting tradition continues in Holland each autumn, when almost one million bulbs in dozens of different varieties arrive and are planted either by hand or a special trench-digging machine. Six miles of neighborhood curbside plantings contain about 250,000 tulips; the rest are planted in parks and in other downtown plantings. After the tulips have bloomed the following spring, people pay $10 and dig up enough bulbs to fill a five-gallon bucket during Holland’s annual Tulip Dig fundraiser.

Holland held its first Tulip Time festival in the spring of 1929. Over the years, it has evolved into a week-long celebration each May, culminating in one of the largest parades in Michigan: the Volksparade. Townspeople dressed in traditional Dutch costume begin the festivities, bringing buckets and brooms to the parade’s starting point to participate in a street-scrubbing ritual reinforcing the Dutch stereotype of cleanliness. Once the mayor and City Council members inspect the parade route, the town crier kicks off the parade. Marching bands, floats, entertainers and dogs make their way along the downtown streets, led by a grand marshal. (Good Morning America’s Ginger Zee was grand marshal of this year’s parade on May 8.) A Kinderparade features local schoolchildren dressed in costumes representing the provinces of the Netherlands, carrying handmade Dutch-themed props. During festival evenings, hundreds of Holland residents don traditional Dutch costumes and wooden shoes and perform Dutch folk “Klompen dances along E. 8th St.

This year marked Holland’s 90th Tulip Time festival. To commemorate the Netherlands’ ruling House of Orange, orange tulips of different varieties were planted. “Enduring Delft,” a painting by Carolyn Stich, was chosen as the festival’s official image. Klompen Garden, a public art project showcasing 45 pairs of large wooden shoes designed by local artists, was installed in city parks and tulip beds.

Windmill Island, a park featuring colorful tulip beds, Dutch-style houses, canals, and an authentic Dutch windmill, is another unique Holland attraction. The former head gardener at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel planted the island’s gardens. This year, 122,500 tulips of 56 different varieties were planted in landscaped beds, fields and containers.

In 1964, city officials negotiated with the Dutch government to purchase De Zwaan Molen (The Swan Windmill), an authentic 240-year-old windmill from the Netherlands. Since windmills are considered protected national monuments in the Netherlands, they are not allowed to leave the country; however, the government made an exception and De Zwaan was disassembled, with each one of its 7,000 pieces labeled for reassembly on Windmill Island. The 70-ton windmill was loaded onto a freighter and was shipped across the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Seaway to the harbor in Grand Haven, Michigan. It was transported by truck to Holland, then reassembled and restored under the supervision of a Dutch millwright so it could mill grain into flour. De Zwaan was dedicated on April 10, 1965, with Michigan Governor George Romney and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands in attendance.

The ground floor of the mill is constructed of thick brick walls laid in the traditional Dutch style, sloping downward to drain water from the building. Two sets of double doors allowed farmers to drive their horse and wagon into the mill. Upper floors of the mill are supported by original hand-planed Norwegian fir timbers, with carved Roman numerals indicating how the beams fit together.

Alisa Crawford, De Zwaan’s current miller, apprenticed in the Netherlands to become a certified miller. She grinds graham flour on the mill’s fifth floor; the flour is packaged and stored on the second and third floors.

Since Alisa spends most of her time on the upper floors of the mill, a wooden shoe attached to a rope conveys messages to her, in traditional Dutch milling style.

Other buildings on Windmill Island are architectural reconstructions of a 14th-century wayside inn near Ruinen; the 15th-century Royal Orphanage in Buren, with its intricate brick work, stepgables and distinctive shutters; and an authentic reproduction of a typical house on the Island of Marken in the Zuiderzee. Klein Nederland, a miniature Dutch village crafted in the 1930s by local artisans, is inside one of them.

Miniature cheese handlers at the Alkmaar cheese market. Handlers wear the traditional color of their guild on straw hats. Red cheeses are for export, yellow for domestic sale.

There’s also a miniature replica of a merchant’s home in a 17th-century Dutch canal house. All of the items in the house – including Delft plates, paintings and rugs – were all made by hand.

In 1947, the people of the city of Amsterdam sent a Dutch barrel organ to the people of Holland to thank the United States in helping to liberate the Netherlands during World War II. Built in 1928 by the famous organ maker Carl Frei, “The Four Columns” was first played in the streets of Breda, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. It is now displayed at Windmill Island, playing Dutch tunes like “Little Cafe Under the Red Lantern” throughout the day.

Other downtown attractions include the Holland Museum’s Dutch Galleries, which contain oil paintings, furniture and historic objects made in the Netherlands. Don’t miss the Krusemann family dollhouse, made in Amsterdam during the late 19th century, which was intended to teach girls how to keep house.

Stenciled earthenware commemorative cup, reign of Wilhelmina, 1898-1938, Holland Museum

I’m partial to the Tin Ceiling, a gift store that carries Scandinavian imports, and the Alpenrose restaurant, furnished with decorative ceilings and imported Austrian pine wood furniture carved with the Alpenrose, a rhododendron-type flower found throughout the Alps.

Holland will hold its next Tulip Time festival May 2-10, 2020. For more on Holland and the history of the Tulip Time festival, read Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City, a three-volume history by Robert P. Swierenga. There’s also a chapter on Holland in Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, by James and Deborah Fallows.

Posted in Art, Flowers, Food/Restaurants, Gardens, History, Holland, Michigan, Museums, Travel | Leave a comment

Riders Up! Ready To Pass Fifteen More Places During Our Tenth Running of the Streets of New York City?

“The more I know New York, the more I think of it,” starts the Cole Porter song. “I like the sight and the sound and even the stink of it.”

Yes, indeed, I happen to like New York! Here are some more reasons why that I discovered during our tenth trip to the city.

See the bright-red door logo at 663 Fifth Avenue, near E. 52nd St.? That marks the current location of the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, where women have been going to look and feel their best for decades. Elizabeth Arden – the former Florence Nightingale Graham – introduced women to cosmetics, encouraged their exercise regimens, and created the “cleanse, tone, nourish” system of skin care products, all adorned with satin bows in pink, what Arden believed was the most flattering shade for all women. A master of branding, she commissioned artists, as well as set and fashion designers, to create her salon interiors. For example, the decor of her “Gymnasium Moderne” complemented Miracle Flower, Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting created especially for the space. There, clients “unfurled” while stretching on satin-backed cashmere yoga mats, had treatments in pastel-colored “withdrawing rooms,” and shopped for selections from a wardrobe of lipsticks that included “Montezuma Red,” a shade Elizabeth Arden created for the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, and “Saratoga Red,” reflecting her passion for racehorses. Her ever-popular “Blue Grass” fragrance recalls her horse Jet Pilot, who won the 1947 Kentucky Derby.

Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night may draw some to the Museum of Modern Art, but I wanted to see its Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. In 1953, architect Philip Johnson and landscape architect James Fanning designed this tribute to Mrs. Rockefeller, one of the museum’s founders, whose townhouse once stood on the site. Pale-grey marble pavers make a path through water features, small groves of silver birch trees and beds of ivy seasonally planted with white tulips and purple pansies. Modern sculptures like Picasso’s She-Goat, Ellsworth Kelly’s Green Blue, and a 36-foot-tall rose Isa Genzken fashioned from stainless steel, aluminum and lacquer are exhibited here.

My lunchbox is modeled after the 1965 Volkswagen camper bus, with a surf board handle, but Carol Channing’s was a silver box made by Tiffany & Co. Since opening its original stationery and dry goods store in 1837, Tiffany’s has carried well-designed, high-quality products like that, in a range of prices that everyone can afford. From simple key rings to brilliantly set solitaire diamonds, Tiffany products are artfully displayed and packaged in their instantly recognizable robin’s-egg blue boxes.

Charles Lewis Tiffany, 2017, by Andrew Myers. Screws, oil and automotive paint on wood

Since 1940, the Tiffany & Co. headquarters has been on the southeast corner of Fifth Ave. and E. 57th St. After admiring its holiday window displays for years, this time we went inside to the fourth floor, where the Blue Box Cafe stylishly serves high tea, as well as classic breakfast and lunch fare. From the banquettes and chairs to the walls and the plates, the room is covered in trademark Tiffany blue, giving visitors the feeling of being inside a Tiffany box.

“Quiet, picturesque, but dignified.” That’s how the New York Times described the home of Andrew Carnegie, now the Cooper-Hewitt, at 2 E. 91st St. The Smithsonian museum presents the best of design, but we were there to focus on the existing features of the home Carnegie had designed to be simple, modest and comfortable. 

The front door is set within an arch carved with oak leaves and acorns, protected by a Tiffany-style bronze and glass canopy. Leading up to it is a drive laid with yellow bricks, beveled so that horses would keep from slipping on it as they pulled carriages up to the front door.

Walking alongside the iron fence surrounding the house, we entered the garden at the rear of the house. Azaleas, rhododendrons and other flowers and shrubs that bloomed in the spring and fall when the Carnegies were in residence surround the central lawn and rock garden. Sugar maples, elms and poplars line the property; one original silver poplar is still standing at the far east side of the garden. The magnificent original wisteria was in full bloom on the terrace. 

Our first view of the original portions of the Carnegies’ home was the former Great Hall. It is paneled in oak from Scotland, crowned by a custom-designed ornamental burlap and composition frieze covered with metallic paint. A large stone fireplace is at one end; at the other once was the console and pipes of an Aeolian organ that was played every morning at 7:00 to wake the family. The hall leads to a former parlor with its original Louis XV-style gilded plaster panels of musical instruments on the walls and ceiling, and the dining room with linenfold panel woodwork and a table spread with a white linen damask tablecloth. After dinner, guests would sign their names in pencil at their place setting, and servants would later embroider these signatures with white thread. The former breakfast room leads to the conservatory, which had unique features like a rockery with a grotto-like cork backdrop at one end and a hummingbird spigot for plant-watering.

Climbing the oak stairway to the second floor, we spotted the original bronze chandelier and wall sconces, then made our way to the Carnegies’ library, known as the Teak Room. Lockwood de Forest was commissioned to design this spectacular room. The wall panels, cornice, ceiling, shelving, and built-in cabinet were all carved from Indian teak. Gilt paper with reddish-toned Indian stenciled designs was placed on the walls and ceiling. A Tiffany-glass turtleback chandelier hangs overhead.

We stopped at The Carlyle, the hotel located at Madison Ave. and E. 76th St., to see a very special room. Ludwig Bemelmans, artist and author of the classic children’s books about Madeleine, painted the now-famous murals in the hotel’s bar in 1947, in exchange for 18 months’ room and board at the hotel. The murals depict whimsical scenes of ice-skating elephants and picnicking rabbits in Central Park, all executed in Bemelmans’ signature expressionistic style. Under the bar’s 24-karat gold leaf-covered ceiling, Art Deco-style nickel-trimmed black glass tabletops are topped by lamps with shades that feature drawings of New York City sights inspired by Bemelmans’ illustrations.

Looking for a moment of peace and tranquility during a busy day of sightseeing, we stopped outside the Frick Collection, Henry Clay Frick’s former home at E. 70th St. and Fifth Ave., to admire some of New York City’s largest magnolia trees, planted on the Fifth Avenue lawn in 1939. Pruning them every July helps to maintain their distinctive spreading form. Low beds of flowers line the garden’s decorative stone paths.In 1977, Russell Page designed the small, elegant formal garden on the E. 70th St. side of the Frick Collection to be experienced as a tableau, to be admired from the reception hall inside the building and from the street, rather than entered. Gravel paths and tree-planted lawns surround a rectangular lily pool, with low boxwood hedges and a colorful changing floral plantings in narrow beds around the perimeter of the garden. At Fifth Ave. and E. 84th St., the Ancient Playground is inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Egyptian art collection. Here’s where you’ll find one of the most important pieces of art in Central Park: the Osborn Gates. Created in 1953 by Paul Manship, best known for the Prometheus sculpture at the Rockefeller Center skating rink, the cast-bronze gates depict five vignettes from Aesop’s Fables. The gates originally stood at a playground named in honor of William Church Osborn, former president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, until the museum expanded the wing housing the Temple of Dendur in the early 1970s and the playground closed. The gates were stored for over 30 years, until they were restored and installed here in 2009.Ascending the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s famous steps, we saw a large tent being installed over them. That reminded us that two days later, many famous people dressed in the “Camp: Notes on Fashion” theme would climb those same steps to attend the Met Gala. Once inside the museum, our mission was to see the famous floral displays in the Great Hall, which we’ve been admiring ever since seeing this behind-the-scenes look and interview Martha Stewart Living conducted with Chris Giftos, the Met’s first in-house florist. When Mr. Giftos retired in 2003, Dutch florist Remco van Vliet began creating these immense arrangements, some reaching 12 feet tall. One towers above the information desk; four other bouquets are presented in neighboring sandstone alcoves. Inspired by the seasons or by the works contained in the galleries, the live flower arrangements are refreshed each week, thanks to an endowment provided by the late Lila Acheson Wallace, co-founder of Reader’s Digest.

Back down the steps, it was off to Madison Avenue to browse Barbour’s spring lines, track down daffodil prints at Yves Delorme and discover Liberty of London prints at J. Crew. Then it was off to 3 E. 66th St., to see where a highly regarded best-seller was written. Now home to a 10-story Art Deco apartment building, this is the former site of the home of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia. In 1881, a group of friends in Philadelphia raised money to buy the Grants a house here. The Grants lived there from 1881 until his death in 1885. Mark Twain visited Grant here often, and it was here that Grant wrote his memoirs, which Twain published after Grant’s death.

After Grant’s funeral, Twain and William Tecumseh Sherman went two doors down the street to the Lotos Club. One of the oldest literary clubs in the United States, it was founded in 1870 by a group of writers, journalists and critics to promote and develop literature, journalism, science, education and the arts. The club takes its name from “The Lotos-Eaters” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a popular poem of the day. Members include noted musicians, artists, historians and college presidents, who convene to enjoy concerts, literary roundtables, dinners and art exhibitions. In 1947, the club moved its headquarters here, to the French Renaissance building designed by Richard Howland Hunt in 1900 as a wedding gift for the granddaughter of William H. Vanderbilt.

We continued along and discovered 57 E. 66th St., the townhouse where Andy Warhol lived from 1974 to 1987.Then we made our way to Park Ave., passed the Met Breuer and continued one block to E. 73rd St. Turning there, we reached our destination: 11 E. 73rd St. After his McKim, Mead & White-designed mansion at 10 E. 55th St. burned in 1900, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer engaged Stanford White to design a home for him here. Pulitzer’s eyesight had deteriorated so that White had to prepare plaster models of his design for Pulitzer to handle. Completed in 1903, the grand Venetian Baroque building was Pulitzer’s home until his death eight years later. It was divided into luxury apartments in the 1930s.Our recently deceased friend Paul Berry may have been the most educated, refined and gracious man we have ever known. Paul made incredibly detailed drawings of American landmarks for the Historic American Buildings Survey; in 1990, he drew the Racquet and Tennis Club, at 370 Park Ave. between 52nd and 53rd Sts. To honor his memory, we took a long walk down Park Ave. to see it, passing luxury home goods store Scully & Scully a matter of hours after lawyer Michael Cohen spoke to the press from that very same spot. We admired our destination from the steps of the Seagram Building, the alcoholic beverage company’s headquarters that Mies van der Rohe designed to coincide with its 1957 centennial.

Completed in 1918, the new home for the club established in 1890 was the last project the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White undertook. Designed in the Palladian tradition of a 16th-century Renaissance palazzo, the building features the club’s emblematic shield and a frieze with stone panels carved with crossed racquets. A second-floor open-air loggia rises above ground-floor shopfronts; the third floor contains a gymnasium, squash courts, dressing rooms and a swimming pool; and the fourth floor holds the racquet and tennis courts.

Rockefeller Center was our last stop; specifically, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, to see Isamu Noguchi’s News.

This 22-foot-tall, cast stainless steel bas-relief Art Deco sculpture was installed above the main entrance in 1940. At that time, The Associated Press was the building’s main tenant, so Noguchi depicted five journalists intent on getting a story, using diagonal radiating lines to capture the fast-paced urgency of a newsroom.

There was another sculpture in Rockefeller Plaza depicting fast-paced action that day, but it was executed in a very different medium: roses. To celebrate the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby that day, Mr. Flower Fantastic created this one-of-a-kind piece for a pop-up display on the Today Plaza.

For more on these New York City destinations, read War Paint: Madame Helena Rubenstein & Miss Elizabeth Arden: Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry, by Lindy Woodhead; Tiffany & Co., by Grace Mirabella; Bejewelled by Tiffany 1837-1987, edited by Clare Phillips; Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum: The Andrew and Louise Carnegie Mansion, by Andrew S. Dolkart; Life of a Mansion: The Story of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, by Heather Ewing; Storied Bars of New York: Where Literary Luminaries Go to Drink, by Delia Cabe; Ludwig Bemelmans, by Jacqueline Fisher Eastman; Bemelmans: The Life and Art of Madeleine’s Creator, by John Bemelmans Marciano; and “An Author and a President: The Unlikely Friendship of Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain,” from the White House Historical Association. Watch Always at The Carlyle, the 2018 documentary about the hotel.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Books, Flowers, Gardens, History, Museums, New York, Travel | 1 Comment

Between Sesame Street And 97 Orchard, Stop for Sputniks and Shakes, Catacombs and Chrome

To some, taking a holiday from the neighborhood means hopping a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood, but as Billy Joel sings, we were in a New York state of mind. We didn’t take a Greyhound on the Hudson River line for a springtime getaway; we boarded a sleek white motorcoach bound for the Empire City.

Spending two whole days there could mean a leisurely start at Friedmans, mindfully eating “to-die-for” French toast with berry compote and a gargantuan bowl of homemade granola, Greek yogurt and mixed berries, drizzled with wildflower honey. But the city awaited!

Walking up Eighth Ave. was a welcome alternative to our usual Fifth Ave. route, especially when spring branches hung with hand-painted Austrian Easter eggs beckoned from the window of Seasons floral design studio. Turning on W. 57th St., we took a quick look at the Russian Tea Room, that iconic establishment founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1927. Peeking through the antique revolving doors, we caught a glimpse of the red leather banquets, spruce-green walls and 24-carat-gold ceiling that make the interior so exquisite. More window-peeping took place at Carnegie Hall, the famed performance venue in which artists have aspired to appear since it opened in 1891. Funded by Andrew Carnegie, the historic landmark has also hosted lectures on causes championed by noted figures like Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain. Carnegie Hall was saved after being set to be demolished in 1960, in favor of what would become our next stop: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, commemorating its 60th anniversary this year.

To get there, we took a short-cut through the place that was designed to be experienced on foot: Central Park. The decked-out horses and carriages, luminous light-green tree leaves and blooming spring bulbs made the passages of scenery we experienced just as tranquil and picturesque as they appear in the image on the scarf I was wearing: Spring in Central Park, Adolf Dehn’s 1941 watercolor from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.

We crossed Columbus Circle, the point from which official highway distances from New York City are measured. Passing the globe sculpture at 59th St. and Columbus Ave., we made our way to Sesame Street. Just two days before, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio renamed the intersection of W. 63rd St. and Broadway — where the Sesame Workshop offices are located — Sesame Street as part of the television program’s 50th anniversary celebration.

We made our way through Lincoln Center’s plaza to the Metropolitan Opera House. Founded in 1883, the Met was first located on Broadway and 39th St., and moved to Lincoln Center in 1966. We walked up the deep-red carpeted steps of its famous grand double staircase of Italian terrazzo, admiring Kneeling Woman – Monument to Debussy, Aristide Maillol’s sculpture on the landing.The Met’s iconic Swarovski-crystal “Sputnik” starburst chandeliers were a gift from the Austrian government, as repayment for the United States’ post-World War II reconstruction efforts. At the Grand Tier’s Revlon Bar, we watched a closed-circuit video monitor of the stage, showing theatrical lighting being tested before the morning’s rehearsal began. Marc Chagall’s famed mural — The Triumph of Music — hangs overhead, with its companion mural, The Sources of Music, nearby. Large curtains are drawn over both murals, each measuring 30 feet by 36 feet, to protect them against damage from sunlight until mid-afternoon.

Before browsing the Met Opera Shop, we visited three exhibitions in Founders Hall. In keeping with the return of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle to the Met’s repertory during the most recent season, one exhibit celebrated Placido Domingo’s 50-year career at the Met with photographs of the magnificent tenor in 49 of his 51 principal Met roles. Another celebrated the centenary of Birgit Nilsson, the Swedish soprano who debuted at the Met in 1959 and became the company’s pre-eminent Wagnerian soprano. The third featured a selection of ten paintings of scenes from Wagner operas by German artist Ferdinand Leeke, commissioned circa 1889 by Siegfried Wagner, the composer’s son. “Nights at the Opera” featured hundreds of photographs of Met artists, a tradition begun at the Met’s original home.

We made a quick trip next door to see the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, home of several special collections related to dance, theatre, music and recorded sound. The Jerome Robbins Dance Division, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is the leading international repository for the history of dance. Founded in 1944 by Genevieve Oswald, its curator for the next 43 years, the archive includes dance films, photographs, manuscript collections, musical scores, programs, choreographic notations, and special treasures like Anna Pavlova’s ballet slippers and Isadora Duncan’s silk flower garland. In 1965, Jerome Robbins dedicated one percent of his royalties from “Fiddler on the Roof” – he directed and choreographed the original production – for its upkeep.

Off we went down Broadway to Brooks Brothers and its Red Fleece Cafe in the Flatiron District, where we made several additions to our wardrobe wish lists. We continued on 20th St. to Park Avenue, where Herman Miller, the Michigan office furniture company, opened both a retail showroom and its New York corporate offices in 2016. New and vintage Herman Miller furniture, lighting and accessories are displayed in rooms to demonstrate Living Office, Herman Miller’s people-centered approach to the workplace. The building served as the home of George Nelson & Company from 1973 to 1979, following Nelson’s long tenure directing design for Herman Miller from 1947 to 1972. During his time here, Nelson published his classic book, How to See: A Guide to Reading Our Manmade Environment.We took a break for lunch at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. What began as a hot dog cart in the park in 2001 is now a permanent kiosk reflecting the gray tones of the neighboring Flatiron Building. We joined the long line of people waiting for its famous hot dogs, batter-fried chicken sandwiches, frozen custard shakes and “concretes,” and seared hamburgers served on potato buns and topped with secret-recipe Shacksauce. Next, we made our way to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Built in 1863 when immigrants were pouring into New York City and needed cheap housing, the five-story tenement building at 97 Orchard Street was home to 7,000 immigrants from more than 20 countries between 1863 and 1935, when the building’s owner evicted tenants and boarded it up, unable to afford the expensive renovations that new laws required. Since 1994, the Tenement Museum has been telling former inhabitants’ stories through unique tours of four restored, historically furnished apartments.

Located on what was one of the most densely populated blocks in the city, this long, narrow building first had a tailor shop and a saloon occupying the ground floor, one on either side of the front stoop. Inside, a marble-paneled vestibule led to a narrow hallway and a central wooden stairway ascending five flights, with decorative cast-iron treads added to “fireproof” the steps. Several small three-room flats had a dozen or more people living in each one, with the poorest tenants living in the highest flats. One room served as a kitchen/living room/sweatshop; the other was a windowless bedroom. The building had no indoor plumbing or gas lighting until 1905; it was wired for electricity in 1924.

Crowded, cold and noisy, without sanitation, sunlight and fresh air, the tenements were rife with disease and poverty. It was communal living at its most difficult. Yet it was a ripe source of material for journalists searching for human-interest stories. One was Jacob Riis, a Danish immigrant who began reporting on tenement life in the mid-1880s. Appalled by the poverty and squalid conditions he saw, he began a crusade for tenement reform, writing How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, illustrating it with his arresting flash photographs of tenement residents, and giving lantern-slide lectures about their tribulations. Together with Theodore Roosevelt, Riis was instrumental in improving life on the Lower East Side.

It’s a short walk from 97 Orchard Street to 263 Mulberry Street, so we swung by Little Italy and checked out the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. Completed in 1815, Old St. Patrick’s was one of the first Gothic Revival churches in America. It’s also one of the first and best places to hear fine music in New York City. For example, 17-year-old Maria Malibran performed in an orphans’ benefit concert held at Old St. Patrick’s in June 1826; she would become a great operatic artist within three years. In 1868, Henry Erben, the leading pipe organ builder of the day, built an organ specifically for the basilica that is considered an important historical instrument today. A campaign for its $2 million restoration is under way; in fact, movie director Martin Scorsese, who served Mass there as a boy, invited his friends to contribute to the cause in honor of his 75th birthday in 2017.

Old St. Patrick’s served as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York until the current St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Ave. between 50th and 51st Sts. opened in 1879. St. John Neumann, who was canonized as America’s first male saint in 1977, was ordained to priesthood at Old St. Patrick’s in 1836. John Curry, the youngest of the 15 witnesses to the apparition of Our Lady in Knock, Ireland on August 21, 1879, was re-interred in Old St. Patrick’s walled graveyard in May 2017, after his 1943 burial on Long Island. The graveyard’s walls were built in the mid-1800s to protect the cathedral from anti-Catholic mobs.

Beneath Old St. Patrick’s are the catacombs where prominent New Yorkers and Catholic clergy are buried; it was also where the baptism scene in “The Godfather” was filmed. “Catacombs By Candlelight” tours are offered daily.

Our last stop of the day was the Chrysler Building. Completed for automotive executive Walter Chrysler in 1930, the iconic 77-story office building was the tallest in the world for 12 months, when it was surpassed by the Empire State Building. This Art Deco marble-and-granite masterpiece features a tapering steel spire and chromium nickel gargoyles modeled after Chrysler hood ornaments. Geometric gray-and-white brick tracery with inset metal circles suggests a Chrysler’s tires, hubcaps and running board. The lobby’s entrance doors, light fixtures and railings are made of Nirosta, a nickel-chrome-steel alloy imported from Germany. The marble floor is inlaid with abstract geometric patterns, while the inlaid elevator doors are made from Japanese ash, English gray harewood, Oriental walnut and Cuban plum pudding wood.

Overhead is Transport and Human Endeavor, a distinctive mural initially painted on canvas and then cemented to the lobby’s ceiling. Incorporating scenes of the building’s construction, it is said to celebrate resilience, energy and the ability to overcome challenges.

We celebrated our resilience and energy as we decided to take the M7 back to Times Square, already planning our strategy for Day 2. As we waited for the bus, we spotted a distinctive Art Deco skyscraper with two distinctive friezes: one with terra-cotta curves and zigzags, and another bronze one depicting scenes of evolution. The surprise destination we checked off from our sightseeing list was the Chanin Building, at the corner of Lexington Ave. and E. 42nd St.

For more on these New York City destinations, check out the DVD titled Carnegie Hall at 100: A Place of Dreams; “Central Park: Nature’s Urban Canvas,” in Adolf Dehn: Midcentury Manhattan, by Philip Eliasoph; A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park, by Ashley Benham Yazdani; and Seeing Central Park: The Official Guide to the World’s Greatest Urban Park and Central Park: An American Masterpiece, both by Sara Cedar Miller. Watch Birgit Nilsson: A League of Her Own and The Opera House, a new PBS “Great Performances” documentary, for more on the Metropolitan Opera.

Three New York Times articles introduced me to the New York Public Library’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division: “Genevieve Oswald, the Soul of a Dance Archive, Is Dead at 97” (March 29, 2019); “Pavlova’s Shoes, Nijinsky’s Diary, and Other Dance Treasures from the Public Library,” (February 7, 2019); and “Dance: Library; Records That Preserve the Most Fragile Art,” (August 8, 1954), written by Genevieve Oswald herself.

My Tenement Museum souvenir

Create your own version of a Shake Shack lunch with Shake Shack: Recipes and Stories, by Randy Garutti and Mark Rosati. To learn more about New York City’s tenements, read Tenement: Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side, by Raymond Bial; 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, by Jane Ziegelman; 97 Orchard Street, New York: Stories of Immigrant Life, by Linda Granfield; and “There’s Life in These Walls,” by Roddy Doyle, in Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Visit Great Museums, edited by Maggie Fergusson; The “All-of-a-Kind Family” series of books for young adult readers by Sydney Taylor is about life on the Lower East Side.

For more on Jacob Riis and his How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, see Rediscovering Jacob Riis: Exposure Journalism and Photography in Turn-of-the-Century New York, by Bonnie Yochelson and Daniel Czitrom; Walking New York: Reflections of American Writers from Walt Whitman to Teju Cole, by Stephen Miller; and The Other Half: The Life of Jacob Riis and the World of Immigrant America, by Tom Buk-Swienty.

Finally, check out New York Art Deco: A Guide to Gotham’s Jazz Age Architecture, by Anthony W. Robins, and The Little Big Book of New York: Literary Excerpts, Essays, Recipes, Poetry, Songs, History, and Facts, edited by Natasha Tabori Fried and Lena Tabori.

Posted in Architecture, Churches, Dance, Food/Restaurants, History, Libraries, Museums, Music, New York, Shopping, Travel | Leave a comment

“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 the famed artist’s pioneering technique of employing subtle hatching to create dramatic lighting effects and expressive subjects.

Look for works by Samuel van Hoogstraten in the exhibition and you’ll discover that this pupil of Rembrandt’s was an accomplished painter from Dordrecht who developed an international reputation. Besides being a skilled illusionistic painter, he wrote plays, poems and a treatise on painting, and was an officer of the Mint of Holland in Dordrecht.

While capturing the likenesses of his fellow Mint officers in a group portrait, van Hoogstraten placed himself prominently in the front row to indicate his status. With hand on hip, seated at a right angle, and wearing a medal of honor that Emperor Ferdinand III awarded to him in 1651, van Hoogstraten commands the whole composition.

That same medal appears in one of the strikingly realistic trompe-l’oeil letter-rack paintings for which van Hoogstraten was known.

Van Hoogstraten was particularly fascinated by the perspective box. By looking through the hole at one end of a large box with painted interior surfaces, the viewer saw a three-dimensional scene. Click here to learn more about his perspective box with views of a Dutch domestic interior, now in the collection of the National Gallery in London.

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.

Tulip mania famously swept Holland, but did you know that the Dutch were also “shell lunatics?” Shell collecting was a form of productive leisure during the 17th century, and the hoard of opulent corals, sea urchins, and shells depicted in Abraham Susenier’s Still Life with Shells was an expensive expression of that fascination with maritime treasures from overseas colonies.

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; Dutch Art: An Encyclopedia, edited by Sheila D. Muller; Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Walter Liedtke; Artifice and Illusion: The Art and Writing of Samuel van Hoogstraten, by Celeste Brusati; The Universal Art of Samuel van Hoogstraten: Painter, Writer, and Courtier, edited by Thijs Weststeijn; The Visible World: Samuel van Hoogstraten’s Art Theory and the Legitimization of Painting in the Dutch Golden Age, also by Thijs Weststeijn; 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.

Posted in Art, Holland, Museums | 1 Comment