See What Happens When You Give A Librarian $100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zwinger courtyard, Dresden, Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Art, Fashion, Germany, History, Museums | 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making Bombs And Breaking Codes…In Dayton?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flower Lovers Are Welcome To Browse In This Secret Dayton Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Conventionalized Magnolia In The Westcott House: Contentment Itself!

Two major developments have occurred at the Westcott House — Springfield, Ohio’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home — in the six years since my last visit. One, you can now take non-flash photographs inside. Two, a splendid collection of Arts and Crafts textile reproductions has arrived. That calls for three cheers!

The home’s open-planned interior expresses the Arts and Crafts preference for plain surfaces embellished with subtle decoration, all harmoniously presented in a natural color palette. As Gustav Stickley, a leading American Arts and Crafts designer, observed, a room’s “charm and individuality spring from its fitness to meet the needs of its occupants as simply and directly as possible…and to express honestly the life…and character of the people who live in it.” Contributing to the beauty of the entire home, it should express “contentment itself.”

The furniture is plain and simple, in keeping with 1908 aesthetics, but the pieces are both exquisitely designed and meticulously crafted. Had the Westcotts paged through a copy of The Craftsman, the periodical Stickley founded in 1901 to advertise his products and illustrate how his customers could use them to create harmonious interiors, it’s what they would have seen.

Textiles introduced color, texture and harmonious design into the Craftsman interior. They were an affordable complement to the home’s woodwork, furniture, and decorative pieces of pottery, wrought iron and copper, easily rotated with changing seasons and tastes. They softened the severe, austere lines of the furniture and provided the perfect dash of color and texture to unify rooms. They were sold already completed, as published patterns, or in kit form, to work at home with stamped materials and floss.

Craftsman textiles featured stylized renditions of natural motifs, such as the teazel (a plant similar to a thistle), the lotus, poppies, roses, pinecones, gingkoes, seed pods, water lilies and tulips.

The Craftsman method of decorating textiles was simple. In creating what it called “peasant embroidery,” it employed appliquéing one fabric on another as a central motif, using a darning stitch to outline the design and provide additional decoration. The darning stitch gave the effect of the design being woven into the fabric. French knots and satin stitch embroidery provided additional interest. Colors used were a rich natural palette of shades of golds, greens, browns, reds and deep blues, embroidered with linen floss in custom-dyed colors, on natural-toned grounds of linen, burlap and cotton.

The reproduction Arts and Crafts textiles that were recently created for the Westcott House are based on the designs for textiles that Stickley offered.

Table and sideboard runners were a distinctive feature of the Arts and Crafts dining room. They protected much of the surface of the furniture, but left enough of its beauty exposed for guests to appreciate. One long runner was placed down the center; shorter ones crossed it to form place settings at each chair. The ends were embroidered and hung down a proportional amount, adding visual and textural interest to the setting.

The “Conventionalized Magnolia” design, issued by Craftsman Workshops around 1912, is featured on the Westcott House’s dining room table runner.
Runners were also used on library tables, like this one in the house. Arts & Crafts bedspreads were characterized by a bold appliquéd stylized motif, most often placed in the center of the bed. Each bedspread in the Westcott House is different, one more attractive than the next. Here’s a detail of one:and another…and another…and last of all, my favorite:For more on Gustav Stickley and Arts and Crafts embroidery, see Gustav Stickley, by David Cathers; Gustav Stickley and the American Arts & Crafts Movement, by Kevin W. Tucker; Stickley Style: Arts and Crafts Homes in the Craftsman Tradition, by David Cathers and Alexander Vertikoff; Arts and Crafts Embroidery, by Laura Euler; Arts & Crafts Textiles: The Movement in America, by Ann Wallace; American Arts and Crafts Textiles, by Dianne Ayres, Timothy Hansen, Beth Ann McPherson and Tommy Arthur McPherson II; and “Gustav Stickley’s Textiles in the Craftsman Interior,” by Dianne Ayres.


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“The Kinds Of Dirt Are Three”

“The Brain will look that up. Kathy, that’s you.”

Perfect to borrow whenever the need arises, this statement was what an enthusiastic volunteer named Hallie said to her fellow docent at a fabulous find I made recently. Let me tell you what Hallie and Kathy shared with me during my visit to the Hoover Historical Center in North Canton, Ohio.

The story begins in 1832, when the grandfather of an enterprising Stark County, Ohio farmer named Daniel Hoover established a tannery in New Berlin (now known as North Canton). Daniel continued the tannery, building a home nearby for his family in 1853. In 1870, Daniel’s eldest son, William Henry Hoover, graduated from nearby Mount Union College, returned to his boyhood home and joined his father in making leather harness straps for horses.

Observant Will noticed that as horses strained to pull a heavy load, especially on steep grades, their collars pinched. He got the idea to pad the collar for comfort and insert a malleable iron feature that would neither choke the horse nor collapse while it was worn. His “Perfection Horse Collar” and patented “Sensible Irish Collar” resulted. Companion pieces, like saddles, bridle fronts and eye blinds, followed.

When the horseless carriage arrived, the Hoovers switched gears and started making leather straps to hold its canvas top in place. Next came a door check, a leather strap designed to keep the door closed, then leather fan belts, license-plate straps, driving cushions, gear covers, spare tire straps and leather shock absorbers. The Hoovers thought of everything.

Auto makers did too. Metal soon replaced leather, and the Hoovers had to switch gears again. This time, they fashioned leather sporting goods: gun cases, hunting vests and coats, cartridge belts, holsters, fishing-rod cases and dog collars.

Then Murray Spangler, the Hoovers’ cousin who worked as a janitor in nearby Canton, came to call. Inhaling dust as he cleaned carpets had left him not only with a cough, but a desire to improve upon the Bissell carpet sweeper. He mounted a motorized electric fan on a rotary sweeper brush, making it easier to push, then hooked the brush to a pillowcase. The rapidly rotating brush loosened the dirt from the carpet, and the fan sucked it into the pillowcase. His “Electric Suction Sweeper,” patented in 1908, was the first upright electric vacuum cleaner, and he demonstrated it in the Hoovers’ dining room.

Spangler didn’t have the money to mass-produce his sweeper, and the Hoovers needed a new product, so they became his investors. 

The “little machine” weighed 40 pounds and cost $125, but it was an appealing alternative to sweeping carpets by hand or beating them outside. However, sales were slow, so Will decided to offer a free 10-day in-home trial, where the customer could return the sweeper if not completely satisfied. Instead of sending the sweeper to the customer, Will chose a store in targeted cities to become a local Hoover dealer and he shipped it there. A trained Hoover salesman was also placed in the store to demonstrate the sweeper. It worked. Within 10 years, the labor-saving Hoover Suction Sweeper had become an established brand.

Will (now known as “Boss”) added improvements, like attaching the sweeper cord to an electric light socket, and adding attachments for cleaning curtains and pictures without taking them down from the walls.

Its special combination of beating, sweeping and suction removed three kinds of dirt: not only the dust and lint debris on top of the tiny bristles in a carpet, but also the grit tucked in between the fibers of the nap at the base of the bristles.

Hoover’s art and advertising director, Gerald Page-Wood, came up with a catchy slogan that perfectly described the company’s patented sweeping action: “It beats as it sweeps as it cleans.” It was the title of a song, set to the tune of the “Field Artillery March,” that was used in ads during radio programs.

Hoover expanded to Canada and Great Britain in the 1920s, where the Hoover name became so closely associated with the vacuum cleaner that carpets are still “Hoovered.” Will died in 1932, but his company continued. During World War II, Hoover suspended vacuum-cleaner production in favor of making parts for fuses, cartridge cases, propeller motors, life belt inflators, incendiary bombs and parachutes. It also invited employees at its headquarters in England to send their children to a safer place in North Canton. Over 80 children arrived in 1940 and stayed for five years.

Later improvements included the addition of headlights and an indicator that alerted when the dust bag was full. In the 1960s, Hoover expanded into small appliances, diversifying its product line with blenders, electric knives and frying pans, and toothbrushes.

In 1978, the Hoover Historical Center opened in the Hoover family home. Now operated by Walsh University, the museum preserves Hoover family and company history. The free tour begins in the 1840s building where the Hoovers lived in 1852 until their farmhouse was finished. There, you’ll learn about tanning, see a padded horse collar, compare early models of vacuum cleaners (such as the “Whirlwind,” the “Baby Daisy” and the “Puffing Billy”), and even participate in a hands-on activity to discover how the manual 1910 Kotten Suction Sweeper worked — by standing on the platform and rocking from side to side to operate the bellows.

The Hoovers’ home, moved 400 yards west of its original location, is a showplace of Hoover memorabilia. Unique decorative painting, wallpapering and window treatments…are a tasteful backdrop to vintage advertisements, product examples, and a sample issue of The Hoover Newsy News, first published as a mimeographed letter a secretary started writing to update employees serving in World War I about the company. The museum also presents original artwork by Ellsworth Smith, a 40-year Hoover Company employee and local artist whose work was featured in the newsletter. Jack Nicklaus was so entranced with Smith’s favorite character, Gaylord, that he commissioned Smith to produce 49 Gaylord paintings for his offices.To celebrate Hoover’s 75th anniversary, the Herb Society at the Hoover Historical Center was established to plant and maintain the center’s gardens. The dozen gardens in place today are planted for fragrance, to attract butterflies, or to feature culinary and shade plants, roses and medicinal herbs. A series of mergers and acquisitions from 1985 through 2007 culminated in Hoover eventually being sold to Hong Kong-based Techtronic Industries Co. Ltd., which continues to sell floor care products with the Hoover name and red circle logo, introduced in 1950 and still used today. Production of Hoover products in Canton cased in 2012. The North Canton building which had served as its headquarters since 1875 was sold in 2008 and redeveloped, but its iconic smokestack still remains.

The Hoover Historical Center offers free guided tours afternoons, Thursday through Saturday, from March through October. For more on the Hoover Company, see Fabulous Dustpan: The Story of the Hoover, by Frank G. Hoover; and Fifty Machines That Changed the Course of History, by Eric Chaline. Sharon Lappin Lumsden’s book, Green Byways: Garden Discoveries in the Great Lakes States, includes an entry for the center.

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