A Show Of Hands, Please: Have You Been To 1665 W. 5th Ave.?

The best part of spending weekdays in room 1098 is its history-spanning view of downtown Columbus. Look left and find the former Hartman Hotel, built in 1898 by the Columbus doctor who made his fortune from the patent medicine known as Peruna. Look right and admire the one-of-a-kind white canopy covering the performance stage at Columbus Commons, the six-acre park and greenspace that was once the home of Columbus City Center.

When the three-level shopping center opened in August 1989, my favorite lunch-hour pastime became sifting through the sale rounders and shelves of its anchor stores, Marshall Field’s and Jacobson’s.  When I wasn’t bringing home bargains, I indulged in unique treats from specialty retailers like A Show of Hands, the Ohio Designer Craftsmen-operated store which sold fine-craft objects made by artisans. Competition from new suburban shopping centers like The Mall at Tuttle Crossing, Easton Town Center and Polaris Fashion Place led City Center tenants to move on. In 2009, City Center closed and was torn down. My lunch hours have never been the same.

I relived my “A Show of Hands” shopping experiences recently when I finally visited the Ohio Craft Museum, where Ohio Designer Craftsmen has been headquartered since April 1993. Ohio Designer Craftsmen was founded in 1963 by 60 craft artists and professors, many from The Ohio State University, to support craft artists and give them opportunities to exhibit their work.

Located at 1665 W. 5th Ave., the museum promotes fine crafts made by artists who work in glass, clay, fiber, wood and metal. Besides operating a sales gallery, the museum mounts exhibitions, offers educational classes, curates a permanent collection and a small craft research library, and produces Winterfair, a popular craft fair held each December at the Ohio Expo Center.

This WOSU video prompted me to swing Santa’s sleigh by “Gifts of the Craftsmen,” the museum’s 15th annual holiday exhibition and sale. Before I even opened the door, I knew I was going to like what was inside.

Upstairs, I discovered hundreds of unique holiday gift finds.

Before long, I had selected a festive ceramic pony ornament and found a new source for snowmen, Santas and even German lucky pickle ornaments, all handcrafted from wool roving.Trying to exercise some restraint, I decided I’d wait to adopt a charming white kitten with a red bow, crafted as a pin by Carol Adams, and an attractive fiber basket created by Carole Stolte of Marysville. Downstairs, dozens of children participating in a gift-making workshop were creating polymer clay necklaces and embellished woolen eyeglass cases, then wrapping them for gift-giving.  I was ready to sit down and start crafting myself.

The Ohio Craft Museum begins its 2018 education lineup this Saturday with Art & Mindfulness: Creating Art with Meaning, a three-month series in which adults can make paper cut-outs, construct books and engage in creative storytelling through scratchboard art. Other upcoming activities include creating a custom-fitted artistic corset, making an embroidered, mixed-media hoop for Valentine’s Day, and discovering the art of Ukrainian Pysanky for Easter. Plans are under way for this year’s summer art camps for children. Next month, look for the opening of the museum’s new exhibition of contemporary works by emerging Ohio artists and its Art Studio Clearance Sale at the Ohio Expo Center.

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Spend Some Quiet Time With The Lord At Christmas Corner

Christmas comes early for me.  In fact, it arrives on the first Sunday of Advent.

That’s the day when the tables by all of the entrances to my church are filled with special things to help parishioners prepare for Christmas. There are punch-out Nativity scenes, ideas for Advent-themed crafts, and Advent calendars filled with suggestions for daily family-centered activities. Best of all are the daily scriptural reflections, meditative prayers, essays and poetry collected in The Magnificat Advent Companion, The Word Among Us: Daily Meditations for Advent and The Little Blue Book, the cobalt-covered paperback that encourages people to “spend some quiet time with the Lord” for six minutes a day during the Advent and Christmas seasons. It’s a windfall I anticipate every year.

During my six-minute session on December 13, for example, I learned about the Legend of Joseph’s Staff, in which the carpenter’s favorite walking stick blossomed with flowers, a sign from God that Joseph was chosen to be Mary’s husband.

A legendary local Nativity display might not include a lily-topped staff for Joseph, but it’s a fitting place to spend some quiet time with the Lord.  

Each holiday season, State Auto Insurance Companies transforms its downtown Columbus headquarters at the northeast corner of East Broad Street and Washington Avenue into “Christmas Corner,” where the star attraction is its historic life-sized outdoor Nativity.

In 1931, State Auto’s founder, Robert Pein, had the company’s building decorated with blinking lights, topping it with Christmas trees and installing a large electric sign at the front that offered “Christmas Greetings” to Depression-weary Columbus residents. More lights and Christmas trees, joined by a star and four crosses, were added to the display the next year. Then came Santa and his reindeer on the top of the building, followed by an igloo and a 16-foot high church. By 1935, live models acted as shepherds and a soloist performed every half-hour.

The display took a hiatus during World War II; it was then downsized while the company’s headquarters were remodeled and rebuilt. Then, in the mid-1950s, Gordon Keith, an artist who designed and built three-dimensional models for the Army to plan military operations in Europe during World War II, transformed the Nativity scene. Keith was also responsible for other local attractions like the Talking Tree at Lazarus department store and COSI’s original Street of Yesteryear.

Keith created life-size plaster-and-fiberglass statues for the Nativity scene, adding more every year until they stretched across the entire front of the building.

In 1993, his successor, Nancy Elliott, the company’s graphics and printing manager, restored the figures. Originally depicted with bright clothes and fair skin and hair, the hand-painted figures were given darker hair and skin and dressed in more muted colors to make the scene more characteristic of the Middle East at the time of Jesus’ birth.

In 2002, Jo Ann Huntwork took over, adding an angel above the manger and replacing the display’s flat backdrops with three-dimensional pieces that resemble stone. Other local artists have participated by painting murals, mock walls and other backdrops, as well as adding artificial fig and palm trees.

In 2009, the display was moved from a raised area in front of the building to a small park to the east. Now, visitors can walk among dozens of statues as they follow the story of the birth of Jesus. Six scenes recreate the Annunciation, the journey to Bethlehem, the arrivals of the Wise Men and shepherds to the manger in Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus, and the Holy Family’s journey to Egypt. Informative signs present Scripture verses and historical Biblical details. Since 1996, the Baby Jesus has been laid in the manger at 7:00 on Christmas Eve by a Discovery District leader.

The display once had its own low-powered radio station, 103.9 FM, with a 150-foot range that aired Christmas music performed by State Auto employees. The experience is also enhanced by live performances by local choirs and a voice-guided tour that visitors can access on their mobile phones.

State Auto’s Nativity display has become a community fixture. Generations have grown up coming to the display. It was also a highlight of the COTA Christmas Coaches, which provided free shuttle tours of holiday decorations in the Short North, German Village and Downtown from 1996 to 2000. The coaches’ exterior featured a hand-painted holiday scene, while the interior was decorated with lights, bows and garlands. A special seating area for Santa included a glowing fireplace, a Christmas tree and gift-wrapped packages.

This holiday season, the free display at 518 East Broad Street is lighted daily until January 2, 2018. Lighting times are daily from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. and from 5:00 to 11:30 p.m.; until 12:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It will be lit from 3:00 p.m. Christmas Eve until 8:00 a.m. on Christmas Day.

Posted in Churches, Columbus, History, Holidays | Leave a comment

“Fanny, You Look Very Nicely Indeed. What Have You Got On?”

“A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white.”

So Edmund Bertram said to Fanny Price when complementing her on her dress, in a scene from Jane Austen’s 1814 novel, Mansfield Park. Now I understand the reason why.

A handful of decades before Austen published her book, the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were discovered after being covered for centuries by thick layers of ash, rock and debris from when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. Excavation finds there not only made them popular destinations on Continental grand tours, but also led to a fascination with classical Greek and Roman art and civilization. Since the ancient Greeks were thought to have worn white clothing, white dresses became the outfit of choice for the ladies of Austen’s day.

That’s what I discovered after taking COTA’s new #8 bus route to the Ohio State University campus.  My mission was to see six Jane Austen-related objects from Ohio State’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and its Historic Costume & Textiles Collection.

As the 200th anniversary year of Austen’s death comes to a close, three first-edition Austen novels and two Austen-era dresses are on display in the first-floor Special Collections exhibit area of the Ohio State University’s Thompson Library through this Friday, December 15.

Since Austen chose to publish her novels anonymously during her lifetime, the author of each book was given as “A Lady.” However, when Northanger Abbey and were published jointly in 1818 after her death, Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, wrote the introduction and identified his sister as the author of those novels and her previous works. The introduction is displayed alongside first editions of Mansfield Park: A Novel in Three Volumes (London: Printed for T. Egerton, 1814) and Emma: A Novel in Three Volumes (London: Printed for John Murray, 1816).

Austen’s life spanned from 1775 to 1817, a period marked by change in politics, manufacturing, society and even fashion. Opulent garments were replaced by simpler ones preferred by the growing middle class. Dresses were either fashioned from plain white or floral patterned or “sprigged” muslin sold by British textile manufacturers who purchased cotton exported from the British East India Company. Gowns were often constructed in what was referred to as an Empire silhouette, in honor of French empress Josephine Bonaparte, who popularized the style.

Evening dresses, like this silk one dating from 1817-1820, also had a columnar silhouette…

but were trimmed more elaborately. Its short puffed sleeves with a slashed design were a common feature of Medieval revival fashions of the day.

The popular columnar silhouette is repeated in this day dress, circa 1797-1810, but it is made from a heavier, stiffer silk that would have been worn by a wealthier lady. It is complemented by a day cap, circa 1810-1820, like a married woman would have worn. Once a woman married, her hair was always covered, either by a bonnet when outside, or by a cap when indoors.

Another Austen-era dress is on view at Ohio State’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum as part of its Cartoon Couture exhibit. This cotton muslin day dress, circa 1800-1810, with another Greek-inspired silhouette, will be on display there through April 15, 2018.


Posted in Books, Fashion, History, Ohio State University, Special Collections | Leave a comment

Where Hearing The Tröndlin Is Concerned, Two Wrongs Finally Make A Right

Denial. Bewilderment. Self-punishment. Repetition. These are the four characteristics of regret, Kathryn Schulz, the New Yorker staff writer and author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, explained in this 2011 TED talk.

How could I have done that?,we ask ourselves. “I could kick myself!,we exclaim. “If only I had done something differently in the past,” we lament. But instead of wishing we had done something differently, we should cut ourselves some slack, forgive ourselves for those choices we made, and realize that we know we can do better.

That reasoning helped Schultz get over getting a tattoo. And it helped me get over missing two programs the Worthington Historical Society held on November 12, 2016 to celebrate the return of its Tröndlin fortepiano after an extensive restoration.

I can’t even remember now what I did instead on that Saturday, but ever since, I’ve regretted that I wasn’t at the Griswold Center at 3:00 that afternoon to hear a “Tröndlin Fortepiano Restoration Talk.” Nor was I there at 7:00 that evening for a “Tröndlin Fortepiano Homecoming Concert by Ensemble 1816, a group devoted to music of the early 19th century. What was I thinking!

During these events, Oberlin Conservatory’s Robert Murphy shared how he meticulously restored the Tröndlin for 16 months in 2015-2016. Pianist David Breitman, director of Oberlin’s Historical Performance program, demonstrated how the Tröndlin‘s unique qualities differ from a modern piano. Then, joined by a baritone and a violinist, Breitman performed works by Ludwig von Beethoven and Franz Schubert that were composed at the time the fortepiano was built.

Developed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the fortepiano is distinguished from the modern piano by its thin strings, its lack of a metal frame, its fewer number of octaves, and its softer tone. Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Beethoven wrote music for the fortepiano that was performed in homes and in small chamber music concerts. The Society’s fortepiano was made around 1825 by Johann Tröndlin of Leipzig, Germany, who created instruments that not only were praised for their even, smooth sound by Clara Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, but also were used in the city’s famous Gewandhaus. (Click here to read about my 2014 visit to Leipzig, where I saw Mendelssohn’s home and went to a concert at the Gewandhaus.) 

Only three Tröndlin fortepianos exist in the United States today. One of them is at the Orange Johnson House, built in 1811 and located at 956 High Street in Worthington.

This Tröndlin was purchased by Count Grigory Orlopp, who left it to his son upon his death in 1826. Orlopp’s granddaughter brought it with her to Ohio in 1848, and it was handed down through the family until it was donated to the Society in 1967. Although almost all of its original parts were intact, several hammers were broken, so it was unplayable.

The Society raised funds for Murphy’s five-figure restoration of the Tröndlin. He put it in working order, leaving its original parts as a historical record for study and making exact replicas of those parts when new ones were needed.

Since its return, the Tröndlin has been featured in performances in the sitting room of the Orange Johnson House. Two of those performances are part of “An Old Time Christmas,” this year’s theme for the Society’s annual holiday open houses.

I forgave myself and righted my two wrongs by attending this season’s first open house to see and hear the Tröndlin in action. Christmas carols played by pianist Cheyenne McCruter sounded magnificent on it.

Melissa Robol will play the Tröndlin at the third and final open house to be held this Sunday, December 17, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. In lieu of admission, bring non-perishable food items to donate to the Worthington Resource Pantry. CD recordings of Breitman playing the Tröndlin are available for purchase as a Society fundraiser.

Click here to watch a segment on the Tröndlin piano restoration that aired on WOSU’s “Broad and High” on December 22, 2016.

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Dublin’s Twelve Elves Make This A “Nollaig Shona Dhuit!”

When I found Penny on the Irish Fairy Doors Trail in July, I was a mess. If one last option didn’t solve my medical mystery, I worried that my “Rocky Road to Dublin” would lead to the ospidéal

Petting the Belleek pig must have done the trick. Five months later, two years of “The Troubles” are finally over!

Penny and the pig still reside at Ha’penny Bridge, but now they have been joined by an elf. See if you can find him on the 12 Elves of Dublin Scavenger Hunt, the Historic Dublin Business Association‘s clever twist on holiday shopping.

Here’s how the hunt works. Through December 16, pick up your 12 Elves card at one of the following Historic Dublin locations: Boho 72 Boutique; Chelsea Borough Home; Daso Custom Cabinetry; Dean Insurance Group; Donatos Pizza; the Dublin Ohio Convention and Visitors Bureau Visitor Center; Ha’penny Bridge Imports of Ireland; Johnson’s Real Ice Cream; La Chatelaine French Bakery & Bistro; Our CupCakery; Terra Gallery; and Winan’s.

Then, search these shops to find the elf that’s residing there. Each time you discover an elf, you will be rewarded with a special treat. Track down all 12, and turn in your card at one of these locations to enter a grand prize drawing.

In a matter of minutes, I had amassed a collection of candy canes, mini chocolate bars, Santa stickers, a peanut butter smidgen, a bite-sized chocolate cupcake, and a Linzer cookie morsel.

I had also discovered several Irish Christmas customs, including decorating the front door with holly and greeting others with Nollaig shona dhuit!,” the traditional Gaelic greeting for “Merry Christmas.” Irish families also place a large red candle near the front window and light it on Christmas Eve as a symbol of welcome. After the youngest family member lights the candle, prayers are said for the departed, and the candle is extinguished only by someone named Mary. Another Irish Christmas tradition is setting the table after Christmas Eve dinner with a pitcher of milk and a loaf of bread studded with caraway seeds and raisins. The door is left unlatched to extend hospitality to the Holy Family or any travelers who might pass by. 

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“Yikes! Are My Teeth Really That Big?”

Pass the northeast corner of North High Street and Goodale Avenue in downtown Columbus and you might see a larger-than-life version of me.

Wearing a pair of heart-shaped hair clips and a Joules scarf peeking out over the collar of my Avoca tweed coat, that’s how I looked around noon on Wednesday, November 8, 2017. That’s when my friend Kristin and I went to see “As We Are.”

“As We Are” is a 14-foot-tall, three-dimensional sculpture in the North Atrium of the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The sculpture resembles a human head and is made from rows of bright LED screens. Photographic portraits taken onsite of convention center visitors are magnified about 17 times the actual size of the subject and are projected on the sculpture.

Matthew Mohr, a local artist who teaches advertising and graphic design at the Columbus College of Art and Design, submitted a proposal to create a large-scale, interactive sculpture for the renovated, expanded convention center in 2015. After the proposal was selected, the sculpture was fabricated by Design Communications Ltd. of Boston. It was installed this Fall.

Step inside the back of the sculpture’s neck and sit down in a photo booth outfitted with dozens of cameras that take three-dimensional pictures of you at many different angles.

Enter your e-mail address to receive a GIF of all of the photos taken of you. After you have your picture taken, leave the booth, wait a couple of minutes, and your portrait will be projected on the sculpture. Your likeness will be added to the collection of other portraits made there, and will be included in a random rotation. When the sun sets, the sculpture turns to face the street, so that passers-by can see the changing portraits.

As we watched our likenesses appear, others stopped by, so entertained by our reactions that they got in line to add their own portraits to the collection.

The sculpture is one of more than 130 local works of art that have been installed at the convention center, making it home to the largest collection of local artwork in Franklin County.

The center’s history dates to 1974, when Battelle Memorial Institute contributed $36.5 million to develop a convention facility in downtown Columbus. 1980 brought the opening of the Ohio Center and its Battelle Hall, site of concerts, theatrical productions, sporting events, trade shows, and other large public assemblies. In 1993, the neighboring Greater Columbus Convention Center opened. Architect Peter Eisenman, assisted by local architect Richard Trott, designed the abstract building to resemble a row of metallic-colored boxcars in a rail yard to recall Union Station, the train station that stood on the site until it was demolished in 1977. A major expansion and renovation project was completed in 2001, making the unique symbol of Columbus nearly 1.7 million square feet.

The center is owned by the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, which built and developed the structure during the tenure of Sally Bloomfield, its first and current chair and my former Bricker & Eckler colleague. It also built a $140 million convention hotel across North High Street that opened in 2012.

A 105-foot-long, steel-and-glass skywalk connects the Convention Center to the Hilton Columbus Downtown. A 48-inch-diameter, weight-bearing Turkish steel beam, known as the spine, runs the length of the 380,000-pound elevated pedestrian bridge. Suspended steel ribs and glass from Germany form its sides, while the floor is made of opaque glass from Spain. The pieces had to fit together perfectly, and they did, as they were assembled in front of the hotel.

Inside, the hotel displays more than 150 original works by central Ohio artists. One is “Looking North,” a view of North High Street and the convention center by Ryan Orewiler, son of our photography teacher at Columbus School for Girls.

Another is Amanda Cook’s “Planters Peanuts,” which documents the vintage neon sign that has attracted locals to The Peanut Shoppe since 1936. It is part of her “Looking Up” series of oil paintings that encourage people to stop and admire the artistic beauty of these signs that are often only seen from a distance.

And finally, there’s the eight-foot-tall bronze statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who first visited Columbus in 1970 to compete in the Mr. World bodybuilding contest. In 1989, Schwarzenegger organized the Arnold Classic, a bodybuilding and fitness competition and expo, which takes place in Columbus each year. The statue was originally installed in 2012 outside the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, site of the 1970 bodybuilding competition. When the auditorium was torn down, the statue was moved to the Columbus Convention Center, where the Arnold Classic is held today.

Click here to take a virtual tour of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority’s art collection, consisting of 200 pieces representing 150 Central Ohio artists. Watch this segment about it and “As We Are,” which first aired on WOSU’s “Broad and High” on October 26, 2017. 

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Work Downtown? Buy A Bag Every Day!

It was once known as the nation’s great “nickel lunch” — a meal and a dessert all in one, packed in a distinctive bag that was carefully folded so that its precious contents wouldn’t escape. 

In fact, the luscious golden nuggets the bag contained were so crisp, fresh and flavorful that you were tempted to drop by the corner store and buy a bag every day. 

This midday meal no longer costs a nickel, but you can still drop by a downtown Columbus corner store for some peanuts, still warm from the roaster.

You can also fall for the persuasive taglines and clever peanut-themed party games described in the vintage Planters peanuts ads displayed on the walls of the shop, a Columbus landmark for over 80 years.

When The Peanut Shoppe opened in 1936, it was one of hundreds of retail Planters stores around the country.  Located at 5 South High Street, next to what was then known as the Neil House Hotel, for over 40 years, it then made room for its expanding neighbor, Huntington National Bank, and moved up a block to 46 North High Street.  Then, in 2014, it relocated to the southeast corner of High and State Streets, where it does business today. 

All those years, a neon-tinged Mr. Peanut perched two stories above the sidewalk has been attracting customers.  Behind the Planters Peanut Company mascot’s original milk-glass monocle, dating back to the mid-1930s, a blinking light makes the Planters mascot wink at customers. The rare antique is one of a few similar signs still around, but is the only working one — the others have been retired to private collections.  But it isn’t the store’s only original fixture. Its circa-1930s gas-fueled nut roaster, on which Mr. Peanut sits astride, is still used daily to roast peanuts and other nuts available for purchase by the pound in the store’s glass-fronted cases.  The bag I purchased was still warm when I visited in late morning. 

When Planters sold out to another company, many of its retail stores closed, but the Columbus location’s new owners preserved its name.  Mike and Pat Stone, the store’s managers, bought it in 1996 and continue to follow standard Planters practices, like putting customers’ selections in a colorful paper bag and folding it a certain way so the contents won’t escape. 

The Stones stock many of the same products the store has sold for years, like red-skinned Spanish peanuts and Boston baked beans.  Candies and chocolates were added to expand the store’s snack appeal.

From toys to ephemera to coloring pages and a game for a Planters Peanut Party, a collection of vintage Planters memorabilia is also on display. 

Propped in the window behind one of the counters is Mr. Stone’s original fiberglass Mr. Peanut costume, which he wore as a high-schooler in 1972, earning $1.50 an hour as he walked the Downtown pavement, handing out peanuts to people and encouraging them to stop in and spend a few dollars on some inexpensive snacks. 

Mr. Stone, an architectural designer for Nationwide Children’s Hospital, also lends his talents to the store’s seasonal window displays, which continue to attract foot traffic from Downtown workers and theater-goers. 

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