At last – and it was just up Portage Path and Riverview Road

Rising in the rolling hills east of Cleveland, turning to the west, bending at the north, and winding its way toward Lake Erie, the Cuyahoga River flows past a fertile valley filled with streams, gorges and ravines, several kinds of trees, wild hops and flora. Land once abundant with game lured trappers and explorers, followed by missionaries, settlers and industrial magnates. Next came urban dwellers in search of a pleasant, picturesque place to escape city life.

Day-trippers still come in droves to see a portion of the Cuyahoga Valley’s verdant green pastures that has been preserved as Hale Farm & Village in Bath, Ohio. Since 1958, the Western Reserve Historical Society’s 100-acre experiential learning community has preserved and shared the story of the Western Reserve through four core interpretive themes: farm and horticulture; historic preservation; early American crafts and trades; and local and American history. It is considered one of America’s finest outdoor living-history museums.

One of the New Englanders who settled the Western Reserve was Jonathan Hale, a Connecticut farmer who purchased 500 acres in the wilderness of the Cuyahoga Valley. Hale traveled 646 miles in 28 days, recording his journey in a diary before arriving on July 13, 1810. He and his family first made their home in a one-room log cabin surrounded by forest, and they lived there for the next 15 years.

In 1825, the same year that construction began on the life-changing Ohio & Erie Canal, Hale began work on an elegant three-story brick farmhouse with the raw material his property and its surroundings provided. The bricks were made from clay across the road, while the mortar came from Hale’s own limestone business. The nails and the iron door hinges and latches — many of which still exist in the house — were likely cast in Tallmadge.

Two years later, both the canal and the Hale home were completed. “Old Brick” was one of only two all-brick buildings in the Cuyahoga Valley.

With elaborate lintels, hand-hewn beams and wide floorboards, the home is a Federal-style showplace. Three fireplace mantels are particularly unique examples of vernacular workmanship, with small, ribbed panels, some of which have been pierced with holes near the top and bottom.

After Hale died in 1854 at age 77, the homestead remained in the family for three generations. Entrepreneurial horticulturalist Charles Oviatt Hale (1850-1938) and his wife, Pauline, opened the home to guests and boarders as the Hale Inn. Surrounded by beautiful gardens, peaceful pastureland and an abundant orchard, the Hale Inn became a favorite getaway destination for city-dwellers. When Hale’s great-granddaughter died in 1956, the property was bequeathed to the Western Reserve Historical Society to be established as a museum focusing on the history and culture of the Western Reserve.

Other pre-1850s buildings in the area, representing a variety of architectural styles and several threatened with demolition, were acquired for preservation and moved to the farm to create a village typical of those in the early Western Reserve. After the often-complicated task of moving, they are now situated in “Wheatfield Village,” around a village green, a town feature traditionally used for public speeches and gatherings, as well as for grazing.

The first two structures to be relocated were the Saltbox House, named for its common New England architectural style, which was built in 1830 in Richfield and is interpreted as the home of a German family. The Greek Revival-style Jagger House, built in 1845 by Clement Jagger, a prosperous carriage-maker in Bath, is interpreted as the home and office of a doctor and his family. A local artist stenciled the walls.

A log schoolhouse built in 1816 in Summitville and a gristmill were followed by a Greek Revival-style meeting house built in Streetsboro in 1852. Its steeple, destroyed by a storm before its relocation, was reproduced using drawings made for the Historic American Building Surveys in the 1930s.

The Goldsmith House, designed and built in 1831 in Willoughby by Jonathan Goldsmith, a significant early architect in the Western Reserve, for merchant William Peck Robinson. Before it was slated for demolition and moved in 1973, it had been altered to serve as an apartment building, but was still in excellent condition. Incorporating both Federal and Greek Revival architectural elements, the T-shaped house is considered one of the finest buildings in the Western Reserve.A lovely facsimile of an 1830s garden was created next door, based on extensive research of plants used in the area at that time as described in agricultural society notes, diaries of homeowners, and newspaper advertisements and gardening columns.Herrick House, built by Jonathan Herrick in 1845 in Twinsburg, is interpreted as the home of a successful dairy farmer. A well-crafted example of Greek Revival architecture, the stone structure is characteristic of designs that were included in builders’ manuals, such as those by Asher Benjamin and Minard Lafever. When the house was disassembled, the individual stones were numbered, then moved, and the house was reconstructed using field drawings that had been made of the building. To complement various barns moved to the property, Tunis sheep, Percheron Draft horses and milking Shorthorn cattle live at Hale Farm.A pottery, a glassblower’s building, blacksmith shop were also moved to the village to provide visitors with the experience of hand-crafting on the Western Reserve. Baskets, brooms and candles are other examples of crafts made in the village. Carding, spinning and weaving are demonstrated at the Hale home. See examples of handwoven cotton curtains and Venetian carpets made on site for the Saltbox House, the Goldsmith House, the Herrick House and the Meeting House.

Learn how to dye handspun wool by boiling natural materials like dandelion and goldenrod to produce yellow; black walnut husks and onion skins for brown hues; woad leaves for blue indigo; and madder plants to create red.

Open seasonally, Hale Farm and Village is a destination on both the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

To add to the Hale experience, take a “Handcrafted at Hale” class in natural dyeing, weaving, spinning, pottery, glassblowing, hearth cooking, and other traditional handcrafts, such as those celebrated in A Symphony for the Sheep, illustrated by Mary Azarian. Uncover how a rural 19th-century family made a woolen blanket from scratch in The Pen That Pa Built, by David Edwards, which inspired Hale weavers to recreate the weaving pattern used for the blanket.

For more on Hale Farm and Village, see the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Handbook, by Carolyn V. Platt, and The Jonathan Hale Farm: A Chronicle of the Cuyahoga Valley, by John J. Horton. The Goldsmith Garden is included in Green Byways: Garden Discoveries in the Great Lakes States, by Sharon Lappin Lumsden.

Posted in Architecture, Crafts & Hobbies, History, Museums, Ohio | Leave a comment

Swipe right on Shipshewana

Mobile devices make everyday tasks more convenient, but they sure have taken a toll on my ability to connect successfully with people I care about. I miss the lost art of conversation.

If, like me, you need a break from the incessant smartphone scrolling and swiping that surrounds us, take a cue from those who connect with others in different ways. Recharge in Shipshewana, Indiana, where some of its 677 residents keep telephones in separate buildings, not on dinner tables.

Shipshewana has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern Indiana, due in large part to the appeal of the simple, rural, family-oriented lifestyle of the Amish residents of Shipshewana and its surrounding communities.  The Indiana counties of LaGrange, Noble and Elkhart are home to the third-largest settlement of Old Order Amish in the world, after Holmes County, Ohio and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Swampy land made the area slow to be settled until 1840. Amish settlers arrived the next year, employing their farming skills to amend the soil by planting clover. Soon, wheat, oats, corn and peppermint crops flourished. Fruit, livestock and poultry soon followed. When the railroad arrived in 1888, the town of Shipshewana was established as a shipping center, named for the last chief of the Potomatomi Indians who once lived in the area.

Shipshewana’s Amish residents are exceptionally welcoming hosts to their “Englisher” guests. Discover their roots, as I did, at the Menno-Hof Interpretive Center, where quality exhibits trace how religious developments during the Protestant Reformation led to Anabaptism, in which followers believe that baptism is only for adults who choose to be baptized, rather than for children. Come to understand how the Anabaptists were persecuted, what led to their division into three groups – Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish – and their migration to the New World, beginning in 1683. Learn how John F. Funk, a Mennonite publisher in Elkhart, Indiana, produced a religious newspaper to restore community among Anabaptists. And preview the simplicity and spirituality of this way of life, whether learning about how the Amish help others after a tornado, or how they make delicious, high-quality cheese from Grade A milk without the help of electricity.

Examples of delicious Amish cooking are everywhere in Shipshewana and its neighboring communities. Serving authentic Amish cuisine to over 750,000 people each year, Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury is Indiana’s largest restaurant. Follow my lead and sit down to a homemade family-style feast of fried chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans, and pie. Then attend a live performance with heart-warming Christian values — like “The Old Faith, Hope & Charity” – at Essenhaus Heritage Hall. Continue your Amish dining experience at the Blue Gate Restaurant and Bakery, offering over 25 varieties of pies, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, fry pies, cookies and other homemade treats. Settle into the comfortable seats of the neighboring Blue Gate Theatre and watch an original live performance, like “A Simple Sanctuary,” a meaningful and entertaining musical based on Sanctuary, a work of Amish ficton by Beverly and David Lewis.

After a restful night at the Blue Gate Garden Inn, begin the day with baked oatmeal, made-to-order omelets and other hearty, delicious choices on the inn’s breakfast buffet. For a mid-morning snack, stop by Rise ‘n Roll, a Middlebury bakery that began when an Amish couple set up shop on their front porch and sold family-recipe baked goods and their now-famous toffee crunch candy. You’ll be welcomed, as I was, with a sample of Rise ‘n Roll’s signature cinnamon caramel doughnut, covered in caramel sauce and dusted with cinnamon sugar. Also try “frog jam,” a preserve made from figs, raspberries, oranges, and ginger.

Amish ladies are known for their skill in creating quilts with unique designs and striking colors. Elaine Jones, her son Seth and her friend Ruby host a traditional Amish quilting bee where, like other guests, I stitched on a Bear’s Paw quilt and admired dozens of other quilts Elaine has created. After Seth said grace in a German dialect, I lunched on homemade vegetable and chicken noodle soups, potato salad, broccoli and cauliflower salad dressed with Miracle Whip and champagne vinegar, bread topped with apple butter or Amish peanut butter – that fluffy mixture of peanut butter and marshmallow creme – and apple crisp for dessert.

Local guide Ginger Lyons introduced me to two more Middlebury family businesses: Teaberry Wood Products, offering hand-carved puzzles and hand-woven baskets; and Dutch Country Market, specializing in homemade noodles and many varieties of honey.

Stop by the market to see its “Mother’s Delight” quilt garden, a circa-1920s quilt-block design planted with purple-hued petunias, dusty miller and alyssum. The planting is one of Elkhart County’s Quilt Gardens, a season-long attraction that has been presented since 2006. Seventeen quilt-inspired gardens and 21 hand-painted quilt-themed murals are on view annually from May 30 to September 15. The designs change each year.White, pink and red begonias are interspersed with triple curled parsley in “Krider Festival Rose,” a garden planted in a 1940s V Star Block quilt-block pattern, with a hand-painted mural of a special rose at the center of the block. See this particular quilt garden at Krider World’s Fair Garden in Middlebury.

The garden celebrates Krider Nurseries, a Middlebury business that schoolteacher Vernon Krider started in 1896 with the proceeds from growing and selling his first crop of blackberries, dewberries and Cumberland raspberries on two acres of land. Over the years, Krider expanded his farmland, planting grapevines, trees, shrubs, perennials and other plants to become one of the largest, most diversified mail-order nurseries in the country.

In 1933, Krider Nurseries developed a display garden at the Chicago World’s Fair so that visitors could see what it had to offer. The garden’s features included a Dutch windmill, a “toadstool teahouse,” a pergola with sunrise benches, a lily pond, an English tea house, and a mill house. After the fair closed, many of the garden’s ornaments and plants were replanted to Middlebury, across the street from the nurseries’ headquarters.

After Krider Nurseries closed in 1990, the display garden was donated to Middlebury to be used as a community park. Today’s version of the garden also includes a statue of Hebe, the goddess of youth, in keeping with the 1930s taste for the Greek Revival style; waterfalls; a rain garden; a pavilion; and a rose garden which commemorates the nurseries’ patented “Festival red rose, the first thornless rose. In 1971, Krider Nurseries supplied roses for the wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia.

The new part of the garden was created in the gully of the former Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad corridor, created by the Canada and St. Louis Railroad Company in 1888 to build a railroad from St. Louis, Missouri to Bay City, Michigan. More commonly known as the Pumpkinvine Railroad because of its curving route along the Little Elkhart River and through the towns of Middlebury, Goshen, Elkhart and Shipshewana, the route continued until 1980, when it was transformed into a 26-mile nature trail.

Before returning home, consider taking in the Shipshewana Flea Market, the Midwest’s largest flea market, features nearly 900 open-air booths on 40 acres. Experience it on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from May through September. Since 1922, the Shipshewana Auction holds year-round antique and livestock auctions every Wednesday, and horse auctions every Friday.

Sixteen spectacular murals celebrate the town’s history, from the Shipshewana Indians, a baseball team formed in 1906, to local businessmen like town founder Hezekiah Davis and Edward A. Wolfe, who ran a grain elevator business, was a bank president, and served as an Indiana State Senator. Painted in summer 2014 by the Walldogs, an organization that is reviving the art of sign- and mural-painting, the murals can be found all over Shipshewana. Click here for more information about them.

For more on Shipshewana and its surrounding communities – which are also home to the nation’s largest recreational vehicle industry — read Shipshewana: An Indiana Amish Community, by Dorothy O. Pratt; and A Walk in the Garden: A Guide to Krider World’s Fair Garden and Its History. An Amish Alphabet, by Ingrid Hess, and Yonie Wondernose, by Marguerite de Angeli, were part of the children’s area at Menno-Hof. To read more Amish fiction, try Vannetta Chapman’s Amish mystery novels set in Shipshewana: Falling to Pieces, A Perfect Square and Material Witness. For more on this year’s Quilt Gardens, see the 2019 Quilter’s Chronicles and the 2019 Master Gardener’s Guidebook. To explore the Heritage Trail, a scenic 90-mile drive in northern Indiana, listen to a free audio driving tour filled with interesting facts about the area’s history and destinations, available here.

Posted in Food/Restaurants, Gardens, Indiana, Needlework, Travel | Leave a comment

Stop, drop what you’re doing and roll down to Chestnut and Fourth

If George Hudak asks you if you close your bedroom door when you go to bed, don’t be alarmed. Answer affirmatively!

This unexpected question is one of the valuable refreshers on fire prevention that Hudak, a retired Whitehall Division of Fire captain, asked me during a tour of the Central Ohio Fire Museum and Learning Center in downtown Columbus.

I’ll admit, I had forgotten that a closed bedroom door is good preventative practice in the event of an overnight fire. What Captain Hudak outlined next was also something I hadn’t thought of in a long while.

If you smell smoke during the night, crawl out of bed to the door and feel it, he explained. If the door is cool, touch the knob, open the door and stay low on the floor under the smoke to get out of the house. If it is too hot, open the window and escape through it, using either a ladder stored underneath the bed or by stepping out onto the roof of an adjoining structure.

Captain Hudak taught this important lesson with the help of three unique features. A glass-enclosed model of a child’s bedroom fills with artificial smoke on demand. Two other models of the same bedroom illustrate what the room might look like when engulfed in smoke and flames, with a figure of a firefighter in full turnout gear kneeling by the bed, and after the fire is extinguished, with real charred wood, fabric and plastic remains.

We moved on to a display of a kitchen. Here, Captain Hudak reviewed how to handle a grease fire on the stove top and in the oven, the danger of an overloaded extension cord plugged into the wall, and the best place on a countertop to use a toaster (it’s nowhere near curtains or cabinets).

While teaching fire prevention programs to school-age children is the museum’s primary goal, its setting makes a visit worth the trip. It’s located in the former Engine House No. 16, located at 260 N. 4th St., at Chestnut St.

Built in 1908, this firehouse served the central part of Downtown. In 1919, it became the last Columbus unit to switch from a horse-drawn to a motorized steam engine, and the three horses that pulled it were retired. Renamed Station No. 1 in 1952, it was an active firehouse until 1982, when the new Station No. 1 opened a block north, between E. Naghten St. and Mount Vernon Ave. Its conversion to a museum began in 1990, after the historical committee of the local firefighters’ union approached the City of Columbus about the building and secured a 99-year lease on the former firehouse and a storage building behind it, all for $1. After a 20-year, $1 million award-winning renovation, the museum opened in 2002. More than $500,000 of the money for the renovation came from donations by more than 1,000 firefighters who elected — and continue to elect — to have payroll deductions taken to support the museum.

Many of the firehouse’s original features are intact, such as the hayloft, the stalls for the horses – complete with the dents from the horses’ hooves – and the wooden-brick flooring used in the barn at the rear of the station, now housing the museum’s education center.

The three-story brick building exemplifies turn-of-the-20th-century civic architecture, so much so that it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Its glazed white-tile walls – one of earliest examples of glazed brick in Columbus – reflected the light, and being nonporous, didn’t absorb the coal dust that steam-powered apparatus generated.

Other original features include its 400-pound doors, and two fire poles firemen once slid down to get from their second-floor sleeping quarters to the fire trucks on the ground floor – a rarity in today’s single-story engine houses. In its hose tower, new firemen were responsible for hoisting up the heavy insulated firehoses to dry. The tower also held the bell that was rung when an alarm was received. The gongs of the bell designated the number of the district and summoned volunteers to the fire.

Old, discarded firefighting tools that firefighters collected inspired the creation of a museum to preserve the history of fire service in Columbus. Today, the museum’s collection includes an impressive array of axes, leather water buckets, and glass grenades filled with carbon tetrachloride that night watchmen once carried on their rounds and threw onto fires to smother flames. There’s an example of the primitive metal ring that first served as a fire alarm, the electrified fire alarm pull boxes that were mounted on telephone poles. Also on display are fire marks – the signs that were hung on homes to indicate that a home was insured in the event of a fire and that firefighters would be paid for their efforts to extinguish it. There are examples of two artifacts like those my ancestor, Henry Heinmiller, former chief engineer of the Columbus Fire Department, used: the hand trumpets used to amplify the fire chief’s voice at a fire so his instructions could be heard, and the hats firemen wore when they participated in the annual fire department parade, when the city’s fire equipment was demonstrated and inspected in front of the Statehouse.

Antique fire engines parked inside range from hand-cranked water tanks and hand-drawn pumpers and hook and ladder trucks that citizen volunteers pulled to the fire, to the steam-powered engines that arrived in Columbus in 1853 and were operated by crews assigned to a specific job that threw more water higher and farther in order to put out fires in tall buildings.

  The collection also includes motorized ladder and pumper trunks made by Seagrave, the esteemed firefighting equipment manufacturer that that was once based on Columbus’ South Side; the city’s first emergency squad, a 1927 Seagrave; and a 1967 model recreational vehicle that was the country’s first fully equipped, physician-staffed medic unit. Stationed at Ohio State University Hospitals, it was outfitted with a fold-out operating table, oxygen equipment and a refrigerator for drugs, all used to stabilize patients on site before taking them to the hospital.

The Central Ohio Fire Museum and Learning Center is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Watch this “Columbus Neighborhoods” segment on the museum here.


Posted in Columbus, History, Museums | Leave a comment

The Wigwam! Wow!

There must have been something about traveling to the western United States in the 1920s. My grandfather’s 1927-28 journey from Ohio to California in the family Model T led to a lifelong love of Zane Grey novels. At that same time, Robert Wolfe, the publisher of The Columbus Dispatch, purchased 20 acres of land in Pickerington, Ohio to create the Wigwam, a wooded retreat that was inspired by his family’s vacations in the American West.

Over the years, the Wolfe family bought additional land, enlarging the property to 64 acres surrounded by 1.7 miles of chain-link fencing. The Wigwam complex grew to include a large dining space, a theatre, and various guest houses and staff residences. The Wolfes hosted celebrities and held special events there until the Dispatch was sold in 2015.

In 2018, Wolfe Enterprises, a business controlled by Wolfe family members, sold the Wigwam to Violet Township in Fairfield County for $2.7 million. The purchase price included 26 buildings on the property, as well as furnishings and equipment. After  making minor updates to most of the buildings and filling in the swimming pool, the township held an open house recently so the public could see this historic hideaway for themselves.

Entering the property through wrought-iron gates on Blacklick-Eastern Road, I was sold on the place when I saw the welcome sign. The self-guided tour began in the banquet room, which can be rented for weddings, receptions and business meetings.I’m partial to the carpet.Built over a stream and a reflection pond in 1989, the space seats 500 and includes a dance floor and stage, a bar that opens onto an outside patio, and a large kitchen for catering events.

Murals hand-painted in a Native American theme adorn the walls.

The tour continued to Violet Township’s administrative offices, housed in the original log cabin Robert Wolfe designed for his family retreat. The timbers Mr. Wolfe used were telephone poles from the paving project along the old National Road, now Route 40, that he purchased from a collector for $1 each. He had the bricks in the fireplaces laid unevenly to add to the lodge’s rustic charm, and furnished it with Native American decor. Tableware even carried the theme. The Wigwam’s dishes and glasses carried the 1930s picture of Two Gun White Calf — one of three Native American Indians who posed for the likeness of the Indian on the buffalo nickel — taken by Walter Nice, a photographer for the Dispatch in 1909, the April 19, 1964 issue of the Dispatch reported.

Mr. Wolfe engaged a Dispatch cartoonist to paint stagecoaches, trains, airplanes, covered wagons, teepees, cowboy cabins and other scenes from the American West in the Card Room, the former poolside lounge that is now the Violet Township Trustee Meeting Room. 

To replace the Wigwam’s original 20-seat theatre where Bob Hope, Gene Autry and Jimmy Stewart performed, a new performance space accommodating over 300 people was constructed in 1989. The current theatre is now the home of the Pickerington Community Players.

The Native American decor continues outside, with an original totem pole…

and gargoyles under building rafters.

Violet Township’s potential plans for the Wigwam property include remodeling a bunk house for a community meeting space, building a hotel, transforming 20 wooded acres into a community park with shelter houses and walking trails, and developing 10 acres at the northern part of the site for office and business use.

Posted in Columbus, History | 1 Comment

“Indeed, This Ohio Girl Makes, On The Whole, The Most Varied And Interesting Exhibition In The Galleries”

Parting with some things to simplify your life? Maybe you’re finding what other downsizers have found. Prized family heirlooms may be destined for the dumpster, impossible to sell or give away to younger generations with little interest in the past. For old souls like me, this cuts to the quick.

Dismayed and disheartened after researching this disturbing trend, I sought refuge in a space where a circa-1893 cabinet card from Urlin’s Mammoth Art Palace, an almost-illegible fragment of paper that once labeled a painting, and a sturdy wooden easel and palette are carefully displayed. Thank goodness these treasures weren’t tossed. They once belonged to Alice Schille, a Columbus art teacher who traveled the world to find inspiration for her acclaimed paintings.

To commemorate the artist’s 150th birthday, the Columbus Museum of Art organized In a New Light: Alice Schille and the American Watercolor Movement, on view through September 29. Spend time in these galleries and you’ll discover what made Schille a pioneering, critically acclaimed American watercolorist. You’ll also wonder why this vibrant personality was virtually forgotten after her death in 1955.

More than 50 of Schille’s paintings, many of which have not been exhibited for decades, are organized chronologically. They showcase Schille’s talent for depicting seaside and town scenes, landscapes and family life in brilliant color and patterns.

Born in Columbus on August 21, 1869, Schille was the daughter of a prosperous flavored-soda manufacturer. She graduated from the Columbus Art School (known today as the Columbus College of Art and Design) in 1893, and continued her art education in Paris and New York, where artist William Merritt Chase was one of her teachers. She returned to Columbus to teach at her alma mater and at the Ohio Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. She perfected her art in her studio, which was located over the carriage house behind the Near East Side home at 1166 Bryden Road where she lived with her mother and her sister.

Schille’s work was inspired by travel. During her first trip to Europe in 1903, she spent time at the Dutch art colony of Laren, where she painted Knitting, one of the first watercolors that she exhibited professionally. This and other scenes of peasant life she captured during return trips to the Netherlands, France and present-day Croatia established her reputation as a leading American watercolorist who experimented with the lightened palette and loose, rapid brushwork that define Impressionist painting techniques.

Her aptitude for capturing sunlight and surface patterning is particularly noticeable in paintings she made in the picturesque French village of Le Puy, such as Sun Spots on the Road and Mother and Child in a Garden, France, both painted about 1911. She also was drawn to dim church interiors enlivened by the rich jewel tones of stained glass-filtered light, which appealed to her Catholicism and enthusiasm for architecture.

When World War I curtailed her overseas travel, Schille remained stateside and began an especially productive period of her career. At home in Columbus, she was inspired by Claude Monet’s Impressionist style when she painted the water lilies at the home of William Miller, co-owner of Godmund Shoe Company. Her sparkling watercolors of brilliant beach scenes in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the colorful streets of New York City and the fascinating cultural heritage of Santa Fe, New Mexico rival the work of important American Impressionist painters like Childe Hassam, Maurice Prendergast, John Singer Sargent and Edward Potthast. She experimented with Pointillist techniques, employing short, horizontal strokes of intense color.

After the war, Schille resumed her summer travels abroad, painting in the French Riviera, French North Africa, Central America and Mexico. Prompted by her interest in Diego Rivera’s art, her style became more abstract. She also continued learning. Colorful Cottages, the 1930s painting the museum chose to brand the exhibit, shows how Schille applied what she learned in her studies of modern painting and drawing during her 60s.

During the winters, Schille kept busy at home in Columbus, teaching until her retirement in 1948 and painting portraits in oils. In the 1920s, she painted decorative flamingo panels on the walls of the Maramor, a popular Downtown restaurant of the day. I’m especially glad the menu cover she designed for the Maramor didn’t find its way into a dumpster.

Letters, journals, photographs and other archival treasures on display offer a unique glimpse of Schille’s life. Reading her handwritten diary entries about her years in New York City, paging through a digitized version of her journal and sketchbook from the 1930s, and studying a receipt for watercolor paints she ordered from Windsor & Newton in London, England in 1925 restored my faith that not everyone trashes such treasures.

All this, together with an illustrated timeline of Schille’s life, makes for an exhibition as varied and interesting as the Art Institute of Chicago’s show of Schille’s work that Harriet Monroe reviewed for the Chicago Daily Tribune on May 30, 1929.

“Indeed, this Ohio girl makes, on the whole, the most varied and interesting exhibition in the galleries,” Monroe wrote. “Whether she handles street crowds, or figures of peasant girls and children…or anything she chooses to undertake, she always puts into the work a spirit and grace all her own. It will be interesting to watch her career.”

For more, read Alice Schille, by William H. Gerdts; as well as Alice Schille: An Independent Spirit and Alice Schille: The Early Years, 1902-1914, both catalogues for previous exhibitions of Schille’s work.

Posted in Art, Columbus, Museums, Special Collections | 2 Comments

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.

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