If You Want To See A Beautiful Building, Stop In At Robert J. Kraus’s Hamlet Street Church

Ask me about Walter Gropius, and I’ll gush about the glass curtain walls and floating balconies that he fashioned for the Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany. Mention Frank Lloyd Wright, and I’ll rattle on about the magnificent wisteria-mosaic fireplace that he designed for the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, New York. Say Eero Saarinen’s name, and I’ll tell you how I want to see the sunken seating area of the living room of the Miller House that he created in Columbus, Indiana.

But had you inquired whether I knew who designed the church that I admire every morning on my way to work, the school at 2010 E. Broad St., and the Columbus retreat center that was one of the first institutions in the United States to be named in honor of St. Therese of Lisieux, you would have heard crickets. Unspeakable!

Sure, it’s good to know a few fun facts about the work of noted architects, but it’s better to uncover something about lesser-known creators of buildings, especially those right under my nose. The Catholic Record Society helped me begin to fix that.

The society searches out, preserves and makes available historical materials about events, people, organizations and places in Ohio that are associated with the Diocese of Columbus. For its recent winter meeting, it convened at Sacred Heart Church, in Ryan Hall, named for Monsignor James M. Ryan, who served as the administrator of the parish from 1919 until his death in 1944. The focus of the meeting was “The Churches of Robert J. Kraus,” a presentation given by his son, James E. Kraus.

Kraus (1887-1972) hailed from Akron, Ohio. At 14, he became an apprentice to an architect and began producing remarkable architectural drawings, including one of a vaulted vestibule he drew as a teenager that the younger Kraus shared with the group. After studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Kraus embarked upon a 70-year career, during which he designed about 150 churches, schools and houses.

Kraus’s earliest church commissions were for Holy Cross in Glouster, Ohio and St. Bernard in Corning, Ohio, both in 1915. He turned his attention to Sacred Heart Church in Columbus in 1922.

Sacred Heart’s website reveals much about its history.  The parish traces its history to around 1852, when a Lancaster, Ohio resident willed four acres of land bounded by Summit Street, First Avenue, Hamlet Street and Second Avenue (in the Columbus neighborhood now known as Italian Village) to the Diocese of Cincinnati (Columbus was a part of that diocese then), with the stipulation that the land was to be used for religious and educational purposes.

In 1875, Bishop Sylvester Rosecrans, the first bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, established Sacred Heart Parish, the first parish in the Diocese to have defined boundaries. Bishop Rosecrans also authorized construction of buildings for the parish that would house a school, a hall large enough to be used as a church, and rooms for the Sisters of St. Francis, who were to teach there. The following year, the project was completed, the new church was dedicated, and the school opened.

As Sacred Heart’s congregation grew, so did its home. In 1877, a pastoral residence was added to its sound end, while a convent for the Sisters was built on its north end in 1886. The year 1892 saw the opening of Sacred Heart High School, a two-year high school for boys and girls that continued until 1905, when the boys were transferred to the new St. Patrick’s College, and Sacred Heart Commercial School was established for girls in 1908, holding classes there until 1957. During those early years of the 20th century, my great-great grandparents, Mariann and Daniel O’Connor, became parishioners of Sacred Heart and worshiped there with their four children.

In July 1919, Bishop James Hartley commissioned the building of a new church and rectory for the parish. By 1922, over $50,000 had been collected in a building fund, Kraus was hired to draw the plans, and construction began. On Thanksgiving Day 1923, the new church was dedicated.

The Tudor Gothic structure is 155 feet long, 80 feet wide and 52 feet high, with a 105-feet-high bell tower and a small chapel. It seats almost 800 people.

“If you want to see a beautiful building, stop in at the Church of the Sacred Heart at the corner of Hamlet Street and First Avenue,” wrote W. L. Graves, professor of English at The Ohio State University, in the January 15, 1924 issue of the Ohio State Lantern. “…The church has a perfect unity of effect, a beautiful serenity and dignity of design that makes worship there, one feels, a memorable experience.”

The interior features Kraus-designed railings that were reproduced in regalico, an imitation marble product that was manufactured by Daprato of Chicago, now known as Daprato Rigati Studios. Round columns of Caen stone line the nave and the confessional booths were carved from oak. Beautiful stained glass windows and a ceiling deserving close attention complete the picture.

The church also has fine acoustics, as Father Kevin Lutz demonstrated, both in song and at the console of its organ. Made by the Jackson Pipe Organ Company of Chester, Illinois circa 1880, the organ was once housed at St. Joseph Cathedral and is one of only four such Jackson organs known to exist today.

Other church commissions followed for Kraus, including St. John’s in Bellaire (1923); St. Charles Seminary in Columbus (1924), now known as St. Charles Preparatory School; Sacred Heart in New Philadelphia (1927); St. Therese’s Retreat Center in Columbus (1931); St. Mary’s School in Lancaster (1928); Blessed Sacrament in Newark (1942); and St. Agatha and St. Philip the Apostle, both constructed in Columbus in 1962.

The Catholic Record Society will meet next in May, then in September. For more information, click here.

Posted in Architecture, Churches, Columbus, History | 2 Comments

What Would Martius Have Worn If I Had Been A Fourth-Grader In Prague?

Becoming a fourth-grader at Columbus School for Girls was a big deal, mostly because of the legendary teacher who presided over the classroom at the end of the hall.

From 1963 until her retirement in the early 1990s, Dorothy Sehring was known for teaching her students chess to develop logical thinking, holding a “Pioneer Day” of frontier-inspired learning, and giving dramatic readings to gear up for the big finish — the Shakespeare play that Form IV performed every year under her direction.

The reserved girl who arrived at Mrs. Sehring’s room on the first day of school in September 1978 felt a little trepidation in her presence, but before long, the talented teacher worked her magic and put me at ease long before she cast me as Martius in her production of Julius Caesar.

I’m kneeling on the left, posing as Martius in Julius Caesar, Spring 1979

“Gentle, poised, calm, interested and organized, Betsy comes to school to learn – and she does, very well, as her report card indicates,” Mrs. Sehring wrote in her end-of-semester comment that December. “Perhaps just as important is how Betsy interacts with her classmates – she is kind, warm, friendly and caring. No wonder she is such a joy to teach!”

By the end of the school year, Mrs. Sehring had given me the confidence to do the unthinkable. “In science, when we dissected eyes, brains, kidneys and other organs, my fastidious friend plunged in like the good sport she can be,” she wrote to my parents at the end of the school year. “I was proud of her.”

When I received my invitation to attend CSG’s Gal-entine’s Day Happy Hour at the Columbus Museum of Art — held just six days after the opening of a new exhibition called Shakespeare in Prague: Imagining the Bard in the Heart of Europe — I accepted right away. Mrs. Sehring passed away last June, so it was the perfect occasion for me to celebrate the Shakespeare-lover who said, “I look forward to great things from Betsy.”

Listening to Shakespeare in Music & Words on my way to the museum, I planned to arrive early so I could see the exhibition first.

Organized by the museum, The Ohio State University’s College of Arts and Sciences Arts Initiative, and the Arts and Theatre Institute and the National Museum, both in Prague, Czech Republic, the exhibition explores the unique ways Shakespeare’s plays were adapted in central Europe from 1909 to 2014. During this turbulent time, Czech artists commented on political and cultural developments by creating innovative, unified designs for all aspects of a production, from posters and handbills to stage and costume designs.

Josef Wenig’s stage model for the production of The Winter’s Tale, 1923

Shakespeare’s works were first performed in Czechoslovakia by English traveling actors who toured continental Europe during the playwright’s lifetime. After his death, they continued as popular additions to central European theater repertoires. By the mid-19th century, they had become important classics that allowed an oppressed culture to express itself.

Early 20th-century avant-garde Czech artists adapted Shakespearean productions in distinctive ways, influenced by German Expressionism, Russian Constructivism, and French Cubism and Surrealism. Modern theater trends found expression in the scenic elements of stage design, where circus-inspired swings provided more motion, film techniques inspired unusual viewing angles, and mysterious cracked backdrops heightened the sense of drama. These unique approaches to staging Shakespeare’s plays demonstrate how lively his works are, and how their meanings can be expressed in imaginative new ways.

I wouldn’t say that wearing a uniform for 12 years oppressed me, but it certainly led to my love of expressing myself through my wardrobe. So it was to the costumes displayed in the exhibition that I gravitated.

Winter-hued sets and costumes were the hallmarks of a 2008 production of The Winter’s Tale, which is set in Bohemia, the Czech kingdom where Prague was located during Shakespeare’s time. Audiences who viewed a production of Hamlet in 2003 relied on color-coded costumes to determine whether characters were allies or enemies.

As I looked at elaborately embroidered aprons based on traditional Czech folk dress designed for a 2010 production of Hamlet


a lady’s skirt with rows of folded men’s shirts, worn by a male actor…

a pen-and-watercolor drawing of a costume for Ophelia that Vlastislav Hofman created for a 1926 production of Hamlet,

together with a reconstructed version of the costume,

I thought about the tunic and sandals I wore as Martius and wondered what my costume might have looked like, had I been reciting my lines as a fourth-grader in Prague.

Shakespeare in Prague: Imagining the Bard in the Heart of Europe is on view at the Columbus Museum of Art until May 21. Earlier this month, the museum hosted a Czech and Slovak Scenography for Shakespeare symposium, a two-day event featuring speakers from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and the United States who discussed how designers from eastern and central Europe have brought Shakespeare to life on the stage. For more, read Shakespeare in Transition: Political Appropriations in the Postcommunist Czech Republic, by Marcela Kostihová.

Posted in Columbus School for Girls, Museums | Leave a comment

Oglebay Resort Is “A Vision of Paradise”

“Good grief, Mike was right,” I thought as I sat in a line of idling vehicles as far as I could see. We inched past wooden soldiers and clowns, crawled by angels and tennis players, crept up to downhill skiers and snowmen, and came to a perfectly timed stop beside a couple of ballroom dancers. Oglebay

My friend had warned me that a Saturday-night drive through the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia would be a lesson in patience. But I was glad I had persevered when I rounded the bend and saw Woodstock snapping a photo of Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang.Oglebay

For over 25 years, these twinkling tableaux have been a holiday tradition at Oglebay. Hundreds of thousands of colored lights stretch for six miles throughout the resort, covering more than 300 acres in dozens of picturesque scenes featuring favorites like Cinderella, Christmas kittens, sleigh rides, snowball fights, cheerleaders, sledders, and a glittering poinsettia wreath and candles standing over 60 feet tall.Oglebay

It seemed like hundreds of thousands of people had the same idea. In Wilson Lodge, groups lined up for a sumptuous buffet dinner that started with baby spinach with julienned apples, griddled onion, white grapes and toasted pecans tossed in a maple vinaigrette; frisee lettuce topped with crumbled goat cheese, candied walnuts and roasted red and golden beets. We moved on to apple cider-brined turkey breast and buttermilk smashed new potatoes, butter-herb roasted chicken, ham and oan-seared mahi mahi with tomato fricassee. Then, we concluded with Oglebay’s bourbon bread pudding, pumpkin cake, and a boatload of cakes, pies and holiday-inspired pastries. Everyone left with a complimentary festive red Oglebay coffee mug to take home as a souvenir.

My Oglebay visit began earlier that afternoon, after a scenic drive over the Ohio River and through the city that founding settler Ebenezer Zane thought was “a vision of paradise” when he first saw it in 1769. After ascending a steep wooded hill, we arrived at the Colonial Revival mansion that was the home of Earl Oglebay, a Cleveland industrialist who had made his fortune financing and operating steamship companies, coal mines in West Virginia and Ohio, and iron ore mills in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Oglebay

Oglebay purchased the property once known as Waddington Farm from his mother-in-law in 1900, and gradually increased its acreage until it doubled in size. He transformed it into a country estate, building roads, landscaping the grounds with ornamental plantings, and remodeling the mansion built in 1846 that he, his wife, Sallie, and their only daughter, Sarita, enjoyed as a summer retreat. It also featured an experimental farm where researchers studied soil culture, crop rotation and breeding of livestock like the champion bull “Border Raider.”

OglebayAfter Oglebay died in 1926, the property was willed to the people of Wheeling for public recreation. Two years later, it became known as Oglebay Park. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps established a camp there. About 200 young men were headquartered there to improve the property, eventually building nature trails, picnic sites, winterized cabins, tennis courts, an outdoor theater, a riding academy, a horse show ring, a golf driving range, a three-acre lake and a nature center.  When Wilson Lodge opened in 1957, Oglebay became a year-round resort.

The mansion became a museum in which 13 rooms are furnished with period decorative arts pieces and Oglebay family possessions, such as the sterling silver tea and coffee service the Oglebays gave Sarita for her January 31, 1912 wedding to Courtney Burton. Each piece in the custom-made set features places that were significant in Sarita’s life, such as several buildings on the Waddington Farm estate.Oglebay

Other rooms house artifacts from Wheeling’s early days, such as the axe the Zane family used to build their cabin when they settled in present-day Wheeling. The Mansion Museum also hosts traveling exhibitions, such as samplers created by 18th- and 19th-century schoolgirls and an original Shakespeare First Folio from the Folger Shakespeare Library.

During the holiday season, volunteers transform the Mansion Museum into a showplace of decorations. Oglebay

This year’s theme is “A Storybook Celebration.” Oglebay

Oglebay Resort is also home to the Carriage House Glass Museum, which features over 3,000 examples of glass made in Wheeling from 1829 to 1939.Oglebay

Here, you’ll find Frances Ware, a decorative treatment named after First Lady Frances Cleveland,Oglebay

…”peachblow” glass, a popular Victorian-era style that was produced in shades ranging from ruby to yellow, all with a white lining inside each piece, Oglebay

…whimsical novelties,Oglebay

…a pressed lead crystal window pane that was made to be used on steamboats,Oglebay

… the Central Glass Company’s “Log Cabin” pattern, patented in 1875 and popular during the American Centennial celebrations the following year,…Oglebay

and its glass candlestick designed in the 1880s to replicate the sandstone towers of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.Oglebay

The showpiece of the museum is the five-feet-tall, 225-pound, 16-gallon punch bowl made by Wheeling’s Sweeney Glass factory in 1835. In 1844, the Sweeney brothers made three of these punch bowls to exhibit in New York City and Philadelphia, and they won first-place medals for creating the largest piece of cut lead crystal ever produced. One was given to Henry Clay when he came to Wheeling for the opening of the National Road, in appreciation for his advocating tariffs to protect domestic manufacturing; he displayed it in his parlor and used it as his baptismal font. This one is the only surviving bowl; it topped Michael Sweeney’s grave from 1875 to 1948. Oglebay

After seeing so many whimsical glass novelties, I decided to bring home a “Bluebird of Happiness” from Carriage House Glass. The store sells items handmade by skilled glass artisans, such as ornaments fashioned in Oglebay’s glassblowing demonstration studio…  Oglebay

as well as Oglebay’s signature hyacinth lights blooming in 150 hanging baskets and other plantings in the “Garden of Light” during the Winter Festival of Lights.OglebayOglebay Resort’s other shops offer unique gift items, gourmet and regionally produced food products, Christmas decorations, bath and skin care products, candles, and garden items, such as Frost Fern and Goshiki False Holly, which takes its name from Japanese for “five colors.”

The Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Resort continues through January 1, 2017. For more on Oglebay, see The Story of Oglebay Park, Wheeling, West Virginia and the History of Oglebay Institute and the Oglebay Family, by Ralph H. Weir; An American Legacy: The Oglebay Story, by Isaac M. Flores; and The Trees of Oglebay and Wheeling Parks, by Brooks E. Wigginton.

Posted in History, Holidays, Museums, Travel, West Virginia | Leave a comment

For Those With An Independent Will To See Haworth, Start Your Charlotte Brontë Pilgrimage At The Morgan Library

There it was — a two-piece cotton and wool day dress printed with blue flowers, leaves and tendrils, with slightly puffed sleeves and mother-of-pearl and brass buttons. A pair of cloth ankle boots with leather toe caps stood beside it.Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will

Charlotte Brontë is said to have worn this dress during a June 1850 visit with novelist William Makepeace Thackeray in London. The author of Jane Eyre, then in her mid-thirties, was only four feet nine inches tall, with an 18 1/2″ corseted waist.

This was the moment I had been waiting for. I was standing before the first showstopper of Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will, an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Presented to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth, the exhibition traces her development from a talented young writer to a celebrated novelist through literary manuscripts, letters, rare books, drawings, portraits and personal artifacts from the collections of the Morgan Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England and London’s National Portrait Gallery.

The young Charlotte and her siblings spent time sketching fashionable ladies, painting landscapes and copying illustrations of birds by Thomas Bewick, engraver and author of A History of British Birds in 1816. A watercolor depiction of a stone cross on the West Yorkshire moors that surrounded the Brontë family home in Haworth was found tucked inside Charlotte’s school atlas and is thought to be her work.

Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will

Her paint box, still stocked with cakes of paint, porcelain mixing wells and palettes and paint brushes, is displayed nearby.

Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will

But it is the Brontës’ juvenilia that is most remarkable. Miniature manuscript books dating from around 1828 measure just over two inches and are filled with watercolor drawings and short stories written in microscopic handwriting similar to printed fonts. Magnifying glasses are on hand to take a closer look at these extraordinary items.

Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will

Charlotte’s portable writing desk is outfitted with writing tools, including pen shafts and nibs, sealing wax, an ivory-handled seal, and an abundance of wafers, or adhesive disks used to seal letters.Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will

Also on view—for the first time in the United States —is a portion of the manuscript of Jane Eyre, from the collection of the British Library. It is open to the page on which appears the famous line that inspired the title of the exhibit: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”

Near it are copies of the first American edition of Jane Eyre, published by Harper & Brothers in 1848, and the copy of the first edition of Jane Eyre that Charlotte presented to her friend Mary Taylor. Copies of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, published in 1846 and 1848 under Charlotte, Emily and Anne’s pseudonyms, are also on view.

Several items in the exhibit are so rare to leave their current homes that it is extraordinary to see them together at the Morgan Library. These pilgrimage objects include the only two portraits of Charlotte that were painted during her lifetime, both shown for the first time in the United States. One is the famous painting of the teenaged Charlotte and her sisters, Emily and Anne, painted by their 17-year-old brother, Branwell, around 1834. The ethereal image in the midst of the girls is said to be Branwell’s self-portrait.Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will

The other portrait of Charlotte was a chalk sketch that her publisher commissioned in 1850 to give to her father, Patrick Brontë.

Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will

Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, the curate at Haworth, in 1854; nine months later, the 38-year-old was dead. A memorial card and an 1858 letter from Charlotte’s father to an American admirer with a sewn-on sample of Charlotte’s handwriting, conclude the exhibition.Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will

Two years later, novelist Elizabeth Gaskell wrote The Life of Charlotte Brontë; the biography’s frontispiece shows an engraved view of the parsonage where the Brontës lived in Haworth. Mrs. Gaskell’s biography helped to establish the Haworth parsonage as a tourist destination for Brontë fans who continue to seek it today. I’m one of them.

Charlotte Brontë: An Independent WillCharlotte Brontë: An Independent Will is on view at the Morgan Library & Museum through January 2, 2017. For more, see an online exhibition titled Charlotte Bronte: Ten Letters and a Fictional Fantasy, as well as The Brontës: A Family Writes, by Christine Nelson, a Morgan Library publication that features the manuscripts and rare books in the library’s Brontë collection. Celebrating Charlotte Brontë: Transforming Life into Literature in Jane Eyre, by Christine Alexander and Sara L. Pearson, explores how art and objects inspired Charlotte in creating her most famous work, while The Art of the Brontës, by Christine Alexander and Jane Sellars, includes discussion of the Brontës’ miniature manuscripts.

Posted in Art, Books, England, History, Libraries, Museums, New York, Special Collections, Travel | Leave a comment

What Monk Knew How To Use Words And Images To Sell His Brand?

For months, I’ve been anticipating the arrival of two tantalizing exhibitions at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Word and Image: Martin Luther’s Reformation was one of them.

My travels through Germany have taken me on a Martin Luther pilgrimage.  In Wittenberg, I wandered through the rooms of Luther’s home and walked in his footsteps to the church door to which he nailed his 95 theses that began the Protestant Reformation. I’ve also stood in the Wartburg Castle room where Luther translated the New Testament from Greek to German. So when I learned that this exhibition features over 90 Luther-related objects from German museums, several of which have never been seen before in North America, I moved the Morgan to the top of my list of must-sees.

Word and Image: Martin Luther's ReformationTo commemorate the 500th anniversary of Luther posting his theses to that Wittenberg church door, the exhibition looks at how the monk strategically used printed material, art and music to launch and spread his message of religious reformation. One highlight is one of only six remaining printed broadsides of Luther’s theses inviting debate on indulgences, which the faithful once gained for their salvation and the selling of them to which Luther objected. Others are the January 1519 letter that Luther wrote, but never sent, to Pope Leo X, in which he reiterates his opinions on indulgences, but states his willingness to not publish further writings; as well as the manuscript of Luther’s Old Testament translation from his 11-week stay at Wartburg Castle.

Word and Image: Martin Luther's ReformationWhile those objects may be the headliners of the exhibit, I found favorites in other treasures. A circa-1520 limewood statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a child with her mother, St. Anne, recalls Luther’s devotion to St. Anne. When he was nearly struck by lightning, Luther pledged to the saint that if she would save him, he would give up studying law and become a monk instead.  A velvet and silk chasuble that Luther wore when he preached at Merseburg Cathedral in August 1545 is displayed nearby, alongside a chest that was used to store money gained from the sale of indulgences. Fragments of pottery unearthed at archaeological digs at Luther House in Wittenberg rest beside Luther’s green ceramic inkstand and decorative ceramic stove tiles from his home.  Tiny lead musical notation printing types that were recently uncovered in an archaeological dig conveys Luther’s influence in developing congregational singing. This rare find — used to print the first Lutheran hymnals — is  considered the oldest existing pieces of music-printing type in Europe, as they were used to print both lines and notes in a single step. 

Dozens of works of art by Lucas Cranach the Elder, the Saxon court painter from Wittenberg who created Luther’s public image, provide stellar illustrations of the points made in a fascinating book I read just before viewing the exhibition: Brand Luther: 1517, Printing, and the Making of the Reformation, by Andrew Pettegree.

Word and Image: Martin Luther's ReformationCranach first painted Luther’s likeness in 1520, portraying him as a vibrant young monk, university professor and theologian. Almost ten years later, Cranach depicted Luther again, this time with more gaunt, angular features, reflective of the results of the indulgence controversy. Then, when Luther married Katharina von Bora in June 1525, Cranach not only gave the bride away, but also gave the couple a pair of their portraits as a wedding gift, then produced several copies of them to share with their friends and relatives. All three of these portraits introduced Luther to those followers who had not made his acquaintance and were therefore not familiar with his looks.

Word and Image: Martin Luther's ReformationBut it is Cranach’s mastery of woodcuts that would prove so beneficial for the spread of Luther’s influence. Wittenberg’s printers depended on Cranach to produce woodcuts that would illustrate and decorate their broadsheets and books. By creating an unmistakable signature look, where a single woodcut bordered the page and framed the text, Cranach beautifully presented Luther’s message — and Luther’s name, using a bold, larger type and placing it on a line of its own, separated from the title, to attract the reader’s attention. The printer’s Wittenberg location was also emphasized, placed at the bottom of the title page instead of at the end of the publication, and surrounded by white space. Cranach’s design made Luther’s succinct, understandable theological writings immediately recognizable, and helped Wittenberg become the center of Lutheran publishing.

Word and Image: Martin Luther’s Reformation continues at the Morgan Library & Museum through January 22, 2017. For more, see Martin Luther: Treasures of the Reformation and Martin Luther and the Reformation: Essays, both published to accompany the exhibition, as well as Rick Steves’ new DVD and upcoming public television special, “Luther and the Reformation.”

Posted in Churches, Germany, History, Museums, New York, Special Collections, Travel | Leave a comment

Covering Compost Cookies to Candy Couture In 24,021 New York City Steps

When the first Saturday morning in December dawns, you may like to be nestled all snug in your bed, but I much prefer hitting the pavement for another now-legendary 15-hour visit to New York City.

The once-bleary-eyed novice in All Things Big Apple has beenRockefeller Center replaced by a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed sightseer who scurries off the motorcoach and scampers up Fifth Avenue, hot to trot for an ambitious lineup of adventures in store for the day.

The city that never sleeps is somnolent enough at that hour for early birds to have a few prime sights all to themselves. One is the 94-feet-tall, 56-feet-wide Norwegian Spruce tree from Oneonta, New York that towers over Rockefeller Center’s plaza this year, festooned with 50,000 multicolored LED lights and topped by a star fashioned from 25,000-Swarovski crystals.

Others are the dazzling holiday displays that artists spend the better part of a year crafting for department store windows. Macy's windowLord & Taylor’s “Enchanted Forest” features five vignettes of over 30 hand-sculpted animal figures dancing, ice skating and hibernating their way through a winter wonderland enhanced by LED displays, twinkling lights and over 9,000 feet of garlands. A two-story tree at Henri Bendel is trimmed with ten giant versions of the ornaments for sale in the store. At Macy’s, six windows portray holiday scenes focused on “Believing the Magic,” highlighted by an LED tree made of 1,000 crystals and interactive windows that measure visitors’ love of the holidays.

“Land of a Thousand Delights” is the appropriately named spectacular sight at Saks Fifth Avenue. Six animated windows on Fifth Avenue present fanciful Nutcracker-inspired scenes…Saks Fifth Avenue

while others are filled with “Candy Couture,” lavish designer dresses evocative of sweet treats like cotton candy, peppermint sticks and lollipops. After dark, a 10-story-tall multicolored light show stops the crowds that fill Fifth Avenue in their tracks.

Saks Fifth Avenue

“Make the World Sparkle,” urge the lovely vitrines at Tiffany & Co., where clever uses of perspective transform a holiday table, the Rockefeller Center angels and a silhouette of the Manhattan skyline into spectacular bejeweled peep shows that the police officers guarding Trump Tower were happy to help us see.

Tiffany & Co.

Across the street at Bergdorf Goodman, five lush scenes are a true “Destination Extraordinary.” In these verdant remakes of natural history dioramas, a fashion-forward tightrope walker makes her way across a lagoon overgrown with cypress trees, orchids and ferns, while a golden-haired lepidopterist nets her latest catch, flanked by a giant pair of praying mantis.Bergdorf Goodman

Five years of these New York City red-eye trips have established some favorites worth repeating, like Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a meal and shopping at Scandinavia House, and touring the East 20th Street brownstone where Theodore Roosevelt was born. This time, one particular must was walking past Patience and Fortitude, the lions guarding the entrance to the Stephen A. Schwartzman Building of the New York Public Library, to see some old friends who recently returned from an adventure of their own.Winnie-the-Pooh, New York Public Library

Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga and Tigger — the famous toys who belonged to Christopher Robin Milne, inspired his father’s famous stories, emigrated to the United States in 1947, and now reside at the New York Public Library — were recently sent to a textile conservator to be restored. Pooh and his friends were restuffed, steamed, restitched and fluffed. Worn paws and ears were covered with a thin, protective mesh, while snouts were humidified and secured in their proper position. Small holes were patched with fine silk fabric in a color that mimicked the original velveteen. After vacuuming, they took their place on new mounts and sit before a map of the Hundred Acre Wood, on display in the library’s Children’s Center.

Two new destinations were on our must-see list. One was Momofuko Milk Bar, a nifty bakery to which Martha Stewart introduced us years ago on one of her field trips to her favorite spots around New York City.

Milk BarMilk Bar tempts New Yorkers with all sorts of unique signature treats featuring “crunches” and “crumbs.” The “crunch” is a staple made by blending a staple like cornflakes or potato chips with salt, sugar, melted butter and milk powder, baking the mixture slow and low, and then using the tender, caramelized concoction to make a snack, a cookie, a pie crust, or a garnish for a cake. The “crumb” are flavorful little bits made by pulverizing the main ingredient for the crumb, tossing it with flour, sugar and salt, binding it together with butter, baking it, and adding it to cookies, pie crusts and festive desserts like Funfetti Birthday Cake.

Milk Bar has several locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn; we found one tucked in a tiny nest on West 56th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Inside, there they all were: Compost Cookies, hefty concoctions of chocolate and butterscotch chips, potato chips, pretzels, graham crackers and coffee grounds. Bagel bombs with bacon, scallion and cream cheese plugs. Volcanoes, bread bursting with scalloped potatoes, caramelized onions and shredded Gruyere cheese. Crack pie, a buttery, sugary concoction in a hearty oat crust. Cornflake-Chocolate Chip-Marshmallow Cookies, like those Milk Bar baker Christina Tosi made with Martha, which you can watch here.

Milk BarWash them all down with a swig of another signature Milk Bar concoction: Cereal Milk. Just like that tasty, sweet milk at the bottom of your cereal bowl, Cereal Milk is flavored milk made by steeping toasted cornflakes, or other cereals like Fruity Pebbles, Cap’n Crunch and Lucky Charms. Drink it straight, pour it over more cereal, add it to coffee, or turn it into desserts such as panna cotta or ice cream. Watch Martha and Christina make it here.

Momofuku Milk Bar and Milk Bar Life: Recipes and Stories, both by Christina Tosi, will help me recreate the Milk Bar experience for those not up for spending two nights sitting up on a bus.

The other destination I checked off on my Must-See List was the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum — not so much for its collection, but because it calls Andrew Carnegie’s house its home. Located on East 91st Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, the 64-room mansion was designed in the style of a Georgian country house and was built from 1899 to 1902. Carnegie saw his home as “the most modest, plainest, and most roomy house in New York.” I wanted to see it because it was the place where the philanthropist donated money to build all of those free public libraries in communities across the United States and Scotland.Carnegie home, Cooper-Hewitt Museum

The Carnegie home was the first private residence in the United States to have a structural steel frame and one of the first in New York to have a residential Otis passenger elevator. It also featured central heating, innovatively powered by a pair of twin boilers that were fueled by coal that was transferred from a storage bin to the furnace by a coal car that traveled over a miniature railroad track. Its location — far north of where other Gilded Age notables lived — allowed for the creation of a large, beautiful garden, still a unique feature in Manhattan today. In 2011, the museum closed for renovation and reopened in December 2014.

The Cooper-Hewitt Museum — our country’s only museum devoted to historic and contemporary design — moved to the Carnegie mansion in 1970. Established in 1897 by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, granddaughters of Peter Cooper, an industrialist who started the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum is a place where visitors can learn about decorative arts. The accomplished sisters were nuts about decorative arts from an early age, traveling across Europe and collecting all sorts of wonderful decorative objects.  In 1892, Sarah wrote “Fashions and Counterfeits of Bric-a-Brac,” an article for Cosmopolitan that helped collectors lend a critical eye to antique reproductions. Eleanor was a talented embroiderer, invented a system of stenography and was one of the first female typists.

For more on Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt, click here.  To learn more about Carnegie’s home, see The Life of a Mansion: The Story of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, by Heather Ewing.

Carnegie, compost cookies, candy couture and Christopher Robin’s friends — they were all wonderful to see. However, there were two real reasons I scampered around New York City this December, and both of them were at the Morgan Library & Museum. They’re coming up next.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Food, History, Holidays, Libraries, Museums, New York, Shopping, Travel | Leave a comment

Bake Batches Of Tasty Treats With The Columbus Dispatch’s Holiday Cookie Guide

When the ever-present plate of cookies is passed at a holiday gathering, what do you choose?

I’ll admit, there’s a strategy to how I load up the Royal Copenhagen Christmas plate for its next trip around the table. The Springerles, Pfeffernüsse and Lebkuchen are given pride of place, hiding the melt-in-your-mouth Mexican wedding cookies, the sugary Scandinavian roll-ups known as Finnska Pinnar, and the Zucker Hutchen, the “little sugar hats” with candied citron and meringue that thrill my taste buds.

As much as I love these perennial favorites, some new treats are going to debut during this year’s holiday baking extravaganza. Several will hail from Christmas Cookies: Dozens of Classic Yuletide Treats for the Whole Family, by Monika Römer. Others will rise from the pages of the Columbus Dispatch’s Holiday Cookie Guide.

I came to that momentous conclusion on November 20, when I attended a terrific cookie-baking demonstration commemorating the release of the newspaper’s eighth annual collection of holiday cookie recipes.The Columbus Dispatch's Holiday Cookie Guide Celebration

Dozens of people packed a section of the Fresh Thyme Farmers Market grocery store on Polaris Parkway to watch Dispatch Food Editor Lisa Abraham prepare eight kinds of cookies featured in this year’s guide.

As we arrived, we were given a free spatula imprinted with a table of handy baking measurements and a sought-after print version of the special section containing the recipes and the stories behind them. Lucky wheel-spinners also took home Dispatch oven mitts, Macy’s gift cards and cookie cutters in the shape of the state of Ohio.

Before taking their seats, those who registered to attend sampled four different kinds of the 50 types of cookies that made this year’s lineup. The Columbus Dispatch's Holiday Cookie Guide Celebration

I proudly picked a Chocolate-Coffee Drop that my friend Joan Stack successfully submitted. I also chose to try a Norwegian Almond Bar, a White Chocolate-Cherry Shortbread and a heavenly Stained Glass Window.The Columbus Dispatch's Holiday Cookie Guide Celebration

As we squeezed into a place and munched away, Lisa provided some pre-show entertainment as her helpers passed out complimentary bottles of water to those wanting to wash down their selections.

“What goes better with cookies than coffee?,” Lisa asked. “Here’s a free canister of ground Folgers coffee for this man who was the first to arrive.”

Other lucky ladies who had attended the past two years of holiday cookie demonstrations received cookbooks like Frankie Avalon’s Italian Family Cookbook.

With the door prizes distributed, Lisa and Julie Fulton, news librarian at The Columbus Dispatch, began making a sweet confection called Cheery-Cherry Macaroons.

The Columbus Dispatch's Holiday Cookie Guide CelebrationAs she beat egg whites, added sugar, folded in flour and salt, stirred in cherries and coconut, and dropped the mixture by tablespoonful onto a baking sheet, Lisa described how the holiday cookie guide is produced.

After the call for recipes went out in August, Lisa received 186 submissions from readers, up from 165 last year. By mid-September, she started picking recipes, breaking them into categories. She reviewed what recipes had been printed in the last three years and eliminated half of the entries to prevent repeats. Then came testing the recipes, with help from over 40 bakers among the Dispatch staff, their family and friends. The 50 recipes that were chosen met Lisa’s criteria for being representative of a good mix of categories, different flavors and for successful execution by bakers of various skill levels. Finally, the recipes were typed and edited, the cookies were photographed, the publication was laid out, and its cover was designed.

As we sampled these easy-to-bake morsels, Lisa and Julie got to work on a version of Apricot Bars, another speedy bake included in the guide. Bar cookies are always a hit because they are so efficient to make during the holidays, Lisa advised; they can be cut into triangles to yield four dozen cookies.

While I can’t report on the other kinds of cookies that Lisa made for the rest of the afternoon, I can share that I’m anxious to try baking the Almond Butter Sticks, Garibaldi Cookies, Butterscotch Brownies, Forgotten Cookies, Spice Cookies with Caramel Frosting, and Sandbars.

A digital version of this year’s complete guide is available to subscribers, but individual cookie recipes can be accessed on the Dispatch website. Click here for more information.

Tune in to WOSU Radio’s All Sides with Ann Fisher on Thursday, December 8 to hear Lisa talk about this year’s Holiday Cookie Guide.

For more holiday cookie ideas, check out Good Housekeeping’s Christmas Cookies: 75 Irresistible Holiday Treats and Christmas Cookie Swap! More Than 100 Treats to Share This Holiday Season, both of which were published this year.

Posted in Food, Holidays | Leave a comment