At Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library, “You May Be Whatever You Resolve To Be”

Years ago, I read The Clerk’s Tale: Young Men and Moral Life in Nineteenth-Century America, Thomas Augst’s account of how industrious young businessmen of the 19th century earnestly worked to improve themselves in their free time. Practicing penmanship, keeping diaries, writing letters, joining literary societies where they debated, delivered orations, and recited poetry; reading books, and attending lectures were all ways in which they developed their character and cultivated their mind. These ambitious fellows were William A. Alcott’s target audience for his book, The Young Man’s Guide, first published in 1832 and revised in multiple subsequent editions.  “Let me repeat the assurance that, as a general rule, you may be whatever you resolve to be,” Alcott reminded his readers. 

Many of these self-made men became members of mercantile libraries that were established in some American cities before public libraries became widespread. After a long day at work, a visit to the mercantile library allowed them to pursue their intellectual interests, gain useful knoMercantile Library Association of Cincinnatiwledge, and converse with fellow clerks.

One of those mercantile libraries still exists in downtown Cincinnati.  I was thrilled to see it for myself recently.

On April 18, 1835, 45 merchants and clerks in Cincinnati created the Young Men’s Mercantile Library Association. Pooling their funds, they subscribed to newspapers and periodicals and established a book collection. Today, it is known as the Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati.

Mercantile Library Association of CincinnatiThe Mercantile Library moved to its present Walnut Street site in 1840, but the building in which it was housed burned down in 1845. A new building was constructed on the same site, but it, too, burned down in 1869. It was replaced by another building, but it was torn down in 1902 when it became outdated. In 1903, the current building was built, it was completed in 1908, and the library has been based on the 11th floor ever since. Alphonso Taft, an attorney who was the father of President William Howard Taft, wrote a lease that called for a 10,000-year occupancy with rent of $1.00 per year.

In 1839, the library created Cincinnati’s Chamber of Commerce. In 1843, it organized the Merchants’ Exchange, which collected steamboat schedules and other business-related information. For three years, the exchange maintained canal, river and railroad import/export records and information about steamboat arrivals and departures for local businessmen.

After using the Mercantile Library as guests, women first became nonvoting honorary members of the library in 1859. The first African-American member joined in 1872. Today, annual membership dues start at $55, and include borrowing privileges, use of the reading room and other benefits.

Over the years, the Mercantile Library has expanded its historic collection of more than 200,000 volumes with paintings, sculptures and other special objects, such as rare specimens of minerals. Examples include Hamlet and Ophelia, a painting by Ohio artist Lily Martin Spencer; a marble bust of George Washington by sculptor Hiram Powers, who worked in Cincinnati for a time; and a plaster copy of the marble bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that stands in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey.

Bust of George Washington by Hiram Powers, Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

When visitors emerge from the express elevator to the 11th-floor hallway outside the entrance to the library, they are greeted by Silence, a marble statue of a woman standing with her index finger in front of her lips. It is a copy of a statue a Mercantile Library member saw in Paris, and it was acquired in 1856.

Silence, Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

The library’s reading room is furnished with hardwood floors, iron and mahogany book and magazine stands…Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

and Stickley-style chairs and slant-topped desks.Stickley-style chairs

Many of the library’s bookshelves, desks and chairs date to its previous homes that were destroyed by fire. Tall, arched windows add elegance to the space.  Since the building was built before the invention of the light bulb, glass floors in the steel-frame stacks allow light to filter through.Glass floors in the stacks, Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

A 19th-century floor safe painted with a seascape and the library’s name houses two centuries of library board minutes.Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

In 2010, new stacks…Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

…and a performance stage were added at the south end of the reading room.

Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

The Mercantile Library offers events of interest to anyone who enjoys books and reading. Since the 1840s, the library has hosted informative educational lectures given by distinguished speakers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Makepeace Thackeray, Herman Melville, Bret Harte, John Galsworthy, John Updike, Tom Wolfe and Julia Child. President William Howard Taft was the speaker at the 75th anniversary celebration in 1910. Early lecture topics included the credit system; the history of banking; patriotism; the life and character of George Washington and William Shakespeare; German literature; and cultivation of the fine arts.

A spiral staircase lined with portraits of past presidents of the Mercantile Library leads to its 12th-floor lecture room.Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

Rookwood pottery vases, a Stickley writing desk and bookcases filled with enticing volumes furnish the room, which affords a magnificent view of the Ohio River.

Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

Bordering the ceiling of the room are 23 names of people who have lectured at the library. 

Lecture room, Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati

Some of those same names adorn a bow tie especially designed for the library by BowTie Cause, a project of former Cincinnati Bengals player Dhani Jones. The library receives $10 of the $57 purchase price that recalls Jones’ football jersey number. 

Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati's bow tie

Many library events are scheduled at noon for the convenience of members and visitors who work downtown. Currently, these include a discussion group for “hard-boiled” mystery novels of the early decades of the 20th century, such as The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett; Cotton Comes to Harlem, by Chester Himes (April 24); After Delores, by Sarah Schulman (May 8) and Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Letham (May 22). The library also offers an interest group for Scandinavian books, such as Italian Shoes, by Henning Mankell (April 23) and My StruggleRookwood pottery, Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati: Book 2: A Man in Love, by Karl Ove Knausgaard (May 28).

A First Wednesday book discussion group will focus on Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand (May 6) and Middlemarch, by George Eliot (June 3). Gilbert King, author of Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, will deliver the library’s 1835 Lecture on April 20.

One of the library’s longest-running discussion groups, the Canon Club, concluded in December 2014 after having read Shakespeare’s complete dramatic works. The group also attended performances of the plays by The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. On May 13, the group will see and discuss Henry V. The Walnut Street Poetry Society meets monthly at noon and is focusing on African-American poets this year.

To discover more about the history of the MerMercantile Library Association of Cincinnaticantile Library Association of Cincinnati, read At the Center: 175 Years at Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library, by Robert C. Vitz; Brilliance and Balderdash: Early Lectures at Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library, by Dale Patrick Brown; and “The Cincinnati Mercantile Library as a Business-Communications Center, 1835-1846,” by S.H. Barringer and B.W. Scharlott, from the Spring 1991 issue of Libraries & Culture, pages 388-401.

Posted in Cincinnati, History, Libraries | Leave a comment

Spend An Evening Under The Stars At The Ohio State Planetarium

Inside this brick-and-concrete building at 242 West 18th Avenue on The Ohio State University’s campus, I spent two years learning about reporting, interviewing, news and feature writing, editing and public relations. When I graduaJournalism Building, Ohio State Universityted, I took more than a master’s degree in journalism with me. I had dozens of clips from stories I’d written for the student newspaper, The Lantern; a thesis on the image of women in the posters of World War I, and an enthusiastic appreciation for journalism history and literary journalism that continues to this day.

When I walked down West 18th Avenue last week for the first time in 22 years, I stopped at the Journalism Building to look around, thought about some things that have changed, and left feeling a little sad. The School of Journalism is now part of the School of Communications. The Journalism Library is now the Arts & Sciences Business Services Center. And my thesis advisers and favorite professors, Joseph McKerns and David Richter, are no longer there.

Happily, some other things have stayed the same. The building still houses a branch of the U.S. Postal Service.  And, most pertinent to this blog post, it is still next door to a fascinating feature of campus that I never knew existed until recently: the OSU Planetarium, on the fifth floor of Smith Laboratory.Smith Laboratory, Ohio State University

Since 1967, the OSU Planetarium has been offering educational programs on the night sky to students and the central Ohio community. Once, it used a Spitz A3P opto-mechanical star ball to display up to 1,500 stars, the solar system in the past and future, and the full range of solar and lunar motions on a dome. Now, it relies on a state-of-the-art system that gives participants a fascinating digital view of the planets, stars, and galaxies in the night sky.

In 2012, the planetarium was redesigned and refitted with a 30-foot SciDome digital dome theater with high-definition digital surround-sound projection. The NanoSeam projection dome consists of a hemispherical aluminum support framework to which about 80 curved screen panels are mounted without overlapping, creating a seamless appearance of a virtual night sky.

Sixty-threOSU Planetariume new custom seats were installed underneath the dome. Upholstered in scarlet with gray headrests, the padded reclining seats are arranged as front-facing semi-circles. Angled seat backs have been providing comfortable views of scenes projected on the dome since the planetarium reopened to the public in October 2013.

Last week, I visited the planetarium for the first time when the Ohio State University Alumni Association hosted “Alumni Night Under the Stars” there. Wayne Schlingman, the planetarium’s director, treated us to a free, hour-long program called “The Sky Tonight.” We learned about basic astronomy, the annual motions of the planets and the sun, the daily motion of the sun and stars, the orientation of the sky, locations of well-known constellations and stars, and light pollution in urban areas.

The planetarium offers several different free programs to the public with an advance reservation on Friday evenings during the academic year. On Saturday afternoonsOSU Planetarium, versions of the hour-long presentations are offered for elementary school-aged children. Students and faculty in Ohio State’s Department of Astronomy take participants on a voyage through the solar system, present the history of telescopes and how they work, provide an overview of the first era of space exploration in the late 1960s and early 1970s, share and what is being designed to create new opportunities to launch and land a spacecraft on the moon, and describe how scientists are using tiny particles called neutrinos to explore exploding stars, black holes and other features of the universe. Special programs are being planned for National Astronomy Day on April 25. For more information, visit https://planetarium.osu.edu/.

If, like me, you learned the basics of astronomy in a high school Planetary Science class and you’re curious to discover more about the night sky, you might also be interested in visiting Perkins Observatory in Delaware for a unique lecture series on the first Thursday evening of the month.  The series explores the relationship between astronomy and other academic disciplines like literature, technology and journalism. April’s program featured a group of Ohio Wesleyan University professors reading some of their favorite passages from works like Goodnight, Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown; Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven, by Mark Twain; and Walt Whitman’s When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

New Vistas in Astronomy” is another once-monthly Thursday evening lecture series at Perkins Observatory in which professors from Ohio State and Ohio Wesleyan discuss their current research and new findings in their area of expertise. All of Perkins’ lectures in these series are open to the public for an $8 per-program fee.

If you’re an Ohio State graduate living in central Ohio, consider attending other upcoming OSU Alumni Association events, such as “Derby Mixology” and Ohio State Day at Cedar Point. For more information, visit http://www.osu.edu/alumni/activities-and-events/events/

Posted in Nature/Outdoors, Ohio State University | Leave a comment

Joining In A Good Friday Journey Toward Peace

Grey skies and a rainy forecast didn’t deter hundreds of people from taking a special walk in downtown Columbus this morning.

“A Journey Toward Peace” is an annual Good Friday walk throughout Downtown that is sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Columbus and organized by its Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Office for Social Concerns. Participants stop at 14 locations on a three-mile route not only to recognize Jesus’ suffering as he carried his cross to his crucifixion, but also to reflect on current areas of social concern. Each stop was sponsored by a youth group from various Catholic parishes in central Ohio, including Saints Simon and Jude in West Jefferson, St. Joseph in Circleville, and St. Timothy in Columbus.

For centuries, Catholics have prayed the Stations of the Cross. This popular Lenten devotion grew in popularity as a way for pilgrims who could not travel to the Holy Land and journey to the chief places where Jesus suffered and died to make a spiritual pilgrimage in their hearts. Traditionally, the Stations are a series of 14 pictures inside a church that represent certain scenes in the Passion of Christ, before which the faithful pray and meditate. As they pass from one Station to the next, they often sing a stanza of the 13th-century hymn, “Stabat Mater.”

To begin this walking version of the Stations of the Cross, The Most Reverend Frederick F. Campbell, Bishop of Columbus, led the group in prayer at St. Joseph Cathedral. Then, they began their journey, singing “Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your Kingdom.”

St. Joseph Cathedral

At Faith Mission, they considered the plight of the homeless, then continued to the Topiary Park, also known as the Old Deaf School Park, to focus on environmental stewardship. In the vicinity of Grant Hospital, they prayed for those with illnesses, and for the injustice of abortion.

I joined the group at Nazareth Towers, an affordable housing community for low-income senior citizens. Young people from St. Peter brought issues of the elderly to mind by reading excerpts from a homily Pope Francis gave on September 28, 2014 and a quote from Blessed Mother Teresa about the importance of spending time with the elderly so they do not feel forgotten.Nazareth Towers

Then, young people from Parroquia Santa Cruz surrounded a man portraying Jesus carrying his cross and led the group to Holy Cross.

Stations of the Cross Inside this beautifully restored first Catholic church in Columbus, we thought about discrimination in society and prayed to adopt a welcoming attitude, a positive outlook towards diversity, and a better understanding of different cultures.

Holy Cross ChurchWe also took time to think about hunger and poverty, represented by neighboring St. Lawrence Haven, a ministry of the St. Vincent de Paul Society that my cousin, Msgr. Lawrence Corcoran, helped to organize. On weekdays, the organization provides a free lunch to hundreds of needy people in the basement of the former Holy Cross School.

Young people from St. Margaret of Cortona led us as we reminded ourselves not to become impatient with ourselves when we fail and not despair over small things. “Help me when things seem difficult for me,” we prayed. “Even when it’s hard, help me get up and keep trying as you did.”

Students from Bishop Watterson High School took up the cross and led the procession past the Prayer Garden, on the north side of Holy Cross, a place for meditation where outdoor Stations of the Cross surround the original cross from the church’s original steeple.

Humming the processional tune that would remain with me throughout the day, I left the group and headed east on Town Street, as they went west on Town Street to the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund Memorial Park. There, across the street from the Greyhound bus station, they remembered runaways, refugees and human trafficking. Then, the group reflected on economic responsibility and joblessness at the Downtown business district, justice outside the Supreme Court of Ohio, and the importance of using media responsibly outside the offices of The Columbus Dispatch. On the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse, they reflected on peace and the death penalty before returning to the Cathedral to honor the Church and the need for Christ’s presence in the world.

During this Lent, I read Way of the Cross, by Pope Benedict XVI; Way of the Cross, by Pope John Paul II; and Stations of the Cross, Stations of Light, by Ann Ball, which I discovered at Holy Cross. It includes original meditations and artwork for the traditional Stations, as well as the new devotion known as the Stations of Light, or Via Lucis, which is practiced during the post-Easter liturgical period. For more on St. Lawrence Haven and the St. Vincent DePaul Society, click here to see “Feeding the hungry for more than 50 years” and “St. Vincent de Paul Society helps people close to home,” beginning on pages 5 and 6 of the September 2, 2007 issue of The Catholic Times. It includes quotes from Msgr. Corcoran and photos of our friend Bob Specht, who volunteered at St. Lawrence Haven, which is special because now they are both deceased.

I think Msgr. Corcoran would be pleased to know that my post-Easter spiritual reading will start with Apostle in a Top Hat: The Life of Frederic Ozanam, by James Patrick Derum.  This is a biography of the Frenchman who founded the St. Vincent DePaul Society in 1833 and was beatified in 1997. The society’s principal objective is to advance the spirituality of its members through doing good for those in need.

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May My Beautiful Sweet Briar College’s Foundations Ever Be As Strong As Her Hills

When I tuned in to a live webcast of “Shaking Up Retirement: Rethinking Financial Security for Americans” on the morning of March 3, little did I know that in just a few hours, I’d be so shaken up about something that it would be difficult to concentrate on anything else.

As I scanned my e-mails during the conference’s lunch break, a new message titled “Important Update from Sweet Briar” arrived. Eager to read the latest news from my alma mater, I opened the message first.

Sweet Briar College seal“I am writing to you today with important and difficult news,” the message from James F. Jones, Jr., president of Sweet Briar College, began. “At our Board of Directors meeting over the weekend, the Board unanimously voted to wind down academic operations for Sweet Briar College due to insurmountable financial challenges. The Class of 2015 will be our final graduating class, and the College will close on August 25, 2015.”

This stunning news came with no advance warning.  Ever since I read it, I haven’t been able to get this warm, friendly community where everyone works so hard to make young women succeed off my mind. 

Sweet Briar CollegeNestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural Amherst County, Virginia, Sweet Briar College provided me with exactly what I wanted my college experience to be like. Surrounded by delightful fellow students, talented professors, caring staff members, and a breathtakingly beautiful, historic 3,250-acre campus, I flourished.

The campus is a former plantation where a profusion of wild roses once bloomed.  It was the summer home of Elijah Fletcher, a schoolmaster from Vermont, who purchased the property in 1830. His daughter, Indiana, inherited it in 1858, continuing to live there after she married James Henry Williams in 1865 and gave birth to their only child, Maria Georgiana (“Daisy”) in 1867. Sixteen-year-old Daisy died in 1884, Henry followed in 1889, and then Indiana passed away in 1900. To honor Daisy’s memory, Indiana bequeathed practically her entire estate to establish a school that would provide young women with a fine education.  A charter was obtained for a liberal arts college in 1901, and it opened in 1906.

Sweet Briar’s Georgian Revival campus is the work of Ralph Adams Cram, one of America’s leading architects. Cram transformed a portion of the plantation’s undulating landscape into a series of terraces, where monumental flights of steps lead to elegant brick academic buildings and dormitories connected by arcades.  

Sweet Briar College

The buildings surround a central green that culminates at the college’s chapel, a serene place made all the more lovely by hand-stitched pink floral needlepoint kneelers.

Sweet Briar College Chapel

The Anne Gary Pannell Center, the college’s former refectory, is now the home of its art gallery, art library, and classrooms where I discovered the wonderful discipline of art history.Sweet Briar College

My favorite hangout was the Mary Helen Cochran Library’s Browsing Room, a lovely cypress-paneled room with a fireplace and bookcases backed with dark red paint, just like Cram’s own library.Sweet Briar College Browsing Room

Other brick buildings housing campus support services complement Cram’s vision for the campus.  The Boxwood Alumnae House first was a teahouse and an inn for overnight visitors to stay, then became a dormitory, and now serves as the operational base for Sweet Briar’s alumnae association. I spent many happy hours working as a student assistant there, posing for a picture promoting the Alumnae Association’s tulip bulb sale, stuffing mailings to alumnae while watching television coverage of the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush, and making special friends with the office’s staff.

Sweet Briar College, Boxwood Alumnae House

Almost daily, I stopped in the neighboring Book Shop to visit Kleo and Mr. Fitts, try on Susan Bristol outfits, check out the latest pink-and-green Sweet Briar merchandise, and bring home treasures like hand-painted Easter eggs, Dedham Pottery rabbits, Pimpernel coasters, Salt Marsh Pottery Sweet Briar Rose dishes and a hand-knitted Blueberry Woolens cardigan that I still wear.

Sweet Briar College Book Shop

Sweet Briar House, the original plantation home and the home of Sweet Briar’s presidents, may be the finest building on campus. Like Cram’s campus complex, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Virginia Historic Landmark. Built in the late 18th century, the two-story, six-room, red brick farmhouse was originally called Locust Ridge. After traveling to Italy in the 1850s, the Fletcher family remodeled the home, adding three-story Tuscan-style towers with wrought-iron balconies at either end, connecting them with upper and lower arched galleries and painting it pale yellow to transform it into an Italianate villa.Sweet Briar House

Inside, the 22-room home features heart pine floors, keystone arched doorways, two formal parlors, and 12 fireplaces, some with carved Carrara marble mantels imported from Italy. Many of the furnishings on the lower level of the house play an important part of its history, such as a blue enamel and ormolu 19th century Sevres clock and urns, brass and crystal girandoles, great pier and overmantel mirrors, and family portraits in gold leaf frames. Daisy's Garden, Sweet Briar House

Elijah Fletcher planted many of the Norway spruces, cathedral yews, black walnuts, Southern magnolias, hemlocks, holly and horse chestnut trees that surround Sweet Briar House. He also was responsible for the magnificent boxwoods which are such a striking feature of the garden.

Behind Sweet Briar House stands the Garden Cottage – the plantation overseer’s cottage that later served as a guest house — and a one-room 19th-century slave cabin that later served as a museum of farm tools.

Tapped for Tau Phi, Sweet Briar CollegeThe neighboring Sweet Briar Museum houses the Fletcher and Williams family collections of lace, clothing, silver, jewelry and decorative arts, including Chinese and Japanese artifacts from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia. Daisy’s harp is one of the original pieces of Sweet Briar Plantation furniture on display. The museum also displays memorabilia like the daisy pendants given to the first graduating classes and the elliptical class rings with blue, green, purple or black gemstones etched with the Sweet Briar seal and adorned with columns and roses on the shank, immediately recognizable on the little finger of an alumna’s left hand. Other memorabilia illustrate the four class symbols rooted in Sweet Briar plantation history: the swans that swam on the lake; the peacocks that roamed the grounds of Sweet Briar House; the cement lions that flanked the front steps of Sweet Briar House; and the magnificent oak tree that once stood beside Fletcher Hall. Artifacts illustrate other charming Sweet Briar traditions like the tap clubs for which students displaying certain talents or characteristics are selected. I was a member of Tau Phi, a group of 13 juniors and seniors who promote scholarship and learning.

My daily walks were my time to relish Sweet Briar’s gorgeous surroundings. Some days, I’d go to the boathouse and watch fellow students canoeing in the lake that had been formed when the little stream where Daisy used to fish was dammed.  Other times, I’d stroll by the charming homes of professors and staff that line Faculty Row, Woodland Road and Elijah Road, the road to what was in plantation days the only route to Amherst, Sweet Briar’s neighboring town. Sweet Briar College

On my way to check on the 19th-century apple orchard in another part of campus, I’d admire the octagonal-shaped reception room of the Florence Elston Inn and Conference Center. Its mantelpiece, Hepplewhite-style end tables, coffee table, hunt board and butler’s tray were all hand-carved from local cherry wood.

Longer excursions took me on the “Dairy Loop,” a three-mile route that winds its way up and down hills, past fields, woods and dells. The loop begins at the former Sweet Briar train station that was turned into a ceramics studio, with a large red caboose parked outside.Sweet Briar College

A bluebird box-lined gravel path leads to Monument Hill, the burial ground of the Fletcher and Williams family. On Founders’ Day in early October, a bagpiper leads the entire Sweet Briar community to Monument Hill to place daisies on the graves of Indiana, John Henry and Daisy. Monument Hill, Sweet Briar CollegeThe route continues past the Harriet Howell Rogers Riding Center, one of the best equestrian facilities in the country. Sweet Briar’s national-champion riders train in three spacious outdoor rings, a hunter trials course and one of the largest indoor arenas in the country.

The Dairy Loop ends at the Sweet Briar Farm, which grew and sold feed crops such as hay, alfalfa and corn, and the Sweet Briar Dairy, which produced whole and lowfat milk, cream, butter and for years, the only European-style yoghurt produced in Virginia. From the early 1960s until 1994, Jan Osinga, a native of Holland, supervised the college’s 450 Holstein cows in providing over 3 million pounds of milk to the Sweet Briar community, the Lynchburg area, and the Air Force and Navy in Newport News annually.

Three meals a day at Prothro Commons made those walks necessary. Menus of my day featured fudge pie, made-to-order omelets, scrambled eggs with cheese, London Broil, squash casserole, grilled shrimp, “Cheese Betty,” Mexican buffets and Easter dinners with a huge bunny-shaped sheet cake. Sweet Briar’s signature chocolate macaroons and “Rosa Franklins”– brown-sugar meringue cookies with pecans — are served at special events. On Doughnut Thursday, a Sweet Briar tradition for more than 30 years, at least 135 yeast doughnuts are made by hand with an old-fashioned cutter, fried and glazed by hand each week. For a time, special Sweet Briar events called for the college’s own white, red and Chardonnay table wines, each made from Virginia-grown grapes and bottled in Virginia, with distinctive pink and green Sweet Briar labels.  

This situation may be devastating, but it may not be hopeleSweet Briar College graduation , May 26, 1991ss.  Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. was formed by a group of alumnae. Its mission is to halt the closing of the college and create a plan for Sweet Briar’s long-term viability. 

As I sang at my graduation on May 26, 1991, may beautiful Sweet Briar’s foundations ever be as strong as her hills. 

Posted in Architecture, History, Sweet Briar College, Virginia | Leave a comment

Start Your Engine And Make Tracks To The Honda Heritage Center

Visit the new Honda Heritage Center in Marysville and you’ll discover the Japanese corporation’s contributions to the manufacturing of automobiles, motorcycles, generators, lawn mowers, outboard motors, airplanes and even robots.

Honda Heritage Center

The museum, which opened to the public on January 5, is housed in a sleek complex across the street from Honda’s Marysville assembly plant, where every new Honda Accord sold in America is built.

Honda Heritage Center

Ohio Governor James Rhodes played an important role in Honda’s decision to make Marysville the home of its first manufacturing facility in the United States. In 1979, the company began producing motorcycles there, quickly followed by automobiles. When the plant opened, Marysville-based associates numbered 53; today, about 14,000 wear Honda’s signature white uniform. Emphasizing associate teamwork and plant cleanliness, the uniform was designed with hidden buttons to prevent products from being scratched during production.

The first thing Honda Heritage Center visitors spot is a lineup of key vehicles from Honda’s history, including the first models of motorcycles and cars made in Ohio. For example, the Elsinore was the first Honda product to roll off the Marysville Motorcycle Plant’s assembly line in September 1979. A 1980 Elsinore CR250R is a shining example of Honda’s revolutionary two-stroke motocross bike. The luxurious 1982 GL1100 Gold Wing, produced exclusively in Ohio, is outfitted with saddlebags, a trunk and other eye-catching features like two-tone paint.

Honda Heritage Center

In the main display area, the handprints of Honda founder Soichiro Honda (1906-1991), made during his last visit to Ohio in 1989…

Honda Heritage Center

…join engines and transmissions to encircle a disassembled engine surrounded by suspended parts.Honda Heritage Center

Sports cars and race cars are parked just beyond it. A 2005 Honda Racing Odyssey that was the first minivan sanctioned for racing by the Sports Car Club of America has a custom suspension and brakes, 19-inch sport tires, and a side-exit exhaust system with a high-flow intake enabling a 285-horsepower engine output. Race car fans can step inside two oversized racing helmets and play the Honda Racing Experience, a 3D immersive game.

Honda Heritage Center

Visitors can also see a version of Honda’s humanoid manufacturing robot, known as ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility). This 4’3”, 110-pound robot can walk, run, run backward and hop on one or two legs. ASIMO’s multi-fingered hand allows it to perform precise tasks, such as picking up a bottle and twisting off the cap and communicating in both American and Japanese sign language.

Honda Heritage Center

Along the perimeter of the room, peer inside a Honda jet…

Honda Heritage Center

…then pay homage to the Honda Civic.  Introduced in 1973, the ever-popular Civic was a marked contrast to the hefty V8-powered, rear-wheel drive vehicles popular at the time. With front-wheel drive, a short rear deck, a hatchback and a short hood — made possible by mounting the four-cylinder engine sideways — the Civic earned points for its roominess, utility and convenience. This 1975 Honda Civic featured the low-emission, high-fuel efficiency CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) engine.

Honda Heritage Center

Parked nearby is a 1987 “Civic Renaissance Experimental” CRX Si, an original Honda car for America that could achieve a fuel economy of 50 miles per gallon. This sporty, performance-oriented car enjoyed a following among young drivers of my generation, including a few of my friends.Honda Heritage Center

Other products from Honda’s past include the 1971 N600, the first Honda automobile sold in America in 1970. This peppy, technologically advanced little automobile boasted a top speed of 80 miles per hour and fuel economy of almost 32 miles per gallon. At 122 inches long, it could actually fit between the wheels of some full-size American vehicles that were typical of the time.Honda Heritage Center

While Hondas might be the star attractions of the museum, the vintage Honda ads on display are equally worth admiring.

“You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda,” a circa-1959 marketing campaign, helped establish Honda as the motorcycle of choice for young people looking for practical transportation. In the 1970s, Honda’s “We Make It Simple” advertising campaign introduced simple Honda concepts that became industry standards. For example, when most automobiles required at least two keys – one for the door and trunk and another for the ignition – Honda introduced a car key that not only worked in the door, ignition, hatch and gas cap, but also could be put in the ignition with either side up.Honda Heritage Center

The Honda Heritage Center is located at 24025 Honda Parkway in Marysville, Ohio. Free, self-guided tours are available by reservation only on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:00; Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:00, 10:00 and 12:00; and Saturdays at 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00. The center is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Call 937-644-6888 for more information.

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Spending St. Nicholas Day in New York City Was An Enchanted Experience

Wonderful crowd on the @TODAYshow plaza despite the rain. Thanks for stopping by to visit!!,” NBC’s Weekend Today Show Meteorologist Dylan Dreyer tweeted on Saturday, December 6.

Two hours later, we peeked in the studio’s windows, watched Dylan, Lester Holt and their colleagues for a few minutes, and then embarked on our journey to the northernmost end of Manhattan. During the next 15 hours, we marveled at some of New York City’s famous holiday window displays, explored medieval art and monastery architecture at The Cloisters, dined in a refurbished cobblestone cottage and admired Neapolitan peasants and Stradivarius violins at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rockefeller Center’s glittering angels heralded our arrival at Saks Fifth Avenue. Six animated scenes from classic fairy tales were depicted in Art Deco style, with iconic New York locations providing the backdrop. “An Enchanted Experience” included Rumplestiltskin spinning straw into gold in subway tunnels, Rapunzel swinging by her hair from the Empire State Building, and Snow White being tempted by an evil apple seller in Times Square.Saks Fifth Avenue window, New York City

At Lord & Taylor, we looked through an oversized keyhole of an magical mansion where paintings of pets come to life, redbirds tweet from festive birdhouses and ballerina marionettes pirouette.Lord & Taylor window, New York City

Up Fifth Avenue, at Tiffany & Company, we peered into jewel-box vitrines to see vignettes of life in New York City. Jewelry sparkled from miniature billboards, taxi trunks and around a Central Park campfire. Inspired by the fireworks display created for the Tiffany Diamond at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, massive “jewels” illuminated the store’s façade.Tiffany & Co. window, New York City

We found “Inspiration” across the street at Bergdorf Goodman, where each window was devoted to one of the arts. Theatrical settings and tricks of perspective transformed ordinary store windows into a silent film set, performance stages and studios for architectural drawings, sculpture and painting. In the “Literature” vitrine, portraits of famous writers like Jane Austen and Mark Twain were rendered in tapestry, needlepoint, macramé and felt appliqué.Bergdorf Goodman window, New York City

On Madison Avenue, a black model train wound its way through a forest of white dowels in the windows of Calvin Klein. A block north, film director Baz Luhrmann and his wife, costume and production designer Catherine Martin, created “Baz Dazzled” for Barneys New York. “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived,” read a motto inscribed on a banner over dazzling windows celebrating beauty, truth and freedom.

Barneys New York window, New York City

Beauty is what we found at the end of the M4 bus line, after making our way northward from Madison Avenue to Broadway to Fort Washington Avenue and West 190th Street. Our destination was Fort Tryon Park.

During the Revolutionary War, the area was known as Fort Washington; then, the British renamed it for Sir William Tryon, the last British governor of colonial New York. Later, wealthy 19th-century New Yorkers built elegant estates there. In 1917, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. acquired the land, later purchasing acreage on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River — known as the Palisades — to preserve Fort Tryon’s spectacular views of the river. In 1931, Rockefeller donated the land to the City of New York; in 1935, he hired Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., son of the designer of Central Park, to transform the site into a 67-acre park, with terraces, wooded slopes, and eight miles of pedestrian paths from which visitors could enjoy the view.

The site was so much like the setting of a medieval monastery that Rockefeller decided to have a building erected for displaying magnificent medieval artwork.

The Cloisters, New York City

In 1925, Rockefeller helped The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchase sculptor George Grey Barnard’s extensive collection of Romanesque and Gothic sculptures, as well as portions of cloisters that Barnard salvaged from four French monasteries at Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, and Trie, all dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Rockefeller also donated dozens of medieval works of art from his private collection to enhance the museum’s holdings from this period.

Boston architect Charles Collens designed the building, patterning the northeast elevation after a 12th-century French church. He incorporated features of a tower at Cuxa in his design for the tower, and modeled the Gothic Chapel after 13th-century French chapels. Roof and floor tiles were copied from examples excavated at Cuxa. Beams for the ceilings, planks for the doors, and glass for the windows came from old buildings. The courtyard and the entrance driveways are paved with Belgian blocks, taken from old New York streets in the Wall Street area, suggestive of old European cobblestones.

The Cloisters opened on May 10, 1938. Seventy-five years later, an aura of peace, serenity and quiet pervades The Cloisters, creating the lovely setting for medieval art that Rockefeller intended.

European monastery buildings surrounded a central cloister, an open courtyard bordered by covered, arcaded walkways reminiscent of the peristyles in Roman houses. When monks weren’t meeting in the monastery’s Chapter House, they came to the cloister to meditate and study. At The Cloisters, you can explore a 12th-century Romanesque Chapter House from the French Aquitaine, as well as four cloisters.

Decades ago, I purchased Erica Wilson’s Cloister Garden Sampler from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Store. When I encountered the Cuxa Cloister, the finished sampler that hangs in my bedroom came to life. An arcade of capitals decorated with acanthus leaves, palms, vines, bunches of grapes, rosettes, animals and people borders a garden divided into four quadrants, each planted with a crabapple tree in the center and bordered by flowering plants and herbs known during the Middle Ages. An eight-sided 13th-century fountain from a French monastery is the focal point of the garden. Potted Mediterranean plants like myrtle and bay laurel, together with olive and bitter orange trees, line the arcade during the wintertime.

The Cloisters, New York City

The Bonnefont Cloister garden features a symmetrical planting of herbs and quince trees around a 15th-century Venetian well. In the Trie Cloister garden, a fountain stands at the center of a rectangular plot with 80 species of plants, evocative of the millefleurs (“thousand flowers”) backgrounds of medieval tapestries. Raised beds of herb plantings are bordered by bricks and wattle fences in the Bennefont-en-Comminges Cloister garden. The plants are grouped and labeled according to their medieval usage, from medicinal and culinary needs to those providing pigments used for painting manuscripts and dyeing textiles, such as weld (yellow), madder (red), and woad (blue).

The Cloisters, New York City

As we walked through the galleries surrounding the cloisters, we discovered piece after beautiful piece of incredible artwork.

Yellow stained-glass roundels popular in 15th-century Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands are displayed in windows with leaded glass panes that look out over the river. The natural light from the windows imparts liveliness to the stained glass that is difficult for other museums to convey.The Cloisters, New York City

An unusual circa 1480-limewood statue of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, from a parish church in Ebern, Bavaria, still has much of its original paint. Appliques of gold leaf and glazes that were popular in Germany at the time simulate a brocade pattern on St. Anne’s dress. Burn marks from candles visible along the front edge of the sculpture indicate that it was a devotional image.The Cloisters, New York City

Figures dressed in elaborate Burgundian court costumes adorn the only complete set of painted playing cards known to survive from the Middle Ages.

The Cloisters, New York City

In the recently restored Late Gothic Hall, there’s a huge 16th-century Spanish tapestry celebrating the birth of Jesus that had been cut into four pieces and then rewoven together. Nearby, I spotted an intricately carved lindenwood statue by our old friend, Tilman Riemenschneider of Franconia, Germany.

The Cloisters, New York City

The prized Unicorn Tapestries, six magnificent 15th-century tapestries representing the Hunt of the Unicorn, were a gift of the Rockefellers. Their millefleurs backgrounds represent 101 species of plants typical of the time; 85 have been identified.

The Cloisters, New York City

Other features of this gallery were a Book of Hours and a diptych used for private devotions, together with something I’d never heard of before — an aquamanile. This 15th-century copper vessel in the shape of a unicorn was made in Nuremberg, Germany and was used for washing hands, both in liturgical and secular settings. Water was poured through a covered opening at the top of this distinctive creation and dispensed through a spigot in the unicorn’s chest.

The Cloisters, New York City

The highlight of my visit was the Campin Room, furnished with a late 15th-century painted pine ceiling from the Tyrol, high-backed oak and walnut benches, a wall bracket with a reflector to increase the illumination of candlelight, a Flemish bronze chandelier, majolica and lusterware.

The Cloisters, New York City

There, I found another old friend from my art history classes. The Annunciation Triptych (Mérode Triptych) painted by Robert Campin circa 1375-1444, is a splendid example of northern European art. Strong foreshortening, together with meticulously painted strands of hair, folds of drapery, and the view of a city seen through an open window, demonstrate the careful attention to detail that defines this period of art history. The center panel depicts the Annunciation in a unique secular setting. On the right panel of the oil painting, Saint Joseph works on a mousetrap. Since private devotion was so important during this time, people imagined themselves as witnesses to events in the Bible, so the man who commissioned the triptych and his wife are depicted on the left panel.

The Cloisters, New York City

To ensure a respectful setting for these sacred works of art and provide a contemplative atmosphere in which to view them, The Cloisters relies on digital audioguides instead of captions and wall panels to provide information about the collection. Subdued background colors make for an unobtrusive setting that does not detract from the artwork and architectural fragments on display.

Frequent musical concerts are held in Fuentidueña Chapel at The Cloisters. The day we were there, Ensemble Organum from France and Christos Chalkias, a chanter from Thessaloniki, Greece, gave In Praise of Saint Nicholas, a program of hymns, Latin and Greek Byzantine antiphonal chants, and excerpts from the emblematic manuscript of the Cathedral of Benevento, Italy to celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas.

Fort Tryon Park is also home to New Leaf, a restaurant housed in the park’s original concession building. In 1995, Bette Midler and her friends discovered the dilapidated building in the neglected park, revitalized it through her founding of the New York Restoration Project, and supported its opening in 2001. Its cobblestone exterior, slate roof and granite archways are complemented by oak trusses that support its 18-foot-high ceiling. It’s a wonderful place for brunch on weekends.

New Leaf restaurant, New York City

Finally, we spent a few hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Wayne admired his first glimpse of the towering Christmas spruce on which over 50 silk-robed angels hover over hundreds of figures in a Neapolitan Baroque crèche scene. In the André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments, we admired Wayne as he told us about how Baroque violins are tuned at a lower pitch, have a shorter neck and fingerboard, and are without chin and shoulder rests. Click here to see “The Francesca” violin by Antonio Stradivari that we saw and here for other violins on display.

Angel tree, Metropolitan Museum of ArtTo read more about The Cloisters, see The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture, by Peter Barnet and Nancy Wu; A Walk Through The Cloisters, by Bonnie Young; Creating the Cloisters,” by Timothy B. Husband, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, volume 70, number 4 (Spring 2013); George Grey Barnard: The Cloisters and The Abbaye,” by J.L. Schrader, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, volume 37, number 1 (Summer, 1979), and Medieval Monuments at The Cloisters and The Cloisters: The Building and the Collection of Medieval Art in Fort Tryon Park, both by James J. Rorimer. Also, watch The Cloisters Museum and Gardens – Erica Wilson's Cloister Garden SamplerBehind the Scenes with the Director, a video tour of The Cloisters with Tom Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Peter Barnet, curator in charge of medieval art and The Cloisters. The page also provides links to other videos about the collections, medieval art and The Cloisters; footage of The Cloisters under construction, and “The Hidden Talisman,” a 1928 film telling the story of the history of The Cloisters that was shot at the original Cloisters museum.  This video describes the painstaking restoration of the 16th-century Spanish tapestry in the Late Gothic Hall that took place between 1973 and 2009, including designing and dying yarns specifically for the project.

For more about this year’s holiday windows, see “Holiday Window Displays Lure Them Inside, by Dazzling Outside,” from the November 30, 2014 issue of the New York Times.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Holidays, Museums, Travel | 1 Comment

Splendid Seasonal Music Filled Two Sacred Settings

“Let’s approach this Advent in a new and different way, folks,” wrote the Very Rev. Michael Lumpe, rector of Saint Joseph Cathedral, on the first Sunday of Advent. “Let’s all begin our lives of faith anew, in hopeful anticipation for our Lord, our Savior, and our Redeemer – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

I can always count on Father Lumpe to share some meaningful advice, and this was no exception. One of the ways I followed his suggestion was by taking a break from the busyness of preparing for Christmas to attend two splendid concerts. Both provided welcome opportunities to contemplate and rejoice in the reason for this special season.

First, we spent a delightful hour with the Magpie Consort, a Columbus-based mixed vocal ensemble that specializes in an a cappella repertoire of Medieval motets and plainsong, Renaissance madrigals and sacred polyphony, 18th-century Psalmody, 20th-century compositions and folk songs. Just like its feathered inspiration, the 14-member group produced a rich layer of sounds.The Magpie Consort in concert at St. John's Episcopal Church

In a concert titled “A Christmas Remembered: Seasonal Selections in the Magpie Tradition,” the 14 singers performed 22 selections that first followed the Christmas story from the expectation of Christ’s coming to the Nativity, then announced Christ’s birth in the languages and music of four continents. Percussionist Roland Hatcher accompanied the group on several selections.

Joining in on classics like “Wexford Carol;” “Carol of the Bells;” and “Caroling, Caroling” was tempting, but we kept quiet and enjoyed listening to new favorites like “Taladh Chriosta” (Lullaby to the Christ Child); “I Sing of a Maiden;” “Ecce Novum Gaudium” (Behold a New Joy!), from 17th-century Scotland; and the traditional Neapolitan tune, “Quando nascette Ninno” (When the Baby Was Born).Needlepoint kneeler, St. John's Episcopal Church, Worthington

The setting was St. John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington, built between 1827 and 1831. The singers performed in the sanctuary, where four original pillars constructed from milled solid black walnut tree trunks and encased in plaster still stand.  Besides hand-hewn native cherry and butternut woods, the interior features dozens of beautiful hand-stitched needlepoint kneelers.

Then, we attended Lessons and Carols at Saint Joseph Cathedral. This splendid concert was given by the Cathedral Choir and its director, Paul Thornock; Principal Organist Robert Wisniewski; and the nine members of Cathedral Brass.St. Joseph Cathedral

The choir sung Latin motets from the Renaissance and Victorian eras; Johannes Brahms’ “O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf;” Mormon Tabernacle Choir Music Director Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “Ding! Dong! Merrily on High;” and Hubert Parry’s “I Sing the Birth,” with words by Ben Jonson. The standing-room-only audience chimed in with the choir to sing carols like “Once in Royal David’s City;” Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”; and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Msgr. Stephan Moloney joined members of the Cathedral’s congregation, its deacons and Father Lumpe in reading nine Scripture passages related to the birth of Jesus.

The Magpie Consort will be singing at Franklin Park Conservatory on Saturday, December 20 at 7:00 pm.

The next event in the Cathedral Music 2014-2015 Concert Series is Music for Brass and Organ. It takes place Sunday, January 25, 2015 at 3:00 pm. Additionally, the men of the Cathedral Choir chant the Office of Compline in a 30-minute service at 9:00 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month. Listen to psalms, short passages from scripture, a hymn, a canticle (Nunc Dimittis), a responsory, collect and additional prayers next on Sunday, January 4, 2015. For more information, click here.

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