Midwestern Idyll

I went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art of a rainy day this week when it was relatively calm and quiet – most galleries I had to myself – perfect for the contemplation of art. And this is not usually possible when there is a mad crush of people in the rooms.  By steering clear of special exhibits most of the permanent collection, with the exception of the Egyptian rooms, can be enjoyed crowd free during weekdays now that summer has ended.

 John Steuart Curry’s Wisconsin Landscape, 1938-39

I grew up in Wisconsin and Iowa – in a suburb of Milwaukee and then later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And finally a stint in Missouri while attending Washinton University in St. Louis. After a summer in Washington, DC interning at the now defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art, I was more determined than ever to move to the East Coast. So by the next summer I was living in Boston.

But I still had my family in Wisconsin and Iowa, so there have been many trips back – some in summer when the fields look as gorgeous as they do in Curry’s landscape above. And other times in late December when the fields are frozen and covered in crisp white snow and the few remaining red barns stand out as cardinals do amidst the more modest plumage of their avian companions.

 Thomas Hart Benton’s July Hay, 1943

And Missouri landscapes such as Thomas Hart Benton’s July Hat harken back to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Harvesters. Though Benton’s figures and the land have that strange twisted aspect, almost Mannerist in feel, but contorted in a more compact way.

 Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, Breda (?) ca. 1525–1569 Brussels),     The Harvesters, 1565

And finally the last in the trio of Regionalists, Grant Wood, who lived and had his artist’s studio for many years in Cedar Rapids at 5 Turner Alley.

 Photo by Mark Tade

Interior view of 5 Turner Alley, looking east, c. 1925, courtesy of Figge Art Museum, Grant Wood archives, photo by John W. Barry.

Here again as with Benton, and unlike the realism of Curry, we have a contrived bird’s eye view of a little Massachusetts hamlet. Cartoonish hills and rounded surveys set against the angular architecture and a huge spotlight on the town center – the light of an over bright moon to light Paul Revere’s way? Wood subject derives from history by way of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And so full circle from the Midwest to the East Coast. Enjoy the poem! 

 Grant Wood’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931

Paul Revere’s Ride 

Listen my children and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march

By land or sea from the town to-night,

Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch

Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–

One if by land, and two if by sea;

And I on the opposite shore will be,

Ready to ride and spread the alarm

Through every Middlesex village and farm,

For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar

Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,

Just as the moon rose over the bay,

Where swinging wide at her moorings lay

The Somerset, British man-of-war;

A phantom ship, with each mast and spar

Across the moon like a prison bar,

And a huge black hulk, that was magnified

By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street

Wanders and watches, with eager ears,

Till in the silence around him he hears

The muster of men at the barrack door,

The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,

And the measured tread of the grenadiers,

Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,

By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,

To the belfry chamber overhead,

And startled the pigeons from their perch

On the sombre rafters, that round him made

Masses and moving shapes of shade,–

By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,

To the highest window in the wall,

Where he paused to listen and look down

A moment on the roofs of the town

And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,

In their night encampment on the hill,

Wrapped in silence so deep and still

That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,

The watchful night-wind, as it went

Creeping along from tent to tent,

And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”

A moment only he feels the spell

Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread

Of the lonely belfry and the dead;

For suddenly all his thoughts are bent

On a shadowy something far away,

Where the river widens to meet the bay,–

A line of black that bends and floats

On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,

Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride

On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.

Now he patted his horse’s side,

Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,

Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,

And turned and tightened his saddle girth;

But mostly he watched with eager search

The belfry tower of the Old North Church,

As it rose above the graves on the hill,

Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height

A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!

He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,

But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight

A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,

A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,

And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark

Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;

That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,

The fate of a nation was riding that night;

And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,

Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,

And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,

Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;

And under the alders that skirt its edge,

Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,

Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock

When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.

He heard the crowing of the cock,

And the barking of the farmer’s dog,

And felt the damp of the river fog,

That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,

When he galloped into Lexington.

He saw the gilded weathercock

Swim in the moonlight as he passed,

And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,

Gaze at him with a spectral glare,

As if they already stood aghast

At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,

When he came to the bridge in Concord town.

He heard the bleating of the flock,

And the twitter of birds among the trees,

And felt the breath of the morning breeze

Blowing over the meadow brown.

And one was safe and asleep in his bed

Who at the bridge would be first to fall,

Who that day would be lying dead,

Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read

How the British Regulars fired and fled,—

How the farmers gave them ball for ball,

>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,

Chasing the redcoats down the lane,

Then crossing the fields to emerge again

Under the trees at the turn of the road,

And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;

And so through the night went his cry of alarm

To every Middlesex village and farm,—

A cry of defiance, and not of fear,

A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,

And a word that shall echo for evermore!

For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,

Through all our history, to the last,

In the hour of darkness and peril and need,

The people will waken and listen to hear

The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,

And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

 

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A Happy Discovery

  Several years ago my favorite postcard went missing. I use them as bookmarks and assumed I had accidentally left it in a book I returned to the library. I lost this particular bookmark before.  Luckily I missed it almost immediately and raced back and found the book reshelved in the Yorkville branch of the New York Public Library with my bookmark still inside!

This morning while doing some research I opened a book and viola!      

 Postcard of Laus Veneris, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

I’ve had this postcard since my freshman year of college. I bought it at the campus bookstore at Washington University in St. Louis little knowing that I would go on to study the Pre-Raphaelites for my senior project and later my MA thesis. And I found the bookmark in an exhibition catalog for a show at the Peabody Essex Museum on the Maya – the subject of my second MA thesis.  Not sure what the universe is trying to tell me – one obsession lost and lodged within another, both of them pushed aside too often as I work through my daily life in a largely unrelated field. 

The culprit that swallowed my bookmark.

The subject of the painting is from Tannhäuser, a German Minnesinger (writer of lyric poems and songs), who died after 1265. Little is known about him, his poems date from 1245 to 1265, and his lineage is assumed to related to the Lords of Thannhausen in Bavaria. He was a courtier at the court of Frederick II of Austria (1230–1246), 

  Tannhäuser in the Codex Manesse (1340) 

Here he wears the habit of the Teutonic Order and may have fought the Fifth Crusade (1213–21). Tannhäuser  became a legend and was transformed over the centuries into a knight and poet who found the Venusberg (Venus’ underground dwelling) and lived with her there, worshipping the goddess. For a year. He if silly leaves and travels to Rome to ask forgiveness from Pope Urban IV. The Pope declares this as impossible as it is for his papal staff to blossom and Tannhäuser leaves. Three days later, Urban’s staff blooms with flowers. Messeengers are sent to recall the knight but he has returned messengers to Venusberg and is never to be seen again.

Though the Tannhäuser story is only a legend I feel that the current Pope would not have sent Tannhäuser away with that answer.   

 Pope Francis at the 9/11 Memorial on Friday, September 25, 2015.                John Minchillo/AP Photo 

 

Timeless Shakespeare and Ephemeral Fashion

So I finally did get a New York Fashion Week invitation from Miu Miu and went there on Thursday night to a gathering at their 57th Street boutique. The charming Lorena greeted my friend and me at the door and showed us the new perfume that was just launched as well as the new handbags – gorgeous but unaffordable for me, I purchased the fragrance.

  
My friend and me at the event, on the second floor, amidst the fall fashions.

  
A coat very much like my grandmother’s (which I inherited after she passed away almost 25 years years ago now.)

  
Grandma’s coat – I’m not a fan of fur, but this is the only item that belonged to my grandmother that I have – so I do keep it and wear it in the winter.

  
A lovely suede boot.

  
We stayed at the party briefly and then headed out for drinks and appetizers at the Harvard Club and I went to a lecture by Neil Rudenstine on Shakespeare’s Sonnets. I hadn’t seen him for 20 years, so it was delightful to hear him lecture on his speciality, Renaissance literature, after last knowing him as President of Harvard.

 

Glyn Maxwell’s review of Ideas of Order in The New York Times, on January 30, 2015, ends with this paragraph:

Who is the poet of Shakespeare’s sonnets? Not who was he — who cares? — who is he? Which is it? Now or forever? Life or work? Rage or resignation? Boys or girls? It’s so hard to describe him, except to say he constantly changes his mind, thinks of everything, states it beautifully and cannot entertain an idea without imagining its polar opposite. He should probably write plays.

And returning to Miu Miu, the brand has been running a series of short films called “Women’s Tales” with the latest by Agnès Varda. The contradiction between the offering of a gift of fashion to a young girl more interested in education is a compelling one. I have enjoyed watching the whole Prada and Miu Miu brand concept of Muiccia Prada  develop over the years. As a feminist, former Communist and a woman with a Ph.D in political science, Ms. Prada is not your typical fashion designer. The Jolie Laide concept of the lines and their advertising campaigns have always drawn me in. Though I love brands that are simply gorgeous with beautiful feminine dresses such as those produced by Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera, Prada and Miu Miu often have a certain awkwardness or ugliness that makes them more intriguing. As if they were works of modern art – you need to understand the background and philosophy of the artist before you can appreciate what you are being offered. 

I was happy to see the button collector also featured in “Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse” in the short film below – enjoy!

http://www.miumiu.com/en/women_tales/10/film?cmp=internal_mail_en_ENG_comm_les3boutons_04092015

Through the Looking Glasss

It’s Fashion Week in New York and again my invitations went astray. Just kidding – I can’t afford what most of the shows are displaying in any case, but it’s always exciting to see collections from inventive new designers or new creative chiefs showing their first collection for a house.

I did see the MET’s China Through the Looking Glass exhibit several times this summer and enjoyed the beauty of the dresses – especially those displayed in close proximity to the Buddhist sculptures as here with Guo Pei’s lotus flower dress. If the show had not been so crowded this room could have served as a place of quiet contemplation.

  
 My favorites were the Gallliano designed Diors in the Astor Court which was transformed into “Moon in the Water,” the Chinese translation of “through the looking glass.”

    
The show was a multimedia extravaganza with film clips chosen by Wong Kar-wai throughout the three floors of the exhibit.  Curator Andrew Bolton designed an experience that was visually rich and extravagant. A fine integration of the art and fashion and the cross currents of East and West influencing and interpreting and misinterpreting each other through centuries of contact from early trade in silks, through the history of opium, the Cultural Revolution and beyond to the present. These are light touches at history, but it is all there and may provoke deeper thoughts about cultural appropiations and uses after leaving the crush of visitors in the galleries.

The title of the exhibit seems apt – a world all topsy turvy and difficult to define – what is dream and what is reality.

 John Tenniel 

Lions and griffins and bees

I’ve been seeing animals all around the city – live ones certainly, but of course many representations of beasts in art, architecture and store windows. Though I love visits to the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo, there is always the tension between the excitement of seeing the animals up close and the realization of how compromised their lives are in captivity. I know zoological foundations do much to help the wild cousins of the creatures on display, but I can’t help but feel sorrow for the animals in the zoo enclosures. 

Upper East Side lions – there are so many in all the boroughs guarding  people’s homes!

  

  

Not a lion but a young snow leopard at the Central Park Zoo.

  

Griffins are all over the city too – this one in The Metropolitan Museum of Art is from a bronze cauldron. Judging from the griffin’s size the cauldron itself must have been enormous! Many of these, including this one, were from Olympia at the sanctuary dedicated to Zeus. It certainly makes sense that the king of the gods would merit a super sized one. According to Herodotus, a cauldron created for King Kroisos of Lydia could hold 2,700 gallons.

  
And bees – I love bumblebees and try to grow flowers that will entice them to my terrace. I found this fellow in a The Conservatory Garden in Central  Park.

  
And then this large fellow on Fifth Avenue in the Gucci window.

   
 

Not sure those are the types of flowers that would attract him, but as he’s holding a handbag he’d be hard pressed to gather pollen right now in any case!

A Room of One’s Own

It’s been a long time since I read Virginia Woolfe – probably time to dip into her writings again.

Below are images of my favorite period room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If only it was my own room. I adore the soft blue that is so calming mixed with the playful floral motifs and the golden accents framing every panel. The alcove seems the perfect place to read and contemplate and with a small desk on the opposite side for writing. A perfect tiny world!

   
  

This tiny but precious paneling lined boudoir walls were created for Louis-Marie-Augustin, fifth duc d’Aumont (1709 – 1782). The room was in an unfinished townhouse he rented in 1776 that was constructed for the builder Louis-François Trouard (1729 – 1794 ) and designed by Jacques-Ange Gabriel (1698 – 1782) standing in what is now the place de la Concorde in Paris. The interior design was the work of the architect Pierre- Adrien Pâris. Only six years later the hôtel was purchased by François-Félix-Dorothée des Balbes de Berton, comte de Crillon (1748 – 1820) remaining in their family until the early 20th century.

And speaking of hotels, but not the private townhouse type in Paris, this weekend I am staying at The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee for my step-sister’s wedding here. Gorgeous painted ceilings and very ornate furnishings throughout the older portion of hotel. Be sure to visit even if just for a look if you’re in downtown Milwaukee.

     

Indonesia and Burma and Restless Dreams as Summer Winds Down

I am fascinated by shadow puppets and marionettes. I started collecting them in while in graduate school with a dream of someday visiting Java, Bali and Burma (Myanmar). That dream is yet unfulfilled but planning has begun and will have to include a trip to Borneo too. 

Javanese wayang klitlik puppet from my own collection.

  

Balinese shadow puppet depicting Api or Fire at the American a Museum of Natural History.

 

Javanese wayang klitlik puppets also at AMNM.

 

My Burmese marionettes.