Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Palmyra Stefania Geraki

I do not usually blog about individuals, especially individuals that I have never met. But the drawings of Palmyra Stefania Geraki compel me to praise the talents of this young architect. Geraki is one of the graduate students in the Rome: Continuity and Change studio currently on display at Yale Architecture School. Her final project is a six-part drawing of EUR, the grounds of the Esposizione Universale Roma (1935-1942). Geraki's sketchbooks, also on display, are meticulously precise. She uses an extra fine ink pen to outline and shade. On occasion, Geraki applies a wash, giving volume to the architectural forms. A drawing of the basilica of Maxentius, a staircase from EUR in orange-gray wash, an analytique of Saint Peter's piazza are my favorites. They would make a lovely collection of published images, but sadly they will most likely disappear from public view after the dismantling of Rome: Continuity and Change. Through a rudimentary web search, I have deduced that Geraki is from Thessaloniki. The metaphysical character of her drawings show elements of a Greek sensibility and a kind of Rationalism shared by Greek and Italian modernism. I look forward to seeing this young architect's work after grad school.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yale: Drawing Rome

Back in the 1980s, it was not uncommon for archaeologists to rub shoulders with established architects at the American Academy in Rome, both groups intimately invested in the city's history. At the height of postmodernism (the exciting intellectual discourse rather than the empty stylistic catch-phrase), studying Rome was vital. Robert Venturi, Leon Krier, Colin Rowe, Michael Graves, and other architectural celebrities saw Rome as the premier laboratory by which the reigns of modernism could be challenged.

Since the 1980s, Rome seems to have lost its importance in architectural discourse. Whether due to intense formalism or deconstructivist iconoclasm, even the Rome Prize Fellows did not seem to appreciate the city's architectural past. Many could really have been anywhere. The Academy in Rome simply offered good real estate and prestige.

All these thoughts came to mind, by chance, when I discovered an exhibit at Yale's School of Architecture. Although not very well signed, "Rome: Continuity and Change" is a spectacular exhibit, and in my mind, much more important than The Green House at the official gallery of the school (see yesterday's posting). While looking through The Green House, my eye caught a black-and-white plan of Rome one level above (reminding me of the famous Nolli map). Navigating through the somewhat complicated Rudolph building (great in section but not so great in navigation), I found myself walking around the offices of the Art History department (Gwathmey addition) and around the offices of Architecture Department. Before I knew it, I was outside the offices of studio faculty like Peter Eisenman (who was, of course, not there). Up on the walls of this corridor, one can see the most intriguing drawings representing (in the true sense of the word) monuments of Rome. On two tables further down, one can also flip through the sketchbooks that produced the analytical drawings on the walls.

Rome: Continuity and Change, was a studio directed by Stephen Harby (Charles Moore, UCLA) and Alexander Purves (Davis Brody Associates). In May/June 2009, thirty Yale architecture students traveled to Rome to understand the city through intensive drawing. The results are wonderful, inspiring to both architectural historians and architects. I strongly recommend this to anyone traveling through New Haven this Fall. It's a shame the show was not advertised. It would have also been great if it could travel to other venues.

The Yale Alumni Magazine (July/August 2009) describes the studio as follows: "Thirty students midway through their training spent four weeks in Rome from May 12 to June 12 for the school's annual intensive workshop, 'Rome: Continuity and Change,' in which they studied examples from the entire history of architecture, from antiquity to the present. Archeologists and historians of Rome presented in-depth lectures and on-site guided tours. 'The seminar examines historical continuity and change as well as the ways in which and the reasons why some elements and approaches were maintained over time and others abandoned,' wrote Professor Emeritus Alexander Purves '58, '65MArch, in a summary of the workshop experience. Purves and lecturer Stephen Harby led the trip. The students' experience during the workshop has been described as 'draw, draw, draw,' as they focus on buildings, landscapes, and gardens, both within and outside the city. 'The course is guided by the conviction that an essential part of an architect's formation is the first-hand experience of a broad range of buildings and places of all periods and styles,' Purves wrote. But they also took time to enjoy lectures, concerts, and urban life in general in Rome."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Yale: The Green House

I had a few hours to kill in New Haven on my way to Middletown from Lancaster, so I spent some quality time at Yale University's Architecture School -- the celebrated Paul Rudolph building (recently renovated) and its less celebrated extension by Gwathmey and Siegel (Gwathmey passed away this August). In 2006-07, the National Building Museum in Washington organized a show called The Green House: New Directions in Sustainability, and it is currently on display at Yale. The Green House is a selection of built projects that address various issues of sustainability in the city, the suburbs and the country across the world. The exhibit was sponsored by Home Depot, which is evident from its "trade-show" feel, including displays of new materials and diagrammatic suggestions on how to make your house more ecological. My favorite project was P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. by the Dutch Korteknie & Stuhlmacher Architekten, Rotterdam, 2001. Seeing the actual exhibit can be replicated by reading the catalog, Alanna Stang and Christopher Hawthorne (New York, 2005). Stang was editor of I.D. magazine and Hawthorne is architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Samuel Kassow: The Warsaw Ghetto Archive

What you see on the left is an aluminum milk can used to hide one of the most incredible archives, the Oyneg Shabes ("Joy of the Sabbath"), code word for a secret communal ethnography of the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation. Emanuel Ringelblum organized the project in 1940. On August 3, 1942, when 90% of Polish Jews had been annihilated, the last cache was buried. Of the 60-some people that contributed to the archive, only three survived the Treblinka death camps. In 1946, a group of researchers excavated through the rubble of Warsaw and found one of the three caches. Construction workers found the second cache in 1950. The third cache, buried under what is now the Chinese embassy, was never found.

The Warsaw ghetto archive has been thoroughly documented by Samuel Kassow, professor of history at Trinity College in Hartford. Tonight, I saw professor Kassow present this material at Franklin and Marshall. The talk was based on Kassow's most recent book, Who Will Write Our History?: Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive (Indiana, 2007).

The circumstances of the archive's creation and burial are incredible. Rather than summarizing the lecture, I send you to two articles, "From Beyond the Grave" (Economist, Mar. 12, 2009), and Louise Steinman's review, LA Times (Feb. 22, 2009). As I learned, The Oyneg Sabes Archive belongs to a tradition of ethnographic collecting that began in the 1890s, as an intellectual exercise of Jewish nation-building within Europe, thus much different than the famous Cairo Geniza archive. In some ways, the archive is more like StoryCorps. Ringelblum's objective was to collect real-time accounts of the ghetto from as many voices as possible (children, rabbis, intellectuals, even the ghetto's hated Jewish policemen). The story is tragic, but the archive is heroic. It is also a powerful archaeological project. Like the excavations of Franco's mass graves in Spain (the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory-ARMH), Oyneg Shabes must go down as one of the greatest case-studies of modern archaeology. I am so grateful to have seen this lecture. Dr. Kassow was able to touch on a wide array of intellectual topics. His story brought me to the edge of tears, a great way to mark Rosh Hashanah.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Kiss

When I teach the survey of Western Art and get to the chapter on the Vienna Secession, I ask students about the popularity of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss (left) inside their dorm rooms. Half of the time, students look at me like I'm from a different planet making me question my own pop-culture vintage. Sure, The Kiss was popular in the 1980s when I was in college, but perhaps things have changed over the last 20-some years. For all I know rappers have displaced the entire history of art. I am very grateful to Antiquated Vagaries for documenting the persistence of certain visual notions. During the last few weeks, Katie has been blogging on her experiences selling posters throughout American colleges. The last posting from Ithaca confirms some of our best (and worse) suspicions. It's a must for all professors of Art History, read here.

The college poster sale is one of the most interesting collegiate events, a bazaar marking the beginning of the school year, a chance to personalize space, a ritual of creating new identities. Every chance I get, I visit my college's sale simply to browse and eaves-drop. While at Clemson, I even tried to find posters that I would still place on my college space (in my office rather than my dorm). I even bought a set that I would alternate on my office door. Andy Warhol prints was at the top of the list. With the beginning of Fall 2009, I have chanced on poster sales at three different locations, the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin and Marshall College and Wesleyan University. Each has been held at a different location, usually near the bookstore. Having never met Katie, I always try to spot the sales personnel hoping to meet Katie, whom I only know as a blogger. I am so thankful that college students still need visual images for their walls even if those images are problematic.

I should also confess that my sister's college poster still hangs in our house. It's a Mediterranean scene by Matisse, a window of escape. The poster is now a quarter century old and I'm simply afraid to throw it away. It is not an image that has survived with age. I do hope there is a PhD Art Historian out there studying the college poster even if only analyzing the categories of

Monday, September 14, 2009

Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (VR), which seemed so promising in the 1990s, seems to have ran out of steam. Augmented reality (AR) is VR's new hot sibling. Rather than simulating reality from scratch, AR attaches data to the perceptible world. Imagine aiming your telephone to a certain direction and immediately getting information about what you're looking at. The new technology is quite simple. All you need is a GPS location, your viewing direction, pattern recognition software and an internet link. The Economist (Technology Quarterly, Sept. 5, 2009) pp. 20-21, thinks that VR is the wave of the future (see here). Nokia, Total Immersion, Mobilizy and other companies have already sorted this out. Next June, Wikitude will be available on iPhones. AR's ramifications for the historian are obviously profound. Imagine being able to direct your iPhone to any building and have instant access of its history. The same issue of the Economist included another interesting article about digital geography and user-derived data, see article here.

Leaving AR to the future, I spent my evening in good ole' VR. My avatar Basil Charisma visited the virtual site of Chersonesos in Second Life. Although working at a snail's pace, I have been collaborating with the excavations of a Byzantine house in Chersonesos, Crimea. Tonight, I met project director Adam Rabinowitz (UT Austin), undergraduate Jake Malone (UT Austin) and Second Life expert Carey Phillips (Bowdoin College) on the virtual island (left). In the course of the next few months, we will continue to virtually collaborate. Geeky as this may sound, I look forward to the final result. As far as I know, ours will be the first Byzantine house on Second Life. And as far as I know, I have the coolest avatar name: BASIL CHARISMA.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Graffiti Archaeology

My last posting on street art made me realize that archaeologists have not embraced modern graffiti as an object of scientific documentation. Graffiti is a vernacular art form (like tattoos and sticker art) that doesn't comfortably fit in museums (unless re-presented by Jean-Michele Basquiat or Banksy). The strength of vernacular arts derives less from creative individuality and more from the overabundance, variation and statistical distribution of its specimen. Graffiti is ephemeral, derivative and formulaic. Archaeologists and anthropologists are hence uniquely trained to document and study it. After all, archaeologists have been studying ancient graffiti for centuries. Measured drawings, location in space, codified systems of analysis and other such tools are essential in creating a complete record of an artifact that will ultimately be destroyed.

As far as I can tell, those tools have not been pervasively applied to street art. Many thanks to Nick Stap for pointing me to the direction of Graffiti Archaeology. Conceived by Cassidy Curtis, a computer programmer from San Francisco, Graffiti Archaeology is an exemplary project of recording graffiti's temporal dimension (creation, preservation, defacement). The Archaeological Institute of America understood the project's significance back in 2007, see Samir S. Patel "Writing on the Wall,"
Archaeology 60:4 (Jul./Aug. 2007). Using Flash-based animation, Curtis illustrates the changes of graffiti walls over time. Graffiti Archaeology has also built a democratic platform, where thousands of individual contribute their images to the public domain (through Flickr). Today for instance, Flickr's Graffiti Archaeology group includes 7,484 members (+1 when I signed up) and 70,338 images. The images are beautiful but lack any documentational discipline (size, scale, color value, location, angle). The only disappointing aspect of the project is that the interactive website features only 13 sites. Technical documentation is so labor intensive as to cease being democratic (Hannah Arendt comes to mind).

I know a couple of archaeologists who photograph street art and graffiti. Bill Caraher and Dimitris Plantzos, for instance, have included images on their blogs. I personally just singed up on Flickr's Graffiti Archaeology group and submit samples, like the image above, which I took in Philadelphia on May 13, 2002. I remain pessimistic, however, about the value of this endeavor. Flicks is inundated with street art images. They are simple photos, accumulating day by day, without any clear direction. I browse through Flickr's Philly Street Art group and find 381 members and 5,277 images. I cannot see how adding my image to this pool will help anyone's understanding of street art.

Speaking of ephemeral arts, I must confess that yesterday, I committed my first political act at Franklin and Marshall. I succumbed to two students and signed a petition. Arts House is a residence dedicated to art majors, who take pride in decorating theis spaces with original murals. Returning from summer vacation, the students discovered that F&M had painted all the walls without ever consulting them. From what I can tell, the college has been tightening the reigns on its properties because the city of Lancaster is inspecting more scrupoulously. Two fraternity houses, for example, were closed down because of city code violations. The residents of Arts House are petitioning more self control in the management, display and preservation of their art space. Not knowing all the details, I agreed in principle and signed the petition, encouraging the college to relinquish some control to creative interventions. The petition, however, has not addressed the more interesting question of governance. How will Arts House codify the destruction and recreation of its own murals?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Graffiti Taxonomy

Thanks to Jenn Ball for introducing me to Evan Roth's Graffiti Taxonomy: Paris 2009 after reading my medieval fonts of Middletown. Between April 24 and 29, Roth photographed 2,400 tags throughout Paris and produced a catalog of letter forms. This is truly interesting in its documentary value. Roth has done lots of other work on graffiti and is contributor to the Graffiti Research Lab. The taxonomy of fonts was sponsored by the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in conjunction with its current exhibition Born in the Street.

Last week, the
New York Times also presented a guide to Paris' best graffiti, see Lisa Pham, "Street Art that Has Staid in the Street," (NYT, Sept. 2, 2009). As graffiti matures and, in some contexts like Athens, becomes truly uncontrollable, some venues have brought this art form indoors. Istanbul's hipster neighborhood Beyoglou, for example, hosted an open-ended indoor exhibition, see Yiegal Schleifer, "Bringing Istanbul's Street Art Indoors" (NYT, Jun. 18, 2009). At the end of the article, we find a note in parentheses that would make hipster Byzantinists (like Jenn Ball) smile:

"As an added bonus, the rooftop of the building has a stunning view of the Bosphorus and the Byzantine and Ottoman monuments of Istanbul’s old city. Just ignore the empty beer bottles left over from the exhibit’s opening party as you take in the scenery."

This summer's hottest street-art news came from Bristol, where Banksy took over his hometown museum and filled it with 100 of his creations. The exhibition was conceived in complete secrecy and took the public by surprise. The show closed a couple of days ago and the BBC reported additional controversy about what to do with the installation. Although criticized as cheap one-liners, Banksy's installation was pretty wild (and some piece were atypically three-dimensional). See coverage in BBC's "Bristol versus Banksy." Staying true to his strategy of street appropriation, Banksy infiltrated the museum's permanent collection and "defaced" their meaning. See Simon de Bruxelles' review (Times, June 12, 2009).

Different institutions deal with graffiti differently. About a month ago, a controversy erupted at the University of North Dakota (thanks again to Bill for highlighting this issue) over the erasure of an art work commissioned by New York graffiti artist Rich Patterson (aka. Rich2) and UND alumnus. Ryan Sander reported the incident in Axis of Access. If you scroll through the blog's comments, you will even find the artist's own response. At the end of the day, the University will proceed with the erasure but has commissioned the artist to replace it with a new piece (reported Aug. 28, 2009).

Byzantine Capital from Olympia

A Byzantine capital was stolen from the ancient site of Olympia this week. For a thorough discussion of Olympia's Early Christian basilica (the so-called Phidias workshop), see Bill Caraher's The Mysterious Theft of a Column Capital from Olympia. Make sure to click on Caraher's handout that he prepared as professor at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. It is the best teaching aid available. When leading the American School through its Olympia field trip (Oct 17, 2007), Caraher photographed the infamous Slavic pottery discovered during the construction of the new Olympia museum. They offer some physical evidence of the (Second) Dark Age. Along with some pottery from Argos, isolated burials in Corinth, and some domestic architecture in Messene they make up the little we know about this period. Tivadar Vidar and Thomas Völling have recently rethought (and redated) the abandonment of the ancient site (connected to the flooding of the Alpheios).

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Contemporary Greek Photography

Photography journal The Black Snapper is devoting a week on contemporary Greek photography (Sept. 4-9, 2009). "The Greek Week" is curated by Hercules Papaioannou, director of Thessaloniki's Museum of Photography, and includes the work of Yannis Kontos, Georgios Makkas, Yiorgis Yerolymbos, Stratos Kalafatis, Christina Kalbari, Athena Chroni and Victor Cohen. The series has not yet ran it's course, but I hope people follow it (I read about it in Kathimerini). The Black Snapper is a Dutch journal launched this last August, seeking to create an on-line community devoted to international photography.

Kalafatis' "Redefining Thessaloniki: Work in Progress" is the series that caught my attention, especially slides 11 and 12. Reading a little bit more about Kalafatis' biography, I realized that I have actually met the guy in Philadelphia, out of all places. Kalafatis was as student at the Philadelphia Art Institute (1991-1993) at the same time I was in architecture school. The Greek graduate student circle of Philadelphia was quite tight, coalescing around Lorie Mark's infamous cafe Makam's Kitchen (and the bar Doobie's). Is our world really that small? Did the internet shrink it? From a Greek newspaper review, I found myself on a Dutch photography magazine, transported to Thessaloniki, only to learn that the featured photographer is someone that I met in Philadelphia almost 15 years ago.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Lumber and Globalization

Chlemoutsi Castle near Kyllene is the greatest Crusader monument of Greece. In 2003, the 6th Ephoreia of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities began a large historic preservation program that included restoring the grand reception hall into a museum space. The castle's inner circuit was originally a two-storied space, but the lumber separating the two floors had long collapsed. Villehardouin's original builders surely exploited the lush forests of nearby Pholoe, the mythical home of Pan and centaurs. Although we do not have any direct evidence, I believe that the Crusader Franks (and later the Venetians) used Eleia's lumber as a global export in the 13th century. Venetian galleys were built from Eleian wood.

But in 2003, it was impossible to find lumber large enough to cover the hall's span. Continuous exploitation, fires and mismanagement have depleted Eleia's forests. To span the new Chlemoutsi Museum, lumber had to be imported from Canada. In 2004, the museum was completed, and we used the ground story for our exhibition, Houses of the Morea: Vernacular Architecture of the Northwestern Peloponnese (1205-1955). We managed to hold our opening just one day before the start of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The Canadian beams supporting the Crusader reconstruction have always held a most powerful image in my mind, a physical example of globalization at work across times.

It is these very beams that came to mind when I read about the financial woes that Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics are facing (
Economist, Sept. 5, 2009, p. 44). British Columbia's lumber industry has been hit heavily by the recession. A building slump in the United States has reduced the demand for Canadian lumber causing rising unemployment (8%) and reduced tax revenues. Although excited in 2003 to get the Olympics, Canadians are now having second thoughts. Will Vancouver be able to pull it off financially? In the complex world we live in (and perhaps have always lived in), Chlemoutsi Castle, the submortgage crisis and the Olympics are all subtly interwoven. I'll be visiting Vancouver for the first time on October 15. It is here, out of all places, that the Modern Greek Studies Association will hold its 21st Symposium. At Vancouver, I'll be thinking of Eleia.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Scorpions in Mytilene

I want to thank Ιφιμέδεια for commenting on my last post Pink Floyd and Pompeii and bringing to my attention a recent controversy involving archaeology and rock. On July 4, 2009, the German heavy metal band Scorpions performed in the medieval castle of Mytilene. See the promotion for the event here. The castle has been used for cultural events, but a rock concert proved to be controversial. The concert was initially canceled by the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) on the ground that it would threaten the archaeological site. After great pressure from the Prefecture of Lesvos and the local community, KAS overturned its decision.

When I started visiting Greece in college, at the height of my punk rock phase, I was struck by the sheer absence of punks. For some interesting sociological reasons, the rock underground of the 1980s was monopolized by hard rock and heavy metal. Bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden and Scorpions are a huge deal in Greece (and also Turkey). A quick walk through Exarcheia makes this clear even today. My friend Yorgos happened to be flying into Istanbul a few years ago with Iron Maiden on the plane. The fans had taken over the entire Istanbul airport; it was quite a scene. The simple explanation for the traction between Eastern Mediterranean youth and heavy metal has to do with the ornamental language of heavy metal guitar and its similarities to traditional Eastern music (rembetiko, etc.) The gendered roles of heavy metal, I think, also relate to the scene's appeal with Greek/Turkish men. The long hair and distinctively male bonds raise some additional issues of a distinct homoeroticism.

For whatever reason, Scorpions are national heroes for a large section of Greece's underground. The concert promotion in Mytilene makes a strong visual juxtaposition between the historicity of rock and medieval architecture: "two grand legends of music and history meet this summer in a concert that will leave an epoch." The legendary rock band performs in a monument of equal age and cultural gravity. Another clip on YouTube (here) fascinated me further and made me laugh (I wondered if it might be a joke). It raises an interesting question, namely what happens to local society when a legendary merchandise giant comes into your small town.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Pink Floyd in Pompeii

Bill Caraher posted on the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock and the event's implications for landscape archaeology (see here). Thinking about the archaeology of concert locations, I was reminded of a performance that Pink Floyd filmed inside the ancient amphitheater of Pompeii in 1971, which, interestingly enough, was conceived as "an anti-Woodstock film" by director Adrian Maben. The film is not very well known, although it occasionally turns up on PBS fund drives (see YouTube excerpt here). Live at Pompeii includes psychedelic images interspersed in the final editing. One of the most memorable shots, as far as I can remember, involved laying out Pink Floyd's equipment along a straight line. The drums, amplifiers, guitars, speakers, etc. make an interesting line of monumental material culture. It was around this time, that Pink Floyd also collaborated with Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni in Zabriskie Point (1970), filmed in Death Valley National Park, California. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is the explosion of a middle-class home with Pink Floyd's soundtrack on the background. Pink Floyd also performed a controversial concert in 1989, this time, afloat a barge at Saint Mark's Square in Venice (see YouTube excerpt here, with the Doge's palace flashing in the background).

Archaeological sites have grown to be popular venues for concerts. Only this last month (August 5, 2009), the Greek Ministry of Culture organized "Greece by Moonlight," opening 81 sites to the general public for some romantic moon-watching.
Some "Greece by Moonlight" sites featured concerts. Moon-gazing was a typical past-time on the Acropolis through the 1930s. My mother, who grew up in Plaka, once told me that the Acropolis was not only continuously open to the public but also the romantic hot spot. This became the narrative structure in George Seferis novel Six Nights on the Acropolis, published posthumously in 1974. The Athens Festival every summer fills up the Roman theater of Herodes Atticus below the Acropolis. But interestingly enough, rock concerts are rarely hosted on Greek archaeological sites. The outdoor theater of Lycabettus is where those venues are held; the unpreposessing steel structure was designed by a great architect from the 1930s, Takis Zenetos, the only Greek to study at the Bauhaus. In addition to the concert series on Lycabettus, Rock Wave has become the annual Greek Woodstock. Before the 2004 Olympics, the three-day rock festival took place at different venues, like the old velodrome. Since 2004, the festival is held outside of Athens, in Malakasa, on the 37th km of the Athens-Lamia National Highway. Much of the audience camps out in this atypically extra-urban terrain. In the future, I'm sure, it will offer a case study of landscape archaeology.

Finally, some words about Pink Floyd's role in punk archaeology. Many rock listeners would find Pink Floyd to be anti-punk. After Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Pink Floyd became the archetypical example of classic stadium rock that caused the very punk rebellion. Toby Manning discusses this issue, "I Hate Pink Floyd: Pink Floyd and Punk," in
Pink Floyd: The Rough Guide (2006), p. 107. Most famously, John Lydon wore a Pink Floyd t-shirt with "I Hate" scrolled across it, when Malcolm McClaren first spotted him on a street in London. McClaren turned Lydon into Johnny Rotten, the lead singer of the Sex Pistols. Despite the apocryphal origins, Pink Floyd was extremely influential to the art-rock strand of punk. And amusingly in 2005, John Lydon declared that his 1975 t-shirt was a joke and that he actually loved Pink Floyd.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Middletown's Medieval Fonts

I've completed my pedestrian overview of Middletown's medieval fonts from 1868 to 1969. The sample includes 10 buildings scattered across a century of writing on the wall. I have shown images and drawings of the evidence, but I have not ventured into any historical interpretations. I find some interesting threads and transitions from one period to the next. Obviously, further analytical work would be needed to draw conclusions. It would be interesting, for example, to collate the building inscriptions with funerary monuments.

1868: Memorial Chapel
1870: Judd Hall
1871: First Congregational Church
1874: Russell Library
1893: Psi Ypsilon Fraternity
1894: Middletown High School
1926: Chi Psi Fraternity
1932: Portland Brownstone Intermediate School
1930s: Middletown Central School
1969: Stonycrest Towers

Medieval Fonts 1920s-1930s
Blackletter and Uncial
Prior Tomb

Although I'll be revisiting some of these inscriptions, I have moved away from Middletown. My new residence is Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I've only been here for a day. Nevertheless, I'm thrilled to see that Lancaster's historical architecture dwarves that of Middletown. Stay tuned.

Medieval Fonts: 1920s-1930s

I will complete my illustrations of medieval fonts in Middletown with three examples from the early 20th century. The popularity of the Tudor Revival and Collegiate Gothic made medieval fonts pervasive in the 1920s and 1930s. The Chi Psi lodge house on Wesleyan's campus illustrates a Tudor medievalizing font on its datestone. The inscription reads alpha/alpha, 1844/1926, surrounding a crest with the Greek capitals.
One of the nicest Tudor Revival academic buildings is located in Portland, across the river from Middletown. Portland's Brownstone Intermediate School was built in 1932. Its stone and stone-carving celebrate the city's most famous industry, the brownstone quarries that built Manhattan's town houses.

On the building's main entrance, we find the 1932 datestone placed in an open book framed with floral decoration.

On the south gate, we find the inscription "AUDITORIUM" above a symbolic representation of arts and letters.

Going back to Middletown, we have an almost contemporary academic building, the Central School. Middletown's school, however, is more severe in style. Instead of the Romantic sweetness of the Tudor Revival and the uncial fonts, Central School employs a highly Gothic blackletter script. Instead of domestic fantasy, it projects correctional rigor. See the inscription over the "Gymnasium" entrance. Even the "Kindergarten" gate evokes a scriptorial sensibility.

The building has been converted into condominiums owned by Wesleyan University (if I'm not mistaken). I was amused to see that the management has retained the blacktype font on a wooden sign at the parking lot, reading "Hamlin Court Condominiums."


Chi Psi Fraternity, 200 Church St., Middletown, CT 06457
41°33'16.40"N, 72°39'19.18"W

Brownstone Intermediate School, 314 Main St., Portland, CT 06480
41°34'37.30"N, 72°38'16.80"W

Central School, Hamlin Court and College St, Middletown, CT 06457
41°33'26.51"N, 72°39'10.76"W

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States