Monday, May 02, 2011

Insect 1906

The southeastern staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Gallery 276B) contains my favorite insect, stenciled on a Dutch tile from 1906. Knowing that the tile was originally installed in the interior of a butcher shop makes the image even more potent. I was traveling through Schiphol (Amsterdam's airport) the year the new terminals opened (1998?), and I was impressed (if not baffled) by the flies etched in the porcelain of the airport urinals. Like a scarecrow, the stenciled fly discourages other real flies from landing on the urinal. See here.

The insect at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) was designed by Bert (Lambertus) Nienhuis for De Distel ("the Thistle"), a firm in Amsterdam. The butcher shop in which it was originally installed was located in Leeuwarden. The insect is stenciled under the tin glaze in a pale blue color. I discovered it last week on my way to Michael Clapper's fabulous lecture on Maxfield Parrish at the PMA. I had also just received a manuscript rejection that had put my thoughts on the track of butcher blocks, maggots, and academic gate-keepers. The insect cured me.

See the rest of the Art Nouveau composition, left. The thistles rise on the upper two registers; the insects dot the zones below.

I strongly encourage you to ascend this staircase for an additional reason. It leads you from the beautiful Impressionist pool to the Pennsylvania German kitchen (here). It dates to 1752 and was originally located in Millbach Township, north of Lancaster. It was acquired by the PMA in 1926 (by the du Ponts) and it is important as an installation for the history of museum. It was one of the earliest rooms reconstructed by architect Fiske Kimball, director of the PMA (1925-1955) and pioneer in house-museums. The PMA has recently re-installed a collection of Pennsylvania German objects in the room immediately adjacent to the kitchen. More objects of its kind are permanently displayed in the American collections, on the other side of the museum.

1 comment:

drizzz said...

I just stumbled upon your blog- it was my understanding the flies were etched on the urinals because men tend to "aim at them" thus keeping things a bit more sanitary! Maybe an urban legend- depends on where exactly the flies are etched I suppose!

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States