Monday, May 31, 2010

Gibson House: Islamic Philadelphia

A few weeks ago, I became interested in the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition for its Islamic Horticulture Hall. I have been collecting examples and ideas about a category of postings that illustrate Philadelphia's obsession with Islamic material culture during the second half of the 19th century.

One of the finest examples of this is the interior of Henry C. Gibson's downtown house. Now demolished, the house was located on 1612 Walnut Street and designed by Frank Furness in 1870 . Gibson had a well-known collection of Islamic artifacts. The house itself was celebrated and highly published. Frank Furness's partner George Hewitt designed Gibson's suburban home, Maybrook, in Lower Merion in 1881. Maybrook was a different medieval fantasy, based on a Scottish castle. Gibson was a real estate developer and the heir of the Gibson whiskey distiller from Western Pennsylvania.

For more information on the house, see George E. Thomas, Jeffrey E. Cohen and Michael J. Lewis, Frank Furness: The Complete Works, rev'd ed. (New York, 1996) 157-159. The publication includes interior and exterior photos as well as a plan.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Queens of the American Short Story

My sister got me Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of short stories (2009) for my name day. Celina devoured them already. The last year has been a short-story year. One of my favorite past-times has been listening to the New Yorker Fiction Podcast where a contemporary writer picks his/her favorite short story from the New Yorker and reads it. An illuminating conversation with the host Deborah Treisman follows. Treisman is the active fiction editor for the magazine. This podcast has been my primary source of a reading list. It has introduced me to a host of amazing North American female writers many of whom have been forgotten. Here they are in chronological order and they are all a MUST.

Jean Stafford, "Children are Bored on Sunday"(1948), read by Hilton Also
Mavis Gallant, "When We Were Nearly Young" (1960) read by Antonia Nelson
Julie Hayden "Day-Old Baby Rats" (1972), read by Lorrie Moore
Edwidge Dandicat "Water Child" (2000) read by Junot Diaz

Thursday, May 27, 2010

IJHA: Abandoned Countryside

The Abandoned Countryside: (Re)Settlement in the Archaeological Narrative of Post-Classical Greece, the special edition of the International Journal of Historical Archaeology that I co-edited with Bill Caraher has come out. IJHA 14:2 (June 2010). The table of contents is as follows and I have copies of all of these if anyone is interested. Thanks to Charles Orser, editor of the IJHA for making this possible.

Kostis Kourelis, "In the Comfort of Perpetual Abandonment," pp. 209-214

David K. Pettegrew, "Regional Survey and the Boom-and-bust Countryside: Re-reading the Archaeological Evidence for Episodic Abandonment in the Late Roman Corinthia," pp. 215-229

Amelia Robertson Brown, "Islands in a Sea of Change? Continuity and Abandonment in Dark Age Corinth and Thessaloniki," pp. 230-240

William R. Caraher, "Abandonment, Authority, and Religious Continuity in Post-Classical Greece," pp. 241-254

Effie F. Athanassopoulos, "Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside: Settlement and Abandonment in the Nemea Region," pp. 255-270

Sandra Garvie-Lok, "A Possible Witness to the Sixth Century Slavic Invasion of Greece from the Stadium Tunnel at Ancient Nemea," pp. 271-284

Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory, "Remembering and Forgetting: The Relationship Between Memory and the Abandonment of Graves in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Greek Cemeteries," pp. 285-301

Timothy E. Gregory, "Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology of Greece," pp. 302-307

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Alumni Association Meeting in Pittsburgh

This weekend, I had my first experience with F&M's alumni association and, for that matter, alumni associations in general. I was invited to speak to the meeting of the Western Pennsylvania chapter taking place at the spectacular spaces of the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. The alumni association invited me as a medievalist because of the current Gargoyle exhibition at the Phipps. My talk was entitled "Medieval Art & Architecture: Why Bother?" and I tried to squeeze in both my archaeological research in the Mediterranean and my historiographic research in 19th-20th c. America. Here are some impressions from the event.

1. Charles Klauder's Cathedral of Learning (1926) looks great as ever. As F&M's master plan architect, I saw this modern Gothic masterpiece in different eyes. I also got lost a bit and happened upon 5th Avenue. It's one of the most stunning avenue of American architecture. I believe that Pittsburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. and certainly one of the most under-appreciated.

2. I was thrilled that some of the new alumni members had also been my students, and favorite students at that. Alumni associations, after all, provide the postpartum connection with graduating seniors. It was great to meet Will Austin (and his charming grandmother), to hear about Glenn Halperin and to meet Elizabeth Bursick (an anthropology major that I hadn't met). Congratulations to all the 2010 graduates.

3. I also met two alumni that directly connect to my research and I was thrilled about this. If I hadn't made the trip, this serendipitous connection would have never happened. Tracy Meyers is the curator of the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum, one of the most important architectural museums in the country, Tracy also teaches at Carnegie Mellon. She has curated an excellent exhibition at the Heinz, Imagining Home, and she has also worked in one of the most important pieces of scholarship in contemporary domestic architecture, Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes (which I saw at Yale last spring). Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to explore, but I look forward to my next trip to Pittsburgh; Tracy has promised her special tour.

4. My Greek-American research interests were happy, too. I met Jordan Nicholas and his mother, who introduced me to their family tradition. Nicholas Coffee Company was established at Pittsburgh in 1919 and survives to this day. This must be one of the oldest coffee roasters in the U.S. The company has survived the Great Depression, the coffee rationing of WWII, the mass produced coffees of the 60s (Maxwell House, etc.), and the gourmet conglomerates like Starbucks (one of which has opened across the street from Nicholas).

5. I met my first F&M Trustee, Robert J. Brooks and his wife. Brooks is currently the mayor of Murrysville, Pa. and best known at F&M for the Brooks College House. Brooks and his wife were both wonderful and have told me all the child-friendly spots for my next trip to Pittsburgh.

6. Finally, it was great to interact with staff from F&M's alumni relations and development office, Aimee Achorn and Dan Rogalski. It's fun to meet people from your back yard in a different setting.

7. The Phipps Conservatory is a glass house, commissioned by Pittsburgh steel baron Henry Phipps in 1893. I was eager to visit this historical landmark because it connects to my new research on conservatories, especially the Islamic-inspired Horticultural Hall at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia. My bibliographic starting point for the Phipps' was Peggie Phipps Boegner and Richard Gachot, Halcyon Days (1986).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Purple Toy Car (Lancaster Object 005)

Walking a few blocks south of the Pennsylvania RR station, along Queen Street, the residential quarters of Lancaster slowly emerge: small houses, mixed populations, children. It is here that I picked up the fragment of a plastic purple toy car. Thematically, the find links up with the automobile preoccupations of Lancaster Objects 001-004. It once belonged to a child that probably attended Ross Elementary School a block away. Matchbox cars, as I remember them from my childhood, were solid and metallic. They asserted the material power of the industrial world and brainwashed the collective potential of boys to love the speed and beauty of the machine. The purple toy car here is made out of cheap plastic. It bears an iconic but no material connection to the heroic psyche of the car. Real cars zoom up Queen Street and cut through the old fabric. Only a block away, we have an automotive landscape with strip malls, 45 mph multi-lane roads, and dealerships. Ross Elementary School is a beautiful Beaux Arts building embodying human scale. Many of its students walk to school but many are driven. Geographically, their childhood is caught between the urban core (further South) and the highway speed (further North) that lubricates the suburban economy. This object makes that conflict a little more sensible.

Lancaster Object 004
Purple Toy Car
Location: 40° 3'4.59"N, 76°18'29.09"W
Date: April 20, 2010

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Red Car Light (Lancaster Object 004)

Since 1929, the entry way into Lancaster was the new train station, which moved a mile north on Queen Street from the 1860s station. A couple of routes (222 and 72) come from the North to either end of the station and link up in the most anti-urban solution. The pedestrian arriving to the city by train must fight the cars if she wants to walk into town. The automobile's priority at this knot is most evident by the dealerships that surround it. The pedestrian commuter has no option but to walk through the sale parking lots that abut the multi-lane traffic roads without a sidewalk. It is in this traffic knot, that I picked up this fragment.

Fallen off from a zooming vehicle, this must be a special light. Its conical shape takes us back 50 years in car design, unsuccessfully recycled in models like the PT Cruiser. I had it sitting on my office desk when my student, Paul picked it up with curiosity and confidence. We agreed that it could not belong to any car designed in the last 20 years. It is not blobby enough. Its geometrical autonomy removes it from any car. What is it then? Maybe part of a trailer? An emergency light? It's a cab light.

Paul belongs to the future of Franklin & Marshall, a new demographic of immigrants that don't come from privilege (I thank my colleague Dean Hammer for this idea). Unlike the great majority of other F&M students, Paul has done manual labor. He was worked on cars and could comprehend better than anyone else what Le Corbusier meant by comparing the 1907 Humbert with the Temples at Paestum and the 1921 Delage Grand Sport with the Parthenon at Athens, see Towards a New Architecture (Paris, 1923), pp. 180-181.

Although designed for blinking and great visibility, the red car light becomes a thought piece. Multiple modes of movement from foot, to train, to automobile come to bear. They do not directly enter the classroom but we don't enter the classroom without them. The electrical portal for the light, below, reads "Quick Eye, Falconer, NY." I thank my die-hard archaeology friend (see comment below) for taking the research a step further. What I have collected is a cab marker light, a light accessory that people fix on their pickup trucks to ornament/highlight the cab (see example here).

Lancaster Object 004
Red car light
Location: 40° 3'13.50"N, 76°18'33.47"W
Date: April 15, 2010

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lancaster Barn Again

It is not every day that the words “Lancaster, Pennsylvania” enter the pages of The Economist. But on April 24, they did. “Heritage Protection: Barn Again” notes that Lancaster County has by far the largest concentration of barns in the whole country (p. 28). In fact, I pass through this very barned landscape as I read the magazine.

Saving America’s farming icon in the rest of the U.S. has been a losing battle. The iconic barn was a functional solution to old farming processes, where livestock occupied the ground floor, and grain (or hay) was stored in the upper floors. In 20th-century farming, grain farmers got rid of animals for mechanical combines and planters, while the livestock farmers preferred a long production line type of building. The 2007 U.S. census was the first to count barns, and we will not know the total loss until the next count in 2012. The data from Iowa alone is dramatic with 1,000 barns lost every year. “Barn Again” is a program that National Trust for Historic Preservation began after the 1980s farm crisis. The program gives advice and provides incentives. Some states (Washington, Vermont, Iowa) give grants or tax credits but, ultimately, the main challenge for barn preservation is finding alternative uses. The revival of organic farming has, to a small extent, made old barns relevant again.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

On the Sunday News

What an honor to appear in Lancaster's newspaper. Paula Wolf's article, "Studying the Shrines," was published in this weeks' Sunday News (May 2, 2010), see here.

I have intentionally not blogged on my class "Lancaster: Architecture of Faith" so as not to influence my students in their own blog enterprise (see here). Final papers are still due, so I won't give anything away but simply thank Lancaster's community for welcoming our research in their daily lives. Each congregation has helped in its own way and has given students generous access to archives and resources.

I also want to thank Dulcey Antonucci (F&M Media Relations) and Paula Wolf (Sunday News) for finding our project newsworthy. Amidst buildings falling down and the economic crisis putting a frieze on projects throughout town, the focus on architectural history is admirable. Thank you for highlighting the seminar. It has been an incredible experience for me (and I hope for the students, too). The photo above is by Blaine T. Shahan/Sunday News.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States