Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Freud's Couch: Thessaloniki

For the last two weeks I've been immersing myself back into psychoanalytic readings. It all started with poet H.D. On her way to Delphi in 1920, H.D. was stranded at Itea discouraged from making the trip up the mountains. So, she never made it to the sanctuary and ended up spending some time in Corfu, where one day she had a vision, a projection of images on her hotel wall. She worked through her momentous Greek experiences in her sessions with Freud in 1933, published as H.D., Tribute to Freud (1956).

H.D.'s experience at Berggasse 19 is one of the case studies in Susan Bernstein's Housing Problems: Writing and Architecture in Goethe, Walpole, Freud, and Heidegger (2008), which I'm enjoying tremendously as a theoretical prelude into my houses (planning summer research and capstone seminar). For house scholars, Freud's "Unheimlich" essay from 1919 is fundamental, and I used this extensively in my paper on dead Byzantine fetuses buried in homes. Bernstein offers new perspectives on Freud and the Freud museum(s). Those interested in the unheimlich, see Anthony Vidler's classic, The Architectural Uncanny (1992).

During her sessions with Freud, H.D. keeps referring to the throw rugs that her fingers touch as she sits on the Professor's couch. Quite coincidentally, the most recent issue of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies (29:1, May 2011) includes a great article by Dusan Bjelic, "Balkan Geography and the De-Orientalization of Freud." Bjelic brilliantly argues that Freud's three visits to the Balkans (including his famous break-down at the Acropolis) brought forth oedipal conflicts in his suppressed identity as an Oriental (a Jew). Freud's scientific, enlightened, European persona had internalized a crypto-colonial attitude against the dark Orient in which his father belonged. The trips to Balkans brought about both the Orientalist grain and the guilt for its existence.

I almost fell off my seat while reading Bjelic's essay when I saw the published photo of Freud's office (fig. 3, photo above) that shows the rugs that covered the famous couch, which came from Greece, sent by a relative. The caption reads "Freud's famous couch covered with the oriental rug sent to him as a gift from Thessaloniki by his distant relative and a local merchant Moritz Freud in 1886."

Incidentally, Freud's Unheimlich essay has been nicely reprinted in the new Penguin Classics Freud series (2003), see The Uncanny. I also want to thank Kevin Brady for lending me one of the most instructive DVDs on both the psychoanalytical tradition and the theory of cinema. This is Slavoj Zizek's, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (2006). Unfortunately, the DVD is not commercially available, but if you have Netflix, cue it up immediately.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Greek William Penn

The highlight of every Greek American community's fund-raising and civic presence is a Greek Festival. It has become a standard fixture of modern American life. Every town with a Greek community has a Greek Festival. In addition to offering Greek foods, dances, and activities, Greek festivals produce advertising posters that form a permanent record of graphic design. Imagine what a fabulous record of immigrant history such a collection would make. Festival flyers combine the aspirations of a community, as well as, stereotypical images to attract the non-Greek audience.

Saint George's Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Philadelphia is getting ready for its annual Festival, scheduled for the weekend of June 4. The flyer shows a digital representation of the Acropolis out of which rise the cupola of Philadelphia City Hall with a dancing Greek in the place of William Penn. Silly as it may be, I love this collapse of insignia.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Houses of Mystras

One of the things I'm currently working on is a paper on the Houses of Mystras. I am arguing that Anastasios Orlandos, the grandfather of Byzantine archaeology in Greece, fabricated the urban scenery of Mystras as a heterotopia. The paper examines the ideological and cultural motivations for the physical reconstruction of Mystras' houses and the role that the site played in the mythopoetic processes of the nation. I will be submitting this manuscript for publication in June, so any feedback is greatly appreciated. The paper has generated a bit of criticism because it demystifies a myth still venerated by many Byzantinists. It offers no "better" "truer" version of the houses of Mystras, since the physical evidence has been greatly altered by Orlandos heavy handed restorations and since the nation-state fiercely guards its heterotopia. For all we know, much of the domestic fabric of Mystras is not Byzantine (but this may only be resolved by the spade).

My draft is located here. Enjoy.

I have some issues with their flipflops

"Oh, well, where to begin?" Patti said. "How about the flipflop thing? I have some issues with their flipflops. It's like the world is their bedroom. And they can't even hear their own flap-flap-flapping, because they've all go their gadgets, they've all got their earbuds in. Every time I start hating my neighbors around here, I run into some G.U. kid on the sidewalk and suddenly forgive the neighbors, because at least they're adults. At least they're not running around in flipflops, advertising how much more laid-back and reasonable they are than us adults. Than uptight me, who would prefer not to look at people's bare feet on the subway. Because, really, who could object to seeing such beautiful toes? Such perfect toenails? Only a person who's too unluckily middle-aged to inflict the spectacle of her own toes on the world."

Patty Berglund, in Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (2011), p. 372.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Richard Katz on D.C.

"Although he'd played D.C. often enough over the years, its horizontal and vexing diagonal avenues never ceased to freak him out. He felt like a rat in a governmental maze here. For all he could tell from the back seat of his taxi, the driver was taking him not to Georgetown but to the Israeli embassy for enhanced interrogation. The pedestrians in every neighborhood all seemed to have taken the same dowdiness pills. As if individual style were a volatile substance that evaporated in the vacuity of D.C.'s sidewalks and infernally wide squares. The whole city was a monosyllabic imperative directed at Katz in his beat-up biker jacket. Saying: die."

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (2011) p. 350

Monday, May 23, 2011

Richard Katz on New York

"The girls all come for publishing and art and nonprofits," he said. "The guys come for money and music. There's a selection bias there. The girls are good and interesting, the guys are all assholes like me. You shouldn't take it personally." Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (2011) p. 358

It's taken me over two months, but I'm finally free of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. It started with a reading group over Spring Break but took me a bit longer -- sorry Alexis. I was disappointed not be transformed by Freedom as I was with The Corrections. Franzen is an amazing wordsmith and his social portrait is so accurate as to make our generation feel a mere embodiment of Franzen's pen. I won't tire anyone with my musings on the novel but I wanted to share three favorite quotes, starting with Richard Katz's assessment of why it sucks for young women to move to New York. Katz here consoles Jessica Berglund.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

H.D.'s Bethlehem, PA

"We are subtropic, a town in Pennsylvania, on the map's parallel, I believe, south of Rome. Winters are cold, summer are hot, so we have the temperament of Nordics and of southerners both, harmoniously blended and altering key or vibration in strict accordance with the seasons' rules -- or not, as may be."

H.D. writing about her hometown, Bethlehem, PA, where she lived as a child before her family moved to Philadelphia. From a wonderful little book, Tribute to Freud (1956), pp. 27-29.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cavo Sidero Activism

Thanks to Nassos Papalexandrou for highlighting a recent moment of archaeological activism. I quote below an email sent to the entire international community that rallied behind the site of Cavo Sidero in Crete. Jennifer Moody and Oliver Rackham spearheaded the successive campaign:

April 9, 2011
Dear Signer of the Cavo Sidero Petition,
Thank you! You really did make a difference! On December 3, 2010 the Council of State, Greece's Supreme Administrative Court, found in our favor and canceled approval of the Cavo Sidero Golf Resort. Copies of the petition, including comments, were placed before the judges and formed an important part of the evidence.
This has been a long, hard fought battle by thousands of people but especially a core of some 300 local citizens who took on big business and big government and against incredible odds won this court case.
Your support bolstered morale and demonstrated that this was not merely a local affair; that the world does indeed care about the future of this remote corner of Crete. People from 88 countries all over the world signed the Cavo Sidero Petition: 40% from Greece; 16% from France; 13% from the UK; 8% from the USA; 5% from Belgium; 4% from Germany; 2% from Italy; and 1% from Switzerland, Canada, The Netherlands, Spain, Austria and Cyprus. We are delighted that so many people, according to their comments, have been all the way to the north-east tip of Crete and know and appreciate its beauty and its wildlife.
Sadly, the landscape is not entirely secure. The land remains in the hands of Moní Toploú which continues to allow serious overgrazing and the bulldozing of antiquities. Cultivation of the Itanos basin is still leaking agro-chemicals into the Vaï palm-wood. Most alarmingly, we hear that the palms have now been attacked by the Red Palm Weevil, an insect that has decimated many kinds of palm trees from India to California and is now ravaging Crete!
Also, Minoan Group/Loyalward have openly declared their intention to return with a new plan, hoping to have it speedily passed through a recently enacted "fast-track" procedure aimed at assisting such projects by bypassing legitimate objections from private citizens and government departments. While the legitimacy of such efforts is questionable, we must remain vigilant.
Whether by Minoan Group/Loyalward or some other organization, a new development proposal for Cavo Sidero will be submitted. It is important to be prepared with a plan that works with, not against, the special character of the area. To this end an international conference on the future of this area is planned to be hosted by the provincial government of Lasithi.
Thus, the battle to save the Cavo Sidero landscape continues on several different fronts, including a criminal trial set to begin in Khania on April 15, 2011 against the Abbot and seven government expert witnesses. They are accused of fraudulently leading the court into a 1999 decision which secured the Monastery's ownership of the land against claims by the Greek State.
As part of the effort to protect Cavo Sidero and other sensitive areas from unsustainable development, an international team (who worked selflessly for over three years with little or no pay) filmed a documentary: A Thousand Lost Golf Balls. A film about development (copyright Real-Life Documentaries 2010, directed by Vangelis Kalaitzis). It presents the full spectrum of opinion about this landmark case; the history of the development; and possible futures for this and other undeveloped areas, exploring proposals for sustainable ways of managing the land for generations to come using its natural assets. It is also a record of the landscape as it is today - undeveloped. The film has now been shown at Ecoweek 2010 and the 2011 Thessaloniki Film Festival; a shorter version is to be aired on Greek TV. If you wish to purchase the film or contribute to its expenses please contact Cliff Cook (writer and narrator) Cliffcoo@otenet.gr.
If you have any further questions about the Cavo Sidero area please do not hesitate to email one or both of us at the addresses below.
And so with this letter we officially close this Cavo Sidero petition. We are extremely grateful to all 11, 014 of you for signing it and helping preserve this landscape from catastrophic development; it was a magnificent response. Thank you so very much.

Jennifer Moody hogwildjam@mac.com
Environmental Archaeologist
MacArthur Fellow 1989-1994
Research Fellow, Department of Classics
University of Texas at Austin

Oliver Rackham or10001@cam.ac.uk
OBE, Fellow of the British Academy
Honorary Professor of Historical Ecology
Former Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Authors of The making of the Cretan landscape, 1996, 2004

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Argentines, the Portuguese and the Greeks (1923)

The Library of Congress has just unveiled the National Jukebox project, a streaming of its collection of historical recordings (thanks to Kirby Bell for flagging this). Naturally, my first search was for Greek music, and I discovered "The Argentine, the Portuguese and the Greeks," a 1920s song that expresses native anxieties about this particular ethnic immigrants (and the Armenians, too). The song seems to have been first recorded in 1920 by Nora Bayes (here), then in 1922 by Edward Meeker (here, w/lyrics), and finally by the Duncan Sisters in 1923, which is the version streamlined by the Library of Congress (here).

Rosetta and Vivian Duncan were a vaudeville duo from California. They began their careers as children performers and made their name in the racially charged Topsy and Eva routines. "The Argentines, the Portuguese and the Greeks" contains a mixed message of fear, envy and respect. It's perhaps the earliest example of Greek immigrants making it into American musical history. There are a few variations between the Bayes and Meeker versions, but I have transcribed the lyrics of the Duncan version. Take a listen.

Columbus discovered America in 1492
Then came the English and the French
The Scotchmen and the Jews
Then came the Dutch and the Irishmen
To help this country grow
And still they keep on coming
And now everywhere you go

There's the Argentines
And the Portuguese
The Armenians, and the Greeks
One sells the papers
The others shines the shoes
The other shaves the whiskers off your cheek.

When you ride again
On a subway train
Notice who has all the seats
Ah. They are all held by the Argentines
And the Portuguese
And the Greeks

Now there's a little flat
Where you hang your hat
Here’s a mystery I'll explain
The janitor is Irish,
The hall-boy is a goon
The elevator driver is a Dane
But who is the gent
That collects the rent
At the end of each four weeks
Ah. That is all done by the Argentines
And the Portuguese
And the Greeks

There's the Oldsmobile
And the Hupmobile
And the Cadillac and the Ford
Now these are the motors
That you and I can own
The kind that anybody can afford
But the Cunningham
And the Mercedes
And the Rolls-Royce Racing Prix
Ah. They are all owned by the Argentines
And the Portuguese
And the Greeks

Now there’s the Argentines
And the Portuguese
The Armenians, and the Greeks
They don't know the language
They don't know the law
Yet they vote in the country of the free
And the funny thing
When we start to sing
"My Country 'Tis of Thee"
None of us know the words
But the Argentines
And the Portuguese
And the Greeks

Now there’s the Argentines
And the Portuguese
The Armenians, and the Greeks
When we’re departed
Our souls above in heavenly peace
At the golden gate when the angels wait
We’ll be asking there for seats
And they’ll all be reserved by the Argentines
And the Portuguese And the Greeks

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gabby Jiayin She '11: Commodified Beauty

One of our art history majors completed a wonderful project, to catalog and analyze a group of Japanese prints and place them in their historical perspective, namely prostitution. Gabby's research concluded into an exhibit at the Phillips Museum. I quote the project description.

Gabby Jiayin She '11: Commodified Beauty

"During two semesters of research, and including a summer field trip to Japan to conduct research, (Gabby) catalogued and contextualized a group of 'beauty' prints from well-known ukiyo-e masters selected from the museum collection. This extensive process of research has provided the foundation for a project concerning the collection that I intend to present for department honors...I decide(d) to also present the project in the form of a small exhibition..."

Monday, May 09, 2011

Demetrakis from 183rd Street

Wake up Greeks and Greek-Americans. The time has come to celebrate one of our forgotten giants. For most of you reading this page Taki 183 won't mean anything, which is precisely my problem. How many Cavafy conferences, Classical exhibits, Big Fat Greek movies, or Acropolis museums can we have, when Taki 183 remains unknown to the wider public?

Did you know that a Greek teenager from Washington Heights invented American graffiti? Learn your modern history. A new book, Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelan's History of American Graffiti (New York, 2010) spells it out. Demetris (Demetrakis, Takis) from 183rd Street (between Audubon & Amsterdam) was New York's graffiti pioneer. Seeing how the 1968 presidential campaign plastered the streets with political messages, the 16-year old Takis thought, "So, why shouldn't I?" And thus, a new medium was born. Interestingly enough, another Greek-American was legally plastered through the streets in 1968, Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's vice-presidential partner.

Takis and his friends from Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church turned the streets of New York into a work of art. Only four months after the word "graffiti" was ever used (in Philadelphia), the New York Times reported "TAKI 183 Spawns Pen Pals" (July 21, 1971).

And if you are a reader that think that graffiti is not a legitimate art form, I defer to the Art World. Art in the Streets, the largest exhibition on American graffiti just opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. TAKI 183 gets a whole historical spread. The Museum even got Taki to create an original tag on the sacred museum walls, see here. Watching the video makes one weep with the ordinariness of both Cornbread and Taki. They were never friends with Andy Warhol, they didn't design clothes for David Bowie, nor did they overdose on heroin. Ordinary folk like Cornbread and Taki invented a street process that self-destructive art heroes like Basquiat would employ almost a decade later to great success.

The future historians of the Greek American experience will surely devote an entire chapter on Taki. They'll have to write about the Dominican, Cuban, Puerto-Rican enclave in which he grew up and they'll have to write about Taki's tagging of the Statue of Liberty.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Steel Beam Vernacular: Brick Factory Lancaster

Lancaster's College Hill Children's Center on 417 W Frederick St and Lancaster Ave is housed in a ca. 1900 brick industrial building, renovated in 2008 by Tippetts/Weaver Architects. The firm, who has done a lot of projects for F&M, has retained the brick shell but also a interior support system of steel columns and beams. Although invisible to the exterior, the interior steel system acts like an umbrella. Mostly, it served for hoisting heavy loads along the production line, but it also engaged in the support of the exterior brick wall.

Rows of columns support three consecutive levels of I-beams. A transverse system meets with the walls and roof, while a longitudinal system supports a moving mechanical rail. My sketch section (left) shows the central steel column that carries three I-beams. The first steel beam carries a track-system that would allow heavy products to be hoisted along the length of the shop floor. The motor of the machine is still in place. It was made in Lebanon, Pa., and it carries a hook marked "1/2 ton" weight limit. The second steel beam, above, extends out to the brick wall and bonds with the masonry. The third steel beam, at the top, extends the other way and supports the wood rafters that carry the roof. The ceiling is so wide that no single joist could span it. The third beam allows for two joists to rest on it and carry the load down to the base of the column.

Essentially the steel beam system carries live and dead loads throughout the building. To guarantee its horizontal stability, the steel columns are anchored to the wall by rods. The photo on the left was taken from Tippetts/Weaver portfolio. The steel system is visible in black. The photo shows how the large space was subdivided for the daycare with a new lighting and climate control system weaving through the old metal vertebrae in black. Resembling the architectural experiments of Viollet-le-Duc, this esosceletal building illustrates innovations in steel technology carried out in the industrial buildings of Lancaster. Decorated with a Georgian idiom, the exterior of this factory disguises the innovations within.

The employees of the daycare referred to the building as an old tobacco mill, which makes sense in this neighborhood. A similar building has been renovated as the Lancaster Arts Hotel, which had a different support system with timber piers. After a little research in the Sandborn Fire Insurance maps of Lancaster, I came up with an identification. The building first appears in the 1912 Sandborn map of Lancaster, although the surrounding five structures appear in the 1897 map. Our adventurous structure was built in the interim, probably closer to 1910. It is marked as the Erecting Shop of the Henry Martin Brick Machine Mfg. Co. The three smaller buildings from 1897 to the East were tobacco warehouses also owned by Henry Martin. Having identified the original structure as a brick factory explains the need for a mechanical pulling system that would run along the length of the open space.

Like the exterior I-beams of 1910s rural architecture in Greece (here), the 1900s row houses and shops of Philadelphia (here, here, here, here). The intricate steel-beam interior of the Martin Brick Factory constitute another great example of vernacular architectural solutions to new materials.

College Hill Daycare Center is affiliated with Franklin & Marshall. If we lived in Lancaster, my daughter would be enrolled here. I am sorry that her formative toddler experiences are not informed by the ingenuity of industrial Lancaster. Rather, they are informed by the Ecclesiological aesthetics of nineteenth century Episcopalean architecture (see here). For the relationship between F&M and College Hill, see The Diplomat (Sept. 11, 2008)

Great Learning Great Teaching Video

During this last academic year, F&M was celebrating scholarly collaboration between teachers and students. See more about this on the official website here. My work with Bonnie Halloran (whom you've already read about) was part of a little promotional video that was featured in last week's Common Hour. In some way, this is also the first public promotion of the Georg von Peschke exhibit scheduled to open at F&M and travel to Bryn Mawr in Spring 2013. I'm still a little shy about it, but at the same time, I cannot help from promoting the promotional (cue: 3:38 min of video).

Great Teaching, Great Learning from Franklin & Marshall College on Vimeo.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Chair Project

Carol Hickey, professor of architectural design at F&M, teaches a studio every Spring, and I've had the pleasure of serving as a regular guest critic. The culminating project for the class is a chair. And this year, the assignment was a child chair. As part of the critic process, the students carried their life-size cardboard chairs to the daycare affiliated with F&M and had three sets of children evaluate the designs by simply using them.

This was an amazing experience. As you can imagine, both kids, students and faculty had a fabulous time. Some chairs did not make it through the day and many experienced significant "modifications." Many thanks to the staff of College Hill Children's Center. The building itself is a spectacular ca. 1910 brick factory renovated in 2008. I'll have more to say about that in a later posting, stay tuned for a Lancaster installment of steel beam vernacular.

I made quick sketches of the 16 chairs (left). Congratulations to the students for completing their studio semester and allowing the kids to test their designs. I had fun spending my day in daycare.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Dan Deibler: The Figure

F&M Art major Dan Deibler '12 decided to tackle the human body as an independent study with professor Kevin Brady. The fruits of that one-semester project were recently on display at the Phillips Museum. Six large drawings document the learning process from charcoal to large oil paintings.

The portrait on the left has been haunting me for the last few weeks. It is one of the most accomplished pieces that I've seen at F&M. I keep returning to the triangular red shirt and the triangular shadow on the face. The snap shot does not tell the full story. The oil painting has a physical reality that engages the viewer with varying psychological scales. In many ways, the real painting is the best argument for painting. Interestingly enough, Deibler is also a master of the unreal, too, in computer design. I hope Dan has no room to store this work and he will let us hang it in the Alumni House to show everyone how great art can be made.

See some more photos from Deibler's opening reception here.

Tigist Hailu transforms F&M campus

In the next few posts, I will celebrate the most thrilling projects produced by students in my department. F&M has been buzzing with artistic productions, three student openings, the senior exhibition, and the student juried exhibition (which made the local news). My favorite project happened outside the museum walls this last Monday. It involved the marriage between personal history and architectural facade.
The Art & Art History Department at Franklin & Marshall has a new tenure-track photography professor, John Holmgren. His seminar ART 372: The Camera has produced one of the most powerful transformations of F&M's campus that I've witnessed in my last two years. Tigist Hailu's final project involved the projection of historical imagery on the walls of five F&M's buildings (Shadek Fackenthal Library, Old Main, Keiper Hall, Distler House, Steinman College Center)

I quote from the official press release:

On campus Monday evening, May 2, you'll notice unusual activity starting around 8:30 p.m. in front of Shadek Fackethal Library and progressing, in turn, to a number of F&M's main buildings. The presentation, ASSOCIATION, MEMORY, TIME: SIX DECADES OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE AT F&M, was developed to commemorate the 60th anniversary (this year) of the first African-American students to graduate from Franklin & Marshall. Tigist began her work by contacting local F&M African-American alums (selected to represent, by class graduation year, each decade of the past 60-year span). She asked the alumni to answer three questions: 1) which building at F&M did you feel more or least comfortable during your time at F&M? 2) What was your best or worse experience in the building? and 3) What was your overall experience at F&M? She invited each participant to campus to have his/her portrait taken in Art and Art History's digital studio lab.

As the final step in the process, Tigist digitally projected the imagery (photos and text) developed from her gathered material onto the facades of the F&M buildings pinpointed in her participants' questionnaire responses. The result is a stunning display that merges the concrete and the illusory, the objective and the subjective, presence and reflection.

The alumni participants were Sydney N. Bridgett '51, Louis Butcher, Jr. '65, Donna Eileen Glover '76, Monica Gantz DuBose '85, Raymond C. DuBose '84, Anthony L. Ross '91, and Nick Peterson.

The photos above are by Eric Forberger, see The Diplomat (May 5, 2011) and by Robert Diggs, see F&M Voice (May 3, 2011).

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Parrish: Italian Villas

My colleague Michael Clapper gave a fantastic talk, "Maxfield Parrish's Constructed Fantasyland" on April 22 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Michael's talk is part of a larger study on the relationship between high and popular art in American culture. To understand the broader conceptual framework, see Michael's related case-studies, Michael Clapper, “Imagining the Ordinary: John Rogers’ Anticlassical Genre Sculptures as Purposely Popular Art,” Winterthur Portfolio 43 (2009), pp. 1-39, and "Making Sense of Thomas Kinkaid," Middlebury College Museum of Art (2009).

The lecture was hosted by the PMA's Center for American Art. The discussion that followed was so intense that it made me envious of the intelligence of Americanist art history as a discipline both esoteric and popular.

One of the directions towards which the discussion steered had to do with domestic architecture. Kathleen Foster (Curator of American Arts, PMA) described the material culture that would comprise the domestic interiors where Parrish's artwork would have been displayed.

The talk over domestic architecture reminded me of the Parrish drawing that I first saw at the New Britain Museum of American Art. In 1904, Parrish illustrated a book by Edith Wharton on Italian Villas and Their Gardens, a project sponsored by Century magazine (see here).

Browsing through Franklin & Marshall's Special Collections, I was thrilled to see that our library had a copy. I stopped by this week and read excerpts. The Wharton-Parrish collaboration is one of the best evidence of the magic lure of Italian domestic architecture exercised upon Americans in the late-19th and early-20th century. The operative word is not simply "like" but "enchantment." The interplay between landscape and architecture that creates this domestic magic was central to Parrish's art. To witness the magic in person, visit Parrish's mural "Dream Garden" in the east foyer of the Curtis Publishing Company Building. The mural was made by Tiffany Studios in 1916. Some of the individuals involved in saving this masterpiece from leaving Philadelphia were among the audience in Michael's talk.

To give the reader a flavor of Italian enchantment in the early American mind, I quote directly from Edith Wharton:

"The traveler returning from Italy, with his eyes and imagination full of the ineffable Italian garden magic, knows vaguely that the enchantment exists; that he has been under its spell, and that it is more potent, more enduring, more intoxicating to every sense than the most elaborate and glowing effects of modern horticulture; but he may not have found the key to the mystery. Is it because the sky is bluer, because the vegetation is more luxuriant? Our midsummer skies are almost as deep, our foliage is as rich and perhaps more varied; there are, indeed, not a few resemblances between the North American summer climate and that of Italy in spring and autumn." (p. 6)

"... and in the blending of different elements, the subtle transition from the fixed and formal lines of art to the shifting and irregular lines of nature." (p. 7)

"The cult of the Italian garden has spread from England to America, and there is a general feeling that by placing a marble bench here and a sun-dial there, Italian “effects” may be achieved." (p. 12)

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.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States