The juxtaposition of crowded academic and social calendars at this time of year always makes me a bit grumpy. I try to contain (or hide) my scrooge-like sentiments, but I’m generally too tired to make that much of an effort, and consequently they pop out periodically. This year I am taking comfort in a book that I received from a thoughtful friend last year: The Twelve Terrors of Christmas, a 1993 collaboration between iconic illustrator Edward Gorey and John Updike. These terrors (a too heavily-laden Christmas tree, the threat of electrocution from all the electronic games under said tree, fears of not giving enough, not receiving enough, and returning all the stuff you did receive) are not quite my terrors (fatigue, rampant commercialism, over-consumption of food, drink, and stuff) but I like the overall sentiment, or lack thereof. And then there are the illustrations. “Christmas” and “Gorey” are not words that naturally go together, but he had tread that terrain previously–with a series of not-too-macabre Christmas cards for the Albondaconi Press and other publishers from the 1970s on–and the success of Terrors inspired a second holiday book: The Haunted Tea-Cosy. A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas Dispirited (1997), a parody of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. All very merry images, in that distinctly Gorey style.
Category Archives: Design
Looking around for inspiration for our family Christmas card, which I desperately would like to evolve from the traditional “here we are in front of some natural (maritime or snowy) backdrop”, I have become quite taken–like many before me, and no doubt after–with the whimsical illustrations of Mela Koehler (1885-1960). Koehler was a conspicuous member of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop), an artistic collaboration for artists, artisans, designers and architects inspired by the British Arts and Crafts movement. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, the Workshop became incredibly influential due to the fact that it emphasized both the artistic and the entrepreneurial: marketing was clearly a priority and the postcards produced by its members were the primary marketing tool. Mela Koehler created about 150 postcards for the Workshop: typically fantasy fashion images which served not as advertisements for actual clothes but as inspiration for women to experiment with their own attire. Add a tree or some holly, or a muff (clearly her favorite accessory), and you have a winter/Christmas postcard, offered up just at the moment that these merry missives were taking off. Original Koehler postcards are quite valuable, but most seem to have been acquired by Leonard Lauder as part of his massive collection (commenced when he was 6 years old), which has been generously donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The MFA featured an exhibition of a sample of the Lauder postcards last year, and many have been digitized, fortunately for us and for posterity–because as artistic as these little cards are, they are still (or were), in essence, ephemera.
In a follow-up to a post from several months ago on the beginning of a really neat adaptive reuse project near Collins Cove in Salem, today I have photographs of the Victorian-era trolley barn that has been transformed–and reborn–as six sparkling residential units. This is a rare opportunity (in print, not in life!) for me to heap praise on my husband, who was the architect on the job, as well as his clients, who have a long and impressive record of effecting historic preservation through conversion in Salem.
Three Webster Street was built in 1887 as a trolley or “car barn” for the Lynn & Boston Electric Railway Company. Its two stories contained approximately 9,600 square feet of unfinished and open floor space, which has now been converted into six apartments, four “upside down” (with loft living space and kitchen above, and bedrooms below) and two flats. Because the building occupies nearly every inch of its lot–and there were existing bays–parking has been provided inside, which I think is both very appropriate and very neighborly! I’ve included a “before” photograph from my previous post so you can appreciate the transformation, which began with simple enclosure and construction–almost to the extent of building townhouses within the existing structure–and extended to the merger of integral industrial details with all the comforts of home.
Before: wide open spaces
After: exterior, central hallway (with the building’s original ceiling tiles and sign along the walls), and apartments.
Three Webster Street, Salem Massachusetts: captured just before moving day. All six residences are spoken for!
Architecture and Alphabets: two of my favorite things, together. I’ve been meaning to post some images from Jean Baptiste de Pian’s clever alphabet ever since I discovered it a year or so ago, but just never got to it. There’s already some images and admirers out there, but I’ll add more. The lithographs below, part of a series of 26, were actually created and colored by Leopold Müller in 1842 after paintings by Pian. The series is very rare and valuable: one set sold for over $32,000 at a Christies’ auction last year, and another is currently available at Bromer Booksellers for $65,000. Apparently a facsimile edition was published in 1973 but I can’t find it anywhere. As you can see in the images below (which I have taken from the Christies’ listing), the letters are not just affixed to the structures but rather an integral part of them.
As impressive as they are, Pian/Müller’s letters are not completely original conceptions: just a few years earlier the Italian artist and theater designer Antonio Basoli had published his own, predominately classical,architectural alphabet, Alfabeto Pittorico, comprised of 24 letters and an ampersand. Basoli’s Alphabet, as it came to be known, is rare today as well, though apparently not quite so rare as that which it might have inspired: it fetched $15,000 at the same 2013 Christies’ auction. Before Basoli, there was the plan-based architectural alphabet of the German architect Johann David Steingruber, published in 1773. Viewed individually, I don’t think Steingruber’s letters are as impressive as the more consolidated forms of Pian/Müller and Basoli, but collectively (as in this canvas by Ballard Designs from a few years back) they pack a punch.
Scans of Basoli & Steingruber at the venerable blog Giornale Nuovo, a feast of information and images.
The architectural alphabet looks like a seventeenth-century invention to me: a direct consequence of the rebirth of classicism and the emergence and development of the printing arts in the centuries before. But I think I’ll move up (back) to our own time, where the architectural alphabet still survives, indeed thrives! Two great examples: Federico Babino’s alphabet of architects, cleverly titled Archibet (he also builds an Archibet City), and the (less integrative but more whimsical) Architectural Alphabet of Andrew Zega and Bernd Dams.
The acquisitive instinct in me has been kicking in lately, which I think is a good thing. I’ve been working very hard for the past year or so, and focusing on more material things gives my mind a rest. It’s really all about the search: I don’t have to buy, I can just look (really)! Looking around, I get little short-lived obsessions, and right now I’m very focused on the creations of the prolific artistic partnership of Kahn/Selesnick, whose work spans decades and genres and explores a myriad of alternative historical and futuristic themes in ways that are both conceptually and visually panoramic. Be prepared to be submerged into other worlds if you check out their website or those of any of the galleries that showcase their work, most of which is way beyond my ability to acquire except, perhaps, for a few of their Green Men. When I was browsing around the online shop of the Morbid Anatomy Museum (which has quite an eclectic collection, let me assure you), I became immediately fixated on the Kahn/Selesnick calendar plates, which feature a different Green Man for each month, and then I was off on a mission in search of more.
I think I can swing one or two plates (of course I want them all) but the Green Man photographs are a bit too dear for me. I would love a few of the amazing hand-colored “souvenir” playing cards from Kahn & Selesnick’s Eisbergfreistadt (a fictitious independent city-state located on a Baltic iceberg in the 1920s) series, but they seem to be long sold out, so I suppose my only paper option is a seed pack designed by the dynamic duo for Hudson Valley Seed Library. I can frame it!
Kahn/ Selesnick “On a Flowering Path” and “The Green God” photographs @ the Carrie Haddad Gallery; Eisbergfreistadt playing cards at the Kahn/Selesnick online store; and sunflower seed pack at Hudson Valley Seed Library. More Green Men.
Perhaps because I grew up in a Shingle-Style cottage on the southern coast of Maine, I have always taken the style for granted, even now and here, living on the North Shore of Boston, where it also reigned in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The strident Federal architecture of Salem appealed to me much more when it came time to buy a house–not quite at war with nature but not really melding with it either. But now, just across the water in the Pride’s Crossing section of Beverly, one of the most iconic Shingle cottages is apparently nearing its end: a house so harmonious with its surroundings yet so exacting in its details that even I can appreciate it. The Charles G. Loring house was built between 1881 and 1884 as a mid-career commission of the architect William Ralph Emerson (1833-1917), who is widely credited with originating what came to be known as the Shingle Style. The man who coined that term, Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully, calls the Loring House the very best of all the houses along this coast and considers that it may well be the finest surviving example of the Shingle Style, yet despite these and other weighty judgments, it may soon be taken down by its present owner, one of the co-founders of iRobot.
The house was built as a summer cottage by Charles G. Loring (1828-1902) on family land. Loring (like his father) has an amazing biography: he was a thrice-breveted Major-General of the Union army, the second time “for gallant and meritorious services at the battles of the Wildneress, Spottsylvania, and Bethesda Church and during the operation before Petersburg, Virginia” (Loring Genealogy). A passionate Egyptologist, he became one of the first trustees and curators at the newly-founded Museum of Fine Arts, Boston after the war, and then its first director. After his death in 1902 the estate was transferred to another old Boston family though its acquisition by Quincy Adams Shaw, one of the Museum’s major benefactors. It remained in the Shaw-Codman family for over a century, until the death of Mr. Shaw’s grandson, Samuel Codman, in 2008 (at age 100). After he inherited the house in the 1960s, Mr. Codman worked tirelessly to maintain it, apparently single-handedly, and I think you can see the impact of his care when you compare the photographs above. Even before Mr. Codman’s death, a group of “Friends” organized to raise funds in order to endow and preserve the house as a study property of Historic New England; very sadly, their fundraising goals fell short and consequently the house went on the market and was purchased first by several Loring descendants and then by Ms. iRobot. Her proposed “alterations” were deemed destructive by the Beverly Historic Commission, which imposed a one-year demolition delay that has now expired. An application sent to the Beverly Conservation Commission last week indicates the Loring House will be replaced by a larger structure (surprise).
All of my preservationist friends are desolate: their only consolation is that this house is very well-documented, inside and out. There are the Myron Miller photographs that I have showcased here, along with the beautiful images of the renown architectural photographer Steve Rosenthal, who provided his services pro bono to the Friends of the General George G. Loring House. Another reason why I never really appreciated the Shingle Style is its characteristic interiors, which always seemed a bit drab to me, but obviously I’ve been looking at the wrong Shingle Style houses. As Mr. Rosenthal’s photographs illustrate so well, the Loring House glows with light and features details that are most likely irreplaceable, but apparently also ephemeral.