Tag Archives: design

Hudson Picturesque

I drove into one of the most distressed small cities in America this past Monday, and was both assaulted and astonished by: rows and rows of brick townhouses from the nineteenth century and before, many gone to rot, manifest poverty, amazing elevated Hudson River views, a historic district of restored Gilded Age mansions saved from a sweeping program of urban renewal and by their courageous owners, and a fisher cat. Perhaps I would not have ventured into Newburgh if I had known that it was “The Murder Capital of New York“, but then I would not have seen the deterioration or the restoration (or the fisher cat, which is not a cat at all but a rare weasel-like creature–it fled into an abandoned wooded lot before I could turn on my camera, but I knew immediately that that’s what it was). I went to Newburgh to see Washington’s Headquarters, but came away seeing a whole lot more. I’m going to refrain from including images of Newburgh’s distress–but let me assure you that its surviving restored structures are all the more picturesque because of the contrast.

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Along Montgomery Street in Newburgh, New York; villas and a foundation garden. The influence of Calvert Vaux (1824-95) and Andrew Jackson Downing is very apparent. There is a park named after Downing in Newburgh, and this last house is clearly based on “Design no. 14″ in Vaux’s Villas and cottages. A series of designs prepared for execution in the United States.

The Hudson River Valley is, of course, picturesque in both natural and man-made ways: and when they come together they really grab hold of you! The whole region is dotted with romantic structures, large and small, alone and in assemblages like Montgomery Street. On the other side of the river, I captured a few more romantic structures, and, for contrast, the USS Slater (the last World War II destroyer afloat) on its way up the river to Albany.

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On the other side of the river: houses (actually I don’t think this first structure is a house–some sort of chapel?) in Cold Spring and Rhinecliff; the USS Slater on the Hudson.

 

 


Brick Revival

A beautiful brick Colonial Revival house in Salem came on the market last week, so I stopped by to check it out on my way to school. Fairfield Street, its location, is just off Lafayette in the midst of the area that was completely devastated by the Salem Fire of 1914. Almost immediately after the Fire, its property owners committed to a plan of relatively rapid rebuilding and this strident street emerged as prime evidence of Salem’s renewal. This is certainly the theme of Salem author/photographer Mary Harrod Northend’s article in the Fall 1920 edition of The House Beautiful: “Worthwhile Houses Built in Salem since the Great Conflagration of 1914″, which features 11 Fairfield Street along with its neighboring structures–many built of solid, more flame-retardant materials like brick and stucco–built to last, with myriad details representative of their owners’ and architects’ appreciation of the “old-time architecture” of Salem. In the particular case of 11 Fairfield, the owner was George W. Hooper, owner of the Salem Laundry, and the architect was Robert. C. Boit of Boston: the house is dated 1914, so they must have made their contract while the embers of that June were still smoldering!

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Fairfield Street Interior

PicMonkey Collage

Fairfield Street 1920-001

The George W. Hooper House, designed by Robert C. Boit, 1914, as featured in its present-day listing and in The House Beautiful, no. 49 (1920)–on the right.

 


Patched with Plastic

I was planning a post on tax collectors for this Tax Day, but it got too overwhelming and too depressing: as one of Lucifer’s Four Evangelists (with the usurer, the banker, and the miller (???), the tax man has been reviled for centuries, and depicted in images and prose in all sorts of unflattering ways. I don’t think anyone wants to see paintings of tax collectors on the day their returns are due, even if they are the creations of Renaissance artists (who seem to have a singular obsessions with tax farmers). So instead, I’m offering LEGO art!

T, The New York Times Style Magazine has some interesting features in its latest edition, despite a thematic focus on minimalism (not my favorite style). There is a lot of texture in the magazine, and one particular photograph stopped me in my tracks: an ancient, crumbling wall, patched with plastic. The close proximity of very new and very old is my favorite aesthetic, so I had to see more of the work of artist Jan Vormann.

Lego

Jan Vormann/© 2014 ARS, New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

At first glance, I thought the above image was photoshopped but no, as his website and this Daily Telegraph article make clear, Vormann travels the real world and places bright LEGO blocks in the midst of conspicuous decay, drawing attention to buildings and places as part of a “Repair Manifesto”. He wants onlookers to see the holes, question why they are there, and seek their repair–except perhaps where they serve as constant reminders, as in the case of the bullet and shrapnel destruction of Berlin. How I wish he would come to Salem! We need the colorful and constant reminders of our past, and the manifesto to repair.

Vormann Berlin-001

Vorrman NYC Bryant Park NYC-001

Vormann Venice

Vorrmann Bamberg

Lego “repairs” in Berlin, New York City, Venice and Vormann’s hometown of Bamberg, Germany: JAN VORMANN / BARCROFT USA and Dispatchwork.

 

 


A New Storefront in Salem

If you’ve read this blog for any time at all you know that I am a traditionalist when it comes to architecture, and a committed preservationist, but there’s a new storefront on Essex Street, Salem’s main thoroughfare since its foundation, which has definitely caught my eye–and it is very sleek and very modern. As a main street, for nearly four centuries, Essex Street has had to change with the times, and this particular block lost its really old structures long ago–in the past century it was home to two adjacent movie theaters, one which looks like it was a real palace (the Empire), and another which was a more modest mid-century construction (the Salem). The building with the bold new storefront was built in 1929 in a Colonial Revival style, complete with urns on top–like a McIntire fence! Its shiny new facade actually  has a bit more integrity, I think, and hopefully draws a great new tenant.

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Storefront Essex

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Storefront Empire

The 390s block of Essex Street, present and past.

 


Thinking about Pink

Just the other day I heard my fellow Salemite Michelle Finamore, the Curator of Fashion Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, talking about her ongoing exhibition Think Pink on NPR, a nice reminder that I haven’t seen it yet! The exhibition opened in October (heralded by pink spotlights on the Museum marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month), but I’m glad that I have inadvertently waited until now, because for me pink is more of a spring color, and definitely a happy one. About a decade ago, I had endured the most miserable winter (even more miserable than this past one), a prolonged period of heartache and anxiety about nearly aspect of my life. And then one day in mid-March I spotted a bubblegum pink spring coat at a vintage store in Boston, bought it, put it on, and everything just got better! It was the perfect sixties pink, not too “hot” and not too light, in the perfect Audrey Hepburn silhouette with a little Doris Day collar, and (of course) three-quarter sleeves, and I wore that coat every day through that Spring, no matter what I had on under it, until the day (or rather, night) that it was stolen from a restaurant coat room while I was eating dinner. No matter, it had worked its magic, and I truly hope that it did the same for whoever took it home. The color pink cannot fail to bring a smile to my face, whether I’m thinking about my long-lost coat, or the Diana Vreeland-esque character played by Kay Thompson in the classic Audrey (and Fred Astaire) film Funny Face, who also encourages us all to “Think Pink!”

pink MFA Boston

Pink Doll's Dress

Pink

The MFA in October and a silk taffeta 18th century doll’s dress from the Exhibition (Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; still image of Kay Thompson’s “Think Pink” number in Funny Face (1957).

The Think Pink exhibition is not just about showing off pretty dresses, but also an exploration of “the changing meaning of pink in art and fashion”. It seems that pink perceptions are particularly interesting when relative to gender: the headline of Michelle’s NPR interview the other day was her statement that pink as a girl’s color was “a post-World War II phenomenon”–New York magazine proclaimed that Pink was Formerly a Bro Shade in response. A great example of looking back at masculine pre-war pink is the Ralph Lauren suit worn by Robert Redford in the 1974 version of the Great Gatsby, which is pictured in the exhibition along side a man’s formal suit in deep pink silk from several centuries earlier (which you can read more about here). This certainly rings true for me: while I don’t see a lot of men in pink in my period (the sixteenth century), there are not hard to find a bit later. Pink strikes me as a very cavalier color, and men in the eighteenth century were certainly not afraid to wear it–even Prime Ministers.

Pink Suits MFA

Benedict in Pink MET-001

Pink Pitt Victoria & Albert Museum

The Ralph Lauren “Gatsby” Suit and a Man’s formal suit, France, 1770-1780, silk satin with silk embroidery, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Portrait of Benedikt von Hertenstein by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1517, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Miniature Portrait of  William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham by Jean André Rouquet, 1740s, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Appendix:  Because it is her 90th birthday today, and because the coat she is wearing is quite similar to my perfect pink coat (except mine was made of a thin wool weave, not satin), I’ve got to include this picture of the perfect pink girl, Doris Day (from the blog Cinema Style).

Doris Day (1960s)

 



Artistic Alphabets

A good friend of mine recently “published” a digital alphabet book app called The Curious Alphabet and as I was checking it out, I thought, wow, this is a creation that is very, very new and a genre that is quite old:  nothing is more traditional than an ABC book, but now it has broken free of its paper chains. Alphabet books are absolutely fundamental, but at the same time they have certainly inspired successions of artists, everyone from Albrecht Dürer in the sixteenth century to Man Ray in the twentieth and Steve Martin in the twenty-first.

Alphabet Curious Cover

Alphabet Curious

Screen Shots of A Curious Alphabet by Julie Shaw Lutts:  available here.

The publishers of alphabet books were always among the first to take advantage of new technologies: in addition to bibles and prayer books, ABCs constitute the most popular titles of the first century of print. Primers were not exclusively children’s books until several centuries later–and Dürer’s letter books are really more about the construction of letters than the instruction of the alphabet–but from at least 1800 a succession of artists seem to have felt free to indulge their whimsical appreciation of the alphabet, ostensibly for the sake of the children.

ABC Seller BnF

Durer-CRL-spreads

Alphabet Diabolique 1825

Alphabet Royal 1822

Alphabet Universel Anglais et Francais 1830

ABC of the Great War

PicMonkey Collage

ABC Book Falls

ABC Martineau A is for Alarm

ABC 3d Marion Bataille

A Portfolio of Primers:  Street Hawker selling ABC books in early sixteenth-century France, from the Anciens cris de Paris, Bibliotheque national de France; Albrecht Dürer, The Construction of Roman Letters, Dunster House 1924 edition, designed by Bruce Rogers; A page from the “Devilish Alphabet” engraved by Delannois, 1825, Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratif;  Royal Alphabet, or History of an Apple Pie, 1822; Alphabet Universel: Anglais et Francais, c. 1830; Andre Hellé, Alphabet de la Grande Guerre, 1914-1916; Jean Saudé (Miarko), Capital letters W and O from L’Art Croquis d’Animaux, c. 1920; ABC Book with woodcut illustrations by C.B. Falls, Doubleday & Co., 1923; “A is for Alarm” from Every Girl‘s Alphabet (2006) by Luke Martineau and Kate Bingham; Marion Bataille, ABC 3D (2009).


Alice for the Ages

I’m a devoted aficionado of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which means I’m a fan not only of Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), but also of the illustrator John Tenniel, whose Alice is Alice: we cannot think of the story apart from his images–the words and the pictures are an inseparable whole. Tenniel produced illustrations for many, many more publications besides Alice and Through the Looking Glass during his long life (1820-1914), but his illustrations for Carroll are the ultimate examples of what book illustration should accomplish: the creation of a tangible world in which the text’s characters dwell. And don’t we all want to live in Wonderland, at least for a little while? As today marks Tenniel’s birthday, I thought I’d share some of his beautiful hand-colored proofs from the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum. These are for the 1889 abridged “Nursery Edition” of Alice, which, ironically, has a cover illustration by a different artist: Emily Gertrude Thomson. As you can see, Thomson’s Alice looks very much like Tenniel’s: she is Alice, after all.

Tenniel Nursery Alice

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Sir John Tenniel’s hand-colored proofs for the “Nursery” edition of Alice, c. 1889; Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., 1987.


A Russian Alphabet Book

I thought the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics was absolutely captivating last Friday: it’s always interesting to see how a country and a people perceive themselves in terms of their history, although this particular presentation was probably more official than popular. There was certainly a strong imperial focus, I thought, and a bit less emphasis on the 20th century–except for the big red train! There was a lot of effort and energy out there but actually my favorite part of the whole presentation was the very beginning: the introductory video that prepared us for the live whimsy to follow as well as the Cyrillic alphabet. This impressed me both in terms of pedagogy and aesthetics, and of course if you paid attention you were prepared for the out-of-(western) order parade of nations that followed. I quickly learned that the images in the video were based on the Alphabet in Pictures book of Alexandre Benois (1870-1960), a Russian artist, set and costume designer (most famously for the Ballets Russes), historic preservationist, and art historian who was the Curator of Painting at the Hermitage Museum from 1918 to 1925, after which he left Russia: the Stalinist era clearly didn’t suit this Renaissance man, who perhaps inspired the Sochi spectacular in more ways than one (and he was the great-uncle of actor Peter Ustinov)!

Benois’ ABC book was published in a lavish 1904 edition by a Russian art publisher; it encompasses 35 chromolithographic plates illustrating each letter with scenes and figures from traditional folkloric, religious, and historical sources. Each page is a whimsical work of art and you can see all the images here and here; I’m glad that it has been digitized but would really like to spend some time with a real volume. It’s highly collectible (the last copy I could find at auction went for nearly $10,000), and I bet that it’s appearance at Sochi will drive its price up even higher. Much more accessible is Benois’ Russian School of Painting (1916), with its sad (in retrospect–knowing what would soon be his fate) portrait of Tsar Nicholas II on the frontispiece and entire chapter devoted to history and folklore.

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ABC Cp

ABC 3p

Abc Lastp

Digitized pages from Alexandre Benois’ Alphabet in Pictures, St. Petersburg: Expedition of State Papers, 1904.

The Alphabet book made me curious to see more of Benois’s work, and there is a lifetime of it! Watercolors, set designs, costumes, magazine illustrations. Apparently there was an 2006 exhibition at the Boston Public Library, which holds some of his papers, but he was not on my radar screen at that time. The paintings and sketches for sets and costumes evoke some of what we saw the other night, but the BIG HEADS must have come from somewhere else: Pushkin, perhaps?

Alexander-Benois-xx-Parade-under-Paul-I-1907-xx-The-State-Russian-Museum

ABC Nutcracker 1938

Pushkin 2

Alexandre Benois, Parade under Paul I, 1907, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; Nutcracker Costume for La Scala, 1938, Victoria & Albert Museum; Illustration in Pushkin’s Lyudmila and Ruslan by Nikolai Kochergin (1897-1974).


Sun and Ice in Salem

A beautiful winter weekend for the 12th annual Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate & Ice Sculpture Festival.

There were lots of people downtown: I have no doubt that this Salem Main Streets event helps the restaurants at a quiet time of year (although Salem’s restaurant scene seems to be flourishing anyway); I really hope that it helps the shops too. The wine and chocolate tasting that kicks off the weekend is always such a crush that I skip it, but I would never miss the ice sculptures.

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Seeing yellow:  this tree was full of fat yellow-breasted birds–finches? Mr. and Mrs. Pac-man; the Miles Ward looked especially lovely to me today.

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It’s rather difficult to photograph ice, especially if there’s no background….my favorite sculpture is definitely that of the Salem Diner, acquired by Salem State University last summer and newly-reopened. On the way back home, I noticed that the Joshua Ward house is for sale: this is where George Washington slept when he visited Salem in 1789.

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From Car Barn to Condos

There is a lot of new construction going on in Salem at the moment, but fortunately there are some adaptive reuse projects in the works as well. I don’t have high hopes for the former, but it’s always interesting to see industrial or institutional buildings transformed into something altogether different:  generally, but not exclusively housing. My husband is working on an interesting project right now: the transformation of the “car barn” of the former Lynn & Boston Electric Railway Company into six residential units–two townhouses and four flats–with some parking inside the building, which seems appropriate, if not convenient. I’ve admired this building for a while: like many buildings of its era (1887) it reminds me that “aesthetic” and “utilitarian” need not necessarily be contradictory terms.

Car Barn 8

Car Barn 9

Car Barn 11

Webster Street MAcris

I know it doesn’t look like much with that big dumpster parked out in front, and it was difficult to take pictures of its sides as it fills its lot entirely, but the window frames are lovely, and plentiful–which is evident in the interior shots below. Obviously one of the big bay doors was filled in at some point; I couldn’t find a picture earlier than what appears to be the 1970s (from MACRIS).

Car Barn

Car Barn 2

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Car Barn 3

The Lynn & Boston Electric Railway Company serviced a network of “broomstick trains” running all over the North Shore, housed in “barns” like this one when they were not in service. After the Lynn & Boston was absorbed into the Boston & Northern Street Railway Company its network became even larger, encompassing both the local and the regional. The railway maps from a century ago reveal just how linked communities were in the past, before the other cars came in.

Car Barn Map BPL

Boston & Northern  1911 Trolley map

Broomstick Train

Boston Public Library.


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