13 December 2017

canon tables, bureaux plats, and cribs

When I was in grad school at Case Western Reserve University (1968-1973), one of the great advantages of the art history program was the close collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art and its curators. The curators taught courses, mostly seminars and mostly collection-related. Our regular library was the CMA Library. Memorably, I took a medieval seminar with William Wixom and worked on a 12th-century manuscript leaf, with Matthew on one side and canon tables on the verso. Working on the calligraphy of the canon tables to date and place the leaf was delightful.
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Four of us were in a seminar with decorative arts curator Henry Hawley. The topic was French furniture from 1735-1750. We got to crawl around in the gallery, on the rug, under the furniture. I got to work on a bureau plat by noted cabinetmaker Bernard II van Riesen Burgh (BVRB). It has a twin in the Jones Collection which is now in the Victoria & Albert.
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As I was finishing up my M.A. and starting my M.S. in Library Science, also at Case Western, we went on a field trip with Mr. Wixom to New York. We visited Ella Brummer whose late husband Ernest had been a dealer and collector. We also visited Ruth Blumka whose late husband Leopold had also been a gallerist and dealer. She still had the wonderful Crib of the Infant Jesus which has now been given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's just over a foot tall.

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I was reminded of our trip today when Michael Carter, now a librarian at the Cloisters, sent me a scan of a letter he had found in the archives. It was a thank-you note to Mrs. Brummer from a group of Clevelanders. Yes, our little group of eight grad students had sent a note, in the fine hand of Henry Kleinhenz.

When we were at the Blumka apartment on Park Avenue, Mrs. Blumka opened a linen-fold cabinet and took out a velvet-wrapped item. She carefully uncovered an ivory, a beautifully carved French High Gothic ivory. It was somewhat damaged so not considered "museum quality." It was not cheap but one could imagine finding the few hundred dollars and starving a bit. Oh how I wish that Dorothy and I had been more adventurous and bought the ivory.

A few years later when I was working at the Frick Fine Arts Library at the University of Pittsburgh, Carl Nordenfalk, noted manuscript scholar, was a visiting professor. We talked about "my" manuscript page. He read my seminar paper and thought it was publishable. I did not proceed with that. I don't regret that nearly as much as not buying the ivory.

Descriptions of the objects:
Miniature Excised from a Gospel Book: The Symbol of St. Matthew (recto) and Canon Tables (verso), c. 1125-1150 - Italy, Florence - ink and tempera on vellum.
Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund 1950.373 (photo from the CMA website)

Table Desk (Bureau plat), c. 1750-1760 - Bernard II van Riesen Burgh
wood marquetry with gilt bronze mounts, leather top.
The Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Collection 1944.123 (photo from the CMA website)

Crib of the Infant Jesus, 15th century. South Netherlandish.
Wood, polychromy, lead, silver-gilt, painted parchment, silk embroidery with seed pearls, gold thread, translucent enamels.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Ruth Blumka, in memory of Leopold Blumka, 1974 (1974.121a-d) (photo from an article on the Met's website)

18 November 2017

Flemish farmhand

Rose and Anna went to a thé dansant in York. Rose danced with Sam Thawley, a gardener at an estate near Downton Abbey. He was smitten with Rose. I was rather smitten with the actor that played the role, Jonathan Howard, and couldn't figure out exactly why when I watched the episode. And, then, aha. He's a candidate for a portrait by Hans Memling or Hugo van der Goes or Dirk Bouts.

The scene at the thé dansant:
The scene in the kitchen yard, in which Sam visits Rose and she plays the maid:

27 October 2017

Wassily chairs

A good friend in Alfred is helping another friend clear out her first floor so she can move downstairs in the overcrowded family house. This is a scenario too close to my own situation. I don't have any problem with the stairs but I've got too much stuff. I went up yesterday to help put together some stuff for the Op Shop (thrift shop). There, in the kitchen, were a couple of Breuer chairs that were perhaps destined to go to the Op Shop. My first reaction was "they're worth money if they're good." My second reaction was that they need a new home and appreciative owners.
I sent an email to a few friends to see if they knew anyone local who collected mid-century modern furniture. Then, today, as I was walking up South Main Street toward home, I ran into a neighbor who was going into her house for lunch. She works at the museum so I thought she might know someone who would be interested in the chairs. As it turns out, she used to have a pair of Wassily chairs herself, a gift from her grandfather when she was in college. The chairs had gone to another relative as her college life unfolded. So now she has a new pair of the chairs and my friend's chairs have a new home to be part of.

This little transfer has cheered me enormously.

03 October 2017

Palladium Bridge

Nothing quite like a Palladium Bridge to brighten the day.

01 October 2017

New Paltz brutalism update

blogged in 2013 about a brutalist building at my alma mater -- New Paltz State -- that was going up as I finished college. The building was being stripped, resurfaced, expanded, and otherwise mangled in 2013. Now I've discovered that the civil engineering firm that worked on the renovation has used my "before" photo. Normally, I figure a picture on the web is rather up for grabs -- not really, of course, but there's always a chance. I am disappointed that my photo has been used as if Larsen Engineers -- http://www.larsenengineers.com/Structural_Engineering_Projects.asp -- had fixed the brutalist building and made it solid for another fifty years. Instead, they were part of a process that covered up the wonderful brutal building and left it quite ordinary.

23 August 2017

Fashion photographs RT Documentary photographs

We have been working on the art genre/form project, part of LCGFT, for several years. Too long but it's getting close to the point of submitting the terms. I was looking over (again) the cumulative list of terms after a couple rounds of reviewing by subject experts from the Library of Congress. We hope that we'll be ready to turn the words into records soon. Fingers crossed. After some proofreading, I fixed some supper and perused last Sunday's T: the New York Times style magazine as I ate my soup. The last opening of the magazine was an advertisement for Givenchy.
The credit line is "Documented by Steven Meisel" and this copy of the photo is taken from "Next season's hottest accessory is a cat, according to Givenchy" by Katherine Cusumano, from W magazine (posted July 10, 2017).

We're proposing Documentary photographs but not Fashion photographs. I think the latter is a hybrid term, mixing genre/form with topic .... but if we ever decide to submit Fashion photographs, we might just have to add a RT reference to Documentary photographs. Obviously, I've been spending too much time looking at the terms.

05 August 2017

completing the circle

On Friday, I went up to Buffalo to hear one of the FLW 150 lectures at the Darwin Martin House, being held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frank Lloyd Wright. This one was by Michael Desmond of LSU on "Shifting Perspectives of Form: Frank Lloyd Wright's Circular Houses." Circular houses would get me every time. It seems so central, so utopian, so right, so Palladio. Desmond talked more, however, about how Wright broke the circle to pull our eye toward a view or through the house. Desmond lyrically traced Wright's career, starting with the Blossom House, the plan of which uses the 9-square grid which comes from Palladio and the Villa Rotunda. But the 9-square is easy to encircle. It tames nature. It gives order. I really enjoyed the lecture and it was evocative. Many of the circular houses that Desmond talked about are relatively late works and not many were built. Desmond noted that Wright left more than 700 unbuilt projects.

In the question-and-answer period after the talk, Desmond paraphrased Ralph Waldo Emerson as saying that if we see an arc, we fill in the circle. And that is what Wright was doing, except when he was purposefully playing with the circles or arcs to disrupt the circle. It was then I realized that I'd experienced a similar relationship to incomplete circles earlier in the day.

One of the exhibitions on view at the Albright-Knox was "Drawing: The Beginning of Everything" and one of the works in the exhibition was Untitled (2011) by Jacob Kassay. On the left is a shaped canvas with an slightly curved right edge. On the right are two small panels with a line drawn in graphite on the wall, also slightly arced. Together, the arc shapes could form a circle but you have to complete the circle with your eyes.

Jacob Kassay
Untitled, 2011
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 2011, 2011:49a-d

As I drove home in the rainy darkness, I kept myself company by singing "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" as Joan Baez sings it on David's Album.

29 July 2017

it's on the shelf

I've blogged several times about LibraryThing but not recently. (see posts)  When I first started cataloging my library in LibraryThing, the closest libraries to mine (based on a weighted measure of common books and how many books altogether) were mostly architectural. Then I left New York City and started cataloging my books at the upstate family homestead. The closest libraries shifted to those with lots of gay titles or a mix of architecture and gay titles, and the amount of fiction climbed. I was delighted to notice today that the closest library is now HTCBooks which seems to be affiliated with the History, Theory and Criticism of architecture and art program at MIT, part of the Department of Architecture. Some of the tags look personal, such as SOA Home Guest Room Shelf 1. Maybe that's a good idea: you might be able to find a book when you want it. It might be especially good for the skinny little things without any spine presence. Still, it surprises me how many books are where I first look.

For example, I was indexing an article about a project by Wang Hui. There was an undifferentiated personal name record in LC/NAF for Wang Hui but none of them had any latin-script language titles so I couldn't tell if my guy was included or not. I thought I didn't have the Chinese character version of his name until I checked the firm website: Urbanus Architecture & Design. The projects there included Tulou affordable housing. Almost a decade ago, Tulou was included in a show at the Cooper-Hewitt and I had bought the catalog which was right there on that shelf downstairs with some other architecture titles. Wang Hui is in the colophon so I do have the Chinese character version of his name.

Sometimes I feel like my thousands of books are a burden. Too much stuff to just pick up and go live in Palermo for six months. I sometimes feel like I should give my architecture books to Alfred State which has a new B.Arch. program. On the other hand, it's nice to be able to have Tulou: affordable housing in China readily at hand.

15 June 2017

exemplary buildings

Ten years ago, I blogged here about the Coignet Building at the corner of Third Avenue and 3rd Street in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn.
The building was in rather shabby condition in 2000 when I took this picture, looking down Third Avenue. (Perhaps it's better that the building is rather off in the distance.) It was built in the early 1870s as the office building for the Coignet Stone Company and to show off their fine decorative concrete work. The Gothamist site has a good article by Miranda Katz which includes the building's history and some lovely pictures by Scott Heins taken after its recent restoration. This is one of the "after" pictures:

We have the Terra Cotta Building in Alfred that was built in 1892 by the Celadon Terra Cotta Company for its office building and to display their wares.
Photo by Cynthia Wenslow

It's always good to be able to see how construction materials will look on a real building. As I meandered the streets of Ridgewood in Queens a couple days ago, I noticed a stretch of houses on Woodbine Street near Forest Avenue. The fronts of the buildings were of a rich variety and could help you decide how to re-side your row house. Do you want horizontal clapboards, diagonal boards, fancy plaster with an Italianate feel, faux stone, or maybe just an Italian renaissance palazzo?

Oh, how I wish I had any one of these row houses, whatever siding. It was a great week in New York City: lots of museums and galleries, a couple pop-up concerts at Miller Theater at Columbia, meals with friends, sitting with John's cats, going to the Lissa Rivera and BJ Lillis gallery talk at ClampArt and running into Walter on the subway later. Walter knows Lissa and would have liked to attend the gallery talk but he had to go to meetings to plan the 2018 ARLIS/NA conference.

12 June 2017

inequality and fairness

When I was in Havana a couple years ago, there seemed to be a good sense of social interaction on the street. It may have been partly the pleasant tropical climate. People were going about their business or leisure. I know I was ready to see that Cuba was a good place. We did hear from one of the tour guides that the elite did have access to better housing but that they generally did not have more disposable income. The ostentatious signs of inequality in the U.S., such as McMansions and huge black SUVs, are not so visible in Cuba.

In last Sunday's Opinion section in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote about "What Monkeys Can Teach Us About Fairness." Recent research had looked at how monkeys reacted when one of them got a prized grape rather than a cucumber slice in exchange for a pebble. Other research looked at how travelers in coach were more satisfied with their flight if they did not walk through a first-class cabin on their way to the coach cabin. With all the complaints about airplane seating, I've never been able to understand why anyone would want priority boarding. Still other research showed that sports teams with similar player salaries generally did better than teams where some players got much larger salaries than others. The perception of inequality exacerbated the situation.

I suspect that my good feelings about the general sociocultural climate in Havana came from a sense of shared space as well as the afterglow of improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Sure, there were some people that were more shabbily dressed than others but it wasn't the grotesque visual clash of socioeconomic inequality.