Quote of the Moment

"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye and more."

Walker Evans, American photographer.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Toddle to Amherst

On Saturday, Sept. 25th four of us set out for Amherst, Mass. to visit the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  It was a beautiful warm sunny day for a drive, with the leaves just starting to turn.  When we got to Amherst it took us a few minutes to find the Mead; there was a craft fair going on downtown (which we successfully avoided!) and the museum is located at the center of the idyllically beautiful Amherst campus.  With the help of some students we found it, however, and what a treat this little museum is.  Here is a description from the museum website:

"The Mead occupies its original building opened in 1949 (renovated in 1999-2001) established with funds bequeathed by architect William Rutherford Mead, Amherst College Class of 1867. Eight galleries feature regularly changing installations and special exhibitions spanning a wide range of historical periods, national schools, and artistic media. Highlights of the permanent collection include American and European old masters, an English Baroque room, ancient Assyrian carvings, Russian modern art, West African sculpture, Japanese prints, and Mexican ceramics." 

In addition to the renovation mentioned above, the entire collection was reinstalled in newly painted galleries this past summer and the results are stunning.  The wall colors (no boring white here!) really make the installations stand out and the entire experience is a feast for the eyes.

The exhibits gallery page features some of my many favorites from the Mead's wonderfully eclectic collection.  (To view more visit the Mead website, which features in depth research and viewing capabilities).

Some of the highlights for me were: Bouguereau's "Le Travail interrompu" (Penelope) (1891); "Gloucester Harbor" by Willard Metcalf (1895); the Assyrian alabaster reliefs from circa 9th centure B.C.; marble sculpture titled "Sleeping Children" by William Rinehart (1874); a small Bronze Bacchante by MacMonnies (1894); and some of the Roman objects, notably the little oil lamps (note where the wick would protrude on the example in the Exhibits Gallery page; naughty Romans!) 

I recommend ending a visit in the Rotherwas Room.  This is a room commissioned by English knight Sir Roger Bodenham for his estate, called Rotherwas Court.  This sumptuous walnut-panelled dining room was acquired by Amherst graduate Herbert Lee Pratt for his neo-Jacobean estate in Long Island in 1913.  Pratt bequeathed the room and a major collection of paintings, furniture and silver to Amherst in 1944 and the room was incorporated into the Mead Museum during it's construction in 1948-49.  There are leather armchairs to relax in while you take in the Renaissance and Baroque art on view in the room and enjoy the magnificent view from the room's windows.

During our tour of the Mead my friends and I came across some students hanging out and reading in one of the galleries; it was quiet and comfortable and a favorite place of theirs, they told us.  And I could see why; this museum has a very welcoming atmosphere and friendly, helpful staff.

After our visit to the Mead we ventured back into downtown Amherst for lunch at Judie's, an Amherst eaterie that has been around for years that features a varied menu and reasonable prices.  The sweet potato fries and Bomba (sherbert encased in a white chocolate shell) were particularly yummy!

After fortifying ourselves we ventured off to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  This was conceived and founded by illustrator Eric Carle and his wife.  It opened in 2002 and features works by Carle and other contemporary illustrators as well as a selection of historic illustrations and traveling exhibits.  There are also regular book signings by contemporary children's writers and illustrators.

This is a great museum for families and a perfect choice for a first art museum experience for young children.  There is a video to the left of the admission desk when you enter that is narrated by Eric Carle and is designed to introduce children to the idea of a museum and how to behave appropriately.  The video is engaging and not preachy at all and Carle's charm and personality set the stage for viewing the exhibits very well.

Currently the West Gallery is devoted mostly to the art, life and artistic process of Eric Carle, which also features some of the donated historical collection. This exhibit will be on view until March of 2011.  The Central Gallery features the art of Leo Leoninni, specifically his book "Geraldine the Music Mouse," until the end of November 2010.  The East Gallery is currently being readied for a new exhibit but featured the art of an Austrian illustrator named Lisbeth Zwerger when we were there.  Zwerger's illustrations are done mostly in watercolor; many are small and incredibly detailed.  She illustrated a lot of classic stories such as Noah's Ark, Swan Lake, Alice In Wonderland, etc. 

In addition to the galleries there is a library of picture books that families can hang out and read stories in.  All of the books in this library are shelved alphabetically by illustrator.  There is also an art room where children can make art, complete with a drying rack outside so that you can leave your work to dry and pick it up on your way out.  A theatre near the entrance offers puppet shows and other kid-friendly entertainment on a regular basis and then there is the gift shop.  I warn you: set limits or you could easily go berserk in here!  There is an extensive collection of children's books for all ages, plus adult art books, toys, games, baby gifts, stationery..... One of my friends purchased a wonderful baby shower package completely in the Very Hungry Caterpillar theme. 

On the Exhibits Gallery page I have posted the Carle Museum's logo and a photo of myself and two of my friends in front of the Very Hungry Caterpillar (I couldn't find other representative images to import from the website).  You can bring a picnic lunch here or go to the Atkins Farm Market just down the street for refreshment (another very tempting shopping experience!)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fiery Pool: The Maya & the Mythic Sea at the Peabody Essex Museum

On Sunday, July 11th the Merry Toddlers set forth for Salem, Massachusetts to see this exhibit at PEM.  Several of us admitted that at the outset we were going because we were looking forward to another trip together and PEM is a wonderful museum; we were interested in the Maya but it was not what primarily inspired us.  What we found was a fascinating, engaging and wonderfully designed exhibit that surprised and delighted us all! 

The exhibit spread out over several rooms, with themes linking the objects in the rooms.  Along with the objects were interactive elements that truly made each area come alive, as did the wall colors, which picked up and enhanced the colors of some of the exhibited artifacts.  The premise of the exhibit was to show how integral the idea of water and the ocean was to Mayan culture.  In the first room there were video screens suspended from the ceiling showing constantly changing cloud formations and storms; the sight and sounds were a subtle backdrop to the objects on view. 

In the second room the interactive element was a video that derived from one object; you touched the picture of the vase on the screen and the engraved symbols unrolled before your eyes and lead to ocean scenes that told the story.  In this room there was also a large touch-screen installation that showed figures of different animals important to the Maya.  When you touched an animal image, other pictures and symbols of the animal opened up.  This installation was like a big round table that  you leaned over and worked with and it was almost like scrying in a pool and pulling up meanings; lots of fun and informative at the same time. 

In a room near the end there was a video presentation next to a large tablet of Mayan character carvings.  You could watch as many "chapters" as you wished to learn about how to read the tablet and what each grouping of characters meant.

Throughout each room the objects were presented beautifully, with small specialized fixtures illuminating details of certain pieces and groupings that related to each other and enhanced each other's meaning.  I came away impressed and much better educated than when I entered!

Following the exhibit we had lunch in the excellent museum cafe and then split up to view other exhibits we were interested in, as well as spending time in the tempting gift shop.  I also ran into some artist friends who were there to see the same exhibit; an unexpected bonus! 

For pictures of the Merry Toddlers on the road, stay tuned for an upcoming photos page, which will debut as soon as I master uploading from my digital camera!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Off The Wall Exhibit at the Danforth Museum

Yes, I know, I have lived in Framingham for 8 years and I had never been to the Danforth Museum! Well I remedied that on Thursday, June 24 when I went to see the Off the Wall & Community of Artists exhibits. The program for the exhibits states: " Each year our two concurrent juried exhibitions showcase artistic talent of emerging and established member artists. Off the Wall communicates the unique vision of our renowned guest jurors while Community of Artists provides a snapshot of some of the most exciting work done by artists living and working in New England." (The guest jurors this year were Jen Mergel, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the MFA Boston and Helen Molesworth, Chief Curator at the ICA Boston). All of the pieces by artists I know and the piece by an artist new to me that really got my attention are in the Community of Artists exhibit, so that exhibit is what is covered in this post.

I was prompted to visit this exhibit through an invitation from a friend, C-J Stevens, whose beautiful (and labor-intensive!) bead work pieces I last saw on display last fall at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in an exhibit called "Ten Thousand Hours". I've known C-J through another mutual friend for several years but had only seen some of her beaded jewelry work before (which is also fabulous), never the framed pieces. I was very impressed by the depth and beauty of her work. One of the pieces, titled Recession, is on view at the Danforth show. (Unfortunately, C-J doesn't have a website so I couldn't extract any examples of her work for the gallery on the Museums page. Someone needs to drag this girl into the digital age!)

I didn't realize until I got to the Danforth that there were several other artists in this show whose work I also know and admire. David Lang, who I know through C-J, has two of his kinetic sculptures on view, one of which is a favorite of mine that I had seen in his studio last fall. It's called The Day the Castinetti Sisters First Learned to Fly and it makes me smile every time I see it. It is similar to the example on the Museums gallery page but also has clam shells, which open and close to reveal pictures of women inside. The sculpture is motion-activated and it was fun to watch other people in the gallery who didn't know this start by being startled and then entranced by it. One family I saw spent several minutes at it, making sure they saw every aspect.

John Borchard has to be my favorite photographer and I was delighted to see a photograph of his in this exhibit as well. His work was introduced to me through an exhibit he did at the Wellesley Free Library a year or two ago. I signed the guestbook and included my email and subsequently learned that he and his wife, Marian Dioguardi, were having an opening in North Becket on the weekend I was in the Berkshires last summer. My intrepid friend Melinda and I searched out the North Becket Arts Center and had a chance to meet both artists and see their work. Nice people and wonderful art; I will be attending the SoWa First Friday event sometime this fall to see more. John's piece Island in the Fog, one of his smaller works, is at the Danforth (see Museums page for image). Marian is represented in the show by an oil entitled Simplicity: A Cup Study. I couldn't find that image on her webpage but did include an example of her work. I'm a big fan of Marian's paintings too; simple subjects rendered in brilliant colors that make you sit up and take notice.

I also "discovered" another artist whose work absolutely captivated me and I want to see more! Her name is Dido Diana Thayer and she paints in oil on Venetian plaster on panel. The piece in the Danforth show is called Listening Landscape and is done on two panels put together, one slightly larger than the other. (I couldn't find an image of this on her gallery's website (Soprafina Gallery) but I did find another example of her work to include). Her work shimmers and changes as you approach it, the way landscapes do on very hot or very foggy days - beautiful and intriguing.

Off the Wall & Community of Artists is definitely worth a trip to the Danforth; it runs until August 8th. The museum is closed for August and will reopen in September, when I intend to return to view the permanent collection (which goes into storage annually to make way for this exhibit). Don't forget to check out the adjacent Museums page for images. And yes, an ISG badge will get you into the Danforth.

Next up, a toddle to PEM..... !

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trip to Newport: Marble House & The National Museum of American Illustration

Grab a cup of coffee, folks, this is a long one!

On Sunday, June 20th the Merry Toddlers (this time consisting of Carolyn, Vivian, Kristyne and I) took a day trip to Newport, RI. (We are called the Merry Toddlers because we like to take little art trips and we are always merry!). Our destinations this time were Marble House and Vernon Court, home of the National Museum of American Illustration. It was a beautiful day - a little overcast and foggy when we got to the coast, but not too hot and with a delightful breeze - and the drive took about an hour and a half and was very scenic with little traffic.

Marble House was our first stop. The "summer cottage" of Alva and William K. Vanderbilt, this opulent edifice by the sea only served as their summer home for about 3 years after it was built. (Subsequently Alva scandalously divorced her husband and a year later married his good friend. She was also a prime figure in the women's suffrage movement...but I digress! For further information I suggest you read Consuelo & Alva Vanderbilt: the Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda M. Stuart).

Aside from the regular furnishings on view there is currently a special exhibit of objects that originally comprised the furnishings of the Gothic Room but were subsequently sold by Alva V. and now reside in the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, FL. This exhibit is of special interest to fellow "Gardner Geeks;" Alva Vanderbilt acquired most of these works around the same time Isabella Stewart Gardner was collecting and there are some striking pieces that would also look quite at home in Fenway Court. I'm thinking particularly of a beautiful little terra cotta bust of the young John the Baptist and a couple of exquisite marble reliefs as well some cassone panels that we believe were loaned to the cassone exhibit at the Gardner a year or so ago. Interestingly, there is also a terra cotta bust here that is a fake by the same forger who passed one off on ISG!

The entire house is well worth seeing and the audio tour is excellent (and included with the price of admission). At the end of the tour there is a gallery of reproductions by Newport Reproductions that features copies of furniture and paintings from the era. (I lusted after the copy of a small seaside scene by Edward Darley Boit but I restrained myself. I hate restraining myself, it's very boring). There is also an excellent gift shop which has reproductions of the VOTES FOR WOMEN china that Alva designed for her suffrage activities among other things. (I was a little disappointed that there weren't more postcards of the interiors of Marble House but not a big deal).

After our tour we had a light lunch in the Chinese Tea House near the water. This is a garishly mad little building that reflects the fascination with Asia that was so fashionable during the period the house was built. The menu is pre-made and limited but not bad and the setting is fun.

After lunch we toddled down the street to the National Museum of American Illustration, housed in Vernon Court, a smaller but much more architecturally pleasing (to me) building. Vernon Court was designed by the same firm that designed the Frick and has been called the most beautiful house in Newport. The museum was opened ten years ago by Laurence and Judy Cutler; an architect and an art dealer specializing in American Illlustration. He is the CEO and she is the Director of the Museum and the collection is theirs which they have given to the museum. (I assume they also own Vernon Court but I'm not quite sure about this).

The collection is quite comprehensive and beautifully displayed on the ground floor of the house, with a further gallery in the basement for special exhibits. Being a Maxfield Parrish devotee, I was very happy here! I saw a couple of pieces which I am pretty sure I saw in the Parrish exhibit at the Currier Gallery back when I lived in Manchester, NH. Also on display in the light-filled garden loggia are several huge paintings that were commissioned for the "Girls Dining Room" at the Scribner publishing house in Philadelphia called "A Florentine Fete." I don't know what the "boys" had in their dining room but I'm pretty sure the girls got the best end of the deal! There are chairs arranged in the middle of the room and I could happily spend an entire afternoon moving from chair to chair and just drinking these paintings in. There is also an extensive collection of Norman Rockwell (the most outside of the Rockwell Museum) and quite a few N.C. Wyeths as well as many other artists.

This museum is only open on Friday afternoons for a guided tour and during the day on Saturday and Sunday. The staff is very nice but don't seem to be particularly knowledgeable about art - the young ladies at the entrance seemed to be college kids with a summer job. An audio tour would be a very helpful addition; also being able to go into the small library room at the beginning instead of standing at the doors would be nice as you can barely see some of the gems housed in this room. When I first read about this museum in Marshall's Art Museums Plus, it indicated that you could see the grounds as well but sadly now you cannot. The gardens seem as if they would be well worth seeing and there is some statuary I would have liked to have seen more of too. There is a very good introductory video about the collection that features one of the board members: Whoopi Goldberg, who is also a collector of American illustration!

At the end there is a very nice gift shop, although I would have liked more reproductions of pieces in the collection (as opposed to works by represented artists that are not here). The book selection was very good and I had to be quite severe with myself - I only purchased one small version of a catalog by the Cutlers, who have written fairly extensively about American illustration.

On the journey homeward (and on the way down too!) we were treated to special Swiss chocolate that Vivian's daughter had brought her and that she generously shared with us. All in all a wonderful day filled with friends, art and....chocolate! Check out the adjacent Museums page for some highlights from the exhibit and stay tuned for future photos of the "Merry Toddlers" on the road....

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stained Glass Exhibit at the Weston Library

I came here today to write and found a wonderful exhibit of stained glass by Weston resident Joseph Ferguson. The works are truly extraordinary: three dimensional, large, and intricate in design. I just looked at his website and Ferguson has shown at the DeCordova and at Chesterwood among numerous other venues. The exhibit has been up since May 15; I don't know how long it's expected to be here but it is truly worth a trip to see it. I just wish it was a sunny day so that I could see the light coming through the pieces! ... There is another exhibit in this library as well; another Weston artist, a painter named Xima Lee Hulings has an exhibit that was inspired by the reclusive Arkansas photographer Mike Disfarmer. Disfarmer worked between 1928-1959 and his photos are sepia portraits of local people. Huling paints people from the photographs in acrylic ink on paper covered in gold leaf. The effect is oddly medieval and interesting - kind of like portraits from the 40's laid on top of a Fra Angelico background.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my first blog post. My philosophy:

"You grave creatures never understand how much quicker the work goes with the assistance of nonsense and good meals." G.K. Chesterton

In this blog I plan to record my musings on trips to museums and other maunderings.