Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! No, I'm not in Times Square this evening--rather, I'm as far from it as I can be. I'm at home snug as a bug watching Moonstruck. I can't believe that tomorrow it will be 2008. A few years ago I read an old novel set at the turn of the 20th century. I loved the way the author described the changing of the year. Granted, this year is not the birth of a new century, but the same sentiment applies.. When does the new year begin? How does time pass by, and where does it go?

"The funny thing was that you could not, however hard you thought, lay your finger on the moment when the new century would be born. Imogen used to try, lying in bed before she went to sleep. One second you said, "We of the 19th century;" the next second you said, "We of the 20th century." But there must be a moment in between, when it was neither; surely there must. A queer little isolated point of time, with no magnitude, but only position... The same point must be between one day and the next, one hour and the next... all points in time were such points... but you could never find them... always you either looked forward or looked back... you said, "now--now--now," trying to catch now, but you never could... and such vain communings with time lead one drowsily into sleep." (from Told By An Idiot, by Rose Macauley, 1923)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ring Out, Wild Bells

One of my most favorite things about the new year is the chance to sing "Ring Out, Wild Bells" in church. Not only does it feature lyrics by my favorite poet, Alfred Tennyson, it has a beautifully haunting melody--which sounds better on the piano than the organ, I think. And since it is about the new year rolling in, we only get to sing it on the Sunday closest to New Year's Day, which was today. But we didn't sing it!!! I was so mad after sacrament meeting and have been complaining to E. all day, so she's probably sick of hearing about it. Since there's no one else here to complain to, I have to complain on my blog now.

So, because I didn't get to sing it at church, I will share with you the poem that the song comes from, which is called In Memoriam. It was began after Tennyson's best friend Arthur Hallam died suddenly at age 22 (Tennyson was 24). Tennyson's father had just died less than two years earlier. Comprised of 132 poetic sections, which took Tennyson almost 20 years to complete, In Memoriam tracks the progression of grief and pain felt by the poet, which eventually turns to a hope of the future and faith in a greater purpose to life. This particular section is a plea for the world to become renewed with the turning of the new year, shedding all that is evil and becoming all that is good. This year, in light of recent world and national events, the sentiment is more apt than ever before.


CVI.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Aftermath

So I have a part time job cleaning an apartment on Park Avenue. It's actually a great gig, because the hours are flexible and the work is not hard, and its a nice place. I'm going to go clean it tomorrow, and one of the things I'm going to do when I'm there is pull out the scale and weigh myself, because all I've eaten for about a week is cookies, candy, fudge, and mashed potatoes with gravy, and I'm curious to see if its finally counterbalanced the positive effects of walking all over New York.

Christmas is past and gone, for another year! I had a delightful holiday with my family in town. They've just left this morning, and should be arriving home any minute now. We had a wonderful time together, even though I had to work (at my other job, not the housecleaning one). They just wanted to go shopping all day every day, so I let them do that and other touristy things, and then in the evenings we would come back home and eat and play games and watch movies. We played several rounds of Settlers of Catan every night, and now we're all addicted. Christmas Day was the one sunny day in New York out of a week of rain, and that day we never even went outside! We're pathetic, I know.

It was so fun to have my family here! I love them. And it might be a long time before I see my brother again, so it was especially good to see him. I think he and his wife had a good time seeing the city together, except for getting lost in the Bronx at midnight their first night here! But they made it out alive.

My mom and my little sister bought everything they could see--I'm surprised there is anything left in Chinatown! They also visited H&M at least three times. And they took pictures of everything. I didn't inherit that gene--I never take pictures of anything. I guess I should start, so I have something to post on my blog. Well, maybe lil sis will send me some of her pictures.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Such a Great Day

This may have been one of the fullest days I've had since moving to the city. It began at 2 in the morning when my crazy landlady woke me up by coming in and rummaging around in her storage room downstairs. Then I tossed and turned until 7 a.m. when I finally woke up, roused my friends, and we all went to Sarabeth's for breakfast. Delicious! And our waiter was so cute.

Then we walked our full stomachs down to 65th street to see the temple, because Helen had never seen it. Next, on to the MoMA, where I finally saw the Seurat drawings that are only on display for a few more weeks. This was a truly amazing exhibition, and I plan to go back and look at it again. Also amazing were the prints of Lucian Freud, which astounded me. And it was so cool because in some instances, they had the big copper plate on display alongside the resulting etching. However, I was taught that you had to bevel the edges of your copper plate or else you'd cut through your paper and your expensive felt pushers, but his edges were not beveled or sanded in any way whatsoever. I don't understand.

After that we went to Chelsea and walked around, like cool people. We had lunch at City Market--more delicious food, including some fabulous chocolate cheesecake. We did some Christmas shopping around there, and then headed over, with the rest of the tourists apparently, to Macy's. We didn't even go inside because the crowds were just too thick, but we looked at the windows, which were so fun--full of animatronic Santas and whimsical dreamscapes.

More shopping was to be had at the Virgin Megastore, and then we headed to Chinatown. We wandered, looking at all the street vendors, funny shops, and vegetable and fish markets. Now I know where to buy my groceries! If only I spoke Chinese, like Sarah. It was so fun to see her talking Chinese with people, especially at the restaurant where we ate dinner. It must be such a novelty for them to have a tall white American girl suddenly speaking Chinese to them. Our Chinese dinner was so delicious, and there were even leftovers for me to enjoy tomorrow for lunch! My fortune cookie said, "A cake awaits you," or something like that.

I didn't come across any cake, but our next stop was in Little Italy, or maybe its more Nolita... We ate dessert at Rice to Riches, a place that ONLY serves rice pudding, in an uber-chic shop with space-age decor and cheeky sayings all over the walls. In dozens of flavors, though, and with different toppings. It was delicious! My flavor was called Sex, Drugs, and Rocky Road, and there's nothing else I need to say about it than that.

By that time, we were so stuffed we could hardly walk, but we continued shopping in the little stores around Chinatown, because Helen wanted to find the perfect church bag. Finally, in one store, Sarah asked if they had a "secret room" and they took us up a back staircase to an attic filled with name-brand knockoffs with huge Chanel, Gucci, and Prada labels. There we found a nice bag for Helen, and laughed at the irony that she was buying a fake for church.

The girls were so exhausted by that time that we headed over to Chrystie Street where they were able to catch the 8 pm Chinatown bus back to Boston. I'm sure they're fast asleep at this moment, on their way home. I'm sitting here waiting for my family to arrive now--they should have been here hours ago, but there's probably a ton of traffic coming into New York. But I can't wait--it's going to be such a fun Christmas week!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Yay!

Tomorrow my friends from Boston are coming to visit! I'm very excited to see them, especially Sarah, who is so energetic and funny. One of my favorite things about Sarah is that she speaks Chinese, and whenever its someone's birthday, she sings the Chinese version of Happy Birthday. A marathon runner and swimmer, she also inspires me to exercise, which I need to do more of lately.

With Christmas coming up, people keep giving me cookies and candy, and I can't help eating it. But its too dark to go running after work, and I can't wake up early to run. So I decided that from now on, since I'm always early to work anyway, I'm going to get off the subway a few stops away and walk the rest of the way. Then, after work, I'll do the same thing and walk to a farther subway stop that will take me home. And I'll try to stop eating the cookies lying around at work and at home...

Yay! My friends are coming!!! I'd better get busy and clean my room.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What's Up Snowflake?

If I ever look like this, will someone please get me counseling? I'm sorry, I just couldn't help laughing at this photo of Britney Spears, and had to share. What is wrong with her?!

Anyway, what I really wanted to add to my blog today, and share with the world is that I'm adding two new phrases to my lexicon. (Awwww, that makes me think of my favorite record album in the world, The Lexicon of Love by ABC... I miss it.)

The first is "That's chouette!" You guys probably all took French classes in highschool and will laugh at me, but I think its fun to say the equivalent of "neato" in French, as if I'm so Euro-hip.

My other new favorite phrase is something a big random black guy said to me last night as I walked past him on 125th Street in Harlem: "What's up, Snowflake?" Except he said it in a really deep voice that made it sound more like "Shnowflake." As soon as we got far enough away, my sister and I burst out laughing. So now I'm going to start calling people Shnowflake, though it makes me wonder--what line does he use on girls when its not winter?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Weekend Parties

So here's the rundown on the past weekend of holiday parties:

Friday, December 14, Party #1: The Manhattan Stake singles Christmas party. The best thing about this party was that everyone had been preassigned the name of a needy child to buy a Christmas present for, and the idea was to bring the gift to the party to be collected. It was really fun to think of the perfect thing to buy for a little 6-year old girl. The worst thing about the party was that it, like all the stake activities I've been to here, was very poorly organized. Tables were set up so that after you dropped off your gift you could get some refreshments and sit down and talk to other people, but that was the extent of the party. No activities, not even an opening prayer or anything. Still, this party was not without its benefits, because my sister and I had a wonderful time getting to know our home teacher, Mr. Allred, a little better. He showed us how fun it could be to try and stack m'n'ms, and he dared E to pour the bowl of candy that was on the table into her purse and take it home, which she did.

Sunday, December 16, Party #2: The Inwood 3rd Ward singles after-church-minglefest-with-creative-cocoa. Yes, that party title was made up by one of the guys in the elder's quorum. At this party I learned that vanilla ice cream tastes delicious in hot cocoa, but when eaten with chocolate chip cookies from your home teacher when you haven't had anything else to eat since breakfast, you get a stomachache. I'm not complaining--the cookies were delicious, which is why I ate two! And the best part was on the subway ride home when my roommate got out her violin and we sang Christmas carols all the way home in the subway car.

Sunday, December 16, Party #3: Harlem Ward singles Christmas party at our house. My other roommate is in the Harlem Ward, which has its fair share of single adults, who are a very diverse and interesting group. A fair number of them came to this party, for which E and I made elaborate and festive decorations made out of construction paper, including a paper chain that almost stretched the length of three stories worth of staircase. The best thing about this party was the food, which included yummy treats made by my roommate and me, and all the food that the guests brought. But I tried not to eat any of it, because of the my earlier sugar overdose. The other best thing about this party was the people, several of whom I got to know a little better. I must have been in high spirits because E says I was flirting with everyone. I didn't think I was flirting, but I must have been because now I have a Haitian guy who keeps calling me. Still, I think everyone had a great time at our house, because while they ate food and talked, we gave them pretty paper to fold and cut into gorgeous snowflakes, that we could use as decorations on our little tree. Now its really pretty.

Monday, December 17, Party #4: Inwood Singles Ward Christmas Party. This might have been the most entertaining party of all. The Inwood Singles ward is full of talented singers, actors, and dancers, so they all combined to form an unforgettable night of fun. The idea here was to bring canned food for a charity, for which you would get "money" that you could then use to bid with in an auction for services by wardmembers--things like "A dinner for two cooked by Martha" or "a Tuba-gram." The guy doing the auctioneering was better than stand-up comedy, and in between the auctions were performances of holiday songs by different people--all really great. Meanwhile, every table was given the task of building a graham-cracker and candy house, which would be judged at the end of the night for prizes. A guy dressed as Santa, complete with toilet-paper beard, wended his way through the crowd, handing out more money, keeping the bidders supplied. I did a lot of laughing, which was great. And I realized, as I wished people Merry Christmas at the end of the night, that I have made some good friends here, and met a lot of really great people.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Busy-ness

Whew! I can't believe how busy life has suddenly become. With my last class of the term happening tomorrow, and my final paper due Friday, I find myself working two part time jobs, and suddenly realizing that Christmas is just around the corner!

So my first priority is to finish my paper. It's ten pages on the unfinished Thomas Cole painting I found at Questroyal Fine Art. I basically just have tomorrow to finish writing it, because on Friday I'm working a full day at my new job, and the paper is due by 4 pm.

So my plan for tomorrow is to wake up, go take care of one of my part-time jobs, then go to the library and work on my paper, then go to my last class, and then depending on how far along I am, either go back to the library or go home and finish my paper. Somehow it will get finished!

Then on Friday, I will work from 9:30 to 7 at the other job, then go directly uptown to a Christmas party where I'm helping gather and giftwrap toys for children in needy families. It will be really fun. I bought my child a princess story-book, so I hope she likes it! Maybe I can think of something else to get for her too. I was hoping to crochet a cute hat for her, but I don't think time will allow it now, unless a miracle occurs and somehow the words flow flawlesly from my brain, and the paper all but writes itself tomorrow morning. Theoretically, subway rides would be the perfect times to crochet, but only if I can sit, and on express trains seats can be hard to get.

Since I'm telling you all my upcoming plans, I'll just go on and say that on Saturday I will finally get time to clean the house and set up our Christmas tree. My roommates have an artificial tree that we'll put up, and my sister and I will make some cute creative crafty ornaments to decorate it with. I wish we had lots more decorations--it would be so great to have an awesome wreath on the door and beautiful greenery swags on all the banisters. Old houses should always be dressed to the nines at Christmas, but I guess we'll just have to make do with paper snowflakes.

The house will be festive enough for Sunday, when we are hosting a holiday party for a dozen or so guests. The theme is going to be favorite Christmas desserts, and we're going to have people decorate sugar cookies. It's going to be so much fun! I love having people over, and we have a great house for it. Ooh...maybe we should hang up some mistletoe!

Monday night is going to be the third, possibly fourth (I just remembered I might be invited to a brunch on Saturday) Christmas party of the weekend, and it's the ward Christmas party, where we get to reveal our secret santa. Hopefully mine will be surprised. I think she knows who I am already...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Coney Island Carousel Carvers


I've actually been meaning to write about this on my blog for a while, because I found it so fascinating. But for some reason, its taken until today for it to happen. Anyway, what I'm talking about is the current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum (my favorite!) which tells a uniquely American story.

In the 19th century as persecution and poverty drove Eastern European Jews out of their hometowns, many of them came to the United States as immigrants, seeking safety and freedom, as well as means to support their families. For most, the easiest thing to do was what you had been trained to do in the old country. For some, this was woodcarving.

I'm not Jewish, and even if I were, I probably would not have realized that traditional Eastern European Jewish synagogues were as elaborately constructed and beautifully finished as Catholic cathedrals. The focal point of the interior was the Torah ark, which was very tall, and constructed of elaborately carved wood in a baroque style depicting symbols that related to the scriptures, Jewish doctrines, and the coming Messiah. The ark symbolized the ark of the covenant that the ancient Israelites carried the ten commandments in, and every Torah ark included a carved depiction of the stone tablets flanked on either side by a magnificent lion. Often gilded, these lions formed the focal point of the interior of the synagogue, where the ark was often placed on the eastern side of the building, in front of a large window, so that light shining through the intricate carving would increase the drama and heighten the spirituality conveyed by the awesome construction. Another motif on these arks was the symbol of two hands forming a traditional Jewish blessing. As sunlight streamed between the hands, it would have been as if God himself were blessing those who stood before the ark.

As the Jews were driven out of Eastern Europe, their beautiful old synagogues were all destroyed, but the talent and skills passed from generation to generation survived and in America, Jewish immigrant woodcarvers were able to create beautiful Torah Arks for their new synagogues. My favorite one in the exhibition is actually from the 1920's and was not only elaborately carved, but fitted with electric lights, so that the eyes of the lions glow a bright red.

America provided new outlets for the talented immigrants: less sacred and more secular in nature. Coney Island became a major amusement attraction in the decades following the Civil War, and was particularly known for its carousels, filled with animals more animated and dynamic than any others in the nation.

These carnival horses were carved by the same men who had been trained by their fathers' fathers to carve Torah arks and other synagogue decorations. Put to a new use, their creativity and talent resulted in fantastically stamping steeds dressed in elaborate saddles and finery, as well as other more imaginative carousel animals, such as lions and leviathans, which directly related to the types of animals found in the symbolism of their religious traditions. These beautiful animals were works of art that worked for a living, providing years of entertainment for the people that came to Coney Island.

The sad part of the story is that eventually Coney Island and other such amusement parks fell into decay and neglect, and with the growth of technology and materials such as plastic and fiberglass, there was no longer the need for hand-carved wood objects anymore. The traditions were no longer passed from generation to generation, as the carvers' children and grandchildren found more modern professions. I think many of the old American synagogues have suffered a similar fate, and as they have been modernized and renovated, their elaborately carved components have been given to museums and historical societies, where, as in the case of the Folk Art Museum, they are reunited with their cousins, the carousel animals.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Which is Better: Kitten or Boyfriend?

All I want to do is go to sleep, actually, but I'm supposed to be working on my lesson for tomorrow. So naturally, I'm procrastinating instead. I'm tired out because last night and today I've been hauling stuff around, helping a friend (and her new roommates) move. In New York, that means going up and down lots of flights of stairs, and since they are girls, it means moving a lot of stuff!

The idea of moving into a new place has got my sister and I thinking about what our place needs. If we did have any money to buy anything, or make any sort of improvements, we can think of quite a few. But I decided not to list them, because if I did, you might get the impression that we live in squalor, without even the basics.

So, what else should I blog about... My sister says to blog about kittens. I think she really wants a cat. I would too, if I weren't horribly allergic. Cats are sweet, and kittens are so adorable. I have a friend who was allergic to his cat for a few weeks and then became immune, so maybe that would happen to me. However, I still firmly believe that cats should live outdoors. They are meant to, in order to roam freely and hunt. And who wants cat hair all over everything?

My sister's second suggestion for my blog topic is boys. She wants a boyfriend more than she wants a cat, I think. But its not like you can just go to the pound and adopt a boyfriend. She hopes that whoever drew her name from the Secret Santa hat at church is a cute boy. And when he learns about her, he will fall in love with her and when he reveals himself at the church Christmas party, it will be in the form of asking her out on a romantic date. In fact, I think it would be kind of a cute idea for someone to make a movie about people that fall in love because of a Secret Santa matchup.

E. says there's nothing else of interest to write about besides kittens and boys (except perhaps chocolate), and since I'm just rambling now, in my state of exhaustion, I guess I should just crawl into bed, even though its only 8:45. So much for Saturday night!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Cinderella Moment

I was pinching myself last night when I suddenly found myself at a private party in the gorgeous Chelsea home of William Ivey Long, sipping sparkling water and hefting an actual Tony Award. Long is a 5-time Tony Award winning costume designer for Broadway plays such as The Producers and Hairspray, and the sweetest man you could meet. The occasion of the party was because both he and the Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art, Larry Wheeler, are being presented with awards this weekend for their accomplishments, (I'm sorry I'm not exactly sure what the awards are... I'll have to check that fact--the important thing is that I got to go to the party!) and so a lot of prominent North Carolinians were in New York for the occasion, and Long decided to throw a fabulous holiday party and have everyone over to his house. And I got to tag along with one of the prominent North Carolinian guests.

Long's house is absolutely gorgeous. It is full of beautiful Victorian antiques and art from his family--many portraits from the 18th and 19th centuries. Five levels include guest rooms, a library, and a huge work area where he works on his costume designs. Everything was decorated festively for the holidays, beginning with the enormous tree in the front window entirely covered with a mixture of delicate Victorian glass ornaments and strings of popcorn. The chandeliers had bright red shades put on them to match the masses of holly-berries and greenery piled up over every mantel and mirror-top. Mistletoe was strategically hung in an archway, and even the mounted deer-heads (I told you--very Victorian) had Rudolph-red pom-pom noses.

But you couldn't really see the decorations because of all the people. I was too busy trying to figure out who they all were, because I knew that some of them just had to be famous. In fact, Lee Radziwill was there (but I didn't realize it was her because I'd never actually seen her before, only read about her in Vogue) and Susan Stroman (also a Tony-award winner, for choreography and directing), whose hand I shook. Caroline Kennedy was invited, but I didn't see her there--shucks! I actually met a lot of people, but I need to learn how to remember names better. I can tell you what jewelry everyone was wearing, but I can't remember any of their names!

The most fun was meeting someone new--usually an elderly, respectable North Carolinian--who would politely ask what I do and why I came to New York. Then they would inevitably ask where I live, and I would say "Harlem." Without fail, there would be a slight pause, followed by something like, "I hear its really quite gentrified now..." Because there's no way a girl like me could possibly live in the 'hood.

We could have stayed at the party for dinner, because although the invitation said there would be refreshments, we didn't realize that after two hours of appetizers proffered by attractive young Russian waiters, a full-scale buffet would be brought out for the guests to feast upon. However, dinner reservations awaited us at Craft Work, a hip restaurant nearby, and we had a lot of catching up to do. So we slipped away from the fun party, and out into the chilly night.

A couple hours later, after a delicious dinner, and walking my friend back to his swanky hotel, Cinderella's magic had disappeared, and I found myself back down in the subway, waiting for the late night train to come take me back home to Harlem. Of course, late night trains don't ever come... at least not until you've listened to the local subway musician play about ten Eric Clapton songs that threaten to put you to sleep while you are simultaneously fighting to stay alert because its midnight and there are strange guys walking around looking at you because you're all dressed up, staring at your legs like they've never seen a woman before. But of course, I made it home intact, and today have been enjoying the memories of the beautiful party.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

They Should Make a Movie About...

John James Audubon. Talk about an interesting life. So we were learning about American watercolors in class the other day, and I was struck by the adventures this man had.

Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785. He was the illegitimate child of a French sea captain and a Spanish-Creole. When his mother died in a slave revolt, luckily John's father did the right thing and took care of his child. John was raised by his stepmother, who apparently loved him, and formally adopted him.

Audubon went to Paris to attend school. He attended a naval academy, which must have been where he first learned to draw and paint. Watercolors were actually important in the military back then, because they were the best and most easily transportable medium for soldier-surveyors to take and draw their maps with. Audubon claims to have studied art with David, but that is probably just talk. He may have seen some paintings by David, and been inspired by them, but who isn't?

So then the Napoleonic Wars break out and Audubon flees to America with a false passport, to avoid conscription, but he comes down with yellow fever and has to be nursed back to health by Quakers, who teach him their dialect. He ends up in Pennsylvania, where his passion for natural history and birds in particular becomes evident. Apparently, he was the first person to band birds' legs to study their habits.

The handsome young Frenchman falls in love with the girl next door, lovely Lucy, and they marry in 1808. But Lucy soon finds that her new husband either has bad luck or no business sense, or perhaps he is just more interested in art and nature than making money. At any rate, his debts catch up with him and he is sent to debtors prison. It is up to Lucy to raise the money to bail him out, which she does, and he valiantly resolves to make money from his passions for art and the natural world.

You wonder what Lucy must have been thinking as her husband set off down the Mississippi River armed with paints, gun, and camping supplies, vowing to paint every bird in America, and recreate them in a book that will make him rich and famous. Meanwhile, she took her children and found work as a teacher on a Southern plantation.

Audubon probably didn't befriend Daniel Boone, as he claimed, but he did paint the birds of America--so well that he did become famous. It's ironic that he killed thousands of birds to pose them and paint them, yet it is those masterfully naturalistic images that led to the formation of the Audubon Society after his death, which seeks to preserve the lives of birds. Audubon made gorgeous watercolor paintings of every bird species he could find, and when he was done (and with the financial support of his wife), he traveled to England to find a publisher for his book.

In England, he was considered a rustic but romantic backwoodsman, and so became a popular figure. Soon he met Robert Havell, a brilliant engraver and printer, who partnered with Audubon to create "Birds of America" which has been called the most beautiful picture book in the world. It consisted of hand-printed and hand-colored (women did the painting of these prints) life-sized images of hundreds of American bird species, available bound in volumes, or in loose sheets. This secured his fame, and he was able to meet the king and become a fellow of London's Royal Society. Then, back to America, where, with the sales of his book extremely good, and more projects in the works, he was finally able to buy a house and support his long-suffering family.

It's easy for us to look back at Audubon's life now and say that he was a genius artist with an amazing vision, but can you imagine living that life? Or being Lucy, not knowing what the future would hold for you and your children, and your husband off in the wilderness...painting birds? It would take more courage than I have, and someone should make a movie.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Random Thoughts

I couldn't think of anything to blog about tonight, but my sister said I have to at least write something. So, sorry if this is boring, but here are some random thoughts that I've had today:

1. It might be kind of nice if we went back to the Jane Austen way of calling our acquaintances by their last names. In Pride & Prejudice, it's all Mr. Darcy this and Mr. Bingley that--we never even learn their first names, but there's something sort of mysterious and sexy about that. So my sister and I are going to start referring to the guys we meet by their last names: "Sister, I spoke with Mr. Andros at church today, and he inquired after you..." "How kind! I saw Mr. Taylor at the 125th street station and he invited us to his party this weekend..." I think it will be more sophisticated than our current habit of assigning descriptive nicknames to people, like Nick the Dentist (aka Joseph Smith) and Young Rod Stewart. And more interesting than calling every guy Ben (because there are so many here, if you say Ben, you're right half the time.)

2. The snow is all melted away, but the strangest thing happened today. As I was walking around downtown, I kept seeing fluffy white things floating down from the sky. They weren't snowflakes, because I caught one--it was a seed, like a dandelion seed, fluffy and white. But there were thousands of them. Where were they coming from???

3. I really need a personal assistant, because I forget to do things that I really want to do. I wanted to go to the public library today, and when I remembered, I was already on the express train home. Will I remember to go to the post office tomorrow? Only time will tell.

Okay, that's all the random babbling I'm doing tonight. Time for sleep...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Snowfall

It snowed last night! Do you remember being a little kid and waking up in the morning, running to the window to see if it had snowed? If it had, it meant school would be cancelled or at least delayed, and there would be sledding and snowballs and the exploration of a new, white, world. In North Carolina, a few inches of snow meant the town would be shut down for a few days.

It's a bit different now, especially in a city. I can't really go sledding down 145th Street, even though its a great hill. Almost as soon as it snows here, the plows are out, the sidewalks are being coated in salt, and piles of brown slush form in the gutters. People still need to get where they're going, and snow isn't going to stop them.

Still, it was a glorious day, with the sun shining on the patches of white. After church, as I came outside and looked at the park across the street, I had to exclaim at the beauty of nature. There, trees were still full with bright yellow leaves, which formed a stunning contrast with the white on the ground and the large brown rocks on the park's sloping hill. I really need to start carrying my camera around with me everywhere I go.

It's the start of many snowy days, I'm sure, and in a few months I'm probably going to be writing about how excited I am that the big piles of snow are finally melting away. But for now, I'm enjoying the beauty of winter. I just need to hurry up and crochet a thick hat with earflaps!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Art Overload, Almost

Come to think of it, I saw a LOT of art today.

It started in the morning, when I went to Sotheby's to hear a talk given by the director of their 20th Century Design department. He gave a fascinating slide lecture on the state of the market for 20th century furniture. I didn't really know anything about the subject, so it was an eye opener to learn some names like Paul Kjaerholm, Arne Jacobsen, and Jean Prouve, and see how cool their stuff is. Basically, anything old that looks futuristic, organic, and sculptural is worth the big bucks, as well as new strange pieces handmade by artists in small quantities, like one person who made a chair out of teddy bears. Have you heard about this? It looks kind of comfortable, but it would get old quick.

After that, I went up to the 10th floor of Sotheby's, where they have their best pre-auction art on exhibition. There I saw the Guennol Lioness, a tiny bit of limestone carved 5000 years ago. Half lion, half human, it was talisman supposedly used in ancient Mesopotamia to evoke power and strength. The posters of it are enormous, so I wasn't prepared for how tiny it was, all alone in a darkened room with a dramatic spotlight. Nobody really knows what it was used for, and articles have made a huge fuss out of its shamanistic connotations, but for all we know it might have just been used as a button.

I also took a look at the "Magnificent Jewels" on display at Sotheby's. Some of them are pearls once owned by the Duchess of Windsor, but those weren't what caught my eye. There was a particularly stunning bracelet by William Goldberg made to look like a string of little flowers with petals of white diamonds, and yellow diamond centers, set in white gold and platinum. Santa, are you listening to me?

My next stop was Questroyal, a hidden art gallery gem on the 3rd floor of a Park Avenue building full of discreet doctors' offices. Browsing their collection of fine early American landscape paintings, I felt like I was in someone's comfortable home, with familiar friends: Asher Durand, Blakelock, and--hey! There was the Inness I admired from yesterday's Christie's sale! But most exciting of all: I discoverd the piece I'm going to write my next paper on: an unfinished view of Lake Mohonk by Thomas Cole! I'm very excited about this piece, so stay tuned for a future blog about it.

After that I headed over to Hirschl and Adler Gallery on the corner of 70th and (I think) Madison Avenue. They had a delightful mixture of old and new paintings, as well as a room of gorgeous 18th and 19th century decorative arts, including a Duncan Phyfe table and two Ammi Phillips portraits. I also saw a fantastic N.C. Wyeth of lumberjacks, that I think I love even better than the Indian Love Call. I stared at it for a really long time.

The Frick happened to be nearby, and I hadn't yet taken advantage of my membership card, so I went in and looked around. There, the combination of divine art and spectacular rooms (decadently furnished and crystal chandeliered) almost overwhelms, but to take a break I sat in the marble atrium, by a trickling fern-enclosed fountain. My favorites here were the portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger and the Fragonard Room.

Next stop was the Met, because I had to see their Studio Craft Movement exhibition, which ends in a few days. But while there, of course that's not the only thing I saw. The Christmas tree and creche display has been erected in the Medieval Galleries, and it is stunning. A tree covered in colorful and winged angels looms over a nativity scene that is surrounded by dozens of groups of figures from all nations and cultures. I'll have to go back and look at it again--too bad they don't allow pictures of it! I'm really glad I went to the Met today because some of the rooms in the American Wing which have been closed were open today, as part of an exhibition of silver by Fletcher & Gardiner. One of the rooms is the panorama by Vanderlyn, which he painted after visiting Europe. When he came back to America (this was in 1816 or thereabouts) he painted a 360 degree view of Versailles and its gardens, and built a rotunda in New York where visitors would enter and appear to be in the midst of the Versailles grounds. Basically, it was the first American art museum/amusement park/IMAX experience, and it's still pretty spectacular 200 years later.

As I was leaving the Met, walking through the Egyptian galleries, I overheard a little girl exclaim, "That's a mummy-case! I saw one of those on Scooby Doo!" Suddenly, I felt like going home and watching cartoons. So that's what I did.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Art Scandals


This week I've been to a lot of auctions, including the American painting sales at Sotheby's and Christie's. An auction can be very entertaining at times. And then again, after a few hours of it you might begin nodding off if you're not the one bidding a million dollars on a Winslow Homer watercolor.

The Sotheby's sale was interesting, but I must say that the auctioneer needed a few auctioneering lessons. He was boring and unfriendly. He tried to make a few jokes, but they didn't work, and he went so slow! No wonder there were a lot of pieces that didn't sell, including two Maxfield Parrish paintings. Then again, one of them I'm not surprised about, because it had been terribly over-cleaned and the sky was way too white. When you buy a Parrish, you expect a blue sky--otherwise, what's the point?

At Christie's, there was much more entertainment. They offer refreshments, for one thing. And Christopher Berg is just much more fun to watch. He relates to the bidders, engages them, and makes you want to join in. Besides, he has a great accent. But I don't know how he does it. At Sotheby's they divide the sale up into two sessions to give the auctioneer and the audience a break. At Christie's they start at 10 a.m. and continue until about 2 p.m. without stopping. He didn't quite make it the whole way through though. At about 1 o'clock he stepped down and a new auctioneer took over, who was pretty good too. But he made one bidder mad by not noticing his bid, and sold the piece to someone else. When the hammer went down, the guy yelled, "Hey, that was MY bid!" He refused to outbid the lady, though, so the auctioneer held firm, and the lady won the sale.

The real scandal at Christie's was the George Bellow's painting, "Men of the Docks," which was supposed to be sold by Randolph College (Lynchburg, VA) to raise money for the school, which is in trouble financially. It was the first painting the college bought, back in 1920, with $2500 scraped together by students and supporters of a college art collection. That collection has grown into a fine body of American paintings at the Maier Museum of Art, and the Bellows is now estimated to be worth about $32 million. So, for a college now struggling to pay its bills, why not capitalize on that nest egg and sell it, along with a Hicks, a Hennings, and a Tamayo?

The problem is that in the art world it's a huge no-no for a museum to sell art for purposes other than buying new art. This is Art we're talking about, not stocks or land, or any lowly commodity. So the students of the college are up in arms, and the Maier Museum has had people resign over the whole thing, and now the paintings are in limbo while the courts decide what should be done, and the poor people of Lynchburg scramble to find a million dollars to pay the bond on the paintings.

Meanwhile, Christie's is being blasted as the unscrupulous vultures making a profit from it all, while really they are just doing business. And not even that, any more, because the paintings had to be withdrawn from the sale while their future is decided.

So the sale at Christie's might have been much more exciting had there been a $32 million Bellows sale. Still, it was enough excitement for me just sitting behind the lady that bought a painting for $1 million.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Life is Like a Bag of Rocks

Today I applied for some part time jobs. I hope someone will hire me! New York is fabulous, but its so expensive to live here, and I'm running out of money, with no steady income. Luckily, there are so many fun free things to do here. And as long as I don't let myself get tempted by the food-vendors, (whose warm sizzling food smells so good on a cold winter day!) I can have lots of fun without spending the big bucks. One free activity that I think I might start doing is carrying my camera around so I can take pictures of all the amazing holiday displays.

Tonight when I was coming home from school, I stopped by Rockefeller Center, to see if the tree had been lit yet. There was a gigantic crowd of people, but the tree was still dark. I didn't know how long a wait it would be, so I left, but I'll definitely go back soon and see how it looks. I walked all over downtown today and everywhere I turned there was an amazing holiday display. I love it! It's as if the city is transforming before my eyes into a winter wonderland. Now all we need is snow, and rumor has it there might be some flakes on Sunday.

Someone told me over the Thanksgiving holiday that they prefer Los Angeles to New York, but I don't know how anyone could. Sure its warm and sunny there and everything is pretty, and there's Hollywood. But what about the history? The depth. How about a metaphor: If the world is a beach, then Los Angeles is seafoam--glittery, light, frothy, but full of air. New York is more like beach rocks. They are old, worn, weathered, and so unusual that you want to put them all in your pocket and take them home, even though you have no use for most of them.

I want to put New York in my pocket, and carry it around with me wherever I go. Of course, you can't keep all the agates and shells you find on the beach, so at the end of the day you sort through them and keep the most interesting and beautiful. That's pretty much what I try to do with New York. I jump in, gather it all to me, try to see it all, then sort out what fits with me, and leave the rest behind. No one can have all of New York--it's just too much.

Anyway, on a totally different note, I have an announcement: I think I was able to change my blog to allow comments from anyone, not just those elite google-account holders or whatever. So if you have stuff to say, say it! I think you can just check the anonymous box or something, but if you do that, then tell me who you are in your comment so I'm not confused. Thanks! Thanks for reading, too...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How Many More Days?

It rained so much this weekend that a sinkhole opened up on our street! Its a pretty big one, too. This old block I live on is starting to scare me. Everything is so old--how much longer will it hold up? Today I finished covering up the windows in my room with plastic to help keep out the drafts. But no matter how much duct tape I used, I could still feel cold air coming in from somewhere. I think this house is just so old that air comes in through the wall.

The other frustrating thing is that for some reason my family thinks I'm fat! I am tall, and I admit that during middle school and high school I probably was a little chubby, but I've long since lost my baby fat and taken up running, and now I fit into smaller sizes than I wore ten yeares ago in high school. However, as my mom and sister were walking out the door to go shopping this morning, they asked if I wanted them to look for anything for me. I told her that I always need more black shirts. "What size," she asked, "large?" I said small, but my sister exclaimed, "what!? How is that possible?" It's possible! I wore small sizes before I moved here, and now I weigh even less than I did before from all the walking I do, not to mention the lack of money for groceries. But for some reason my family still thinks of me as that chubby high-schooler. Last year for my birthday I got some really cute clothes, but they were all too big. No doubt they also still think I like electric-blue wire-rimmed glasses and jelly shoes. Actually, jelly shoes aren't so bad...

I loved having my parents here for a few days though. My mom cooked us a whole chicken! And she made cinnamon rolls and bought us a ton of fruit. And cute scarves from one of those street-vendors. She tried in vain to convince my dad that they should stay longer, but maybe they will come back for Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, its so fun to see all the holiday displays going up in store windows! Everywhere you look downtown there is a giant tree or an enormous wreath or stacks of oversized red Christmas balls. The Lincoln Center tree was lit last night, and today I walked past Rockefeller Center where they were setting up for Wednesday's tree lighting. So much festivity is contagious, and I find myself starting Christmas card lists and thinking of gifts to make for my loved ones. It's less than a month away! Can you believe it?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rainy Days and Mondays

Hmmm, I wonder how many blogs I can name after Monday songs? Whenever I come back to New York, its always raining. But I love New York, and I can actually say I feel like I'm home today. Coming back from a long holiday weekend, I feel renewed and ready to turn over a new leaf. I'm going to forget about the past and just concentrate on living in the present and planning the future.

My family drove up with me yesterday, and we had a relatively uneventful trip, except for taking a wrong turn and driving through downtown Washington D.C.! It was our first time using the GPS trip planner. But we enjoyed driving through the mall and seeing the Capitol Building, watched over by an enormously full harvest moon.

We arrived in Harlem around 11 and took another hour looking for a suitable parking place. Then I stayed up for another hour working on my paper. I guess it was all too much excitement because I couldn't really sleep and ended up finishing my paper early in the morning, rushing out the door to class, only to arrive and be told that our teacher wasn't going to collect them until the afternoon.

But that left me free to take a look at the American paintings on display at Sotheby's. There is a gorgeous N.C. Wyeth, "Indian Love Call" (pictured above) and a heartbreakingly beautiful Maxfield Parrish painting of a farmer plowing a field below an enormous barren tree.

My Thanksgiving break was really nice, but I wish I would have spent more time with my family! I've finally realized that there is nothing more precious than my family, and I'm never going to waste time chasing imaginary dreams when I could be home with them, surrounded by love. I was able to spend a little bit of time with my brother, who is going through some really hard times in his life right now. He's made so many good choices lately, compared to his youth, that its hard to watch right now as his past catches up with him. But all debts must be paid eventually, and all I can do is pray for him.

Anyway, later this afternoon I spent a few hours looking at portrait miniatures with the leading American expert, Elle Shushan, who was just full of tantalizing stories about the artists lives. I'm going to have to read up on those people! As if painting a 1 inch portrait on ivory with watercolors and a 1-hair brush isn't crazy enough, apparently some of those artists lived some very colorful lives. Did Charles Willson Peale really poison his son slowly with arsenic because he was jealous of his miniature-painting skills? Yikes!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I just want to say to everyone: have a very happy Thanksgiving! Whether you are with family or friends, take the time to enjoy the moments you spend together. Savor the delicious food. Count your blessings. Here's what I'm thankful for:

A wonderfully quirky but caring family.

Friends that inspire me to be a better person.

New York, and the chance of a lifetime to learn and grow there.

Art.

A warm weather break from the Northern winter.

Cinnamon rolls with raisins.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Manic Monday

Ugh! I've been in North Carolina all weekend: catching up with friends, working at my old job, hanging out with my parents, salvaging a friendship with an ex boyfriend... It was a very eventful couple of days! And I was supposed to get back to the big city in time for my 10 a.m. class, but of course because I was a passenger, my flight was delayed and now I've missed class. It's cold and rainy here and I'm tired and hungry, but I think maybe I should just jump right in and start writing the ten-page paper I have due next Monday. Because with Thanksgiving coming up, when am I going to have time to write it? Maybe in a minute I'll begin a writing marathon and see how many pages I can type before I go insane. Or maybe I'll procrastinate for a little longer...

So my weekend was fun, but crazy. Working at the gallery was wierd, but kind of enjoyable. For some reason, the holiday show is when all the old people come back, like me, and the gallery closes for a Saturday to set up all the holiday decor. Then it opens on Sunday with a big party for the public. I worked there for 6.5 years as jewelry curator, so being there was as if I had never left. I just put on my party dress, got behind the counter, and sold jewelry right and left. And it was fun because all my old clients came up to me to say hi and ask about my new life. I felt very loved, and very pretty (a $6000 necklace does wonders for a girl's mood!).

On Saturday night I went out with all my fabulous friends for milkshakes at the Loop. It was so much fun to catch up and just be with them again. Howard came too, and later he told me, "You have nice friends." I said, "They're your friends too, Howard!" He forgets these things.

As for the ex-boyfriend, I was alternating between dread and excitement in anticipation of our reunion... It's hard to explain our relationship, but we've dated for most of the past 4 years, and he's really the first person I've ever been in love with. But now with me moved away things are changing, and we're both trying to figure it out. He's just started dating again, which I've been having a hard time with. But to see him doing so well, and have him explain to me that everything is okay, that this is for the best, that we can still love each other and be friends, was exactly what it took for me to snap out of my tailspin. He was tremendously kind, and cooked me food. We had a good talk, and while I still don't understand everything--maybe its impossible to--at least I'm not freaking out anymore. Maybe we'll get together again over Thanksgiving and see a movie or something, but I'm going to try and be good, and give him his space.

Meanwhile, I have the best moving-on mix to listen to. I'm adding a new feature to my blog, with my current music obsessions, so I'll post the best songs there.

Now, I guess I should go eat some lunch and then get busy with that paper...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sisters

"For there is no friend like a sister, in calm or in stormy weather..." Thus goes a poem by an author I've forgotten. Nevertheless, it's true. No matter what life brings, a sister is always there for you, to laugh with you, cry with you, or lecture you.

I have the immense fortune of being able to live with my sister. We are actual roommates! She came along for the adventure of living in a big city with me, on pure faith that she'd find a job and have a great time. Things haven't exactly worked out that way quite yet for her. So far no job. But I think she's having a good time, even though lately she's been kind of homesick.

Well, I'm a little homesick myself, but I get to go home this weekend, and E. has to stay behind. Next week she'll get to go home too, and we'll have a family Thanksgiving. I probably won't get a chance to blog for about a week or so, because I won't be in New York for most of the time, and I'll be seeing the few friends that do read this anyway.

Anyway, I've just been thinking about how great it is to have this experience with my sister. She's so much fun. And she's been such a friend to me through all of my ups and downs, especially my downs, doing little things to help me feel better. I was walking out the door to school the other day, and she told me to wear her legwarmers because they would look perfect with my outfit. So I did, and my legs were warm and cozy on a blustery cold day, but my heart was warmed too. Then, last night, she offered to do my nails. These are just simple little things, but it's wonderful to be on the receiving end of small sisterly kindnesses. She knows I'm going through a rough time, and she knows that the best way to help me through it is to just be there for me (and build back my confidence by helping me look as fabulous as I can!) She listens to me rant and rave, nods solemnly, says, "in-te-res-ting..." and hands me a cookie.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Distractions

Ugh! The days are going by so slowly, and yet I dread the weekend, when I will have to confront my darkest fears... Meanwhile, I'm making a kick-a-- mix cd that will hopefully help me get out of my funk. I don't have time to be heartbroken! Let's get to the good stuff!

So anyway, I forgot I'm not supposed to be focusing on ME, but on this fabulous city that I live in. I love New York! I can just walk around on any street and I feel alive. Endless faces go by, so many people to watch, so many sights, sounds, and smells to take in. It's rejuvenating, even with winter coming on. And the gray skies and dirty streets are kind of soothing right now, actually.

A few mid-afternoon hours to kill, and I was at at the American Museum of Folk Art (MOMA's little brown neighbor) today, where I decided on a whim to see their research library. Do people realize they have access to this rich pocket of knowledge? Anyone who wants to can go research there, and I commend this library for its friendly people and lack of stuffiness that you find in other museum libraries such as the Frick and the Met. And as fate would have it, though it is normally open by appointment only, I was able to go in and find the book I've been searching for all over the ciy. Mennonite Arts. I've been doing research for my next paper, on Joseph Lehn, a Pennsylvania German craftsman of the mid-19th century. This book had the best information I've seen on him so far, and color pictures to boot. This week I'm doing all my research, and next week I'll write, because I'll be home and I'll have nothing else to do except pine, and I don't want to do that.

Later today I found myself next to the projects in East Harlem, where Carswell Berlin has his warehouse. Berlin is the expert on American Empire furniture, which are pieces made between in 1805 and 1825, or thereabouts. Empire furniture comes after Federal, and it is a marked change from simple spare geometry to conglomerations of carved sphinxes, gilded bronze mounts, and all the greco-roman and Egyptian gaudiness you can imagine. Names such as Duncan Phyfe and Charles Honore Lannuier dominate this time, and New York was the center of it all.

Unfortunately most American furniture collectors focus only on 18th century furniture, and label 19th century work as tasteless and unrefined. There's certainly nothing subtle about a pier table with bare-breasted winged sphinx ladies supporting a marble top, with hairy lions paw feet, and every other surface gilded. However, there is an exuberant glory here that certainly cannot be ignored. Berlin has some fantastic pieces--worthy of museums. In fact, he pointed out several reasons why one particular French-influenced secretary, with every exquisite detail just perfect down to its original inkwells, is better than anything in a museum. It certainly was breathtaking. I just felt good because out of the three card tables he had, I guessed which one was worth the most. Maybe this education is paying off after all...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Harlem and the Hudson River School


Lately, I really don't know what to do with myself. I'm trying to keep busy, and keep my mind engaged, but it's hard when you're prone to daydreaming like me. And today was a great day for daydreaming. The weather was perfect. After a soft morning rain, the sun came out and was warm. I went for a walk around the west side, just to explore, in between classes, and was charmed by all the flower shops (one was selling cotton blossoms!) and cute restaurants. It didn't feel like New York--I kind of felt like I was just in any suburban neighborhood, kind of. At the post office I actually bumped into someone I knew, which added to the whole down home feeling.

My afternoon class was held at the New York Historical Society, where they are having an exhibition of artifacts from the 9/11 tragedy. As I stood in the lobby contemplating a section of airplane that was part so much destruction, I realized how insignificant my own little problems are. I guess I need to be reminded that there are people out there who have suffered more than me.

The Historic Society has a wonderful gallery full of Hudson River School painters, which include Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, and Thomas Moran, among others. They are called a "school" but that is just a term that has been applied to them by art historians. They didn't really study formally anywhere, or even together, but their work is considered the first major American contribution to the art world. Cole was the first, and he followed the Europeans Salvator Rosa, Claude Lorraine, and Constable, in depictions of the American landscape. While Europeans painted scenes that highlighted their classical past, or iconic landmarks, Americans went in a new direction. Not having classical ruins or any national traditions to depict, American landscape painters focused on the vast wilderness that was America in the early 19th century.

The American landscape took on moral and religious connotations as these artists sought to imbue it with symbolic meaning. Vast panoramic views of mountains, waterfalls, gorges, and plains dwarfed humans. Storm-blasted trees were constant reminders of the power of God, while the views themselves were evidence of the taming of the wilderness by industrialization and tourism. Native Americans were portrayed as living in harmony with nature, but dwindling because of their savage heathenism.

The story of America's expansion, and America's idyllic view of itself, is documented by these landscape artists, who were acclaimed for their craft, before falling out of favor when Impressionism came along in the 1870s. I had a teacher in college who was obsessed with the Hudson River School painters and made each of us students copy one of their works in our oil painting class. That taught me a lot about their technical skill, but I think their biggest talent is evident in the drama and beauty their paintings capture. I've pictured one of my favorites, and an appropriate illustration for my current state of mind: Twilight in the Wilderness by Frederic Church.

After class, I wandered around Harlem. I gave my sandwich to a homeless man (I wonder when my appetite will return? I've never felt this way in my life...) and I went into all the stores, most of which sell really hip, borderline trashy, urban clothing, that's all about flash. I love 125th street because there is such a unique community there. The people seem to spill out from the busy vibrant shops, and there are tables on the sidewalks, all the time, where people sell things from T-shirts to movies to body butter. Church groups hand out fliers, and passersby are encouraged to dance along to the music blaring from a boombox playing Marvin Gaye. Food vendors abound, and the smells are delicious, even as the gutters are full of litter and sludge from the recent rain. And its like this every day!

It's a great place to go if you're a girl like me, feeling down about herself. About a dozen guys whistled at me, I got two "Hey Beautiful"s from random strangers, and a "How was your day, lady?" from a guy selling shirts. I just smile at them all and it makes me feel a little better.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sadness

Yesterday at church I learned that I'm being pruned. Not literally, of course, but spiritually. It doesn't feel very good!

I don't want to go into a lot of detail, but I can't just pretend like everything is roses right now. My move to New York set in motion some changes in my life that I'm just now feeling the effects of. Things are changing, and I feel as if I'm standing in an earthquake sometimes, just trying to make everything stay in place the way it was, but I can't keep some things from falling away, or being broken.

My family and friends are great comfort, as is the assurance I have within me that what I'm doing is right. However, it still doesn't mean I can turn off my emotions or stop myself from daydreaming about what might have been. I've had quite a few sleepless nights this week because all day I can distract myself with school and trips and projects, but when I lay down and try to sleep its as if my mind is a broken record of memories and thoughts. If only we had switches, like Bradbury's electric grandma, and could just shut ourselves off for the night.

I can't listen to music, because it all makes me sad, so I've been reading a lot of poetry lately. Edna St. Vincent Millay is my current favorite. As a woman, she obviously understands the kind of heartbreak I'm going through, and expresses it more beautifully that I could ever hope to:

SONNET

Here is a wound that never will heal, I know,
Being wrought not of dearness and a death,
But of a love turned ashes and the breath
Gone out of beauty; never again will grow
The grass on that scarred acre, though I sow
Young seed there yearly and the sky bequeath
Its friendly weathers down, far underneath
Shall be such bitterness of an old woe.
That April should be shattered by a gust,
That August should be levelled by a rain,
I can endure, and that the lifted dust,
Of man should settle to the earth again;
But that a dream can die, will be a thrust
Between my ribs forever of hot pain.

Sorry if I'm depressing you! I know that Millay is being melodramatic. Who knows--maybe someday, despite all odds, grass will grow on "that sad acre." And even if not, my heart will heal, and I'll be able to eat and sleep again, and the birds will come out and sing, as the clouds part and a rainbow appears. This will happen eventually, because yesterday a wise man told me this: "Why are you crying over the end of Winter? It was so beautiful, but Spring will be even better."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Winterthur and My Delaware Trip

In the 1920's Henry Francis DuPont inherited his family home and estate in the countryside of Delaware. Named for his ancestor's home town in Switzerland, Winterthur became DuPont's realization of an American version of the ancient old estates in the countryside of England, but instead of housing just one family's collection of heirlooms and art, DuPont sought to ensure the heritage of all of America's fine and decorative arts.

He was an avid collector of antique furniture and decorative arts, and in a time when most American's were focusing on modernization and technological advances, DuPont sought to preserve America's heritage in a great museum. Over the years he transformed Winterthur into a showcase of America's treasures. He filled rooms with gorgeous arrangements of furniture, textiles, ceramics, silver, and art, from the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. When he ran out of rooms, he built more and more. As old buildings were being torn down in New York and elsewhere, DuPont bought entire rooms from those old houses and installed them in his house/musuem.

Not only did DuPont create an elaborately beautiful museum of interiors, he paid special attention to the hundreds of acres around his home. Today, oak forests and glades of conifers open up into lush meadows of rolling hills, which surround enchanted gardens of peonies, azaleas, and, depending on the season, multitudes of other flowers. A surprisingly stunning view can be seen around every corner, even in winter.

In the 1950s Winterthur became a museum in reality. DuPont lived nearby, overseeing things and collecting, right up until the end of his long life. Now, Winterthur is known as a leader in the preservation and scholarship of American antiques and decorative arts. It houses an extensive library, conservation lab, and even a graduate school.

My class spent three days there, learning and studying and soaking it all in. I learned so much! The rooms are amazing, full of incredible pieces in the most beautiful arrangements. I've never seen so many superb antique treasures in one place in my life. I learned about the conservation of textiles, paper, and paintings. I got to look through the library of rare books and ephemera, even leaf through paper dolls from the early 1800s, and I saw technicians busy at work restoring a badly damaged Charles Willson Peale painting.

Our trip coincided with the Delaware Winter Antiques Show, an annual event at which dealers from around the country get together to sell their wares to collectors. Though just students, we were able to gain admission to the opening night gala, and spent that night dressed to the nines, hobnobbing with big collectors and antiques experts, eating fancy appetizers and frantically trying to select an appropriately fine antique specimen to be the subject of a certain 10-page paper due in two weeks.

I chose a charming Lehn-ware cup and saucer, made by Joseph Lehn, a Pennsylvanian Mennonite farmer in the mid 19th century. His turned and painted wood pieces were made and sold just for fun, and now are highly collectible. I was charmed by the little strawberries painted on it, and its bright, rare, yellow color. During the upcoming week I'll research it as much as I can--my paper has to be an argument about why it would be a good purchase for a collector or museum.

This trip was short but extremely packed. I feel like I learned an incredible amount in such a short time. But my favorite part, by far, was the free time I had to just stroll around the grounds of Winterthur on my own, breathing in the clean fresh country air, and admiring the colorful fall foliage. No flowers, save a few late lilies, were in bloom, but the gardens were still enchantingly beautiful. I wandered through the Pinetum, where little brown birds clucked inside bushes covered in red berries. Old twisted cherry trees contrasted with enormously tall straight pines, and everywhere I looked I found a secluded nook with a bench, or a sundial, or a terrace overlooking a spacious meadow. Behind the huge house/museum I caught a view of myself in a deep leaf-covered reflecting pool, and, walking over a Japanese bridge, a dozen gigantic silver and gold carp rose from muddy depths to follow me along the edge of their pond.

Reluctantly, I returned to New York, on a cold rainy, traffic-filled Friday evening, with the peace and still beauty of Winterthur in my heart.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Crazy Busy

I didn't mean to go for two whole days without posting to my blog! Somehow I just got really busy. And tomorrow I'm going to Delaware for three days, so it looks like there will be a few more blogless days. Yeah, so you better find some other blogs to read in the meantime. Some of my favorites are The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks (quotation-marks.blogspot.com), and Crummy Church Signs (crummychurchsigns.blogspot.com). There's also a blog devoted to pictures of badly parked cars, but--and I'm only speaking for myself here--there's a point where even I must say that's boring.

So what have I been so busy with? Well, on Sunday I had church of course, and it was also New York Marathon day, so I fell in with a group of fun people having a marathon party. We celebrated by eating really unhealthy food and watching a slide show of pictures of people we know who ran the marathon, as well as lots of random strangers. It's amazing how many really old people can run a marathon!

I had to leave early to go home and finish my two papers, due the next morning. I don't know how they turned out... by midnight I had done all I could do and forced myself to stop before I ruined them. And of course the next day, after turning them in, I suddenly thought of a few more interesting points I could have added. Doh!

Yesterday I had class all day, and then spent a few hours afterward in the library catching up on readings. By six I was all ready to go home and get some dinner, but on my way out I was sidetracked by a friend who introduced me to a woman who was going to give a talk at 7 about her humanitarian efforts in Nepal. So I stayed to listen, and even though she didn't speak very good English, it was a delightful story and truly inpspired me. She is a woman who has worked in France for several major fashion houses including Chanel and Christian Dior, but in her spare time she has devoted herself to starting and running an orphanage in Nepal. With just her own hard-earned money and a willingness to be of service to people less fortunate than herself, she has created a tremendous legacy of good, and changed a lot of people's lives for the better.

When I got home, my sister and I worked on our resumes until she got a call from a boy! Yes, she finally has a date! It's just funny because lately she's been saying how she wishes she would get asked out on dates. I didn't get a good look at him on Sunday, but he's some kind of stock broker, and he seems pretty nice.

Anyway, today I don't have class, but I need to get packed for Delaware. And I need to go back to school and do the rest of my reading. And check out a book for the long bus-ride! I'll post on Saturday, with details of my next adventure...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

It's Cool

Winter is here! It's getting really cold in New York. Cold and windy. And dry. I've been sleeping with two pairs of pajamas on and three quilts. Finally the landlady turned on the heat for our house, and the radiator has been making sounds, but so far no noticeable warmth has come out of it. As soon as I get some free time I'm going to cover our drafty old windows in plastic to help with insulation.

I try to spend most of my day in places that are warm, like libraries and museums. Class is usually cold, and my school library is really cold. Church is sometimes cold and sometimes warm. Stores are warm, but they are too tempting. The subways and buses are generally warm, especially when they are packed, which they often are now that the weather is cold.

My new ritual is to drink a cup of hot chocolate after dinner. It makes a nice dessert, and it fills my whole body with warmth. I envy coffee drinkers because they get to walk around all day holding hot steamy cups of drink. Maybe I'll get a thermos and walk around with something hot in it. Like soup. Or herbal tea.

Stores are starting to fill their windows with winter displays. Anthropologie's windows are especially cute, with knitted covers on candlesticks and marshmallow snowflakes. Rockefeller Square has lights on all their trees already. I saw some suspiciously Christmas-looking candy at the grocery store. I guess it feels good to think that Christmas is just around the corner, because it kind of makes the winter seem not so bad, and not so long.

But who am I kidding? Its going to be cold in New York for a long long time! I'd better get used to it.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Print Heaven

After a morning spent working on my paper, I headed over to the Park Avenue Armory for a fantastic treat! I was able to attend the IFPDA Print Fair. This is a trade show, basically, run by the International Fine Print Dealers Association, and it is comprised of a huge room filled with booths rented by galleries and art dealers who specialize in fine art prints. There, buyers can stroll around and pick things out for their homes, their business, their museum, or whatever. I talked to Joe Goddu of Hirschl & Adler Gallery, which sells prints among other antiques. He said that half his sales are to museums. In his booth he had some fantastic prints by Max Weber, carved from cigar boxes and printed by sandwiching the paper between the inked-up cigar box carving and a telephone book, and standing on it!

I saw just one print (pictured) by one of my favorite printmakers, Elizabeth Catlett. I also saw prints by favorites Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Wayne Thiebaud, and Marie Cassatt--and a William Blake! There were some gorgeous Japanese woodblock prints, too, of course. And I discovered the work of Erik Desmazieres, a contemporary printmaker living in Paris, who had some exquisite aquatint & roulette images of print-shop interiors, and the view out his window. Thomas French, whose gallery represents the estate of artist George Bellows, had some fantastic Bellows prints, and he talked to me about the collaboration between Bellows and his printers. Bellows is very well known for his images of boxing matches, which he painted and rendered in lithographs.

Three hours of wandering around looking at prints and I still didn't want to go, but I had so many other things to do that I forced myself away. I had to go visit The Flower Girl at the Met one more time before finishing my paper this weekend. While I was looking at it, a man came up and started exclaiming about how realistic the flowers were. It really is pretty amazing, and what I'm curious about is why so few of Ingham's other paintings are like The Flower Girl. This is something that I may have to look into further, beyond this assignment for school.

After that, I headed downtown to the American Museum of Folk Art, because it was Free Music Friday! That is when they let you in for free and you get to listen to live music while you look at the art. The MOMA was free tonight too, but I wasn't up for big crowds. At the Folk Art museum, which is one of my favorite museums in New York, they have an exhibition of work by Jewish immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A whole room is full of carved lions, which are used in the synagogue to flank the decalogue--I think. My brain was really full by that time, and I was more into just looking than reading the labels. Anyway, most of the lions had glass eyes, but one pair made in the 1920s had little red lightbulb eyes! Can you imagine seeing those in church, looking at you?

Apparently, the Jewish immigrants brought over an amazing tradition of paper-cut pictures, which are mind-bogglingly intricate. And, most of the fantastically carved and decorated carousel animals at Coney Island and other permanent carnivals were carved by Jewish immigrants, and the museum has some amazing ones on view.

Such a great day, full of so much amazing art! Now I'm ready to close my eyes and just rest.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Flower Girl

This is the painting that I'm trying to write a paper on right now, and it is proving to be quite frustrating! At the same time, I'm writing a paper on three of the places I visited on my trip last week. That paper is done, I think, but I continue to revise until the moment I have to print it out and turn it in. I'm the same way with painting--I don't think I've ever actually completed a painting, because I constantly feel like there's something that can be improved.

Anyway, "The Flower Girl" is by a man named Charles Cromwell Ingham, who came to America from Ireland in the early 19th century and set up business as a portrait painter in New York. He was quite successful because he developed a highly original and distinctive technique of layering glazes to create an ethereal, romantic quality to his paintings. When you see "The Flower Girl" in real life, it's incredible detail is heightened by these glazes, which give the hyper-realistic flowers an eerie three-dimensional appearance.

I'm not usually attracted to such saccharine images of girls in art, but I had to choose something from what is currently on display at the Met. After wandering around for about an hour, half toying with and half frightened by the idea of writing about the huge Trumbull battle scene, something led me to the Ingham. Then, I think the technicolor flowers hypnotized me.

Nobody is really sure who The Flower Girl is--she is commonly referred to as a "fancy painting" or genre scene--a type of artwork still relatively new in American during the 1840s, but gaining in popularity. As art-collecting gained respectability and popularity, people needed something to collect besides just portraits of their family. So they borrowed on the European tradition of painting landscapes, anonymous people at work, scenes of everyday life, still-lives, and trompe l'oiel (did I spell that right?) scenes. And who doesn't love a painting of a pretty girl with flowers?

Some people say that The Flower Girl is selling more than just flowers, but I tend to disagree. Like I said, nobody really knows for sure what the artist intended by this piece. so its open to interpretation. I think she's respectable, because she is wearing a black hood, which is in my view a symbol of mourning and purity in the covering of the hair. Her mouth is closed demurely, and there is no overtly sexual aspect to her dress. Everything is simple and plain except the flowers, which dominate the piece with their intense color and meticulous depiction. Next in intensity are the girls blue eyes, which stare out hauntingly. With one hand she proffers a potted fuchsia plant, a symbol of affection.

She's a mystery, and a study in contrasts. I have a lot to write about, but its more fun to write about it in my blog, where I'm not graded, than in my paper!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Of Whalers and Witches: Salem

Today is Halloween, so it would seem the perfect day to talk about Salem, Massachusetts, the other place I stopped on my trip last week. Unfortunately by talking about Salem on Halloween I'm perpetuating the stereotype that I despise, which is that Salem is the city of witchcraft.

Yes, women were hanged for witchcraft in Salem in the 17th century, but they weren't witches, and I think it a shame that beautiful old-fashioned Salem should be ever after labelled for one tragic thing that happened there. Ironically, today there is a large population of Wiccans, modern day "witches" that live in Salem because of its relationship to the long-ago witch hunts. Nowadays, you can't walk down the street in Salem without seeing witch-related merchandise in store windows, the Museum of Witchcraft, witch-tours of the city, etc. What about Salem's history as a seaport? It's thriving furniture business? The artists and craftspeople who lived there and produced some of the finest goods in America during the 17th and 18th centuries? Forget witches--I would rather spend my time at the phenomenal Peabody Essex Museum.

Currently they have an exhibition of the work of Samuel McIntire, who was America's finest carver of the mid-18th century. In a country without sculptors, he carved such things as chair backs, fireplace mantels, finials, figureheads for ships, busts of famous people, and all types of other decorative ornaments for both inside and outdoors. He was also an architect-designer, who entered the competition to design the U.S. Capitol building. Extremely prolific and famous for his carving, he also found time to be a professional musician, giving music lessons and performances. Truly a renaissance man, the exhibition of his long and rich career is a masterpiece of museum display.

Another interesting and permanent exhibition at the Peabody-Essex is Yin Yu Tang, a Chinese house built in 1800 and moved in its entirety from China to Salem. Reconstructed meticulously in every detail, entering this house is like being transported back in time and to the other side of the world at once. The house of a well-to-do merchant, it was built in observance of feng shui principles, with large formal rooms downstairs that serve as receiving rooms and places to worship ancestors. An open atrium with fish pools forms the center of the house. Upstairs are many bedrooms, to house a large extended family. The rooms are furnished with the original Chinese furniture owned by the family, and everything down to the 19th century acupuncture charts on the wall, and the clothing laid out on the bed, are authentic. Signs of the Chinese cultural revolution under Mao are evident, as in the propaganda box mounted on the wall in the large downstairs room. Every house was required to have one of these boxes installed so that everyone would hear what Mao was saying--they couldn't turn it off.

It was so interesting to compare Yin Yu Tang to the nearby Garner-Pingree house, which was built in Salem in 1804. During this time, China was emerging as a major source of trade with Europe and America, and Salem would have been a major port for incoming ships laden with goods from the far East, ensuring the wealth of both American and Chinese merchants.

I didn't have enough time in Salem to see everything I wanted to see. The Peabody Essex Museum is incredible! I briefly looked at its permanent collection of early American art and furniture, which includes one of the first organs made in America. I was enthralled by the displays of model ships and paintings that had to do with the sea-trade and sailor life. The interior of America's first private ocean-going yacht "Cleopatra's Barge" is recreated within the museum, complete with the watercolor homage to the cat Pompeii, who died at sea in 1817 or so. I especially loved the sketchbooks on display, made by sailors during their long voyages, and the scrimshaw they made by decorating whale teeth or walrus tusks in etched designs. One had a poem, "Death to the living, long life to the killers. Success to sailors wives & greasy luck to whalers." There is something so magical and adventurous about the sea--I'm constantly fascinated by stories of sailors and sea-life, especially during the old days before coal and machine powered ships.

There wasn't enough time to see the photography exhibit, or the glass, or any of the rest of the museum. Someday I'll have to go back with much more time to wander. However, I saw enough to know that the Peabody Essex Museum is a fantastic place, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Also, next time I go to Salem I will visit Nathaniel Hawthorne's "House of Seven Gables," which is just down the street.

As for Halloween in New York? I'm going to visit the Met, do my homework, go for a run in the sunshine, and then stay in tonight, safe from ghouls, with no tricks but a few treats on hand.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fleeting Moment

One magical thing happened to me today: I arrived early for my class at the Met and was sitting outside on the edge of one of the cement fountains. It was quite cold today, but sunny, and the streets are full of autumn leaves. So I wasn't surprised when an orange and brown leaf fluttered down and landed next to my leg. However, I looked again, and saw that it wasn't a leaf but a large burnt-orange butterfly with brown-edged wings! It stayed there fluttering in the sun next to me for a few minutes, while I admired it, and then it flew away, blending again into the autumn cityscape.

Marblehead

One of the places I visited last week was Marblehead, Massachusetts. A small town today, this seaport was once bustling with business from the cargo ships that sailed in and out of its harbor bringing goods from Europe, South America, and the rest of the world to the American colonies. In the mid 18th century it was the second largest city in Massachusetts, and the home of the state's richest families. It remains a charming quaint town by the sea, full of darling old houses packed tightly together amid winding lanes that all lead to the harbor.

In 1766 Jeremiah Lee built an impressive home in Marblehead for his family. The owner of an impressive 21 ships used for both fishing and commerce, Jeremiah Lee would soon be known as the richest man in Massachusetts. His new home reflected his wealth, and still stands today, furnished to evoke what it may have looked like when the Lees lived there.

Built in the Georgian style, the Lee mansion is both symmetrical and graceful, on the cutting edge of the emerging neoclassical craze in art and architecture. The exterior looks like it is made of large stone bricks, but in fact is wood, coated in sand and painted to appear as if it were limestone.

The interior is spacious and furnished as the Lees may have kept it. Because the house passed to a bank after the Lees owned it, and thereafter became a historic site, almost no changes to the structure of the building have occurred. Floorboards have changed over the years, and original wallpaper painted over, but much has been restored to appear as it would have in the 1760s and 1770s. One of the more remarkable changes occurred in 1852 when the walls in one of the front parlors were painted to look like paneled wood. The grain is painted so well, its hard to see that they are not real wood.

In the 18th century houses were set up differently than they are nowadays. There was a specific delineation between public and private rooms, often an entire half of the house was the public half, and the other the private. For example, in the Lee mansion, as you enter the home, the front room to the right was used as a public entertaining room, for parties, dinners, etc. The left-hand room was reserved for more private family teas and other intimate gatherings. Upstairs, the bedrooms to the right were used for guests, or for Mrs. Lee to entertain female friends. The left-hand rooms were strictly for family use.

In those days, furniture would be kept up against the walls when a room was not in use. The rooms had multiple purposes, so all the tables folded up and went against the walls, as did the chairs and sofas, and only brought out when it was time for a dinner, tea, or game of cards. With no central heating, the Lees no doubt spent a lot of time during the winter sitting in front of their beautiful fireplaces, which still have the original painted ceramic tiles from Europe that Mrs. Lee must have chosen. In all the rooms, household items are on display along with the textiles and furniture from the period. 18th century people would probably laugh at us today, because most of us probably could not identify some of their everyday tools such as candlewick trimmers or chamber pots.

Jeremiah Lee was one of the unsung heroes of the Revolutionary War. With all his wealth and connections, he risked it all by engaging in covert operations involving purchasing and smuggling in weapons, gunpowder, and supplies for the rebelling colonies to use in the impending war. Without his help, the outcome of the war may have been totally different. However, as a direct result of this clandestine and now patriotic activities, Lee died in 1775 and has remained obscure to history. Without him, his family descended into poverty and all that remains is their remarkable house.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Church and Stuff

It's Sunday! Always a wonderful day. Today was especially exciting because I have recently been given a new calling at church. For those of you not up on your Mormon lingo, a "calling" is a job that you get assigned to do as part of your church attendance. The Bishop issues the calling and you may either accept or decline, but its always good to accept because every calling allows a person to learn and grow in a new way. Callings include such things as Sunday-School Teacher, Librarian, Family History Worker, Chorister, etc. My new calling is Relief Society Teacher. And again, for those of you who don't know, the Relief Society is the women's organization of the church, which meets the third hour of church every Sunday.

So in my new calling I get to teach the Relief Society lesson about once or twice each month. The topic is determined by the leaders of the church so that each ward in every city around the world gets taught the same things (and the men get taught the same topic too, in Elders Quorum). But its up to me to decide how to teach that topic and what specific things my women ought to hear.

My sister was horrified when I told her what my calling was going to be, because she has a horror of public speaking. (She hasn't received a calling in this ward yet.) I guess I'm old enough now that it doesn't bother me in the least to stand in front of 40 girls and teach a lesson. In fact, I rather enjoy it. I get to be in charge, and view it as an exciting challenge. Plus, it forces me, in a good way, to read up on and learn about a topic that I may need some work on in my own life. In fact, if I were to choose my own calling right now, it would be RS Teacher, so I am very happy. I'm very relieved not to be on the Activities Committee, or an FHE leader!

However, last Sunday when I got my calling, my initial excitement turned to surprise and almost dismay when I found out that I would be teaching my first lesson in just one week, and it would be on the topic of Divorce! The fourth Sunday of each month the lesson comes from a talk or talks given in recent General Conference, and this particular talk was given last April by one of my favorite Apostles, Dallin H. Oaks. His talk is actually quite wonderful, (you can read it on www.lds.org in the Gospel Library section, under General Conference--just do a search) and I enjoyed rereading it. Elder Oaks is a lawyer by profession and he seems to always say things in a very orderly, logical way, which allows the truth of the gospel to shine through.

You'd think that the subject of Divorce would have nothing to do with single adults under the age of 30, but there was actually a lot to be said and discussed. The lesson was actually easier to plan than I thought it would be. The hard part was teaching it. It's a subject that a lot of people get very emotional about, as it has touched so many lives, and it involves discussions on marriage and dating, which single Mormons are also very opinionated about. My main task was steering the discussion to a desired goal, and that was to reaffirm some key points:

1. Heavenly Father loves each of us and wants what is best for us.
2. He cannot deny us blessings if we are righteous and do our best to work hard and keep the commandments.
3. Families are sacred, and marriages can be eternal.

With those things in mind, I was able to steer every tangential comment back to the point that if we just do everything we are supposed to do as obedient sons and daughters of God, marriages will work, relationships will be strong, and families will be happy and blessed. I've seen it happen in real life!

So, I'm really excited about this new calling, though I am eager for less controversial topics.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Providence

To catch everyone up on my trip, and to remember all the incredible things I saw, I will spend the next couple of blogs talking about places I visited this past week.

One place was the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence. I spent an afternoon browsing their amazing art museum. For a small school that not many people outside the art world have ever heard of, they have an astonishing collection, including things as disparate as ancient Roman sculpture, French Impressionist paintings, and contemporary video-art. I was really proud of myself when I was able to recognize an etching by Piranesi, similar to the ones I saw last weekend at the exhibit currently at the Cooper-Hewitt in New York.

Two displays struck me as especially nice. One is in homage of the "grand hall" found in old English and French houses: the long passageway from one wing of the estate to another, where the nobility would display their art collections from floor to ceiling for all their friends to admire. Unlike a dark old castle hall, the RISD's grand hall is painted a deep blue, and pictures are hung salon style, but not crowded to the point of fatigue. A long skylight as well as myriad spotlights illuminate the works, which range from serene landscapes to noble portraits, to impassioned religious scenes. Soft chairs in the center of the room provide a place for the viewer to contemplate the art and leaf through guides which inform of titles, artists, and media. The walls are refreshingly free of labels. When I was there, two actual monks were seated before a painting of a biblical scene, utilizing the power of the visual to convey spiritual meaning.

The other exhibit that I thought just wonderful is titled "American Idyll," the play on words an example of musuem curator humor, I guess. The selection here is quite thought-provoking. The idea of the show is to illuminate the stories of people and places overlooked in America's long tradition of using art to showcase the ideal, and show how they helped make this country vibrant. In portraits of Native Americans and African Americans, women and children, untouched wilderness and smog covered rooftops, the panorama of America unfolds before the eye. In telling their stories, the exhibition draws from so many directions, and references so many issues, that the message isn't immediately apparent, yet once I started to see the different threads and recognize the subtle way that artists have used their work to tell social stories, I understood. The best example is the dressing table and chair pictured above, which was made by the Gorham silver company for the 1904 World's Fair. It's hard to tell from my image, but this table, the most fabulous and masterful example of its kind ever made in this country, is a combination of French art nouveau, English rococo, Greco-Roman neoclassicism, and Asian marquetry and inlay techniques. It combines a variety of cultural influences into one masterpiece. Just like the 1904 World's Fair did. Just like America continues to do.

The third amazing thing at the RISD art museum is the historic "house" that is built into the museum, known as Pendleton House. Stepping into it is as if you are going back in time into the home of a wealthy and elite 18th century American. It's not a real house, as the built in display cases attest, but it simulates one in a gorgeous way.

I encourage everyone to visit Providence, a charmingly quaint city with street names such as "Pleasant" and "Benevolent" and the city motto "Hope." It's enough sweetness to make you sick except its so welcoming and idyllic that you never will want to leave. I didn't, but of course I did.