Jack Spitzer at the MoG

Tacoma, Washington’s Museum of Glass is a premier contemporary art museum dedicated to glass and glass-making. In addition to growing a permanent collection that chronicles the development of modern glass, the museum also hosts engaging artist residencies, national traveling exhibitions and unique programs for local residents and visitors. The museum was developed by two friends, Phil Phibbs, who had recently retired as president of the University of Puget Sound and glass artist Dale Chihuly who had grown up in a neighborhood near the campus and had attended the university.

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Museum of Glass – view from the harbor side with the hot shop tower in the background.

I had recently visited the museum for the show of Preston Singletary’s work (see that blog post here); but this time I was visiting to watch my grandson, Jack Spitzer, who both works and blows glass in the museum’s hot shop.

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Museum of Glass Hot Shop, seen from the amphitheater seating

Jack works there as a member of Hilltop Artists, a non-profit that “uses glass art to connect young people from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds to better futures”. Hilltop Artists runs hot shops at Jason Lea Middle School and Wilson High School as well as a flameworking studio at Ford Middle School. Jack began working with glass at Jason Lea.

I arrived during set-up and thus had time to take in the setting and tempo of the work.

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Museum of Glass Hot Shop – see from the observation balcony

While most spectators take a seat in the amphitheater, the museum does permit people to circle around the work space on a balcony walkway. I did some of each, finding that multiple viewpoints were needed to be able to clearly see the various glass-handling processes, especially since many of them involve two or three people around the work.

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After setting out his tools, Jack “gathers” some molten glass from a continuously running furnace (in the background) on a blowpipe and then uses the heat from the Glory Hole – running at about 2000 degrees, to bring it to the right working temperature.

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A wide variety of techniques are used to shape the glass in addition to blowing through the pipe. Some involve cutting or crimping – above – or rolling on a “marver” steel table as seen below.

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As you can see from the body language, there’s a lot of comraderie in the teamwork and a fair amount of casual banter. This turns out to be an important ingredient in the success of the work, since in the next piece someone else will be leading and Jack will be assisting.

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One of the mysteries of glass work for me comes from the fact that often the initial shapes bear little resemblance to the finished pieces. Clearly, the artist has to have something in mind and, most importantly, the steps involved in getting there.

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When elements need to be added to the initial form, the dance between the two workers begins. In case you haven’t figured it out, there’s a Santa hat developing.

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Now that the white ball has been added to the hat, the bottom can be opened with tongs as the shape is rolled back and forth against a wet cherry board. It’s easy for the viewer to lose track of how hot that piece of glass still is – and, ironically, for the glass worker to lose track of how fast the glass is cooling down.

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Occasionally localized heat is re-applied to keep things malleable. Then, when the piece is deemed ready enough, it’s removed to a warming oven to wait for stage 2.

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Phase 2 could be the Santa that wears the hat – but it’s not; it’s a salmon ! ( December in the Pacific Northwest = Santa Salmon, what else ? )

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At this stage the basic glass gather is first rolled on the marver and then in glass beads that coat the exterior. At a later step it will be rolled across the line of red beads farther up the table to add an accent line.

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To keep the shape from drooping as it’s worked, Jack rolls it inside a wetted wooden scoop shape that gives it support.

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In this piece there’s a bit of actual blowing through the pipe, though most of the sculpting was done with tongs and shears.

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At this point a number of step sequences get repeated – applying heat, shaping with tongs, firming up the form.

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Now the real sculpting starts, with addition of the head, shaping of the mouth, and addition of the various fins.MoG_4033_1000

The fins require individual shaping and crimping. In case you were uncertain, Jack said it was a Chinook salmon.

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It took several rounds of this to get each fin located, attached, crimped and shaped. Finally, the Santa hat came back out of the warming oven, was placed, heated to soften it for shaping, and fitted over the Chinook.

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And here he is, ready to deliver presents to all the waiting smolts.

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One last, not very glamorous but VERY critical step – getting the piece into the oven that will help it cool slowly for a day without shattering.

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One of the assistants, clad in a heat-resistant jacket and gloves will make the delivery.

And at the end, a bit of chatting with family and friends in the audience.

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Always nice to have a few fans around to appreciate your work.

Just so you have a sense that Jack does other things than fish, I’m including a sampling of his work that his mother put together. He’s come a long way in a short time.

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Preston Singletary

On a recent visit to the Tacoma, Washington Museum of Glass, we were privileged to experience Raven and the Box of Daylight, an exhibit of work and experiences by native Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.

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Preston Singletary grew up in the Seattle area listening to stories told by his great-grandparents, who were both full Tlingit. In high school he met and became friends with future glass artist Dante Marioni, son of glass artist Paul Marioni. Singletary  was asked by Marioni to work as a night watchman at what was then the Glass Eye, a Seattle glass-blowing studio. Singletary quickly moved from being night watchman to working the day shift to eventually joining one of the studio’s production teams.

In 1984, Singletary took part in a workshop at Pilchuck Glass School for the first time. He has since been involved in Pilchuck as both a teacher and student.  In the late 1980s, Singletary began incorporating traditional Tlingit themes into his work and reaching out to other Northwest Coast Native American artists. Today he is perhaps best known for his use of glass to express and explore traditional Tlingit themes. Many of his works reference clan crests, including the killer whale, which his family claims.

Raven and the Box of Daylight is the Tlingit story of Raven and his transformation of the world—bringing light to people via the stars, moon, and sun. This story holds great significance for the Tlingit people. The exhibition features a dynamic combination of artwork, storytelling, and encounter, where the Tlingit story unfolds during the visitor’s experience. Since I hadn’t planned to tell the artwork story in all of its details, I’ll use the story as a framework to illustrate the work that we saw. The story of Raven releasing or ‘stealing’ the daylight is one of the most iconic stories of the Tlingit People of Southeast Alaska. The Tlingit name for Raven is Yéil. Many people know the basic story, yet there are variations unique to specific villages and individual storytellers.

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Three carved boxes contain Naas Shaak Aankáawu’s (Nobleman at the Head of the Nass River) most prized possessions: the stars, the moon, and the daylight.

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His grandson, Yéil K’atsk’u asks for the boxes and is told he cannot have them. He cries and cries for the box of stars and eventually his grandfather relents. Naas Shaak Aankáawu gives his grandson the box of stars, which he immediately opens. The stars slip through the smoke hole in the Clan House and take their places in the sky.

Naas Shaak Aankáawo is furious with his grandson. He scolds him and Yéil K’átsk’u becomes inconsolable. His crying breaks his grandfather’s heart and he forgives his grandson for what he has done, but the boy still will not be comforted. The boy moves towards the box containing the moon. His grandfather hesitates, but forgives his grandson again. He gives Yéil K’átsk’u the box with the moon.

Naas Shaak Aankáawo do Séek’ (Daughter of the Nobleman at the Head of the Nass River), the boy’s mother, does not think her son should have the box and she argues with her father. As they argue, Yéil K’átsk’u opens the box. He plays with the moon and then releases it. The moon silently slips through the smoke hole and takes its place in the sky. The sun is the final treasure. Naas Shaak Aankáawu protects it fiercely, but Yéil K’átsk’u eventually succeeds in releasing the daylight (below).

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Yéil (Raven) decides it is time to leave and transforms back into bird form. Naas Shaak Aankáawu is devastated that his treasures have been released into the sky. He is so angry that he gathers all the pitch in the Clan House in a bentwood box and throws it into the fire. He catches Yéil as he tries to escape out of the smoke hole and holds onto his feet. Raven is covered in the soot and smoke of the fire. He is transformed from a spiritual being into the black bird we know today. His color marks his sacrifice; his physical form is forever changed for bringing light into the world (below).

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A number of other elements support parts of the story, such as this ceremonial spear.

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Canoe, oars and Salmon

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Feather pulled through water.

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Portal – similar to those used in long houses.

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But the most interesting experience of the show was this room of Tlingit people,

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representing, I believe, the various clan members who emerged into the daylight,

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such as this Salmon Woman, obviously an important clan member.

The experience of being in the room with all of these clan members was heightened by the treatment of the background, where fabric, gently moved by small fans, was used as a screen onto which were projected images that helped tell Tlingit stories.

Overall, a fascinating story and compelling experience.

Harvard’s Glass Flowers

Back in Boston, we spent part of a rainy day at the Harvard University Museum of Natural History (HMNH) to revisit a stunning collection of glass art that I had seen once, many years before. The work is housed in Harvard’s imposing 19th Century Italian Renaissance Museum Building adjacent to Harvard Yard.

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The Harvard Museum of Natural History was established in 1998 as the public face of three research museums: the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria, and the Mineralogical & Geological Museum.

The story of how the museum came to have a collection of glass flowers is a bit long and convoluted; but it’s based in the growth of the natural sciences in the 19th century and their need for study models of invertebrates and plants that would not deteriorate. This is where a couple of Bohemian glass artists entered the picture.

This story is told in Wikipedia; but I have excerpted the essentials here.

Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka were Dresden, Germany glass artists native to the Bohemian (Czech)–German borderland. In the early 1800’s Leopold joined the family business, which produced glass ornaments and glass eyes. He developed a technique which he termed “glass-spinning”, which permitted the construction of highly precise and detailed works in glass.

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Caroline, Rudolph, and Leopold Blaschka near Dresden

In his free time, his hobby was to make glass models of plants, which came to the attention of the Dresden Museum of Natural History. The Dresden museum director, Prof. Reichenbach, desired something more, specifically 3D colored models of marine invertebrates that were both lifelike and able to stand the test of time, which real specimens in alcohol could not. Reichenbach convinced and commissioned Leopold to produce twelve model sea anemones. These marine models, hailed as “an artistic marvel in the field of science and a scientific marvel in the field of art,” were a great improvement on previous methods of presenting such creatures: drawings, pressing, photographs and papier-mâché or wax models.

Reichenbach advised Leopold to drop his current and generations long family business of glass fancy goods and the like in favor of selling glass marine invertebrates to museums, aquaria, universities, and private collectors. A year after the success of the glass sea anemones, the family moved to Dresden to give Leopold and his young Rudolf better opportunities to carry out this new approach.

In about 1880, Rudolf began assisting his father with the models. In that year, they produced 131 Glass sea creature models for the Boston Society of Natural History Museum.

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These models were seen by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, who was in the process of setting up the Harvard Botanical Museum. His reasons for wanting models was simple: At that time, Harvard was the global center of botanical study; but the study was limited by lack of good models of plants that would last. He realized that glass flowers would solve his problem since glass models were three-dimensional and would also retain their color. Elizabeth C. Ware, already a benefactor of Harvard’s botanical department, agreed to underwrite a glass plant program. The Blaschkas signed an exclusive ten-year contract with Harvard to make these glass models. These are what you see when you visit.

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As study models, the plants needed to contain both their essential characteristics but also their faults and imperfections; so the Blaschkas were obliged to take on considerable research, including many sketches, for each of the models produced. The museum helps us take that journey in contemporary terms.

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The museum also gives background about the Blaschkas and how they worked.

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Leopold and Caroline Blaschka

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Rudolph Blaschka as a young man, and as a boy with his mother, Caroline

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And the museum’s story of their story.

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Viewing the collection (and only a portion is on display) can be a visually overwhelming experience. For one thing, you see a lot of it at any one time – the space is not divided into distinct galleries as an art museum would be.

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Another feature is that the lighting of glass objects, behind glass, creates a lot of reflections – and also throws other parts of the room into shadow so your eyes have to adapt to a lot of contrast.

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But when you get up close, the work is dazzling. And you have to get up close.

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As an example, here’s a Raintree plant, including its various parts and pieces. A bit closer in, you can see some of the detail appear.

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And then even closer, the work becomes mind-boggling (and hard to photograph), especially when you realize that’s all made out of glass.

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So here’s a tour of a sampling of what we saw – Enjoy !

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Occasionally, other information panels give more background, in this case the evolutionary relationships of the plants on display.

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Here, some background of one of our favorite plants, and some examples.

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I also liked the mixing of fruit shapes with the leaf patterns.

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As their work was completed, Rudolph signed off by sending this benefactors, the Wares, a bouquet of flowers – glass of course.

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Rudolf continued making models for Harvard until 1938. By then aged 80, old and weary, he announced that he would retire. Neither he nor his father had taken on an apprentice, and Rudolf left no successor – he and Frieda Blaschka being childless.

As we left the exhibit, it was fun to come across some examples of the work that got Leopold and Rudolph into the work in the first place.

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For Harvard alone, Leopold and Rudolf made approximately 4,400 models, 780 showing species at life-size, with others showing magnified details; under 75% are, as of May 21, 2016, on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, (the exhibit itself dedicated to Dr. Charles Eliot Ware, the father of Mary Ware and husband of Elizabeth Ware).

Unlike the Glass sea creatures – “a profitable global mail-order business” – the Glass Flowers were commissioned solely for and are unique to Harvard. Over the course of their collected lives Leopold and Rudolf crafted as many as ten thousand glass marine invertebrate models in addition to the 4,400 botanical ones that are the more famous Glass Flowers.

We spent a little time on some of the other exhibits at the museum, though it was hard to take in much more visual stimulus after all that glass. We did, however, find one exhibit that reminded us of our journey through Eastern Canada and the one thing that we knew was there but had been unable to find.

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So, Jane having finally found her moose, we could head back to Seattle.

Gloucester

Gloucester is a city of about 30,000 people on Cape Ann in Essex County, Massachusetts. It is part of Massachusetts’ North Shore, about 30 miles up the coast from Boston. An important center of the fishing industry and a popular summer destination, Gloucester consists of an urban core on the north side of the harbor and the outlying neighborhoods of Annisquam, Bay View, Lanesville, Folly Cove, Magnolia, Riverdale, East Gloucester, and West Gloucester. Here’s a map:

I lived in West Gloucester for a couple years when I was in grade school on Bray Street out in the country. I clearly remember picnics and swimming at Wingaersheek Beach a couple of miles from our house.  On this particular visit we spent our time in and around Gloucester’s harbor, from Stage Fort Park through town to Rocky Neck.

Gloucester was founded at Cape Ann by an expedition called the “Dorchester Company” of men from Dorchester (in the county of Dorset, England) chartered by James I in 1623. It was one of the first English settlements in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and predates both Salem in 1626 and Boston in 1630. The first company of pioneers made landing at Half Moon Beach and settled nearby, setting up fishing stages in a field in what is now Stage Fort Park. This settlement’s existence is proclaimed today by a memorial tablet, on a 50-foot boulder in that park, on the left side of the photo below.

Life in this first settlement was harsh and it was short-lived. Around 1626 the place was abandoned, and not resettled for 15 years, being incorporated in 1642. Early industry included subsistence farming and logging. Fishing, for which the town is known today, was limited to close-to-shore, with families subsisting on small catches as opposed to the great bounties yielded in later years. The fisherman of Gloucester did not command the Grand Banks until the mid-18th century, and the town is strongly identified with the spirit, character, and danger of fishing in the open ocean. This spirit is commemorated along the Stacy Esplanade, on the west side of downtown, facing the harbor.

The “Man at the Wheel” is an 8-foot-tall, bronze statue, by sculptor Leonard Craske, of a fisherman dressed in oilskins standing braced at the wheel on the sloping deck of his ship. The monument has a square base of sea green granite. It is positioned so that the fisherman is looking out over Gloucester Harbor.

The fisherman in the sculpture was modeled after Capt. Clayton Morrissey, a prominent Gloucester fisherman, once the captain of the Effie M. Morrissey. A memorial plaque gives a short history as well as a biblical description.

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.” Psalm 107, 23-24.

Nearby there were other plaques, listing the names of ships and sailors who perished at sea. Coincidentally, while we were standing there, a man was explaining this to others.

From overhearing parts of the conversation, it turned out that he was a former fisherman who knew many of the ships and fishermen listed and was filling in some anecdotal history around the official listings. Nice coincidence.

We stopped at a small restaurant a few blocks away for some lunch.

This somewhat cluttered landscape conveys the character of contemporary Gloucester, a collection of sturdy brick buildings, built tight to winding streets following the outline of the harbor, with a lot of their charm intact, but challenged by modern traffic. The Sugar Magnolias name probably has some kind of history; but we didn’t learn it. In any case, it didn’t serve southern cooking – and various seafood dishes were excellent.

After lunch, we circumnavigated the harbor to a small arm that sticks out into the water.

Rocky Neck is one of the oldest continuously operating art colonies in the United States. Located on a rocky peninsula within Gloucester’s working harbor, Rocky Neck is known for its quaint neighborhood and many art galleries and studios.

Artists including Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, and many others working on Rocky Neck in the 19th and early 20th centuries inspired the Cape Ann style of American Impressionism. Working artists still work and display their work in Rocky Neck galleries during the summer months. We visited the Rocky Neck Cultural Center, created out of a former church, where local artists display their work.

At the time, they were having a group show.

Not surprisingly much of the artwork featured seascapes, such as these two by Cathy Coakley:

and another pair by artist Leigh Slingluff:

Although I suspect that the cost of modern life has caught up with Rocky Neck, it still conveys the pleasant stability of a small town.

and in a few cases, the changes that new money brings.

I liked the hand-built quality of some of the materials used, especially at a detail level.

And in this case in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time.

These are embossed steel panels with a gorgeous acquired patina of rust and multiple attempts at getting paint to stick. At the end of the day, though, it’s hard to ignore the foundational quality of the harbor that helped Rocky Neck to happen.

As well as the Gloucester neighborhood that framed the other side of the harbor.

Well, maybe one last quirky building can’t hurt.

Back to Boston for more urban adventures.

 

South Boston Waterfront

At the end of our Eastern Canada and New England trip we stayed with my sister and her husband in Brookline, a neighborhood near Boston. One afternoon, she and I spent some time walking through the current developments along the South Boston Waterfront.

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Boston’s compact and dense downtown is on the left. The South Boston Waterfront, located just southeast across Fort Point Channel from Downtown, includes the Fort Port neighborhood on the western edge; Fan Pier, the Seaport World Trade Center, and Boston’s Marine Industrial Park to the east. All of these locations are rapidly transforming the area from historic warehouses and industrial space into a creative, tech, and residential hub for the city. The map is misleading with regard to the major highways. I-90 is actually in tunnel through this area and under the harbor to the airport; and Route 1, courtesy of Boston’s somewhat infamous “Big Dig” is similarly underground and supplanted by the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

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This landscaped open space weaves a green lung through the heart of Boston, a dramatic change from the previous elevated, noisy and dirty highway. It has also enhanced the properties between it and the harbor (to the left of and below the photo) since they now have, in effect, a garden on one side and water views on the other.

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At the beginning of our walk we came across an interesting piece of public art.

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A commentary on the pervasiveness of our digital world – though walking on the keyboards didn’t appear to send any messages or images. Numerous apartment buildings have recently been built or are in development in the Innovation District, offering residents apartment, condominium, and micro-unit options. Historic Fort Point hosts affordable artists’ units along with market rate “loft living” opportunities in former warehouses. Boston’s Harborwalk runs along the piers, connecting residents to the 45-mile waterfront path network.

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The remaining maritime activities tend towards the genteel (and expensive); and much of the architecture exhibits its corporate character clearly.

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One interesting residential building contrasted with the general corporate tone.

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The adjacent Barking Crab provided a fun foreground; and the facade was fun up close.

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It was hard to see clearly; but it appears that there is either a bicycle or bicycle furniture in almost every unit. The photo below is of a large photo; and in it you can see that the bicycle wheel actually offers a way to easily move the television around.

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The waterfront walkway includes pretty good graphics, outlining the area’s history.

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More artwork created a contrast between older dates and activities seen in silhouette and newer construction across the harbor beyond.

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Offering a dynamic mix of opportunities and spaces, the South Boston Waterfront draws a huge range of businesses and events. Just inland from the Harborwalk, a burgeoning tech and biotech community is attracting organizations, entrepreneurs, and designers into a cluster of flexible office spaces and unique live-work buildings.

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The Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) has been woven in as well, but given a position of prominence. It was still under construction.

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While just about everything is new (there are only subtle reminders of the large railroad yard that used to service this part of the port), occasional, explicitly historic remnants have been preserved for interest.

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This center pivot bridge carried rail tracks across a waterway. It wasn’t clear whether it will be put to some use and provide access or just remain as a visual element.

There’s no question that the South Boston Waterfront District has a development booster flavor and energy – and that they’re not shy about it.

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But I’ll leave you with a small grace note before I “move on”.

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My message would be that more of this would benefit the district.

Portland Museum of Art

The Portland Museum of Art, or PMA, is the largest and oldest public art institution in the U.S. state of Maine. Founded as the Portland Society of Art in 1882. It is located in the downtown area known area The Arts District in Portland, Maine.

The PMA used a variety of exhibition spaces until 1908; that year Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat bequeathed her three-story mansion, now known as the McLellan House, and sufficient funds to create a gallery in memory of her late husband, Lorenzo De Medici Sweat, who was a U.S. Representative.

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McLellan House (Sweat Memorial Galleries behind)

Noted New England architect John Calvin Stevens designed the L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, which opened to the public in 1911.

Over the next 65 years, as the size and scope of the exhibitions expanded, the limitations of the Museum’s galleries, storage, and support areas became apparent. In 1976, Maine native Charles Shipman Payson promised the Museum his collection of 17 paintings by Winslow Homer. Recognizing the Museum’s physical limitations, he also gave $8 million toward the building of an addition to be designed by Henry Nichols Cobb of I. M. Pei & Partners. Construction began on the Charles Shipman Payson Building in 1981, and within two years the $8.2 million facility was opened to the public.

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The building reflects many of the Pei firm’s interests in the 1980’s, such as a repetitive, somewhat classical organization combined with an exploration of basic geometric forms, seen in the overall building, the extended “pediment” structure above the roof, and in smaller elements such as the entrance.

The freestanding art in front of the building, Seven, by Robert Indiana, doesn’t take Pei’s formal approach but stands on its own.

We made a brief stop at the cafe, just down from the lobby, and got to see examples of the interactive features the museum offers.

The Black Tie Company Cafe offered a nice selection of healthy foods. Our experience in traveling has been that most museums often offer good food in attractive settings. A small workspace nearby was available to museum goers and students.

Several cases showed local craft work. I liked the idea of including quotations from William Morris, Paul Gaugin, and John Ruskin about the relationship of art to craft; but it seemed clumsy to just paste them in front of the work itself.

Morris – “To apply art to useful wares, in short, is not frivolity, but a part of the serious business of life.”

Gauguin – “Decoration involves so much poetry . . . It takes a tremendous imagination to decorate any surface tastefully.”

Ruskin – “All art may be decorative and . . . the greatest art yet produced has been decorative.”

Upstairs again we passed through the Sweat galleries that act as a transition from the main building back to the original McLellan House.

Here, the museum has chosen to display a ‘sampler’ of its works. The PMA’s collection features works by artists including Winslow Homer, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Louise Nevelson, Andrew Wyeth and John Greenleaf Cloudman. The Museum has the largest European collection in Maine. The major European movements from impressionism through surrealism are represented by the Joan Whitney Payson, Albert Otten, and Scott M. Black collections, which include works by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, René Magritte, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, and Auguste Rodin.

The display below features the various sculpting tools of Gaston Lachaise, an American artist born in France, as a way of acknowledging the complexity of the process involved in creating a sculpture.

Then, as an example, they displayed Torso of Elevation, a plaster piece that reveals many of the tool marks left in the surfaces as part of this study.

Nearby, the painting, Still Life with Coffee Pot and Melon, by Frenchman Roger de La Fresnaye offers a wholly different take on form making.

Claude Monet‘s The Seine at Vetheuil represents the Impressionists and their fascination with evoking light in its many qualities.

But the mood changes once again when Ulysses S. Grant steps into view.

This marble sculpture by Franklin B. Simmons works to show off Grant’s persona but also the artist’s skill at representing a variety of materials and textures in stone, such as the folds in the fabric and “brass” buttons.

I was surprised to see Winslow Homer‘s Young Farmers (Study for Weaning the Calf) in this part of the museum, since I knew they had a collection of Homer’s work and that he spent the latter part of his career nearby in Maine. This was just to give a taste.

In contrast to the study quality of Young Farmers, Gilbert Stuart‘s portrait of Elizabeth Inches follows the more traditional approach of using a formal setting and flattering lighting to highlight both the young woman and her hair style, clothing and jewelry.

In a more straightforward manner, reflecting Maine country living, Royall Brewster Smith portrays Maria McLellan Edwards and Hanna Edwards. 

The notes make clear that, “Many of his sitters were related to each other or the artist, illustrating the intricate and interconnected social circles of Southern Maine”.

From these galleries we stepped through a pair of doors into the rear of the McLellan House where the main feature turned out to be the restored house itself.

The stair hall above shows the late 19th century predilection for decorating all surfaces, while the dining room below is more restrained – except for the carpet.

The house contained only a modest amount of free-standing “art”, such as this Endless Column, by Justin Richel, made of slip-cast and hand-built vitreous china to “transform the elements of a tea party into one slender tower that appears about to topple over”, probably not a 19th century approach.

Upstairs we came to the aforementioned Winslow Homer paintings. There’s a good summary of his life and overview of his work on Wikipedia, here; so I’ll just pass along the basics and show some of the museum’s pieces. Largely self-taught, Homer began his career working as a commercial illustrator. He subsequently took up oil painting and produced major studio works characterized by the weight and density he exploited from the medium. He also worked extensively in watercolor, creating a fluid and prolific oeuvre, primarily chronicling his working vacations. Here’s a demure watercolor in which he puts three Artists Sketching in the White Mountains out into this strong landscape, as a contrast both in form (especially with the umbrellas) and in the interjection of a ‘civilized’ activity into the informal and unconstrained environment.

In the sky above, though, it’s clear that the dynamics of weather and terrain are not simply background information, but have a presence of their own. This really shows when he tackles the sea.

Weatherbeaten clearly displays Homer’s seemingly effortless ability to convey the character and energy of the sea – a strong feature of his later years. ( I have to admit that I find the frames for his work not very sympathetic to the imagery. I made a version without a frame to see the difference. )

A Maine hunting scene interestingly uses some of the same dynamic composition within the rectangle as the seascape – strong diagonals and sharp contrasts between dark and light forms. This is watercolor, though, in contrast to the oil paint above.

In this scene, Wild Geese in Flight, Homer “provides viewers with a scene of death through the eyes of the concealed hunter”

The museum explains that this painting “represents the work of a mature artist using close observation of the natural world around him to grapple with the fundamental questions about life and death.” He worked near this beach from a studio in Prout’s Neck – a setting that kept him constantly aware of the moods of the sea.

The PMA owns and manages the studio as a remote gallery; but access is limited and expensive so we weren’t able to see it.

We grazed our way through the rest of the museum a bit, enjoying the variety that this regional museum brings to its community.

John HelikerTabletop Still Life – 1935

Artist ? – Roommate in her chair – 1972

Pierre-Auguste RenoirWoman in a Chantilly-lace Blouse – 1869

Joan MiroThe First Spark of Day III – 1966

Dale ChihulyViridian Persian Set with Winsor Red Lip Wraps – 1987    It’s always interesting to see something made in your own home town when you’re 3000 miles away and in a totally different setting. Strange and familiar at the same time.

Paul StrandYoung Boy, Gondeville, Charente – 1951

Then, of course, there’s the really unfamiliar,

Paul Delvaux‘s – The Greeting – 1938  Not a typical Portland West End greeting.

So we’ll finish our PMA tour with a familiar view of a part of Maine we recently enjoyed.

Richard EstesBeaver Dam Pond, Acadia National Park – 2009

Mark SpitzerBeaver Dam Pond, Acadia National Park – 2017

Outside, we worked our way back to our bed and breakfast, walking over some public art inserted into the brick sidewalks, (a nice tradition that I have also been part of)

and saying one final good-bye to Longfellow on our way to dinner.

Next stop – Boston !

Portland’s West End

The West End is a downtown neighborhood in Portland, Maine. It is located on the western side of Portland’s peninsula primarily on Bramhall Hill and is noted for its architecture and history. The neighborhood is home to a large number of historic homes and parks and, in 2010, it was called “one of the best preserved Victorian neighborhoods in the country”. We had decided in advance to spend just one night in Portland, so the West End neighborhood, with its mix of comfortable homes, apartments, bed and breakfast accommodations, and easy walking access to town, seemed like the logical choice. We stayed at the West End Inn, the left half of the twin townhouses below.

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Five city parks are located in the neighborhood, including the nearby Western Promenade, an Olmstead addition. After our time on the road, we decided that a bit of walking / sightseeing was in order. The obviously a prosperous neighborhood features a lot of solid brick construction and wooden features like porches and bay windows.

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In a few cases the add-ons have been developed in brick, like the bay windows below.

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This house also included a carriage house off to one side, although it was obvious that it had at some point been turned into a separate residence.

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Occasionally, an oddly sized or shaped lot opened up an opportunity for a bit of special treatment, like this small, rounded wing with its own observatory on top.

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The Western Promenade Historic District encompasses a large late 19th to early 20th century neighborhood in the West End of Portland, Maine. This area of architecturally distinctive homes was home to three of the city’s most prominent architects: Francis H. Fassett, John Calvin Stevens, and Frederick A. Tompson, and was Portland’s most fashionable neighborhood in the late 19th century. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. There are high-quality architect-designed examples of Second Empire, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Shingle styles, with a particularly fine row of houses facing the Western Promenade.

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The park celebrates a local politician.

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Thomas Brackett Reed (October 18, 1839 – December 7, 1902), occasionally ridiculed as Czar Reed, was a U.S. Representative from Maine, and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1889–1891 and also from 1895–1899. He was a powerful leader of the Republican Party, and during his tenure as Speaker of the House, he served with greater influence than any Speaker who came before, and he forever increased its power and influence for those who succeeded him in the position.

The view from the park looks towards the White Mountains of New Hampshire –

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though not the day we were there. So Jane checked out the local birds; and then we headed for a small ethnic restaurant, Chaval, serving French and Spanish inspired seasonal specialities.

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Next time, The Portland Museum of Art

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