The Artist’s Garden: Impressionists and the Garden Movement

Take a second or two to load these beautiful paintings from “The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920,” now at the Huntington. With the rise of the middle class and railroads, more people could commute to their job in a city and come home to a suburb.

Book published in 1901
Book published in 1901

Artists and other people enjoyed gardening in their own yards or in their artists’ colonies. Both painting and gardening involve color, form, and composition.

"The Crimson Rambler," ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale
“The Crimson Rambler,” ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale

“The Crimson Rambler” may look wonderfully old-fashioned to us, but its 1908 audience recognized this hybridized rose as a lovely product of technology. I like the lavender light on her white skirt, above,

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the pink in the multicolor grass,

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and the veil that is in sun and shadow.

Laundry drying on the clothesline, along with grass and shadows, is beautiful.
Laundry drying on the clothesline, along with grass and shadows, is beautiful.

 

"A Breezy Day," 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.
“A Breezy Day,” 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.

I think these women are spreading out laundered sheets to dry. This is a jewel of a painting, small (not quite 12 x 20 inches), and vivid, clear, and crisp as a windy day.

This exhibit, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, is at the Huntington through Monday, May 9, and then continues its tour in the East. If you don’t live close to Los Angeles, that’s okay. I’ll keep posting about the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Can you see the banner of the painting "The Crimson Rambler?"
Can you see the banner of the painting “The Crimson Rambler?”

I’ll leave you with two artists’ own homes.

"My House in Winter" by Charles Morris Young
“My House in Winter” by Charles Morris Young

The labels with “The Artist’s Garden” exhibit state that the garden in winter was often discussed in books and magazines. The winter garden was considered a relaxing retreat, and winter a time of renewal.

The artist's home. "Snow" by John Henry Twachtman.
The artist’s home. “Snow” by John Henry Twachtman.

At the Huntington, I had read “renewal” to mean the sleeping gardens. I think of renewal in springtime grass and flowers. Maybe the writer meant personal renewal. Gardens, and impressionist art, renew and refresh me.

Happy Spring! Enjoy nature. I’ll post again on the first Monday in June.

Getting It Right with ‘Urban Light’

Artist Chris Burden was profiled in the Los Angeles Times on May 11, the day after his death. The first line says that he once had himself shot in the arm for a performance piece. Luckily, the bullet just grazed him. Although shocking, that’s not why art critic’s Christopher Knight article about him was on the front page of the L.A. Times, where only the famous, such as statesmen and Hollywood celebrities, get their obituaries. Burden’s is there because his “Urban Light” has become a Los Angeles landmark.

Chris Burden saw art in vintage streetlamps. He painted them gray and installed them in front of the L.A. County Museum of Art, on busy Wilshire Boulevard. They are now solar powered. The lampposts in each row are identical, so that even the most ornate have a peaceful grace.

This video by Mike Fix showcases the art installation with aerial views and gorgeous music: “Experience” by  Ludovico Einaudi.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vluKvc9i_fI&w=560&h=315]

 

English Grandeur in San Francisco, Part One

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This gallery has paintings and 285-year-old furniture from Houghton Hall’s Saloon room, and a copy of its wallpaper.

It’s not the real Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England, but a San Francisco museum has plenty of its furnishings and art. Different rooms of the hall are depicted in the rooms of the California museum. Houghton Hall was built in the early 1700s by Sir Robert Walpole, the first de facto British Prime Minister. Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House is an exhibit at the Legion of Honor, a grand building itself. The grounds have a sweeping view of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and sea cliffs. The exhibit will be there until January 18, 2015.

Furniture from the Marble Parlour in front of a large photo of the real parlour papering the wall.
Furniture from the Marble Parlour in front of a large photo of the real parlour papering the wall.

 

The Marble Parlour was a dining room, and its beautiful china and silver is here along with its chairs, above.

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The Library, as displayed in San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a fifteen-volume work

The galleries have videos of the actual rooms, so ornate they are stunning!  I’ll give you a link to the real Houghton Hall below, and look in the bottom row for the room with the bright blue wallpaper shown below. That same room has a lavish bed for a child, the grandson of Sir Robert Walpole, a christening gift from the child’s godparents, King George II and Queen Caroline. The bed is in San Francisco, too.  This page of the website of Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England, has a dozen small photos you can click on to enlarge.

Wallpaper hand-painted and -printed in China about 1780. From Houghton Hall.
Wallpaper hand-painted and -printed in China about 1780. From Houghton Hall.

 

English Grandeur in San Francisco, Part Two

This is about Lady Sybil, not of the show Downton Abbey, but of the Houghton Hall of my last post.  This Lady Sybil rescued Houghton Hall from neglect. She and her brother Sir Philip Sassoon collected art which is now at the Hall, and some is now at the San Francisco exhibit.

Lady Sybil Sassoon (1894-1989), later Lady Chalmondeley, was a friend and supporter of statesmen and artists. She founded the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

The American painter John Singer Sargent painted this portrait of her as a gift when she married the heir to Houghton Hall, the Earl of Rocksavage, in 1913. Sargent gave her the cashmere shawl she wears and painted “To Sybil from her Friend, John S. Sargent.”

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Her husband inherited Houghton Hall six years later and it was Lady Sybil’s home for the next seventy years, and she restored it to its former glory.

Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England
Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England © Copyright dennis smith

Last week, I posted photos from San Francisco’s Legion of Honor’s current exhibit Houghton Hall. Here’s a photo of one more room in the exhibit, the gallery with artifacts from Houghton Hall’s Tapestry Dressing Room.

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 Lady Sybil wore this robe, train and dress at the coronation of George IV in 1937. A peer’s rank dictates the type of ceremonial dress. Her father-in-law, the 4th Marquess of Chalmondeley, had the role of Lord Great Chamberlain at an earlier coronation (Edward VII in 1902) and wore the uniform above, including this hat.

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Here is the website of Houghton Hall, a page showing its splendid rooms. Click on the thumbnail photos to enlarge them. The exhibit at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor closes January 18, 2015.

 

Buried Treasure from 1856 America: Part Two

The discovery of the buried 1856 riverboat Arabia and its 200 tons of cargo began with a house call to repair the refrigerator of “some old character” whose name has been forgotten. Refrigeration company co-owner David Hawley showed up for that repair in the 1980s and recently told me the man had three walls covered with newspaper and magazine clippings: one wall of UFOs, another of Bigfoot or something similar, and a third wall with clippings about sunken steamships. This last was the only one he “could get into,” he said with a smile during my visit to the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

David Hawley read old newspapers and maps to find the nearby Arabia. He was joined in his treasure hunt by his father Bob, brother Greg and family friends Jerry Mackey and David Luttrell.

In 1987, they visited the owner of a farm, a retired judge, and told them they believed there was an old steamboat filled with cargo deep below his field, a half-mile from the Missourri River. (The river shifted course after the steamboat sank.) To their surprise, Judge Sortor said he knew, and that his ancestor Elijah Sortor had known when he bought the land in 1860. The story, and the exact location, had been passed down through the generations.

The next step, said one discoverer, was like playing the board game Battleship. Test drillings encountered the hull, and to find the perimeter of the boat, the men used a magnetometer and planted orange flags in the soil.

Farm field with outline of the 171-foot-long buried boat.

The water table was only ten feet below ground, thirty-five feet above the main deck. Massive pumping was required so that the hole would not fill with water.

20,000 gallons of groundwater per minute were pumped out.

First, they found wood from the ship, then a shoe. The contents of the first barrel dazzled them. It was packed with beautiful china.

 

Arabia Steamboat Museum

Arabia Steamboat Museum
One discoverer recounted in the museum’s film that the family went home and stayed up late into the night, thrilled. They knew they would find 200 tons of cargo from 1856. He said on that night he realized that this collection should not be sold piecemeal or broken up. Judge Sortor, the owner of the land, agreed.

The treasure included everything a frontier settler, rich or poor, might expect to find in a store. My previous post describes the find, some of which is on display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum.

Once unearthed, the artifacts needed to be preserved, and quickly. The discoverers, some of whom owned a refrigeration company, installed huge coolers in caves. Some dug a hole (80x20x10 feet), put in artifacts, and kept a garden hose turned on for two and a half years while they contacted museums for advice. The solution was polyethylene glycol.

How much did all this cost? A cool million.

One discoverer described this project as a joy for the family and friends. I visited the museum twice, and each time the lights came up after the movie, a member of the Hawley family stood in front to welcome us and answer any questions. That’s how I got to chat with David Hawley and ask him about the day he learned about sunken steamboats and buried treasure.

Buried Treasure from 1856 America: Part One

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After 132 years in mud, the champagne still fizzed when uncorked. It tasted fine, as did the pickles preserved before Lincoln was president, and none of the 20th-century treasure hunters got sick from this antique food or drink. The French perfume bottles still held a sweet, floral fragrance. You can dab on a reproduction at the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, where I went with fellow attendees of the Women Writing the West Conference.

In 1856, when the steamship Arabia snagged on one of the many fallen trees near the banks of the Missouri River, the impact frightened its passengers, including women and children traveling to reunite with their husbands and fathers on the frontier. Children fell in the river. Although all the people were rescued, the steamship and its 200 tons of cargo sank into the river silt immediately.

The cargo, intended for stores at the edge of the frontier, is a gateway to the past. Most of the 200 tons was intact. More than two tons of metal tools and hardware were recovered.

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Skeleton keys, keyholes and white doorknobs in the foreground.

The website of the Arabia Steamboat Museum, www.1856.com, states that this is the largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world. While buried in the mud for 132 years, the temperature remained constant and there was no oxygen, factors which helped preserve the items. Proteins like leather did not decompose. More than 4,000 boots and shoes were recovered, and when the Arabia sank with them, it may have created a shortage of footwear, a hardship for frontier families.

Bed keys for tightening ropes that supported mattresses.
Bed keys for tightening ropes that supported mattresses.
Trays for Calling Cards
Trays for Calling Cards
About 20% were luxury items, like the Davenport Ironstone in the foreground.
About 20% were luxury items, like the Davenport Ironstone in the foreground.

From cognac to wedding bands to two pre-fabricated homes, the recovered cargo is a buried treasure of historic significance.

The 400 barrels of Kentucky bourbon on board were never recovered.  None were found when an 1897 effort sent a chamber under water, and none when the entire steamship was unearthed 90 years after that, by five local business owners.  They speculate that the men on the Eclipse, which salvaged an engine from the Arabia shortly after it sank, might have helped themselves to “Kentucky’s finest.”

Those five Kansas City business owners discovered this steamship and its cargo in 1987-88. Finding  the Arabia started as a hobby and became a quest.  I will post that story next Thursday.

Old-Time Cash Registers

These look so quaint now, but they work the same as the ones when I was a kid.  This was made about 1900.

This one has two drawers.
This one has two drawers.

Mechanical, not electronic. Push a button with the price and a metal tab comes up.

Tabs with prices:  65 cents, 85 cents.
Tabs with prices: 65 cents, 85 cents.

Looking at these now, I realize the cash registers I remember from the 1960s and 1970s were low-tech compared to today. They were like the one above but they could print a receipt. But they were plain, not with decorated brass sides, back and top.  No marble.

The cash register was first invented in the early 1880s to keep employees from stealing.  It kept track of the money. That’s also why there was the ding of a bell when the drawer rolled open, so the manager or owner would know the cash was exposed to the cashier or customer.

Cash Register in Hoofprints of the Past Museum in Kaycee, WY (800x600)

I remember the No Sale key and tab. When someone came in to the store and asked for change without buying anything, the cashier obliged by pressing No Sale, which made the cash drawer pop out.  This register has a wide, red tab that says Sale Not Yet Recorded.

I took these photos at  Hoofprints of the Past Museum in Kaycee, Wyoming. Talk about the real West.

Winning a World War from a Basement — Part 2

They contemplated enemy invasion every day and carried their gas masks at all times, recalled a worker in the underground Churchill War Rooms in London.

A broom closet in these Cabinet War Rooms was converted into the Transatlantic Telephone Room, where a phone, connected to a scrambler at another London location, could call the White House. It was the first hotline. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his generals spoke to President Franklin Roosevelt and American generals.

Transatlantic Telephone Room

You hear a recording from this hotline, Churchill and Roosevelt discussing an offer of surrender from one of the nations they were fighting. (Only one nation offered, and that was the problem.) I was fascinated to listen to their familiar voices reach a decision together and it made me think of the dark days of the war. What if they hadn’t had this secure phone connection?

Only the highest-ranking personnel, like generals, had a tiny bedroom/office instead of a bunk in the dock. Others lived at home.
Only the highest-ranking personnel, like generals, had a tiny bedroom/office instead of a bunk in the dock. Others lived at home.

Many men and women slept on bunks in the sub-basement, which they called the dock. The ceiling was so low that nobody could stand up straight as they walked, and it was brightly lit, with noisy ventilation, all night long.

A corridor has chests with large, flat drawers; I think they contained hundreds of maps. The Central Map Room, show below, is a highlight of the war rooms.

Map Room, Churchill War Rooms

The large map at the far end was used to track convoys, Allied fleets that carried ships full of men and materiel and were sometimes destroyed and sunk. Below, a detail of this map, showing the east coast of the U.S.

Detail of Convoy Map, Churchill War Rooms

Each pinhole was the location of a convoy. This is part of the map above, used every day of the war.

Telephones with a green receiver have a scramble button for classified conversations.
Telephones with a green receiver have a scramble button for classified conversations.

The officers who worked in the Central Map Room gathered data and delivered daily reports on every front to an office above ground. This room was staffed 24/7 until the lights were turned off the day after the war ended in Asia, and the room is the same today.

I hope you enjoyed these two posts about London’s Churchill War Rooms, also called Cabinet War Rooms. I sure enjoyed my visit, and I wished I’d left time for the attached Churchill Museum.

 

 

 

Winning a World War from a Basement — Part 1

Those were desperate times, and you feel that in Britain’s World War II command center, the underground Churchill War Rooms (Cabinet War Rooms).

Cupboard is labeled "10 Downing Street."  Red sign reads "Prime Minister."
Cupboard is labeled “10 Downing Street.” Red sign reads “Prime Minister.”

This converted basement, blocks from Parliament and 10 Downing Street, sheltered and hid the most crucial work of the British military and government from 1939 until the war’s end in 1945. It’s now a don’t-miss sight in London.

 

Winston Churchill met with his War Cabinet in this underground room.
Winston Churchill met with his War Cabinet in this underground room.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his staff, the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff often worked in this reinforced London basement, and they took refuge here when the bombs fell on the city. Some workers lived here, men and women who worked with codes, typed, tracked convoys on maps and guarded this headquarters. They carried their gas masks as they moved from room to room, and the women who worked at the switchboard had special gas masks so they could continue routing phone calls.

A sign indicates weather above ground. Some workers spent so many days underground they risked their health.
A sign indicates weather above ground. Some workers spent so many days underground they risked their health.

The basement was fortified by covering it with reinforced concrete, but a direct hit from a large bomb could have destroyed it. Although the concrete was poured in full view of passersby, the site of this nerve center remained a secret, which was critical for the whole country. Nobody who knew its location could mention it.

Next Thursday, I’ll post more about this site and describe two rooms vital to winning the war.