Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring Road Trip Part IV: Barnes and Michener Museums

The warm and welcoming entrance to the Barnes Foundation museum.

We finally made our visit to the new Barnes Foundation Art Museum. We had visited the museum in its previous incarnation in Merion, on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Due to local restrictions, and the restrictions of the foundation, visiting the Barnes was a complete pain in the ass in those days. After a contentious battle to break the conditions of Dr. Barnes will, and a controversial grab by the art/charity establishment, the collection has moved to a new museum in Philadelphia's museum district. Inside a severely plain stone box, they have recreated the interior and collection arrangement of the original museum. In addition, whether by accident or intent, visiting the new Barnes is also a complete pain in the ass. Limited numbers of visitors, timed tickets and a strange arrangement makes it rather user-unfriendly.

What is interesting is the arrangement and juxtapositions of the works, espousing Barnes' theories about art and design connections (whether interesting or just whacko I'll leave to others to judge). In addition, the framing of many works was interesting, in that it showed the taste of Barnes and the period.

Works are mostly tightly grouped, in fairly small rooms, along with African artifacts, early American iron work and furniture, etc. There are some masterpieces here, along with many smaller and lesser works, which makes the collection interesting in that it is a personal statement more so than a curated collection of a particular school or history of art. Renoir is probably the artist most heavily represented; unfortunately, not my favorite artist (when I look at Renoirs I keep thinking I am in a Hampton Inn).

 Some of the small works (which can often be overlooked in large institutions) are really gems, such as the Demuths, and there are some nice examples of  Prendergast and Mattisse. If you are at all interested in art, worth the visit, if only to see a different take on the museum arrangement and experience.

Wish I had some pictures taken inside, but of course they don't allow that. You can see some images on the Barnes website.


Michener Museum entrance

The next morning we visited the Michener Museum of Art in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. A wonderful small museum, with a collection that features local artists and craft workers. There is a good selection of works from the school of Pennsylvania impressionism, which to my view, seems a bit "grittier" and realistic than, for example, the "Old Lyme" artists.
And of course, dear to my heart, the number of frames made for a number of these paintings by local carver/gilders Harer and Badura.

The Twins: Virginia and Jane, 1917 by Joseph Pearson. 60 x 72 inches.

The painting shown here, "The Twins", is one of the most arresting in the collection. I know that every time we see twins represented we immediately want to compare it to Diane Arbus, but there is something about this painting that makes it hard to look away.




Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spring Road Trip Part III: Philadelphia Museum of Art

 Even though it would mean a long day of museums, the logistics required a full day spent in Philadelphia museums. Since we have had many visits to the Phildadelphia Museum of Art, I tried to limit what we would view and not get "museum fatigue". Even trying to be casual about the visit, it is such a treasure trove that it was too easy to keep moving on and on.


We did get to see the Vermeer Young Woman Seated at a Virginal currently on loan to the museum. This is one of the last paintings by Vermeer, and one of the most recent to be authenticated. This discovery made quite a splash in the art world, and while accepted as Vermeer (apparently the canvas is from the same bolt as used for other Vermeer works) it is still questioned by some. One theory is that it was actually done by his daughter, or that there was assistance, or completion by someone else. Prior to this, I had only seen it in photos, so was anxious to view it in person. Having done so, I can say that if it is in fact by Vermeer, it is one of the most unappealing Vermeers I have seen.

There was an interesting exhibit in the gallery devoted to American crafts. One artist new to me was Bruce Metcalf, a jeweler/sculptor who created some very strange and eerie pieces. 


You can find more about this artist at


Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Road Trip Part II: Longwood Gardens

After a day and half indoors at museums, it was time for a change. Even though it was cool and rainy, we went off to visit the conservatories at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. They were currently featuring their orchid collection, but any time you can escape this year's winter into their perpetual spring indoors it is a good time.

Nothing more to add; the pictures tell the story.

The Spring Road Trip Part I: Winterthur "Downton Abbey"

Having forgone our usual winter travels due to questionable weather, during spring break week we took a road trip to the Brandywine and Bucks County areas.
Our first stop was Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, where they are currently displaying costumes from the television series "Downton Abbey". While not a fan of the show, the exhibit was wonderful for its context and historical accuracy, particularly in comparing British versus American "aristocrat" lifestyle, particularly as it was lived by the DuPonts at Winterthur.


Judging by the women attending, however, most simply wanted to gush over the clothing of the various ladies in the show.
Apparently the show is drawing large attendance, and is very good for Winterthur, both financially and for making more people aware of this treasure of a museum.

As usual, we also went on the reserved tours through the period rooms at Winterthur. These are small group tours (limited by the close confines, and the small elevators), so you really get a close look at many of the items, since you will be in rooms where things are not "roped off". We were the only two people on our final tour, and since we had been so often and had seen all the rooms at one point or another, our guide did a free-form tour, just taking us wherever we wanted to go and see whatever was particularly interesting to us. So, I used this opportunity to revisit some old favorites, and at the same time, still kept finding things I had never noticed before.

Currently in the main galleries there is, in addition to their regular collection displays, a group of painted tinware. This shows the history and use of painted tin in America, and includes a grouping of reproduced items by the late Elaine Dalzell, a member of the Historical Society of Early American Decoration.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Another project arrives

This mirror came home today (honestly, they follow me like puppies). What attracted me to this one was the bands of composition oak leaf and acorn ornament applied to wooden strips so that it would be raised above the surface the cove.  Here we are probably seeing the transition from the Empire to the Victorian.
 Amazingly, almost everything was intact and original, with the exception of three of the shell form corner ornaments. These will be easy to replicate.

The original tablet is in poor condition, with paint loss and a crack. Even if intact, it is not particularly attractive, so I will probably not replicate this one, but find another design that is appropriate to the period of the mirror.

First steps, as usual, will be disassembly and evaluation. Will post again when work progresses.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Framing a Vue d'optique Print

These "vue d'optique" prints, usually perspective views of city scenes, were a late 18th century version of a 3-D viewer. Of course, they weren't actually seen in 3-D, but when presented in a device with a setup of mirrors (hence the reversed title) and lenses, the viewer had the impression there was something special. Remember, this is in the days before any kind of electronics or cameras! And since these were done prior to color printing, these black and white engravings were hand-colored to make them even more realistic.


Note: I forgot to take my photo before putting glass over the frame and mat, leading to not only reflections, but having to skew angle to avoid worse. Things are actually straight and even.

Since they were produced in large numbers, scenes are numerous, and they are a 200 year old print category that was so plentiful, interior decorators used them by the dozen in the mid-20th century, not only framing them, but sometimes pasting them on screens, etc. They are still affordable today, but I hope worthy of a bit more respect.

For this one, "Vue du Ponte de la Concorde", I made a frame with applied composition ornament at the corners. After gesso and gilding, it was toned and distressed to match the age of the print.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Back to the Workshop

After a brief fling with spring-like weather, the cold has returned, sending me back to the warmth and comfort of my workshop (AKA: the cellar of doom). My attempts at organization are bearing fruit, and projects are getting worked on, and in fact, some of them actually finished!


Some of these have been hanging fire for quite a while, so any progress is welcome. The pair of mirrors below were purchased several years ago, and since the work was not for a customer, the priority was pretty low. So, they came out of storage, they are now lovely, but alas, back in storage (at least for the time being). More about the restoration process can be seen here.