Monday, August 22, 2016

Filling the Well

Yesterday I was fortunate to have a good reason to wander around one of my favorite museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I haven't been in a few years, but my daughter has a summer art assignment, so we spent the afternoon among all the awe-inspiring works.  I saw some things I don't remember seeing before, and visited some of my old favorites.

Among these were the European sculptures and paintings.  When you head to that wing, you walk through the hallway with all the Rodin sculptures.  This one, depicting Adam after the fall, is so powerful in it's tormented strength, agony, and despair.  

After being amazed by the emotions expressed by Rodin in bronze, I headed into the Impressionist rooms and absorbed the grace and peacefulness of the Monets, relaxing into the soft reflections and soothing pastels.

Then I was uplifted by the playfulness and beauty of the Renoirs and Degas.

 Finally, I stood rapt in front of the van Goghs.  The intensity and passion behind those thousands of flickering brushstrokes make his paintings almost shimmer.  It's hard to tell in these photos, but the skies and backgrounds are filled with dashed swirling brushstrokes that make the paintings come alive.  I'm more astounded every time I see them.  His subject matter is often so ordinary - a cypress tree, two browned and drying sunflower heads, a pair of old, worn shoes.  But they're treated with such love and care that they become extraordinary through the filter of his brush and paint.

This one below was my favorite this time.  Again, such simple subject matter - an ordinary family, a farmer at work in the garden in spring, a child taking her first steps.  The passion and emotion expressed in the father's open arms, the child's delight in this great accomplishment, the beauty of the light shimmering on the trees and making their cottage glow.  All of this conveyed without facial expressions but with simple gestures and postures and the soft dreamlike colors.  Just breathtaking.

After being sufficiently awed by van Gogh, I headed down to see some American art.  I was particularly interested in seeing the collection of Tiffany glass after having just read Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland.  This historical fiction novel is the story of Clara Driscoll and her female coworkers who worked in a division of Tiffany studios, designing and creating many of the extraordinary windows and lamps but never given much credit.

The windows are displayed beautifully, lighted from behind, and it was great to get close up to see all the different types of glass used.  Tiffany had a glass factory in Queens, NY, where large sheets of glass were made in different colors and special effects were achieved by mixing and swirling colors, make some with striations, swirls, blotches, and other textures to resemble tree bark, water, rocks, and mountains.  Sometimes pieces of glass were layered to get just the right effect.

According to the book, Clara Driscoll came up for the idea to make lampshades out of stained glass.  Nature was a huge source of inspiration for her and she made lamps with dragonflies, butterflies, and a variety of flowers.  This is her water lily lamp, with the stems cascading down into a froth of blossoms that seems to float at the bottom.  Having an irregular edge like that was very time consuming to create.  And the bases were sculptures in themselves to coordinate with the theme of the shade - this one depicts lily pads.  Brilliant!

Here's another window, with iris and flowering dogwoods.  Spectacular!

Tiffany also had men who created fantastic vases and goblets by blowing colored glass.  This one is called the Peacock vase because of the feather motif on the fan-like top of the vase (it's difficult to see in this photo, because it was lit from behind and you're not allowed to use a flash).  It's amazing to think that the artist started with a lump of hot colored glass and was able to achieve those very fine feathery lines to resemble a peacock feather and work it into such a graceful, delicate shape.  And it's all attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany, although he wasn't really the one doing the work!

One part of the museum that I visited for the first time was the furnishings of the American wing.  I wandered through rooms and rooms decorated in various styles depicting different time periods, from early colonial up through the civil war and into the 20th century.  Much of it was very ornate and heavy, with velvet and lace draperies, dark, heavy carved furniture upholstered in dark velvets.  It seemed very stuffy and uncomfortable to me.  Then I came upon the Frank Lloyd Wright room.

I never really understood the appeal of all those straight lines and spare furnishings until I saw it in comparison to the clutter of the previous rooms.  It literally seemed like a breath of fresh air, with the clear light coming through the many windows, the use of natural stone and warm (but not dark) wood.  Now I get it!

So now that I've filled my creative well, I've made some good progress on my own simple art.  I've selected all the book parts, decided on their placement, and glued or fused them all down.  I've even done a bit of hand stitching.   I like that the piece is made up of squares and rectangles, which references a quilt, although I've used paper.  It looks very architectural, and as I was working on it, I felt like I was building it, using the rectangular spines as columns and text pages as blocks.  I've stitched some lines to indicate windowpanes and the door is the hard cover of an old Reader's Digest Anthology titled "Getting the Most Out of Life."  The steps leading up to the door are titled "Making a Habit of Success" and "Improving Your IQ."

I made a point of selecting titles, words, and a few images that depict the importance and value of the written word, storytelling, libraries, and their importance in a democratic society.  Here are a couple of close-up shots of the stitching and some of the textual details.

I think I'll need to pick up some more pearl cotton in bright colors to hold all the pieces firmly in place and highlight certain things.  I figure I'll keep stitching until I think it's done or until September 8th, whichever comes first!


Vivien Zepf said...

What a perfect day! Looking forward to seeing its influence on your art.

Norma Schlager said...

There's nothing better than a day a the Met. It looks like you had a great time.