We can talk clear out here on this ledge if you feel like it or
We can talk
On a red chalk bluff way out West
If you’d rather.
This land is
Far too perfect
Far too ours
Far too expansive
To interrupt our kindred
This is a poem inspired by the 1849 painting Kindred Spirits by Asher B. Durand.
My poem imagines the conversation between the two men standing on the bluff, naturalist and poet William Cullen Bryant and Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole. Durand painted the work to memorialize Cole, who had recently passed away.
In March, I had the opportunity to visit The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Missouri. Named for the city’s patron, Saint Louis IX of France, the structure, according to a tourist guide, “combines architecture of Romanesque style on the exterior with a wondrous Byzantine style interior.”
In other words, WOW.
Yes, I could bore you with a long list of overused adjectives that can’t possibly describe the grandeur of this unexpected delight. Instead, I’ll just get down to brass tacks and provide you with some details so you can surmise for yourself that Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, located in a bustling urban setting at 4431 Lindell Boulevard, is probably one of the Midwest’s best kept architectural secrets.
The dazzling mosaics are unmatched in the Western hemisphere and this one structure contains one of the largest collections in the world.
In 1997, Pope John Paul II designated the Cathedral of St. Louis as a Basilica in order to recognize its beauty and significance; since then, the structure has been known as The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. In 1999, Pope John Paul II presided over an evening prayer service at the basilica to conclude his trip to North America.
A view of the Central Dome
About those mosaics
41.5 million pieces of glass were used to decorate the hundreds of mosaic artworks that cover nearly every interior surface within the basilica.
Seven thousand different colors of tesserae were used.
Thirty-eight different shades of gold mosaic were used.
There are 83,000 square feet of mosaics within the structure.
Twenty-five miles of scaffolding were erected to complete the mosaics.
The exterior of the building was simply too massive to photograph on my iPhone. Here’s a better shot courtesy of <a href="http://A.reyestena, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons:
And now for the Narthex
A view toward The Historic Bay and Dome
The Sanctuary Dome and Baldochino
More sights within
Our visit lasted about an hour and a half. Due to our schedule, we didn’t have enough time to tour the Mosaic Museum located below the narthex. I did snap a few photos (see above).
The cathedral is located at 4431 Lindell Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63108.
The cathedral’s visiting hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The Mosaic Museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Tours can be arranged for any size group. Tours are given Sundays at 1 p.m. and anytime Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
If you’re ever in the area, definitely carve out an hour or so to see this marvel for yourself. It’s an awe-inspiring place of worship that’s worthy of your time when visiting St. Louis.
Got a thing for cathedrals?
Here’s a post from northern Italy about another one.
Wherein I kinda-sorta compare my silly little iPhone 8 photo to six sumptuous American masterpieces
I took the above photo yesterday afternoon at the Pomme de Terre River about six miles east of Bolivar, Missouri. After I posted it on Instagram and Facebook, a friend commented that it reminded her of paintings from the Hudson River School. I vaguely knew what she meant, but I wasn’t exactly sure.
So I did what we all do when we’re a little fuzzy on a subject: I googled. Two seconds later, I found this entry on Wikipedia,
Even though the various artists of the Hudson River School differed in their beliefs or devotion to Christianity, they apparently shared an inclination to record a pastoral, peaceful co-existence between mankind and nature. The paintings accomplish that goal. They are uplifting, calming, and restorative… just like that little bend in the Pomme de Terre.
Just for fun, let’s look at some other Hudson River School paintings by Durand…
And now, three by Thomas Cole…
Who says social media isn’t educational?
Yesterday, I was just taking a pretty picture down by the river east of Bolivar. However, thanks to my friend’s comment, I learned a little about 19th-century American art. Hopefully, with this blog post (by the way, blogs are another form of social media) you learned a little, too.
Thanks for reading! Ever take a picture that you found later resembled a famous photo or painting? Click like, leave a comment, and let me know. Become a follower for more posts like this one or click on my menu of art-related posts at the top of the screen.
This unexpected mosaic tucked into a corridor in the San Marco sestiere of Venice, Italy will take your breath away. Even the wrought iron barrier is beautiful and provides a contrasting frame for this photo taken by my daughter in June 2019.
There’s a guard at a basilica who wants us to be better.
It just wasn’t as elaborate as I thought it would be, I thought as I surveyed the interior of Venice’s Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Yes, it was beautiful, just not as beautiful as I expected for a “Top 10” ranking in the little book about Venice I had at home.
A sign at the door had notified us of a 3.50€ entrance fee to enter. My daughter and I both agreed that this view from the doorway would suffice. After all, we had been in many other Venetian cathedrals or basilicas.
However, I liked the idea of at least a souvenir from Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The rotating stand at the edge of the entry steps might have one I could purchase. I spun the stand, picked out a couple of cards and stepped over to an ornate kiosk. From the back, a man entered the darkened kiosk.
He had just finished setting up for the day—repositioning the “No Photos” sign, stacking up the 1€ kimonos available for purchase by bare-shouldered women, arranging a selection of votive candles.
I slid the two postcards under the slot in the kiosk’s Plexiglass shield. The man looked intently at each one and then met my eyes.
“Did you see the originals?” he asked.
“No.” How could I explain in my non-existent Italian that we had already seen so many churches in this great city? He straightened the cards in his palms with a tap on the marble counter.
“Okay, you must see the originals.” He stepped out from the kiosk and stepped around to meet us. Grabbing the velvet partition rope, he said, “Come with me.”
He handed me the postcards, and we followed him into the cool darkness of the basilica. He strode purposefully to a mammoth collection of oil paintings on the large wall to the right.
As he walked, he spoke over his shoulder, “It’s a crime to come to Venice and buy a postcard and not see the original because you don’t want to pay three-fifty Euro.”
Ouch, I thought.
Here was a Venice enthusiast if I had ever met one. Flashing his dark eyes from beneath even darker curls, he continued: “I will show you the two paintings on your cards.” He stepped over to the wall behind the oil paintings and tapped a small plastic rectangle. Click. Light saturated the paintings.
My daughter reached for my postcards for a closer look. “This is a Bellini—those are why this church is on the list. These are special,” she whispered.
“Here is the Bellini,” he called from the light switch.”You look at this one, then go over to that one”—he pointed further into the nave directing our eyes to the darker painting of Christ with the apostle Thomas by Leandro da Bassano— “and then come back and see this one again. You turn on the light if you need to.”
I’m not an art historian, but a little online research revealed these paintings were not made with oils, but tempera paint on wooden panels. This particular one shows the Christ child being carried by Saint Christopher, a 3rd-century church martyr executed by the Roman emperor at the time. The painting glowed under the light, and reminded me of another glowing Bellini at the Basilica dei Frari. It seems Bellini knew the tempera medium well.
We walked to the other painting we had been permitted to see at no charge.
This second painting, L’incredulita di S. Tommasso by Leandro da Bassano was near the front of the church. It was dark and partially obscured by a screen of sorts. It shows Christ showing the doubtful Thomas his crucifixion wounds, proving the resurrection. I later learned that Leandro da Bassano was a famous painter who followed in his artist father’s footsteps and was later knighted by the Doge of Venice. Many of his works are confused with Tintoretto’s and are difficult to date.
We returned to the Bellini and switched on the lights one more time.
“Oh, thank you,” said a tourist staring at the painting who had entered after us.
We decided our visit was over. As we left, my daughter selected another postcard and paid. She offered the guard 5€ to thank him for allowing us in.
“No, no, you keep,” he said. “I just want to show you what you want to see. A postcard isn’t good enough. It’s how I make you… what to say… better tourists,” he said, smiling and shrugging his shoulders. I could tell he meant no offense by his remark.
He continued. “You know… when you’re inside a church here, tell the guard that you want to light a candle and say a prayer and they will let you in.”
Did I hear him correctly? I asked myself.
Still, I’m not Catholic, and using prayer as my ticket inside a church seems disingenuous. However, I did appreciate his candid tip and his enthusiasm for La Serenissima, the traditional name for the Venetian Republic.
In reflection, the guard at Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo was merely doing his part… politely doing what he could to help visitors he met to “be better tourists” in his city on the sea.
Thanks for reading! I really enjoyed meeting this guard and hearing his frank ideas and suggestions. It’s easy to tour Venice and not exchange words with a local. Please feel free to click like, leave a comment, and follow my blog for more stories from Venice and Greece.
In interesting times, artists create. In uninteresting times, artists still create. Regardless of the global political climate, the Venice Biennale—the Olympics of art where countries each exhibit in their own pavilion or exhibit space—continues. Sure, some countries may decline to participate from year to year or may be late in readying their exhibits (such as tumultuous Venezuela this year); however, for the Biennale… the show must go on.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Venice Biennale, here’s a quick summary from the Biennale website:
The Venice Biennale has been for over 120 years one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Established in 1895, the Biennale has an attendance today of over 500,000 visitors at the Art Exhibition. The history of the La Biennale di Venezia dates back from 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organized. In the 1930s new festivals were born: Music, Cinema, and Theatre (the Venice Film Festival in 1932 was the first film festival in history). In 1980 the first International Architecture Exhibition took place, and in 1999 Dance made its debut at La Biennale.
According to Biennale President Paolo Baratta, “the expression ‘interesting times’ evokes the idea of challenging or even ‘menacing’ times, but it could also simply be an invitation to always see and consider the course of human events in their complexity, an invitation, thus, that appears to be particularly important in times when, too often, oversimplification seems to prevail, generated by conformism or fear.”
Another way to put it: allow art to show you the many ways of looking at the world.
Last Friday (June 14), I visited the Biennale with my daughter, who is an intern in the United States Pavilion. The United States’ participation is primarily a function of the Department of State, which “supports official U.S. participation at select international art exhibitions called biennales. The Department’s support ensures that the excellence, vitality, and diversity of American arts are effectively showcased abroad and provides an opportunity to engage foreign audiences to increase mutual understanding.” In other words, exhibiting at the Biennale is another way to build and maintain positive relationships around the world.
As for the U.S. Pavilion’s intern program, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a well-known modern art museum in Venice, handles the hiring of the interns who provide guarding of the exhibits, inform visitors about the various works, and generally are the main points-of-contact for visitors touring through the pavilions. (Two years ago, my daughter served an internship at the museum; when they issued a call for former interns interested in returning to work the Biennale, she quickly applied.)
We arrived at the portion of the show held on the ground of Venice’s Giardini (Italian for garden). Visitors can see another section of the show at the adjacent Arsenale. In addition, more pavilions are scattered throughout the city. For example, we walked by the door to the Mongolian exhibit in a dark, narrow street somewhere in the San Marco area of the city.
During our three-hour visit, we saw fourteen exhibits out of the 79 participating in the Biennale this year. That doesn’t sound like that many, does it? Especially when you know there are art lovers who allot several days to see all the exhibits. To them, I say, “Go you!”
However, since I only had four full days in Venice, and one of those was spent in Bologna (see my next post!), we prioritized.
Plus, we knew that a visit to the best gelato in town, Suso, was in order for the afternoon. This would require a thirty-minute vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal from the Giardini. Sheesh… the price we pay for good gelato!
Enjoy these photos! I’ve attempted to add some details in the captions and, looking back now, I should have written this post immediately after our visit to better capture the ambiance of our visit. But when one is in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, you want to get out and see it—not stay in and write about it.
Thanks for reading! As you can see, there is too much to see at the Venice Biennale without spending days there. In addition, to really study the art and understand its motivation and full message deserves much more time than we were able to devote. Still, if you have the desire to see art on a global scale, the Venice Biennale is where you need to go. Click like if you enjoyed this post, and feel free to leave a comment or follow my blog for my next post from Bologna!
Yes, you can call Nikos Rodios a Greek pottery legend, but you can also call him the juggler of Skopelos. When we arrived at his studio Saturday morning in Skopelos Town, Rodios was waiting for a large bowl to dry on his “extra” potters wheel. (He uses a traditional kickwheel for the majority of his work. ) The bowl was slowly acquiring the malleability needed to remove it from the wheel without collapsing. It wouldn’t be long. The mild Aegean breeze flowing through the open doors of the studio would see to that.
At the same time, Rodios was also polishing and finishing a load of pottery that had been unloaded earlier from his brick kiln (it burns olive tree wood) that stands just outside the door behind his studio. The pieces were arranged on a counter… an assortment of vases, animal figures, and bowls. And then some visitors walked in: us. See what I mean when I use the term juggler?
But juggling is the nature of ceramics… it’s a busy, start-and-stop process that requires both flexibility in one’s routine, and a keen eye for scheduling and working a medium that waits for no one and simultaneously takes its own time. The Rodios family knows this routine very well.
Our visit had been arranged by Jill Somer, associate director of the island’s Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, also known as Skopart. Somer interpreted conversations about techniques, clay bodies, and terra sigilattas (slip-like liquids) between Rodios and my husband, Mitch, who is serving an artist’s residency at Skopart.
Rodios and Mitch are each testing the practicability of using terra sigillatas with both Skopart’s red earthenware clay, which Mitch is using during his residency, and Rodios’ proprietary claybody.
Fans of ceramics in general and contemporary Greek pottery in particular revere Nikos Rodios for carrying on a tradition begun by his grandfather, Nikolaos Rodios. In the early 1900s, Nikolaos focused on producing decorative forms reminiscent of classical Greek pottery.
At the same time, he desired that his work feature a permanent, bold black surface. After experimenting to find the precise combination of clay bodies, colorants, and firing temperatures—potters are chemists in disguise, if you didn’t know—Nikolaos was awarded a patent for his technique in 1930. You can view the patent certificate, assigned the number 2981, on display in the workshop.
As the years continued, Nikolaos passed the family secret to his son, who in turn passed it down to today’s Nikos Rodios.
After we spent a short while admiring Rodios’ newly fired pottery, he led us to a large wooden display case hanging on another wall.
It contains a diverse collection of pottery made by the previous two generations of Rodios. Vases of all heights are on display. Some are short and bulbous, others are elongated and elegant. Each alludes to classical Greek forms.
It’s humbling to witness the current members of a family respect the hard work and innovation accomplished by their ancestors. It’s also gratifying to know that the next generation, Nikos’ daughter Magda, is building on the legacy left to her.
At a workbench near the sunny back window, Magda helped her father polish some of the items from the kiln. She adds her own creative flair to the family business with bright, colorful earthenware mugs, serving pieces, jewelry, and decor items.
After greetings us, Magda took a break from her work to retrieve a plastic water bottle that she had filled recently with a mixture of water and a local black clay. She explained that she hopes the mixture will someday soon yield an interesting clay. She brushed a bit of it onto a pottery shard. The watery part of the mixture instantly soaked into the shard and left a gritty residue on the surface.
Who knows? With time and attention, the sludgy, gritty solution may indeed transform itself into a native Skopelos clay.
We then walked across the street to the pottery shop that bears the Rodios name. The shop carries a wide variety of both decorative and functional ware, from wall hangings to coffee mugs and jewelry.
Inside, Maria, Rodios’ wife greeted us and spoke briefly with her husband about the wares he had carried over from his studio. He added a few pieces to the stone-and-glass shelving units, and agreed to motor over to Skopart in a few days for a quick visit with Jill and the artists working there (students from Gulf Coast State College, painter Victoria Phillips from Macon, Georgia, and Mitch).
Then he said his goodbyes and sauntered back to his studio across the street. He had some more juggling to do.
Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you found this interesting and click “follow” for daily posts from our “workation” in Greece. After the residency concludes, we’ll be continuing our visit on the mainland and south to Crete (we think).
When your eyes become accustomed to an architectural wonder
It’s important to see the beauty in our midst.
One day many years ago when we lived in Phoenix, my husband and I were invited to visit an acquaintance and her young daughter who happened to be occupying a house designed by the world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
While cruising down Camelback Road, we would often look up and scan the cactus-dotted hillsides to spot the house nestled in the rugged terrain. We would admire its unusual appearance with its exterior winding walkways, circular windows, and austere concrete block masonry. Wright originally designed the 2,300 square foot structure for his son, David, and his wife, Gladys. It was built in 1952.
The home was intriguing and beckoned a closer look, so we took up our friend’s offer one sunny afternoon to visit the home, whose design was named by the senior Wright, “How to Live in the Southwest.”
We’re not sure about the arrangement between the homeowners and our acquaintance. Maybe she was renting it or acting as a caretaker while the owners were away temporarily. We can’t even recall her name now.
Perched in the Camelback Mountains, the spiral home was indeed stunning and modern and magical.
It was also trashed.
Bedroom floors held oceans of wadded-up loads of laundry. Dirty dishes lined the kitchen counters. Smudges and stains sullied the bathroom mirrors and floors. Crumpled junk mail littered the hallways. We were dumbfounded.
All this disappointment obscured the home’s jaw-dropping features: an entrance preceded by a spiral walkway ramp, ubiquitous concealed built-ins, custom carpets, a rooftop deck, panoramic views of the rocky desert terrain, and Philippine mahogany ceilings, cabinetry, and furniture.
As we roamed through the home, with its desert views, calming circular design, and ingenious use of space, our acquaintance apologized for her poor housekeeping habits. “Oh, well… yeah,” we answered, laughing nervously, embarrassed for her—and the house.
A few years ago, I was curious about the status of the home and wanted to see what had become of it since our move to Missouri about a year after our tour. So I googled the house while my husband and I reminisced about our Phoenix experiences.
Yes, the house did survive that messy time. And many people today care about the newly named David & Gladys Wright House’s existence and condition.
After the Wright’s deaths in 1997 and 2008, concerned citizens protested the house’s demolition, which was planned by a developer who had purchased it. In 2012, a Las Vegas attorney devised a strategy to preserve and operate the home and grounds for tours and cultural performances. However, concerns about traffic and noise from the surrounding neighborhoods blemished the whole affair. Eventually, the home was donated to benefit Scottsdale’s The School of Architecture at Taliesin, formerly known as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. However, those agreements have been abandoned. The home is now for sale for just under $13 million.
And to think our friend had trashed it all those years ago. How did she not revel in the structure that couched her every daily activity in architectural significance? Was she, like many of us, too distracted? Depressed? Too concerned with meeting daily obligations to notice? Too busy being human?
It’s understandable. Life happens.
But it’s still important to try to see the beauty in our midst. The beauty of a yellow leaf resting against a rusty brick sidewalk. The beauty of the intricate shell of a snail. The beauty of an architectural wonder your all-too-human eyes have become accustomed to.
Thanks for reading! Ever had a similar experience? Feel free to leave a comment or click “like” to show that this story resonated with you. Also—click follow or enter your email address to receive a notification when I publish a new post.
The NYC subway’s newest mosaic stunner: Funktional Vibrations
You’re a lost cause.
When you push against the turnstile to exit the subway at 34th St.-Hudson Yards in New York, you can’t help it. The brilliant cobalt of Funktional Vibrations snags your attention and stops you in your tracks. That’s okay. In an hour or so, this last stop on the 7 line will be bustling and you’ll have to get out of the way. But for now, go ahead and gawk.
After all, you came all the way over here, one day before parts of the Hudson Yards complex even officially open, to see the latest and one of the largest additions to the public art collection of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Funktional Vibrations is a mammoth mosaic (2,788 square feet, according to artnet news) that fills the ceiling of the station’s mezzanine and then oozes outside onto the wall surfaces above escalators.
Created and designed by fiber artist Xenobia Bailey, Funktional Vibrations riots on a field of cobalt blue within its dome.
It’s colorful. Abstract. Lava lampy. Kaleidoscopic in color and pattern. And you notice there’s an Atlantic vinyl record, too, tucked into the design. (It’s the black dot on the left side of the photo below.)
To your eye, Funktional Vibrations pulsates with life. “Bailey sees the work as speaking to the universal idea of creation and has created artwork that vibrates with energy,” according to an MTA website article. “(Bailey) refers to her accumulation of materials as in the tradition of African-American art—reflected in the music of the 60’s she grew up with—and its material culture and design, where one made do with what was available and made it into something new and wonderful.”
So that explains the Atlantic record, you think… an earlier era’s musical relic retrofitted for contemporary times. It fits perfectly—seamlessly even—into the mandala-like charms and spheres that vibrate all shape-shifty and cloud-like across the glass mosaic cosmos.
Bailey, originally an ethnomusicologist (here’s what that means!), worked in costume design before transitioning to fibers, specifically crochet, as noted by Manhattan’s Museum of Arts and Design. She is known best for her colorful crocheted hats and mandala design. Funktional Vibrations evokes that aesthetic, which observes African, Native American, and 70’s funk motifs.
You learn later that Funktional Vibrations includes a total of three—not two—mosaic installations by Bailey. You vow to return another time to photograph the third. For now, you revel in the vibrancy, the touch of the human hand, and the simple rush of this subway stunner.
I went to New York City with my daughter for spring break. I’m still tripping out over the mosaics (and the tile work in general) that adorn the entire subway system. How did I not know about this underground art museum? Follow my blog for more posts on subway artworks.
The quiet rebellion of women who take pictures anyway
When you visit the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon, you observe a sign inside the basilica that forbids photography. Ugh, you think. But it’s so beautiful. Inside, the apse—a half-dome of sorts—is encrusted in gold mosaic. The Virgin Mary resides in its center, alone, regal, royal. It’s graphically arresting and elegant in its simplicity; it contrasts with the opposite wall, a riot of colors, shapes, lines… Biblical scenes of the Last Judgment.
The cathedral is exquisite. One simply must have pictures to remember. So you plan to purchase them in the form of postcards from the adjacent gift shop when you leave. Problem solved.
Why then, the click? Why then is that woman over there snapping away? Lost in thought, she roams the chapel, gazing at the art, studying the expressive scenes, recording her visit on her sleek 35mm Canon.
Your immediate thought: she must have special permission. She must be a researcher working on a project. You explain as much to your husband. No, he says, she’s just ignoring the sign. His nonchalance startles you. As if this is just what people do, and in this case, a woman.
Oh, you reply, secretly envying this woman’s quiet rebellion that allows her a certain freedom that you will never claim. Disobey a sign that clearly states no photos? You shake your head. It’s right there in 96-point Times New Roman even. You roll your eyes at her audacity. This disregard for convention and rules astounds you.
You wonder how much inevitable damage each click does to the Byzantine masterpieces. Over the decades, who knows? She could be causing irreparable harm, you think. This should go down on her permanent record, wherever those are.
You ask your husband about the inevitable damage. Probably doesn’t hurt the art at all, he explains, adding something he read reported most cameras have filters that limit or remove UV waves. Doesn’t damage a thing, he says.
Here I’ve been, you think, following all the rules all this time.
You continue to stare at this renegade designing her destiny, staking her claim with a few flashes that you still cannot bear to sneak on your measly iPhone. It’s true, you think, this woman has shown you to be the fool that you are.
She clicks another shot and checks the tiny screen. It must have been good, you think.
Her crimes finally and fully committed, the woman strides purposefully across the nave, stuffing her camera into a turquoise canvas tote bag. On the side of the bag is a design: two kitschy, feathery angel wings protruding from behind a shield. The design is cliché and you abhor that about things.
Thanks for reading! This is another story generated by a week-long trip to Italy I took in 2017. There are more stories on the way. Feel free to leave a comment and click follow for more.