Interview with Matisse/Diebenkorn Curator Katy Rothkopf

In October, the BMA will present the first major exhibition to show the profound influence of French artist Henri Matisse (1869–1954) on the work of American artist Richard Diebenkorn (1922–1993). Co-organized with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, this ambitious exhibition builds on the BMA’s reputation for presenting new scholarship on Matisse inspired by the collection. More than 90 artworks—most loaned from museums and private collections in the U.S. and Europe— will reveal Diebenkorn’s deep connection to Matisse, and present a new view of both artists.

katy_sjs2875_cropSenior Curator of European Painting & Sculpture Katy Rothkopf tells us about her work on this landmark exhibition.

What inspired Matisse/Diebenkorn?
When I began to think about the influence of Matisse on subsequent generations, the first artist that came to mind was Diebenkorn, whose work I knew from The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. I began to explore the idea more seriously after seeing two drawings by each artist in the BMA’s collection, which were very similar yet created 40 years apart. Although the influence of Matisse on Diebenkorn had often been discussed in art literature, their works had never been presented together in a major exhibition.

Were you surprised by anything you found in your research?
Thanks to a wonderful colleague at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, we were sent a copy of a letter that Diebenkorn wrote to a graduate student in 1981 where he described all of his most important interactions with Matisse’s work starting in the 1940s. It confirmed that Diebenkorn had come to see the Cone Collection in Baltimore.

How would you describe Diebenkorn’s art?
Diebenkorn was unusual in that he effortlessly moved from abstraction to representation and back to abstraction over the course of a long and successful career. His paintings are beautiful and compelling because of his experimentation with color and structure in both his abstract and representational works.

Can you give some examples of Matisse’s influence on Diebenkorn?
Both artists loved color and composed paintings that explore the space where an interior and exterior meet within a window or doorway. Diebenkorn was also fascinated with the idea of flattening space and told his students to paint flat like Matisse.

What aspect of this exhibition are you most excited about?
The BMA’s exhibition will allow visitors to see Diebenkorn’s journey as he discovered Matisse, while juxtaposing his work with some of Matisse’s greatest paintings. Seeing how they look together side-by-side is going to be a thrill.

See more examples of both artist’s work side-by-side in this short video.

 

 

Rarely Shown Aaron Douglas Watercolor Now On View

Aaron Douglas. Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery through Reconstruction. 1934. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from The Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection, BMA 2004.179 © Heirs of Aaron Douglas/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Aaron Douglas. Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery through Reconstruction. 1934. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from The Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection, BMA 2004.179. © Heirs of Aaron Douglas/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

The BMA’s stunning Aaron Douglas opaque watercolor, Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery Through Reconstruction, is now on view at the Museum for the first time in nearly a decade. This extraordinary work is being presented in conjunction with the Maryland Humanities 2016 “One Maryland One Book” All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The young adult novel has a character named Rashad who is a high school student inspired by Aaron Douglas’ art:

“Let me describe what his work looks like. Imagine The Lion King. But all the lions are people. Black people. So Simba and Mufasa, are, let’s say, a black king and a prince. Now, imagine that you’re looking at them through the thickest fog ever. So thick that you can’t make out any actual feature on their bodies, but you can still see their silhouettes. So it could be any king. Or any prince. But you can still tell they’re black. That’s Aaron Douglas’s work. And the first time Mrs. Caperdeen [Rashad’s teacher] showed us a slide from his series Aspects of Negro Life, I knew the kind of art I wanted to start making.” (All American Boys, pp. 143-144)

Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) was a pioneering African-American artist whose style contains a multitude of influences: Art Deco and Cubism, African and Egyptian art, spirituals, and jazz. Hailing from Topeka, Kansas with a fine arts degree from the University of Nebraska, Douglas made his way to New York in 1925. There he fell in with the artists, poets, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance, designing jacket covers and illustrations for publications by the likes of James Weldon Johnson and his good friend (and fellow Kansan) Langston Hughes. Douglas’s striking work led to mural painting—first for private and then for public spaces.

In 1934, Douglas received a commission—the most important of his career—from the Public Works of Art Project, a new federal program, to paint a mural cycle for the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, now known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Douglas’s four-part mural cycle, completed by the year’s end, numbered among 1,400 murals depicting “the American scene” that were created under this New Deal initiative for public spaces throughout the United States. Douglas embraced the challenge. Entitled Aspects of Negro Life, Douglas’s four oil paintings depict an ambitious narrative of black progress, encompassing slavery, Reconstruction, the Great Migration, and the Depression while contending with issues of black identity, the search for freedom, and the power of education.

In 2004, the BMA acquired an extraordinary study for the second mural in this cycle, From Slavery through Reconstruction. Although Douglas made several changes between this drawing and the final painting—a more complex composition with twice as many figures—the narrative arc of rising up from oppression and suffering remains the same.

The frieze-like composition of silhouetted, stylized figures is bookended by scenes of horror and sadness: to the left are shackled, toiling slaves; to the right is a family grieving the loss of a loved one to lynching. These groups frame scenes of emancipatory struggle: at center left, we see a woman with broken shackles and a rifle in hand, none other than Harriet Tubman, conductor of the Underground Railroad; at center right marches a group of helmeted Union soldiers with bayonets over their shoulders, an allusion to the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, one of the first African-American regiments. At the work’s luminous center, a man stands holding a book and pointing to a mountaintop vision with twin symbols of modernity: a skyscraper and a smoke-spewing factory. The entire composition is overlaid with an abstract pattern of translucent, concentric circles, the centermost focusing the eye on the pointing man’s confident stance and gesture.

In his powerful treatment of historical, political, and racial themes, Douglas looked back in time, and also cast his gaze at the Depression-era world around him. Some eight decades later, his work—giving visual form to the hardships and aspirations of African-Americans—still speaks to us with its indelible passion and hope.

Due to the light-sensitive nature of works on paper, Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery Through Reconstruction will be on view for a limited time in the BMA’s Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing 20th-century gallery. Stop by and see it through December 4, 2016.

Books for Art Lovers

This is a print of a snow scene at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. People dressed in dark clothes carry umbrellas and shoulder against the wind.

Henri Rivière (French, 1864-1951) and Georges Auriol (French, 1863-1938). Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower. 1888-1902, published 1902. Bound volume of 36 color lithographs. Purchased as the gift of Louis Berman, Glyndon, Maryland, BMA 2001.290

The BMA recently received a grant of $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts toward a new exhibition on artists’ books scheduled for the spring of 2017.

Artists’ books, according to a common definition, are “works of art in the form of a book.” The simplicity and broadness of this description encompasses works that are as multifarious, complex, and expressive as art in any other medium.  By nature a collaborative project at the crossroads of bookmaking and art-making, the artist’s book brings artists together with writers, printers, and publishers in a melding of perspectives that can lead to exciting and unexpected outcomes.

The exhibition will feature a selection of approximately 120 artists’ books and related prints by Jasper Johns, Barbara Kruger, Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others from the BMA’s superlative collection of late 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art.  It will be the capstone of a two-part, collaborative project between the BMA and the Program in Museums and Society at Johns Hopkins University that is funded in part by a grant to JHU from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  This spring, Rena M. Hoisington, BMA Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, taught the course “Paper Museums: Exhibiting Artists’ Books at The Baltimore Museum of Art” for 11 undergraduates from JHU, Loyola University Maryland, and the Maryland Institute College of Art.  The students met weekly in the BMA’s Samuel H. Kress Foundation Study Room of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, where they had the opportunity to work directly with the artists’ books.  In addition to writing label texts and blog posts for these books, the students helped to determine the checklist and thematic organization of the exhibition.  More than half the works they chose have never been exhibited before at the BMA.

With checklist in hand, Hoisington and her BMA colleagues can now move forward with more detailed planning of the exhibition itself.  The generous funding from NEA and Mellon will help to defray the costs of the installation, digitization, and programming—all three of which are essential to creating a visually stimulating exhibition that will provide access to these rarely seen works while educating audiences about this important artistic medium.

One of the earliest books that will be included in this exhibition is Henri Rivière’s 1902 publication Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower, which was inspired by a series of color woodcuts entitled Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by the 19th-century Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai.  With this elegant publication, Rivière sought to equate the importance of the Eiffel Tower, a marvel of modern French industrial design completed in 1889, with the spiritual significance of Japan’s Mount Fuji.  Rivière’s inventive compositions not only document the construction of the tower—based in part on photographs he took from within the heights of the structure itself—but also reveal its impact on the cityscape of Paris.  In the same way that Hokusai had presented Mount Fuji, each page shows the Eiffel Tower from a different vantage point, in varying weather conditions and times of year.

A landscape with leaves in the foreground and clouds and the top of the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Henri Rivière (French, 1864-1951) and Georges Auriol (French, 1863-1938). Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower
1888-1902, published 1902. Bound volume of 36 color lithographs. Purchased as the gift of Louis Berman, Glyndon, Maryland, BMA 2001.290

This is a print of men working on the Eiffel Tower, perched precariously on wooden planks.

Henri Rivière (French, 1864-1951) and Georges Auriol (French, 1863-1938). Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower. 1888-1902, published 1902. Bound volume of 36 color lithographs. Purchased as the gift of Louis Berman, Glyndon, Maryland, BMA 2001.290

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden is Back!

jazzFB2

The BMA’s popular Jazz in the Sculpture Garden concert series is back! Join fellow jazz enthusiasts for this one-of-a-kind summer event with regional and national talents performing amidst a fantastic collection of modern art in the museum’s lush Sculpture Garden. Performers this year are Tizer Quartet featuring Karen Briggs, Don Braden Quintet featuring Vanessa Rubin, and Tony Tovar y Proyecto Jazz.

Concert-goers can choose intimate concert seating provided by the BMA or bring their own chairs or blankets for a picnic. Gertrude’s restaurant offers Jazz+Dinner tickets, which include an elegant three-course meal served on the terrace during the concert.

tizerPerformers
AUGUST 6 – TIZER QUARTET FEATURING KAREN BRIGGS
Lauded as a “master” by The Baltimore Sun, keyboardist Lao Tizer and his group will be joined by violinist Karen Briggs. The jazz violinist extraordinaire has performed with Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, and Wu-Tang Clan.
donBraden

AUGUST 13 – DON BRADEN QUINTET FEATURING VANESSA RUBIN
Renowned saxophonist Don Braden has headlined concerts around the world and been featured with greats such as Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, and Freddie Hubbard. Vanessa Rubin will lend her incredible range and liquid phrasing to the night.

tonyTovar

AUGUST 20 – TONY TOVAR Y PROYECTO JAZZ
Get up and salsa or sit back and sway with Proyecto Jazz—a virtual who’s who of the best Latin artists on the D.C. jazz scene, featuring Tony Tovar on trombone.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden will take place on select Saturdays in August at 7 p.m. Concerts regularly sell out so advance ticket purchase is strongly recommended. Tickets are $45 and go on sale to the general public beginning June 15. BMA Member tickets are $30 and go on sale June 1.

Celebrated quilt expert Robert Shaw comes to the BMA

This Saturday, celebrated quilt expert Robert Shaw will be at the BMA to give a lecture on art quilts. One of the most highly regarded experts on contemporary and antique quilts in the world, Shaw is the author of such critically acclaimed definitive books as The Art Quilt, Art Quilts: A Celebration, and American Quilts: The Democratic Art.

Shaw’s talk will address how from 1800 to the present day there have always been art quilts that were primarily decorative, as well as utilitarian pieces that transcend function and rise to the level of art. He will also comment on several works in the BMA’s current exhibition New Arrivals: Art Quilts.

Robert Shaw will speak at the BMA on Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m. The free event is generously sponsored by Herbert Katzenberg and Susan Katzenberg in memory of
Gloria B. Katzenberg. 

A textile pattern of mountains, primarily composed of purples, with greens, pinks, and oranges dispersed across the scene.

Adrien Rothschild. Purple Mountains. 1991. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of the Artist, Baltimore, BMA 1998.360

 

Beholding Beauty

Beauty stops us in our tracks. It makes us pause, look, consider. Sometimes it overwhelms us. Oftentimes it makes us uncomfortable, even if only for a little bit. Whether it comes in the form of a painting, a person, or a flower petal, beauty forces us to visually engage with the world around us. But what makes something beautiful? What visual characteristics trigger this act of visual apprehension and appreciation? Over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, scholars and activists have brought to light the socially constructed nature of beauty. What is beautiful to me, they have correctly argued, may not be beautiful to you. And what is beautiful to us today, may not have been so to individuals living in the past.

Although it has now become somewhat passé to discuss the idea of beauty in conversations about art and art history, the concept remains critical when addressing objects made outside of the Euro-American sphere. Indeed, in order to fully understand and appreciate the artistic value of historic artworks made on continents such as Africa, you first have to understand the visual characteristics that were valued by these societies at the times in which they were created, which is to say you have to understand what they considered to be beautiful.

Take, for instance, these two sculptures from the Asante and Mangbetu cultures of west and central Africa. On first glance, they appear to us as stylized, non-naturalistic representations of the female form. While we may, for instance, be able to appreciate the almost perfect circle formed by the head of the Asante Akua’ba, few of us may immediately find it beautiful. Similarly, while our interest may be piqued by the elongation of the skull displayed in the Mangbetu figurative vessel, it would strike many of us as distinctly non-normative.

However, should we choose to dig a deeper into the cultures and customs of the Asante and Mangbetu during the early twentieth centuries—the time periods in which these two pieces were created—we would find that our aesthetic judgments were not at all shared by the artists and societies that produced these works of art. Far from it. For in reality, these pieces are representations of a physiognomic ideal, a concept of human beauty that first emerged in the royal courts of these kingdoms and were subsequently transmitted to the general populace through artistic works such as those cared for by the Baltimore Museum of the Art.

Among the Asante Kingdom, which ruled the area now known as Ghana between 1701 and 1957, the ruling elite privileged broad, sweeping foreheads and flattened, almost egg-shaped skulls. Flatness, to them, denoted beauty and the shape of the egg alluded to the “mystery of the egg” in Akan cosmology, where eggs symbolized the Beginning and the return to it.[1] As a result, Asante royalty used cosmetics and other, more permanent forms of body modification to achieve this figurative ideal. Indeed, the British colonial administrator Eva L. R. Meyerowitz noted in 1951 that “The king’s head, like those of all children of the royal house, has to be massaged during the first weeks after birth so that a greater width of skull, which is believed to give dignity and importance to a person, is achieved.”[2]  Similarly, the noted Africanist art historian Roy Sieber recounted in 1972 that “After birth the heads of Kwahu [an Asante sub-group] infants are massaged at dawn for three days to assure a high, flattened, receding forehead.”[3]

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, in the northeastern corner of what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mangbetu kingdom of the 18th and 19th centuries practiced as form of body modification known as head binding.  Thought to have begun in the court of the king, the practice consisted of wrapping a baby’s head with a cord made of human hair or plant fibers in weeks immediately following its birth.[4] This permanent elongation of the skull, which was seen as a marker of status and beauty, would then be further emphasized throughout the life of both men and women through head wraps and basketry caps. Taken together, the permanent alteration of the skull along with the application of these elaborate headpieces allowed the Mangbetu to achieve what they considered the height of beauty: a long, thin skull that projected back into space.

The philosopher Wittgenstein tells us that the sight of something beautiful induces in us a desire to copy. This was as true for the early twentieth century Asante and Mangbetu as it was for Wittgenstein and his European contemporaries. Indeed, these pieces owe their creation to that impulse. Asante and Mangbetu artists wanted to create an artistic manifestation of the perfect human form. And while works such as the Asante Akua’ba and the Mangbetu figurative vessel may strike the contemporary Western viewer as odd or non-naturalistic, when we looking at art from places and times not of our own, we must remember that old saying: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Unrecorded Mangbetu artist. Figurative Vessel. Early 20th century. Ceramic. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Anonymous Gift, BMA 2007.279.

Unrecorded Mangbetu artist. Figurative Vessel. Early 20th century. Ceramic. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Anonymous Gift, BMA 2007.279.

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[1] George Nelson Preston, “People Making Portraits Making People: Living Icons of the Akan,” African Arts 23, no. 3 (1990): 72.
[2] Eva L. R. Meyerowitz, The Sacred State of the Akan (London: Faber & Faber, 1951), 56.
[3] Roy Sieber, “Kwahu Terracottas, Oral Traditions, and Ghanaian History,” in African Art and Leadership, eds. Douglas Fraser and Herbert M. Cole (Madison, University of Wisconisn Press, 1972), 176.
[4] Enid Schildkrout and Curtis A. Keim, African Reflections: Art from Northeastern Zaire (Seattle: University of Washington Press and the American Museum of Natural History, 1990), 123-125.

From Russia (& Belarus) with Love

02In the spring of 1991 George Ciscle, the founder and then director/curator of The Contemporary (known then as The Museum for Contemporary Arts), organized a landmark exhibition in Baltimore entitled Photo Manifesto: Contemporary Photography in the USSR (May 19–June 21, 1991). The exhibition included 240 recent photographs by more than 45 artists in the Soviet Union. Ciscle selected these works from a larger group of photographs assembled in New York by Joseph Walker, Christopher Ursitti, and Paul McGinnis, three independent curators and gallerists who were committed to Soviet-American cultural exchange. Walker, Ursitti, and McGinnis jointly edited and wrote for a book that accompanied the exhibition, arguably the most important of a group of publications on contemporary Soviet photography that were published around this time.

The exhibition was installed in Mount Vernon, in the former Greyhound service garage at Park Avenue and Centre Street (now part of the Maryland Historical Society). Ciscle thought its emptied-out interior evoked the alternative spaces in the Soviet Union where these photographers had shown their work. To quote from the special events card that accompanied the invitation to the opening:

Before Perestroika, “unofficial” art was denied access to public viewing. In the more tolerant climate of the Gorbachev era, “unofficial” art that has surfaced is exhibited in “raw” spaces—frequently disused warehouses and industrial sites. The former Baltimore Greyhound Service Terminal, provides an appropriate parallel to these spaces.

Indeed, traces of the 1941 building’s former use were present in the form of old signage and fixtures as well as the worn parking lines on the floor and the dented metal bumper guards on the walls.

Organized according to geographical region, the photographs in the exhibition were installed on temporary aluminum walls designed by architect Steve Ziger and illuminated by natural light coming in through the skylights. Because the staff of The Contemporary then, as now, was relatively small, Ciscle relied on a large corps of volunteers to serve as visitor services and security staff. While working on the exhibition, Ciscle learned that Baltimore had one of largest Russian immigrant communities in the United States; label texts and tours were thus given not only in English but in Russian as well. There was also a small library featuring books on the Soviet Union.

Photo Manifesto: Contemporary Photography from the USSR was mounted only in Baltimore, though initially it was intended to travel throughout the United States. Less than six months after the show closed, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.

One of the visitors to Photo Manifesto was Brenda Edelson, the BMA’s Director of Programming from 1973 to 1985 and currently one of the Museum’s National Trustees. Edelson recognized affinities between the works in the exhibition and the European modernist photographs that she and her late husband Robert Edelson had collected. The Edelsons subsequently began to acquire late 20th-century photographs from Russia and other former Soviet republics.

In 2012, Brenda Edelson gave 47 of these photographs to the BMA. Ranging in date from 1959 to 2000 and encompassing the work of 14 photographers from Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine, this significant gift complements the Museum’s collection of photographs—now numbering more than 4,000—by strengthening its contemporary material and widening its global reach. Twenty of these photographs were recently included in the exhibition New Arrivals: Late 20th-Century Photographs from Russia & Belarus in the On Paper Gallery in the Contemporary Wing (September 20, 2015–March 20, 2016). Through research we have determined that at least one of these photographs, Igor Savchenko’s toned gelatin silver print 11.89-6 from the series Alphabet of Gestures, was shown in Photo Manifesto. Given the importance of this exhibition, mounted in the historical watershed year of 1991, it could not be more appropriate that the photographs Edelson has collected have found a home in Baltimore.

My greatest thanks to George Ciscle for speaking with me about the exhibition as well as providing archival material (including photographs and a copy of Edward Gunt’s article “Parking the Art in a Garage,” published in the The Baltimore Sun on June 9, 1991).

Installation shots and documentation courtesy of The Contemporary, Baltimore.

When Wishes Are Horses

A sculpture of a man riding a bucking horse.

Frederic Sackrider Remington. Bronco Buster. 1895; this cast 1906. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey A. Legum, Baltimore, BMA 2012.585

“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” So goes a 16th century nursery rhyme advocating hard work. Artists have been knowing that for some thousands of years, working to create stirring images of horses from cave paintings to contemporary art. I wish readers would come have a look at three horses on view in the American Wing at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Consider the American cowboy, arguably one of the most powerful mythic beings to appear since the pantheon of Greek gods peered down from the Acropolis in Athens. Recently, the BMA acquired an example of Frederick Remington’s first bronze sculpture, Bronco Buster [above]. Remington was already established as a painter and magazine illustrator when he copyrighted the piece in 1895. The Roman Bronze Works in New York cast ours in 1906, while Remington was still around to manipulate its metal surface, creating individualized textural effects as he did with each of the casts made while he was alive. Remington tackled a rousing subject – a bucking horse testing the rider’s strength by doing its utmost to land him in the dust. So well did the artist capture an ideal of rugged individuality that more than 300 authorized casts of the Bronco Buster were made over a twenty-year period during and after the artist’s life-time. You might occasionally glimpse one in the Oval Office at the White House when the nation’s President appears on television.

Sketching the Bronco Buster in a note to Owen Wister, who pioneered American Western fiction, Remington wrote, “my oils will all get ‘old mastery’ [like] molasses, my watercolors will fade – but I am to endure in bronze.” Once the mythic cowboy gained traction in popular culture, he, too, has endured – providing unlimited material for Hollywood producers and actors. Some of the early programs might seem tame in an entertainment world crowded by pneumatically muscled action heroes wearing stretchy revealing outfits, carrying bizarre attributes, equipped with supernatural powers, and always open to futuristic options for intergalactic transport. But I still recall being transported by a 1950s black-and-white television series featuring a masked man in tight (for then, anyway) pants and a matching cowboy hat, rearing up on a colorless-coordinated white stallion. He’d just dispatched the baddies, distributed a silver bullet (symbol of law and order; also effective against werewolves…), and declaimed, “Tonto, our work here is done,” before galloping off to a resounding “Hi Yo Silver, Awaaaaaaaaaaaaay!”

Woodlawn Vase, 1860                                                Silver Maker:  TIFFANY & COMPANY, New York, 1837-present The Maryland Jockey Club, Baltimore, on extended loan to the Baltimore Museum of Art, BMA  R.15873

Woodlawn Vase, 1860, Silver. Maker:  TIFFANY & COMPANY, New York, 1837-present. The Maryland Jockey Club, Baltimore, on extended loan to the Baltimore Museum of Art,BMA R.15873

The BMA stables numerous silver horses.  Not called “Silver” – made out of it. They embellish racing trophies from the 19th and 20th centuries.  An elegant racer named Lexington tops my favorite, the Woodlawn Vase [right]. Tiffany & Company created the three-foot-high trophy for the now defunct Woodlawn Racing Association of Louisville, Kentucky.  Anticipating the elaborate presentation silver of America’s Gilded Age, the vase is covered with inscriptions and racing emblems, including horseshoes, saddles, jockey caps, a stallion, mare with foal, and even tiny engraved signboards bearing the rules of the original 1861 Kentucky race for which the vase was named. Ridden by a jockey, Lexington is poised at the top of the vase above four winged victories. In 1870, a thoroughbred named Preakness, sired by Lexington, won the first stakes race ever held at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Given to the Maryland Jockey Club in 1917 as the trophy for that annual event, the enormous silver vase still makes its yearly appearance at The Preakness Stakes held at Pimlico. Like I said, “Hi Yo Silver, Awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!’

Elie Nadelman. Horse. Original c. 1914, this cast 1967. Bronze 35 1/2 x 28 3/4 x 10 1/2 in. (90.2 x 73 x 26.7 cm.) The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Mabel Garrison Siemonn, in Memory of her Husband, George Siemonn, BMA 1967.46

Elie Nadelman. Horse.
Original c. 1914, this cast 1967. Bronze. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Mabel Garrison Siemonn, in Memory of her Husband, George Siemonn, BMA 1967.46

A third captivating horse displayed in the American Wing is a riderless bronze by Elie Nadelman [fig. 3].  First conceived as a large decorative plaster for cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubenstein’s New York apartment, this sinuous creature sets one delicate hoof on classical tradition, and another on an important French modernist text.  Having read Charles Baudelaire’s The Painter of Modern Life (1863), Nadelman knew the drawings of Constantin Guys who “applied himself to the personal beauty of horses.” Nadelman’s sculpture recalls Constantine Guys’ drawings. Nadelman also studied classical antiquities. Critic Lincoln Kirstein associated his elegantly streamlined steed with the mythical horses that pulled Poseidon’s chariot across the waters, as described in a poem by modernist writer Constantine Cavafy: “Their bodies, their feet, must clearly show/ they do not tread the earth, but run on the sea.” The BMA’s large bronze was cast posthumously, but a smaller life-time bronze casting, exhibited in a New York gallery in 1917, made Nadelman an art star almost overnight.

Like all talented artists whose work resonates over time, Nadelman had wide-ranging interests.  If his modernist equine sculpture reminds you of prehistoric ponies painted on the walls of caves in southern France and Spain, you’ve twigged another of the artist’s inspirations.  Hi Yo—but not necessarily silver…

The Breakfaster’s Conundrum

Few modern day breakfasters spend much thought on toast. Put the bread in the toaster and fetch it once it eagerly leaps into the air declaring it consumption ready. A century or two ago, the journey of the little toast that could was rather different. And for the upper classes, far more ornate. The fresh baked bread was sliced, placed in a fireplace toaster and carefully monitored as to not burn. Once the desired crunch was achieved, it was of utmost importance to maintain it, lest toast’s natural enemy, sogginess, take hold. An inevitability if simply piled on a plate. And so, the toast rack was conceived, providing a way to serve the crispest of toast in an elegant fashion. The design was simple: several rows were created by a metal scroll, separating each piece. The racks often holding 4-6 pieces at once. Convenient, accessible, structurally sound toast at your disposal. The only downside being that to retain crispness, heat was sacrificed with the opportunity for air to circulate between each piece.

Christopher Dresser. Manufacturer: Hukin & Heath, Birmingham and London. Articulated Toast or Letter Rack. 1884‑1885. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Charlotte B. Filbert Bequest Fund, BMA 2006.84

Christopher Dresser. Manufacturer: Hukin & Heath, Birmingham and London. Articulated Toast or Letter Rack. 1884‑1885. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Charlotte B. Filbert Bequest Fund, BMA 2006.84

Toast racks first appeared as early as the late 1700’s, but didn’t become common until Victorian times. Perhaps one of the biggest names in toast rack design, if not industrial design in general, Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) created quirky yet functional pieces to liven up the breakfast table. In this design currently on view in the American Wing, Dresser evokes the image of a Japanese bridge. He was a botanist fascinated by the arts of Japan, inspirations which can be seen throughout his work. After Japan opened its ports to Western trade in 1853, the influence of Japanese art and style swept through Western artists of the time, creating a phenomenon called Japonisme.

 

Archibald Knox. Manufacturer: Liberty & Co., Ltd.. Toast Rack. 1905‑1906. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Albert H. Cousins Bequest Fund, BMA 2015.150

Archibald Knox. Manufacturer: Liberty & Co., Ltd.. Toast Rack. 1905‑1906. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Albert H. Cousins Bequest Fund, BMA 2015.150

A contemporary of Dresser, Archibald Knox (1864-1933), was a designer of delicate metalware who would become one of the chief creative minds behind Liberty & Co., a London-based firm which played a large role in fostering the Art Nouveau movement. Like Dresser, Knox was deeply influenced by a particular culture. Unlike Dresser, Knox’s influence was not Eastern. Instead, he drew upon his own heritage, playfully incorporating Celtic knots, crosses and other interlacing designs that he saw scattered across the countryside while growing up on the Isle of Man.

The two toast racks differ dramatically. Knox’s dainty metal arms form small, elegant knots near each peak, giving the impression of a continuous, graceful line. Dresser’s, on the other hand, boasts the sturdiness one would expect of a bridge. The base curves, but the rest are 90 degree angles, a ball skewered at each intersection of the arms. Despite their stylistic differences, both men skillfully incorporated the aesthetics of distinctive cultures. Moreover, their work was not reserved only for the elite. Each also designed fashionable, effective and affordable pieces for the home. Inviting a new class of patrons to partake in the genius of their design.

Nowadays, toast racks are rarely seen on the breakfast table. Many are used as letter racks, as the design provides a convenient solution to postal organization. Perhaps they began disappearing from tables when breakfast became a meal consumed increasingly on the go. This on the go mentality could have caused a third option to arise between toast rack (cold, crisp toast) and plates (warm, soggy toast): eating directly from the toaster (warm, crisp toast). Convenient to be sure, but not nearly as elegant.

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Elizabeth Stouffer Garrett & Elizabeth Barbara Garrett Quilts

Elizabeth Stouffer. "Tree of Life”. 1809. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of William L. Reed, Lutherville, Maryland, in Memory of Barbara Garrett Reed, BMA 1982.140

Elizabeth Stouffer. “Tree of Life”. 1809. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of William L. Reed, Lutherville, Maryland, in Memory of Barbara Garrett Reed, BMA 1982.140

Tradition holds that girls of the 19th century and earlier often created a collection of quilts prior to their marriage. The Archives at the BMA offers some evidence of this claim in the papers of early quilt scholar William Rush Dunton, Jr. Dunton’s notebooks include photographs and written records of quilts by Elizabeth Stouffer of Baltimore and her daughter Elizabeth Barbara Garrett, which seem to support the conclusion that this did occur in some instances. Quilts recently given to the Museum by members of the Garrett family offer material proof as well.

Elizabeth Stouffer of Baltimore (1791-1877) created this Tree of Life Chintz Appliqué Quilt, given to the BMA in 1980. This quilt combines several major stylistic trends in early American quilting. Within a central medallion format framed by several borders, Stouffer composed a flowering Tree of Life cut from various printed fabrics and appliquéd to the white cotton background. Such chintz appliquéd quilts were popular during the first half of the 19th century. Their designs recalled painted and printed cotton bedcovers from India called palampores, which were often decorated with a central flowering tree.  In the background and borders, elaborate stuffed and corded work depicts oak leaves, exotic flowers, thistles, and pineapples. After making her quilt, Elizabeth Stouffer took the extra step of initialing and dating it on the reverse in cross-stitch, and added the number “7” indicating that it was the seventh in a series of quilts she had made.

In 1817, eight years after finishing her 7th quilt, Elizabeth married Robert Garrett, founder of the banking house of Robert Garrett and Sons. Among their four children was a single daughter, Elizabeth Barbara Garrett (1827-1917). This Diamond in Square on Point Quilt, donated to the Museum by Edith and James Garrett in 2012 bears her initials, the date 1835, and a “1” on the reverse, indicating that like her mother, Barbara Garrett acquired (and most likely made) a series of quilts.  Although, she would have been only 8 years of age in 1835, it is likely that Barbara had a part in creating this quilt.

Elizabeth Barbara Garrett. "Diamond in Square on Point" Quilt. 1835. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of James and Edith Hoyt Garrett, Baltimore, BMA 2012.227

Elizabeth Barbara Garrett. “Diamond in Square on Point” Quilt. 1835. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of James and Edith Hoyt Garrett, Baltimore, BMA 2012.227

Young girls learned sewing and embroidery at a very early age in early 19th century America.  Even an eight-year-old could cut the fabric sections and sew the straight lines required in piecing the simple Diamond in Star pattern. Examination shows that the quilting is very good at 14 stitches per inch (as opposed to 20 stitches per inch in the Tree of Life Quilt), but the quilted diagonal lines often go off course and are “corrected” by starting over again a short distance from the previous stitch. Likewise, the clamshell pattern quilting in the border becomes less regular as it continues and is finally abandoned in favor of an easier pattern of straight lines. Observations such as these may indicate a young, less experienced seamstress, supervised by someone with more skill. Even so, Barbara Garrett’s quilt was fashionable for her time, which preferred the block structure over the central medallion seen in her mother’s quilt. It also contained many beautiful fabrics, available to her due to the prominence of her family in Baltimore’s mercantile and banking businesses and the city’s thriving trade.

Fabrics in Elizabeth Barbara Garrett's quilt.

Fabrics in Elizabeth Barbara Garrett’s quilt.

The Dunton collection in the Archives at the BMA records two more quilts by Elizabeth Barbara Garrett: a Nine Patch Variation Quilt with sashing and a glazed chintz border marked on the reverse with cross stitch, “EB.G/1836/2”1; and a Checkerboard quilt with 2-1/2″ blocks and a wide glazed chintz border marked on the reverse with cross stitch, “EB .G/1839/5”2.

Detail, Nine Patch Variation with Squares on Point in Grid Quilt, Maker: Elizabeth Barbara Garrett, 1836, American, Maryland, Baltimore Cotton, Gift of Mrs. Robert Garrett, New York, BMA 2015.126

Detail, Nine Patch Variation with Squares on Point in Grid Quilt, Maker: Elizabeth Barbara Garrett, 1836, American, Maryland, Baltimore Cotton, Gift of Mrs. Robert Garrett, New York, BMA 2015.126

Detail, Checkerboard Quilt with Chintz Border, Maker: Elizabeth Barbara Garrett, 1839, Cotton, American, Maryland, Baltimore, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas H. Garrett, Santa Rosa, California, BMA 2015.127

Detail, Checkerboard Quilt with Chintz Border, Maker: Elizabeth Barbara Garrett, 1839, Cotton, American, Maryland, Baltimore, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas H. Garrett, Santa Rosa, California, BMA 2015.127

These quilts have descended in the family until recently, when they were donated to the BMA from Garrett family members, thus providing a material record to match the archival evidence of a young Baltimore girl following a family tradition of industry and creativity in developing a cache of home-made quilts for use in her future household.

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1 Recorded in Dunton, Vol.VI, pp. 66-67, illus.
2 Recorded in Dunton, Vol.VI, pp. 68-69.