Monday, October 9, 2017

Cleveland-Buffalo 2017: Buffalo - Canalside, City Hall, Martin House

After spending two full days touring Cleveland, Ohio, we scheduled two days in Buffalo, New York before heading back to Toronto.  Our plan was to visit the Albright Knox and Burchfield Penny art galleries on the first day, take the tour of the City Hall and wander around downtown on the second day, and then visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House on the third morning before driving home.  Unfortunately we did not realize until we arrived that our first day was actually the Columbus Day holiday and most things including the art galleries were closed.  We could not move our tour of the Martin House, for which we had to pre-purchase tickets, and we could not move our City Hall tour since it was also closed for the holiday.  So we were stuck looking for something to do.  Our hotel suggested that we visit "Canalside", Buffalo's burgeoning recreation and tourist area along the Buffalo River.

Canalside is a waterfront district that historically was the western terminus of the Erie Canal.  It is now a developing recreation area that features skating, curling and ice boat rentals in the winter, and boating, kayaking, concerts, festivals and entertainment in the summer.  The stadium where the Buffalo Sabres play is located in this area.  There are plans for further development with more shops, restaurants and a large pavilion still to come.  Unfortunately we were visiting at a time that was too late for the summer events and too early for the winter ones so the area was relatively quiet and empty.  But it was still fun to walk around and look at all the sculptures and outdoor art pieces.  I was surprised to see a statue of Tim Horton, who I always considered to be a Canadian icon and a Toronto Maple Leaf, forgetting that he also played for the Sabres.  The most whimsical and fun sculpture was Casey Riordan Millard's "Shark Girl", featuring the body of a girl in a blue dress with her legs primly crossed, with the head of a shark.  Appearing in all of Millard's works, Shark Girl represents the embodiment of the term "Fish Out of Water".  We walked on the wooden boardwalk along the pier where we came across a fooze ball and a pool table, as well as a sandy play area and could imagine how much busier it would be in the summer.

Further along the pier, we came across the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, which is home to some decommissioned US Naval vessels, tanks, and aircraft, as well as war memorials and sculptures.  The highlights of the collection are the Cleveland-class cruiser USS Little Rock (CL-92), the Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537), and the unfortunately named submarine USS Croaker, after the croaker fish as opposed to the slang term "to croak".  Still it would be a bit creepy being underwater in a vessel with this name.

On our way back from Canalside, we wandered through the downtown area looking at the shops and restaurants, street art and murals.  We passed by the Shea Performing Arts Center which specializes in hosting touring Broadway musicals as well as special events.  We were quite impressed with the lineup of upcoming shows, including recent Best Musical Tony Award nominees such as Something Rotten from 2015, and Hamilton, School of Rock and Waitress from 2016.  While Hamilton will be coming to Toronto in 2019, we were not sure that we would ever get the chance to watch Something Rotten (a musical comedy set in the time of William Shakespeare).  We decided that we would buy tickets to watch this show on a Saturday matinee in March, driving over for the day and returning home that evening.  Hopefully there will not be a massive snowstorm on the day to hamper our trip.

The next day, en route to our guided tour of the Buffalo City Hall, we walked through the blocks that were home to a series of gorgeous Art Deco-styled heritage buildings.  We had actually walked past most of these during our 2012 visit to Buffalo, when we took an Architectural Walking Tour  with the heritage group Preservation Buffalo Niagara.  But on that occasion, we only had time to see most of the buildings from the outside and the walk finished too late for us to take the daily tour of the City Hall at noon.   We planned to take more time with some of these buildings on this trip.  We went into the lobby of the Electric Building and saw some beautiful Art Deco features including an ornate mailbox and elevator.  The Prudential/Guarantee building has added a little museum that describes the history of the building and the details of the architecture.  We learned that this building had installed the first passenger elevators in Buffalo, had its own power generator, indoor plumbing including 2 private bathrooms (including baths), a barbershop, and a shoeshine stand.  We saw examples of the terracotta used to clad the steel frame of the tower.  We admired the decor in the Hotel Lafayette and stopped for a cold drink in their chairs that resembled baseball mitts.   It was interesting to see the art decorating the public washrooms including of Robert Redford, Clark Gable and James Dean in the ladies room and pinup girls in the men's.

The Buffalo City Hall is a 32-storey, 378 feet tall Art Deco masterpiece built in 1931 by architects Dietel, Wade and Jones.  It was one of the tallest and most expensive city halls at the time, costing $6.8 million.  The stone friezes on the building's exterior were carved by Albert Stewart and featured topics including electricity, chemistry and healing, architecture and poetry, education and culture, building and growth of the city, transportation, and the Family unit.  Limestone sculptures decorating either sides of the windows represented each month of the year.  For example, the September sculpture is holding corn and vegetables from the harvest, while the October sculpture is covered with leaves.  Bronze sculptures of US Presidents Grover Cleveland and Millard Fillmore stand on the north and south sides of the building respectively.  Cleveland was sheriff and then mayor of Buffalo in 1882 while Fillmore founded the library system, the heritage society and the Buffalo university.

Our guided tour of the City Hall started on the ground floor where there was so much art and ornamentation to look at.  The bronze doors elevators are decorated with two rows of chevrons with flowers in the middle, surrounded by a trim of smaller chevrons and then a thicker green marble trim.  At the top of each elevator is a carving of an eagle.  Four towering sculptures depict the characteristics of good citizenship and are labelled Fidelity, Diligence, Virtue, and Service.  Our guide pointed up the designs of the tiles on the ceiling.  He indicated that they looked like backward swastikas, since originally,  this was an Indian and Asian symbol of good luck and well-being until Hitler inverted the symbol and subverted its meaning.   The guide gestured at one symbol in particular that was accidentally oriented in the Nazi fashion.  There were multiple elaborate murals by William de Leftwich Dodge, including one titled "Frontiers Unfettered by Any Frowning Fortress", which highlights the proximity of Buffalo to the Canadian border and the importance of the US-Canadian relationship.  The mural depicts the angel of peace holding a warrior in each arm, with the one on the left clutching an American flag and the one on the right holding a Canadian flag (the one before the Maple Leaf version that we currently use).  Other murals depict the Buffalo economy, railways, and stockyards.

When it was built, the Buffalo City Hall had no air conditioning, instead using the winds from Lake Erie to cool the building.  We were taken to the Mayor's Office, currently occupied by Bryan Brown.  The outer office houses the City Hall's gallery of past mayoral portraits including one of James Griffen, the longest serving mayor in office from 1978-1993.  Griffen was credited with organizing a resurgence in downtown Buffalo and its waterfront, and famously quipped after a 1985 blizzard "Go home, buy a six pack of beer, and watch a good football game.", earning him the nickname "Jimmy Six Pack".  There were various memorabilia in the display cabinets, including the marriage certificate of Baseball great Ty Cobb.

We were next taken up to the 13th floor to visit the Council Chambers.  We were stunned by the magnificence of the semi-circular stained glass sky light decorated as a sunburst of brilliant red and gold rays against a blue background representing the skies or the heavens above.  Due to the use of prismatic glass in the sunburst, no shadow is thrown anywhere in the room.  Each section of the seven rows of seats has a curved continuous wooden back, mirroring the shape of the skylight.  A  stone ceiling beam encircles the chamber, continuing the rounded motif.  Twelve stone pillars topped with identical figureheads support the circular beam, each with vertical lettering spelling out a desired virtue for the council--Justice, Courage, Prudence, Wisdom, Concordia, Patriotism, Charity, Achievement, Knowledge, Industry, Fortitude and Philosophy.

Finally we were taken to the 25th floor (the highest accessible by elevator) and then walked up three flights of stairs to reach the Observation Deck, where we found a panoramic view of the city.  The deck  is free of charge and open to the public from Monday-Friday 8:30am-4pm.  We saw many of the Art Deco heritage buildings that we had seen from the ground and also spotted the Canalside harbour area that we visited the previous day.  We took note of the Statler Hotel, once a luxury hotel with 2084 rooms that was built for the Pan American Exposition of 1901.   The hotel was closed in the 1980s and changed hands several times through the years.  The most recent renovations seem to have stalled as the building has sat empty falling further into disrepair as time goes by.  It is a beautiful building that hopefully will eventually be restored to its former glory.

The Darwin D. Martin House is starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece in Buffalo, built around 1905 for his friend Martin, who was Corporate Secretary for the Larkin Soap Company. It is built in Wright's "Prairie School" style architecture, known for its simple, solid construction, craftsmanship and ornamental restraint, focusing on horizontal lines and flat roofs with overhanging eaves that integrate with the surrounding landscape.  The structure is laid out as rectilinear, horizontally-oriented structures linked by crossing axes forming the shape of a cross.  It uses structural piers instead of load-bearing walls in order to support elongated horizontal sections that are covered with a band of windows that provide panoramic vistas of the surrounding landscape.  The house was built using structural steel and reinforced concrete and decorated it with a variety of materials including stone, glass, wood, terracotta, ceramic tile, and bricks.  Also built on the property was a cottage for the Gardener, a carriage house for the horses and carriages, and a separate smaller house called Barton House which was built for Martin's sister Delta.

Wright used custom-made yellow Roman bricks that are 4-inches longer and wider than normal red bricks.  He created 16 different abstract patterns for his windows that featured more than 750 pieces of intricately patterned clear, translucent and coloured glass separated by brass-coated zinc bars.  Wright created decorative designs that illuminated and cast interesting shadows and reflect the colours of the window onto the floor and ceiling of the interior.  In his most famous window design called the "Tree of Life", he reduces the image of a wisteria tree to its most elementary geometric form.  He uses a square for the roots, simple lines for the trunk and chevrons for branches, with gold, red, and green glass pieces representing the leaves. This iconic design has been reproduced on many other products including textiles, pillows, mugs and more.  The bronze light scones are comprised of circles set within squares.  The stone chimneys emanating from the flat roofs were inspired by Japanese birdhouses.  Wright, who spent time in Japan, was particular to Asian influences, as shown by not only the chimney design, but also some of the artwork and wood cut prints that hang one the walls inside the house.  It is telling that Frank Lloyd Wright influenced the interior decor and furniture of the Martin House, as opposed to Darwin Martin or his wife Isabelle.

Our tour started in the Visitor's Centre designed by Toshiko Mori, with an encircling glass facade from which views of the Martin House and property can be surveyed.  Rows of glass cases provide interpretive information about Frank Lloyd Wright, Darwin Martin, and the house that was built for him.  We signed up for the extended 2 hour tour of the house, which does not allow interior photos except for in a few limited sections.  There is a photography tour which does allow photos of the interior to be taken, but unfortunately that tour is offered very infrequently and was not an option for the days that we were in Buffalo.  So I had to be satisfied with taking photos of some of the displays in the Visitor Centre exhibits and also found some images on the Internet that I can use as memories.  The first stop of our tour was the quaint, relatively modest wood and stucco box-shaped cottage with wood trim that was built as lodgings for the gardener Reuben Polder, whose job it was to provide fresh flowers daily for every room.  The Martins were obviously very close to their employee since he was provided with a gorgeous house that had many of the decorative features of the main house.  Polder was allowed to marry his wife in the Martins' living room.

The open concept free-flowing interior of the Martin House is absolutely breathtaking with its long, linear sight lines, organic design and use of natural materials.  One of the most stunning spaces is the reception room with the gilded sunburst arched fireplace.  Wright designed not only the architecture, but also the decor and furniture in the house, including the semi-circular barrel chairs and the high-back dining room chairs.  His unusually shaped dining room table in the form of a thick letter "I" was a pain for Isabelle Martin, who complained that none of her table cloths would fit on top of it.  Wright specifically created low seating that guides the eye towards the windows and the landscape outside. 

The hot water heaters and mechanical controls were surrounded by beautiful pillars and hidden behind Quaker-styled cabinetry with two layers of secret book shelves inside. The house had an enormous kitchen (a status symbol), with several ice boxes, white cabinetry over a bar sink along a bank of windows overlooking the back yard, and massive wooden cabinets with brass hardware designed by Wright and many drawers, including spice drawers that had locks on them because spices were expensive at that time.

The two interior areas where photos are allowed are the Pergola and Conservatory.  The Pergola is a 100ft long covered hallway that runs from the entrance of the Martin House to the Conservatory, which is a greenhouse area built for growing plants.  The Conservatory features a glass and metal roof supported by brick piers and has a built-in watering system activated by the turning of a valve.  A plaster sculpture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace (aka Nike), the Greek goddess of Victory stands at the entrance of the conservatory and can be seen from afar as you walk down the pergola.

The Carriage House was built as a stable for horses and storage for a horse drawn carriage.   Eventually it was used as a car garage with an upstairs apartment added on.  Today the property houses the Gift Shop, but you can still see evidence of its original usage, as the horse stalls are still in place, as well as a hayloft that is accessible via a metal ladder leading to an opening in the ceiling.  The carriage house, as well as the pergola and conservatory were actually destroyed in the 1960s and have been recreated through an ongoing restoration project that also includes reviving the second floor bedrooms and the Barton House.   The gift shop offers many different items emblazoned with Frank Lloyd Wright's signature designs.  We bought a pillow and a mug to go along with our Christmas Story Night Light that we picked up in Cleveland.  Having visited several Frank Lloyd Wright houses now including ones in Arizona and Chicago, I think the Martin House is one of his best works and well worth visiting.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Cleveland-Buffalo 2017: Cleveland Museum of Art and Christmas Story House

We have had it in our plans to visit Cleveland for several years now, but kept putting it off as other travel opportunities or priorities came along.  The impetus that finally drove us to take the road trip came up during our winter trip to New York City.  We were touring the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in upper Manhattan and were extremely disappointed to find out that we missed seeing an extensive Art Deco exhibition called "The Jazz Age" by one week.  Rich and I really love the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, so when we realized that the exhibit would travel to Cleveland next, this gave us the urgent reason to finally visit that city.

The show was exhibiting at the Cleveland Museum of Art, for which we had reciprocal free-entry privileges due to our Art Gallery of Ontario membership.  Providing examples of American design and style in the 1920s, the term "Jazz Age" was coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald in his novel "The Great Gatsby" and was used as a metaphor for decadence of vibrant colours, luxurious materials, and intricate details that marked that age of design in architecture, fashion, jewelry, interior and decorative arts.  The exhibit opened and closed with two classic luxury cars--the 1925 Rolls Royce Picadilly Roadster that cost $15,000 at the time, and the 1937 front-wheel drive Cord 812 Phaeton Roadster, which reflected the move towards streamlined aerodynamic engineering resulting in efficient airflow and speed.

There were many examples of furniture design in the exhibit with a focus on three main categories, with the first being chairs and sofas.  The 1923 "Aviation Bergère" is an armchair by French designer Robert Bonfils.  It is made with a gilded wooden frame that is covered with wool upholstry featuring silk tapestry depicting a WWI fighter plane patrolling the skies, surrounded by floral motifs on the arms and seat.  Austrian-American Joseph Urban's 1921 "Gondola" Chair is made from painted wood covered with silver leaf and mother-of-pearl ornamentation with colourful striped upholstery.  Also considered "gondola-shaped", Frenchman Marcel Coard's 1925 velour-covered sofa boasts a frame made of carved Indian rosewood with decorative trim that invokes an African feel.  There were several pieces that were inspired by the contours of a skyscraper, including the armchair made of brass, aluminum and leather, where the geometric cutouts of a stepped tower decorate the sides and back of the chair.  This chair by French designer Jean Dupas was displayed at the International Exposition of Art and Industry in 1928.  Another such chair by Austrian-American designer Paul Frankl is accompanied by a magnificent "Skyscraper Bookcase-Desk" made of California redwood and black laquer.  Part of a series of Skyscraper furniture designs, Frankl's use of contrasting shades of wood and stacked forms add to the illusion that you are looking at a tall tower.

Also on display was Frankl's desk and bookcase made of various woods including mahogany, cedrela, zebrawood, yellow poplar and pine, which features a patterned silk covered desk blotter with matching fabric used to cover the seat of the desk chair.  Like his other works in the series, the piece resembles an architectural structure.  One of my favourite pieces is the little round "Library table" (circa 1920) by Clément Rousseau, made of rosewood, shagreen and ebony, with a rotating inner core used to hold a selection of books.  The table is decorated with tinted and polished sharkskin, exemplary of the exotic materials used in this period of design.  The 1929 red-laquered wooden dressing table with the triangular legs and drawers and its accompanying bench is an American creation inspired by an earlier Parisian design by Léon Jallot.  I loved the shade of sage green used for the sideboard and matching chair by German-American designer Kem Weber.  It has decorative details on the front edges and drawer handles that were inspired by Mayan temples.  A mahogany, satinwood and thuyawood armoire is decorated with plastic "Ivorine" and ebony inlays.  It sits beneath a chandelier made of steel and wrought iron that features shapes of goats which throw an interesting shadow against the wall.

Decorative screens were popular during the Jazz Age and there were some fine examples in the exhibit.  A gilt and laquered wood folding screen by Armand-Albert Rateau (1921) features imagery of foxes in the woods, emulating traditional Flemish designs.  The screen titled "Muse with Violin", made of wrought iron, brass, silver and gold plating by Hungarian designer Paul Fehér features floral motifs inspired by Viennese design and the figure of a nude playing the violin.  The beautiful green laquered wooden doors covered with mother-of-pearl, gold and cast bronze designs portraying the images of warrior-like angels standing on skyscrapers was created by Russian-French designer Séraphin Soudbinine on behalf of Solomon Guggenheim.  Many other decorative screens, gates and mirrors were on display. 

There was no shortage of stunning decorative arts in this exhibit, including bowls, vases, clocks and more, made of a variety of materials and all beautifully ornate.  The "New Yorker Jazz" punch bowl made of glazed, moulded earthenware with a blue and black sgraffito design reflecting the sights and sounds of the Jazz Age nightlife, was commissioned for FDR's second inauguration as governor of New York.   The glass bowl by Sidney Waugh is engraved with leaping gazelles running around the circumference, providing a sense of grace and movement.  The Daum Nancy enameled and engraved glass vase incorporated coloured glass into the surface of the molten vessel, which was then carved or etched with elements of flora and fauna typical of the Art Nouveau style.  The Chinoiserie Clock contained Mother-of-pearl, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and gold in the clock face, with red dragons at its base. The green patinated copper vase by female artisan Marie Zimmerman was inspired by the designs of Japanese plume fans.

There were multiple examples of Art Deco silver tea sets whose sleek, elegant but non-ostentatious designs reflect the concepts of modernism and simplicity.  The elongated pieces of the "Rhythm" Tea and Coffee Service (1929) by English-American Percy Ball features a subtle pattern along the edges and delicate brown knobs for the lids.  The rectangular tea service with ivory handles and knobs (1931) by German-American Peter Muller-Munk features a rectlinear pattern on the sides, inspired by works of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Our favourite set was the Cubic coffee service (1927) by Danish designer Erik Magnussen which featured angular surfaces made from a mixture of metals that sparkled in the light, creating a wonderful physical embodiment of the Cubism style.

One of the highlights of the fabrics and textiles section of the Jazz Age Exhibit was a wall covered with murals called "The Joy of Life" by Joseph Urban (1927) which used to hang above the stage in the Ziegfield Theatre.  The murals imbedded figures from opera, theatre and film in midst of a vibrant floral background.  Various silk weaved textiles featured antelopes, elephants, pineapples, cupids, and other designs.  A luscious cape of mink and silk was decorated with a Chinoiserie pattern of pagodas and flowers, created from coloured glass beads, while a brigade of mannequins modeled flapper dresses and ornamental capes and wraps.  One of the most interesting items in this section was the large cotton quilt (1930) by Mrs. Fannie B. Shaw, which was a commentary on the changing times during the Great Depression.  The work is ironically called "Prosperity", after the unrealistic promise of President Herbert Hoover that prosperity was just around the corner.  Each square depicts a different type of worker (teacher, nurse, farmer, cowboy, etc.) peering around the corner looking for relief from the Depression, while the final square on the bottom right shows Uncle Sam holding a big bag of cash.  Also along the bottom, the Democrats are depicted as a donkey and the Republicans as an elephant.

The gorgeous examples of jewelry shown in the exhibit are created with precious materials including gold, silver, platinum, onyx, diamonds, emeralds, mother-of-pearl, sapphires, coral and more.  There were beautiful pocket watches, key chains, broaches, necklaces, earrings and hair clips.  Several pieces featured Egyptian motifs including images of scarabs, mummies, and hieroglyphics.

Many of the paintings and drawings on display reinforce the concept of the 1920s-30s being "The Jazz Age", as they depict scenes of dancing and music, invoking the sense of rhythm and movement.  These include Paul Colin's 1930 crayon and gouache drawing of African American entertainer Josephine Baker as well as his drawing of a couple dancing under the Eiffel Tower, Archibald Motley Jr's painting called Blues, which depicts the sights and sounds of a Parisian nightclub, and the 1926 painting of George Gershwin at the piano by William Auerbach-Levy.  Also on display was one of Robert Delauney's famous depictions of the Eiffel Tower which he painted in Orphism style, an offshoot of Cubism that focused on abstraction, light and vibrant colours.

While we have seen examples of Art Deco/Art Nouveau designs before, this Jazz Age exhibition contained one of the most comprehensive and eclectic collections of items created during this wonderful period.  We were very fortunate to have caught the show in Cleveland after having missed it in New York.  Since we were already in the Cleveland Museum of Art, we took some time to check out the rest of the museum's permanent and temporary exhibits.  The museum is quite large and includes collections from 16 departments ranging from Greek, Roman, and Pre-Columbian times through to Contemporary Art as well as covering works from Asian, African, Islamic, Native North American and European cultures.  While we took a quick tour of many of the sections, we had spent so much time in the Jazz Age exhibit that we needed to prioritize our time to the ones that most interested us, which were the areas devoted to Modern and Contemporary Art.  While racing through the various departments, we came across one of Rodin's iconic "The Thinker" sculptures located on the south entrance steps of the museum.  The sculpture was damaged with its lowers legs missing and the base of the piece warped, having been blown off its pedestal by a bomb in 1970 in a shocking act of vandalism that might have been politically motivated.  Rather than try to fix (and ultimately modify) the work, it was decided to leave the sculpture in its state of damage, since the backstory of the violent act adds to the conversation of this version of "The Thinker".

Within the Modern Art section, my favourite piece was the silver animal-shaped tea and coffee service and tray, decorated with curved ivory "horns". Created by Italian designer Caro Bugatti circa 1907, it sits on an ornate table made of inlaid wood, ivory and bone, gilded bronze and mother-of-pearl, with gold insects decorating the bottom of the table legs.  Vincent Van Gogh's oil painting of Adeline Ravoux held special interest for us, since we had recently watched the animated film "Loving Vincent", where artists created new oil paintings based on Van Gogh's works including this one and used them as part of the animation.  While we were familiar with the sculptural works of Marcel Duchamp, we had not seen much by his brother Raymond Duchamp-Villon until this visit. In 1916 while serving in the army, Raymond created a Cubist sculpture of a painted bronze rooster standing in front of a rising sun.  Both these images (rooster and rising sun) represented victory during World War I.  The jarring colours and angular, geometric features of German Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's 1919 "Self-portrait with Hat" reflect his inner emotions and again show the influences of Cubism.  For me, the gaunt, distorted face in the hat and trench coat has a film noir feel.  Named after a historic clock in Moscow, the beautiful 1913 Kremlin Clock Tower from the House of Fabergé is decorated with emeralds and sapphires, and made from silver, enamel, and a mineral called rhodenite that gives it the stunning pink-rose colour.

We saw some of the usual suspects within the Contemporary Art section, including Andy Warhol's Marilyn x 100, a huge screenprint ink and synthetic polymer paint on canvas featuring 50 coloured and 50 black and white representations of Marilyn Monroe's face.  Known for his giant sculptures of everyday objects, Claes Oldenburg was represented by a large tube of toothpaste with its cap removed.  I recognized the distinctive style of Florine Stettheimer after seeing an entire exhibition of her work at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  The oil painting "Sunday Afternoon in the Country" depicts scenes from her family's estate with famous friends including Edward Steichen and Marcel Duchamp as well as members of her family.  We were quite taken with German painter Anselm Kiefer's 1989 painting called "Lot's Wife" which reflects his struggles coming to terms with the Holocaust.  Almost 3-dimensional with the use of oil paint, ash, stucco, chalk, linseed oil, polymer emulsion, salt and copper heating coils, this haunting work depicts a barren landscape divided by train tracks that bring to mind the deportation of masses to death camps via trains.  If you look closely, you can see footprints and tire tracks in the plaster, covered with ash.  It was interesting looking at George Baselitz's "View Out of the Window, which deliberately rendered the image of the person looking out the window to be upside down, making the painting disorienting to the viewer.

As we were about to leave the museum, we came across the ArtLens Gallery, an interactive space with touchscreens that display digitized images of all the art in the museum.  You can narrow down by category (e.g. decorative arts, Asian arts, painters, etc.) or by directly selecting one of the images floating by, in order to enlarge the image and get more information about a work.  With the ArtLens app, you can save images that interest you and then use the app to map a route to find these items within the museum.  This was too late for us, since we found the gallery at the end of our visit but this would have been great.  An ArtLens Exhibition allows you to interact personally with items, such as placing your face into portrait or simulating an object being placed on your body or in your hands.  If we return to this museum, I definitely want to spend more time playing in this gallery.  It seems to be an advanced version of technology found in New York's Cooper Hewitt Design Museum.

The last attraction that we wanted to visit while in Cleveland was the Christmas Story House and Museum, based on the 1983 movie "A Christmas Story" that has become a cult classic and an annual viewing event for us during the yuletide season.  Set in the 1940s and told through a series of vignettes, the movie follows the lives of Ralphie Parker, his brother Randy and their parents "Old Man Parker" and "Mother Parker" in the months leading up to Christmas.  Ralphie schemes to receive a "Red Rider BB Gun" as a present, but is told by every adult that it is too dangerous with the warning "You'll shoot your eye out".   Based on the collection of short stories called "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" by humorist Jean Shepherd who also acts as the voice of the adult Ralphie, narrating the scenes as a series of reminiscences, much of the movie is set in a quiet neighbourhood in southern Cleveland.  In 2005, the actual house used in the filming of A Christmas Story was purchased by avid fan Brian Jones for $150,000.  Jones then launched a massive renovation and restoration effort to lovingly recreate the home to be exactly as depicted in the movie.  A house across the street was also purchased and turned into a museum and gift shop in support of the movie.  Now a tourist attraction, you can take a guided tour of the home and museum, and hear interesting trivia about the filming of the movie.

We learned that the director Bob Clark only got support from MGM studios to make A Christmas Story, if he agreed to also make the sequel to his previous hit movie Porky's.  Clark received 2.5 million from the studio and put up 2.5 million of his own money to get his passion film made.  MGM originally wanted Jack Nicolson to play Old Man Parker, but Jack's asking price would have taken the entire budget of the movie, so Darrin McGavin was cast instead.  The movie flopped at the box office and was panned by the critics but has since become a cult hit and holiday favourite.  Not realizing what they had, MGM gave the rights to Ted Turner for free and none of the actors or crew negotiated for any residuals from the movie.  Needless to say, the Turner empire is continuing to make a killing from this film.  It is interesting to note that the IMDB rating for A Christmas Story is 8.0/10 while Porky's II has a 4.9 rating.

Cleveland was chosen as the location to film the movie because Higbee's was the only department store that could be found who would allow a massive Santa's Christmas Mountain to be built inside their premises (and the movie was not even shot at Christmas time since we were told that the snow shown in the outdoor scenes was all man-made).  After the filming, Higbee's continued to bring out the props and decorations each Christmas, until the store was sold.  A casino now resides on the site, but the historic "Higbee Company" sign is still displayed prominently on the building.  We took a quick look inside while touring downtown Cleveland.

It was so much fun and quite nostalgic to be wandering around the rooms of the house that we had seen so many times in the movie, while listening to the tour guide regale us with humorous tidbits and fun facts.  We saw the living room where the Christmas presents were opened, Ralphie and Randy's bedroom where they dreamed and schemed about Christmas, the kitchen table and bathroom where various humorous scenes took place, and the famous stairs where Ralphie came down in the pink bunny suit.  We were told to observe carefully the next time we watched the movie.  Any time the blinds were drawn, the filming actually happened on a sound stage, while any time the blinds were open, filming took place in the house.

We even were allowed to inspect and interact with iconic props from the movie, including the famous leg lamp (a major award!) and the coveted "Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time".  We were told the story about how the crate that the leg lamp was delivered in was too large for the door of the house.  The director instructed the props people to cut part of the box to make it fit, but they accidentally cut off part of the words on it, so that instead of "This End Up", you can see the "His End Up" in some of the scenes.  We were able to take note of this for ourselves when we examined the crate sitting in the hallway of the house.  We saw a plastic recreation of the Christmas turkey that was devoured by the neighbour's dogs and were told that the dogs hired for the movie were so well trained that they initially refused the eat the real turkey during filming. We were shown the little cupboard under the kitchen sink where Randy hid when he feared his father's wrath over something Ralphie did.  One of the other people on the tour actually climbed into the space for a photo op.  This is the first "movie set" tour that we've been on where we could be so hands-on with the set pieces!

In the bathroom we saw the child-like scrawl of the disappointing secret message that Ralphie decoded with his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring that turned out to be an ad for Ovaltine.  There was the bar of soap that Mother Parker made him bite, in order to "wash his mouth out" after he used a curse word ("the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words").  The guide told us that the bar of soap was actually made of wax and indicated that previous tourists actually tried biting the prop.  In the hallway was the phone that Mother Parker used to call the mother of Ralphie's friend Swartz, who Ralphie unfairly blamed for teaching him the curse word.  When you pick up the phone, you can hear the dialogue between the two mothers from that scene.  Outside in the backyard was the little shed where Ralphie imagined he would be shooting attacking bad guys using his Red Ryder BB gun.

The Christmas Story Museum features original props, costumes, posters and memorabilia from the film, as well as hundreds of rare behind-the-scenes photos. Among the props were replica Red Ryder guns and leg lamps, toys from the Higbee’s Department store window where Ralphie covets his air rifle at the beginning of the movie,  the contents of teacher Miss Shields’ desk including the chattering teeth that the students wear as a joke, and even the family car that the Parkers drove around to pick up a Christmas tree and visit Santa Claus.  Also shown was a tin sign for "Nehi Soda", a popular drink in the 1940s known for sponsoring puzzle contests.  The sign's imagery of a pair of female legs in heels inspired Jean Shepherd's idea for the leg lamp prize.  It was very appropriate that when you look at the sign, you can see the reflection of a replica leg lamp displayed across the room.

Many of the costumes worn by the characters were on display, including Ralphie's winter coat, and Randy’s snowsuit that he was forced to wear in the hilarious scene where Mother Parker wrapped him up with so much clothing that he could not put his arms down and could not get up once he fell down.  There was mother's bathrobe, the cliché-ish black and white striped "bad guy" outfits warn by the villains in Ralphie's imagined gun battle, and the stereotypical Chinese jackets warn by the waiters at the Chinese restaurant that the family goes to after the neighbour's dogs destroy their Christmas turkey.  The exterior of the restaurant was actually a bowling alley where the "W" was burnt out, resulting in the Chinese sounding "BO LING".

The Gift Shop was quite fun to wander around.  You could take home almost any notable memorabilia of the movie imaginable, including your own Red Ryder air rifle, a full sized leg lamp, Ralphie's pink bunny suit in both child and adult sizes, DVDs, posters, drinking glasses, a leg lamp bottle opener, and so much more.  There were even little miniature tableaus depicting scenes from the movie.  We settled on a leg lamp night light as our souvenir, although I did try to convince Rich to buy the bunny suit for himself.  For anyone who loves this movie, or just wants a fun place to visit in Cleveland, this was definitely worth the price of admission.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Cleveland-Buffalo 2017: Cleveland Downtown and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

For several years now, we have been meaning to take what we called "the Rust Belt Tour".  Over 2-3 weeks, we wanted to visit parts of northeastern United States that are characterized by declining steel and auto producing industries, but still boast excellent art galleries.  Many of these cities are starting to go through a revitalization and resurgence.  The initial route on our planned tour included Buffalo, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  We considered this our "fall-back" trip in the event that we did not receive a home swap to Europe, or some other opportunity that could not be postponed.  Since we were lucky enough to get home swaps for four consecutive years since retiring in 2012, our Rust Belt tour continued to be delayed.  We finally decided to break up the tour and complete it in pieces.  In 2017, we undertook the first leg by traveling to Cleveland and then Buffalo for a 6 day road trip.

For our 3 days in Cleveland, we wanted a centralized location where we could walk to some of the downtown attractions including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  We selected the Drury Plaza Hotel, recently renovated with 189 rooms.  The hotel is situated in the former Board of Education building, which was designed in the Beaux Arts style with Italian Renaissance influences.  The magnificent front lobby featured a pair of murals by Cora Millet Holden (1895-1938) which depicted philosophers and historic figures such as Socrates, Aristotle, Confucius, Immanuel Kant, Augustus Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci, and Francis Bacon.  In addition to the great location and fairly reasonable room rates, the hotel also offered free food and drink on a daily basis.  In the morning, we received complimentary breakfasts that included pancakes, sausage, eggs, home fries and warm biscuits with gravy.  Each evening during "happy hour", there was a huge buffet of rotating items that included hot dogs, nachos, rice, salad, baked potato, pasta and more.  While it wasn't exactly fine dining and you only wanted to eat the offerings so many days in a row, the price was certainly right.  The buffet came with two free alcoholic drinks but the lineups for this were so long that it wasn't worth our effort.  Instead, we helped ourselves to free coffee, tea, pop, juice and ice tea which was available all day long, as well as free popcorn.  One treat that I was introduced to was the International Delight hazelnut flavoured creamer that we could add to our coffee.  I liked it so much that we searched for it when we got home.

The rear entrance of our hotel led to the Veteran's Memorial Plaza, where the beautiful Fountain of Eternal Life could be found.  Created in 1964 by Marshall Fredericks as a war memorial, the fountain features a 35 foot tall bronze sculpture of a man climbing out of the flames of war to reach skyward in search for eternal peace.  The ornate sphere that he stands on represents the earth and the granite sculptures at the four corners of the fountain represent the "geographic civilizations of earth", symbolizing superstitions and legends of mankind around the world.

A few blocks further in Cleveland's Public Square was the Cuyahoga Soldiers and Sailors' Monument, a massive War Memorial constructed in 1894 as a tribute to the American Civil War soldiers and sailors from the surrounding area.  The Goddess of Freedom holding the Shield of Liberty stands atop a tall central pillar atop a cubic Memorial Room that can be toured during open hours.  The four corners of the esplanade of the monument each boasts a bronze sculpture depicting battle scenes from the four military factionsNavy, Artillery, Infantry and Calvary.

Inside the Memorial Room are marble tablets listing the names and ranks of 9,000 Civil War veterans that served with Cuyahoga County regiments.  There were also four bronze relief sculptures depicting the Beginning of the War in Ohio, the Emancipation of the Slaves, the Women's Soldiers' and Sailors' Aid Society and the End of the War. As is to be expected, Abraham Lincoln is prominently featured in these works.

Wandering around downtown Cleveland, we spotted attractions that appealed to each of us.  I was delighted by the giant ink-stamp sculpture, created by Claes Oldenburg in 1985, that lies on its side in Willard Park.  Originally intended to be installed across from the Soldiers and Sailors monument, the word "FREE" at the end of the stamp probably referenced the freeing of the slaves.  Rich liked the USS Cod, a World War II "Gato-class" submarine that was inauspiciously named after the cod, a fish prevalent in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans.  At a cost of $875,000, the Arcade Cleveland was opened in 1890 as the first indoor shopping centre in America, modeled after the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II i Milan, Italy.  Restored in 2001, it is now home to boutique shops, restaurants and the Hyatt Regency which occupies the top three floors of the arcade.  Looking for somewhere to eat, we came across East 4th Avenue, a pedestrian-only strip where restaurants, coffee shops, stores and the House of Blues can be found. 

We chose the Greenhouse Tavern because of its interesting menu, especially the appetizers which we decided to load up on instead of ordering main courses.  We selected the Crispy Pig Ears covered with BBQ sauce, served with crispy shallots, sesame seed and bok choy. the Crispy Chicken Wing Config with roasted jalapeno, lemon juice, scallion and garlic, and the Fried Brussels Sprouts with maple aioli, lemon, fresh mint and red onion.  We were going to order some rosemary aioli fries as our fourth appetizer, when our very persuasive waiter talked us into choosing their "signature dish", a platter of oregano chicken, bread and fermented relish cooked in a puffed pasty like a beef wellington would be.  He made it sound so interesting that we decided to go for it, even though we now had way too much food.  When he brought out the platter to show us before carving up the pastry, it was even larger than we imagined.  We ate what we could of the tasty dish, but ended up taking a big portion of this back to the hotel and ate it for breakfast the next day.

One of our main reasons for visiting Cleveland was to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a museum that celebrates the best known and most influential artists and producers who helped map the development of rock and roll.  The geometrically shaped building designed by I.M. Pei, also known for the Louvre Crystal, opened its doors in 1995 although the foundation to honour Hall of Fame inductees was established in 1983.  The first thing that we saw as we came down the escalators was a giant hotdog, a prop from a concert by Vermont jam band Phish, which prepared us for the fun props and memorabilia that we would soon see. We also passed by an awning emblazed with CBGB, the New York music club touted as the birth place of the New York rock scene, and which we visited earlier in the year when we were in Manhattan.

The initial exhibits of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame trace the roots and influences of Rock and Roll.  There are displays featuring artists and their memorabilia from genres of Rhythm and Blues (e.g. Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, The Platters, etc.), Blues (Muddy Waters, Howlin' wolf, BB King, etc,), Country/Folk/Bluegrass (Lead Belly, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, etc.) and Gospel (Aretha Franklin, Staple Singers, etc.).  Items shown included wardrobe, sheet music, guitars, record album covers, concert programs, letters, photographs and more.  There were interactive booths where you could hear music from the popular stars of the various genres, and see who their earlier influences were.

The most prominent and iconic artists and groups had entire sections dedicated to them, with the largest being for Elvis Presley, the original King of Rock and Roll.  In addition to a large-screen video documenting his career, there were personal effects such as his war records, leather jacket, and motorcycle.  A hilarious poster gave examples of Elvis souvenirs that could be purchased including handkerchiefs, socks, billfolds, scarves, mittens, sneakers and more, all emblazoned with his handsome face.

The Beatles display included Ringo's drum set, outfits ranging from their brown mohair suits with the rounded necks that they wore in early performances to loud flowery shirts in their hippie days, album covers, bobble-head dolls and more.  The piece of memorabilia that interested us the most was the certified letter from the Whittier Hotel in Detroit dated September 6, 1964, which certifies that the Beatles stayed at that hotel, in the executive suite and that the attached piece of linen was actually from the sheets that one of them slept on (in this case John).  This seems like profiteering from Beatlemania, taken to extremes.

The Rolling Stones display featured many costumes that were worn by the ultra-thin Mick Jagger, including a t-shirt with the iconic images of Jagger's lips and tongue printed in different colours and a hot pink tank top with tight pants.  Keith Richard's pinball machine from 1980 plays excerpts from Stones classics including Satisfaction, Jumping Jack Flash and Miss You.  A Rolling Stones Tour notebook features what looks like a Chinese propaganda poster.

Jimi Hendrix is right up there with the rest when it comes to flamboyant costumes.  Several pieces of his wardrobe were on display the section dedicated to him.  Also featured were two electric and an acoustic guitar as well as a charcoal sketch of a Rock and Roll Band which Hendrix drew in 1956.  According to his father, Hendrix was self-taught and drew all the time using crayons or a pencil.

Michael Jackson also had a large display that featured some of his iconic costumes including outfits from his time as part of the Jackson Five, his sequined military jackets, the white suit from the "Smooth Criminal" video, his black shades and of course the signature single glove.  An ornate belt that hung in Jackson's Neverland Valley Range contained relief panels commemorating significant milestones of Jackson's life, including his group the Jackson 5 and his iconic moon-walk performance for the Motown 25th Anniversary special.

Different sections of the museum explored the development of Rock and Roll in different cities, providing examples of the major artists from each location.  Detroit was the home of Berry Gordy's Motown, with artists such as The Temptations, Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5 and Smokey Robinson.  Out of Seattle came artists such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.  Cleveland-based musicians included Styx, Iggy Pop, REO Speedwagon, John Cougar Mellancamp, White stripes and Devo while Memphis gave us BB King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbinson, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.  We were extremely excited to see the exhibit of artists from London/Liverpool, where we found the drum head belonging to and signed by the drummer of the Yardbirds, who is a friend of ours.

The exhibit called The Legends of Rock showcases wardrobe by a range of rock legends, capturing iconic fashion moments through Rock and Roll history.  In addition to the Michael Jackson wardrobe described above, some of the highlights for us included the gowns made for Diana Ross and the Supremes by Bob Mackie in 1969, David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust costumes, as well as outfits and musical instruments by Aerosmith, Blondie, U2, and ZZ Top.  The ZZ Top drums were covered with a white fur-like material in clear reference to their trademark beards.

Not to be overshadowed by the past, the exhibit called Right Here Right Now looks at the current generation of popular artists.  Included are Beyonce's sparkly golden dress and shoes, the Weeknd's black jacket and sneakers, Katy Perry's little peppermint candy dress, Taylor Swift's shimmery two piece outfit that highlights her abs, a metal gyroscope-like outfit that Lady Gaga wore for her Bad Romance video, Ceelo Green's extremely flowery jacket (literally covered with flowers), as well as wardrobe for Bruno Mars, Elle King, and Sia's iconic blond wig that she uses to hide her face.

There were several temporary exhibits running during our visit.  One was a tribute to singer John Mellencamp, who originally performed as Johnny Cougar (a stage name), which he changed to John Cougar, before adding back his real list name to become John Cougar Mellencamp and finally settling on his actual name of John Mellencamp.   The stage name "Cougar" was forced upon him when he first started out, but he was able to slowly revert to his real German surname once he became famous enough.  The exhibit showcased the musician's 1966 Silver Honda Scrambler 305 motorcycle, album covers, song lyrics, photographs and performance outfits. While we were familiar with Mellencamp's music, we had no idea that he was such a good artist and painter. Six of his impressive works were highlighted. "Stardust Sisters" (2013) depicts Meg Ryan (whom he was dating at the time) and Laura Dern as 1930s-styled clowns.  Inspired by German Expressionist Max Beckmann, "Gates of Hell" (1992) is an allegory for emotional turmoil, reflecting Mellencamp's feelings over a divorce that he was going through.  "Under The Lights" (1991) was painted as a self-portrait of Mellencamp performing.  The raw, graffiti-like feel of the painting "Martin Luther King" (2005) takes inspiration from street artists and reminds me of the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat. 

Another temporary exhibit focused on the San Francisco "Summer of Love" from 1967-1968, when young people got together to promote personal freedom, social equality, peace and love.  Some new bands formed during this time included Chicago, CCR, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Genesis, and Three Dog Night.  The exhibit opens with an giant mural of the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse, on loan from Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane.  In addition some memorabilia from that time, including dresses worn by Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and Mary Wilson from the Supremes, the majority of the exhibit focused on concert posters.  The posters of this period were vibrantly colourful, wild, psychedelic and often indiscernible in terms of who was performing, where the concert would take place or on what date.

The final exhibit that we visited made for a fitting finale and good recap of everything we had seen so far.  It featured magazine covers from the past 50 years of the Rolling Stones magazine, since its inception in 1967.  Many iconic images graced these photos including a nude John Lennon cradled up against Yoko Ono from 1980 (photo by Annie Liebowitz), Amy Winehouse lying in bed in a bra and shorts from 2007, Johnny Cash dressed in black shot from behind with his guitar strapped to his back (1992) and more.