29 July 2010

Meander: Arthur Wesley Dow












Nowhere is there greater beauty of line than in their curving creeks and irregular pools.” - Charles Downing Lay, Tidal Marshes, 1911, Landscape Architecture.

It seems to me that a meandering stream is an objective correlative to the feelings we associate with summer. A meandering walk on a warm day is fine match for body and soul. Marsh creeks meander through the works of Massachusetts native Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922). One of Dow's favorite spots along the Ipswich River was nicknamed 'The Dragon'. You can see one version of it in the background of the woodcut Rain In May and it is the subject of Study Of A Marsh (above).

 
Nature is often the starting point for design and the meander is a fine example. Rhythmic, ornamental patterns used in art and architecture are known as the Meander, named after the Meander River in southwestern Turkey. Its twists and turns include U-shaped oxbow lakes formed where the river changes doubles back on itself. The first mention that I know of for the Meander River occurs in Homer's Iliad, circa 8th century BCE.  And what defines Homeric style if not the long-drawn, winding simile? In the 8th book of Metamorphoses (circa 8 CE), Ovid compares the labyrinth on the island of Crete to the Meander River in Asia Minor.  The Greek Fret, a series of square protrusions resembling the notches of a key, originated as an architectural element, and is an early instance of the meander in art. Later the design was adapted by the Romans, along with other plunder, for use in mosaic tiles. A Medieval version of the meander was the Twisted Ribbon pattern, the rectilinear elements softened with curves. A few years ago, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design in New York hosted The Continuing Curve, an exhibition that looked for the roots of Art Nouveau and its current revivals in the Roccoco period. I enjoyed it, but the seduction of meandering has a much longer history.

 
Images:
1. Arthur Wesley Dow - Bend Of A River, 1898, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
2. Arthur Wesley Dow - Study Of A Marsh In A Color Scheme From Hiroshige, undated, Historic New England.org
3. Arthur Wesley Dow - cover for Modern Art, 1895, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
4. Arthur Wesley Dow - Rain In May, 1907, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC.

11 comments:

Rouchswalwe said...

Ah, you've captured summer beautifully here, Jane. Meandering.

Jane said...

I remember my mother teaching me the difference between a creek and brook, and the smell of salt in the air. I feel sorry for people who don't grow up near the ocean.

Rouchswalwe said...

I grew up near the mighty Main River, but didn't get a taste of the ocean until I lived in southern Japan. What is the difference between a brook and a creek, Jane?

Jane said...

Accordring to old New Englanders, a creek runs through salt marshes, is subject to influence by the tides, and is - of course! - salty. Brooks are inland, freshwater moving waters.

Rouchswalwe said...

Ah-hah! Merci!

bessfones said...

This post brings back a summer day's meander in Turkey and a road trip taken from the coastal ruins of Ephesus to the inland ancient city of Priene. The route followed the course of the beautiful Little Meander sometimes called the Cayster River or Küçük Menderes in Turkish.

Jane said...

Sounds like a delightful expedition. I wonder what the surrounding countryside is like, whether it looks much like coastal Massachusetts.

bessfones said...

Unfortunately, I don't know coastal Massachusetts at all...yet. My Massachusetts ancestors were banished by Winthrop for following Anne Hutchinson and eventually took refuge in New Amsterdam.

Jane said...

Welcome to the refuseniks' club! My first ancestor who came here from London, was expelled from Massachusetts, then expelled from Connecticut, and ended up founding Providence Plantation, where they weren't too happy with him, either. No wonder he wrote two books - "The Bloody Tenant" and "The Bloody Tenant Yet Unbowed."

bessfones said...

Thank you Jane. My refuseniks helped found Portsmouth, RI and became Quakers but many preferred the uneasy "tolerance" under Peter Stuyvesant. His wife Judith spoke some English apparently and befriended some of the English ladies in her midst. Stuyvesant wasn't at all pleased when the Quakers stirred it up with their "Flushing Remonstrance".

drawingtools said...

An inspiring post. I love the idea about summertime and experience brings an amazing artwork. Being on a wonder of emotion urges positive insights that brings out the talent more naturally and artistically. drawing