“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.
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.