30 July 2010

Hector Guimard: The Curve Bends Toward Abstraction

"Line in Guimard, just as in the Japanese guides, is a living incarnation of natural laws. Thus, in an old Japanese manual, there is a catalogue of eighteen different types of line, with such descriptions as ‘floating silk threads’ ropes’ water lines’ or ‘bent metal wire.’ This latter was particularly subtly used by Guimard, who had an inborn sense of the inner tension of line.” - Dore Ashton in Le Monde, 22 May 1970:

French architect Hector Guimard (1867-1942) realized the decorative possibilities of glazed lava, a substance made from mixing pulverized lava with clay when he built a villa for Louis Coillot, (1898-1900) a ceramics manufacturer in Lille who monopolised the distribution of the material. Guimard sided the entire facade of Maison Coilliot in lava stone.
Guimard also used glazed lava to great effect in the nameplate for Castel Henriette (built 1899 - demolished 1969), as well as for his famous signs for the Paris Metro. He designed the graphics for his signs, and here we can see him introduce geometric elements that tend toward asbtraction. The outline of the letters and their rhythm give added emphasis and harmonize the pinks and yellows he used.
In a twist of fate, a largely forgotten Guimard died in New York City in 1942, after fleeing Paris to ensure the safety of his Jewish wife.
Images: Musee d'Orsay, Paris, photographer: Rene-Gabriel Ojeda.

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.

12 July 2010

Plum Island




Dear Readers - Today marks the beginning of the fourth year for this website. Originally, I intended it to be a place to try out ideas that I might use in my freelance writing. I was surprised when the site began to attract attention - quite the opposite sequence of events that most of us who sell our work encounter. As some of you may have noticed, I am a relentless reviser/editor; the Internet gives free rein to these tendencies. So, to mark three years I revisit the first post, Plum Island, a place from my childhood. And thanks to you who have shared your thoughts here. - JAL.







“Eastward, the ocean spreads inimitably. At a small distance from the shore, Plumb-island, a wild and fantastical sand-beach, reaching quite to Ipswich, ten or twelve miles, is thrown up by the joint power of winds and waves into the thousand wanton figures of a snowdrift.” - Timothy Dwight

I do not know of any country which is wild and so diverse within so small a compass. This little piece of land, small when you measure it in square miles, is unlike any other place; nor have I found anyone who has seen anything like it.” – Arthur Wesley Dow





"The sea was meant to be looked at from the shore as the mountains from the plain." - James Russell Lowell, c. 1850.


"The impression made by this landscape cannot be realized without the experience. It was a compound of wildness, gloom and solitude. I feel myself transported to the borders of Nubia." - Timothy Dwight, President of Yale and inveterate traveler of New England back roads, in 1802.


"Salt marshes set about with round-topped hills, barberry hedges along old shore walls that climb over the upland pastures, grassy spaces patterned with salvia and bayberry, wild apple trees in the thickets, wide fields of daisies and frost flowers, shore lines of goldenrod and scarlet lilies, dark marsh islands, far and near, reflected in the creek and salt pond, haystacks crowding into the horizon's perspective, a blue line of sea beyond the distant sand hills, such is the familiar (Ipswich) landscape, varied by season and sky and tide." - Arthur Wesley Dow, introduction to a book of poems that he illustrated, By Salt Marshes, written by Everett Stanley Hubbard, 1908.

Dow lived at Ipswich, where many of the students at his summer art school (1891-1906) undoubtedly found their way to Plum Island, for recreation and inspiration. B. J. O. Nordfeldt (1878-1955) was one, a Swedish-born printer/painter who joined Dow for summers at the shore. His woodcut The Long Wave (c.1903-1907) may appear to be an idealized image of morning on the island, but it conveys accurately the unceasing energy of the ocean, just as surely as the works Dow, Heade, and others convey the quiet, meandering world of the nearby marshes.













Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) an inlander from Pennsylvania visited Newburyport for the first time in 1862, becoming a marsh convert for life. Heade arrived just as the practice of salt water farming by thrifty Yankees was on the wane. In any case, Heade's paintings capture the rare, never to be forgotten, chartreuse of spartina grass in spring, nodding in the breeze, clouds scudding overhead in waves of shadow. 
"In spring they lie one broad expanse of green,/ O'er which the light winds run with glimmering feet./Here, yellower stripes track out the creek unseen,/ There, darker growths o'er hidden ditches meet." - James Russell Lowell
 
In Indian-Summer Reverie, Lowell wrote pityingly “who sees in them but levels brown and bare” is “Vain to him the gift of sight/ Who cannot in their various incomes share.” New Englanders reserve the word creek for the meandering waters of the salt marshes; all other small bodies of moving water are brooks. Every April, just as the townspeople had to repair the highways, they had to set out beach grass, planted in rows three feet apart.
Agawam, the Indians called the place of lowland marshes, meadows, and salty mists that are the back-story of the daily Atlantic tides. For a child, Agawam issues a siren call to enter its hidden byways, yet it is rather safe as wild nature goes.

The aerial photograph of Plum Island (at top) looks north toward the mouth of the Merrimack River. Out of range of this picture just southeast is the Plum Island Airfield, one of the oldest in continuous operation in the United States, the location of the first experimental flights in the northeastern states in 1910. On the north side of the river is Salisbury Beach, one of many in Essex County.
Functionally, Plum Island is a barrier island on the Atlantic coast in northern Massachusetts; it stretches eleven miles south from Newburyport to the mouth of the Parker River, and is bounded on the west by a tidal estuary, Plum Island Sound.
Newburyport, where I lived, was incorporated in 1634, Ipswich at about the same time. The northern part of Plum Island has been a popular vacation spot since the 19th century; one of the first summer hotels in the country opened there in 1807. Numerous small cottages with salt-scored clapboards sit in rows along the beach. In this summer place where the rules of decorum ar relaxed, sand is casually tracked inside on the feet of children and adults alike and even the admonition to eat all vegetables before anything else can be waived here. In my photo, you can see a line of birds perched on the roof-peak, sentinels on the flyway. To their east is the long shore; to their west the dunes and bogs sloping to the inland marsh.


For early residents, the shore offered an abundant harvest. The littoral, that now-you-see-it, now-you-don't area between high and low tides, is home to cranberry bogs that root in the peat layer below the water, their deep red berries visible to the alert picker. Hay grows in salt marshes, to be harvested by the plucky in low-riding boats, called gundalows, made for towing the harvest to the nearest solid ground. (Notice how the haystack in the picture at right sits on stilts. These are staddles, used to elevate the hay for drying.)

Marsh-haying has a long history in the area, beginning at Plymouth Settlement. Hay fed the livestock and made a good roofing material, so collecting it was vital work for the community. Even today, if you look carefully, you can still see traces on the ground of long-abandoned farm fields, visible in the marshes at low tide. Saltwater farming became a casualty of real estate speculation around 1900, but images of the muffin-shaped haystacks live on in the works of artists and early photographers.
Beach cottages sprouted on the north end of Plum Island, close to Newburyport. Contained there, the larger part of the island remains as nature remakes it, year by year. Even though it was only a couple of miles from home, I remember the excitement of packing up to go stay in this foreign place.
The island is named for the sturdy blue beach plum (Prunus maritima) that roots in the rills traced by the wind on the sand. Those who have tasted beach plum jam may have savored the sweetest plums in the world. While cranberry production has been largely commercialized, Cornell University is currently working with beach plum growers through its sustainable agriculture program. Visitors still bear away jars of homemade beach plum jam in triumph.
Larger than rills are guzzles, low spots on the beach where the sea flows into the marshes when the tide is high or during a storm. These shallow channels through the sandbar are only visible at low tide.
Most of Plum Island's 4,600 acres remain undisturbed, preserved as the Parker National Wildlife Refuge. A resting place for sea and shore birds on the Great Atlantic Flyway that stretches from the Canadian Maritime to the eastern Caribbean, more than 270 species stop here and 25,000 ducks have been counted here at one time at the height of the migration season. What they make of human beach-goers, with their paraphernalia of chairs, umbrellas, and coolers, has yet to be revealed.
Images:
1. Daniel Reinhardt - aerial photograph of Plum Island, 2006.

2. Arthur Wesley Dow - Moonrise , c. 1895-1898, Terra Museum of Art.
3. B. J. O. Nordfeldt - The Long Wave, 19096, New York Public Library.4. Arthur Wesley Dow - In The Salt Marshes, woodcut, c.1895-1898, Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco.
5. Arthur Wesley Dow - The Dragon, cyanotope, c. 1904, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

6. Martin Johnson Heade - Newbury Marshes At Sunset, 1862, Memorial Gallery of Art, Rochester, NY.
7. Early 20th century postcard of Plum Island Lighthouse. c. 1911.
8. Jane Librizzi - photograph of cottage on Plum Island, July, 1980.
9. Circa 1910 postcard - General Store Of Geo. S. Houghton & Bird's Eye View of Plum Island.

10. Early 20th century postcard - Staddles of Hay, Newburyport Marshes.
11. Early 20th century postcard - Ye Olden Times, Salisbury, Mass.