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Thoughts from the First Day of Toronto Pursuits 2014

July 15, 2014 in Art, Canada Travel, Classical Pursuits, Famous Artists, Famous Museums, Great Artists, Special Events, Summer Fun, Toronto Pursuits

Susan Lahey signs up for Twitter Just before giving her talk on Chinese Decorative Arts.

Guest Post by Ann Kirkland of Classical Pursuits

The first full day of Toronto Pursuits was a great success. It was great to see and meet some of the new people and find out about how they discovered Toronto Pursuits. Some people said they were here for their love of discussions and great ideas. Others were from Toronto and lived here their entire lives but never knew about it. Many were repeat attendees who keep coming back to Toronto to join us and partake in sessions and discussions.

“The Forbidden City” Exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

On Monday, we started the day with sessions and then after lunch had a great talk from Susan Lahey and learned more about an insider’s view of Chinese Decorative Art. We took a trip with her to the Royal Ontario Museum to see an exhibition on “The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors.” Ian Scott shared his wealth of knowledge of Eastern and Western opera.

To finish off a rewarding day, we had an intimate reception at the Park Hyatt in Toronto. The week is just getting started and there is much more to come. Stay tuned!

Read more about Classical Pursuits and the Toronto Pursuits program.

Happy Halloween From Literary Traveler!

October 31, 2012 in American Authors, American History, Bookstores, Classic Literature, Dark New England, Edgar Allen Poe, Famous Museums, Halloween, History, Holidays Literary Traveler, Horror, Horror Writers, Massachusetts Travel, New England Travel, Psychology, Short Stories, Stephen King, Vampires in Literature

Literary Traveler has been very excited about Halloween…and it’s finally here! To celebrate, we’d like to show off all the work we did in advance of the spookiest day of the year. All Treats.

Halloween Reflections – “Halloween is a time when the veil between the dead and the living was at its thinnest.”

Mercy Brown: American Vampire – “Like the vampire, tuberculosis visited ordinary communities seemingly at random – preying upon family members, slowly robbing them of their life and turning them into fevered ghostly individuals with a persistent bloody cough.”

The House of the Seven Gables – “If Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables house was once haunted by the uneasy ghosts of family (his ancestors were involved in the Salem witch trials), the resident ghost today seems to have the philanthropic and busy spirit of Miss Emmerton.”

The Hawthorne Hotel – “Despite general manager Judi Lederhaus’ assertions, hundreds of tourists stream into the stately lodgings ready to embark on a supernatural safari.”

The Psychology of Salem – “The most dangerous element of the teenage mind is the inability to grasp the concept of linear thinking. Some teenagers cannot see beyond immediate gratification.  This makes decision making tricky.”

Master of Creep: Edgar Allen Poe – “Poe created complete universes in which the reader starts to believe the narrator.”

The Salem Witch Trials – “In 1692, fear spread through Salem, Massachusetts like contagion, infecting the minds of the mainstream, and claiming the lives of those among the periphery.”

Literary Traveler Goes to Salem – “I mosey by a zombie playing the saxophone for a couple of onlookers and I am officially sold on the city of Salem.”

Living Literary History at Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables

October 19, 2012 in American Authors, American History, American literature, Dark New England, Famous Museums, Gothic Literature, Halloween, Holidays Literary Traveler, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Travel, New England Travel, Travel

Located on the waterfront in Salem, Massachusetts, The House of the Seven Gables is a higgledy-piggledy pile of secret staircases, parlors and garrets – an eccentric collage architectural styles that has borne the stamp of every owner who lived there. But the strangest thing about the house is that, since the publication of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel of the same name in 1851, The House of the Seven Gables has been gradually evolving to look more like the house of Hawthorne’s imagination.  As our fabulous and knowledgeable tour guide, Jeff Horton, explains, “in a sense, the fictional novel saved the real house.”

It’s clear that, for Horton, associate to the group tour coordinator of The Gables, this is not just a job, but a personal passion.  Upon learning that we are literature enthusiasts, he insists on running to his car to procure his own 1922 edition of Hawthorne’s book, animatedly pointing out that it was edited by a high school teacher from Somerville, Massachusetts,  Literary Traveler’s home-base.

Horton is extremely well-versed in all aspects of the Turner-Ingersoll House (the official name of The Gables), as well as the Nathaniel Hawthorne House, where the author was born.  The latter was located across town until 1958, when, to the delight of certain Hawthorne enthusiasts, it was transported on a flat bed truck to its present location next door to The Gables.

Originally built in 1668, the Turner-Ingersoll House is the oldest wooden mansion still standing in New England.  Upon the start of the tour we are struck by the low ceilings, built to conserve heat.  Horton segues into an overview of the hardships of seventeenth century living, which far exceed ducking through doorways, and than swiftly recovers our spirits with a little historian humor: “we love history – it’s like The Hunger Games everyday of your life.”

One of the most surprising things that we learn on our tour is that Nathaniel Hawthorne never knew the seven gabled house that he wrote about. Its first owner was the wealthy merchant family Turner, which accumulated a fortune through its involvement with the ‘Triangle Trade’ in China.  In what was to become a tradition of great wealth lost and gained, the house passed from the Turner family to the Ingersoll family, after the third generation Turner squandered the family fortune. The Ingersoll family, in an attempt to adapt the house to a Federalist style, removed four of the seven gables. It was only through his Ingersoll cousin Susanna’s descriptions of the house that Hawthorne conceived of the uncanny seven gabled house of his novel.

And it’s Hawthorne’s book that is the reason the house is preserved today. A fan of the author’s work, Caroline O. Emmerton, who acquired the house in 1908, founded The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association to commemorate the literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne and educate the community. If Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables house was once haunted by the uneasy ghosts of family (his ancestors were involved in the Salem witch trials), the resident ghost today seems to have the philanthropic and busy spirit of Miss Emmerton. Emmerton replaced the remaining gables, turned the back room of the house into a sweet-shop like the one in Hawthorne’s novel, and used the profits from tours to educate local Polish immigrant children. The Settlement Association still works within the Dominican community to help immigrants today.

With the assistance of the architect Joseph Everett Chandler, who was known for his controversial restorations, Miss Emmerton hammed up the house’s Gothic credentials by restoring the staircase embedded in the house’s chimney as a ‘secret’ one, complete with false paneling and a concealed lever to open the secret door. This staircase was designed as a literal representation of how the novel’s character, Clifford Pyncheon, moved from room to room without being seen. Thus the house’s Gothic elements were, within less than a century of Hawthorne’s death, no longer fearful evidence of the house’s bad karma, but of great literary worth.

As we finish up the tour, I wonder whether this strange house – like so many other mansions before it – has been fixed in this perfected, seemingly final state, nevermore to evolve. As a national tourist site, it would seem so.

However, Horton gives us a more nuanced impression.  In the famous accounting room, typically closed in October due to the heavy flow of tourists, he shows us a map – a battered, old looking artifact that seems to fit perfectly into the room’s furnishings next to an authentic wooden chair.  But we soon learn that the map was created by a museum employee, who baked it in his oven to create its time-worn, weathered look. Horton’s advice says a lot about both the house and our view of history: “You have to be careful when you come to museums”, he warns, “things aren’t always what they seem.”

Site of Iconic Wyeth Painting Named National Landmark

July 18, 2011 in American Art, Famous Artists, Famous Museums, Great Artists, Maine travel, Uncategorized

Andrew Wyeth’s art is quiet. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, whose works scream out for attention through bright colors and bold shapes (Rothko and Mondrian), or seduce with lush layers of paint and incomprehensible abstractions (Pollock and de Kooning), Wyeth’s paintings are subtle. They whisper their intention to the viewer. Muted colors and barren landscapes mark Wyeth’s most recognizable works, but all of his paintings share a common sense of stark intimacy.

I’m not the only one who feels this way about Wyeth’s art. Earlier this month, the house in Maine depicted in his most famous work, Christiana’s World (above), was named a national landmark. “It’s now affirmation that it’s an American icon,” said Christropher Brownawell, executive director of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, in an interview with the Associated Press. On July 1, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced that The Olson House, along with 14 other locations, is now officially recognized by the U.S. Government.

The news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with American art. Though he didn’t fit into any of the major artistic movements of the 1940s, Wyeth was an exceedingly popular artist; something about his pieces felt recognizable in that post-depression era. I like to think it’s because his scenes are so touching and instill an immediate familiarity in the viewer: we can’t help but feel as though we’ve been there. His style may not have been as flashy as that of his contemporaries, but Wyeth’s work has long been recognized as different, respected in its own right. Quietly, it captured the era.

Painted in 1948, Christina’s World was titled after the woman who inspired the image, Wyeth’s neighbor, Christina Olson. But while the painting is ostensibly about her, Wyeth did not use Olson as a primary model. Instead, he called upon his wife to pose for the scene, recreating the moment he looked out the window and saw his neighbor, who suffered from polio, making her slow crawl across the yard. Looking at this painting, I believe I can see the love he had for his wife, and the sad respect he had for his subject. The landscape is bleak and muted, but there is a tenderness in the way Wyeth depicts Olson. I feel instinctively, as many have before me, that this piece captures something essentially human, something even bigger than the scene, more important than the farmhouse.

Though I’ve seen the painting in person—it hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York—I haven’t yet visited the location in Cushing, Maine. But somehow, I feel as though I have been there, as though the moment he depicted is not in a place or a time, but happening constantly. It’s an ineffable thing, but one I’m not quite ready to mar with a visit to the actual location. But despite my personal reluctance, I’m happy to know that no matter what, the Olson House will be there when I’m ready to see it.

My Day at The Met

May 3, 2011 in Famous Artists, Famous Museums, Travel to New York City

Peter Kubicek w/ Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm / Photo by Sheva Tauby

On a sunny and warm spring day, I traveled from my Westchester home on the express bus down to New York City.  After a pleasant ride (only 38 minutes!), I arrived at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on 85th and 5th.  The cherry blossoms in full bloom swayed with the breeze.  The emerald green of Central Park lured me as I sat on a bench, watching the joggers go round and round.  Finally, it was time to enter The Met.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but for the sake of LT honesty, I will.  After living in Brooklyn for two years and Westchester County for almost four years, this was my first time at The Met.  How shameful.  I’d even visited the Guggeheim, MoMA and The Museum of Natural History.

However, I couldn’t have chosen a better day and a better tour guide.  Peter Kubicek, subject of our latest interview, was my guide.  He earned a coveted docent position seven years ago and has been giving tours ever since.

I was first taken by the massive Auguste Rodin sculpture, The Burghers of Calais.  To me, it looked like a tribute to suffering and injustice.  The gargantuan feet of the men embedded in the earth, the nooses around their necks, the hands of despair covering the face of one man.  They all stood silently but bravely in black, robes flowing.

What struck me as we walked along was how Central Park was so well integrated with The Met.  Yes, of course, The Met is in The Park, but I expected a dark museum–like the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.  To my surprise, the windows gave way to the bright pink cherry blossoms, blue sky and cityscape.  I had the museum and the natural world.  I was having my cake and eating it too.

As the Monet and Picasso rooms were flanked by rowdy European kids on their spring vacations, we sidestepped the frenzy and opted for the serenity of the Asian world.  The Chinese Scholar’s Court had these interesting rocks, which reminded me of a cross between a volcanic rock and the elephant man.  The bizarre harshness of these structures mixed with the delicate, green plant life represented the balance–what Kubicek referred to as the “yin/yan” (or duality of opposites) the Chinese like to have in their gardens.  If only we Americans could achieve such a thing.

But perhaps my favorite of the day was the Jackson Pollock.  The painting entitled Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)–as seen in the photo above–was fitful.  As Kubicek stated, “there is no place for the eye to rest.”  This was true.  Calamity was not in Pollock’s interest.  The painting, to me, represented Pollock’s mind (perhaps alcohol-fueled mind), which seemed to never shut off.  Not until his untimely death.

My day at The Met was fun and refreshing.  It is a museum that lets the city in.  It breathes the life the people, the excitement of art and the spirit of New York.  Even though I am not a New Yorker, I almost felt like one in The Met.

Please continue reading Interview with Peter Kubicek, Author of Holocaust Memoir 1000: 1 ODDS.

To sign up for one of Peter’s tours, please see tour info.  His next scheduled tour is May 15, 2011.

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