Saturday, July 24, 2010

Punch's Cousin Starts Monday

Remember to come back on Monday to read Chapter One of the new Blog-Novel, Punch's Cousin.  Monday-Saturday every week, a new chapter will be posted.  I can't wait to share this novel with you!

Everyone Should Know Guignol

Who is Guignol? There’s something familiar about the word…guignol. We use the phrase "Grand Guignol” to refer to performances with a heightened emotional—almost hysterical—quality, often of melodramatic and highly stylized horror. Films such as Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and Die, Die my Darling are often called “Grand Dame Guignol” playing on the phrase and referring to their “movie queen” stars.

You may have heard of the Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol—The Theater of the Grand Guignol. Founded in 1894 in a former Parisian chapel, by Oscar Méténier, The Theater of The Grand Guignol was dedicated to “naturalistic” performances about subjects deemed not appropriate for mainstream theater—prostitution, poverty, mental illness, and murder among others. Often filled with grisly, shocking special effects and brutal representations of horrifying acts, the patrons of the theater would often pass out from fright and revulsion. After many changes in management and direction, the theater closed in the 1960’s, but not before leaving an indelible mark on the art world. In fact, this theater inspired Anne Rice’s Theater of the Vampires.

But, who is Guignol?

Guignol is a puppet. In fact, the “Grand Guignol” means “Big Puppet.” Specifically, Guignol was a puppet introduced to Lyon, France in 1808 by Laurent Mourguet, a silk-weaver-turned-dentist who used puppet shows to attract people to his traveling dental practice. At first borrowing characters from Italian Commedia dell'arte, Mourguet soon created his own characters, Gnafron, and then Guignol as well as others. Guignol became a means of offering up political and social commentary. Though clever, generous and kind, the character of Guignol soon became associated with buffoonery and, even today, the word is often used as an insult. The broad, stylized performances at these puppet shows inspired the name for the naturalistic, yet melodramatic, plays at the Theater of the Grand Guignol.

The Guignol character has his roots in a long tradition of puppetry. He is also related to other similar puppets. In fact, you could say, he is a cousin to Punch and his wife, Judy.

Yes, he is Punch’s Cousin

Guignol Puppet Theater image courtesy of Venetian Red.

Term for the Day: Torchère

While the most common usage of the word torchère refers to a standing lamp (floor lamp) with a bowl-like glass-shade which serves to direct light upward, torchère can also refer to a tall, thin stand for holding a candelabrum.

This French torchère, from about 1840, is ebonized wood and papier mache and is hand-painted in a chinoiserie style.

Where to Shop: Forestwood Antique Mall

If you’re in the Dallas, Texas-area, a visit to Forestwood Antique Mall is a must. With a forty-five thousand square foot show room and over 200 dealers, Forestwood offers thousands of beautiful items. Shari King, Forestwood’s manager, keeps the place running in tip-top shape. Among the many notable dealers at Forestwood, my favorite is Yvette Inness who offers an amazing assortment of antique paintings, objects and furniture. With their lovely tearoom and easy to navigate showroom, Forestwood also boasts one of the best inventories in North Texas. Visit their Web site for more information.

Whatever Happened to the Dining Room?

My dining room with Bertie's fireplace.
I admit that I’m picky about architecture. Obviously, I like antiques and the style of the Victorian and Edwardian Eras. That’s why I live in a Victorian house. I realize that living in a hundred and twenty year old home is not for everyone. However, for me, the formality of the house is appealing.

I’ve noticed that new construction either downplays the formal dining room or doesn’t even feature one at all. The open floor plan and changing views on the way we live and interact has diminished the need for a formal dining room. Many people prefer to use the square footage for a space that’s more useful on a daily basis.

In my family, at my parents’ house, we eat in the dining room on holidays and special occasions. Yes, it’s a lot of work and clean-up, but doing so makes the day seem more special, and we enjoy the experience of sitting as a family, eating a gorgeous meal and taking in the warmth of the room.

Of course, in my own home, Bertie and I don’t eat in my dining room very often (maybe five times in eight years). I do, however, like having one because it makes the house seem like a real home to me. I’m always put off when I see a floor plan without a dining room. For me, it’s a place to display lovely objects and a place to be further removed from the chaos around us. For Bertie, it’s a place to sit in the fireplace on warm days (see below). We each have different priorities.

I’d be curious to hear your opinions on the concept of the dining room. Do you have one? Do you use it? Have you repurposed that room into something else? Feel free to post a comment. I’d like to know what you think.

Decorating Tip: The Warmth of Candles

Aside from their obvious use as a source of light, candles also make for attractive accents around your home. Whether you display a candle in an antique girandole or in a simple glass votive holder, a candle adds a touch of charm and warmth to any room. Candles can be placed in a variety of rooms and places. Wall sconces add an elegant flare. Flanking a fireplace or doorway, or even on their own, a wall sconce reminds us of graceful days past.

When displaying a candle, you may find that the taper is too loose for the candle holder. Wax “candle fitters” can be placed at the base of the candle to stabilize it in the holder. “Candle Fitters” can be found in a variety of places by different makers. I prefer the wax ones because they blend in with the candle and don’t dry out the way foam fitters do.

Another thing to consider is lighting the candles for a moment and then extinguishing them to burn the wick. That gives the candles less of a stagey look and makes them appear to be more natural as if you actually use them.

If you do use your candles, make sure not to leave them unattended. Style is important, but so is safety.

Goal for the Day: Candlelit Evening

With our air conditioners running at full blast and our electric bills rising, our stress is mounting. Let’s make progress in creating our own Belle Époque by setting aside this evening for candlelight. Set an elegant table and dine by candlelight tonight. Aside from being romantic and graceful, everyone looks better by candlelight! If you’re more of a dinner-by-the-TV kind of person, you can still do that. Just light a few scented candles around the room and relax as they flicker around you. Candlelight is soothing. Watch the patterns of the shadows as the candles lazily move in the breeze. Your soul and your electric bill will thank you. Just remember to extinguish the candles before you go to sleep.

Object of the Day: The Girandole

A Girandole Suite
Before gaslight and well before electric light, the world was elegantly lit by candles. Nighttime activities were planned around candlelight and the properties of these flickering luminaries were understood and respected. Even diamonds were cut so that their facets made the most of candlelight.

In France, in the Eighteenth Century, girandoles were handcrafted from the finest materials. A girandole (from the Italian girandola) is an ornamental, branched candleholder. Crafted of silver, brass or gilt metal, these candleholders were decorated with crystal prisms to aid in reflecting and enhancing the light of the candles. Usually considered the most luxurious candleholders, girandole graced the finest homes. Often used in sets called “garniture” (a large central piece and two flanking pieces), the girandole was both a functional and beautiful home appliance. French ciseleurs crafted some magnificent girandole and the practice spread throughout Europe and later to the United States. Often museum pieces, girandole can still be found in some antique stores. Many have been electrified.

Girandole are sometimes attached to pieces of furniture or mirrors, however, in the strictest sense, a girandole is a metal support on a marble base, decorated with crystals.

The set you see pictured here is displayed in my living room. Crafted by the famed American lighting makers, Cornelius and Company of Philadelphia, this rare girandole suite, “The Dancers” dates circa 1830. Original Cornelius of Philadelphia works are difficult to find, displayed in museums with a set in The White House. I found this particular suite in an antique shop in Jefferson, Texas, while on a day-trip with Bertie and my parents a few years ago. Holding long crystal spikes, “The Dancers” sits on the mantle in front of a large Venetian mirror, filling the room with a beautiful assortment of colors.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Odd Antique Image for the Day: Head of John the Baptist

Study of the Head of John the Baptist
O.G. Rejlander, 1850's
I leave you on this Friday night with what strikes me as a very strange image.  I'm all for a nice picture of John the Baptist's decapitated head.  In fact, I've rather grown to enjoy them over the many years that I've looked at and studied religious artwork.  However, this one from the Royal Collection (also seen in the book I mention below) strikes me as particularly odd.  I think it's because it's a photograph, and, that's just...well, odd.  Still, it pleases me that in the 1850's  artists were trying to master the new art of photography, and that O.G. Rejlander took the time to stage this image and photograph it so lovingly.  It makes me want to take my iPhone and try to recreate this.  But, though equally strange, the result wouldn't be nearly as charming.  Always trying to make something pretty, those Victorians...even martyrdom.

Check out this Web page about the Royal Collection.  It's fascinating.

Recommended Reading: Crown and Camera: The Royal Family and Photography

HRH, Prince Albert
Prince Albert, in 1842, earned the distinction of being the first member of the British Royal Family to be photographed. Crown and Camera: The Royal Family and Photography chronicles the photographs of the royals from that very first image of Queen Victoria’s beloved husband all the way to 1910. Filled with rare and beautiful images, this book compiled by Frances Dimond and Roger Tyler, actually served as the catalog to the exhibition of Royal Photography in The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. Many of the images are surprisingly personal and casual. It’s a rare glimpse into the life of the Royal Family during Queen Victoria’s reign, documenting the triumphs and the tragedies of one of the most influential periods of history.

Reminder: Self-Portrait Contest

Remember, the deadline for submissions to our Self-Portrait Contest is Thursday, June 29 at midnight.  Many thanks to those who have already submitted.  They're great!  Again, the rules are rather loose, your self-portrait can anything creative that you think represents you.  Can't wait to see what you submit!

Friday is for Family: Celebrate Nothing!

"Hey, it's cool in here."
Living beautifully means taking time to appreciate what you’ve got. When you get home tonight, look back on your day and find a reason to celebrate. Maybe you didn’t get a paper cut. Maybe you did a great job on a presentation. Maybe the dog sat in the fireplace. Or, perhaps, nothing of note happened at all. All the better! Make a party out of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s just you, your family or every friend you can think of, set aside tonight to enjoy yourself. Do what you love and pause for a moment to remember all the great things you’ve got going for you. If we can all do that one day a week, we might all calm down a little bit. We need more celebrating if we’re going to succeed in building our own Belle Époque.

Term for the Day: Escutcheon

An escutcheon on an antique secretaire.
An escutcheon, in the case of clocks, architecture or furnishings, is a plate that surrounds a keyhole or lock cylinder. The escutcheon serves to protect the lock or winding mechanism from damage or scratching and also prevents damage to outer area around the keyhole.

Mother of Pearl escutcheon on a papier mache writing slope.
Most escutcheons are metal, however, sometimes they can be crafted of other materials such as porcelain, bone, mother of pearl or enamel.

A Common Misconception: Marble Clocks

A large slate clock in my dining room.
Many stone clocks—especially those made in France during the mid-to-late Nineteenth-Century—are commonly called, “Marble Clocks.” Usually black, white or gray, but also in a variety of other colors, these clock cases are not made of marble, but rather are made of slate. With an attractive shine, slate offers a weight to these clocks which makes them the ideal base for a pendulum clock. Slate also makes a perfect background for gilt and ormolu ornamentation. Remember, if you own a slate clock; always make sure to lift it by the base. Due to its weight, slate is prone to chipping and cracking. Lifting by anything other than the base can cause damage to the clock’s case.

Film of the Week: All This, and Heaven Too

While 1939 is considered the greatest year in film history, 1940 offered some outstanding films as well. One of the biggest productions of 1940 was the Bette Davis vehicle, All This, and Heaven Too.

Directed by the great Anatole Litvak, the film also starred Charles Boyer and Barbara O’Neil. Miss O’Neil is best known as Mrs. Gerald O’Hara from Gone with the Wind. Set in France in 1847, the film centers on Davis’ character, Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, a young governess who arrives at the palatial home of the Duc de Praslin (Boyer) and his over-emotional wife (O’Neil). The governess’ easy way with the children charms the Duc thereby enraging the jealousy of the Duchesse. As the Duc and Henriette fall in love, the Duchesse manipulates those around her to create a surprising plot twist.

Originally planned to be filmed in Technicolor, the picture features enormous, grand sets, gorgeous costumes, masterful writing and top-notch performances. Bette Davis is at her best in one of her rare good-girl roles while O’Neil is riveting as the increasingly insane Duchesse (a performance which earned her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination). Definitely a must-see, All This, and Heaven Too is the perfect film to watch as you get your creative juices flowing.

Goal for the Day: Make Time for Art

Some days, we feel as if we barely have time to breathe. Between our work and home responsibilities, most of us have very little time for relaxation, and, when we do, we only have the strength to sit in front of the television. However, you may find that one way to relax is to stretch yourself creatively. Throughout all the mundane things we do each day, our minds become increasingly hungry. Our imaginations crave an outlet. So, when you do have time to relax, why not take some time to let your imagination out? All of us have some artistic talent and all of our talents are unique. Think about what you like to do. Do you draw? Do you paint? Do you play a musical instrument?

Make time to do the creative activities that you enjoy. Write a short story or a poem. Draw a picture. Compose a tune. You can even get a coloring book and some crayons and color while you relax in front of the TV. I like to do beadwork—boxes, plaques. I enjoy the feel of the beads, the colors that they reflect in the light and the limitless possibilities for creating patterns and images. Working on something artistic and enjoyable is an excellent way to rest your body and let your mind and spirit get some exercise. Make some time for art. You’ll feel a lot better for it.

Object of the Day: Franche-Comtoise Clocks

These unusual clocks have a lot of personality. Sometimes called “oeil de boeuf” (Bull’s Eye) or “Morez,” many fall into the category of “Spring Driven” clocks. Many of them are “Repeaters” meaning that hour is chimed twice. Produced near Morbier in the Franche-Comté region of France, near the Swiss border, from the late 17th century to the beginning of the 20th, these clocks are decidedly French in appearance. With their scalloped hardwood cases (always ebonized), a Morez clock was often decorated with Mother of Pearl inlay.

Occasionally, other materials were used such as the mercury glass in the one pictured to the right. Two of these clocks grace my home, one from the 1850’s, another dated earlier. I am always tickled by the Repeater in my living room. It’s very insistent. “It’s ten o’clock.” “It’s STILL ten o’clock.” Comtois clocks (and their long-case and bracket clock cousins, the Morbier clocks) are increasingly difficult to find. However, you’ll still come upon one in an antique shop now and again. They’re a very good investment, and, their ticking becomes the heartbeat of the home.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Contest: Submit Your Self Portrait

My love of portraiture is well-known (I suppose, to those who know me). For me, a portrait is monumental and lasting. I find portraiture to be one of the most moving art forms. Of all portraits, however, the self-portrait is the most touching. And, so, I’d like to introduce a contest to Stalking the Belle Époque. I invite all of you to submit your own self-portraits to me. It can be anything…a photograph, a drawing, a sculpture…anything. And, remember, for our purposes, a self-portrait doesn’t have to be literal. It can be anything that represents you. Email your image to me. On Friday, July 30, I’ll announce the winner. The winner’s image will be posted here at Stalking the Belle Époque. I look forward to seeing you!

Above image:  Yes, that's me.  It's a drawing I did recently as part of a set that I will call, "Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner."  That's "Breakfast."..a rather accurate representation of the glazed look I have at the start of the day.

Term for the Day: Parure

A parure is a matching set of jewelry, a custom that began to be very popular in the Seventeenth Century. Most specifically, a parure is an entire matching suite or wardrobe of jewelry and can include a necklace, earrings, brooch, bracelet, a comb, a diadem and other pieces. Very often, the individual pieces of a parure can be changed or modified with various hooks and clasps so that each item can be worn in different ways. Usually the stuff of royalty and the elite, the parure was an indication of station. The Emperor Napoleon was especially fond of giving such suites to his wife, Josephine. Some magnificent sets can be seen in the crown jewels of England and France.

Garnet Parure image courtesy of The Three Graces.

Web Site Review: The Best Source for Sparkle

As a collector, I’m always searching for outstanding antique and estate jewelry. One of the best selections I’ve ever seen is online. The Three Graces offers a truly exceptional assortment of estate and antique jewelry from the pre-Georgian to more modern pieces. Owned by Lisa M. Stockhammer, The Three Graces is located near Austin, Texas with an office in Houston. With eight years of experience online, The Three Graces is recognized as one of the leading dealers of jewels in the industry. Their Web site includes a sumptuous collection of diamonds, precious gemstones and truly unusual works of the jeweler’s art.  They even have some lovely stickpins! I especially like the platinum and diamond monkey stickpin. If you’re looking for the perfect engagement ring, a unique gift or a beautiful bauble, this is the place. A visit to their site will have you drooling! Their Web site also offers a listing of their jewelry by era. And, I have to say, their descriptions and photographs of each piece are superb. A handy resource they’ve included on their site described each time period, special instructions on how to care for antique jewelry and a guide for selecting the perfect cut for you. What a joy! I applaud The Three Graces for their incredible selection and for doing their part in making this a much more beautiful era.

Announcing: Punch's Cousin--a new blog-novel

Coming Monday, July 26, I will launch a new “Blog Novel” called Punch’s Cousin here at Stalking the Belle Époque. Each day, you will have the opportunity to read a new chapter. I’m pleased to offer this free-of-charge to my readers. 

Punch’s Cousin is an historical novel set in England and New Orleans in the Mid-19th Century. Lord Julian Molliner has been given strict instructions. His mother--Her Grace, Pauline, the Duchess of Fallbridge—furious that her daughter, Lady Barbara, has fled England to avoid her marriage to a baron, has ordered Julian to find the wayward girl. Agoraphobic Julian is not eager to leave the safety of Fallbridge Hall, however, he cannot resist his mother’s commands. Julian finds himself in New Orleans in 1852. With rumors of an epidemic of The Yellow Fever swelling around him, Julian must find his sister in The Vieux Carre. Under the watchful eye of his valet, a spy for the Duchess, Julian must keep a secret. His sister has stolen “The Fallbridge Blue,” a priceless blue diamond, from the family’s treasures. Will Julian find his sister and the diamond before both slip into the hands of the notorious “Elegant Ogress?”

Punch’s Cousin is a companion novel to my The Garnet Red. I’m excited to offer this to all of you before anyone else sees it. Come back on Monday for the first installment!

Gem of the Week: Tourmaline

I’ve always had a fondness for tourmalines, particularly the dark green variety. A popular gemstone in Victorian and Edwardian jewelry, the tourmaline comes in a wide range of colors and vibrancies: red, pink, black, blue, green, yellow, brown, colorless and many shades in-between. Originally brought to Europe from Sri Lanka by the Dutch East India Company, the tourmaline was considered a curiosity due to its unusual array of colors. According to Egyptian legend, as the tourmaline passed from the center of the Earth to the top, it passed through a rainbow and absorbed its many colors, thereby earning the name, “The Gemstone of the Rainbow.” The name tourmaline literally translates to “stone with mixed colors.” Some are even “color change” stones, meaning that the color will show differently in natural, candle or incandescent light. Red tourmaline is called “rubellite.” Green tourmaline is often called, “chrome tourmaline.” The king of all tourmalines is the “Paraiba Tourmaline.” This strain with its intense bluish-green color was discovered in 1987 in Brazilian, Paraiba.

The tourmaline is a gem with many moods and can be perfect in dozens of different settings. Once again becoming popular with designers, the tourmaline continues to show its many faces in a brilliant way.

Above: 19th Century Tourmaline and Diamond Ring from The Three Graces.

Decorating Tip: Drama with Gems

Many of your probably have some pieces of vintage costume jewelry (or even a modern piece you don’t wear anymore) stuck in a drawer or in your jewelry box. If you like the piece, but just don’t wear it, why not repurpose it? Brooches, pins, earrings and bracelets can be displayed in your home for a bit of sparkle and added drama. Pin a brooch to a lampshade or throw pillow. Display pieces in a shadow box. Hand an earring or a bracelet on a figurine, drawer pull window shade. For just a pop of elegant shimmer, this is an excellent way to use what you already have.

Recommended Reading: Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry

Few celebrities are as associated with jewelry as Elizabeth Taylor. Long an aficionado of beautiful gems, Miss Taylor has amassed a huge and famous collection of diamonds and magnificent pieces of jewelry. In a collection that includes masterpieces by Cartier, Bulgari and Harry Winston, Miss Taylor also boasts ownership of the 33.10 carat Krupp Diamond and the 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond (seen right). Miss Taylor chronicles the most impressive pieces in her collection and the stories behind each in the colorful book, Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry. Truly, of all her affairs, this is the longest lasting. This book is worth a look if just for the photos alone.

Goal for the Day: Dust off the Heirlooms

While we certainly wouldn't want to wear a valuable family heirloom to mow the lawn, there are certain times to bring out those beautiful pieces you have, but never use.  Perhaps you have your grandfather's ring.  Why not wear it out to dinner on Saturday?  Your mother's watch...she left it to you so you could enjoy it.  Wear it to work one day!

This just doesn't apply to jewelry.  Do you have a set of china, crystal or sterling that's been in the family?  Take it out and use it for a holiday dinner.  Yes, of course, everyone should be very careful with it.  But, you should use it.  I believe that our antiques and beautiful possessions lose some of their spirit if they're not used.  We do want to treat them with respect, but what good are they if we don't see them?

Not only are you bringing some style to your everyday life, but it's an excellent way to remember the people we loved and the time we spent with them.

Object of the Day: An Unusual Stickpin named Mollie

Meet Mollie. Mollie is a stickpin. I would say she’s from the early to mid-Nineteenth Century before stickpins became widely mass-produced. Mollie is one-of-a-kind. A large amethyst is surrounded in gold, and topped with acanthus leaves which support a diamond. On the central facet of the amethyst, the face of a Byzantine Empress is enameled and set (within the amethyst itself) with black and white seed pearls, rubies and diamonds. The detail of the enamel and gem-work is amazing. Reflective surfaces are difficult to photograph, so the pictures don’t do it justice.

I’ve been collecting stickpins for several years. Again, these fall in that very personal category of antiques. Objects that were worn by other people seem very special to me. Of course, the stickpin was used by a gentleman to hold the folds of his cravat (and later, necktie) in place. Stickpins were initially worn by upper class British men in the early Nineteenth century. Later, the trend caught on and stayed in vogue well into the 1930’s, later being replaced in fashion by tie bars. There’s something about stickpins that I just adore. I think it’s that they were very often figural, and the people that designed these pins were not afraid to be creative. I have been fortunate to find a good many interesting pins. Mollie is one of my favorites.

Mollie was named by Chris Enebo--the amazing jewelry dealer--from whom I purchased her. I promised she would retain her name, and so she has. Mollie has a good home with her other stickpin brothers and sisters. I wear mine occasionally though not in a tie. When I do wear one, I usually wear it in the lapel of my jacket.

Though increasingly difficult to find, stickpins are a great investment and a fun collectible. They’re also a great way to bring a little elegance and glamour into your life.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Soundtrack to your personal "Beautiful Era."

A beautiful world is more than just color and light.  Some of our most moving experiences come from sound.  What sounds are your favorites?  What's the soundtrack for your Belle Époque? Saying that music plays with our emotions is an understatement of the greatest magnitude. Every generation since the beginning of human time has had some kind of music that has helped define it. What music makes you smile, makes you cry, makes you remember? Whether it’s Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, “Begin the Beguine” or the theme tune from Bewitched, every song makes you think of something, makes you feel something.

For me, certain songs have great significance. The theme tune from The Burns and Allen Show-- "Love Nest" by Louis A Hisch and Otto Harbach—makes me think of Bertie because on the day he was adopted, my mother made up a little song for him to that tune. As Time Goes By makes me think of my parents since that’s the song from their wedding (I wasn’t there, obviously). Verdi’s Requiem reminds me of Princess Diana’s sudden death. The theme tune from Wishbone reminds me of the time I spent working on that show. Anything by Tom Waits makes me think of my good friend, Whirligig, and attending his concert together a few years ago. The song, “Monkey and Bear,” by Joanna Newsom reminds me of my own life. The list is endless.

So, if you were creating the playlist for your beautiful era, what would you pick? I can’t wait to hear your answers.

Above painting by W.A. Young, 1874, from my collection.

Decorating Tip: Creating the Unexpected

Part of keeping your home décor exciting is adding something unexpected. Decorating during The Belle Époque was about color, elegance, excitement and showcasing important, interesting objects. We can employ this principle today in our own homes.

For example, you can display a picture in an unexpected place. Not only does this add excitement to a room, but serves as an excellent way to create the perfect backdrop for something you value.

In my own home, I display paintings in unusual places all the time. I think this creates drama in the room. You can hang a picture on a bookshelf, in front of drapery on a window (making sure the painting is protected from damaging light), you can lean a picture on a chair that’s never used or create a grouping with a picture and other objects on a desk or sideboard. Use your imagination. The possibilities are limitless.

Word of the Day: Pelmet

A pelmet is another word for a cornice.  These decorative features are hung as a framework above a window.  Usually made of wood which is painted, stained or covered in fabric, a pelmet serves several purposes.  First, it conceals drapery hardware.  Secondly, it acts as further insulation.  A pelmet is similar to a valance, however, a valance is made entirely of fabric.  Adding a pelmet to existing draperies is an excellent way of creating a sense of grandeur in a room by giving the windows greater height and creating a new architectural element. 

Goal for the Day: Take a Walk

While very few of us will ever look like a living sculpture, we can all take care of our bodies, and consequently our minds and souls.  One of the best ways to get some exercise is to take a walk around your neighborhood, or even around a local indoor our outdoor mall.  Walking gives you a chance to get your heart pumping, but also an opportunity to fire up your mind.  It's a great chance to look around your neighborhood and see what you've been missing from inside your car.  Take a look at the colors around you--the sky, the plants, the houses, the signs.  Enjoy nature and enjoy the work of other humans--architecture, landscaping.  Make a point of finding five things that interest you each time you take a walk.  You won't regret it.  Just be careful during these hot summer months.  Walk in the morning or early evening when the weather is a little less brutal and always make sure to have some water handy.  Another great item to have on a walk is a "cooling bandana."  Filled with crystals which hold cold water, a few minutes in the refrigerator are all these bandanas need to keep you cool while you stroll. 

Object of the Day: “Fructidor” by Mathurin Moreau

This large spelter sculpture by Mathurin Moreau has stood in my bedroom for the last seven years. Mathurin Moreau (1822-1912) was a French sculptor from the celebrated Moreau family of sculptures which included August Moreau. Mathurin sculpted in the “Academic” style which was popular during this time period. Moreau first exhibited at the Salon in 1848. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1897. In 1912, Mathurin Moreau was named mayor of the nineteenth arrondissement of Paris and a street was named in his honor.

Fructidor was most likely sculpted in the 1860’s. Named for the twelfth month of the French Republican Calendar (Fruit), the sculpture depicts a young man harvesting grapes. Masterfully sculpted, the figure appears to have motion and life and seems to be ready to leap from his base at any moment.

Mathurin Moreau was a master sculptor of the highest caliber. In the United States, he is rarely mentioned, however his influence on the French sculptors of his time is obvious.

Moment in Time: "Couple in New York City"

In 1954, photographer Mildred Grossman captured this charming image of a couple strolling a New York City street.  While not "Belle Époque” strictly speaking, it does reflect a grace and dignity that died out long ago. This image shows two people growing old and alike together, facing a day with pride and resolve. They have taken the time to put on their hats, their spring-weight coats, and to carry their neatly-wrapped umbrellas. To prepare themselves for their walk, they put forth no extra effort. Dressing this way was normal to them. To be seen in a less-than-dignified way, would have been anathema to them. What I find most appealing about this image is that with the exception of some minor differences in coat length and detail, this could be a picture of the 1910’s or, even, earlier. What’s become of this sort of self-respect? What happened to a sense of stateliness? It’s not just in the way they’re dressed, it’s the way they’re carrying themselves. It’s not an arrogance, but rather a sense of comfort—comfort with themselves and with each other. We should each try to have that sort of pride each day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Question of the Week: The Art in Your Heart...

There’s art in everything. Look around you. Do you have a favorite object, a favorite thing? Think of something that you consider special. Perhaps it’s a beloved piece of jewelry. Maybe, there’s a family heirloom that you cherish. What makes it special? What makes it beautiful? I invite all of you to share your object with me by posting a comment below. I’m curious to know what makes you happy by bringing beauty to your life.

Painting by M. Antione, from my collection.

Recommended Reading: Royal Palaces

Thinking about Church’s monumental Hudson River Valley home, Olana, which is the quintessential American palace, reminded me of a book I was given a couple of Christmases ago. Royal Palaces, edited by Marcello Morelli, is a photographic journey through over thirty palaces around the world. With thoughtfully written historical articles to accompany each place, this book offers gorgeous photos of some of the most stunning castles and palaces ever built. Everything from Versailles and Buckingham palace to Het Loo Palace and The Castle of Prague is photographed in crisp, brilliant detail. Not only do you get your fill of exquisite architecture, but also of painting, sculpture and the decorative arts. The best part about this book is that it reminds us that our own homes—no matter how modest—are and should be our own palaces and must be treated accordingly.

Above painting: Esplanade at Versailles by Robert J. Inness, from my own collection.

Place of the Week: Frederick Edwin Church's Magnificent "Olana"

Frederick Edwin Church, American’s premiere landscape painter of the mid-Nineteenth-Century long had a vision of the perfect home for his family. A follower of Thomas Cole of the Hudson River School style of painting, Church’s vision was realized at the majestic Hudson River Valley where he purchased a large parcel of land. There, in 1860, Church, his wife and two children commissioned a home called “Cosy Cottage.” Sadly, their two children died of diphtheria in 1865. In 1867, Church purchased eighteen acres of the land on the hill overlooking their property. Soon after, Church, his wife Isabel and their new infant son traveled the world. On this trip, Church became enamored with the architecture of the Middle East. Upon their return, Church began sketching his vision of an opulent mansion to be built upon the hill. After working with other architects, Church decided that Calvert Vaux should be the one to design his home. Church wished the mansion to be designed in a style that represented, “Persian adapted to the Occident.”

The result of that is the amazing Olana—named for a fortress and treasure house in ancient Persia.

As his family continued to grow, Church himself decorated their new home, stenciling the walls, painstakingly choosing the colors and filling the house with antiques and unusual furnishings collected throughout their travels. The early 1890’s saw additions to the mansion. By 1891, the house was complete, and remains almost unchanged.

Classifying the house as any one particular style is difficult. Church’s vision of “Persian adapted to the Occident” was certainly realized. A blend of popular Victorian styles, Moorish details and Persian overtones, the house is a magnificent creation of brick, stone and tile. Perhaps even more amazing are the views of the sweeping and colorful Hudson River Valley, the Catskill Mountains and Taconic Hills.

Today, the house remains a state historic site. If you find yourself in upstate New York, a visit to Olana is a must. With its 250 acre grounds, unrivaled views, glorious mansion, and the stunning collection of Church’s paintings, Olana is a glimpse at a more beautiful time.

Images Courtesy of The Olana State Historic Site.

Goal for the Day: Dress Up

I don’t mean “dress-up” in the sense of go to your attic and rummage through the trunk of Grandma’s old clothes. I mean simply, let’s make an effort. Instead of slouching off to the store in our pajama bottoms and a tee-shirt, let’s put on real pants and a shirt with buttons. Right now, it’s hot and we all want to be comfortable. However, you can still look stylish and be comfortable. Even if you put on your best pair of jeans and tucked your shirt in. Women can spruce up any outfit with a great looking pair of shoes. Why not wear those gold sequined shoes? Guys, wear a tie every once in awhile. Or, go to Target or and buy an inexpensive fedora. Hats are very much in style right now. With your tee-shirt and shorts, a fedora looks very cool. Putting an effort—even the slightest effort—into our appearance makes us feel better and also shows the people around us that we care about ourselves, and about them.