Tuesday, August 21, 2007

" Russel Wright's Great Spirit "

In the Lower New York Hudson Valley, a wonderful artistic site to explore is the forest garden and dwelling place of Mid 20th century designer Russel Wright. Russel found and bought the land in 1942 after it had been stripped for its lumber and granite supply. The granite was used to build many historic buildings in and around the NYC area. Wright spent a few decades working the land to transform it into a beautiful forest "garden" sculpted by his love of nature. He also built a fantastic modern house for himself and his family that emerges out of the rock, adjacent to a quarry pond that is filled by a tall but gentle waterfall. The land is called Manitoga which means Great Spirit in Algonquin, and the home is called Dragon Rock after the rocky cliff that slopes down to the quarry pond like a dragon bending over to drink.

The house's structure consists of two parts, the main house and the studio, and includes eleven levels overall. Some levels are substantial, and others are small like perches, resulting in compelling variation. The construction of the house is the perfect mix of 20th century experimental materials utilized in a natural Japanese-like style. Inside, where the juxtaposition of the space-age construction and the side of the mountain live, it feels like the Flintstone's house built with Jetson's materials, and it completely works. The structure sits on the land much like a tree house but built into a cliff and is wonderfully tranquil. When you are in it surrounded by the organic sensibility and the ambient nature pouring in through the glass walls, you don't want to leave. House tours are scheduled every day now, so it's easy to spend a lot of time there. They begin in the lower plain, go up the short forest walk around the house, through the studio and main house, and back down via the pond walk to the starting point. All in all the tour takes a generous 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how many queries guests ask, etc. Tours of the house require registration and begin at specific times.

Russel also carved wonderful forest walks in the woods, close to the house perimeter, and also further out around the property area of about 80 acres. Maps are available for following the paths around the land. You can walk at your leisure whenever the grounds are open. Russel created some paths to be easy, and others more difficult for hardier hikers. Each path was given its own name and points of interest, such as lookouts across the river. He also inserted sculpted areas that he called "rooms" on the paths, where hikers could sit, enjoy, and be still with the Great Spirit.

I consider it one of the highlights of my life, and a great privilege, that I was able to volunteer and work at Manitoga for a number of years. What I saw and learned there, as a docent and as a Russel Wright fan, will stay with me forever. Please visit Manitoga if you find yourself in the area. Every year improvements are made with special grants that preserve Russel Wright's dreams for Manitoga and the people visiting it. The website is: http://russelwrightcenter.org/. Becoming a member will help support this important place for Russel and for the future, and qualifies you for special events. If you cannot visit, a wonderful DVD tour narrated by Garrison Kieler is available on the website.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

" Portrait of a Lady: Isa Dreier "

Serendipity is a word that I like very much, and it's the word that I would use in describing my accidentally finding this little art book during an internet search for something else at the time. The book is an homage to a special person and artist, and is the catalog to a posthumous art show of Mrs. Dreier's lifetime of artwork put together by her family.

Many years ago I had the pleasure of knowing the Dreier family, and had been at the house a few times when Mrs. Dreier was there. What I mostly remember of her was her sunny personality and smile, and her rosy cheeks. I recall that she liked to take walks in the woods, and one day as I was arriving, she was on her way out the door for a trek wearing a straw hat tied on with a ribbon that framed her cheerful face. I thought at that moment that she seemed to have a love of living life in her that I admired...a feeling which was foreign to myself at the time.

Isa's husband was a US ambassador (which must have been similar in arduous responsibilities to being a military wife), and they had three children. Through the book I discovered that Mrs. Dreier loved her art as much as her family, and she never gave up creating during her years as wife and mother, irrespective of how those duties might have slowed down her opportunities to create as much as she would have liked. The styles of her paintings and drawings vary greatly, and are as unique as her personality. Some are delicate, whimsical, and soft. Others are more serious and bolder. They all possess the quality of life that I noticed in her as we passed through the door years ago. Please check out this small book if you get the chance.

Friday, August 17, 2007

" What Is Art? "

There are as many answers to this question are there are humans who have lived since the beginning of time. Art and design happen in our lives the moment that we wake up in the morning, even in the most mundane acts. We look in the mirror and position our disheveled hair into a look that we can stand a little better. We butter and jelly the toast with a flourish at breakfast. Then we take the time to dress in a way that best suits our endeavors for the day. In the evening we mow the lawn to perfection, or arrange a cluster of daisies from the side of the road in a mug for the dinner table. Any time we reach out of ourselves to arrange or pose even the simplest of the objects around us we are creating art.

Maybe I am just a romantic along the lines of the Pre-Raphaelite, and to some extent the Aesthetic, movement. Art in life is necessary. Creating art to make people happy is good for the soul. Looking at beautiful art can ease a wearied psyche, and seeing violent art can be disturbing. Everywhere we look each day of our lives, there is art to be found any place that the eye can stop and pause its gaze. I want to try to explore the obvious, and not so obvious, art and design elements in the world. I also would like to pass on some of my favorite artistic discoveries. I will refer to God in some of my posts, due to my faith and because I believe that God blesses the world with art to enrich our lives, and to give us glimpses of what He sees. I also think that God's creation is beautiful art. This is just an experimental blog to express my artistic opinions. Thanks for being so kind and reading if you happen to stop here.