Sunday, February 17, 2019

Snowdrops On A Sunny Day

Winter is no longer welcome. An unusually warm day was a glorious respite. The magnolias stretched out their smooth gray branches, bearing only the beginnings of small tight buds, but the snowdrops at their feet basked in the afternoon sun. True to their name, these hardy bulbs will shoot right up through the snow. Some sun and a bit of warmth encourages them to open their buds. I sat on the walkway and enjoyed the scent of earth warming up. The snowdrops stood in a crowd, drooping heads topped with snazzy green caps. They flared their outer petals revealing green markings. Quite a fancy show, though tiny in scale. In the Victorian Language of Flowers, snowdrops represent hope. Hope and a promise that spring is ahead. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Vintage Valentines

Valentines from the early 20th century are a visual feast. Some are cleverly engineered with children or cherubs standing in front of free-standing arbors or entire gardens of too-large flowers. Others hearken back to the style of the mid-19th century. You could buy these confections ready-made in stores. Armies of women assembled the layers of colorful cards, intricate paper lace and carefully positioned scraps, working in what started out as cottage industries. It was one of the few ways a woman could earn some money. I think of the hands that, long ago, touched the lace and brushed the glue on the little embellishments. Sleekness and minimalism may be more modern but do frilly, lacy valentines ever go out of style?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

HUD Building, West Facade

Wander just a block or two off the tourist-populated National Mall and you will find yourself in the Washington DC of the government worker. On a weekend (or during a government shutdown) it can be a lonely, almost unfriendly place. One of the unfriendliest may be the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Designed by Marcel Breuer and completed in 1968, it's an example of what is known as Brutalist architecture. The curving facade was the first federal building made from pre-cast concrete. While it is undoubtably dramatic, it has never been a people-friendly structure. The plaza was redesigned in the 1990s to include curved seating areas with canopies like hovering spaceships. The canopies were supposed to be in bright colors but this was just too much individuality for the government decision-makers. Now the plaza must depend on human beings to add color and, yes, humanity, to the design.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Oil Slick Rainbow

In the middle of the slushy parking lot, an oil slick spread across the asphalt. As a child, oil slicks were fascinating sights, magical things, rainbows dropped to earth, spreading gorgeous colors in all directions. Those were the days before iridescent fabrics, "interference" paints and glitter or sequins on everything. It was a less sparkly world. My friends and I would swirl or pull out the colors in the puddle with sticks, marveling at the way it changed as we viewed it from different angles. Now we know that it's a toxic thing, bad for the environment. Toxic, yes, but a bit of the magic remains in all those colors.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Snow Covered Branches

We've finally had our first real snowstorm of the winter. Flakes sailed steadily through the air for twenty-four hours. It was the best kind of snowfall, arriving conveniently on a weekend and with plenty of warning. On Sunday, the neighborhood was silent. Eventually we heard the muted scrape of shovels against sidewalks. No snowblowers ruined the magic. The snow was relatively light and dry. It clung to the trees long enough for everyone to admire the fairy tale quality of the lacy branches.  Then we all got back to shoveling sidewalks and sweeping off steps.  

Sunday, January 13, 2019

John singer Sargent's "Repose"

I have many favorite artworks in the National Gallery of Art. This is one of them. "Repose" was painted by John Singer Sargent in 1911. His niece, Rose-Marie Ormond is the elegantly languid model. Sargent painted it at a time when he was tired of the restrictions of commissioned portraits which required capturing a likeness and hinting at a personality, but in a flattering way. This painting strikes me as more about a creating a feeling of calmness. I can easily get lost in the subtle colors and the luminous texture of her satin dress, but it's the composition that holds me. It's all about the horizontal shapes and lines. I cannot visit "Repose" right now and neither can you. The National Gallery is closed because of the government shutdown.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A View of the Construction

A large building is going up on a busy street where a church used to stand. The plot of land adjacent to the building has become a defacto park, with welcoming signs, a bench and birdbath. It's the row of colorful chairs that attracts my attention when I walk on the quieter streets behind the new building. Neighbors can watch the building rise. After all, young children are not the only ones fascinated by swinging cranes and daring construction workers. The park was empty on this gloomy day, but the chairs wait for visitors.