Sunday, March 28, 2010

Arts and Industries

The Smithsonian Arts and Industries building, my favorite structure along the Washington D.C. Mall, has been closed for some time, undergoing repairs. But on a nice day, I love to sit on a wrought iron bench and look at it. Opened in 1881, it is oh so Victorian in style. Circular medallions perch between the rows of arched windows. Enameled bands of ochre, blue and black set off the dark red bricks. The Victorians were not minimalists. Embellishment and the whole range of decorative arts were an essential part of Victorian architecture. To me, this building represents the bold, almost brash optimism of its age. In a city of tasteful glass, concrete and white marble, it's a reminder that color and richly detailed surfaces had their place at one time. I'm glad that some of them still stand, dressing up the landscape.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Witch Hazel

Bright blue skies have come our way. Soon the cherry blossoms will open, but earlier signs of spring have emerged. I stood under the pale, smooth limbs of a witch hazel shrub and looked straight up. If ever there was a plant begging to be transformed into stitchery, this is it. Fringed blossoms studded the branches. Surrounded by yellow, with that blue sky overhead, I contemplated the possibilities. How about short bits of embroidery floss, tacked down in the center, all fluffy and three-dimensional? No, that struck me as too literal. Instead, my mind wandered off into a celebration of yellowness and blueness knit together with delicate, dark lines.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Green Pots

That oddly American holiday known as St. Patrick's Day is approaching and green will be the It Color for at least one day. Green beer, green milkshakes, rivers and hair dyed green. Offices become a sea of emerald dresses and olive sweaters. My own weakness for green is of the ceramic variety. Tall or squat, rounded or angular, there is rarely a green pot or vase that I don't find ravishing. In the 1890's, the cucumber-skin glaze created by the Grueby Faience Company ignited a craze for green pots. Every company developed their own version. Some are satiny and some are matte finish. Others are pitted and thick, like lava that has burbled up from a volcanic eruption. I've held, petted and admired the real thing in antique shops. My corner cupboard is crowded with new and old pots, but nothing that would reside in a museum. Celadon, emerald, spruce, leaf, I celebrate everything green.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


The streets of Manhattan's Upper West Side are lined with brownstones, gracious homes whose steps and masonry stoop railings usually have slightly curved edges. More than once I've watched skilled workmen repair and restore them, carefully smoothing sharp corners into rounder, friendlier shapes. Using my camera's built-in Illustration setting, the subtle colors and strong shadows became a close-to-abstract interplay of horizontal and vertical lines. I tend to be more attracted to curves than to straight lines, but this image just makes me happy---a remembrance of a walk on a sunny afternoon.