Thursday, November 2, 2017

Murano: glass in the Venetian Lagoon

I recently returned from a week spent in Venice. While we're all familiar with the pretty lagoon  and palazzo pictures of the city (I took many, I'll share in a later post!) we may not all be as knowledgeable about nearby Murano.
Murano, like Venice, is a series of islands linked by bridges in the Venetian Lagoon, slightly less than a mile north of Venice. Of course the island is known primarily for its glass making.  In 1291 Venice forced all of its famed glassmakers to relocate to remote Murano for fear of fire from their furnaces.
Unlike tourist ridden Venice Murano still feels real; one comes across scenes of laundry hanging out to dry and the school children running amok once school let out.
While dating back to Roman times the island was heavily built up in the 15th century by Venetians who treated the area as a resort. I suspect the building above may date from this time.
The picturesque canals are filled with modern motorboats unlike nearby Venice; these are active canals!
In the center of town is the clock tour.
The church of St Pietro Martire lies at this intersection as well and dates to 1511.  Notice the enormous glass chandelier above. I admit I thought I'd see a lot more glass in use although the town is littered with glass shops catering to tourists. 

As with any good Italian town there are many catholic churches -the charming facade above is the Oratorio Ex Ospizio Briati.
The most well known of the Murano churches is the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato. Dating to the 7th century, the later byzantine mosaic floors of the main chapel date to 1140.
These stunning floors were one of the best things we saw that day!
Ancient lost little corners are to be found throughout the island. I loved the sunlight pouring through this walled garden across the street from the church.
Palazzo dot the larger canals, much like Venice, although these are in more charmingly derelict condition. I highly recommend a visit to the glass museum located in one of these houses, the Palazzo Giustinian. 
Other than exploring this grand palazzo the best part of the museum is the instructive video just off the lobby which shows all of the different glass blowing techniques. 
The collection includes relics from Roman times up to current glass marvels such as this Venini glass vase from 1930. 
This milk glass from the late 18th century mimics much more expensive bone porcelain which was new to Europe at the time.
Next to the instructive video was this beautiful glass sculpture from the last decade: reminds me of a Picasso painting brought to life.
The details of this glass that is 100s of years old is really astounding.
Who doesn't need a huge assembled Murano glass rooster?
This large tabletop decoration or deseri created for the Doge in the 18th century was astoundingly detailed. I've always been obsessed with miniature recreations of houses and gardens.
Would you believe the goblet above with delicate spiral base dates to 1895? It was created for the very first Venice biennale.
Exquisite artistry isn't all old though - this covered goblet above dates from the 1970s.
The making of the famous Murano beads also includes these miniature rolls, seen above.  Tiny glass rods are melted together to create scenes in a log, which are then sliced into cameos for jewelry. Notice the tiny slice above with a gondola and another reading Angelina;  That is smaller than a toenail clipping (but much less disgusting) and barely legible. 
The easiest way to get to Murano from Venice is using the Vaporetto service - sort of like a public bus.  I'm glad we purchased a week long pass as individual rides are around $7 euro each and we had a lot of fun hopping on and off of the boats exploring Venice and nearby islands without worrying about the cost of each trip. Between Murano and Burano are a number of slowly disappearing islands which are being eroded by heavy boat traffic. The history of the island above, the Madonna del Monte, is really interesting - you'll only be able to see it for another few years before it completely falls into the lagoon; read about it HERE.
Much like Paris, Venice is always a good idea. Avoid the big tourist areas around the middle of the day when the horrible cruise ships unload onto the tiny islands; a leisurely lunch will solve that. I went into the trip worrying if we would have enough to do to fill the week and left feeling we barely scratched the surface.
One last note about Murano: Glass shops are plentiful and for small (genuine) souvenirs I highly recommend the family run shop at 22 Riva Longa (the central main canal).  The family business reaches back generations and the current proprietor is designer and shop keeper who is a lot of fun and so knowledgeable about the local glass!

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Classical Gem: Bertram Goodhue's National Academy of Sciences

Last week the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the ICAA toured a fantastic classical structure by Bertram Goodhue, the National Academy of Sciences. Like much of his work it defies categorization but lets call it 'Beaux Arts' or 'Classical architecture' for now.  Finished in 1924 it was recently renovated by local firm Quinn Evans who did an outstanding job restoring this masterpiece.
The above image, from Quinn Evan's website, shows the Academy from the national mall.  Goodhue was a sort of modernist of his time and while the structures on the mall have to be classical he called this 'Alexandrian' in style, after ancient Egypt, to pass approval. Notice the battered (sloped) walls and a lot of Egyptian details.
 The white marble facade features discrete stone pilasters at the windows and bronze plaques between the windows showing famous figures from the history of science. The ornamental bronze cornice features owls and lynx, the symbols of wisdom and observation.  Notice the Roman lattice panels covering the 3rd floor windows.
Located directly on the national mall, across from the Lincoln Memorial, this building is rather off the tourist radar although it is open to the public weekdays as is the cafeteria (which is good to know given the dearth of places to eat on the mall).
One of the best features on the front facade is rarely seen however. The bronze pocket doors by Lee Lawrie are normally closed during open hours. They feature different symbols of ancient science as well as central panels depicting well-known scientists such as Aristotle, Darwin, and others.
 This photo above shows the doors sans patina. I prefer the green patina.
The small entry vestibule is full of lovely details; stone clad walls, custom bronze sconces and rather wonderful bronze radiator covers.
 Although the radiators were removed during the renovation in favor of a more modern HVAC system the covers were retained and (mostly) hide the modern air grilles.
 The bronze and glass doors into the lobby feature symbols of the zodiac; also by Lee Lawrie.
Wonderful original hardware is found throughout the Academy; Love these intertwined snake pulls! The patina on these interior doors however is faux; only the exterior bronze has the natural green patina and on the interior it was faux painted (hard to detect unless you look closely!).
 The entry foyer has a marvelous poly-chromed mahogany ceiling.
 I would take these bronze torchieres home if I could!
2 bronze angels flank the doors into the great hall. Sadly these were part of a set of 4 salvaged from the original Bertrum Goodhue designed lectern that was thrown away in the 1960s (?!?!). THROWN AWAY.
The Great Hall is really Goodhue's piece de resistance.  The dome features a mosaic by Hildreth Meiere on acoustiblok over a structural Guastavino tile structure.  Originally all meetings were held here and seats are located on the mezzanine level. The academy quickly outgrew the space.
 An astrolabe by Lee Lawrie is in the center and descends down into the floor for meetings (and the original lectern sat here).
 Don't miss a great tour of this mosaic and all of the symbolism on the NAS website -HERE.
It was hard to capture the true vivid colors of this mosaic on a bright sunny day so please visit the link! Until the restoration it was rather dull with 80 years of accumulated cigarette smoke.
 Lee Lawrie also provided the stone column capitals in addition to all of the metalwork.
The large mural by Albert Herter above the doors to the new auditorium (added in the 60s) depicts Prometheus lighting a torch from the chariot of the sun god Helios to bring knowledge to humanity (sadly I don't think that worked out so well but the mural is gorgeous).
The real star of the building is all of the custom metal hardware provided by Lee Lawrie.  Why not have the things you touch everyday be beautiful? I'm obsessed with hardware in general though.
 The snake head caps to the handrails were a nice touch.
Above you can see one of the  many custom bronze light fixtures on the acoustiblok walls - you find this material that resembles stone but absorbs sound in a lot of public structures from this time period.
 Back towards the entrance, the library is off to the left.
 Lovely mahogany benches flanking the foyer feature the NSA logo inside a laurel wreath.
The art deco inspired library (now called the member's center) really was my favorite room in the Academy.
The bronze chandeliers and monumental stone fireplace depict the history and development of writing systems and technologies with an obelisk at the center inscribed "To ages yet unborn in accents yet unknown".  Imagine a roaring fire here while sitting nearby with a book.
These light fixtures are a bit nicer than the crap one sees today in most public buildings; they're really works of art. So glad these were never thrown away like the lectern!
The lovely plaster ceilings feature a different motif in each panel depicting figures making a discovery and then recording it for posterity.
 Love the klismos chair seen here where the gentleman records his discovery!
Behind the library is the member's lounge, set up here for a meeting.  The dark walnut paneling depict the insignia of the world's 8 greatest universities in the 1920s (where coincidentally most of the academy's members had studied).
 Move lovely custom bronze light fixtures in the lounge.
 Even the 2 water fountains flanking the great hall feature custom artwork in tile.
 Glad these are still in use (however the water tasted really funky!).
While I didn't take many photos of the numerous additions they were all really well done and good examples of their time. I snapped this quick picture of the early 70's hallways which had dark green marble used extensively with modern walnut panels. I loved the stair detail here.
The rear entry hall off C Street featured a collection of photographs by members Susan Middleton and David Liittschwager. The building is dotted with really wonderful exhibits that I would recommend exploring.
One of these exhibits, just off the Great Hall, is on the construction of the original building. The original drawings and renderings done by JP Wilson, from Goodhue's office, really make one lament the use of computer technology in current presentations. Nothing can compare to this artwork! These were saved for nearly 100 years while the printed 3-d renderings of today end up in the trash a day later; Disposable culture.
 Great model of the original building showing the structure of how it was built.
 As I said the original drawings are really lovely.
However the best rendering was actually an oil painting done after the building was complete in 1925, also by JP Wilson, depicting the Academy at night.
I encourage you all to visit the National Academy of Science , wonderful caretakers of this structure, and really any of the many Bertram Goodhue structures around the country; they are all works of art that put modern public buildings to shame! I still vividly remember visiting the Nebraska State Capitol building in the 90s, probably his masterpiece.  Also keep your eyes peeled for upcoming tours by the ICAA on our website.