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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Holidays at The White House 2015

The holiday season at the White House is celebrated with an array of annual traditions, glittering holiday décor, fresh pine, and sugary treats. This year’s holiday theme, A Timeless Tradition, reflects long-held, cherished customs across America, and commemorates extraordinary moments that shaped the country during the past two centuries. The 2015 White House Holiday Tour Book (linked here) is brimming with beautiful illustrations by art students at Duke Ellington School for the Arts, in Washington, DC.

Highlights include:
  • The holiday décor was executed by 89 volunteers from around the country. Sixty-two trees and over 70,000 ornaments were used in this year's extravagant mix.
  • Three of the rooms feature creations by fashion designers Carolina Herrera, Duro Olowu, and Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. In a nod to the Obama Administration's new china pattern with a Kailua Blue stripe, Herrera integrated this stunning blue water color off the coast of the President's home state of Hawaii for package ribbons and other accents in the China Room.
  • In the Blue Room, a grand oval space overlooking the South Lawn and Washington Monument, is the official White House Christmas tree. Dedicated to our nation's service members, veterans, and their families, it is ornamented with holiday messages of hope for our troops and patriotic symbols of red, white, and blue.
  • At approximately 500 pounds, this year's White House Gingerbread House contains more than 250 pounds of gingerbread dough, 150 pounds of dark chocolate, 25 pounds of gum paste, 25 pounds of pulled and sculpted sugar work, and 25 pounds of icing—a White House pastry chef tradition since the 1970s.
  • A long-standing holiday custom—the White House crèche—has graced the East Room for more than 45 years, spanning nine administrations. The nativity scene made of terra cotta and intricately carved wood was fashioned in Naples, Italy in the eighteenth century.

I was like an excited, little kid experiencing the holiday magic, completely mesmerized by bright, shiny things! I'm still in awe being surrounded by all the history of the executive mansion. It was fascinating hearing Secret Service officers in each room engaged in conversations about the decorations, furnishings, and even the art. Below are a few photos from my recent afternoon at The White House.

Eight Thousand Snowflakes Grace
a White House Corridor
The Library with Five Literary-Themed Trees

The China Room with Kailua Blue Accents

The East Room and The White House Crèche

The Red Room with Real Cranberry Trees and
Magnolia and Berry Garland on Fireplace Mantel
The State Dining Room with
Thousands of Gumballs and Dozens of Nutrackers
A Festive White House Fireplace Mantel with Mirror 
The Glittering Cross Hall

Source | Office of the First Lady,  The White House
Photos | Cary Knox

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Holidays at the Thorne Miniature Rooms

The beloved decorating tradition is back at the Art Institute of Chicago—and continues to ramp up the festivities—with a Twelfth Night–themed room joining in the fun.

Several other rooms once again get their seasonal trimmings. Among the most elaborate is the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period, the only room with a Christmas tree. Now a ubiquitous feature of the season, the Christmas tree ortannenbaum, was only brought to England from Germany in 1840 with the marriage of Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. The Thorne Room tree and accoutrements are based on a famous engraving of the royal couple and their children surrounding a trimmed and toy-bedecked tree, an image that would forever popularize this holiday fixture. Other ornamented rooms include:

  • The English Great Hall of the Tudor period with a wassailing bowl, yule log, and an essential part of the costuming for that period’s singing-dancing revelers—a mummer’s mask
  • The Virginia Entrance Hall with mistletoe, wreath, and garland
  • The French Provincial Bedroom with shoes, or sabots, lined up before the fireplace, a crèche, and puzzle
  • The modern-era California Hallway with an Otto Natzler mid-century menorah and box with a dreidel
  • The New Orleans, New Mexico, and the Pennsylvania Dutch (German) rooms filled with regional treats of the season
  • The 1930s French Library with a tiny taste of Art Deco holiday glamour
  • The traditional Chinese interior filled with shadow puppets and instruments that would have been used to celebrate the Chinese New Year as well as other festive occasions

The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. 

Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.

See the holiday display in the Thorne Miniature Rooms through January 10, 2016 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Inside Grace Hartigan's Grand Street Brides

Grand Street Brides | 1954
Oil on Canvas | 72 9/16 in. x 102 3/8 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Grace Hartigan thought deeply about the colors she would use before she tackled her six-foot-by-nine-foot painting, titled in her journals, Bridal Store Mannequins. She walked around the Lower East Side neighborhood outside her 25 Essex Street studio, taking in the drifts of white fabric, lace, and wispy netting displayed on the dainty mannequins. Hartigan saw them imprisoned behind the glass storefronts on Grand Street, then known as “Bride’s Row.” She purchased a two dollar wedding gown from a thrift store and tacked it to her studio wall, along with photos of the bridal shop windows for further inspiration. Hartigan once said, “It seems ludicrous to me to go through all that fuss,” referring to the fiasco of a wedding in the 1950s. She added that she painted “things I’m against to … give them the magic they don’t have.”

In this post-war world, Hartigan personally smashed the stereotype of the modern American woman—the married, child-rearing, housewife. The tradition that began with a woman floating down the aisle, draped from head-to-toe in virginal white, being handed over to another man by the woman’s father, to be cared for the rest of her life. This ideal couldn’t be more removed from Hartigan’s own personal life. She struggled with her identity in a male-dominated, testosterone-fueled art community in mid-century New York City, even going so far as to sign her early work George Hartigan.  By the time she painted Grand Street Brides, Hartigan had been married twice and had sent her young son to live with his father's parents. She sometimes wrestled with what she needed to do to make her way as an artist versus society's expectations of her as a woman.

Also, a part of her thinking during the time she executed this work would have been the knowledge of the arranged marriages rampant among the immigrant population living in her Lower East Side neighborhood. Note the dead and hollow eyes of the brides in her picture, devoid of love or feelings, yet dressed up pretty and put on display for all to admire.

In a letter to critic Harold Rosenberg in 1954, Hartigan attempted to explain her work: "I think some of my subjects are loneliness, alienation, and anxiety. The figures in my paintings ask, 'What are we doing? What do we mean to each other?' The figures never look at each other, but have some personal meaning." The same year Frank O'Hara wrote of the brides who "face without bitterness the glassy shallowness of American life as their showcase."  Hartigan also makes reference in her journals to Picasso's 1907 Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (seen below), which not only parallels the poses of the subjects, but perhaps makes a connection between her impression of what it meant to be a bride and the prostitutes he painted in that work.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon | 1907
Pablo Picasso
Oil on Canvas | 96 in. x 92 in.
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Grace Hartigan's Grand Street Brides: The Modern Bride as Mannequin by Aliza Edelman (2013)
The Journals of Grace Hartigan, 1951-1955

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Knox Martin's Homage to Jan de Heem

Dutch and Flemish artists took remarkable delight in creating images of the natural world. Gardening and the breeding of beautiful hybrids satisfied their interest in art and in science. The flower paintings of Jan de Heem celebrate the beauty of flora while at the same time exemplify the concept of “art is long, life is short” embodied in 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings. Depictions of striking and exotic flowers also bared their far-flung explorations and their expertise in botany. 

Thirty-one species of plants are portrayed in De Heem’s Vase of Flowers. Poppies, tulips, roses, wheat, and peas reach out in dynamic rhythms, while insects crawl and flutter about the arrangement and glass vase. Reflected in the vase, is the light streaming through De Heem’s studio window. Interestingly, such a composition could not have existed naturally, as his choice of flowers and insects did not flourish and live during the same seasons of the year.

Knox Martin pays reverence to De Heem's Vase with his own monumental canvas, Homage to Jan de Heem. Martin’s use of color and scale is captivating and magical. At nearly three times the size of De Heem’s still life, Martin’s composition is even more fantastical because he doesn’t confine it within the boundaries of the canvas itself. His elements stretch far beyond the borders in such an extraordinary way that you feel like it goes further than your peripheral vision could allow, making it up-close and personal.

Martin mirrors the natural components in De Heem’s work, but with his own exceptional flair. He obliterates the black background and traditional dark colors of Dutch paintings of that time period, and makes it fresh and new with his bright colors and large scale. Martin used dazzling hues of red, blue, purple, pink, green, yellow, and black that are wonderfully dream-like, transporting you to a land filled with enchantment.

Although Martin stayed true to many of the elements in the earlier painting, including the reflection of the window in the vase, he puts his own mark on this tribute piece by placing a lobster in the lower left corner. I’ve been privileged to not only see De Heem’s original painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, but honored to have seen Martin’s stunning work in his studio not long after its completion—a witness to art history.

Homage to Jan de Heem
Knox Martin
Acrylic on linen | 80 in. x 66 in.
©Knox Martin/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Vase of Flowers | c. 1660
Jan de Heem
Oil on canvas | 27 3/8 in. x 22 1/4 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washingt2on

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Happy National Dessert Day!

Around the Cake by Wayne Thiebaud

Fanciful Ice Cream Cone by Andy Warhol