Saturday, August 10, 2013

Farewell to Cleveland: Some Architectural Favorites

When I first took a tour of the Cleveland State campus on my HR orientation day nearly three years ago, I remember distinctly regretting not having a camera on me. The art deco style of Fenn Tower caught my eye right away.

 Fenn Tower - The first building on the Cleveland State campus (then Fenn College)

Detail of Fenn Tower

Despite passing numerous amazing buildings in downtown Cleveland by bus throughout my employment at Cleveland State University, I rarely made the time to take pictures of the structures I had grown to know and love. After deciding that I would leave my job at Cleveland State to pursue graduate studies at UNC, I always planned on having a week or two to spend simply taking pictures and enjoying Cleveland after resigning. This plan did not pan out as I hoped, but I did manage to spend an afternoon taking pictures after my last day of work. Included in this post are a few of the pictures from that bittersweet day. Oddly I was asked three times during those few short hours if I was a tourist. I proudly told these individuals that I was not a tourist and that Cleveland was my home.

Taking photos around downtown made me notice things I never had before even though I had seen many of these buildings too many times to count. I had never truly looked at the semicircular mural paintings in the entrance to Tower City. I had also never realized that figural designs were included in the surface treatment of the buildings behind Tower City on Prospect Ave. Like sketching, photography also forces you to inspect things more closely than one might otherwise.

 Inside Tower City

 Ceiling in Tower City

One of seven murals in the entrance way of Tower City

 Rockefeller Building entrance - 614 W Superior Ave.

 Rockefeller building

Rockefeller building

 Robed men in art deco style that I never noticed on Prospect Ave. behind Tower City

 Deco doorway on Prospect Ave.

 E-Line Trolley with Trinity Cathedral in the background

I was not able to visit all of the buildings I love in the few short hours I had. One notable exception was Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center. I also didn't get to the Westside Market, of which I have very few pictures. There are so many other sites in Cleveland I wish I had seen again before moving, but I guess this gives me a good reason to visit soon.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Museum of Divine Statues: Lakewood, OH

I finally made a visit to the Museum of Divine Statues a few weeks ago. It is located right in my own backyard in the city of Lakewood, OH. Over the past few years in Cleveland a plethora of Catholic churches have been shut down because many are considered redundant. The Museum of Divine Statues made one of these churches, St. Hedwig, its home. Its creative reuse of the building is especially appropriate because the museum houses statues from other churches in the Cleveland area that have been closed. In this way the museum not only preserves one particular church, but has also saved many beloved statues that would otherwise be lost.

St. Hedwig
St. Hedwig historically had a primarily Polish congregation, as did many of the other churches in the area due to the large number of immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe that came to Cleveland. In addition to St. Hedwig, other closed Polish churches include St. Adalbert, St. Casimir, St. Hyacinth, and St. Stanislaus. Note that there are multiple saints with the same names and that there were even several churches in Cleveland named after the same saints that were closed. In the end, 29 total parishes were closed and there were 18 different mergers. For pictures of specific churches that were closed, visit Patrick Richard’s blog Closing Catholic Churches in Cleveland or search the Cleveland Memory Project. For the complete list of churches affected by the closings and mergers, click here.

Beyond the museum’s connections with the extensive church closings, it is a great space in its own right. One of the most interesting things about the museum to me was the opportunity it gave visitors to see many different versions of the same saints at the same time.  I was especially struck by the vast number of Mary figures I got to see in one place. Because there are so many different aspects of or titles for Mary, having numerous statues of her is a great way to compare these various aspects. There were also at least three different statues of the Child of Prague, who is a very common representation of Jesus in Cleveland due to the large Czech population in the city and suburbs.

 Mary - Our Lady of Perpetual Help (St. Margaret of Hungary - Chagrins Falls) 

The museum was also fun to visit because it includes statues of several less common saints. Saint Lucy, Saint Barbara, and Saint Hedwig were some of the saints that were least familiar to me that were represented in the museum. The objects associated with all three saints are a bit unusual. Saint Lucy, pictured below, is depicted holding a plate with eyes to show that her eyes were gouged out prior to her execution.  Saint Hedwig is typically shown holding a monastery or a pair of shoes while Saint Barbara wields a sword. Since visiting the museum, I actually came across Saint Barbara in my summer course on African-American art. I learned that Saint Barbara is often associated with the African orisa Ogun in the religious tradition of Candombl√©. Ogun is the god of iron and war and therefore is visually connected to Saint Barbara because of her sword.

St. Lucy (Our Lady of Mount Carmel - Cleveland)

Of all the statues, my favorite was the one of Joan of Arc. The statue was so well done and the marble eyes had a deepness to them that the other statues did not. Compositionally the statue was engaging because of the sculpture’s sensitive tilting head and the presence of the banner and the sword. I’ve also always simply loved Joan of Arc and her story and took her name for my confirmation name.

If you live in Northeast Ohio, I would highly recommend that you visit the Museum of Divine Statues. Lou McClung, the founder of the museum who restores many of the statues, seems genuinely passionate about Cleveland religious history. His mother, who you’ll likely meet when you buy your ticket ($8), is also deeply invested in the museum and extremely friendly. My only complaint about the museum is that its hours are too short, though I understand that being open more would be costly. The museum is only open from noon until four on Sundays. If you have a Sunday afternoon free though, you should take the time to stop by.

St. Christopher - "Christ-bearer"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Maya Lin: Memory and Landscape

This past week I had the pleasure of listening to Maya Lin speak at Oberlin College. If you’ve heard Maya Lin’s name before, in all likelihood you know that she created the Vietnam War Memorial and the Women’s Table at Yale University. I still remember first learning of Lin’s work in an introductory art history survey course my freshman year of college. As survey courses typically go, we only brushed upon her two major career highlights. Lin’s presentation was intriguing to me because it introduced me to all of her lesser-known work and her intentions behind her creations. In particular, her work seemed to focus on the themes of memory and landscapes.

A number of her series, including her current show “Here and There,” combine these two interests by showing the disappearance of natural features. The works that best represent this idea in her present show are her “Disappearing Bodies of Water” that include sculptures of Lake Chad and the Aral Sea over time. In many ways these sculptures look like topographic maps. Her collaborative web memorial "What is Missing?"and her film “How to Unchop a Tree” also deal with the loss of the environment over time. Lin's website seems unique to me because in a way it redefines what is considered a memorial because of its virtual nature. Instead of having to visit a physical site to honor something or someone that has passed, clicking on a link is now the equivalent of a journey of remembrance.
A statistic that she mentioned a few times during her presentation that similarly drove home the idea that there is (or has been) so much on earth that we cannot see is that the island of Hawaii is actually 500 ft. taller than Mount Everest. Like the huge volume of water that has vanished from the earth, the massiveness of the mountain that forms the island of Hawaii is also unseen.

By pure coincidence, I also had the opportunity to see one of Lin’s created landscapes in person this past week. While I was down in Athens, OH, to run a half-marathon and visit my little brother who goes to the university there, I got the chance to explore her piece “Input.” The work is composed of a series of rectangular indentations and projections that are supposed to represent IBM punch cards. Her brother, Tan, composed a poem for the piece. The words of the poem are found on the concrete edges of the rectangular boxes. While I did not love the piece, I found a lot of the text intriguing. I especially enjoyed the phrases that were related to mapping, though I haven’t quite figured out the meaning of the piece as a whole. She mentioned several times that the work is in a way her own personal tribute to Athens. I was surprised to learn that Lin is a native of Athens and that her parents were both professors at OU. In the end I think the piece's purpose is to memorialize Lin's childhood and adolescence in the town of Athens.

"Input" in Athens, OH, on the grounds of Ohio University
"I wanted to draw a map of memories" 

"like the photograph of a landscape"

"carved out to resemble rectangular bits of binary code"

When I visit Las Vegas for my first, and probably only, time this May with my sisters, I hope that I’ll get to stop into MGM’s Mirage and see Maya Lin’s rendition of the Colorado River in silver. Listening to Lin speak about her fascination with the natural world definitely made me appreciate her work more and think more about my own obsession with the way people interact with their environments.