Posts belonging to Category Art, General


Thorne Room Collection - miniature 18th century English Entrance Hall of the Georgian Period c.1775

Miniature 18th Century English Entrance Hall

Well, I am not so much going to Chicago as returning.

Last week I traveled to Chicago with a group of  fellow docents from the Seattle Art Museum.

As you might imagine, our trip was heavily focused on art and architecture, due to a shared love of art and design.

With a few goals in mind, we set off to explore the city, beginning with a scenic tour on the top level of a  double decker bus.

As the tour guide talked, the wind kicked up a storm. (I would suggest bringing a hat, except that it would likely not remain on your head for very long).

Still, this trolley will take you anywhere you want to go. You can get on and off at will, and continue the journey at whatever pace you choose.

Did you know that Chicago’s nickname “The Windy City” has nothing to do with the weather?

Seems the term “windy” was in reference to some rather windy politicians. It was ironic to hear this tidbit of information while the wind was blowing off the lake and whipping our hair.

It was an educational moment.

Our next stop was the Art Institute of Chicago, a museum that has been high on my list for many years. Up until now, I’d never had the opportunity to see it.

So many famous paintings and other treasures were on view, that it literally took my breath away. I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon browsing through gallery after gallery, taking in one surprise after another.

The Van Gogh painting of “The Bedroom” below, has been an all-time favorite of mine.  What a delightful surprise it was to find that it was at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Being the Van Gogh fan that I am, I don’t know how this small detail eluded me.

VanGogh 'Bedroom' at the Chicago Art Institute
VanGogh ‘Bedroom’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

This famous painting is an intimate portrait of Van Gogh’s bedroom, when he lived in the Yellow House, in Arles. This is the same house that he shared, briefly, with Gauguin before their famous fight that ended with Van Gogh cutting off part of his left ear.

Yet it is a simply furnished, tranquil room that offers no hint of what was to come.

I am such a fan of this painting, that I even have a miniature version of it in my home.

Speaking of miniatures, I have to admit that the absolute highlight for me was viewing the Thorne Rooms, located on the lower level of the museum.

I first learned of these miniature rooms many years ago, and vowed that I would eventually have the opportunity to see them in person. Well, I finally had that chance, and it exceeded my wildest expectations.

Suffice it to say, that the level of craftsmanship that went into creating this collection of 68 period rooms, all in miniature scale, is absolutely incredible.

But then, Mrs. Thorne, the woman behind the visions, had the financial means to do so. She employed the best artisans to carry out her designs, and never settled for second-best.

The amazing result transports one to a different world, where you can travel back in time to 16th century France, England, or even early American homes, dating back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, if not before.

In every room, there are clear signs of an unknown occupant. For whatever reason, that person has just vacated the room, leaving behind a teeny tiny book resting on the sofa, with a pair of miniscule spectacles nearby.

A table is set for tea, complete with teapot and porcelain teacups. On the sideboard, there might be a silver coffee service, with an interrupted embroidery project resting near a window. A multitude of miniature books lines the bookshelves.

Every room contains one or more windows, and the attention to detail extends to the views outside. Trees provide much needed shade in the heat of summer, and flowers bloom in the garden. We can see a hint of the house next door, or a city street in the dead of winter.

It is a place where imaginations can thrive.

Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" Home

Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" Hom

On our final day in Chicago, we took a two hour Architectural Walking Tour, that wove thru city streets and told the story of Chicago’s architectural history.

The architectural styles changed from classical to Art Deco, and hints of something in between. The tour included the Auditorium building by architectural firm Adler & Sullivan -currently hosting the Joffrey Ballet.

Next we took the subway out to Oak Park, IL  for the second architectural tour of the day, this one featuring the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in an up-scale neighborhood of leafy trees and manicured lawns. This is where Frank Lloyd Wright got his start as an up-and-coming architect.

This house was one of his earliest works, designed in his “Prairie” style: horizontal emphasis, obscure entryways (i.e not obvious from the street where the front door might typically be), and small, compact interiors with more open floor plans than what had been the norm up until that time.

Another surprise awaited us, as a small group of us walked a different route back to the train station. Rounding a corner, we came across Wright’s famed Unity Temple.

We climbed the steps to the front door, which to our delight, was unlocked. Within seconds, a guard appeared, telling us the building was closed for the day.

“We’re here from Seattle” we lamented, “We’re headed home tomorrow – please could we take a quick look?”

The guard studied us a moment, then relented. “I’ll give you one minute”, he said.

But it was enough.

We entered the sanctuary of the church, drew in our breath at the stillness and beauty of the space, then left.

It was a wonderful trip and I hope you have enjoyed these little snippets.  To see more photos, visit my Chicago photo album at my Facebook page!


The Seattle Art Museum has a wonderful new exhibit titled “Fleeting Beauty” featuring a private collection of Japanese woodblock prints.

In a word, they are stunning.  

The Japanese term for these prints is “Ukiyo-e” – which literally means Pictures of the Floating World.

What is this floating world, and why do we call it ‘fleeting’?

The images depicted in these prints are scenes in and around the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo), during the late 17th to mid19th centuries.

They are from a time in Japan’s history that no longer exists.

In that sense, they are fleeting.

Just like weekends, or vacations that never seem to last quite long enough, these images of life in historic Japan, seem to have floated on by.

During Japan’s Edo period, the Shogun ruled the land, and Samurai warriors were in force. Their home base was Edo, a bustling, thriving metropolis.

In short, the Samurai warriors, far away from home and family, needed to be ‘entertained’ during their free time.

Hence the so-called “Pleasure Quarters” – a distinct area outside the main city, where courtesans, and Kabuki actors offered an enjoyable escape from everyday life.

It is here where the inspiration for the Ukiyo-e prints takes place.

I addressed the printmaking process in an earlier post, describing my own, amateur efforts at the craft.

However, the creation of a woodblock print is extremely complex, a process that involves four different artisans.

It begins with the Artist, who is responsible for the overall design, then moves on to the Carver, who carves the intricate details out of blocks of cherry wood, then on to the Printer, who magically applies the colors according to the Artist’s vision.

Keep in mind that a different block of wood needed to be carved for every single nuance of color visible in the final print.

In the print shown, by Hiroshige, we see varying shades of blues and greys, plus yellow, red, purple and black . What seems fairly simple, might actually involve up to ten different blocks of wood.

The white of the snow was the basic color of the paper – meaning one less block that needed to be carved!

It was the Printer who was responsible for perfectly aligning (or registering) the different blocks of color. In other words, if this individual was not dedicated to his craft, a woman’s red lips might not be properly positioned on her face, or her elaborate hairdo might appear slightly askew and not quite sitting on her head.

Clearly, that would not uphold the high standards that these craftsmen adhered to.

The final step of the process was the Publisher. The early prints were bound into books; it was only later that they were sold as individual sheets that served as advertisements, if you will, for attracting customers.

Much like the present day poster.

Some even served as the equivalent of gift wrap. (In their day, these Ukiyo-e prints were not considered fine art).

The woodblock prints in this exhibit focus on courtesans, kabuki actors, and landscapes. The latter came into favor towards the end of the 18th century, when the prints of the pleasure quarters were gradually being phased out.

On view are majestic scenes from Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mt. Fuji”, not to mention Hiroshige’s “53 Stations Along the Tokaido Road”

A road, by the way, that still exists for the intrepid traveler.

The Ukiyo-e prints capture a way of life gone by. They are at once magical, beautiful and yes, fleeting.


‘You are the Artist and your Life is your Work of Art’ Christine Kane

I love this quote.                                               

You see, I grew up in a family of art historians, artists and antique dealers, and we were surrounded by Art 24/7. My father was a museum curator so I also knew my way around a museum from an early age. Relating to art comes easily to me.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of art-related terms sprinkled throughout the world of interior design, fashion and even accessories for the home.

For example, did you know that your home could be curated in the same way a museum curator oversees a valued art collection?

As curator of your home, you would need to be very discerning as you sort through your possessions, be it furniture, artwork or accessories. As you select your favorite pieces, these will become the stars of your collection. Be sure to display them prominently, with adequate lighting and an appropriate backdrop.

Create a catalogue, if you’re so inclined.

You can even have curated dining. The idea here, is to set your table with museum bought china, glassware and cutlery that is based on historical designs from the country, or century, of your choice.

You could immerse yourself in something French or Italian, for example, and set your table accordingly.

High quality museum replicas are available at most museum gift shops. You can peruse catalogues or visit them online.

Likewise, your wardrobe can be viewed as a ‘canvas’. By starting with your basics, say black and white, you can dress things up, or down, at whim. Add a bold accent color, or two, a bright accessory, and you’re good to go.

Now back to that quote. Did you ever consider that you are the sole artist of your Life? I mean, if not you, who else would be responsible?

Unlike your typical work of Art, which becomes a ‘fait accomplit’ as soon as the artist lays down the paintbrush, your life, and your home, is yours to design as you wish. Over the course of your lifetime, you can add, or take away, and embellish however you choose.

It is never quite done, but is still your masterpiece¸ imperfections and all.

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Last week, I attended a printmaking class.             

I call it Printmaking 101, because the actual hands –on process  of creating a print was very new to me. I admit, I’m a Novice.

Not that I’m new to the world of Prints – I’ve been a fan for many years, and I’m fairly well-versed in the various processes of woodblock prints, etchings and engravings. I’ve long admired such masterful artists as Rembrandt, and Durer and their contemporaries.

What I haven’t done, is actually made a print myself. However, I can tell you it was a lot of fun!

I came to class armed with nothing but my imagination. I hadn’t received the e-mail reminding me to bring a picture, or drawing, for inspiration, and to wear old clothes, but I had figured out the latter on my own, and ended up winging it on the former.

What I created was the equivalent of a woodblock print, but lucky for me and everyone else in the class, we were able to lean into the process by carving a piece of eraser-like rubber, called Easy Cut, rather than a hard-to-carve piece of wood.

While carving my design, I had to think in terms of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’. The positive areas were the parts of my eraser pad that remained raised and would receive the ink, compared to the sections I was carving away thereby termed ‘negative’. (The negative areas of the carving medium essentially end up below the surface, and are therefore untouched by the ink).

In design, when we refer to positive and negative space, it is a very different concept. The positive space that interior designers are accustomed to, refers to the furnishings in a room – positive space– versus the lack of furnishings in a room – the negative space, or what I like to call ‘breathing room’.

This is because every room needs a place for the eye to rest.

The same holds true for Art. Regardless of whether you are an artist, or designer, anyone who is skilled at their craft knows when to pull in the reins and stop. Stop carving, stop painting, stop designing. Know when you are done.

In the end, what an artist ‘leaves out’ of the final work can be just as important as what you DO see.

I had to keep this in mind while carving my little masterpiece. I use that term loosely, of course. Everyone at my work table was in agreement that our first efforts would probably NOT be masterpieces.

Every so often, someone (including myself) would mutter ‘ooops’ as they slipped with the carving knife. I had to re-think my design more than once.

Even more difficult was learning to think in reverse, because however the design looks as you are carving it, once you place a piece of paper over the inked block and flip the whole thing over, every detail shows up in reverse.

Tricky? Yes. Fun? Absolutely! I highly recommend this kind of brain activity, but even more satisfying is the chance to explore one’s creative side.

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Mobiles, Kinetic Art & You

“When everything goes right, a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life.” Alexander Calder

The Seattle Art Museum currently has an exhibit of Alexander Calder’s amazing mobiles. Calder, if you recall, is best known for inventing the mobile as an art form, way back in the 1930’s. To borrow words from  SAM’s brochure:  “Calder’s mobiles were a giant leap forward in the expansion of artistic possibilities for both artist and audiences, as their moveable parts ensure that a work is never ‘finished’’.

Let’s think about this. As the parts of a mobile hang in space, the slightest movement – a breath of air, or a gust of wind– will change the outcome. If you tap any part of the mobile, it will instantly spring to life and re-configure itself. This is art that is very much alive.

While the furniture in our homes isn’t mobile in the sense that a breath of air can move it, we can certainly move pieces around at whim and re-configure our living space as needed. Our lives have a tendency to evolve over time, and what might have worked for your lifestyle when your children were young, may no longer serve you when they leave for college. We could compare our homes to the kinetic quality of a mobile, and see that neither one is ever quite ‘finished’.

As a designer, the idea that our lives are constantly evolving is an important consideration in designing a home. If I am working with a family with young children, decisions would likely be based on comfort and practicality. Furnishings would need to hold up to constant wear and tear, toys, and spilled drinks. The home would be designed for exactly what it is:  a family with small children, while keeping in mind that those children will grow up and relinquish their childhood habits and tastes. Bedroom décor will likely change, and toys will be laid aside for teenage interests. You get the idea.

Looking at the bigger picture, this goes well beyond art, and design. Our lives are constantly evolving, every single day. Think back twenty, or thirty years (depending how old you are) and observe that you might be a different person now than you were when you were younger. Over time, we encounter in varying degrees marriage, children, jobs, personal loss and a lifetime of memories.

If you think about it, it’s a bit like tapping that mobile and seeing what happens when the parts come to rest.