Category Archives: Style

Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning

This weekend, I went to the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh. Among other things, this gothic skyscraper contains 29 nationality rooms–each of these rooms is decorated intricately in the design of a nation. The first 19 were built between 1938 and 1957, with ten built since 1987. The Turkish and the Swiss classrooms were dedicated in 2012, and several more are planned. If you are in Pittsburgh and have any interest in craft or design, I can’t recommend visiting enough.

To visit the classrooms, you can check out a key at the desk, or take a tour with a guide. We rented a key. Visiting each room felt like a treasure hunt; each room was so different, and full of intense detail. Each room had special walls, windows, ceilings, chairs, lecterns, and chalkboards. Even the light switches and doors were in style. Many contain intricate wood or stone carvings, or genuine artifacts. Most were designed by architects of the country.

You can learn more on the University of Pittsburgh website about the nationality rooms. This page allows you to virtually tour each room.

The Chinese nationality room.

The Chinese nationality room, dedicated in 1939.

The Czechoslovak room, dedicated in 1939. This room contains a letter from the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk, to the students of the University of Pittsburgh.

The Czechoslovak room, dedicated in 1939, 8 days before the Germans invaded in World War 2. This room contains a letter from the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk, to the students of the University of Pittsburgh. His son, Jan, spoke at the dedication of the room, foreseeing trouble in the future. Page 4 of this document details the interesting connection between Czechoslovakia and Pittsburgh.

The Hungarian room was dedicated in 1939.

The Hungarian room was dedicated in 1939.

The Lithuanian room, dedicated in 1940. The walls are woven from linen in the "The Path of the Birds" design. Between the angular, abstract carvings and the painting and the walls, this was one of my favorite rooms.

The Lithuanian room, dedicated in 1940. The walls are woven from linen in the “The Path of the Birds” design. Between the angular, abstract carvings and the painting and the walls, this was one of my favorite rooms.

A detail from the Romanian room, dedicated in 1943. The style of this mural on the back wall reminded me of the opening of Beauty and the Beast.

A detail from the Romanian room, dedicated in 1943. The style of this mural on the back wall reminded me of the opening of Beauty and the Beast.

The Swedish room, dedicated in 1938.

The Swedish room, dedicated in 1938.

The Yugoslav room, dedicated in 1939. The carving in this room, called "notch carving" was simply amazing.

The Yugoslav room, dedicated in 1939. The carving in this room, called “notch carving”, was simply amazing.

The cathedral of learning, exterior.

The cathedral of learning, exterior.

The main hall of the cathedral of learning.

The main hall of the cathedral of learning.

The main hall of the cathedral of learning.

The main hall of the cathedral of learning.

Style: University of Virginia Lawn

There are three manmade UNESCO world heritage sites in the United States: The Liberty Bell, The Statue of Liberty, and The University of Virginia Lawn with Monticello. The UNESCO designation basically means there is something noteworthy of distinctive about the site. I happen to live near to the University of Virginia, so I get to take a lot of photos. (As of this post, I just discovered that all the modern photos on the lawn Wikipedia page are mine. I love to see where the creative commons take my works. Side note: check out my very large Flickr collection of mostly creative commons images.)

Many years ago, Benoit Mandelbrot, the creator of fractal geometry, visited the university to give a talk. He said it was like walking into the lion’s den of Euclidean geometry. I always liked this description; everything about the university is columns and arches and perspective points. Monticello and the University were laid out by Thomas Jefferson, who one gets the feeling never actually died living around here. He was the ambassador to France for a while, and greatly admired the architecture. He came back to the states with those architectural inspirations.

The UVA lawn, shown below, has the rotunda at one end (the second one… the first one burned down and blew up when a professor tried to save it with TNT) and is lined by ten pavilions. Between the pavilions are dorm rooms that distinguished fourth year students still live in. Each of the ten pavilions is architecturally different, and behind each is a garden in a different style which no doubt will be the topic of a future post. Pavilion 2 is pictured below. Professors still live in the pavilions. The pavilions were built in a strange order, to ensure that diminished funds would not diminish the scope of the project.

It’s very easy to find plenty of reading material on Jefferson and the University if you are interested, so I won’t try to write a tome here. However I’ll include a few of my pictures that may hopefully spark your interest.

SONY DSC DSC03036 SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSCpavilion 2

Monticello, i.e. the back of a nickel

 

Victor Horta: Art Nouveau Architect

I pretty much love anything art nouveau. So whenever I go to European cities, I look to see if they have any art nouveau icons. In Prague there is Mucha, in Berlin there is the Bröhan museum, and in Brussels there is Victor Horta. There is a Horta Museum, as well as a number of buildings he and others designed nearby. A bunch of walking tours (like this one with a nice video) can help you cover the various buildings or get a peek from wherever you currently are via the pictures.

Like many architects of the period, he also designed the furniture, wallpaper, and interior structures like staircases. The museum has great examples of these. Alas no pictures were allowed and there aren’t any fair use pics. But if you’re curious you can google for yourself. Here are some pictures of his lovely buildings:

SONY DSC

Hôtel Tassel in Brussels

SONY DSC

Hôtel Solvay

SONY DSC

Horta museum building

SONY DSC

Horta museum building

IMG_0287

Old England building, designed by Barnabé Guimard, closer to the Grand Place in Brussels. (not Horta, but still very cool. This hosts the instrument museum so you can go inside and enjoy that too.

Staircase from Horta museum

 

Artists: Walter Crane

I love to go to art museums to new style ideas. On a recent trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), I visited the art nouveau section and saw a piece by English artist Walter Crane:

Walter Crane plate at VMFA.

The plate mentioned that Walter Crane did children’s books.

So I went home and ordered a couple of his books. A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden anthropomorphizes the flowers of the gardens in beautiful art nouveau fashion. Below is a photo of one of the pages. This page depicts bachelor’s buttons. All the little details, down to their boots, are done to match the characteristics of the plant. Another panel shows a battle between a thistle knight and a snapdragon. Walter Crane has several children’s books besides this one. Since Walter Crane died in 1915, his works have entered the creative commons, and they can be had very cheap, especially digitally.

photo

Walter Crane also did more adult works. Neptune’s Horses reminds me of the scene in Lord of the Rings where the elf summons up the waters to fend off the nazgul, but it was painted over a century before.

Soviet Holiday Cards

Boingboing had a cool post yesterday about Soviet “Christmas” cards. Actually most of the cards say “s novum godom”– “to the new year”. I love all the science and rocketry themes. I also find it interesting how many things we associate with Christmas have been co-opted for a holiday the soviets found safer: New Year’s. You can find the original website for the cards here. Below are a few of my favorites, which can all be found at www.mazaika.com/postcard01.htm.

 

Artists: Thomas Hart Benton

Previously I have talked about depression era posters and Soviet propaganda posters. Thomas Hart Benton was a depression era painter and muralist from southwest Missouri. Growing up in St. Louis, I was exposed to his art from a young age. His shading brings the people in his paintings to life. He often depicts scenes of work, as suits the depression. (Both of the images in this entry can be found on Wikipedia.)

Cut the Line (Wikipedia)

If you for some reason find yourself in Jefferson City, Missouri (unlikely), the capitol building has many of his murals. Then stop by Central Dairy, where you can get a pile of amazing ice cream for very little $. Then you have seen all there is to see in the illustrious capitol.

Style: Soviet Propaganda Posters

The 20-40s really seem like it was a golden age for illustration. Color photos were not as vibrant as they are today, yet mass printing existed. Thus, beautiful and stylized portraits of life were used in advertising and propaganda (Alphonse Mucha did lovely art nouveau illustrations for advertisers since the late 1800s, I wrote about him here). Many of us have seen the posters created for the Great Depression and WW2 by artists such as Thomas Hart Benton.

When I visited the Czech Republic, Budapest and East Berlin, I was struck by their propaganda posters from the same period. There was such a contrast between the lovely illustrations and the content that we would likely find oppressive. It can be a window into history to understand how people chose (or were forced into) their path. For good collections of Czech or CSSR Propaganda, check out the Communist Musuem in Prague and Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. The featured image for this post is the poster for the Communist Museum; one of my souvenirs from Prague are some nesting dolls with this design.

To have more we must produce more (Wikipedia)

The Czech, Hungarian, and German posters seem hard to find, and I only know the languages a little (if anyone knows good sources, let me know!) I find the role of small countries in the early 20th century especially interesting since they are underrepresented. The countries of central Europe endured many of the worst hardships during the 20th century. There are many sources for Russian propaganda posters:

 

10 years since the revolution

 

 

Style: Art Nouveau

My favorite style is art nouveau. I first learned about art nouveau when I was living in Prague. The works of Alphonse Mucha, a prominent Czech art nouveau artist, remain throughout the city. There is a museum of his various prints and a few paintings, that explains the motivation behind his work. The municipal house (Obecní dům) is in the art nouveau style, with stained glass windows done by Mucha. The Prague castle also has a stained glass work by Mucha, among its many others. Mucha often depicted images of slavic nationalism and women with slavic features. Mucha’s interest in the slavic and czech identity, and his works on this identity, make learning about him an interesting way to learn about Czech history.

One of Mucha’s famous posters. (pic from Wikipedia)

Thumbnails above, from left: Mucha stained glass at the Municipal House, the Municipal House and the Powder Tower, and Mucha stained glass at Prague Castle.

Besides the locations in Prague, I’ve visited several other Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Bauhaus collections. The Bröhan museum in west Berlin and the Horta museum in Brussels are both great. You can also sometimes find museum collections online, like the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Style: Aboriginal Art

I like to use different art styles for my various different stories. Lately there is nothing better than trying to find attractive illustrations of various origins. A few months ago, I found a children’s book at a library sale, very much by accident–Enora and the Black Crane. Enora is a lovely story, and the illustrations are beautiful. Before happening upon this book, I had seen little aboriginal art.

I wanted to incorporate aboriginal designs into my in-progress short story collection. Luckily, I live near the only dedicated aboriginal art museum in the United States, The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection in Virginia. This was a nice resource for additional inspiration. The illustrations for the collection are black and white woodblock style (as I mentioned in my previous entry). Aboriginal design uses a lot of color. I tried to capture some of the spirit while maintaining consistency with the woodblock theme. I ended up with the featured image for this entry. I ended up knowing a bit more about aboriginal design, and my final design was richer for it.