Sunday, August 28, 2011

Art History Is Not Linear No. 2

Earlier this month, I published a posting describing how I tried to instill in art students the idea that art history is not linear, and that the totality of art is a never-ending circle of inspiration. Then I showed paired examples that crossed time and cultures, which can be found here.

I couldn't help adding a few more, as I will continue to do.

Marcantonio Raimondi, 1520   |   Edouard Manet, 1863

Eskimo seal-hunting stool, 1850s*   |   Magis Gallery coffee table, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci, 1509   |   Buckminster Fuller, 1967*

Lascaux cave painting, C. 15,000-10,000 B.C.   |   Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1837

Antoni Gaudi, chimneys of Casa Mila, 1912  |  Jonathan Adler ceramics, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci, 1499   |   M. C. Escher, 1969

* The photograph of the Eskimo stool is from
Crossroads of Siberia and Alaska,
by William W. Fitzhugh and Aron Crowell.

* The photograph of Buckminster Fuller's Montreal Biosphere
is by Ryan Mallard

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

John Dickinson's Closet

Rago 20th/21st Century Design Auction  |  June 12, 2011
I was surfing the Internet recently and stopped short when I came upon this image. I recognized it immediately as the mirrored doors that were part of the dressing room of the great interior designer John Dickinson. In fact, for almost 40 years, I've held on to the image of that dressing room in my own files.

House & Garden, 1972
This cityscape, with mirrors for windows, served as five doors to John Dickinson's closet. They went up for auction earlier this summer, and while I don't know what they sold for, the opening bid was $12,000. I hope they went to a good home.

John Dickinson was a colorful San Francisco character, and an excitingly innovative and creative interior designer, remembered as one of the greatest of the last century. He was also a furniture designer whose works are today highly collectible, in part because they are classic designs, and in part because they are witty and ironic. Here are two examples:

Robert Massello Antiques
John Dickinson was famous for creating unusual tables — faux orange crates, faux name-a-material-and-he'd-do-it, and tables with all sorts of animal legs. This is one of my favorites.
This table with swagged cloth is actually galvanized metal. John Dickinson fabricated many wonderful designs and perhaps my favorite example is the living room stove in his own home:

House & Garden, 1972
Dickinson had the stove made of steel and brass (it took a year to make), and the stove's molding was designed to mirror the profile and exact height of the dadoes. The small tri-footed table and lamp in this photograph are also Dickinson designs.

House & Garden, 1972
John Dickinson had a knack for bringing style to every function. His cat ate from plates that were placed on hinged brass chargers. When mealtime was over, plates were whisked away, and the brass chargers flipped up against the wall.

House & Garden, June, 1967
"On one side of the sitting-dining room, a collection of old ironstone platters, each subtly different in its whiteness, hanging like plaques on an even whiter wall over a two-legged pine console of his own design." House & Garden, June, 1967

House & Garden, June, 1967
In the living room, a trompe l'oeil armoire painted to resemble Dickinson's own house. Note the Dickinson lamp in the second-floor window.

John Dickinson continues to inspire.


Monday, August 22, 2011

I've never reviewed a movie on this blog, but I'd like to do you a favor and recommend a documentary that's making the rounds now, named Buck. It's the story of Buck Brannaman, who was the model for the 1998 film, The Horse Whisperer.

Buck is actually two stories, and the first is of course about a man who has an uncanny ability for relating to horses. The second story is about a boy who overcomes physical and emotional abuse, which in turn poignantly explains the first story. Buck Brannaman understands what makes horses fearful because his own fears weren't too different.

William Hart  |  Google Images
As I watched Buck Brannaman, I was reminded of the great silent film actor, William S. Hart. Hart was the first real star of westerns, and he and Buck bear quite a resemblance. Both men are the way we'd like our cowboy heroes to be, not shoot-em-up, but strong, steady, compassionate people.

Buck was a favorite at this year's Sundance Festival, and in fact Robert Redford is interviewed for the documentary, describing how he relied on Brannaman for the authenticity of The Horse Whisperer. A good portion of Buck shows Brannaman's actual work in horse training clinics, and it's absolutely fascinating. What a shame a movie like this doesn't get shown in the mainstream!


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Celebrating One Year

Dear Blogging Friends,

Today marks my first year of blogging and of All Things Ruffnerian. A little more than a year ago, I delved for the first time into the world of blogging. I was really taken by the format, which allows one to share ideas and information in a way that can be intelligent, beautiful and concise. And because I am a natural sharer of information and somewhat of a storyteller, I thought that I could contribute something, too.

Blogging is a great mode for self-expression, and every posting is like an artist's performance or a baker's fresh batch of cookies. Maybe a better analogy would be that a posting is like one's own contribution to a really fun potluck dinner.

I enjoy looking at Google's blog stats, and which posts generate the most interest. (If you haven't noticed, I make an effort to evenly spread the postings between art and design history, places and/or things architectural, a variety of antique collections, my own work, and the odd miscellany.)

What I've especially come to appreciate is that blogging is really about networking and community. Over the past year, it's given me much pleasure to connect with kindred spirits, talented and inspiring artists, lovers of the finer things in life, thoughtful commenters and commentators, and so many who have been helpful and supportive, and whom I consider to be friends.

So I hope you'll pick up a fork and enjoy a piece of the virtual cake I've prepared just for you!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mucking About in the Everglades

Clyde Butcher, photographed by Woody Walters

Around this time three years ago, I took part in Clyde Butcher's annual "Muck About." I traveled with friends to spend a day photographing and "mucking about" in the Everglades, and to visit the gallery of a great photographer.

Click to enlarge  |  Clyde Butcher  |  Loxahatchee River #1

Clyde Butcher is renowned for his exquisite photographs of Florida, and in particular, his views of the Everglades. He wades through the water, using antique cameras, to capture images of Florida that are fast disappearing. Butcher's images, always black and white, range in size up to 5 x 9 feet.

Clyde Butcher  |  Everglades Restoration "Can Do"
Clyde Butcher is important, not just for his fine art, but also because he brings attention to the Everglades, which is under assault from those who would reroute its resources, and develop and destroy it.

Though people often think of the Everglades as a huge swamp, it is in fact a unique ecosystem, a slow-moving river that is home to over a 1,000 species of plants and over 350 species of birds. According to the Everglades Foundation, 67 threatened and endangered species reside within the Everglades. In her famous 1947 book, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas named this remarkable spot  the "River of Grass." The Everglades is both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.

Click to enlarge  |  Sandy Gonzalez, 2008
My favorite shot of the day was this serene view, taken by my friend Sandy. Wouldn't this make a striking mural? Below are some of my own Everglades images.

Mark D. Ruffner, 2008

Mark D. Ruffner, 2008
This may look like a tinted photograph, but in fact this bright red plant sprung up amidst very gray vegetation. It was quite a surprise to come upon it.

Mark D. Ruffner, 2008

Mark D. Ruffner, 2008

Mark D. Ruffner, 2008

Mark D. Ruffner, 2008

Mark D. Ruffner, 2008

Mark D. Ruffner, 2008
Mark  |  Sandy Gonzalez, 2008

Friday, August 12, 2011

Botticelli's Master

Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), whom the great biographer Giorgio Vasari referred to as "Botticello," attained a style we've come to recognize as all his own. But that's a disservice to his teacher, Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-1469), who is now less well remembered.

Botticelli was apprenticed to Fra Filippo Lippi while still a restless young boy. Fra Filippo Lippi became very fond of his apprentice because Sandro threw himself into learning and imitated the master closely. And if we make some comparisons, we can see that works by the mature Botticelli retain the influence of his master.

Above are two Madonnas, on the left by Fra Filippo Lippi, and on the right by Botticelli. A trademark of both artists is that they tended to define flesh in soft gradations, somewhat denying skeletal underpinnings. Features were often outlined, and we can see that especially in their treatment of hands.

At the top are hands by Fra Filippo Lippo, and below are hands by Botticelli. You're not very conscious of knuckles in these, and you'll notice that both artists extended the length of the fingers. Such lengthened features made Botticelli's women particularly graceful, and it's no mistake that when we think of Botticelli, we are bound to think of Venus rising from the water.

Botticelli is also remembered for his exquisite delineation of hair, and here again, one has only to look to his master to see the influence. On the left, hair by Fra Filippo Lippi, and on the right, by Botticelli.

Botticelli of course established his own studio, and went on to work for Pope Sixtus IV and the great Lorenzo de Medici. If we look at what I would consider to be Fra Filippo Lippi's masterpiece, The Adoration of the Magi, it looks quite different from anything by his pupil.

Click to enlarge
And yet if one looks at La Primavera, Botticelli's famous painting of love and spring, one still sees the influence of Fra Filippo Lippi in the tapestry-like painting of the flora.

According to Vasari, Botticelli was generous to other artists, and was famous for his practical jokes. Unfortunately, he became a follower of the priest Girolamo Savonarola, and according to Vasari, even destroyed some of his own work in the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities. Botticelli, having given up painting, died destitute.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Art History Is Not Linear

Art History Is Not Linear  |  Ryan McGinness  |  Page Bond Gallery, Richmond  |  Art In America  |  2011
This very graphic statement by Ryan McGinness caught my eye recently, not just because it's a striking design, not just because Mason Williams' Classical Gas started playing in my head, but also because the title really resonates with me.

Years ago I taught illustration to high school graduates at an art institute. As I made references to artists, paintings and styles of the past, I was usually met with blank stares. It finally dawned on me that these young people, who aspired to be professional artists, knew virtually nothing of art history. How could that be!? Has our way of teaching history become so dry and date-heavy that even art students shy from picking up books on art history? The answer is, apparently — yes.

My class evolved into a Liberal Arts course as I continually explained that, while we tend to think of history in a timeline, all art is contemporaneous. It might still be true that a lot of young artists look to whatever is current for inspiration and direction, but the totality of art is a never-ending circle of inspiration.

Pompeian frieze, c. A. D. 79   |   Picasso plate, 1956, Christie's

Alchemy symbol, Middle Ages   |   Joan Miro, 1960

Etruscan figures, c. 750 B. C.   |   Alberto Giacometti, c. 1960,

Art Nouveau initials, c. 1910   |   Fillmore poster, 1967

Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1500   |   Salvador Dali, 1931

York Minster stained glass, c. 1150   |   Georges Rouault, 1937

I hope you enjoy these comparisons.
I intend to make this posting a page in my sidebar,
and I'll continue to add comparative images.

Friday, August 5, 2011

George Washington's Will

One hundred years ago today (August 5, 1911), the United States Senate published the Last Will and Testament of George Washington. I own that document in the form of a thin book of 66 pages. Forty-three pages constitute the actual will, and it's quite interesting reading.

As you may know, though George Washington was orphaned at an early age, he came from a wealthy planter family, was a physically impressive figure, an extremely shrewd businessman, and he married well. By the time he died, he was not only wealthy, but if his estate were to be valued in today's market, he would undoubtedly be the wealthiest of all our presidents.

Washington began his career as a surveyor and he liked to own land. He gladly took land in lieu of cash payments and at his death he owned tens of thousands of acres in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, the Northwest Territory (which comprised a number of present-day states) and the City of Washington (Washington, D.C.). He owned stocks in the Potomac Company, the James River Company, the Bank of Columbia and the Bank of Alexandria.

Washington owned 36 horses, 15 asses, 57 mules, 329 head of horned cattle, 640 head of sheep, and a large stock of hogs that he didn't bother to count.

It's painful to recount that George Washington owned slaves as well. He was conscious that he would be judged for that and therefore wrote in his will that, upon the death of his wife, all his slaves would be set free. An alarmed Martha Washington, not wishing to hurry that day, freed them all immediately.

Washington's will is particularly interesting in the disposal of personal possessions. General Lafayette received two steel pistols, Washington's brother Charles received a gold-headed cane that had been a gift from Benjamin Franklin, a Doctor Craik received Washington's wartime spy glass, and a Doctor Stuart received Washington's shaving table.

The Smithsonian

One paragraph of George Washington's will reads as follows:

"To each of my nephews — William Augustine Washington, George Lewis, George Steptoe Washington, Bushrod Washington, and Samuel Washington — I give one of the swords or cutteaux of which I may die possessed, and they are to choose in the order they are named. These swords are accompanied with an injunction not to unsheathe them for the purpose of shedding blood except be it for self defence of their Country and its rights, and in the latter case to keep them unsheathed, and prefer falling with them in their hands to the relinquishment thereof."

Samuel Washington, who was a military man himself,  chose the sword seen above. The story of the sword and other Revolutionary War memorabilia can be seen at the Smithsonian website, here.