The Garden at Musée Rodin

Visitors to Paris will often want to include in their itinerary a side trip to the Palace of Versailles, which is about a thirty-minute train ride from the city.  The round trip isn’t so time-consuming, but actually seeing the palace and grounds takes a minimum of half a day, even more if one truly explores the garden, which is 800 hectares (over 1,900 acres) in size. Unfortunately, some travelers are on a tight schedule and hardly have enough time to see the major attractions in Paris, much less places outside the city.  There is no substitute for seeing the Palace of Versailles, which is quite magnificent and offers a visual representation of the wealth and power of the monarchy in the 17th and 18th centuries. The garden is certainly spectacular and difficult to match; however, if there is a substitute in Paris that can serve as a rival, albeit on a smaller scale, the garden at the Musée Rodin must be near the top of the list.

Rodin gardens from mansion balconey
Rodin gardens from mansion balcony

The Musée Rodin is housed in a mansion, formerly called the Hôtel Peyrenc de Moras, now known as the Hôtel Biron. Auguste Rodin was a 19th-century French sculptor who is known for creating several iconic works, including “The Age of Bronze,” “The Thinker,” “The Kiss,” and “The Burghers of Calais.” The collection in the restored mansion is interesting for the novice and probably a treasure for artists and art historians, but almost everyone can appreciate the beauty of the garden.  Its size is minuscule compared to Versailles, but it is still impressive. The grounds are divided into a rose garden, north of the mansion, and a large ornamental garden, to the south, while a terrace and hornbeam hedge backing onto a trellis conceal a relaxation area, at the bottom of the garden. Two thematic walks are also part of the garden: the “Garden of Orpheus,” on the east side, and the “Garden of Springs”on the west side.

Rodin garden roses and shrubs
Rodin garden roses and shrubs

In addition to the abundance of plants, the garden is also decorated with some of Rodin’s sculpture.  Rodin started to place selected works in the garden in 1908, together with some of the antiques from his personal collection. Male and female torsos, copies made in the Roman or modern period, after Greek works, were presented in these natural surroundings. Other pieces were added after his death. The first bronzes were erected in the gardens before World War I. Since 1993, they have been regularly cleaned and treated so as to preserve their original patinas.

Rodin mansion 3

Anyone who has visited Paris knows the frustration of wanting to see more, to do more, than limited time will allow. Tourists have to be selective, discriminating, and reasonable about what they will be able to cover during the time they are in the city. Any attraction that offers more than one type of experience is probably worth including. The Musée Rodin fits that description with historic architecture and provocative sculpture but also a landscape that is in itself a work of art, offering the visitor an opportunity to rest and reflect.

Edward Clark Potter

Enfield, Connecticut, is often associated with the manufacture of gunpowder and weapons, but it is also the place where Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  Edward Clark Potter, born in 1857, was raised in this small township just across the border from southern Massachusetts.  Educated in local schools and at the Williston Seminary in Easthampton, Massachusetts, young Edward defied his mother’s plans for him to enter the ministry and instead enrolled at Amherst College in Massachusetts for three semesters before heading to Boston in 1879 to study art.  A few years later he moved to Vermont to work at a marble quarry, overseeing stone cutting  there for Daniel Chester French, an established sculptor working in Boston.  In the late 1880s Potter studied in Paris with figure sculptor Antonin Mercié and animal specialist Emmanuel Frémiet.  He returned to the United States in 1890 and married May Dumont of Washington, D.C.  The couple started a family back in Potter’s hometown of Enfield.  His friend and mentor Daniel French encouraged Potter’s interest in modeling animals, and the young artist eventually earned a reputation as one of America’s leading animaliers by the turn of the twentieth century.

Potter and French collaborated on numerous commissioned projects, mostly statues of famous personalities on horseback with Potter being responsible for sculpting the horses.  Potter’s own five equestrian groups, including those representing Henry Warner Slocum and Philip Kearny, demonstrated his growing talent and ability to express the unity between the rider and his horse.  Potter won a gold medal at the Louisiana Purchase Universal Exposition in 1904 for the equestrian De Soto Sighting the “Father of the Waters.”  When his statue of a Civil War bugler on horseback was unveiled in 1915 in Brookline, Massachusetts, it was praised as innovative and unconventional.

Edward Clark Potter
Edward Clark Potter

Potter and his family preferred to stay in the rural countryside, where he could take care of the animals he raised and used as his subjects for sculpting.  However, Potter also enjoyed his proximity to New York where he was involved in the art community.  He was a charter member of the National Sculpture Society and took a leadership role in the National Academy of Design.  He also made significant original artistic contributions to New York City, including a marble statue of Zoroaster on the cornice of the New York Appellate Court House in Madison Square.  Surprisingly, his most famous sculpting contribution to New York, or any place for that matter, did not come in the form of a person or a horse.

Around 1910 Potter received a commission of $8,000 on the recommendation of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America’s foremost sculptors of the day.  Potter teamed up with the Piccirilli Brothers, renowned marble carvers, to create two statues constructed of Tennessee pink marble.  The two pieces were originally named  Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, but sometime in the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt the citizens of New York would need to survive the economic depression.  Architecture critic Paul Goldberger praised the pieces as “New York’s most lovable public sculpture.”  These two majestic lions flank the Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street entrance to the New York Public Library.  Patience still guards the south side of the Library’s steps, and Fortitude maintains his position to the north.  As a tribute to the Lions’ popularity and all that they stand for, the Library adopted these figures as its mascots. They are trademarked by the Library, represented in its logo, and featured at major occasions.

To learn more, consult Top Cats: the Life and Times of The New York Public Library Lions by Susan G. Larkin. This publication surveys their history through photographs, cartoons, prints, original drawings, memorabilia, and lively tales.

Self Portrait with Tree by Jaume Plensa

Public art is a standard feature in most large cities across the U.S. and in much of the world.  Art that is made freely available for everyone to enjoy in public places takes many forms: painting, photography, architecture, sculpture, graffiti, and even performance.  Like many tourists, I tend to take photographs of public art when I am visiting cities, and I have collected images from New York, San Francisco, Phoenix, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Rome, and London to name a few.  One of the more interesting pieces I found may not be so well known, although the artist is rather prolific.  One evening in 2011 when my wife and I were walking the streets of Chicago headed out for dinner, we wondered through a section of the city known as Streeterville, a neighborhood roughly east of the Magnificent Mile that serves as the gateway to the Navy Pier.  I was struck by a piece of bronze sculpture we saw at the northern end of Streeterville, at E. Chestnut Street next to the landmark Hancock Center.

Self Portrait with Tree, Jaume Plensa
Self Portrait with Tree, Jaume Plensa

When I first saw Jaume Plensa’s “Self Portrait with Tree” on the sidewalk, my first thought was to make a joke, an annoying habit of mine.  I turned to my wife and said, “Now that is truly a man of letters.”  My apologies — please keep reading.  Plensa is one of the featured artists of the Richard Gray Gallery.  With its main location on North Michigan Avenue and another on Madison Avenue in New York, Richard Gray Gallery is mostly a collector’s gallery and focuses its attention on attracting buyers.  According to the gallery’s website, Plensa is one of the world’s foremost sculptors working in the public space, with over 30 projects spanning the globe in such cities as Chicago, Dubai, London, Liverpool, Nice, Tokyo, Toronto, and Vancouver. He was born in 1955 in Barcelona, where he studied at the Llotja School of Art and Design and at the Sant Jordi School of Fine Art.  A significant part of Plensa’s work is in the field of sculpture in the public space. Installed in cities in Spain, France, Japan, England, Korea, Germany, Canada, USA, etc., these pieces have won many prizes and citations, including the Mash Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture.

Plensa has used the theme of the seated figure for many installments, and he has repeated the tree-hugging sculpture in various locations around the world.  Some of the pieces are colossal.  Another thread running through Plensa’s work is the use of letters and symbols to fabricate the figure.  For these particular pieces, he works in an assortment of materials including bronze, stainless steel, and stone.  The Self Portrait in Streeterville is especially interesting because of the letters in full relief on the seated figure’s body, like the type hammers of an old manual typewriter.  The technique lends a bit of nostalgia to the piece.  You can learn more about the work of Jaume Plensa at his website at http://www.jaumeplensa.com/.

Otoe-Missouria Buffalo Hunt in Silhouette

Buffalo Hunt Silhouette

This metal sculpture is on a hillside behind one of the new casinos in northern Oklahoma, just south of Arkansas City, Kansas.   The Otoe-Missouria Tribe was encountered by Lewis & Clark on their epic expedition of 1804, when the inhabitants were still living in their Nebraska tribal home.  So the story goes, the tribe was on a buffalo hunt, making Lewis & Clark wait on them to return to their village.  There are statues in front of the casino commemorating that “First Council” meeting.  The metal outdoor artwork obviously recalls the hunt.

I find the sculpture particularly striking because it produces a silhouette effect regardless of the outdoor lighting.  On an overcast day, like the one when I took this photo, the effect is quite pronounced.  The individual pieces are large, and in a photograph, you can almost be convinced that they are real.  I gasped when I first saw it and wondered why it was visible only from the back parking lot of the casino.  I think it is magnificent.  I hope that this fine display of art is not offensive to Native Americans, especially those in this particular area near the northern border of Oklahoma.  I hope it is considered a tribute to a culture and way of life now buried deeply in our country’s past, with all its beauty and its scars.