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  • Americans in Florence

    Back in June I was lucky enough to catch the Americans in Florence exhibit at the Palazzo Strozzi.  The Strozzi has put on a number of interesting exhibitions in the past few years, still tied to Florence’s history, but with a bit of their own perspective.

    This year marks 500 years since the death of Amerigo Vespucci, so it follows that they wanted to honor the connection between Italy and America… and in the Strozzi’s way of doing things, to put forth that not only have Americans been influenced by Italy, but Italy influenced by Americans.

    The folks at the Strozzi were kind enough to give us a tour and made a short video about our visit:

     

     

    As you can tell from Tony’s reaction it was a very strong show- I didn’t have time to grab a catalogue, but very much worth seeing, a nice mix of American Impressionism and Macchiaoli painters.

     

  • Coming Home

    What a whirlwind trip to Florence.  To see the city we lived in, to absorb the sounds and light, visit some of my favorite restaurants and spend time with some of my favorite people.  It was great to be back in town, to just concentrate on painting outdoors.

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    Ponte Vecchio, Backlit 30x40cm

    I lived in Florence for more than a decade, yet somehow I never got around to painting some of the hallmarks of the city.  I guess it just felt too touristy at the time.  As soon as I settled in Boston I realized there were a few views of Florence I had always wanted to paint, but never did.

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    Morning, Ponte Vecchio 25×35

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    Market at San Lorenzo, 30x40cm

    It was a great time to be in town, the Florence Academy’s term was just closing, so I was able to visit with a lot of old students and friends.  Robert Bodem’s sculpture program had its final open house at its current location in Via Luna, and that gave me a great opportunity to paint a view I had wanted to for years.  We lived just around the corner from Via Luna, and I had always wanted to paint the humble little street corner.

     Coming Home

    Via Luna, 25×35

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    Santo Spirito, Before Summer Storm 30x40cm

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    Santa Trinita’, Before Sunset 25×35

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    Piazza Santissima Annunziata 30x40cm

    It was great just to concentrate on sketching, walking all over the city, painting places as if I was visiting old friends.

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    National Library, 45x55cm

     

    On a personal note, an interesting part of the trip was that after a few days enjoying being in Florence I suddenly realized how much I missed Boston.  It’s a curious thing when your concept of ‘home’ changes.

    It’s been fantastic to spend the past few days in the studio, touching up the sketches, listening to good music and enjoying the sound of the train passing nearby.

    It’s great to be home.

     

  • Antique Studio Easel

    Last month I bought a beautiful, though in dire need of repair, antique easel.  I’ve since been restoring it.  It’s a good, sturdy old easel, and it has some unique features integrated into its design… I figured it would be worth sharing.

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    The new studio easel

    The easel’s made of oak…I could see clearly that it was old, as it had crumbling original varnish all over the parts that hadn’t been handled for some time.  Much of the wood had splintered.  The casters and crank mechanism were still in good condition, though needed some oil.

    IMG 3851 300x224 Studio Easel

    Upon further inspection, I found the company’s tag that produced the easel.  F. Weber (now Martin/F. Weber Co.)still makes artist materials, though nothing like this old easel.  They make mostly aluminum, tabletop easels from what I’ve seen today.  I hadn’t ever heard of the company other than their partnership with Bob Ross to sell art materials. *edit 4/24/12 it appears F.Weber’s sister company, Martin Universal Design now does their easel production. You can check out the site atwww.martinuniversaldesign.com for a list of their easels.  

    After looking a bit at their site, I understood that this easel must be from before 1919, as the company’s name changed after the death of Mr. Weber.  Not a big surprise, as it takes about that long for a varnish to become as brittle and flaky as it was on the easel.

    IMG 3852 300x224 Studio Easel

    Here’s a shot of the old cast iron clamps

    Today, most of the easels in the states are made with plastic fittings that strip and ruin with time and use.  I was very happy to see that most of the original cast iron pieces of the easel were still intact.

    Interestingly, this easel’s crank system is unlike any I’ve seen before.  Most ‘crank’ easels use threaded rod to lower and raise the shelf of the easel.  This easel has instead a row of pegs.

    IMG 3850 300x224 Studio Easel

    Here you can see the row of pegs and the crank

    The pegs are mounted and descended by a spiral-shaped piece of cast iron.

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    Another view of the crank system

    In the picture above you can get a sense of how the easel raises and lowers.  The cast-iron crank gives a great deal of stability for working, and less tedious raising and lowering paintings than other, threaded rod crank style easels…not surprising, I suppose.

    When you use an old easel, you can’t help but to be a bit curious as to who used the easel before you.

    I’m also curious if anyone’s come across this particular crank system before.

     

    *Edit 4/24/12

    I’ve gotten in touch with the good folks at Martin/F. Weber.   They had a look through their old catalogues, and have told me that my easel is the Rembrandt Winding Studio Easel (either model number 17 or 18, I have elements of both, it seems).  This design easel was produced from 1903 to 1919, so mine’s from somewhere in that arc of time.

  • Historic Boston Studios

    The other day, I noticed for the first time part of the façade of the Beth Israel Medical Center- I had never noticed it was once the Massachusetts School of Art (which is now MassArt).  It had been taken over by Beth Israel in the late 80′s.  I was struck with the beauty of the stone carving and lettering.  It’s at the corner of Brookline & Longwood, in the heart of today’s hospital district.

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    Façade of the old Mass Art building

    The inscription on this side reads “Every genuine work of art has as much reason for being as the earth and the sun”.  

    Here’s the other entrance:

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    The other door

    The other door reads  “The useful and elegant arts minister to the comfort of man and gladden his eye with beauty”

    Here’s a couple other shots of the building I found on the net:

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    an image of the building from the 50’s

    Massachusetts School of Art facade detail 5 199x300 Historic Boston Studios

    another detail

     

    The most well known of Boston’s historic artist studios is still in use today.  The Fenway Studios were built in 1904 and has continually had artists working in them since then…. and after becoming a national landmark it will continue to be.  It’s written about extensively on their website.

    fenwaystudios 300x216 Historic Boston Studios

    Here is a video on youtube featuring two of the artists from the Fenway Studios.  Gives you a pretty good sense of the building.

     

    Another interesting defunct studio building is the Riverway Studios, now the Wheelock College library.  The Riverway Studio building was built in 1915,  under direction by Frank Benson and Ned Tarbell.  I’ve read that DeCamp may have been involved in the design  as well, though most places mention only Benson and Tarbell.

    IMG 3479 224x300 Historic Boston Studios

    It was a popular Boston studio, where many painters of note, including  William Paxton, Gertrude Fiske, Benson and Tarbell worked.     Unfortunately, the studio’s use was short-lived, Wheelock College bought the building in 1944.  You can read more about their renovation of the building here.

    Visiting the building today, you can see very little evidence of the building’s previous use.  The building has been renovated many times, starting the year it was bought.  You can, however, still get an ethereal sense of what the spaces were like by the proportions of the room, and of course by the beautiful 15-foot windows that are still in place.

    Though the trees on Boston’s Riverway now block much of the natural light, looking through the window you can still glimpse some of the skyline that appears in one of Benson’s etchings that he’d clearly done from the window.  That’s about all that’s left of the artist studio that was there.

     

     

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