Gargoyle of the Day: City Museum, St. Louis, Missouri


Photo by Tojosan via flickr (Creative Commons). A gargoyle from the City Museum in Saint Louis.

According to the photographer’s caption on flickr, this grotesque can be found at the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. Not being familiar with that particular institution but assuming it was an art museum, I searched online to figure out if this carving is a feature of the building or part of its collection. Instead, I learned that the City Museum is a “an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects”.* In other words, it seems to be a big kids’ version of a children’s museum. How cool is that? I’ve never been to St. Louis, but this place will certainly be on my agenda if I ever decide to visit.



An Art Quote for the Quote Challenge

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. – Pablo Picasso

Thanks to Belinda O. and her excellent taste in quotations, I was inspired to find and post a meaningful quote relating to the theme of my blog. This one is both relevant and true.  No matter your preferred medium or form of expression, the acts of making and enjoying art truly have a cleansing effect on the mind and the soul. Taking in a beautiful creative work transports you from your ordinary life into a richer world where emotions are stronger and ideas are more meaningful. It’s not always a fun or happy place, but you always feel better when the experience is over. This is equally true for music, theatre, dance, and even ice skating as it is for painting, sculpture, and photography. I’m pretty sure it’s why we all enjoy the arts, whether we chose to make them, observe them, or both.

If my quote has inspired you, maybe consider finding and posting one (or more) of your own. I would love to read them!

Gargoyle of the Day: City College of New York


CCNY grotesque. Photo by Peter Burka via flickr (Creative Commons).

I freely admit that I haven’t been great about posting gargoyles over the past few months, but I recently found a reader grotesque that I hadn’t seen before, and it seems to have snapped me back into action. This scholarly fellow attends the City College of New York. I believe that he resides on the turn-of-the-century Harris Hall, which houses the college’s medical school, or another building in the so-called “Gothic Quadrangle” of its northern Manhattan campus.* I love his position on the keystone of the arch, and I also enjoy the strange little man on the base of the arch, shown below. I have no idea what he’s doing, but I can’t help feeling that he looks like he’s applying deodorant.


CCNY gargoyle. Photo by Peter Burka via flickr (Creative Commons).

Happy Hobbit Day! (an article)

Bilbo Baggins, the titular protagonist of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and his nephew Frodo Baggins, hero of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, shared a September 22nd birthdate. Accordingly, that day is annually celebrated as Hobbit Day, and the entire week is deemed to be “Tolkien Week”. In honor of this year’s festivities, just published my article “Beyond the Hobbit and the Rings – Five Other Works by Tolkien”. It was difficult to pick just five, because Tolkien wrote so many brilliant and quirky articles and essays during his lifetime. Does anyone have any other favorites that I had to leave out?

“The Fortsas Bibliohoax” – now published on



The catalogue printed by Renier Chalon for the Fortsas “sale”. [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons {{PD-1923}}.

 “The Fortsas Bibliohoax, or how a Belgian collector fooled book lovers for the fun of it”

I wrote this article for‘s Book Collecting blog a few months ago now, but I only just found out that it was published. The Fortsas Bibliohoax, an elaborate prank perpetrated by a mid-nineteenth century book lover, is a hilarious story that was so much fun to research. It’s a perfect example of truth sometimes being stranger (and cooler) than fiction, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing about it.

Gargoyles to Call My Own


Gargoyle collecting isn’t among the most popular of hobbies, so I may be on the road to becoming a trendsetter. I purchased these two little grotesques at the New York Renaissance Faire this past weekend. I’ve named them Toulouse and Berlioz in honor of one of my favorite Disney movies, The Aristocats. According to the salesperson, Toulouse is a grotesque baby goat and Berlioz a baby lion. I tried to find some real medieval goat and lion grotesques for comparison, but all I came up with was carvings of lions eating goats. Let’s hope these two get along better than their historic predecessors.

I bought my grotesques from a cool little shop called Sales From the Crypt, which also sells many other medieval and medieval-inspired works. My friends and I were particularly taken with the reproduction Lewis chessmen, and I’m considering a set of carved faces based on Oxford University gargoyles for my next acquisition.

If you could have your own gargoyle or grotesque, what would it look like?

Hudson River School Day


Inside Thomas Cole’s studio. (All photos in this post are by me.)

The photos in this post are from my visit to the Catskills last weekend, where I spent a day to see the homes of Hudson River School painters Thomas Cole and Frederick Edwin Church. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I am a great lover of the Hudson River School, and I’ve wanted to visit these two houses for some time but haven’t had the chance until now. Cole’s and Church’s houses are about a five-minute drive away from each other on opposite sides of the Hudson River.


Cedar Grove, the Catskill, NY home of Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole.

Thomas Cole’s house, entitled “Cedar Grove”, was pretty much what I expected for – simple but elegant with a spacious wraparound porch allowing lovely views of the Catskills beyond. It was exciting to look out and compare the view with Cole’s several paintings of it that were handily reproduced nearby. Cole’s house and belongings were modest without seeming impoverished, though I do know they struggled financially at times. Based on the family objects in display inside and the tour guide’s narrative, I got the sense that Cole and his family valued artistry, intellect, and religion over being wealthy and fashionable. The grounds are beautiful, but smaller and less remote than I expected. They were originally much more expansive, though most were owned by Cole’s father-in-law rather than the artist himself.


“Tower by Moonlight” by Thomas Cole, c. 1838.

My favorite part of the tour was the “old studio”, the converted barn that Cole worked in for the majority of his time on the property. It was rustic and cozy, and I enjoyed experiencing the environment in which Cole painted his masterpieces. An exhibit inside the main house described his artistic process in greater detail, from his interest in color theory to how he mixed his pigments. I also got to go into the new studio, which Cole used in the last year of his life. It has recently been restored and is now an exhibition space. The current show addresses Cole’s interest in architecture, including the architectural elements in his paintings as well as the two or three architectural projects he completed in his career. The highlight of the exhibition was his famous The Architect’s Dream, temporarily on loan from its current owner. Until I saw it up close, I never realized how many people are in the image. Hundreds of tiny figures crowd the porches, terraces, and ledges of the structures in the painting. In general, I was surprised by how much detail he included in all of his works that you don’t show up in photographs. In addition to the works on display in the new studio, quite a few of Cole’s paintings hang inside the house. I was particularly taken by a strange scene of a dark and stormy outcropping with a scary-looking horseman in the foreground. According to our guide, it was cut from a larger (but equally atypical) religious painting. Bleak and ominous, it was much more what I would expect from a German Romantic painter than from Cole, and I was quite drawn to its unusualness.


Frederick Edwin Church’s home, Olana, in Hudson, NY.

Frederick Edwin Church was Thomas Cole’s student who grew to be far more commercially successful than his teacher. His home, Olana, is a fantastical castle he designed based on the architecture he observed in his extensive global travels. The overall structure is Persian or Moorish in style, with colorful exterior mosaics, windows and doors crowned by ogee arches, striped awnings above colonnaded porches, and numerous towers and turrets. Inside, this pseudo-Islamic taste prevails in the main architectural features, but individual rooms’ decoration pay tribute to different cultures of the world, including medieval European, Chinese, Indian, and South American. Copies of old master paintings hang in the medieval dining room, while the studio displays his collection of Central and South American sculpture, and paintings by Cole and other Hudson River School artists hangs beside Church’s throughout the house. Unfortunately, the house is rather dark even on a sunny day, and I couldn’t enjoy the art as well as I would have liked. However, I still enjoyed Church’s massive painting of Petra in Jordan, which hangs above a fireplace on the ground floor. An exhibition on the second floor discussed the influence of German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt on Church’s travels and work.


The view from Olana.

Sitting high up in the mountains, Olana has an unrivaled view of the Hudson River. Church carefully cultivated the landscape of his sprawling property; he had several winding roads made to drive to and from the house and even commissioned a man-made lake! According to one of the docents, he also planted hundreds of trees, and I was surprised to notice that more trees are visible at both Church’s and Cole’s residences now than appear in the artists’ depictions of those same views. Every aspect of Olana’s landscape, building, and collection has been meticulously preserved since the last Church family member left. One of the docents said it is most likely the best-preserved artist’s residence of its age in the world. It certainly presents a huge contrast to Thomas Cole’s simple home, paralleling the Hudson River School’s great rise in popularity between the two artists’ generations. While Cole spent years building up his patronage, Church became successful at a very young age and achieved widespread acclaim during his lifetime. His style is different than Cole’s – more colorful and dramatic, perhaps – but clearly related.


Antiquities and curiosities at Olana.

Speaking of related, the curators at both the Cedar Grove and Olana have recently began making an effort to connect with contemporary art they see as related to Cole’s and Church’s art. At Cole’s home, works by local artist Jason Middlebrook are hanging throughout the house. Geometric abstract paintings on leftover pieces of lumber, his works are aesthetically dissimilar to Cole’s but clearly related in their interest in the nature and preservation of the Catskill region. Middlebrook is apparently the first in a series of 21st-century artists whose works will be displayed in the house. I love the idea highlighting contemporary artists “in conversation with Cole”, and the series’s title suggests, but struggle with the aesthetics of displaying these works inside the home. At Olana, an exhibition in a small outbuilding near the visitors’ center displayed twenty-one artists’ designs for a summer house at Olana. Documentary evidence apparently suggests that such a structure once existed, but no indication of its appearance can be found, so Olana asked these artists to imagine and render what it might look like. The results were everything from historically-respectful buildings harmonizing with the main house to fantastical multi-tiered pools on pedestals. I wish I had seen the main house before this exhibition, as I think I would have been able to better appreciate it. I also wish I had reserved slots on a guided tour in advance. They fill up quickly, as I learned, and the self-guided tour is not nearly as informative.


The strange Thomas Cole painting that I found so compelling.

For any art lover in the Catskill area, I would highly recommend visiting Olana and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. There’s also the Hudson River School Art Trail, an unofficial walking or hiking trail of areas and views important to the Hudson River School and its artists. I didn’t get to walk the trail beyond the two houses, but I can’t imagine the views get any less beautiful as the trail progresses. I hope that all the rest of you had a nice summer. Did any of you get to have art or history-related adventures, too? If so, I would love to hear about them!


Me waiting to be let into Olana.