Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Reflect and Respond: What Morse Museum Art Means to My Home

Christ Blessing the Evangelists window
Christ Blessing the Evangelists
Tiffany Chapel at
Dear friends,

How does art affect you?
What motivates you when you are working in your home?

This is a stream of thought journal entry (lightly edited), reflecting first on creativity in general, and then more specifically on the beauty I saw at the Morse Museum of American Art last week. (See: A Visit with Dad and Anny. As I walked through the galleries, I kept thinking, "Feast! Feast! Feast!  Food for the soul!") I then extended that to a practical response in my own home. Here we go!

Creativity and identity: what you create flows from who you think you are, as well as what you have subconsciously buried inside that seeps up around the edges. Pay attention to the vague and fleeting impressions that may shape your thoughts and expressions in ways you don’t fully understand. The phrases and images don’t “come from nowhere.” What can you learn about yourself as you open yourself to creativity? 

This can also be evoked as a response to the art of others, such as in the galleries at the Morse Museum. What you see or hear or touch or taste or smell may bring forth a poignant memory or reveal a new insight.

Medallion window
by Louis Comfort Tiffany
For me, stained glass reminds me of my mother, especially seeing the Tiffany collection I had enjoyed with her at the Morse Museum. Her own stained glass pieces were not as elaborate as Tiffany's intricate windows, but beautiful and well loved. In the museum, Tiffany's church windows spoke most to me with a sense of reverence and beauty in the divine. 

"Story of the Cross" window from
Louis Comfort Tiffany's
Laurelton Hall chapel
What would it be like to have a chapel in my own home as Tiffany did? After his death, the chapel at Laurelton Hall was neglected and fell into total disrepair. Fortunately, the McKanes had a vision to restore it in its current location in Florida. For me, this is symbolic of spiritual devotion. In what way can a sense of beauty and reverence be restored in my own home, to make the whole house a chapel?

Library lamp
Louis Comfort Tiffany
The domed lamps brought beauty to an ordinary day at home. Stained glass lamps are translucent and luminescent, with a lovely glow and radiance. They exude warmth.
Lady's writing desk
by Emile Charles Martin Gallé
Seeing well-crafted wooden furniture in the museum makes me think of homes and the people who lived in "simpler" times when communication was either face to face or by letters written at a desk. Perhaps there was not so much visual clutter in the home, and certainly not so much electronic distraction. I still would not trade the power of technology for that. Yet it is not an either-or. I can have a simple home, a beautiful home, and still have the benefits of my laptop computer and iPod. In my home, it is more a matter of uncovering the beauty. I already have antiques and vintage pretties. I just need to get rid of much of the junk. I can also take time to read the old books from generations past.

"Harper's Ferry"
by Edward Lamson Henry 
I saw a late 19th century painting of an African-American woman leaning on her broom near the porch of a home. Was this her own home or did she work as a domestic there? I am guessing it was hers; it seemed a place that a hard working laborer could afford to live in. Maybe she had just finished a long day's work and then continued her efforts at making her own home a place of beauty and order. Did she complain - or instead see her home as a precious privilege, an opportunity for excellence? It was a chance to shine, not because she was being paid to do so, but because this was her own domain. She looks happy enough!

"Still Life, Fruit, and Dishes"
by Gottfried Schultz
My favorite painting at the Morse is a still life of fruit on a table. A piece like this captures a snapshot that has no action, no movement. It is still. It is a very controlled setting because it can be arranged just as the artist desires. It is not wild or unpredictable. This calls out a twinge of envy from me. I wish things would stay where I put them! But my home is not a still life.  I can try to create and maintain beauty, but someone will inevitably mess with it. The challenge - in the face of my own discouragement and the seeming apathy of others - is to stay on top of the situation and not let the home slide into ugliness and chaos. This seems to be a full effort job.


After writing these thoughts on Sunday evening, I got down to work on applying them in my own home on Monday morning. First, before the kids got up, I organized the kitchen cabinet with plastic storage containers. Someone who had been in a rush emptying the dishwasher had left it all in a jumble, and a lot of it was even still piled up on the dish drainer. No, plastic is not inherently beautiful, but a well ordered cupboard does have a certain charm.

Next, I tackled the weedy garden patches along our front walkways. I filled a whole huge basket, and haven't even touched the main mulched area of the yard! I need to get the kids out there, because my arthritic hands can't take much weed yanking. I did wait until the soil was nice and soft from a good soaking rain, and that helped. 

I also went to Lowe's and bought two dozen purple mum plants on sale. That should cover my cleared areas and give me incentive to keep up on them. I haven't had a chance to plant them yet, because it has been pretty much pouring in the available daylight hours since then. That's a job for tomorrow, weather permitting. I think any gardening creativity that I have is inspired by my mom, who passed away last year. She had such a green thumb! You can see some of her work here: In the Garden (When the Caregiver Needs Care)

The house is already decorated for autumn, but I still have a lot of other aesthetic projects to do, such as touching up paint on some of the walls, buying bedroom curtains, and tidying up the bookshelves (again) - not to mention just keeping up with the daily clutter!

How did I go from musing on general creativity, to reflecting on specific pieces of art, to responding with efforts at home? I don't know. I guess that just how my crazy brain works!

How do you get energized to beautify your home?

Oh, before I go, here is a related "home arts" quote from the same time period as the Morse pieces. I've had it on my kitchen cabinet for several years - even though I am not as much into traditional gender roles anymore:

"Let us lay hold of common duties and relations. Let us lay hold of the tenderness that belongs to them. If she does not make her surroundings home-like wherever she is, whether she be teacher, artist, musician, doctor, writer, daughter at home, or a mother in her household... the world will feel that the one thing needful is lacking -- vivid, tender womanliness..." What is Worth While? book by Dr. Anna Robertson Brown, 1893

Virginia Knowles

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