Monday, July 14, 2014

A Visit to the Morse Museum

Each November the Visual Arts Center hosts a month-long festival that celebrates an artist or artistic period.  This year's festival is entitled "Sensuality Meets Symmetry:  Art Nouveau to Art Deco."  Local artists will fill one of our galleries with artwork that replicates--or is inspired by--the creations of artists from these periods.  There will be workshops and a party and a bus tour to South Beach to tour the Art Deco district.  It is going to be a lot of fun.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I am co-chair of this year's Festival, so I am particularly enthusiastic about our events.)

Me, Jennifer and Sue in front of a stained glass window
from Tiffany's Long Island estate (Laurelton Hall)
The Festival typically has an educational component as well, and this year is no exception.   When I was trolling the internet, I came upon the website for The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, a mere three hours from Punta Gorda.  The Museum houses the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Tiffany, including windows, jewelry, pottery and his chapel interior from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Whoa!   As I continued to look through the Museum's website, I noticed that Jennifer Perry Thalheimer, Curator and Collections Manager of the Museum, had given a lecture last year entitled "Forms and Themes of Art Nouveau from the Morse Museum."  Bingo!  Jennifer has graciously agreed to come to the Visual Arts Center to give her lecture on November 13th as part of the Festival.  And so my friend Sue Krasny and I decided to go on a reconnaissance mission to the Museum to check out the collection and meet Jennifer before she hits Punta Gorda.

Library Lamp
The Museum's collection is unbelievable in both its scope and its beauty.  As we stepped through the door, we looked to our right and saw the gorgeous window shown above (which we were able to get our picture with only because we were with "the boss").   Then we looked to our left and saw a dozen or more stunning Tiffany lamps on display.   It was a feast for our eyes.

We met Jennifer and she took us on a quick tour of the Art Nouveau room whose objects will be the subject of her lecture.  The room is organized around five themes:  the exotic, nature, line, female form, and metamorphosis.  I have to admit that I was only half-listening to what she was saying because there was so much to take in.  Suffice it to say, though, that there's a lot more to Art Nouveau than its beauty.  There's even a link to the suffragette movement (but I won't divulge the connection here -- come to the lecture to find out about it!)

Chapel interior from 1893 World's Fair
Later Sue and I made our way to the Chapel interior that was the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company's exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.  The exhibit was so popular that Tiffany reinstalled the Chapel in his studio in New York City after the World's Fair was over.  In 1898, the Chapel was installed in a different form in the crypt of the then-new Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  There was some controversy around the Chapel that resulted in it falling into disuse and disrepair. In 1916 Tiffany reacquired the Chapel and brought it to his Long Island estate Laurelton Hall.

The Chapel on display in the Museum is all original (with the exception of two benches). When we entered the room, the lights were dim; over time, the room seemed to brighten.  My eyesight not being what it once was, I asked the guard if it was my imagination.  She laughed and said that the lights are on an eight-minute timer to give people the chance to view the chapel in varying levels of brightness.  The lowest lighting level is reflective of how the Chapel was displayed at the World's Fair.   It is an amazing exhibit.

Daffodil Column
We then toured the 12,000 square foot Laurelton Hall wing of the Museum, which opened in 2011.  (While this is sizable, the real Laurelton Hall was a whopping 84-room, 37,000 square feet home built on a 580 acre estate.)   The Daffodil Terrace was particularly inviting with its 11 foot marble columns topped with bouquets of glass daffodils.   The Terrace, which is comprised of more than 600 components, is the Museum's most significant restoration project since the Chapel interior was reassembled.

Other rooms that have been recreated include the dining room, the reception hall and Tiffany's study.  In total, more than 200 items are included in the exhibit, and it gives the viewer a sense of the world in which Tiffany lived.

With that, we were on our way back to Punta Gorda.  It was a wonderful outing, and Sue and I agreed that we can't wait to go back.  Perhaps a visit during the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival in March is in order.  (This annual show boasts over 200 vendors culled from an applicant list five times that number.)   For the time being, I am looking forward to learning more about Art Nouveau and the Museum's collection when Jennifer gives her talk in November.  Consider yourself officially invited to come and join the fun!



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