A blog about architectural tiles, terra cotta and other ceramic surfaces, architectural glass and ornamentation in and around New York.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bits and Pieces: Two Mosaics--Hamden, CT and Manchester, NH

On a recent trip into New England to photograph the architectural stained glass of Robert Pinart for a future article, we came across two ceramic mosaic installations that impressed us very much. The first was in a synagogue, Congregation Mishkan-Israel, in Hamden, Connecticut, and the second was once part of the entrance portico (now an interior portico) to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Congregation Mishkan-Israel. (Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

Congregation Mishkan-Israel, a progressive Reform synagogue, was founded in 1840 and is the oldest, continuously operating synagogue in New England. Congregation Mishkan-Israel was the first Jewish religious institution to be incorporated in Connecticut in 1843 after the Connecticut legislature voted to allow non-Christian religious groups to do so. In the late 1950s Mishkan-Israel had outgrown its historic building on Orange Street in New Haven and built a new synagogue at 785 Ridge Road in Hamden. “Congregation Mishkan Israel [...was] designed by Fritz Nathan* and Bertram Bassuk** (1918-1996)... . [...Robert] Pinart made windows for the Mishkan Israel sanctuary, and his friend, Jean-Jacques] Duval for the chapel. According to Mishkan Israel Rabbi Herbert Brockman, his predecessor Rabbi Robert E Goldburg disagreed with architect Nathan over the Ark design, and brought in artist Ben Shahn to create a more monumental arrangement (flanked by Pinart's ark-wall windows).” (Samuel Gruber, “USA: Jean-Jacques Duval's Connecticut Synagogue Stained Glass Still Dazzles After 50 Years”, Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art & Monuments blog, June 5, 2011; http://samgrubersjewishartmonuments.blogspot.com/2011/06/usa-jean-jacques-duvals-connecticut.html

Mishkan-Israel’s Rabbi, Herbert Brockman, wrote, “’The basic glass melt was conjured by the French master-glazier Robert Panart... .’ This refers to the 12 windows that flank our 30 foot mosaic mural ark in the Sanctuary of our synagogue. They extend from floor to ceiling made of blue and mauve glass. Generally the vision is attributed to Ben Shahn who designed the mosaic and was the prevailing influence of the total design. In each wing there are 72 panels in 6 vertical and 12 horizontal columns all in a semi-circle. Each column is dedicated to a person of renown, 6 biblical prophets on one side of the ark and 6 sages and philosophers on the other side.” (Email from Rabbi Brockman to the author dated 18 July 2014)

[*“Fritz Nathan was born in Bingen [am Rhein], in the Rhineland, in 1891. He was a graduate of the Institute of Technology of Munich and Darmstadt, and became one of the leading Jewish architects in Germany during the pre-Hitler era. [Fritz Nathan created unique works as part of the New Objectivity movement in 1920s Germany.] Among his earlier achievements in Germany, where he became an independent architect in 1922, were the monument in honor of Jewish soldiers at the Weissensee cemetery, the new Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt, the first skyscraper in Mannheim, and a department store in Frankfurt. During his career, he built institutional and business buildings as well as private homes. His architectural work displayed the impact of the modern style popular at that time. In the United States, Nathan was perhaps best known for the Jewish temples he designed, such as the Jewish Community Center in White Plains and the temple of the Congregation Mishkan Israel in New Haven.” (http://findingaids.cjh.org/index2.php?fnm=FritzNathan02&pnm=LBI) **Bertram Bassuk (1918-1996)... was educated at New York University and Brooklyn College. After serving in World War II he earned a Batchelor of Architecture at New York University’s School of Architecture. He worked for a series of firms, including Antonin Raymond and L.L. Rado, Sam J. Glaberson and Fritz Nathan before setting up his own practice in 1952. Bassuk concentrated on designing housing developments in New York and New Jersey, as well as designing synagogues.” (Alan K. Lathrop, Churches of Minnesota: An Illustrated Guide, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2003, p. 279)]

Robert Pinart’s stained glass windows in shades of blue and mauve--darker at the bottom to lighter at the top. The two sets of windows flank Ben Shahn’s monumental ceramic mosaic Ark.

Rabbi Brockman pointed out aspects of the symbols in Ben Shahn’s ceramic mosaic Ark. There are ten Hebrew letters symbolizing the ten commandments and pomegranate flowers with 613 seeds denoting 613 mitzvahs or good deeds. Pomegranates are also a symbol of fertility.

“Ben Shahn was born in Kaunas [Kovno], Lithuania in 1898[, and he] emigrated to New York with his family in 1906. ...In the 1920s Shahn became part of the social realism movement. Social Realism is a term used to describe the works of American artists during the Depression era who were devoted to depicting the social troubles of the suffering urban lower class: urban decay, labor strikes, and poverty. His early work was concerned with political issues of the time... .” (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~am482_04/am_scene/bioshahn.html)

“In 1932 Shahn produced a series of 23 highly compassionate and controversial gouaches dealing with the celebrated Sacco & Vanzetti murder trial, proving his deftness in portraying sociopolitical events as well as scenic images. The inconclusive evidence revealed in the trial and reflected in the sentence had aroused international outcry. Shahn’s work mirrored this protest. He joined the ranks of artists and writers who believed that both men were executed, not because of their guilt, but because of their ethnic origin and unpopular political affiliations.” (http://adcglobal.org/hall-of-fame/ben-shahn/)

Ben Shahn, The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, 1931–32, from the Sacco-Vanzetti series of 23 paintings. Tempera on canvas, 84 1/2 × 48 in. (214.6 × 121.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Edith and Milton Lowenthal in memory of Juliana Force  49.22.

Detail from "The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti" (1967, glass mosaic), Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY. ("Sacco-Vanzetti-01" by DASonnenfeld - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-                        Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sacco-Vanzetti-01.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sacco-Vanzetti-01.jpg)

“Shahn's subsequent series of California labor leader Tom Mooney won him the recognition of Diego Rivera. In May and June 1933, he served as an assistant to Diego Rivera while Rivera executed the Rockefeller Center mural. [...In] 1935, Shahn was recommended by Walker Evans...to Roy Stryker to join the photographic group at the Farm Security Administration (FSA). As a member of the FSA group, Shahn roamed and documented the American south together with his colleagues Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. ...He also worked for [the FSA] as a graphic artist and painter. Shahn’s fresco mural for the community center of Jersey Homesteads [later Roosevelt, New Jersey] is among his most famous works, but the government also hired Shahn to execute the Bronx Central Annex Post Office and Social Security murals. In 1939, Shahn and his wife[, Bernarda Bryson,] produced a set of 13 murals inspired by Walt Whitman's poem I See America Working and installed at the United States Post Office-Bronx Central Annex.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Shahn and http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/2552.pdf. Photo by Christopher D. Brazee on p. 17)

“His first contact with graphic design...came in 1942 when he was invited to work in the Office of War Information.

A war poster designed by Ben Shahn and William Golden. (http://spartacus-educational.com/ARTshahn.htm)

“...During the war, Shahn created other posters for the Office of War Information, with subjects ranging from Nazi brutality to post-war employment for veterans. Shahn’s posters appealed to the conditions of human suffering on a more abstract visual and cerebral plane. His images, full of horrific expressions and disproportionate body language succeed without actually depicting war’s carnage.” (http://adcglobal.org/hall-of-fame/ben-shahn/)

“[Shahn’s] later work portrayed the loneliness of the city dweller. Text and lettering formed an integral part of his designs and his work was often inspired by news reports.” (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~am482_04/am_scene/bioshahn.html) 

Pages from Ben Shahn’s Haggadah (1965). (http://www.hebrewtypography.com/blog/?p=550)

“Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, Shahn renewed his early interest in the Bible. He created a vast and beautiful array of work based on both testaments, richly adorning them with his inimitable calligraphic impressions. They remain prized examples of his immense artistic legacy.

A tapestry by Ben Shahn in the Congregation Mishkan-Israel sanctuary. Note the similarity to the menorah in the Haggadah above. (Photo taken by Michael Padwee and courtesy of Congregation Mishkan-Israel)

“...Always a champion of the less fortunate and of the need for social and spiritual leadership, Shahn once wrote:

Society cannot grow upon negatives. If man has lost his Jehovah, his Buddha, his Holy Family, he must have new, perhaps more scientifically tangible beliefs to which he may attach his affections … In any case, if we are to have values, a spiritual life and a culture, these things must find the imagery and interpretations through the arts.” (http://adcglobal.org/hall-of-fame/ben-shahn/)

The Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire

The Currier Museum of Art, c. 1929. (Lisa B. Mausolf with Elizabeth Durfee Hengen, “Edward Lippincott Tilton: A Monograph on his Architectural Practice”, The Currier Museum of Art, 2007, Cover Image. In the collection of the Currier Museum of Art. Gift of Mrs. Thomas Putnam, 1983.92.1)

Edward Tilton (1861, New York City-1933), the architect of the Currier Gallery of Art, “was a classicist, inspired in his early work by the Italian Renaissance and in his later work by ancient Greece and Rome, and synthesizing classical detail and modern needs. Over twenty years, Tilton designed seven structures in Manchester, New Hampshire, and these are the only known buildings he designed in the state.” (Lisa B. Mausolf with Elizabeth Durfee Hengen, “Edward Lippincott Tilton: A Monograph on his Architectural Practice”, The Currier Museum of Art, 2007, p. 2) Tilton studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris with his future partner, William Boring. They both worked at McKim, Mead and White, and formed their own partnership in 1891. They designed a number of the buildings on Ellis Island, including the Main Building (1897-1900). Boring and Tilton won gold medals at the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1900) and at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo (1901). The partnership was dissolved in 1904. Tilton specialized in designing public buildings and more specifically, libraries. He designed over one hundred libraries in the United States and Canada during his career.

Tilton began to design buildings in Manchester after 1910 with the Carpenter Memorial Library. In 1920 he and Alfred M. Githens became partners, and in 1926 the Trustees of the Currier Museum of Art awarded them the commission to design the museum.

“In contrast to Tilton’s earlier designs, the Currier is more simplified and restrained in its detailing. On the façade, Tuscan columns and antae support a flat entablature and bas reliefs and mosaics designed by Italian artist Salvatore Lascari provide decorative accents. ...[The] restrained detailing is clearly evocative of the evolution in American architecture from the ornate Beaux Arts to a stripped Classicism.” (Lisa B. Mausolf with Elizabeth Durfee Hengen, “Edward Lippincott Tilton: A Monograph on his Architectural Practice”, The Currier Museum of Art, 2007, pp. 1-7)

The three Lascari glass mosaic murals on what was once the entrance to the museum.

“Considered one of the North America’s finest regional museums and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, is the only public art museum in the state.

In March 2008, the museum reopened its doors with a 73,000-square-foot, $14 million renovation and expansion designed by Boston-based Ann Beha Architects (ABA). ...The new additions offer a contemporary interpretation of the original museum building’s restrained classicism, and are scaled to maintain the prominence of the original 1929 building designed by Tilton & Githens. Two galleries, added in 1982 by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, had re-oriented entry to the north side adjacent to parking in the service of accessibility.

The original entrance, with mosaics depicting The Arts created by Salvatore Lascari, is now the focal point of the Winter Garden.” (“A Treasure Reborn: The Currier Museum of Art by Ann Beha Architects”, ArchNewsNow, September 23, 2008; http://www.archnewsnow.com/features/Feature264.htm) 

The Pagan Arts

On the left of the doors are mosaic designs that symbolize the pagan arts of the Classical world. 

The Christian Arts.

The mosaics on the right represent Christian art.

The Fountain of Inspiration

Over the doors is a panel titled the “Fountain of Inspiration”. The mosaics were assembled in Venice, Italy. (New Hampshire Writers Program, Works Progress Administration, New Hampshire: A Guide to the Granite State, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, MA, 1938, pp. 201-202)

Salvatore Lascari (1884, Italy-1967, New Jersey) studied at the National Academy School in classes from about 1902-1911. “He won the Prix de Rome and spent three years at the American Academy before travelleing through England, France, Spain and North Africa (1913-14). After his return to the United States he married, in 1916, Hilda Kristina Gustafson, a sculptor and later an associate member of the National Academy. The couple returned to Europe and travelled...from 1919 to 1927. Lascari's commissions include glass mosaics for the loggia of the Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire (1931); marble floor masaics and painted ceiling decorations for the William Welch Medical Library of Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, Maryland; and mural decorations for the Washington Irving High School in New York City. Lascari was an instructor at the National Academy from 1931 to 1941.” (http://www.nationalacademy.org/collections/artists/detail/1249/)

Washington Irving High School, Irving Place and East 16th Street, Manhattan

“Washington Irving High School, across from the Irving House, was constructed from 1911-1913 as Girls’ Technical High School with C.B.J. Snyder, the premier architect of NYC schools, its primary designer. The insides are like a museum, preserving a generous sampling of furnishings and art. ...[The interior] features beautiful oak panelling in the lobby and a series of murals, one 1915 series in the lobby by Barry Faulkner, a gift to the city by the Municipal Arts Society depicting scenes from early Manhattan; another from the same year on the back wall of the auditorium by illustrator Robert Knight Ryland depicting Dutch and Indians trading; a 1932 series in the front of the auditorium of female figures resembling the Greek Muses by J. Mortimer Lichtenauer; and a 1932 series [sic]* on the staircases depicting old and new Manhattan by Salvatore Lascari.” (http://forgotten-ny.com/2012/08/irving-place/)

Three of the seventeen Lascari murals. (http://culturenow.org/entry&permalink=02469&seo=Historic-Landmarks-of-New-York-City_Salvatore-Lascari)

*[Murals from this seventeen panel series were painted and exhibited as early as the 1915 Annual Exhibition of the Municipal Art Society of New York, and were installed by 1916.]

I would like to thank Rabbi Herbert Brockman and the members of Congregation Mishkan-Israel of Hamden, Connecticut for their hospitality and for permission to use photos of Ben Shahn’s tapestry and ceramic mosaic Ark, and Robert Pinart’s stained glass windows.