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

Saturday, September 1, 2018

A Possible Early Sketch for one of Frederick Dana Marsh's Marine Grill Murals

In 1913 the well-known American artist, Frederick Dana Marsh, designed six historical murals for what became known as the Marine Grill in the newly built Hotel McAlpin in Manhattan. The Atlantic Terra Cotta Company of Perth Amboy, New Jersey and Tottenville, Staten Island fabricated twenty (including duplicates) lunette-shaped, terra cotta tile murals, that were 15 feet wide and 10 feet tall. The murals were installed in the McAlpin's basement Rathskeller, which was totally clad in ATCCo tiles and faience.(1) The murals depicted the maritime history of New York City from Henry Hudson's exploration of New York's harbor in the Half Moon in 1609 to ocean liners of the early 1900s gracing a busy New York harbor.

Picture post card of the Hotel McAlpin, 1914.

"The Hotel McAlpin was situated in Herald Square, occupying the corner block of 34th Street and Broadway. Opening in 1912 and soaring 25-stories high, the McAlpin had room enough for 2,500 guests. As well as being, at the time, the world’s largest hotel, it was also one of the most luxurious. 

"[...The] heights of luxury extended to the Marine Grill restaurant located in the basement. Dominated by a forest of archways and columns, the grill room was covered in exquisite tile murals designed by Frederick Dana Marsh. The tiles told the story of the maritime history of New York, and featured elaborate murals of steamships, paddle steamers, and ocean liners from the golden age of Trans-Atlantic voyages.

"The 20 murals, fabricated by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company of Staten Island, spoke to the era when New York was one of the world’s most vibrant, and busiest ports. Covering the entire wall space, they would have looked down on a packed room of patrons dining on lobster and oysters, washed down with Gibson cocktails."(2)

Christopher Gray also described the Marine Grill's decorative elements in his July 23, 1989 New York Times column, "Streetscapes":

     "The Marine Grill is a forest of tile-clad
     piers that curve up and form great curved
     vaults, all in a glazed riot of ornament
     and color brown, green, cream, silver and
     scarlet. Giant semicircles along the walls
     carry faience panels depicting the
     maritime history of New York... 
     Architectural Review in 1913 wrote 'if 
     there is any limit to the possibilities of
     colored clay for decorative purposes, this
     is it' and credits the overall tile work to
     the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company and the
     hotel's architect, Frank M. Andrews. But
     the Marine Grill is not just a surface
     ornament. The upward curve of each
     great pier expands out to its neighbor in a
     series of sinuous shapes, curving in three
     dimensions. It is a polychrome forest of
     massive, stunted trees, but expressive of
     the room's underground location and the
     giant hotel bearing down on top of it."(3)

A picture post card depicting the Hotel McAlpin's Grill Room. (Postcard courtesy of cardcow.com)

Besides Henry Hudson's Half Moon the other five murals painted by Marsh "...featured boats, canoes, tugs, ships, steamers, and ocean liners over a 300-year period. The space was an architectural masterpiece; the murals served as focal points around the restaurant."(4) 

Five of the six Frederick Dana Marsh/American Terra Cotta Company murals in the William Street entrance to the Fulton Street subway station in 2011. The sixth mural is on the wall near the token booth. Prior to this the murals were hung in a major connecting tunnel at the Fulton Street Station where they could be seen close-up, at eye level. (Color photo credits: Michael Padwee, unless otherwise noted.)

Although Marsh's murals supposedly depicted the maritime history of New York, were the early mural depictions of the Half Moon voyage and Nieuw Amsterdam, for instance, accurate? Where did they come from, and what was the process Marsh used to create the scenes on his murals? I will try to answer these questions for the two earliest depictions of the city's maritime history. 

The "Half Moon" mural from the Hotel McAlpin Marine Grill. 

Since there is no photographic record from the age of exploration in the late 1500s and early 1600s, I looked at contemporary visual records from the 1600s--engravings of the Half Moon voyage from "New York" harbor to "Albany" in 1609, and sketches and engravings of mid-17th century Nieuw Amsterdam.

Engraving of De Halve Maen.(https://www.pinterest.com/pin/433823376581199221/)
This engraving shows the Half Moon in Arctic waters--probably on its 1610/11 voyage to Hudson's Bay, where Henry Hudson was put adrift after a mutiny. It is in the same position as in the Marsh mural.

Henry Hudson, an English explorer, signed "...a contract with the Dutch East India Company in which he agreed to search for a northeast route to the Indies through the forbidding Arctic Ocean. Hudson had already made such a search unsuccessfully in the service of the English Company of Adventurers, also known as the Muscovy Company.

"[...The Half Moon, the] ship assigned to Hudson by the Dutch East India Company[,] was small by 17th-century standards. Built in a Dutch shipyard of German and Danish lumber with a high forecastle and sterncastle, she resembled the so-called Vlie boats the Dutch used on the Zuider Zee. 

"...True to the terms of his contract, Hudson headed north and then east, but severe weather soon caused unrest among his crew. Instead of returning to Amsterdam, Hudson navigated his little vessel west across the Atlantic to search for the elusive Northwest Passage.

Engraving of the Half Moon somewhere on the Hudson River being greeted by the Lenni Lenape, the  indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands of Canada and the United States. (Undated and unattributed. Public Domain;  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Half_Moon_in_Hudson.jpg) This may be the engraving used by Marsh for this mural.

"Hudson reached the mouth of our river on September 3, 1609, after first scouring the coastline from Nova Scotia to Cape Hatteras for the elusive Northwest Passage. He spent 32 days exploring the river that would later bear his name, and began his homeward voyage on October 4, 1609."(5)  

The "New Amsterdam" mural from the Hotel McAlpin Marine Grill depicting two Dutch caravals and some smaller boats, and between them the colony gallows, the wall of the West India Company fort   with houses in front of the wall, the Dutch Reformed Church without a cupola inside the fort, and a windmill. The Dutch tricolor flag flies in the background. 

This scene has many of the same elements as the 17th century engravings below.

"Nieu Amsterdam," an unsigned, undated engraving that is probably from the 1650s. The portions of the town seen between the enlarged man and woman and the slaves whose labor built New Amsterdam are the gallows, the fort wall with the Dutch Reformed Church without its cupola--which was constructed and raised between 1642 and 1659, the smoke signal pole to the right of the fort and the Dutch tricolor flag to the rear left.

The 1650 Blaeu View of Nieuw Amsterdam etched directly from the 1648 Van Der Donck pen-and-ink watercolor drawing, aka the "Albertina View." (Joep M. J. de Koning, "Dating the Visscher, or Prototype,View of New Amsterdam," de Halve Maen, Vol. LXXII, Number 3, Fall 1999, pp. 54-55.) The Albertina watercolor view is the earliest dated view of Nieuw Amsterdam. The Albertina view "was discovered in the Albertina Collection of the Austrian National Library... . The Albertina View is now considered to be the prototype for the familiar depictions of Manhattan executed later in the seventeenth century...on the theory that all contain similar elements arranged in a similar format and, more important, drawn from the same perspective: fort, flag and flagpole, church, smoke signal pole*, and gallows... ." (Firth Haring Fabend, "Nieu Amsterdam": A Copper Engraving from the Seventeenth Century, New York History, Vol. 85, No. 3 (Summer 2004), p. 235.) *[The smoke signal pole looks like a tall gallows. Actually, it was used to send a smoke signal to incoming ships to help guide them into port. Smoke signal poles were used in other Dutch ports, also.]

A map of Nieuw Amsterdam dated 1656, made by Adriaen Van Der Donck. The inset was based on Van Der Donck's 1648 "Albertina View" of Nieuw Amsterdam.

Special Collections, Folsom Library,  Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the repository for the Frederick Dana Marsh Papers. John Dojka, the Institute Archivist/Head of Special Collections wrote that the Frederick Dana Marsh Papers did not contain any materials relating to the Marine Grill murals, but that Marsh's papers did contain sketches for other murals he painted.(6)

A few months ago I received an email from a collector who had acquired a number of watercolor and ink sketches painted by Fred Dana Marsh, some of which were early sketches for Marsh's murals in Detroit, Michigan, Richmond, Virginia and on Long Island, New York.(7) Another was the sketch reproduced below which may be a preliminary sketch for the New Amsterdam/New Netherlands Marine Grill Mural.

"New Netherlands" watercolor sketch by Fred Dana Marsh. (Photo credit: Graham Chick; edited by the author)

Marsh's sketch is based on early maps of Nieuw Amsterdam, such as the street map below:

(Map credit: http://historical-american-glass.com/new-york-state-early-glass.htmlAlthough this map is supposedly from 1640, it is  more likely to be the "Castello Plan" map based on a c.1660 map by Jacques Cortelyou (https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Castello_Plan)  The Castello Plan is a "manuscript map in the Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana of Florence, Italy. The Castello plan is the earliest known plan of New Amsterdam, and the only one dating from the Dutch period. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Stuyvesant#/media/File:CastelloPlanOriginal.jpg)

At the top of Marsh's sketch is a depiction of Peter Stuyvesant, the director-general of New Netherland from 1647 to 1664. "Stuyvesant's accomplishments as director-general included a great expansion for the settlement of New Amsterdam beyond the southern tip of Manhattan. Among the projects built by Stuyvesant's administration were the protective wall on Wall Street, the canal that became Broad Street, and Broadway."(8)  Marsh's sketch has these post-1647 projects, plus all the objects in the Albertina view of New Amsterdam, viewed from above rather than head-on.

Although Marsh's sketch has a semi-circular top, the overall shape is not the lunette shaped mural that he eventually created. Nor is the sketch's "Castello Plan" view the final, face-on view of the mural. In my opinion, though, there is good reason to believe that this sketch is an early sketch for Marsh's "Nieu Amsterdam" Marine Grill mural.

Since we know that duplicates of the six murals were made, it is more than possible that Marsh used a duplicating procedure that was fairly common--pouncing. I once asked ceramic historian Richard Mohr about duplicating painted tile murals, and he wrote, "My guess is that the basic outlines [are] done by pouncing -- coal dust daubed through pinhole perforations in a sheet of paper that is used as a template for the repeating design. This gives the right proportion and contours – enough for the artist to work with, esp[ecially] if he or she also has a color sketch of the design to look at while painting on the glazes. The artist connects the dots and fills in the areas by hand. This is how frescos are done... ."(9)

Of course, it is also possible that Marsh outlined and painted the first six murals and had the help of artists working for the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company to paint the duplicate murals.

(If anyone has information about other precursor sketches FDM made for the Marine Grill murals, or for any other of his murals, please contact me at mpadwee'at'gmail.com.)

The Other Four Murals

A British Man-O-War firing on New York. (Courtesy of Paul Kostro;   https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulpablopawel/1198977117/)

Robert Fulton's steamship, the "Clermont." (Photo: Michael Padwee)

The Fall River (Mass.) Line's "Commonwealth" (1908). (https://walkaboutny.com/2018/01/12/the-marine-grill-murals/; Photo: Michael Padwee)

The "R.M.S. Mauretania," flagship of the Cunard Line (1906). (https://walkaboutny.com/2018/01/12/the-marine-grill-murals/; Photo: Michael Padwee)

(1) The McAlpin Hotel's Rathskeller was only one of a number of similar restaurants developed in this time period with significant use of architectural ceramics as decoration: the Norse Room in the Fort Pitt Hotel in Pittsburgh, the Café Savarin in the Equitable Building in Manhattan, the Chocolate Shoppe in Los Angeles, the Indian Grill Room in the Hotel Astor in Manhattan, the Rathskeller in the Seelbach Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky,  The Dutch Grill Room in the New Morrison Hotel, Chicago and the Della Robbia Room/Wolfgang's Steakhouse, 4 Park Avenue, Manhattan are some of these ceramic-architectural wonders. Only three of these still exist.

(2) https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-marine-grill-murals-of-the-mcalpin-hotel. There is a discrepancy in the total number of murals. Most articles and preservation historians say 20, but one New York Times article says 24 (https://www.nytimes.com/ 1990/01/21/realestate/posting-from-the-mcalpin-nautical-tiles-anyone.html). I've accepted the count of 20, which is accepted by most preservationists.

(3) Christopher Gray, "Streetscapes," The New York Times, July 23, 1989;  https://www.nytimes.com/1989/07/23/ realestate/streetscapes-mcalpin-marine-grill-fate-polychrome-grotto-hangs-balance.html.

(4) Walk About New York blog, "The Marine Grill Murals," January 12, 2018; https://walkaboutny.com/2018/01/12/the-marine-grill-murals/

(5) Notorc, "Rediscovering Henry Hudson's Half Moon," Postscripts, August 12, 2009; http://notorc.blogspot.com/ 2009/08/rediscovering-henry-hudsons-half-moon.html.

(6) Email from John Dojka, Institute Archivist/Head, Special Collections, Folsom Library, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to the author dated 27 July 2018.

(7) Mr. Chick sent photos of three other sketches by Fred Dana Marsh made for specific murals that he purchased in 2017 from the private collection of Kingston, New York antiques dealer Fred J. Johnston. (https://www.estatesale.com/sales/view/144944.html)

a) Sketch for a mural that Marsh painted for the Pratt Estate in Long Island, New York:

(Photo credit: Graham Chick; edited by the author)

b) Sketch for a mural that Marsh painted for the back of the bar at the Detroit Country Club in 1927:

(Photo credit: Graham Chick; edited by the author)

c) Sketch for a mural that Marsh painted for the library in Virginia House, Richmond, Virginia:

(Photo credit: Graham Chick; edited by the author)

And, the completed mural over the mantel in the Virginia House Library:

(Photo credit: Serenity Heating and Air, King William, Virginia;   https://www.serenityrva.com/our-jobs/nggallery/thumbnails)

(8) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Stuyvesant

(9) Email from Richard Mohr to Michael Padwee dated January 15, 2013 and titled “Re: Question about duplicate murals."


I am very thankful to my friend, Susan Tunick, and the Friends of Terra Cotta for their part in the rescue of these murals, literally, from a dumpster in 1990. 

My thanks, also to Graham Chick, who alerted me to the Fred Dana Marsh sketch of "New Netherlands," and for the use of the photos of Marsh's sketches. Anyone interested in these sketches can contact Mr. Chick at gchickusa'at'msn.com.

Thanks, also, to my friend and ceramic historian Richard Mohr for his willingness to share his knowledge with me over the years.


The Tile Club: Camaraderie and American Plein Air Painting
Heckscher Museum of Art
 August 4 - November 4, 2018

 The Heckscher Museum of Art
2 Prime Avenue
Huntington, New York

Heckscher Museum of Art

Stimulating conversation, warm camaraderie, and art making with painted tiles brought a lively group of artists, writers, and musicians together as The Tile Club. The members embarked on excursions – three to Long Island – for fun and art making.  The Heckscher Museum of Art highlights the artwork of renowned Tile Club artists such as Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the exhibition, The Tile Club: Camaraderie and American Plein-Air Painting

On view August 4 to November 4, 2018.


"The Commercial and Personal Art Tiles of Rafael Guastavino, Jr.: Part II"

"The Lower East Side and Bialystoker Landsmanshaftn"

"The Identification of United States Art Tiles" and three new resources

"Tile Advertisements in the Paris Métro" and "SAVED!!! The Empire State Dairy Tile Murals in Brooklyn, New York"

"The Sevillian tile style: Catalogo de Azulejos de Estilo Sevillano"

"Bits and Pieces: Updates for the Lever House, the Kesner Building and 2116 Ditmas Avenue, Brooklyn" and an obituary for Robert Pinart

"The Commercial and Personal Art Tiles of Rafael Guastavino, Jr." (Part I)

"Art Deco Commercial Architecture: Montgomery Ward’s Mid-Size Department Stores"

"Tessellations: Islamic Tile Patterns and M.C. Escher"

"Grant's Tomb, the Community and the Gaudi-esque benches of Pedro Silva" AND A request for help

"A Factory As It Might Be" and the 2016 Ortner Preservation Awards
The Atlantic Terra Cotta Company and the Beginnings of Polychrome Terra Cotta Use

Bits and Pieces: The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and following up on the James N. Gamble House and the Charles Volkmar Overmantle Mural

Art Deco Buildings and Their Lobbies: the Chrysler Building, the Film Center Building and the Kent Garage/Sofia Brothers Storage Warehouse


The Heart of the Park: Bethesda Terrace and its suspended Minton Tile ceiling

A Landmarks hearing was held on July 19, 2016...

Two Restorations: The City Hall Subway Station and the Tweed Courthouse

Egyptian, Moorish and Middle Eastern Ornamentation Used In Art Deco Terra Cotta in New York City, and Empire State Dairy Update
Wall Murals in Brooklyn: A Mini Survey

Inside Prospect Park: The park's Rustic, Classical and other Internal Architecture

Herman Carl Mueller in Titusville and Trenton, New Jersey; A Charles Volkmar Discovery in Clifton, New Jersey

A Book Review and New Discoveries and Updates-II: Jean Nisan, Ceramic Tile Artist

Polychrome Terra Cotta Buildings in Newark, New Jersey

New Discoveries-I: The Tiled House of Jere T. Smith

Introducing the Stained and Dalle de Verre Glass Art of Robert Pinart

Bits and Pieces: Polychrome Terra Cotta- and Tile-Clad Buildings

Socialist and Labor Architecture and Iconography in New York City

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

The Renaissance Casino and Ballroom Complex in Harlem: Another Tunisian Tile Installation Headed for Demolition

Clement J. Barnhorn and the Rookwood Pottery

The Woolworth Building

The Mosaic Art of Hildreth Meière

Lost Tile Installations: The Tunisian Tiles of the Chemla Family

The Grueby Children's Murals on East 104th Street

The Experimental Lustre Tiles of Rafael Guastavino, Jr.

Bits and Pieces: Two "E"s--Eltinge and Elks; and more about Jean Nison

The Ceramic Tiles and Murals of Jean Nison

Pleasant Days in Short Hills: A Rookwood Wonderland

Architectural Ceramics in the Queen City

Isaac Broome: Innovation and Design in the Tile Industry after the Centennial Exhibition

"Immigration on the Lower East Side": A Public Arts Mural Created by Richard Haas

Movie Palaces-Part 2: The Loews 175th Street Theatre

Béton-Coignet in New York: The New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company

Michelin House, London

Movie Palaces, Part 1: Loew's Valencia Theatre

An Architectural and Ceramic Tour of Istanbul - Part II

The Tiles of Fonthill Castle

An Architectural and Ceramic Tour of Istanbul - Part I

Tiled Facades in Madrid

Nineteenth Century Brooklyn Potteries

Ernest Batchelder in Manhattan

Leon Victor Solon: Color, Ceramics and Architecture

Architectural Art Tiles in Reading, Pennsylvania

Charles Lamb and Charles Volkmar

Kansas City Architecture - II

Kansas City Architecture - I

Westchester County--Atwood and Grueby

Modern Houses in New Caanan, Connecticut

PPG Place, Pittsburgh

Aluminum City Terrace, New Kensington, Pennsylvania

Newark's WPA Tile Murals: “Fine Art is an Important Part of Everyday Life”

Public Art Programs in New York City: The CETA Tile Murals at Clark Street

Concrete and Tiles-I: Moyer, Mercer, Murosa

The Café Savarin and the Rookwood Pottery; Chocolate Shoppe Rebounds

Architectural Ceramics of Henry Varnum Poor

Herman Carl Mueller and the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle

Meet Me at the Astor

The Mikvah Under 5 Allen Street; "Historic Hall" Apartments Revisited

London Post-3

Some Moravian Tile Sites in New York

London Post-2

London Post-1

Brooklyn's International Tile Company

Subway Tiles-Part III, the Squire Vickers Era

Subway Tiles-Part II, Heins and LaFarge

Subway Tiles--Part I, Guastavino tiles

Trent in New York-Part III, Historic Hall Apartment House

American Encaustic Tiling Company-Part II, Artists' Tiles

Trent in New York-Part II, a Dey Street Restaurant

American Encaustic Tiling Company-Part I, Tile Showrooms

Trent in New York-Part I, The Bronx Theatre

Fred Dana Marsh's Tiles


About this blog:

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