Archive Page 2

Immortal Words (Eileen Doughty)

Van Gogh’s letter

One page of a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to Émile Bernard, Arles, France, March 1888 (pen and brown ink). Note the words for colors in the sketch.

It is fairly well known that Vincent Van Gogh wrote hundreds of letters, mostly to his brother Theo and some to fellow artist Gauguin. However he also wrote at least 20 to a lesser-known artist, Émile Bernard, 15 years younger than Van Gogh. They had met in 1886, and Van Gogh became his mentor. Most of these letters, along with related paintings, drawings, and watercolors by both artists were the subject of an exhibit at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City: Painted with Words: Vincent van Gogh’s Letters to Emile Bernard. Continue reading ‘Immortal Words (Eileen Doughty)’

Two Old Dogs’ New Trick (by Eileen Doughty)


Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard Designed by Norman Foster

From the museum’s website:

The Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, with its elegant glass canopy was designed by the world-renowned architectural firm Foster + Partners, is a signature element of the renovated National Historic Landmark building that houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The enclosed courtyard provides a distinctive, contemporary accent to the museums’ Greek Revival building.

“The design was driven by a deep respect for the existing building,” said Foster. “It was decided that it should not touch the building at any point-floating above it instead, like a cloud over a courtyard.”

The roof, a steel structure with a glass and aluminum exterior, has a surface area of approximately 37,500 square feet. There are 864 panes of glass and no two are alike. Eight steel columns support the canopy, which weighs around 900 tons.

At 28,000 square feet, the courtyard is one of the largest public event spaces in Washington. The interior features a variety of plantings, including two 32-foot high ficus trees and 16 black olive trees which sit in white marble planters on a black granite floor. Foster + Partners worked closely with acclaimed landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson on the design of the interior which includes four of her signature water scrims.



The building was originally called the Patent Office, and it is quite typical of the architecture of most federal buildings in Washington, DC. It was the third public building constructed in the new city of Washington, after the White House and the Capitol. Construction began in 1836, and the final wing was not finished until 1868. For decades it also held the government’s historical, scientific and art collections, including the Declaration of Independence; other agencies such as the Department of the Interior; a temporary barracks in the early days of the Civil War and served as a hospital and morgue after several battles. Walt Whitman tended to wounded Union soldiers here, and President Abraham Lincoln held his second inaugural ball on the third floor. In the early 1950s it was slated for demolition to make way for a parking lot, but the budding historic preservation movement saved it. It became a Smithsonian property in the 1960s. It was closed from 2000-2006 for extensive renovations. The new courtyard was completed in November.

The new canopy may rest solely on columns, but you’d never know it from the viewpoint of the floor. Computers were used to design the panes. It would have taken years otherwise for the architects to figure out how to make them fit together.

The space should feel “cold” with all the neutral, almost colorless, stonework — except for the trees which make it feel like an open park. However I felt warm and quite comfortable. Perhaps the glass ceiling gives the feeling of being under a slightly rumpled quilt.


“Scrims” were a new word to me. They are shallow areas of gently flowing water (the water comes out from one side and drains at the opposite side). These are only about 1/8-inch deep, shallower than the sole of a shoe. Besides the fun of walking through the scrims (and having dry shoes in a few steps), was just watching the patterns of reflections change over the course of a minute or two. The water flow increases and decreases in a regular rhythm, causing the reflection of the canopy to blur and then become distinct.


There are ever-changing shadow patterns on the walls.


And the reflection patterns on the floor are just as enjoyable.


I wonder how many people will go barefoot in warmer weather.


This is a welcome addition to the staid architecture of most of Washington, DC, and the courtyard certainly is a destination along with the two museums it joins. However, the architects were required to make the beautiful canopy not visible from the ground outside — what a shame.

As quilt artists, perhaps we are predisposed to appreciate this mix of traditional and contemporary.  Do you know of other places that have a notable mix of new and old architecture, in your home town or anywhere in the world? Places that look great, or flopped? Another famous example mixing wildly different architectural styles is the Louvre, in Paris.

For more pictures of the courtyard, see the museum’s slide show; it includes a view from above the roof line and night lighting.

Renegade Graffitist – Dialogue or Monologue? (Eileen Doughty)

Mother - James De La Vega Brick Madonna - James De La Vega

Mother and Brick Madonna by James De La Vega courtesy Ray Kass

A special issue of Smithsonian Magazine recently profiled 37 American innovators (in arts and sciences) under the age of 36. One person featured is James De La Vega, who makes his art in Manhattan, both inside his storefront gallery and outside all over the city. Outside, he makes his mark with paint, chalk, or tape, on sidewalks, benches, walls. Inside, he sells fine art paintings and also t-shirts of his designs. Continue reading ‘Renegade Graffitist – Dialogue or Monologue? (Eileen Doughty)’

“Textiles of Klimt’s Vienna” (by Eileen Doughty)

Klimt - (Portrait of) Friedericke Maria Beer-Monti

Gustav Klimt, “(Portrait of) Friedericke Maria Beer-Monti”, 1916.

Last weekend I went to the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, to see “Textiles of Klimt’s Vienna”. I think they used Klimt’s name to pull in visitors, since the exhibition was only indirectly about Klimt (with the exception of one painting, shown above) and was really about the textiles produced by the Wiener Werkstaette (Vienna Workshop, which I will call the WW) which was active from 1903 to 1932. Please visit that link to see the range of items the WW artists created and some venues in which they appeared. Continue reading ‘“Textiles of Klimt’s Vienna” (by Eileen Doughty)’

The Intersection of Science, Art, and Taxes (by Eileen Doughty)

Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland

Would it take much to adapt this photograph to abstract art? (The source URL is which has a labeled version of this image and explanatory text) Continue reading ‘The Intersection of Science, Art, and Taxes (by Eileen Doughty)’

Native American Dresses (by Eileen Doughty)

On Independence Day, I went to the National Museum of the American Indian, near the Capitol in Washington, DC. It is the newest Smithsonian museum. One of the main exhibits was “Identity by Design,” showcasing Native American dresses. The Museum’s website has more information about the exhibit and I encourage you to take a look at the online exhibit information; it is a good overview of the importance of this art form to the tribes that practiced it, and how the materials obtained from European cultures was absorbed into the Native culture.

The dresses were from the late 1800’s up to this decade. They were displayed in a simple setting in a very large darkened gallery. The work was outstanding — such a variety of color and design, many beaded patterns but some with elk teeth and quillwork also; a few were painted without any other decoration. There were “patterns” behind some of the dresses showing how they were cut from one, two or three hides. Continue reading ‘Native American Dresses (by Eileen Doughty)’

Savant Artist (by Eileen D.)

George Widener - Map 3

“Map 3” by George Widener from the satellite map series

The definition of a savant is someone who displays exceptional abilities in subjects such as music or mathematics despite being challenged by a disorder such as autism or mental retardation. Those exceptional abilities are sometimes referred to as ‘islands of genius’. Darold Treffert, an expert on prodigious savants quoted in an article in the alumni magazine “On Wisconsin”, calls it “a jarring juxtaposition of ability and inability in the same person.”

Current theory about savant syndrome is that when part of the brain’s left hemisphere (language, comprehension, and logical thinking) is damaged, areas of the right (creativity, art and music) attempt to compensate, possibly even overdeveloping the brain’s nerve cells. We are not born with ‘blank slates’ for brains but come prewired, and lose some of that literally inborn knowledge as we mature and learn. As Treffert explains, math geniuses and savants, such as the ones who can easily and quickly tell you on which day of the week April 30 in the year 20,304 falls, actually use a preconscious process with more primitive brain circuitry; the rest of us routinely use left-brain higher-level circuitry. It’s as though the savant (and some geniuses) comes preprogrammed with a math module — a more instinctual part of the brain. That ‘module’ may work like ‘parallel computing’ — many concurrent computations making finding the answer lightning fast, as opposed to sequential, logical computing. Continue reading ‘Savant Artist (by Eileen D.)’

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