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Architecture

Pittsburgh

Yes, there are cathedrals in Pittsburgh. There are many and they are beautiful. If you ever have the chance on visiting this once frontier town take that chance and visit. The city is beautifully situated along the banks of two rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, and it is here that they both join to form the Ohio River. While visiting two weekends ago I saw that fall was moving in quickly and the air changed to that wonder fall freshness. What really caught my eye was the Cathedral of Learning.

This could be the most wondrous structure I have ever seen both inside and out. I never knew it existed until I drove into Pittsburgh and saw it off to my right from the highway. There is stood, very tall, between the trees off of highway 376. Upon closer review I saw that the structure, though clearly inspired by gothic architecture, is not that old. This second tallest education building in the world broke ground in 1926 and finished eleven years later in 1937 after delays due to the Great Depression. To help fund this project through tough years, school children were asked to to contribute a dime to “buy a brick.” It worked, and now thanks to Chancellor John Bowman and the children of Pittsburgh this magnificent structure stands as a center for learning.

Inside the building is even more beautiful as vaulted ceilings push the height of the ground floor to showcase a grand enlightenment. Through this area can be seen corridors through archways, tunnels through the towering pillars and a place that invites imagination. While here I wanted to do nothing else but marvel at this wonder. I could only imagine what my imagination would feel if I could bring a book like Frankenstein or The Castle of Otranto to read under this atmosphere.

Throughout the first and third level are a series of classrooms that make up the Nationality Classrooms. With approximately 27 classrooms, each one is dedicated to a different countries and nationalities. In these rooms some of the featured countries are Austria, Japan, Israel, Ukraine, Wales, Czechoslovak, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Greece, Scotland and yes, they have a Romanian classroom. And each room is decorated and designed by a person of that nationality representing their country and their history. My favorite room is the Armenian room.

The next gothic build I saw was during nighttime. When I first saw the Heinz Memorial Chapel its top tower looked strange. Though the outside of the build was illuminated by ground lights the tower stood black in the background as if it were afraid of the light. My initial thought was that since it stood on top of the building the ground lights were unable to hit it. When I came back the next day I could see that I was half right.

I saw that the tower is an entirely different shade from the rest of the chapel. This gives it a great effect at night and during the day it looks like it is always in shadow. Anyway, the Heinz Memorial Chapel was build out of the will of Henry John Heinz in honor of his mother, Anna Margaretta. Construction broke ground in 1933 and the chapel was completed in 1938, one year after the Cathedral of Learning. What is fun about this is the fact that these two buildings are right next to each other on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. While I was touring it began to rain and I actually took refuge in both buildings to take a picture of the other. Sadly my pictures were lost.

Finally, Saint Paul Cathedral. Not too far from the first two building is this grand 14th century style gothic cathedral. It was designed by Egan and Prindeville, a company based out of Chicago and was built by a Philadelphia contractor named Thomas Reilly. This build is more than 240 feet and is beautifully designed with great details on it facade. It is the oldest of the three here mentioned, opening its doors in 1906.

Since I was visiting on Saturday I was unable to go inside two of the three of these, only seeing the Cathedral of Learning. The reason is the chapel and the cathedral were both occupied by weddings. It seemed that there were weddings all over Pittsburgh and a gothic church is a prime location. Indeed it is beautiful and there is a magic about this area. With these three structures as well as many more great buildings this is a great place for the imagination of someone whom loves gothic lore.

If you have any stories about these three gothic builds please share them.

Happy Reading,

ORB

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The Shining

I confess, I saw the film for ‘The Shining’ a long time ago and many time before I read the book. And guess what, the book is still better. As great as Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd are, their characters are only the shells of what you find in the book. Since both the book and the movie are great I would say that they are two different stories with the main different being in the book the hotel is the main character.

In The Shining King brings to live the essential part of  gothic literature, the setting inside the haunt house. The Overlook Hotel is where the story draws most of its power and like I said before is the stories main character. For the reader the hotel creates many imaginary horrors both from the spiritual world and the physical world. In the physical world the hotel is in the middle of a world that is uninhabitable with out proper preparations, cut off from the rest of the world. Deep in the Rocky Mountains there is no civilization when the winter brings powerful winds and deadly snow. Yes, inside the hotel you are safe, but there is always the threat that something could go horribly wrong and there would be no help on the way. In reading this book you see that this idea is always in the back of your head and in the back of the characters minds since their lives are balance on a delicate string.

With this physical danger comes an spiritual horror creating an environment where you are in danger is you stay in the hotel and in danger if you leave it to take your chance in the wild weather. For a more in-depth overview of the book click here.

When I watched the movie I was always left with many questions that movies cannot answer. Movies are notorious for not explaining the entire story even if they are a great classic by Stanley Kubric. In reading the book I can tell you that all of my questions from the movie were appropriately answered.

Stephen King does a great job in setting the stage for this story. His words are well chosen and the pace of the story is careful in that it walks you through the halls of the hotel and the inside of the mind of each of the family members, father, wife and son. The story is told in the third person in a way that  gives the read a chance to see inside the minds of the characters and see not only their mental progression, but what they do not know or cannot understand. We see how they are all affected by the hotel and what ever lives inside of it and in each of them. This is another place where the movie falls short, because movies rely on dialogue and physical action. The genius of this book happens internally.

We understand why Danny knows what is happening with his parents even if they do not know what is happening inside and between themselves. We also discover what the hotel is and why it wants Jack and Danny. I won’t tell you anymore other than you should pay attention to the clock.

Overall the book is not as much about horror, violence, or a creepy hotel. It is about what happens to people, what makes people different, what makes them change, what makes them love, and what makes them do violent acts even against those they love. The strongest parts of this book are the characters. In this story we see that a character become the villain, hero, and pragmatists all in one. No one is entirely god and no one is inherently evil. What is the difference, our strengths and weaknesses. These weakness are augmented by the supernatural ways that remind me of Ray Bradbury.

If you have never before read a Stephen King book this is a great place to start, but I warn you be careful or what is found in room 213.

Happy reading,

ORB


John Taylor Arms

Momento Vivere, Notre Dame Cathedral, Evreux

It use to be that I was too embarrassed to admit that I had never before heard of a famous individual and this embarrassment at times hindered my interests since I would be too scared to ask the questions that I needed to ask. That question that would inevitably lead to more questions.

It was only this past July that I learned the name John Taylor Arms and I discovered the name by accident. While touring the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I saw on a sign one of my favorite words, ‘Gothic.’ It is typical that when ever I see that word it is connected to some subject that will interest me. This situation was no different. I walked into a room at the very back and to the left of the basement level of the gallery. It was a place that was being ignored by most of the patrons who where more focus on the impressionist and expressionists art that hung in the main corridor. At the time the quiet atmosphere was great since it gave me the room all to myself. For more on the exhibit, click here.

John Taylor Arms

Upon closer inspection I saw the name John Taylor Arms, and I was happy that I found him, ending my ignorance in private. For those of you who like me had never before heard of this great architect and print maker he is an unique person. Born in Washington D.C. in 1887, he began his academic career by studying law at Princeton, but that did not last and he would transfer to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. After he graduated in 1912 he went on to become the most renown artist working in etchings and aquatints. Because he had an architects trained eye for detail he was able, with constant devotion to the almost painful details, to create images with such superb detail that they seemed to poses more craft and precision than any one person could create.

Though his work is not entirely tied to gothic architecture, he did specialize in strictly representational etchings of medieval cathedrals and gargoyles. His work has been said to be denser than photographs, and it was because of his fine eye for detail that he was able to make etchings of gothic cathedrals so beautiful.It is, after all, these details of gothic structures that give them their power over the eye. Think about it. Next time you see a gothic style building, look closer at it and you will notice the tiny details that add up to its grand presence in an almost out of this world beauty. In his work and in the actual structures you can see the amount of time, talent, skill and care the was poured into the facades, towers, and the entirety of each project. Through his dedication and focus he was able to successfully transfer that marvel onto copper plates and then to paper.

From reading about Arms I learned that he was drawn to gothic architecture not only for its detailed splendor, but for the fact that it survived through the centuries to become living relics. Such survivors deserve respect for the fact that they endured when most perished in time. It is amazing to think that what people can create can long outlive their creators far into the future to the point were they almost seem alien to the modern world. Throughout Arms life and career as an artist the world of modern art change to more abstract art, progressives and independents. Still he dedicated himself to his craft and did not stray and for that we have his work today. Arms died in 1953 in Fairfield, Connecticut. He worked until the day he died and his creations have survived these fifty-eight years for us to see and tell others about.

For a review of the exhibit, click here.

Enjoy,

ORB


The Smithsonian ‘Castle’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though there are many old cathedrals in the United States that can be considered as being of gothic architecture, there are few castles. Sadly for those of us who live in the United States and love gothic architecture, there are few places to visit to see the beauty of that medieval style. There may be some of similar style, but few of historic craft and artifact. Perhaps the most well known gothic castle in American is the Smithsonian Institution Building, which is appropriately nicknamed the ‘Castle.’

James Renwick, Jr.

In terms of size and aesthetics, the ‘Castle’ is an impressive structure. With its red sandstone it appears bold in its splendor on the Washington Mall and stands out from even amongst the Capitol Building, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery of Art and the Supreme Court, all of which are more classical in their style. I have had the chance to visit Washington D.C. many times and I have always been impressed with the layout of the mall with the Washington Monument on one end and the Capitol on the other. I have always been aware of the out of place red gothic castle, but never have I looked into why it is there or who designed it. I did know that it was the headquarters for the Smithsonian, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I am a little sad that it took me so long to learn more about this beautiful building that has stood for over 100 years.

Picture borrowed from Smithsonian Institute Archives

Completed in 1855, the ‘Castle’ was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. James Renwick was born in 1818, in New York City. His was part of an affluent family that was well educated. His mother came from a prominent New York family, and his father was an engineer, architect and professor of natural philosophy at Columbia, where later James would study engineering. James did not, however, study architecture. The only education he received in that field was from his father who taught him the trade. Indeed, he did grow up with early exposure to the craft and was nurtured in architecture throughout his life.

Grace Church: Image from Grace Church website

 

He received his first major commission at the age of 25 for designing the the Grace Church in New York in 1843. The church is modeled in the English Gothic Style. Even though the church received other bids from well established architects it took a chance on the young engineer believing that his background and family provided a guarantee that the church would rise without fault. The finished product was very different from what could be found in the city at the time. It was the first of its kind, gothic, to be seen in New York and one reason why the style was chosen can be linked to the churches rector, Thomas House Taylor.

Prior to his arrival in New York, Taylor had spent a year traveling throughout Europe for possible the purpose of searching for ideas as to what the future church should resemble. It is without doubt that he would have seen many gothic style churches, but we also know that Renwick had never seen one, outside of what he could find in books, thus adding to his talent, skill and vision.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Of all of his designs Renwick is perhaps most renown for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, also in New York City. This project came later in his career after he had completed Grace Church and the Smithsonian Castle. It is a marvel to see in the atmosphere of Manhattan as it was built long before midtown became what we can see today. Once upon a time this was not the populace part of the city. Construction began in 1858, but the project was placed on hold during the Civil War. It would take another thirteen years before the cathedral would be completed in 1878.

Today, like the rest of Renwick’s monuments to the gothic style, the cathedral is a National Historic Landmark. These structures are worth seeing even though they may be hard to photograph. Pictures do not capture their full majesty.