Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vintage Gems of New York

On a recent visit to the Brooklyn Museum I visited the Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden. Dedicated in 1966, it hosts a pre-eminent collection of terracotta, stone, and metal architectural elements salvaged from now-demolished structures throughout the metropolitan area and reinstalled outside the museum's Norman M. Feinberg entrance. Most of these remarkable objects date to the period between 1880 and 1910, recording a great era in the cultural, architectural, and industrial history of New York City.

The Brooklyn Museum, located at 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York, is the second largest art museum in New York City.  The museum opened in 1897, and the 560,000-square foot building houses a permanent collection including more than one-and-a-half million objects, from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art.

The outdoor collection offers varied examples of the forms created to enrich the facades of residential and commercial buildings. Scrolls and garlands, fruit and flowers, cornucopias and shells, and geometric and foliate patterns abound, as do human and animal forms and fantastic creatures all simplified into architectural units such as keystones, friezes, moldings, lunettes, and plaques, that once adorned buildings in New York City.

Much of the work was executed by anonymous stone carvers, mostly immigrant workers from the United Kingdom and, later, Italy, who traveled from building site to building site. By the turn of the century, however, a large portion of this work would no longer be done by hand, as factory-produced terracotta tiles replaced most of the hand-carved stonework on New York buildings.
A number of the objects in the collection were also designed by well-known artists and architects, including Louis Sullivan; McKim, Mead and White; Irwin S. Chanin, and Gutzon Borglum.

I'd like to show you some of the significant works of sculptural art in the garden:

Adolph Alexander Weinman (American, 1870–1952). Night, Clock Figure from
Pennsylvania Station, 31st to 33rd Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues, NYC, circa 1910

Information about this sculpture from the museum online catalog:

"This slumbering female figure once stood beside a huge clock above an entrance to the original Pennsylvania Station. The vast complex, completed in 1910, was designed by Charles Follen McKim and modeled after the Roman Baths of Caracalla. Each of four pedestrian entryways to the terminal was surmounted by a clock flanked by two allegorical figures representing time. Day held a sunflower, and the hooded Night, seen here, bears a drooping poppy. The terminal building was demolished in 1963. This sculpture was retrieved from landfill in the New Jersey Meadowlands."

Replica of the Statue of Liberty, circa 1900. Made by W.H. Mullins
 (Salem, Ohio, 1890–1928). Zinc galvanized sheet steel over iron frame, height: 367 in

Information about this sculpture from this page of the website catalog:
 "Perhaps no American symbol is more widely recognized or powerfully expressive than Liberty Enlightening the World—the Statue of Liberty, erected on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor in 1885. This thirty-foot replica was commissioned around 1900 by the Russian-born auctioneer William H. Flattau to sit atop his eight-story Liberty Warehouse, then one of the highest points on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Flattau combined his entrepreneurial spirit with pride in the adopted country in which he had prospered."

A popular fixture of the Upper West Side for more than a century, this Statue of Liberty replica was removed in 2002 when the warehouse was sold and renovated for use as an apartment building.

Four pair of Pegasus Figures Cica 1934, Attributed to Harry Lowe,
from the New York City Fire Service Pumping Station, Neptune Ave and West 23rd Street,
Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York

These sleek modernist versions of Pegasus, the flying horse of classical mythology, once flanked the entrances to the New York City Fire Service Pumping Station that still stands on Neptune Avenue between West Twenty-third and West Twenty-fourth Streets. The station boosted water pressure for fire fighting in outlying areas of Brooklyn. These four pairs of winged horses arise from stylized curving forms that suggest waves or clouds. Their compact double profiles reflect the Art Deco style of the industrial building whose entrances they once adorned. The streamlined design style was widely used in the 1920s and 1930s. When the building was modermized they were sadly removed from the facade.

Hugo Haase (German, 1857–1933).
Lion, from the El Dorado Carousel, Coney Island, Brooklyn, circa 1902

Information about this sculpture from the museum's website catalog:

"This ferocious creature was one of a trio of rearing lions that originally pulled a chariot atop the entrance pavilion to the giant El Dorado Carousel at Coney Island. Germany’s leading amusement-ride manufacturer, Hugo Haase of Leipzig, built the spectacular carousel in 1902 for Wilhelm II, emperor of Germany and king of Prussia. In 1910 it was imported by Coney Island empresario George Tilyou and installed near the Dreamland amusement park, at West Fifth Street and Surf Avenue. Though only one of several independent carousels at Coney Island, the El Dorado was, according to carousel expert Frederick Fried, “the most ornate, most publicized, and one of the largest” in America. The carousel and its entrance pavilion were relocated several times and eventually separated. The latter was dismantled in 1964. The carousel is still in use at the Toshimaen Amusement Park in Tokyo."

Architectural ornament, early 20th century, from one of several insurance buildings
 at Liberty and William Streets, Manhattan.
Information about this sculpture from the museum's online catalog:

"Winged Dragon Chimera -This fierce and fantastic creature, sitting on his haunches and clutching a shield, seems to be a cross between two mythical monsters: a griffin (with an eagle's head and wings and the body of a lion) combined with a dragon. This lively sculpture came from the facade of a building that formerly stood in the financial district in Lower Manhattan."

"Atlantes Figures," circa 1899, from the Hugh J Chisholm residence,
formally at 813 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.

Information from the Museum's online catalog:

"Set of four limestone Atlantes (sculptural supports in the form of a man). Four bare-chested men with drapery around their waists, attached at back to pilasters, and supporting a now missing ledge with arm or arms. Two hold both hands over heads; two have one arm above head, other arm holding drapery. The figures adorned the facade of the Hugh J. Chisholm house until 1961, when the structure, along with two adjoining houses, was torn down to make way for an apartment building."

A close up of one of the Atlantes figures.

Unfortunately, many other examples of vintage New York City architecture languish in limbo behind the museum's parking lot fence. Over ten years ago, the Brooklyn Museum dismantled the sculpture garden during a reconstruction of its rear entrance and expansion of the parking lot, and reinstalled a far sparser sculpture garden, using the more notable fragments shown earlier in this post.

Other pieces with less historical value or identification were left on wooden pallets in a rubble pile and left to the elements. I never visit the museum without peeking through the chain link fence at these objects as I find them beautiful and interesting and I feel sad about their neglect.

A very interesting article about these artifacts can be read on this Atlantic Magazine link. The Brooklyn Museum opened a forum for questions after the Atlantic article was printed, which can be read at this link. It seems with current budget constraints museums are hard strapped to provide the funding to showcase collections such as these. Unfortunately, The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission  was also faced with having to deal with losing their architectural salvage program due to budget constraints, and they recently offered their artifact collection at auction.

Hopefully, there will soon be a solution to what to do with future pieces of vintage decorative and functional New York City architecture so their beauty will be preserved for future generations. The Preservation League of New York State  is dedicated to the protection of New York’s diverse and rich heritage of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes. It is now working to provide a united voice for historic preservation.  Since 1999, the Preservation League has highlighted New York’s most threatened historic resources and their Intervention Program allows the Preservation League to intervene directly when historic buildings are threatened with disinvestment, neglect, and demolition.

 What is being done in your area to preserve historic architecture and landmarks? It is something we should all be concerned about!

I am adding this post to the "Mosaic Monday" event on Mary's blog The Little Red House and the "Outdoor Wednesday" event on Susan's blog A Southern Daydreamer. Thanks to both hosts!

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Jenny said...

I am always fascinated that an artist can take an unyielding stone and create such fluid works of art.

What a beautiful post, Miss Pat!

Pondside said...

What a sad place that 'monument graveyard' is. I'm sure there are corners in any city, even NYC that could use a little beauty, a little something to uplift.
Out here there is a constant debate about what is 'heritage' and what is not. Unfortunately, in the recent past, developers have been able to act first and take an insubstantial punishment later, for destroying a building that everyone knows is worth keeping.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

OK Pat - That's it. The Brooklyn Museum is the next place I visit in Brooklyn. You make me want to live there.

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Awesome Pat... You have so much to see and do in the NY area... I'm envious. Those sculptures are awesome--and SO creative. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

delightful to be able to see these remarkable sculptures...sad to see the ones that didn't make the cut

I believe every city that has historic architecture and sculpture to preserve has the same budget issues as Brooklyn and New York City

thank you so much Pat for a beautiful and informative post!

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Pat, I love architectural remnants. I have a large piece of sculptural tin that has an Art Nouveau face on it, and it came from a building in NYC. I bought it at a shop in Florida.

It's so sad that they can't do something with the other pieces that are languishing at the Museum, but if they are concrete or stone, hopefully they will last long enough until a solution is reached.

I think the Landmarks Commission did the right thing, but then, those pieces are lost to the public. But I guess the main thing is saving them.

I have the hatch door of the light tender's boat who manned the harbor lights in the 1800's for St. Augustine. I thought about leaving it in the house in St. Augustine, but then I thought someone might find it too primitive and toss it, so I had a new door made to replace that one. I will eventually put it in our home when I redo a section over the garage, and I plan to leave it in my will that someone knows it is not to be thrown out. Maybe Cecelia will want it. She's very sentimental, and her brother loves history, too.

Speaking of which, I loved this post. I always enjoy touring with you.



Viki said...

Beautiful pieces. Too bad the ones on pallets at least can't be put inside somewhere out of the weather.

Ginny Hartzler said...

I have really enjoyed this!! It is so good that someone is saving these! But so sad about the others that are just laying around, I do hope they so something soon, they look as interesting as the others! What are those things in the carousel lions paws, they look like long fibers sticking out?

betsy said...

Pat- if they cannot use those pieces why not auction them off at a fundraiser? People would love to put these remnants in their gardens and would pay well to do so!

Tanna said...

Funding for historic preservation is seriously threatened. Budget cuts are tough for everyone. It is so sad to me that some cannot see that we can preserve our treasures AND have spaces that can be utilized in our modern times. It pains me to think that the clock sculpture was in the dump! Great post, Pat. blessings ~ tanna

Old Kitty said...

I think in London one of the most famous acts of architectural vandalism (and it's widely acknowledged now that it truly was a great big architectural error) was the tearing down of the original Euston Station (comprised of 4 Greek pillars holding up a Doric arch built in 1837) to build the most hideous 1960's station ever. And it is truly hideous. Luckily, next door to the awful Euston station is the wonderfully and lovingly restored St Pancras terminus (built 1860's) and hotel and I've been through the station so many times - it's beautiful!

So whereas I'm appalled at the rate by which such wonderful and flamboyant and unique architecture in NYC have been torn down to make way for modernism, I'm so happy that the Brooklyn museum and the Preservation committee are doing all they can to salvage these historical pieces of NYC. Good luck to them!

Take care

Nance said...

I'm a romantic, so "Night" is my favorite here. We have a local sculpture garden, Brookgreen, that has some permanent resident sculptures and also rotates pieces through from other collections. I almost always prefer the more natural looking figures done in bronze and in white marble. Lovely post!

Lynn said...

Truly amazing works of art Pat! Looks like another great place to visit:@)

eileeninmd said...

Hello Pat, I alays enjoy your tours of New York. This is an interesting place. But very sad about the negleted pieces, they deserve to be on display. Wonderful post and beautiful photos.

Pamela Gordon said...

This post is so interesting. I love architecture and sculpture from old buildings. I hate to see that hidden area behind the fence though. It's too bad it can't be reused somewhere. Thanks for sharing these pictures with us.

A Bit of the Blarney said...

Absolutely grand!!!! I especially like the terra cotta mosaic! Have a wonderful week! Cathy

Michelle said...

I love the pics in this post. Such beautiful architectural pieces. Sad to see those pieces not being used.

Judith @ Lavender Cottage said...

Magnificent stone art, thank you for sharing your trip to the museum.

Judith @ Lavender Cottage said...

Magnificent stone art, thank you for sharing your trip to the museum.

Thoughtfully Blended Hearts said...

All of the talent and hours of work...this is amazing...thanks for the peek!!! Have a beautiful week!!!

black eyed susans kitchen said...

Fantastic post Pat! It was such a shame that Penn Station didn't have a champion the way Grand Central Station did. New York City is by far the most architecturally interesting city in the world. I loved Paris and maybe it is because I haven't had as much time there, but New York is just fascinating. I love these pictures!

Lorrie said...

I've always admired those artists who carefully worked with stone to create such intricate carvings. Their names are lost to history, but their work speaks for them.

Thanks for the tour!

The Gathering Place said...

I just hate to see history deleted and so many of the old buildings in Utah are no longer standing. I guess it is a financial thing, but what a shame. It would be fun to spend a few days in that museum!

Cathy said...

Your posts are so informative and interesting, Pat. I've been to New York numerous times on business and have never taken the time to see much out of Manhattan. You have inspired me to take the time to visit Brooklyn.

podso said...

Interesting post. Pat! I am wondering about the flame in the Statue of Liberty's hand-- if made in 1900 it must be the old flame but it is hard to tell. I remember taking our kids to see the old flame as it was carted around on a big flatbed after it was taken down. A sort of farewell tour.

Kris said...

We didn't go to any of the museums when we were in NYC. Next time I go, I really want to visit as many as I can.
Wonderful photos, as always!!

My name is Riet said...

HI Pat. Another beautiful post about Nw York. It is sad that such beautiful artwork is here in some sort of graveyard, There is a horse with a rider on it that still looks beautiful. But thank goodnss other art is kept for people to see. LOved this post again.Thank you.
Have a nice week.
Hugs, Riet

Ingmarie We said...

What lovely and interesting post. New York seems to be such a fantastic town with so much to see and experience. Thank you for posting all the wonderful photos and mosaics on your blog.

Ola said...

I did not expect such architecure details in NY, surprizing!

Tracy said...

You know, I didn't know about this place--what a great discovery... a sculpture museum! Pity about the languishing bit... hope they will be able to revive things. Beautiful! Happy Week, Pat ((HUGS))

Sheila said...

This post is fascinating, Pat. Preserving the art and sculpture of the past is a worthwhile endeavour and in my hometown there is a Heritage Society which has documented and preserved many of the historical homes and buildings from the 19th century. In the area I live in now - there has been a conscious effort to preserve the stories and heritage of the relatively recent history of the nearby town. There is one hotel and a railway station but there is nothing in the way of sculpture to preserve around here.

Grandmother Mary said...

How good to have a place where treasures can be retired. But the rejects seem heartbreaking somehow.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Another wonderful tour you've taken us on, Pat! Some of those sculptures are perfect for Halloween - especially the lion and dragon. It is sad that there are such beautiful pieces just waiting to be appreciated.

Judy said...

Thanks for another great tour, Pat! Vintage gems they are...preserved for future generations.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I can't stand throwing things away. So sad. I'm with the others. So much to see in the city.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

I always enjoy your mosaics...they are my favorites! And I've learned something today, too. I hope things are worked out to preserve these artifacts! ♥

Lisa@GrandmasBriefs said...

Such beautiful stone carvings. I enjoy walking through cemeteries and appreciating the artwork of the stone memorials to loved ones.

Cindy said...

What an amazing post this is, Pat, it is so interesting. I love the story about the four Atlantis men and the neglected relics.
Thank you again for such an informative and interesting post.
hugs, cindy

Claudia said...

The 60's were a sad time in NYC - so much beauty destroyed for modern. St. Paul and Minneapolis apparently had the same problem. It's wonderful that some were saved. Europe is so filled with art from the past - I am glad the USA is finally starting to appreciate the craft and art that went into the building of our cities. I have a recurring dream about the Brooklyn Museum...

People Who Know Me Would Say: said...

Wow, Pat! Each piece is so masterful! Thanks for sharing it!

Brenda said...

Great tour, Pat! I'm like Ciao Chow Linda; your posts and pictures make me want to live there!

H said...

It is tragic when artefacts from the past are tossed aside or neglected. The older I have become, the more I have realised the importance of preserving and remembering the past. It has so much to show us about who we are today

Yvette said...

If it were left up to me, I'd never demolish anything beautiful. So sad to see those architectural odds and ends languishing behind that fence. That bull's head looks like a great piece as well as the horse with it's Native American (I think) rider.

It takes real artistry and talent to create objects like this. Sad to think that this sort of thing is not appreciated or respected anymore.

Great post, Pat.

Beverly said...

I love all of these amazing treasures found in architecture. Thank you for sharing all of these wonders.

I am lucky because there is glory all around the buildings where I work.

Karena said...

Pat thank you so much for sharing these amazing works of art! So wondrous!

Oh I have a Designer Pillows Giveaway! I hope you will join! ( a great resource as well)

Art by Karena

Veronica said...

Stonecarvings are some of my faourite art. I am very fond of old buildings and would have loved to visit this museum! Thanks for taking us along. I wish we still had more of thee old buildings with their artful treasures in tact!


Gracie said...

What an interesting place to visit! I've always liked carved stones and stautes.....thanks for bringing me there with you.