Monday, September 01, 2014

New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part L

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing‐masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

-Sailing to Byzantium, W.B. Yates

Having a Tiffany factory in town has its advantages.  There are two windows in the old Episcopal church that dominates one side of the green (the other, true to form, belongs to the Congregational church).  One of these windows (featured to the left) depicts Saint Paul, the saint after which the church is named.  We caught the image at the right time of day with the morning sun was streaming through the East windows.  It was a weekday, and the secretary was nice enough to lend us the key along with as much viewing time as we wanted provided that we lock up and return the key once we were done. Having had a good bit of time to view the window, then, let me share our observations.

My wife and I are still novices as students of stained glass and we noticed something in this particular window that we had never seen before,  The artisans, rather than painting in the folds of Saint Paul's garments textured the glass to simulate folded cloth. To provide deeper contrasts for the heavier folds, they used a darker shade of glass,  The trade-mark Tiffany mottling effect is still used in the non-textured portions of the window but it is more pronounced in the flat panels, particularly the edging of the Apostle's cloak, his gospel book, the ground, and the sky behind his head, where the technique is at its most subtle (see the first and the final picture).  The overall combination of textured, mottled,the technique is at its most subtle (see the first and the final picture).  The overall combination of textured, mottled, and painted glass is striking without imparting a sense of business -just the touch of genius I've come to expect from turn-of-the-century work.    

Thursday, August 21, 2014

New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.):The Platypus Travels Part XLIX

Who says you can't go home?

Connecticut is called "The Land of Steady Habits" both by those that inhabit it and by their neighbors.  Going back, even after sixteen or seventeen years doesn't mean that you're going to find much in the way of change.  There may be a few new houses and a few new faces, but things mostly stay in their place -the trees grow taller.  Not all change is bad, however, and it's always a delight to pop back in to a place you know and love and find that its beauty has been carefully tended and enriched.  Below, is one of my favorite places: the old library.  The town I grew up in once had a Tiffany glass factory and that factory provided a beautiful set of stained glass windows(ok, it's not actually stained glass, but a modern technique [rolled glass?] that Tiffany pioneered) for the town library.  These turn-of-the-century windows were damaged long ago and moved to the musty recesses of the attic so that I never saw them while I was growing up.  The library board recently partnered with an offshoot of the original Tiffany factory that remains in the town to refurbish two of the windows and install them in the reading room.








  The two figures represent Art and Literature.  There are two other panels(non-representational) still awaiting restoration as well as the original light fixtures (So much better than the present florescent monstrosities!).  Something else to look forward to...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part XLVIII

Major Connecticut hero, minor video game character

Places can become ways of seeing things, but things can also become ways of seeing places.  I discussed this in regard to books in the previous post, but today I'd like to take a moment and extend the concept to video games.

Games can also be a way of seeing.  In fact, we should expect this since video and computer games are primarily a visual medium.  An abnormally frosty morning in North Houston can be transformed for a group of teenage boys just by playing the first notes of the Skyrim theme.  Eyes light up, slack faces crack into a smile, and immediately their imaginations begin to spin.  The chill frost and bleak landscape they were complaining about a minute ago is transformed into a wide world of adventure with a wilderness of dragons.  In my youth, games like Secret of Mana and The Legend of Zelda colored the way I saw my surroundings.  Exploring the woods, or canoeing, or archery were all different because they were the sorts of things the heroes and heroines of those games might do.  Playing A Link to the Past is enough to ensure that you never look at bushes or tree stumps the same way again.  On the other hand, until quite recently the abstract quality of video game art required a well-stocked visual imagination to give it life.  The blocks of color in the original Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Brothers that stood for trees and rivers and mountains had to be transfigured by the imagination of the player to be enjoyed (that process still occurs in contemporary games but improved graphics have made it less pronounced).  This means that based on the stock of images in each player's mind, the game as experienced by the individual player might be significantly different from that of another player.  For me as a Yankee, Link's world had a New England feel, even as the woods of Connecticut and Massachusetts will always have something a bit Hyrulean about them.  Real world and imagined world each influence and enrich each other.

Like Tennyson's Ulysses we are a part of the real and imagined places we have been.  They are our way of seeing the world and circumscribe our personal autonomy just as light circumscribes our sight.  Put another way: places are a part of what makes us who we are.  We usually think of place in terms of geographic location, but the artistic locations of books and video games can have a powerful impact on us as well, both in themselves and in the way they subtly shape our perceptions of the locations where we live and visit.  What are the places real and imagined that have shaped you?  In what ways do they cause you to see the world differently from others?  In what way might the geographic and artistic locations you have visited shape each other?     

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part XLVII

A way of seeing

Places are a way of seeing.  They are a prism, or a lens, through which we view reality.  The places that we live in shape us just as we shape them.  As an illustration of this principle, I've posted pictures from the area where I grew up with the first quotes that came to mind when I sat down to review them.  That's not to say that they're exactly how I picture Minas Tirith, or Camelot, or Rivendell, but that my vision of each literary location takes its color from the basic images of my youth.  Now this can be seen the other way round as well.  Books have colored my sense of place.  There's an extra layer of meaning to all the towns and hamlets of rural new England because they are so "Shire-like".  The Colt Arms factory, even now that its been renovated, will always appear to me through the screen of Osgiliath.  All the Victorian Gothic follies and monuments will forever be hallowed for me by the image of the king.  Books and places.  Signs and symbols.

and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we started and know the place for the first time. -T.S. Eliot



*Photo Credit: My wife: who has her own way of seeing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part XLVI

His house was perfect whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.  Evil things did not come into that valley.  -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit






Monday, August 11, 2014

New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.): The Platypus Travels Part XLV

The door opened, but no one could be seen to open it. Pippin looked into a great hall. It was lit by deep windows in the wide aisles at either side, beyond the rows of tall pillars that upheld the roof. Monoliths of black marble, they rose to great capitals carved in many strange figures of beasts and leaves; and far above in shadow the wide vaulting gleamed with dull gold, inset with flowing traceries of many colours. No hangings nor storied webs, nor any things of woven stuff or of wood, were to be seen in that long solemn hall; but between the pillars there stood a silent company of tall images graven in cold stone.
-J.R.R. Tolkien


Sunday, August 10, 2014

New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part XLIV


On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot;

And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Lady of Shalot