Wednesday, August 16, 2006


A day and a half in Boston...

We went to the Boston Public Library to see a series of John Singer Sargent murals. We quickly forgot all about Sargent when we unexpectedly ran into these murals by Edwin Austin Abbey, Quest for the Holy Grail. These were just spectacular! It was a sunny day so the longer we stayed the more we saw the sun make different panels jump alive. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my binoculars to get a closer look. We were about to run to the hotel and get them but the library was closing. I plan to make this my first stop on my next trip up here, whenever that may be. Anyone going to Boston with an interest in painting, illustration, or fantasy must see these.
The Sargent murals were fantastic as well, although it was hard to settle into them after being so surprised about the Abbeys. Unfortunately I did not get any shots since my camera batteries ran out, however, here is the Boston Public Library’s guide.

The library also had an exhibit of Stow Wengenroth. He was a lithographer that made prints of New England scenes. I had never heard of him -- these were equally as surprising and wonderful to discover as the the Abbey’s, albeit in a more introspective way. I loved the simplicity in the shapes and the otherworldliness that so many subtle values of gray gave. It is easy to imagine that he is a real inspiration to Chris Van Alsburg. (As an aside, for an essay on how colorful b&w drawings can be, see David Apatoff’s “How Many Lines Does it Take to Draw a Blue Sky?”)The library also had an exhibit of Joan of Arc artifacts. It seemed to have a lot of kitschy memorabilia so, pressed for time, I didn’t delve into it too deeply....still,I loved how simple and free this little “tobacco card” drawing was. We went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This is the mansion home of Mrs. Gardner and her art collection. It has been maintain as a museum exactly the way she left it when she died in 1924. Although the art was stunning, I thought it was more interesting as an environment than for the artwork in particular...Although, this Sargent painting was clearly worth the admission all on it’s own.The New England Aquarium is well worth going to....but then, I think most any aquarium is well worth going to.The Old North Church. I am not at all religious but it was, nonetheless, pretty great to come across this while mass was in session and the congregation was singing.

And then it was on to the Battle Road in Lexington and Concord. I’m ashamed to admit just how much history I learned on this trip, especially from this Minute Man. Where was he when I was in high school history class! We saw a number of these docents...some a little hokey, yes, but most all of them were so heartfelt that it was hard not to get appropriately choked up by their sentiments. Currently....I am in the Berkshires where I don’t plan to see much of anything for a few days besides rolling hills and cardinals.


David Apatoff said...

Irene, I love those Abbey murals and they have great personal significance for me. My father grew up in the worst neighborhood in Boston and he used to take refuge in that library. One day he discovered the Abbey murals and was so awestruck by them that he resolved to become an artist. In an era when there was no television, I am sure thousands of kids were similarly inspired by the rich, magical enchantment of those images.

When I was ten, my father (by then a successful commercial artist in Chicago) took me on a pilgrimage back to Boston to show me the wonderful murals. I remember them well, but your blog makes me think it is time for a return trip. Thanks for posting them.

Anthony Schiavino said...

Erin and I went to Boston for our honeymoon. Well it was one of the stops at least. We didn't get to see much but we did tour the historical section and saw the church.

She also has family up in the Birkshires. If it wasn't for the 8 month winters I would have no problems living up there. I guess I'm part Hobbit at heart.

Shelly Wan said...

@____@ OMG.... damn i wish i can go see those. Love Abbey! no good books on him tho.... the most complete one had only b & w images. !_____! please take big pictures next time u go...? thank you~

Irene Gallo said...


If you click on the images you can see them a little bigger...but they're not the best shots.

I'm sad to hear there is no book on him! The libraries gift shop was closed but I was just assuming they would have something there when I went back. Some art publisher should get on that.

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