Archive for the ‘Central Park Story – Book Two’ Category:

Take a Brief Tour of Central Park…

North End of Central Park

Take a tour of Central Park from two different perspectives!

There are two  tours I want you to see: one from the human perspective and another from the perspective of, well, the birds who call it home (click here to view both).

The first video features a number of places that Christopher frequents in Book One of Central Park Story, but given that Jennifer is an avid birder, I decided to add one from a slightly different point of view–one that I’m sure she would both appreciate and approve of!

The Cooper-Hewitt Museum: A Nice Side Trip

Mansion-with-wisteria

The backyard of the Carnegie Mansion where his daughter presumably played to her heart’s content

I always felt a close affinity to the Carnegie Mansion at 91st and Fifth, now known as the Cooper Hewitt Museum.

My mother’s apartment was a few blocks uptown, and we would walk past it on our way to church or whenever I went for a jog around the reservoir.

Now that I’m several decades older, my curiosity about its origins has been piqued, and I looked it up online.

The mansion was built in 1901 at the request of Carnegie who asked for a plain but roomy house with a garden for his daughter to play in. Plain it isn’t. Roomy it is. It has 60 ‘roomies’, as a matter of fact!

Carnegie had just finished publishing his book, The Gospel of Wealth, a year earlier in 1900, in which he declared that to die a wealthy man was ‘to die in disgrace’ and that one’s wealth, however great or small, should be distributed beforehand to the benefit of all.

You can almost hear the echo of people screaming ‘No!’ up and down Millionaires Row on Fifth Avenue to this day. But Carnegie, if nothing else, never paid much attention to what others thought of his methods. He proceeded to give away 350 million dollars (several billion in today’s terms) until his death in 1919, leaving only a meager $30 million to be distributed afterwards.

After his wife passed away in 1946, the mansion was donated by the Carnegie Corporation to the Smithsonian Institute and, around the time I began living in the neighborhood, was renovated and converted into the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, a museum devoted to several hundred years of design innovations, which explains why I was never knew much about it.

Christopher Middleton, in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, also walks past this iconic landmark, though he has other, more important things on his mind, like talking statues and cockatrices flying around Belvedere Castle!

Summerstage, New York Marathon, Rock Concerts, Shakespeare–How Much More Can You Fit Into a City Park?

New York Marathon

Feeling claustrophobic? The New York Marathon will test you to the max.

How many different free cultural activities can you fit inside a city park?

If you want to know the answer, you needn’t look any further than Central Park in Manhattan.

First, you have all of the free performing arts festivals such as Central Park Summerstage and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, which take place every summer and are free admission.

Add to that the New York Marathon, an annual event since 1970 which has ballooned to over 50,000 participants, and traditionally ends in Central Park.

Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park with the Castle in the background…pretty magical, no?

Then there’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater which features the best of Shakespeare and has been attended by over five million spectators since its opening in 1962 (also free on a ‘first come first serve’ basis).

Speaking of the  60s, let’s not forget the many free rock concerts such as Simon and Garfunkle, Carole King, America, Elton John…the list goes on and on.

Simon and Garfunkle concert

A mere 500,000 people attended a concert bu Simon and Garfunkel in 1981!

But if you think the list ends there, think again; which is why I had to be extremely selective in deciding which free cultural events to include in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

 

Emma Stebbins and the Angel of the Waters Statue in Central Park

bethesda-fountain-angel

A fitting tribute to the healing powers of water..as well as to a dearly loved friend…

The eight-foot bronze statue that stands on top of the fountain in the Bethesda Terrace, also known as the Angel of the Waters, shows a female winged angel walking on water, after which the water cascades into an upper basin and into the surrounding pool.

It is a striking and exquisitely beautiful piece of art. It also contains some deeply personal meaning both for its designer(s) and for the city itself.

Olmsted and Vaux, the principle designers of the park, didn’t like the idea of including statues at first; however, with the Croton Reservoir having recently been opened (1842) and its holding tank a short distance away, having a statue of an angel seemed a fitting tribute to a marvel that brought fresh water to the inhabitants of the city. Hence, what was first known as the Water Terrace was renamed the Bethesda Terrace in reference to the The Gospel of John, where there is a description of an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda and bestowing upon it mystical healing powers.

In a separate but parallel vein, the statue was created by a highly-accomplished woman artist, Emma Stebbins, and a first for this country so far as awarding public commissions for women were concerned. Up till then it was unknown for a woman to receive such a high honor.

bethesda-fountain-angel

When viewed from the Mall, the angel appears to be floating among the pedestrians, but when seen from the arcade (depicted above) it almost appears to be in a private room, perhaps demonstrating the full range of its meaning to its creator

Adding yet another layer of meaning, Ms. Stebbins was gay. Unfortunately, her partner, the then-famous actress Charlotte Cushman, contracted breast cancer and died a few years after its dedication in 1873; and it is no stretch of the imagination to suggest that the statue was made in tribute to her partner, both in likeness and in spirit.

Perhaps it was also out of sympathy for Ms. Stebbins and her partner that Vaux, who designed the base of the fountain and the terrace itself, suggested the statue be dedicated to Love.

Love, the healing quality of water, the grace of God, and high art, are all beautifully intertwined in this great masterpiece, just as its jets of water join and cascade into its pool.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I have tried bring additional meaning to this exceptional piece of art.

 

Jervis McEntee–One of the Not-So-Colorful Stars of the Hudson River School

Jervis McEntee Painting

One of his brighter paintings

The landscapes of Jervis McEntee are known for their melancholy and poetic mood. The sky is often cloudy, the season autumn with the leaves faded and falling from the trees.

“Some people call my landscapes gloomy and disagreeable,” McEntee wrote in his well-kept journal. “They say I paint the sorrowful side of nature…But this is a mistake…Nature is not sad to me but quiet, pensive, restful.”

I’ll let you decide for yourself what to think when you look at his paintings to the right.

Landscape-Jervis-McEntee

Perhaps a bit more typical of his paintings

So far as my main character, Christopher Middleton, in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, is concerned, he considers them boring, if only because he  hates museums.

 

Central Park: A Gallery of Images

Yosemite Park

Olmsted and Vaux tried to capture the beauty of nature, so evident in the unique glory of our country…

In the original plan for Central Park (called ‘the Greensward Plan’) Olmsted and Vaux’s desire was that visitors would feel as though they were walking through a gallery of images, not unlike a series of paintings.

This was no accident. It ran in tandem to what was already going on in the art world since the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Early nineteenth century America was in desperate need of an artistic expression that was unique unto itself. This was not only due to the newness of the country but to the brewing conflict between the industrial north and the slave-based south. If such a unifying expression could be found, it was hoped that it might help assuage the ever-increasing tension between the two.

Central Park

…and bring it into an urban setting in a series of images akin to viewing a gallery of inspiring paintings…

The Hudson River School with its many talented artists, from Frederick Church to Thomas Cole, helped to fill this growing need.

They chose the natural beauty of the country as their focal point and elevated their romanticized images to realm of the Divine.

In their own landscape designs, Olmsted and Vaux picked up on this theme of Nature as our savior, and created a park to be viewed as a series of inspiring scenes or vistas.

Although the park has devoted more and still more space for recreational uses over the ensuing years, I try to underline this original intent throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

Thomas Cole painting

…like this one, by Thomas Cole, painted in 1836

 

Olmsted’s Final Commission: The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC

Biltmore Estate

Not your typical house in the country, the Biltmore featured massive gardens and a 125,000 acre backyard!

George Washington Vanderbilt, the youngest son of the railroad magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt, fell in love with the magical mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, on a visit there with his mother, and commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to build a 175,000 square foot home on the banks of the French Broad River (yes, those are three zeros!).

Vanderbilt  envisioned a park-like setting for his new home and commissioned Olmsted to design the extensive grounds. However, Olmsted was not impressed with the condition of the 125,000 acres that surrounded the house (yes, those are three zeros, again!) and advised Vanderbilt to turn them into a park, establishing the first forestry education program in the U.S.

Of course, Olmsted made sure to incorporate 75 acres of formal gardens directly around the house, including an Italian formal garden, a walled garden, a shrub and rose garden, numerous fountains, and a conservatory with individual rooms for palms and orchids.

Biltmore Estate

‘Have a walk around the garden, but don’t be late for lunch!’

By the time it was nearing completion in 1895, thirty years after completion of his work on Central Park in New York City, Olmsted was already slipping into senility and his son, Rick, had to finish the project. But what a project, and what a fitting farewell to one of the greatest geniuses ever to grace the field of landscape architecture!