Detroit – April 2019 – Diego Rivera Murals

In 1932 famed artist Diego Rivera was commissioned by Edsel Ford and the Director of the Detroit Institute of Art Wilhelm Valentine to produce 27 fresco murals depicting the industry of Detroit, specifically the automotive industry.




The timing and subjects continue to this day to be controversial. Rivera had a socialist view towards society, while he was commissioned by one of the great capitalists of all time, the Ford family. In addition just before Rivera arrived there had been a protest at Ford by workers, who were fired upon with gunshots resulting in the deaths of six marchers.

The courtyard that contains the murals is oriented on a north-south-east-west orientation. Starting with the east wall (where the sun rises each day), there are symbolism of birth. A close look at the wider fresco shows a baby in the bulb of a plant. The two nudes hold grain and fruit, symbolizing a bountiful harvest of America, and show some of the earliest technology in agriculture.





The west wall, sunset, represents endings and last judgement. It shows both the good and bad of technology, as represented by airplanes that can transport people but also be used as an instrument of war.

The large narrow middle panel is tying together the agricultural south and industrial north, as well as the shipping industry present in Detroit to bring the two together.




The top panel of the north and south walls are known as the ‘four races’. The faces represent African, European, Asian and Native Americans, in a look of deities. Beneath this panel geological requirements for the production, associating it with the races above (which I am certain would be met with disdain today)

The panel on the upper right was the most controversial of all. It’s interpretation of a Renaissance view of Jesus’s birth, only the figures include actress Jean Harlow (making a second appearance) as the nurse and the Lindbergh baby as the infant. Most of Detroit religious community wanted the entire work destroyed because of this panel but Edsel and Wilhelm held firm.

The main panel on the north and south walls represent the production of a 1932 Ford V8.




As with the north wall, the south wall has a number of panels. The top center are figures holding raw materials used in the production of the automobile, continuing with the various races of mankind.

Below them are limestone, and various fossils used in glass manufacturing.

As with the north wall there are other smaller panels depicting other Detroit industry, as well as a continuation of the small monochrome panels of ‘a day in the life of the worker’.





A closer look at the north wall panel shows the workers with green skin, as a result of the formaldehyde used in the manufacturing process. It was in this type of symbolism that Rivera is showing what the workers ultimately have to pay to have jobs.




Ford Motors had long been ahead of the industry in employment of all races, and it is represented in the mural where the white and black workers are working for the common cause (capitalism, not for themselves).




The assembly of the chassis is coming together, with the steering columns and other components. Nearly every item had symbolism.




A notorious floor supervisor, who made life difficult for the workers was represented as a stern manager in this panel. This real life person was M.L. Bricke.





Also on this wall is a panel of the door manufacturing.




In this panel you see a number of visitors to the factory floor including religious leaders. The women in the brown plaid dress was done in the image of an actress of the time, Jean Harlow.




The small red car in the middle of this photo is the only fully assembled automobile in all of the 27 panels. Rivera was more interested in the process, rather than the result.





The stamping machine was chosen to represent the Aztec deity Coatlicue, a goddess of creation and war that required much human sacrifice. In this panel Rivera is clearly stating the workers have to sacrifice much for the company.




This panel on the west wall features the boss, who is an amalgamation of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.





In one of the ‘day in the life’ panels, it shows Henry Ford teaching the workers (including the famed ‘The Thinker’) how an engine works.

Note the engine is actually a dog, with the gear shift knob being his tail.




A close up of the west wall shows the aforementioned airplanes, as well as the shipping panel.




A close up of a north wall panel depicts insect like figures in gas masks making gas weapons. Given that this was completed less than 20 years after World War I where gas warfare became common, it is clearly a statement on the evil of such an en devour.





With an accurate rendering of the Rouge Factory powerhouse, it is a symbol that the worker too has some level of power.





River even worked himself into the piece. He is the worker in the bowler hat.

While his spouse Freida Kahlo assisted him in the drawings to prepare for the commission, Rivera did all of the painting. He was known as a task master who overworked his underpaid assistants, and eventually drove Freida away as well, but for this series of murals Rivera was at his finest artistically.








Cleveland – March 2019 – Statuary Faces Are Watching You

Have you ever walked around a city and get a feeling someone was watching you. They are, and I am not referring to the thousands of security cameras – it is the faces on the sculptures and statues all over the older buildings of the city.

Our friends in the 14th Street/8th Avenue subway station in Manhattan apparently have cousins at the Cleveland Library!





The classic Post Office and Library buildings have numerous sculptures all over them.





The Society Bank Building have some of the more intense looks.





Sculptures along the Mall.





The Guardian Building lion.





Another Euclid Avenue building.





Finally this guy is watching over the Colonial Arcade.






Cleveland – March 2019 – Re purposing Historic Buildings as Hotels

Cleveland has notoriously been divided into two side, the East Side and West Side, separated by the Cuyahoga River. As a promotional campaign the local tourism board was sponsoring an event called ‘Tourist in Your Hometown – Crossing the River’. As part of this campaign they were offering a guided ‘hike’ around downtown checking out old buildings that have been restored and re purposed as hotels.

Our tour started out on the Mall outside of the old Cleveland Board of Education Building, now a Drury Hotel.





Designed by Cleveland architects Walker and Weeks, the building was completed in 1903 as part of the Group Plan. This plan designed a number of public buildings around green space in the middle of the city (The Mall).





The building’s exterior has a number of classic features.





The lobby features two murals by Cora Holden. Completed in 1931 the murals feature historical greats.





One of the first large scale redevelopment of a classic old building into a hotel was the venerable Arcade. In 2001 Hyatt Hotels restored the building to this fantastic state. While I have featured the Arcade in previous postings, you can never get enough of this elegant building.





A close up of the clocks and some of the railings.





Even the light poles have amazing detail.





The Guardian Bank Building was completed in 1896 as Cleveland’s tallest building – towering 221 feet above Euclid Avenue. Designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge it was remodeled by Walker & Weeks in 1939, giving that firm a hand in the first 3 buildings we toured.





Today it has been restored into a Holiday Inn Express, as well as private apartments and the office of an interactive agency called Rosetta.

As with many of the old buildings, the ceilings are amazing. The building was funded by President Garfield’s sons, Harry and James.





One interesting feature of the tours were actors portraying historic Cleveland people. For the morning portion of the tour we met Garrett Morgan.

Garrett was an amazing person, born in Kentucky in the late 1800s he came to Cleveland in his teens where he started working on sewing machines. Having learned about machines, he went on to develop the modern traffic light as well as a breathing apparatus that was successfully used by Garrett and his brother to save more than 30 miners who were trapped under Lake Erie in a fire.





Our morning tour ended at the Metropolitan at 9, a hotel that is a building that was built in the 1970s. While normally that wouldn’t qualify it as historic, they bypassed that rule since it is attached to the Cleveland Trust Rotunda building.

We visited the basement vaults that have been restored into a bar, complete with a demonstration of their signature flaming drink.





The afternoon portion of the tour started out at the Schofield Building. Now restored into a Kimpton Hotel, the building was completed in 1901.

The building was restored in 2013 with 122 hotel rooms and 52 apartments.





The lobby is simple yet elegant.





Our tour took us up to an 11th floor room with a great view down Euclid Avenue.





As well as the Cleveland Trust Rotunda across East 9th Street.





Our last stop was in the Colonial and Euclid Arcades, where a Residence Inn is now located.





The Colonial Arcade was completed in 1898, running the distance between Euclid Avenue and Prospect Avenue. While not as grand as the Arcade, it is still an impressive space.





It was here we met John D Rockefeller, who at times would’ve stayed at the Colonial Hotel, the original hotel in the Colonial Arcade. Rockefeller was the richest person of all time – in 2018 dollars he was once worth over $400 billion dollars. Today’s richest people (Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates) are worth around $100 billion.





The Historic Hotel Tours were a nice way to spend the day, they gave us some tchotchkes, some munchies and even a free drink! The guide was very knowledgeable and informative, and the entire event was free.








Cleveland – March 2019 – People, Art & Machines

Mid March means it is time for the Piston Powered Show at the IX Center in Cleveland. As the name indicates this show features all things with a piston: Cars, Motorcycles, Trucks, an Airplane, Tanks, Snowmobiles, and even a Steam Shovel – plus a few things without pistons.

Most of the cars are ‘by invitation’, which means they are the best of the best. To make it to be one of the best in a custom car show you must have good graphics – and this show has that. It also has a great collection of people who have as much character as the vehicles – all filling the million square foot (93,000 square meters) building.

As you enter the vast hall you are immediately greeted with some really nice restorations.




As noted previously, many had customized paint jobs including this mid 1960s Chevy El Camino hood.




A number incorporated famous graphics, like Speedy Gonzalez.




This customized Willy’s sedan had a matching mannequin.




The participants came from numerous states in a 500 mile radius of Cleveland, including this great paint job from Kentucky.




For some the audience made a good match for the car.




A Zombie car – because why not.




The Zombie car’s door art.





Most of the motorcycles were customized Harley’s, many containing skulls.





Some craftsmen were displaying their skills – he was cutting leather.




This car was a repeat from a couple of years ago that was my posting’s feature photo – still one of the very best custom designs I have ever seen.




An aptly named 1957 Chevy.





A group of local technical high schools were having a competition to tear down and rebuild an engine in less than 30 minutes. Not sure why these guys were wearing helmets though.





While most of the custom bikes were Harley’s this great sport bike paint job features a customization of the ‘Guardians of Transportation’ sculptures on a large Cleveland bridge. Ironically I was wearing my ‘Dia de la Muertos (Day of the Dead)’ T shirt that featured the same sculpture in a skeleton look, so I fit in with the theme on all the bikes.




There was a classic wooden boat display as well. The boats themselves are works of art!




As is this sweet 1948 Buick Convertible.




Even a plain old 1960s Ford Station Wagon can be made to look great.




There were a couple of internet radio stations present – this one is a community station that, among other things, featuring racing.




I am not positive what it is, but I am certain it is NOT a Prius.




Mixing classic art and hot rods.




Many had names.




Most had pistons, but not this turbine jet car.





Some cars like the ‘rat rod’ rusty, beat up look – some like the pristine restoration. This Paddy Wagon was somewhere in between, but still cool.





Also featured were a number of artists showing how they make the great graphics we saw on all the vehicles.




All obviously have very steady hands.




The detail is amazing.




His shirt says it all.




It is amazing on the metal how little paint it took to go a long ways.




This guy had great pedal cars.




Not sure how a bowling pin got into a car show – but hey it is Cleveland.




Ready for St Patricks Day.




The emcee, and auctioneer, had character. She was auctioning off the finished pieces for charity.

Once again the Piston Powered Show was a great way to spend a day inside checking out a great collection of vehicles, people and art.







Chicago – February 2019 – Various Scenes

With our trip to Chicago complete some interesting photos did not make the various specific topic blog postings.

Starting with the long and thin – from commuter trains to 70 floor condo buildings.





Statuary on a South Michigan Avenue building.





Nearby the neighbors outdid them with this relief (only a portion of the entire sculpture).





The Carbide and Carbon Building’s gold top on a sunny morning.





Reflections.





O’Hare Airport is proposing to build a new terminal and is asking for the public’s opinion with a vote. It is Chicago – vote early, vote often.





It seems most of the newer hotel rooms in the city have photos that look like this – so I took my own abstract view of modern buildings.





If not modern, at least historic and modern combined.






Every time I go by this clock I look for a good angle to take a photo, but something always seems to be in the way. This angle is unobstructed, but doesn’t do it justice.





Wandering early one morning in the theater district I decided to focus on the signs.










Even the local McDonalds got into the act.





A snowy morning in Millennium Park.





Snow was gathering on ‘the bean’, and would come off in interesting ways.





It is an interesting view from underneath.





No concert at Pritzker Pavilion today!





Art in the snow behind Aon Tower.





The Chicago Cultural Center had a display on Jazz Music in the city.








The play Chicago was also featured – including some of the real life models for Roxie Hart – Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner.

Both Beulah and Belva had been charged with murder in 1924, but were acquitted. Amazingly the first play was in 1927 and Belva attended the premier!





Chicago – February 2019 – Art Deco Skyscraper Details

We continued the architecture tours with ‘Art Deco Along The Riverfront’. This tour took us into many buildings we had been in before, but each docent will focus on different details, so you always come away with a new appreciation of the building.

We started on the Wacker Drive side of 333 North Michigan Avenue.





This building has granite at the bottom and limestone the rest of the way with reliefs carved into the stone on the exterior.





The elevator lobbies are great. The concept of Art Deco was it was new, young and fresh, and the doors that have decorative panels by Albert Stewart called Night Day illustrate that.

The panels show two young adults in a manner that 5 years earlier would’ve been unacceptable with their ‘risque’ look.





All Art Deco buildings have great letter boxes, and 333 North Michigan was the same. The letter box became a favorite subject for me of this tour.






We went back to the Carbide and Carbon Building. Each docent we have had has a slightly different story on the inspiration of this building, champaign bottle, battery, etc.

Our docent Jeff said it was modeled after the American Radiator Building in New York. Below is the Carbine and Carbon Building.


This photo off of the internet is the American Radiator Building. It seems obvious Carbide and Carbon Building was designed from this look.






The Water Street view of the building shows much of the detail on the exterior.





The Michigan Avenue entrance is the most impressive.





Once inside it is Art Deco heaven. The radiator grills.





The lobby lighting and mezzanine railing.





The letter box.





The elevator door detail. The full elevator lobby photo is the featured photo for this posting.





Even the trash cans have style.





We moved just down the block to the Chicago Auto Club building, now a Hampton Inn.





Again it seems every tour took us into this building, but close observation reveals more details previously missed.





Yet another letter box – which is best is up to individual opinions.





The detail of the balcony, with the light reacting strangely in this photo.





Since it was once a motor club they have retained where the maps used to be set out for the travelers (alas no maps anymore)





Lighting and wall detail.





The famed mural/map of American roads of the mid 1920s.





As we continued down Wacker Drive there was evidence of other Art Deco style, including the lighting, since Wacker Drive was built at about the same time.





While not all of the bridge houses are in Art Deco, this one is.





We passed by 121 West Wacker without going in the lobby, as it is under renovation. This building is interesting as it mirrors closely the Chicago Board of Trade Building – visible way down LaSalle Street in the lower right of this photo.





At the corner of Lake and Wells is the Trustees System Services Building. This building is unique with the mix of materials and the progressively lighter to give the illusion the building is taller than it is.





The interior of the large windows has a great art piece.





The main stairs depict someone who saves as good (on the left) and someone who didn’t as bad (on the right). Ironically the people who built the building were shysters and went bankrupt early in the depression, causing a riot outside the building.





Our last stop was the famed Merchandise Mart. This massive building has nearly as many square feet as the Willis Tower, more than the World Trade Center in New York at 4 million square feet.





Built in the Art Deco style, it has less ‘bling’ than others, but still many nice features.





The building logo is in the granite floors.





The interior of the building is 2 blocks long.





Our last letter box of the tour.





Jules Gierin completed 17 murals for the lobby depicting commerce throughout the world.





Our last stop on our tour came to appreciate the up lighting common in Art Deco buildings. As I almost always end these blogs, our docent Jeff was entertaining and informative – never having to rely on his ‘cheat sheet’ cards.








Columbus – February 2019 – Out of the Cold (for a couple of hours)

Our repeat weekend continued with a visit to a botanical gardens, this time back in Columbus.

They had some orchids, but nothing close to the quantity and quality of the Cleveland show. Mostly it was a good place to walk around in nice warmth and check out plants and flower in the dead of winter.







OK so this is not a flower or plant – it is an exhibit called Waning Light. The website for Franklin Park states ”
local artist Dana Lynn Harper strings together thousands of laminated dichroic film discs and suspends them from the ceiling, creating a cloud of iridescent petals floating and bending through the space. Harper manipulates material, size, color and light to build a dreamlike and otherworldly installation”.

It makes for a great look and atmosphere, with the light of each disc changing as you move around them.




A random rose.




More ‘not a plant’ – Part of the Chihuly Display.




There were a number of ‘upside down’ planters.




Back to our original program – orchids.







Eventually we ran out of orchids and continued through the desert and rain forest sections.








Our couple hours were up so it is back into reality – cold and snow.