Houston – May 2016 – The Graffiti Building(s)

Just southeast of downtown Houston is a collection of buildings known as the Graffiti Building. While the name is singular, the artwork is covering more than one building in the immediate area.

The topics and styles vary greatly, but most are creative and well done.


































The last three are a few blocks away, but fit the theme of this posting.










Birmingham, Alabama – May 2019 – Civic Culture

For more than 100 years Birmingham was the center of manufacturing for the southern United States. It was often referred to as Pittsburgh of the South in reference to all of the steel mills. As with Pittsburgh, the industry has for the most part left town.

As with the northern industrial cities there was significant investment in civic culture, and in Birmingham there is none better than the main library.


While the primary entrance is a modern building, across the street is the Linn-Henley Research Library. Built in 1927 it reflects the art deco style of the period.



The building is most known for the Ezra Winter murals. Most depict historic events such as below left – Dante and Virgil. On the right is Don Quixote.



In addition to the murals, the main reading room has a fantastic ceiling.



The west side of the room shows the interesting mix of the murals with the art deco balcony railings.



Ezra Winter was raised in Michigan, but spent his early adult years in Europe where he was classically trained in painting. Interestingly they were completed in New York City and applied to the Birmingham Library walls with white lead.



The Children’s Library has a mural depicting fairy tales.



A seemingly out of place modern art piece is also present.



The library, county courthouse and city hall all frame a public park. As they were all built about the same time all reflect the art deco style.

The courthouse was designed by the famed Chicago firm of Holabird & Root.



Reliefs high up on the building reflect local history.



Outside is the Statue of Liberty – well a small replica of the Statue of Liberty.



Murals depicting the history of the region are in the lobby of the courthouse. This mural, entitled Old South, has caused great controversy as it depicts slaves picking cotton. A multi racial committee of 16 reached a consensus that they would create a retractable cover that would obscure them except during educational tours.

They apparently haven’t yet decided to cover up their history as it was available for us to see.



The accompanying mural entitled ‘New South’ depicts the industrial work. As previously noted, the industry is gone, so I suppose they will have to come up with a ‘New New South’, depicting Birmingham’s current major employers including Education, Finance and Engineering firms.



As part of the agreement on the Old South mural, a new mural entitled Justice Is Blind was added with a modern collection of symbols that show, among others, a black lady justice along with a white lady justice.



Less controversial is the scales of justice relief as well as the art deco clock.



The final building in the area is Birmingham City Hall.



City Hall has a gallery of noteworthy city residents over the years.



While not a Birmingham resident, Martin Luther King was instrumental in bringing social justice to the city, and is honored with a portrait in the gallery.

Birmingham turned out to be far nicer than I was expecting. It is a city that is recognizing it’s past (good and bad), and moving forward into the future.





Lexington, Kentucky – May 2019 – Mural City

The city of Lexington, Kentucky like many cities has some murals around town. Unlike anywhere we have ever seen, they seem to have them everywhere – and most are very well done.

In addition they aren’t all the traditional history based murals – rather many have artistic statements. Below is an extensive view of many of the murals – if you are interested in more details behind them I recommend checking out the two links below:

http://www.lexarts.org/participate/public-art/lmp/ using the hashtag #sharethelex

or
http://www.prhbtn.com/murals/

We spent a few hours on a mural scavenger hunt and found most of them. This posting is quite long with around 40 photos in it.






































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.








Cincinnati – January 2019 – Union Terminal

As noted in previous postings the Cincinnati Union Terminal is a masterpiece of art deco that was completed in 1933. It has the largest semi-dome in the western hemisphere, measuring 180 feet wide by 106 feet high.









Once it closed as a rail station in the early 1970s it lived on briefly as a shopping mall before becoming the Cincinnati Museum Center in 1990.

It is immensely popular, with the original information booth serving as the ticket booth for the museums.





Fortunately each weekend day they offer tours of the building. While (as noted in other posts) portions of the building are undergoing restorations, it is still an amazing place to see any of it.

Our docent lead us on an hour tour, giving highlights and details.





The art deco touch is evident throughout, including this ticket booth for one of the smaller theaters.





Among the highlights are the massive mosaic murals on the main rotunda, as well as others hidden in corridors. The detail in the murals are amazing.

All depict either transportation or industry of Cincinnati over the years (up to 1932).


















An ice cream shop off the main rotunda was once the women’s tea room. The entire room is Rookwood (a famed Cincinnati ceramics pottery company).









While it was abandoned as a train station in the 1970s, Amtrak has returned and uses a small portion of the building. It too has a great art deco look, with inlaid wood depicting railroad scenes.





A bank of phone booths grace one wall – without phones, but you can always close the door and use your cell phone.





Pierre Bourdelle was a framed French artist who designed linoleum panels with floral design for the walls of the women’s lounge.

Fortunately it is no longer a women’s lounge so anyone (including me) can see it.





A private dining room, and former men’s lounge, has a large mural of a map of Cincinnati and nearby northern Kentucky on the wall and mirrored walls giving a great effect.





A second view of the room.





Finally a stop in the main dining room that features some recently discovered food themed artwork.

The Cincinnati Union Terminal was, and continues to be, one of Ohio’s great buildings.